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Gerry Brown - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog

When a Customer Wins, Nobody Loses!

Bad customer service affects us all every day and it can cost companies millions in lost revenue and ruined reputations.

Most companies tell us how important we are and that “Customers are at the heart of everything they do.” Unfortunately for many of us that remains a slick, meaningless, marketing slogan, that is rarely delivered and the outcome is a very different mantra ; “They win, we lose.”

But a customer winning? How does that work?

In his new book, Gerry Brown takes us on a journey featuring stories about the ‘stars and dogs’ of customer experience and tells us why a customer ‘winning’ is so critical in today’s connected and unforgiving world, and how you can adopt four simple principles that can be the difference between long term business success and ignominious failure.

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Publish Date: March 15, 2018 11:06 AM


A Lasting Legacy or Eternal Damnation – Redemption is in the clouds

 

Great historical figures that perform daring deeds, live exemplary and inspirational lives or make massive contributions to humankind are rightly feted in history books, statues, buildings and other visible signs of their time on earth. But they also leave something less tangible, but more memorable and lasting which is a legacy that carries on and reminds us of what they achieved during their lifetime. Something powerful that inspires and informs subsequent generations. These figures include Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and more recently Nelson Mandela. While most of us probably won’t find a lasting place in any future history books, the idea of leaving a legacy for our children and our families, whether that is financial or reputational, is something most of us can identify with and strive for. 

There’s legacy and then there’s legacy

In the business world many personal legacies are less memorable and more toxic, and deserve to be consigned to the Rip Off Rascals Hall of Shame. The Enron gang, Robert Maxwell and Fred Goodwin immediately come to mind. But there is one definition of legacy that many companies would probably also like to forget, but are reminded of every day by their customers and employees.This is their old and creaking technology defined in many dictionaries as “of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.” As a customer the big clue is when a customer service agent says “my system’s slow”, followed by the even more awful, “bear with me.” On the contact centre agents side there is a lot of cutting, pasting, toggling and swearing, usually in that order. I can truly feel the pain and embarrassment that comes with slow, cumbersome legacy systems, when all the customer wants is effortless, fast and effective service.

In many ways the criticism is a bum rap as these systems actually do much of the corporate heavy lifting and perform valiant and important tasks involving a wide range of applications. Unfortunately they seldom do them quickly, easily or elegantly, leaving many to curse about the “damned legacy system.” Using sporting analogies, you can think of them as the linemen in American Football or the front row in rugby that do all the unseen donkey work while the quarterbacks, running backs and fly halves dance speedily around and through them on their way to the big scores and equally large headlines and pay packets.

Your best legacy may be in the cloud

But, as in sports, there is a new breed of solutions that are fleet of foot, able to turn on a dime and have all the flexibility of a yogi on speed and that are breathing new life and purpose into legacy systems. They also leave the customers and colleagues cheering them on enthusiastically while not costing businesses Premier or Major League transfer fees and wages.

These solutions are not meant to be immediate replacements for legacy systems, although many are able to perform some of their functions very capably. But they must be the first step for companies seeking to crawl out from under the train wreck that is increasingly complex, expensive and inflexible legacy IT solutions. They can play a huge supporting role in mediating between systems to fetch and carry the data and information required to quickly and accurately address customer inquiries. The challenge that most businesses face is that information and customer data reside in different places and in different forms – usually in the much maligned legacy systems that is expensive to replace or modify.

Why it’s important to address this ever increasing fusion of critical customer data can be summed up in one word – Immediacy. Customers reach out from many places, in different ways and usually without much warning. What they want more than anything is recognition of who they are; what their issues are; and how quickly and smoothly it will be addressed. The solutions that zero in this most effectively this are usually cloud based interaction platforms that can provide immediate, updated and visual access to customer history, regardless of channel, and are integrated within a single window that can access the legacy big boys when necessary. This makes them easier to use and deliver faster response times without having to switch applications and/or significantly adding to the existing IT infrastructure.

The provenance of these solutions varies from CRM to contact centre and other customer service focused applications, but are generally aimed at maintaining, consolidating and displaying customer contact data across channels and locations. They usually feature more open Application Programming Interfaces (API) that can make system integration easier, quicker and much less expensive. Companies will find that, even if they are committed financially to older legacy systems, they can still use the cloud to push and pull data to and from the right places, thereby increasing their ability to provide an updated, accurate view of the customer and deliver a great customer experience.

Lower start-up costs, free trials, agile implementation – What’s not to like?

Cloud technologies also have their share of doubting Thomas’s and there is no single journey map to cloud adoption, but rather a wide variety of on-ramps and paths. Organizations have different starting points, goals and available resources. Consequently, in the interests of corporate harmony, an amalgamation of traditional IT solutions and methodologies that provide an evolution rather than a revolution is the way that many companies are building cost effective, Omni-channel, technology solutions capabilities aimed at enhancing customer engagement

Many cloud solutions offer low cost, or no cost, trial periods that allow organizations to test the applications in a real world or test environment, before deciding to proceed. As a subscription model, companies can also manage their investment carefully, and users can be brought on as required with flexibility in both data and capability, and with a minimum of IT involvement.

Many organizations are now looking at implementing cloud based model offices and innovation hubs as a way to conduct discovery exercises and fast track strategic, procedural and operational developments. This enables them to trial these concepts in “what if” scenarios that can mirror customer behaviour, colleague actions and determine acceptance of the proposed changes or any obstacles to their introduction. Even if an organization needs to go to tender, they can go with a much clearer idea of requirements, and knowledge of the “art of the possible” that can significantly reduce procurement time fra
mes and costs.

The end result is that these solutions can make life easier, quicker and satisfying for customers, smoother & less time consuming for colleagues and more cost effective for the business.

Now that’s a legacy and something to really remember you by!

 

Publish Date: December 6, 2016 3:41 PM


I can't get no Satisfaction

Measuring customer satisfaction is often as unreliable as election polls. The gap between what people say they will do and their actual actions can have many politicians and business people eating their hats or even their kilts.

Mick Jagger’s plaintive cry from 50 years ago – I can’t get no satisfaction – still rings true for many of us when we have a bad customer service experience. While what he wanted to meet his needs may not come up too often in a customer experience discussion (maybe the white shirt), I’m sure we have all felt equally frustrated when we don’t get satisfaction, however we measure what that means, from the companies we do business with.

Aiming for rock star customer service every time is fatiguing

I think that part of the problem is the term customer satisfaction and the word that makes up half of that expression. It’s become very popular with the Sultans of Semantics who dissect customer experience and the terminology used to question whether or not we should get more than satisfaction. That just being satisfied isn’t enough and that we need to be surprised, delighted, thrilled, enthralled or otherwise brought to a state of near ecstasy in all of our customer experiences.

A number of pundits, often our American cousins, tell us we should settle for nothing less than legendary, rock star, magical, memorable service. And I don’t totally disagree with them as I really do like to get delighted every now and then. But while it’s an honourable and bold objective, trying to do that with every customer every time in every situation is positively fatiguing for all concerned.

But it is important to know what delights or dissatisfies customers and being able to recognise when you need to step up. If employees are encouraged to look for these opportunities and empowered to act on them when they appear, customers will be delighted at the right time, for the right reason. These exceptional service experiences will provide customers with positive good news stories about the company, and eventually the company will build a reputation that stands it apart from the competition. When it comes to delight, a little goes a long way and even making it easy and effortless has its rewards.

The customer service bar is set incredibly low

The reason for that is that the customer service bar is set incredibly low, especially for those services we use every day, trains, planes, fuel, energy, telecoms, banks, where simply delivering the expected service seems a step too far. We need look no further than a May 2015 Which? survey on customer service in call centres that showed how truly awful many of these companies are in terms of meeting even our basic expectations and leaving us far from satisfied.

But perhaps it’s worth having a quick look at a dictionary definition of satisfaction:

  • Giving or enjoying a state of comfort
  • Fulfilment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this
  • The payment of a debt or fulfilment of an obligation or claim

Here are some words and phrases that are also synonymous with satisfaction.

Delight, peace of mind, serenity, pleasure, gratification, fulfilment, happiness, sense of well-being, joy. None could argue that these aren’t worthy and honourable objectives for any business. Although I’m guessing that none of these were used in describing the worst performing companies in the Which? survey.

Most service interactions are and should be routine

We all interact with a wide range of businesses dozens of times a week and most of those service interactions are and should be routine. Customers want customer service people to be efficient, tuned into our specific situation, helpful and pleasant, but the service interaction itself should not become the centre of attention. It is the result that matters.

And satisfaction is no guarantee of loyalty. A recent survey by Accenture showed that of the 8,000 home and car insurance customers surveyed in 14 countries, 86% said that they were satisfied with their claims experience in the past two years but 41% of those admitted that they are still likely or very likely to change insurers in the next 12 months.

We have a number of ways to measure satisfaction that can often seem in conflict with each other. Should it be CSAT, NPS or CES, total spend? They all measure different things, in different ways, and often, at different times. But when used in combination, with some underlying data as to the “why”, “when“ and “where”, they can be very powerful and informative in business management.

There are four key ways that are critical to success

But for me, there are four key ways that, regardless of your unit of measurement or the business that you’re in, are critical to success.

1. Empower employees – Make it personal and let them be themselves

This is an often overused phrase, and many times there are large perceptual gaps, big enough to drive a truck through, between a company’s ambitions and employees’ reality. But the concept is critical to success. This is all about giving employees permission to engage with customers on an emotional and personal level and letting them be themselves.

Most of us naturally want to help others and come pre-wired with an attitude and a caring side that is ideally suited to achieving that objective. We all fundamentally know what’s right and wrong and how we should treat others. For those of us in the UK who have been thrilled by the TV series Poldark recently, Jud Paynter’s immortal and eloquent words;“T’int right, t’int fair, t’int proper”, are accurate and inspirational, even if not normally found in customer service training manuals. But often organisations want to actively discourage any personal feelings or emotions from creeping into their employees’ actions, and they expect their employees to put these in a drawer marked “not to be opened during business hours.”

Yes, there should some guidelines and you don’t want them giving away the store. But the customer service agent owns “the moment,” and has the greatest impact on the customer experience in the initial interactions. The best companies enhance their customer engagement by encouraging employees to build on their natural feelings, emotions and attitudes and do the right thing – for the customer.

These organisations put the spotlight on these talents and believe that if you can unleash imagination, encourage innovation and build trust based on simple human behaviour and principles, then people will come together in a common purpose – and customers, employees and companies all win. This puts the responsibility for great customer experience back where it belongs; in the hands, and voice, of the people who deliver the service. Let them have the knowledge needed, the trust and freedom to use it wisely, and set them free to execute.

In Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband Lady Markby says “as a rule everyone turns out to be someone else.” But in the world of customer service it’s best to let them be themselves – everyone else is already taken!

2. Enable the organisation – Where agility, flexibility & adaptability trump dumb rules

Even if an employee is totally empowered, enablement means they have the right tools, data, knowledge and organisational incentives to overcome procedural roadblocks and dumb company rules to really execute against your customer engagement strategy. It’s about creating an environment in which employees are continuously provided the right information at the right time and the encouragement to take affirmative action and not be constricted by policies and procedures that worked fine in the 1950s but aren’t fit for purpose now.

Customer-obsessed companies realise that customer service and the customer experience are not based on all customers being equal. They align their processes, empower their staff and have the enabling technology to make sure that each customer interaction is relevant, personalised and satisfying.

And the key to this is consistency. Just having these things in place is not enough; they’ve got to be used every day with every customer and available across every channel. Often an employee is more than willing and able to address an issue but doesn’t have access to the information necessary to do that. Many businesses mired in a morass of legacy treacle and multiple, disparate databases, have zero real-time visibility into basic information such as contact history and current and past purchases. Failing to equip agents with the correct tools and latest technologies results in the loss of insight into the basic information needed to provide proper customer service and a resulting drop in customer satisfaction, if not business.

3. Engage and communicate with customers – Right message, right time, right people, right result

In an increasingly commoditised world, organisations must focus on how they can differentiate themselves. This may be how they engage and connect with customers on an individual, personal basis and is often the missing piece in the engagement puzzle. One example that I’m sure we’re all familiar with is when an online shopper has a problem at check-out. According to the Baymard Institute, the abandonment rate currently stands at 68%. In other words, if 1,000 people visit a site and add at least one item to their shopping baskets, 680 will bail out while only 320 will enter their card details and press the buy button. That represents a huge amount of lost business.

Being able to alert managers and agents when baskets are abandoned at key stages of the journey is vital. Notably at checkout, where managers and sales agents can then look more closely at the journey leading up to a basket being abandoned and select higher-value customers to contact who have provided details – such as phone numbers or email addresses – before subsequently bailing out.

A recent survey of 75 UK retail businesses showed that only one of them, yes only one of them, contacted the customer in real time, either by phone, SMS or email to find out why they had abandoned. Identifying a customer having an issue in real time and conducting proactive support would greatly improve both the transactional, touchpoint customer experience and contribute to the full customer journey. Other studies show that when these customers are contacted promptly, this is often enough to recover the basket and win the business, and significantly improve customer satisfaction.

Another way that businesses don’t make the most of customer engagement is with surveys. We’re probably all suffering survey fatigue and when asked to complete another, whether online or via an IVR, we usually decline. I think the reason for this is simple. When was the last time that a company thanked you for taking part in a survey and shared the results with you? That’s what I thought. It was a rhetorical question. But imagine if they sent you an email thanking you for taking the time to complete their survey and finished with “As a result of the feedback that you and other customers have provided, these are the changes we’ve made to improve your experiences with us.”

4. Embed a culture of excellence – Defined by the customer, refined by the people

You must understand what excellence means and what great looks like. David Hume, a Scottish philosopher, said in 1757 that “Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” This is equally true of excellence in any endeavour. The best and in fact the only arbiters of excellence are customers. They will define what great service is, and what satisfaction means to them, and this will be the ongoing barometer of excellence in your business. So creating an environment where listening, hearing and acting becomes second nature is critical to achieving consistent high levels of customer satisfaction.

But that’s only half the battle. To truly be best in class, and to develop and embed this culture of excellence, organisations must effectively leverage their talent, technology, and metrics to proactively anticipate and fulfil customer needs and expectations.

In a recent article entitled “Defining the ‘human touch’ in the customer relationship”, Steven Van Belleghem looked at three areas in which humans excel. This is their ability to add empathy, creativity and passion to any interaction. He notes that “Creativity and innovation are uniquely human characteristics. It is smart for companies to allow human creativity to blossom in all phases of the customer relationship. You must allow all your staff to think creatively about improvements that can benefit the customer.”

This is where the previous 3 elements really come together and complete the story.

Employees who are trusted , treated well and empowered, have the tools and knowledge to succeed and the ability to use them wisely and are held accountable, but have authority, can really delight customers and make each experience, regardless of complexity, a memorable one that will have customers coming back for more.

And even if customers can’t always get what they want, they’ll certainly get what they need!

Publish Date: June 25, 2015 2:25 PM


The Price is Right – But at Costco so is the Service!

costco logo
In the constantly evolving world of UK retail, one name that may not be as familiar as others is Costco. Perhaps the clue is found in their full corporate identity, Costco Wholesale Corporation. Their traditional customer base has been small and medium businesses (SMBs) and individual members from specific employment groups. Consequently they may not be as recognizable as the traditional “big four” UK supermarkets and other retailers, but that is likely to change, because they are also unrecognizable from the others for a very good reason. They actually care about their customers, are approachable and responsive and take immediate remedial action when a problem arises. More about that later.

I don’t think anybody would question that the retail world has been going through a seismic shift in buying habits for some time and, along with outdated ideas and business strategies, the resulting tsunami has washed away many of the companies that failed to react to the changing times (Comet, Blockbuster, Barratts, JJB Sports) . Clearly the emergence of on-line shopping has had perhaps the biggest impact.  But another trend, especially in the UK grocery world, appears to show that a quick flash of the discounter’s eyelashes via their low prices is enough lead us into temptation and away from our more traditional supermarket brands.

Despite that, loyalty still seems to have currency in the world of customer experience. At least if you are the recipient of as many webinars/seminar invites, articles and blogs as I am. And as a customer and a customer experience practitioner, I’d like to think that it still has aspirational, reputational and financial value. But as with any other desirable business trait, it must be continually and consistently earned, not just expected without some effort, which is where many companies are failing. In the UK, John Lewis andWaitrose still clearly understand that and continue to lead the way in both customer service and profitability. However, at the other end of the spectrum, we have also seen the inexorable rise in the fortunes of Aldi and Lidl. The biggest noise that you now hear in the market is the squeals from the “big four” supermarkets caught in the squeeze between these two solitudes, and trying to figure out if, and how, they can deliver low cost and decent, if not memorable, service.

But are these two objectives mutually exclusive? As a regular Aldi and Lidl shopper- I’ve even stopped hiding the shopping in M&S bags- it’s obvious that they haven’t really scrimped on service. OK, they may not have as many people roaming the stores and a more limited product selection, but their check-out people are generally friendly and personable, their managers available, helpful and responsible, and the shops generally well stocked – even at 6:00 pm (Tesco & Sainsbury’s please note). So there is hope.

Now let’s get back to Costco. As I also spend quite a bit of time in Canada, this is where I first encountered them. In Canada and the US, they not only support SMBs but also have a loyal (there’s that word again) following among individual consumers where Gold Star members can enjoy the same discounts as businesses and can shop both in store and on-line. Individual members are welcome in the UK and as this on-line service is now also available, I decided to sign up to take advantage of special on-line discounts and to get delivery of larger items. To cut to the chase, I encountered a few difficulties with the web-site and couldn’t complete the application process, effectively causing a check out failure and no little dissatisfaction.

Now some enlightened companies are using web analytics in real time to spot these problems and offer intervention and resolution via web-chat or other media. This not only solves the problem for the customer but can save the company time and money as well as keeping reputational damage to a minimum. Unfortunately this wasn’t in place and my only option was to call Costco customer service. To their credit, Costco offer a toll free 0800 number, unlike many UK based organizations that continue to rip off customers with expensive 084X and 087x numbers for customer service from which they benefit financially. However, this still meant a cost to me in time, and that’s still an investment where you can’t get any refunds.

As a result I decided to send an email to a senior person at Costco UK detailing my problem.  I’ve found this is mutually beneficial as a way to get resolution and to alert someone in the company that might actually care and address the issue promptly it. It took all of 5 minutes to get a telephone response from Costco. In another 5 minutes, my problem was solved, my on-line account set-up and all done with good humour, and a welcome blend of professionalism, candour and knowledge. There was also a sincere statement (I can tell the difference) of appreciation for raising the issue and a commitment to fixing the problem over the longer term.

So what can we learn from this?

  1. If you are driving more customers to your web-site, and/or expecting them to self-serve, you must monitor, measure and manage what’s going on in real time across all of your channels, but especially web transactions. This has cultural, operational and technology elements and all must have a seat at the transformation table as they are inextricably linked and interdependent. As noted, very few companies appear to do this, resulting in disgruntled customers who are forced to go elsewhere, or who must engage in a customer service call to explain the problem, which can be costly to both parties, and hope that the person responding can actually do something about it.
  1. But just knowing about it isn’t enough. You must have the right people, with the right attitude and who are equipped with the knowledge, the authority and the ability to provide intervention, resolution and if necessary, compensation. This is why you mustnever outsource customer service, as dealing with uninterested, unempowered, disengaged representatives whose typical response is a lame “I’ll make sure I pass it on to the relevant department”, simply doesn’t cut it (BA, BT and O2 please take note).
  1. You must then let your customer know that you appreciate that they took the time to raise the issue and the steps that you are taking to eliminate the issue in the future – tomorrow will be fine. Many people still don’t bother to complain as they believe that nobody will respond or do anything to fix the problem. And quite often they’re right. This is often where customer satisfaction surveys also fall down. How many times have you been contacted by the company doing the survey thanking you and letting you know that as a result of your comments, changes have been made? That’s what I thought!
  1. But don’t just depend on technology to get you out of a tight spot. Encourage, incentivize and reward employees for recognizing and acting autonomously and spontaneously when customers are having problems. Most of us naturally want to help others and come pre-wired with an attitude and a caring side that is ideally suited to achieving that objective. But often organizations want to actively discourage any personal feelings or emotions from creeping into their employees’ actions with the result that customer issues are ignored and/or swept under the rug entitled “not my job”.

The best companies support purposeful behaviour and enhance their customer engagement by encouraging employees to build on these natural feelings and attitudes and to let them loose on their customers and fellow employees. The benefits of this were amplified in a recent article by Steven Van Belleghem entitled Defining the ‘human touch’ in the customer relationship. He notes that “Creativity and innovation are uniquely human characteristics. It is smart for companies to allow human creativity to blossom in all phases of the customer relationship. You must allow all your staff to think creatively about improvements that can benefit the customer.”

Costco clearly understands the value of this approach and, similar to Zappos, have a public mission statement that states their core values and that actively encourages their employees to do the right thing – for the customer. As with any complaint handled well, they come out the better for it. Yes, price is important, but low cost and great service aren’t necessarily strange bedfellows as Costco have shown me by their actions in this matter and through my regular store visits. And it’s not just luck. Costco is a responsible and caring employer that has historically paid above average wages, provided generous employee benefits and is consistently ranked among the best places to work in the United States. As a result they have built a “can do” culture and enjoy a high degree of employee engagement, which in turn is reflected in the way they interact with customers.

At Costco, it’s not just the price that’s right.

Note:

In the interests of disclosure, I should add a small disclaimer to this tome. I am a Costco shareholder, so I obviously want them to do well. But as a reasonably altruistic investor, I want, and expect, them to do well for the right reasons.  And they are!

Publish Date: June 9, 2015 1:17 PM


Customer Experience – Alive and Well across the Great (Cultural) Divide

 

Canada doesn’t often get a mention in world news, unless it’s an article on moose abuse or with the word boring attached to it. As Canadian comedian Mike Myers said “if everybody from around the world gathers, the Brits would say, ‘Our navy ruled the world,’ the Americans retort with, ‘We won the west,’ and then Canada would say, ‘I got diarrhoea on a plane once!” And then I’ve also heard that Canadians are known to be friendly because they live so far apart from one another that when they see anyone they are grateful for the chance to stop talking to themselves. 

But that aside, Eilidh Milnes and Mike Ogilvie, friends and colleagues from the Professional Speaking Association (PSA), turned those ideas on their head when they were lucky enough to experience the real Canada while attending a speaking convention in Vancouver. As they are naturally fun loving, outgoing and adventurous people they submerged themselves in a large vat of Canadian culture and lived to tell the tale.

Some of the most heartening stories they shared with us via their blog posts were about their range of customer service experiences, mostly good, with a couple of bad humdingers thrown in for balance, and Mike wondered if he was lucky, or was Canada culturally different from the UK and Europe.  At the time I responded that Canada is definitely culturally different, but not necessarily better or worse, than the UK. As I’ve split my life between the UK and Canada, and have strong feelings for both countries, I felt I was able to offer a reasonably balanced opinion and could argue that Canada was known for more than Toronto mayor Rob Ford, Justin Bieber and dodgy tummies.

I spent a few weeks in Vancouver recently and I had my own share of Canadian experiences, also mostly good. This started me thinking about what made Canada stand out from a customer service perspective. To me it came down to three simple traits that underpin how they relate to others in general, and are reflected in customer service in particular. It’s a complex world and I’m going in for simplicity these days. Many who know me will say that they’ve always thought that simple was an adjective that fit me well. In a recent blog entitled Customer Experience isn’t Working –Yet, I suggested that we needed to take a simple, more basic approach, and that organizations seeking to improve customer experience won’t succeed unless they incorporate fundamental principles that govern human effectiveness and conscious thought.

Anyway, we’re getting too deep for now, so back to Canada and my theory on Canadians and the three traits that make them great at customer service.

The first one is Pride, in oneself, the country and the part individual Canadians play in making it what it is and wanting to keep it that way. That comes from being a citizen of one of the more sane, civilized, and respected nations on the planet, and an active  member of a community that includes, and welcomes, the best the world has to offer. When you start from this premise, treating people the way that they want to be treated (in other words following The Golden Rule), becomes second nature, whether they are relatives, friends, fellow employees or customers.

 Most Canadians are proud to serve others, and don’t see it as menial or a temporary job between acting gigs. As a result, many organizations that I’m familiar with have long serving staff who have co-created an environment where employee engagement is a living, breathing organism, participation in decisions is de rigueur and pride in their company shines through and is reflected in their interactions with customers.

The second one is Tolerance, and is based on a collective respect for each other as Canadians endeavour to link many diverse people and cultures. It’s also a testament to the strong, authentic and friendly characteristics of Canadian society and the desire to live harmoniously together. Once this is in your DNA, it automatically makes the journey to work with you every day and becomes a constant, encouraging companion that can help you overcome temptation in those moments when angry customers unload on you.

The third one is genuine Enthusiasm. Europeans often mock North Americans’ “have a nice day” attitude as disingenuous. But for the most part people in Canada really mean it. But don’t just take my word for it. In a recent article on the Vancouver restaurant scene, that venerable and well respected food magazine  Jamie ( yes, that one) likened Vancouver to an awkward teenager and said, “But with teenage angst comes excitement and healthy dose of youthful creativity, open-mindedness and enthusiasm, and nowhere is that more apparent than it its ever-burgeoning food and drink scene.” Certainly the hospitality industry in Canada is alive and well and is where many visitors get up close and personal with real customer service. But this attitude extends to places that you don’t expect to find it. At least not in the UK. Vancouver bus drivers are uncommonly friendly and helpful and don’t always pull away when they see you running for the bus ; supermarket and big box store check-out people actually smile and can put two sentences together, and even when you call Service Canada, the government call centre, they treat you like people, not social insurance numbers. Heck, even the police smile when they give you a ticket. Alright I made that one up, but you get my drift.

OK, I‘ve taken off the rose coloured glasses and I know Canada’s not perfect. They’ve got Rob Ford, Justin Bieber and Air Canada! And I’ve had my share of bad customer experiences in Canada and I realize that a few hip and happening restaurants in Vancouver doesn’t necessarily make the case conclusively. But do you know what? These positive vibes are contagious in the best possible way. Friendly service begets friendly people and the feel good factor rubs off on others and it spreads like wildfire. Organizations believe that if you can involve and engage employees to help unleash imagination, encourage innovation and build trust based on simple human behaviour and principles, then people will come together in a common purpose – and customers, employees and companies all win

Simple? Yes. Effective, memorable, authentic, worth having – you bet! And maybe even worth a trip to Canada!

Publish Date: September 30, 2014 3:28 PM


Size doesn't matter - These customer experience Champions have BIG Hearts

Imagine being perched on a narrow scaffold, totally exposed to the raw December wind that thundered across the Atlantic and was now scampering across Somerset along with the driving rain and a bad attitude. Despite the ever worsening weather and the depressing forecast the indomitable duo, who were working on the roof of our recently purchased house, were determined to finish the job on time, on budget and with a care and precision rarely seen in any business, and especially not from the original builders of the house. Outside building work is never much fun, and British builders do come in for a fair share of criticism, but my latest customer experience heroes are true “Champions” in more ways than one.

Most of the articles, blogs and case studies that surface about customer service and customer experience tend to be about large recognizable companies that many of us do businesses with and either love or hate. This suggests that a great experience in the world of smaller business either doesn’t exist, or nobody cares. Nothing could be further from the truth and while many of my ramblings have been about the larger, more conspicuous poster children for customer experience, I’m realizing, as with many things, that size doesn’t matter. It’s also very clear that true customer experience champions, regardless of provenance, size and industry segment, know that building relationships is vital and non-negotiable in the battle for customer loyalty and retention. While perhaps we don’t hear as many of these stories as we should, their message is starting to resonate and grow and across the customer landscape.

All businesses large and small, could take a leaf out of Gordon and Jeremy Champion’s book on how to win and retain customers and keep them happy. I’m pretty sure this well established, Somerset based, father and son team, haven’t read any of my blogs, articles or white papers, or attended any of my workshops. Perhaps there’s been a little osmosis over a cup of coffee, but I’m guessing they had customer experience sussed out long before I came along or before it became the technology fashionistas enhancement de jour and the raison d’etre for overpriced, underwhelming, conference porn.

So in keeping with the best articles of the day and possibly some of those conference speakers, here are the top 5 things that Gordon and Jeremy featured in their customer experience master class that we can learn from:

  1. They maintained regular and open communications that kept us informed and updated on a regular basis, especially when really bad weather threatened, without having to chase them (delivery companies, especially UK Mail and City Link, please note)
  2. They had a simple pricing formula – We work this many hours at this rate and you pay us this much – But they also went above and beyond and over-delivered on quality and quantity (utility companies, especially British Gas and E.ON, please note)
  3. They used simple, easy to understand language (it’s called English) to explain what needed doing, why, and how much. A sharp intake of breath, followed by a shaking of the head seemed to be a physically impossible and indecent act for them. (all car repair organizations especially Grange Jaguar in Exeter, please note)
  4. They were truthful and honest about what was critical and necessary work for both our long term comfort and the value of our investment. They operated with total integrity, transparency and trust at all times and we never felt that we were being taken for a ride (all UK banks, except Metro Bank, please note)
  5. They made a real emotional connection with us and made us feel like real human beings. Never talking down to us, (except when they were on the roof), sharing their expertise willingly, always understanding what it’s like to own a 70’s built house and the lifetime of challenges that represents. And finally they did their level best to do the right thing for us – the customers – even if it didn’t enrich them. (you can take your pick on who should note this one, but probably everyone)

Revolutionary stuff isn’t it? But how many companies that you do business with fail miserably to live by any of these worthy and honorable attributes? How many seem to have forgotten that it’s still people working with people? And how many can you say are truly honest and trustworthy?

The best way I can sum up this experience, and the way that Gordon and Jeremy conduct their business and their lives, is by borrowing some words and a formula from a recent blog on Trust, by my friend and fellow customer experience aficionado, Ian Golding

TRUST = honesty x reliability x consistency + care

Most of us, both personally and professionally, strive to live by this formula and with Gordon and Jeremy there’s no compromise. They are constant and welcome reminders that most successful businesses are still built on fundamental principles, driven by personal interactions and fortified by emotional connections, regardless of the size of the company. But for many, when they pull on their company uniform (literally or metaphorically), dumb company policies, outmoded procedures, quarterly objectives and company focused metrics, force them to deposit their integrity, common sense and emotions in a drawer marked “not to be opened during business hours.”   

These Champions took that drawer and the whole desk to the tip a long time ago.  Maybe it’s time to follow their lead and to recycle our own customer experience strategy.

 

Publish Date: March 18, 2014 5:44 PM


The Great Train Robbery - 2014 Version

I’m sure that being stuck for over an hour on a cold train platform on a dark and stormy night in February made a major contribution to the already dark thoughts I had about South West Trains and the rest of the ghastly UK train operating companies (TOCs). My train had a communications fault, rather like the TOC’s themselves. But rather than put on an additional train, or bring in some buses, which should have been quick and easy as Basingstoke is on the A-List when it comes to rail replacement buses, a reasonably large crowd had to wait over an hour for the next, and actually last, quite crowded train of the evening, to get to points west.

So I guess it was serendipitous that after that experience a number of seemingly unrelated news items intersected and perhaps were brought together by my cynical mind, to form the genesis of this blog. These stories included the on-going and heart wrenching saga of the UK floods, the release of a Which? survey on rail services and, like manna from heaven, a great blog from my fellow customer experience fan and blogger, Ian Golding. Ian wrote about his experiences in reclaiming a lost suitcase from a recent train journey and this is a story so good, you couldn’t make it up. Check out his blog about the lost suitcase and the grumpy old man, which I’ll come back to shortly.

I live in Somerset and unfortunately I’m therefore very dependent on public transport when I don’t feel like tackling the A303 to get to London and points beyond. This is a region “served” by two of the very worst train companies, South West Trains and First Great Western, who tied for 15th place in the Which? survey with a 45% satisfaction rating. This survey looked at a range of key performance and satisfaction indicators and the overriding statistic among a number of truly shameful figures, was that 80% of passengers think fares are too high. In other words train companies are continuing to gouge their passengers and, according to Which?, value for money was a key reason for low satisfaction.

Now I recognize that Network Rail and all train companies have had the additional challenge of the terrible weather, which I accept as having a huge impact on the already chaotic service levels. And of course it’s equally challenging and dispiriting for those on the front line to deal with the persistent bombardment from tired and angry passengers, especially when they receive so little support from their senior managers.  What frustrates me, and I think many others, is not so much what happens, although the “wrong sort of leaves and rain” do leave me a little bemused. No, it’s how they mishandle these issues.  Problems associated with dirty and overcrowded carriages, toilets that don't work, poorly maintained trains, over running track repairs, signal failures, staff shortages and frequently cancelled trains are compounded by poor or non-existent passenger communication and the TOCs’ reluctance to accept responsibility or to provide believable reasons for their failure. This only serves to amplify the issues for the long suffering passengers, especially as the companies and their senior executives seem to be the only winners in this one-sided relationship.

Where do the three elements that I mentioned earlier come together? Although much of the West Country has been adversely affected by the weather that has disrupted transport links, I have been spared the awful experiences faced by those not too far away on the Somerset Levels. However, a number of friends and acquaintances who felt the full force of the storm, commented on how much they were dependent on, and appreciated, the kindness of strangers to literally and figuratively bail them out. While I have no solid statistical evidence and only anecdotal back-up, it appears that many of these selfless heroes were people whose normal job was with South West Train and First Great Western.

So how is that people who work for companies that institutionally and routinely manage to upset a significant portion of the great British public, can come through and help their fellow human beings when it’s most needed? Well I think the theme of Ian Golding’s article about the three levels of employee engagement hits the rail on the head. Ian says that getting his suitcase back should have been a pleasant, or at least a positive, experience, but it was neither and was tainted by one employee who, when measured by the levels of employee engagement, was at the bottom of the scale which is  “Actively Disengaged”. This is defined as an employee who isn’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day these employees undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish. How many of those have you seen on train platforms lately?

Ian sums up his experience, which incidentally was also with South West Trains, by saying: “I do not blame the man who reunited me with my suitcase for the way he behaved. I do blame the company he works for though. (The italics are mine) What have they done (or not) to make him feel this way? Why do not they not know how unhappy he is? When was the last time a ‘manager’ observed his behaviour?”

I think what happens here is that most train company employees, and certainly the ones in the West Country, are fundamentally decent, caring and sharing people.  And when given an opportunity to shine as human beings they’re as bright as a button. I’m sure that many want to do the same thing in their day job, and are not actively disengaged by choice, but by circumstance. The train companies in this country are by any measure, (as indicated by the Which? survey), a collective national disgrace.  However they seem to be in a permanent state of denial. Even after the release of the Which? survey, the industry body, the Rail Delivery Group, responded by saying that most passengers were happy with the standard of service. Referring to another survey in January by watchdog Passenger Focus, it said "four out of five passengers were satisfied with their overall journey". "We are always keen to get feedback from customers, whether good or bad, which has helped the industry attract record numbers of passengers and cut complaints by three quarters in a decade," a spokesman said. I guess when the bar is set so incredibly low, it’s not difficult to make statistics work in your favour and make people believe that things are improving.

 

As I have reluctantly travelled frequently on most of the national and commuter routes during the last 15 years my view and experiences aren’t based on the occasional bad journey. Since privatization, the TOCs main focus has been on maximizing profit by reducing staff, slashing costs, inventing obscene, unjustified fare increases, mandating ruthless, inflexible application of their incomprehensible fare rules and failing to invest sufficiently in rolling stock. Passengers and staff are rarely, if ever, considered or consulted, as the Which? survey clearly and comprehensively demonstrates. So it’s no wonder that as part of this “strategy” their employees have also been uncoupled, disengaged and demotivated. I’ve had the chance to have conversations with some of them over the years and they’ve shared with me the frustrations of having to explain, the TOCs well-earned reputation for greed, unrelenting arrogance, dumb rules and general disdain for passengers. They really want to do better but are neither encouraged nor supported, as Ian found out, by their management team. As Ian says, “customer centric companies typically have management teams who collectively believe in the importance of doing things with customers interests firmly in mind. One thing you can guarantee is that customer centric organisations do not just put customers first – they also put their employees first as well.”

The TOC’s fail miserably in all aspects of customer centricity and have performed continuous acts of larceny on passengers through their various ticketing wheezes, fare increases, poor value service, and funding shareholder dividend payments from public subsidies. But the real crime, and to their everlasting shame, is that they’ve also robbed their employees of their dignity, their integrity and any motivation to engage with passengers in a meaningful, helpful and human fashion.

 Unfortunately there is no easy answer as the whole rail industry is a political and confusing maze of subsidies, lobbyists, special interest groups and infrastructure issues and the whole HS2 debate just serves to show what a mess it is in. While I’m a free market kind of a guy, and don’t usually go for unbridled government intervention, in this case they are the guys with the white hats that need to ride to our rescue. But it looks like HS2 will take most of their energy, our money and the focus and ire of the ink stained wretches, for the foreseeable future.

However as Richard Lloyd from Which? says, “with seven rail franchises ending in the next two years, we want to see passengers' experiences put right at the heart of the tender process so companies respond to consumer expectations and can be held to account if they don't." If this happens not only will the passengers start to get a better deal, but employees will as well.  

One of the key foundations of any business must be respect - For employees as well as customers.  Employees create the customer experience and while the TOCs have a lot of work to do in basic service delivery, and cultural reinvention, truly engaged, empowered and passionate employees can play a key role in helping to bridge the gap as they work their way down the track.  But it must start at the top and TOCs it must understand that creating a rewarding employee experience, encouraging actively engaged employees and restoring their dignity aren’t negotiable – They’re fundamental to any great business. Perhaps that’s where the greatest challenge lies.

Publish Date: March 3, 2014 1:59 PM

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Wow that was easy! - delighting customers, and making it easy, aren’t strange bedfellows

The famous South African golfer Gary Player was asked about whether his win in yet another major was a piece of luck. His response; “The harder I work the luckier I get”, and it made me think about the on-going debate about whether customers want to be wowed, or to have companies make their interactions with them far less complex, and whether these objectives are mutually exclusive. To my simple brain, and using Gary Player as my guide, aiming high (working harder), and succeeding (getting lucky), by seeking to wow and delight customers are basic requirements and essential components of a smooth running customer service machine.  And, as with any worthwhile enterprise, unless you invest time at the front end of customer experience, the back-end results will invariably invite disaster. 

When the Harvard Business Review article entitled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” first appeared in July 2010, the axles on the bandwagon of the newest shiny metric, the Customer Effort Score, noticeably sagged under the strain of the new disciples jumping on-board. In a nutshell the articled opined that delighting your customers was a waste of time and money, when all they really wanted was for you to make it easy to do business with them.

Since then, the authors have published a very readable book called The Effortless Experience and an increasing number of articles have been published with a similar theme. The comments and/or attention grabbing blog posts include:

“Why focusing on delighting your customers is a stupid strategy”
“Don’t bother with WOW”
“Just make it easy for your customers”

I should state right here that I’m in total agreement with the overall concept of making life easier, and with one of the conclusions in the book that I believe to be the central plank in the argument:
“It turns out that the overwhelming majority of customers aren’t looking to have their expectations exceeded. They simply want their service experience to be easy.”

To me the crucial words in that statement are the “service experience” and, by extension, what I take to be someone’s customer service experience. However, when we look at Customer Experience, it’s so much more than just an interaction with an employee in a contact centre, in store, on-line, or whatever other ways you touch the customer. Customer Experience includes all the interactions that take place between a company and its customers, and therefore aren’t just restricted to every day, basic transactions or service issues.

Companies that have traditionally delighted their customer such as John Lewis, First Direct, Southwest Airlines and Zappos, seem to treat every interaction with a beguiling combination of enthusiasm, genuine emotion and proficiency, which for me are basic table stakes in the customer experience game. While not perfect, these organizations will almost certainly have made enough deposits in their customer delight account to offset the odd customer service transgression, especially if there is a prompt acknowledgement and genuine apology – as opposed to the butt clenching, insincere, “goodwill gesture” phrase trotted out by the Ryanair’s and British Gas’ of the world.

 It’s just that the bar has been set so incredibly low by the escalating frustration that we endure from most of the companies that we do business with every day - Telco’s, mobile phone providers, banks and utility companies, that we’d settle for any experience that quickly releases us from their clutches.

We’re not talking about an occasional interaction. All of us probably have at least 5-10 business dealings a day with these various organizations and, while easy should be the operative word, is there any reason why we shouldn’t strive for, or expect, something that makes both parties (the customer and the employee) feel good?

The point is we all could use a little delight in our lives, being wowed and pleasantly surprised every now and then. I’m tired of being forgotten in long phone queues, let down by poor web sites, and misunderstood by disinterested or powerless customer service agents.

I’ve yet to be involved in a serious customer experience project where one of the key starting points didn’t involve taking a long, hard and sometimes self-flagellating look, at what the current customer experience delivery looked like, and that always means a return to the starting line. In my view, that line is drawn between four fundamental principles that will establish a solid foundation to almost any part of the business, but are absolute necessities in improving customer experience. These four principles are Culture, Commitment, Communication and Community, and I’ll be exploring these in more depth in an upcoming article.

Regardless of whether you measure delight, effort or ease of doing business, at some point you will need to drill down into the root causes of customer perceptions:  what specific technologies, business processes and/or employee behaviours made doing business with the company easy or difficult? And what are the underlying principles that brought that result? Without these answers, a measure of effort (or ease of doing business) will not be very actionable. And if it does not drive actions, or isn’t based on these four fundamental principles that improve the customer experience, what is the point of capturing effort, or any other measure?

So by all means please ensure that the repetitive, transactional, hum drum things that I need from you on a regular basis are so mind-numbingly easy, I can do it in my sleep.

When that happens - Wow, I’ll be delighted!

Publish Date: November 8, 2013 12:31 PM

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Small pieces of Big Data helps a small business make big gains

I recently moved house which, in itself is not particularly worthy of a blog post and would probably even fail to excite the most avid Twitter follower, as thousands of people up sticks every day.  But it was that last fact that led to a minor eureka (that’s Greek for “this bath is too hot!”) moment, and the opportunity to help a client increase their business as well as some real revelations about the power and leverage of Big, or even, not so big data.

Once in my new house I had to update my personal details with all of the companies that I patronize, and while there are companies that will do this for you, I’m paranoid enough about identity theft to want to do this myself and know that the information is in the right hands. This relatively simple task turned into a time consuming and frustrating exercise in self-flagellation, as over 50% of the companies that I had to contact had no facility for being able to do this on line. These dinosaurs, the same ones that make you repeat your details after you’ve slogged through their mind numbing, time wasting, incomprehensible IVR on a 084X number, made me call them and/or send an email, thus wasting my & their time and significantly increasing their cost. Not only that but none of the people that I spoke to, or responded to my email, seemed remotely interested in finding out more about my circumstances. Had I won the lottery? Inherited a small fortune? Come to my senses and left London? How crazy is that? With the number of people and companies that move on a regular basis many organizations are missing out on a great opportunity to reconnect with their customers and use the information to enhance their relationship, and improve their profitability.

So it got me thinking about how this could be turned into a positive experience and on a recent trip to Canada I spoke to some guys that I know, that have a successful cloud software company, and who were looking to improve their performance in terms of both existing customers and new business. However they didn’t want to invest a small fortune and take months, or years, to do it. We looked at what they already knew about their customers and prospects and decided that it was worth seeing if adding some carefully selected, but relatively small pieces of information would help them target and convert more effectively.

Once they’d decided on what they thought would be valuable they had a section on the log in page that provided a brief intro into the reasons for doing it and asked customers to take a few moments to update their info and to add some new information. They promised not to sell the list and also asked if they wanted to opt out, and effectively not participate in this exercise. Most people agreed and provided more good info, which was no real surprise as we all know that Canadians are very nice people and not at all boring  (I can say that, I do have the passport).

All they asked people to do was to update their contact details and add five pieces of information and, as a result, their lead conversion rate improved by 8% and their sales to existing customers jumped by 6%. Both numbers translated into some reasonably serious revenue, while also increasing the feel good factor with their customers. And the really great part was that other than agreeing on the information needed and designing a very easy to follow landing page, their costs were minimal and it was all done with very little human intervention. They were using Salesforce.com, so it was really easy to have the updated details find their way into the contact record and then to run a short report that identified who had updated their record. Simples!

However to really make this work you need to adhere to three basic concepts.

  • The information that you gain needs to be actionable to help you make timely offers that can provide immediate recognizable and measurable customer benefits
  • The offers need to be relevant to the customers profile and potential for growth
  • They need to be personalized so that the recipient feels that you have taken the time to understand their needs and wants, which of course is just what you’ve done

Although you may argue that this wasn’t really “Big Data” in the strict sense of the word, it was important data, that had a big impact, especially for a relatively small business, and, as the results showed, had a profound effect on both customers and the company. There are still lots of real, or perceived, challenges about Big Data, not the least of which is agreeing on what it really is, as well as how to gather and use it, effectively and appropriately and that’s a whole other blog.

For my friends in Canada, my moving experience turned into a game changing event for them that led to new insights, and new customers, as well as increased profits and shows that there’s no reason that this type of approach can’t be equally valuable, and effective, for all businesses large or small. This doesn’t mean that it will work that well for everyone, but there’s a fertile seedbed of data out there waiting to nurtured, harvested and used creatively to spot new business opportunities, develop new products and enhance the customer experience. So what do you have to lose by not at least watering the garden every now and then? Only your customers, and your business.

I recently moved house which, in itself is not particularly worthy of a blog post and would probably even fail to excite the most avid Twitter follower, as thousands of people up sticks every day.  But it was that last fact that led to a minor eureka (that’s Greek for “this bath is too hot!”) moment, and the opportunity to help a client increase their business as well as some real revelations about the power and leverage of Big, or even, not so big data.

Once in my new house I had to update my personal details with all of the companies that I patronize, and while there are companies that will do this for you, I’m paranoid enough about identity theft to want to do this myself and know that the information is in the right hands. This relatively simple task turned into a time consuming and frustrating exercise in self-flagellation, as over 50% of the companies that I had to contact had no facility for being able to do this on-line. These dinosaurs, the same ones that make you repeat your details after you’ve slogged through their mind numbing, time wasting, incomprehensible IVR on a 084X number, made me call them and/or send an email, thus wasting my & their time and significantly increasing their cost. Not only that, but none of the people that I spoke to, or responded to my email, seemed remotely interested in finding out more about my circumstances. Had I won the lottery? Inherited a small fortune? Come to my senses and left London? How crazy is that? With the number of people and companies that move on a regular basis, many organizations are missing out on a great opportunity to reconnect with their customers and use the information to enhance their relationship, and improve their profitability.

So it got me thinking about how this could be turned into a positive experience and, on a recent trip to Canada, I spoke to some guys that I know that have a growing software company and who were looking to improve their performance in terms of both existing customers and new business. However, they didn’t want to invest a small fortune and take months, or years, to do it. We looked at what they already knew about their customers and prospects and decided that it was worth seeing if adding some carefully selected, but relatively small pieces of information would help them target and convert more effectively.

Once they’d decided on what they thought would be valuable they added a section on the log in page that provided a brief intro about the mutual benefits of fulfilling the request and asked customers to take a few moments to update their data and to add some new information. They promised not to sell the list and also asked if they wanted to opt out, and effectively not participate in this exercise. Most people agreed and provided more good info, which was no real surprise as we all know that Canadians are very nice people and not at all boring  (I can say that, I do have the passport).

All they asked people to do was to update their contact details and add five pieces of information and, as a result, their lead conversion rate improved by 8% and their sales to existing customers jumped by 6%. Both numbers translated into some reasonably serious revenue, while also increasing the feel good factor with their customers. And the really great part was that other than agreeing on the information needed and designing a very easy to follow landing page, their costs were minimal and it was all done with very little human intervention. They were using Salesforce.com, so it was really easy to have the updated details find their way into the contact record and then to run a short report that identified who had updated their record. Simples!

However to really make this work you need to adhere to three basic concepts.

  • The information that you gain needs to be actionable and valuable to help you make timely offers that can provide immediate and recognizable customer benefits
  • The offers need to be relevant and closely matched to the customer’s profile and growth potential
  • The offers must be personalized so that the recipient can see that you’ve used their information intelligently and that you understand their needs wants and preferences

Although you may argue that this wasn’t really “Big Data” in the strict sense of the word, it was important data, that had a big impact, especially for a relatively small business, and, as the results showed, had a profound effect on both customers and the company. There are still lots of real, or perceived, challenges about Big Data, not the least of which is agreeing on what it really is, as well as how to gather and use it, effectively and appropriately – but that’s a whole other blog.

For my friends in Canada, my moving experience turned into a game changing event for them that led to new insights, and new customers, as well as increased profits and shows that there’s no reason that this type of approach can’t be equally valuable, and effective, for all businesses large or small. This doesn’t mean that it will work that well for everyone, but there’s a fertile seedbed of data out there waiting to nurtured, harvested and used creatively to spot new business opportunities, develop new products and enhance the customer experience. So what do you have to lose by not at least watering the garden every now and then? Only your customers, and your business.

Publish Date: September 16, 2013 1:03 PM


We know who you are - But do you know where I am?

Big Data hit the headlines in a front page article in the Sunday Times this weekend that suggested that the Met had agreed to buy mobile phone data, belonging to 27 million customers, from Ipso-Mori, a leading market research company, who in turn had bought the info from mobile phone operator EE. Ipsos-Mori and EE have made it clear that the data in question was aggregated and anonymised, in other words, didn’t contain individual user data, and that it was carried out in compliance with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements. But it’s still scary and sends big brother chills down most of our spines.

Most of us know that there is enough available mobile phone and other data that companies, and certainly governments, can use for a clandestine romp through our personal lives. While this is potentially worrying, my bigger frustration, as both a customer, and a customer service professional, is that so few businesses in the UK use high-value data like this in a positive and profitable way to help customers, and themselves, to develop richer, more personalized relationships.

Most businesses have no shortage of information on their customers, but according to a recent study by Freeform Dynamics, only 15% of them feel they fully leverage legacy database information for marketing purposes. Much of the data already stored for analysis is not used, probably because it’s stale and ineffectual, and Bill Inmon, a data warehouse expert, claims that 95% of data in a warehouse is “dormant.”

This isn’t really surprising as most companies are missing opportunities to enrich and revitalize the data that they have to improve how they serve us. The unrelenting growth of smartphones and the increase in mobile apps, especially in retail, represents access to a huge and growing vein of rich, dynamic customer data that if mined effectively, can provide real measurable benefits to both the customer, and the business, that knows where to dig.

Smartphones are becoming ubiquitous in the UK, according to eMarketer, who estimated that smartphone penetration in the UK would stand at 30% of the general population by the end of 2012 and by 2015, more than half the population will use a smartphone. In addition, according to eConsultancy, 73% of smartphone owners have used their device while out shopping, and consequently can be targeted more effectively and can take immediate advantage of offers. As a result, reward driven, location based marketing programs using geo-location technology as noted in the Sunday Times article, but in a consumer friendly way, without the avalanche of negativity Ipsos-Mori has generated, are showing the way with timely, relevant and valuable offers

I realized how important this was when I recently moved to another part of the country and needed to get up to speed on where the best local deals were for products and services. As a smartphone addict, I had two “mobile” experiences that were totally different and clearly illustrated the gulf between companies that are leveraging this knowledge for the mutual benefit of the customer and them, and those who are digging in the wrong place.

One of the best examples of location based marketing is Priority Moments from Telefonica O2, and, as one of their customers, I get regular, personalized and valuable offers from O2 and their participating merchants. As this is an opt-in program where the customer downloads a mobile app, provides key preference data and legitimately wants to get offers, O2 has a unique opportunity to use the data intelligently in a non-intrusive way that benefits all parties in the deal. By also being able to see what offers I look at, click through to and actually take up, they can continually update the offers and enrich the data they have, and that I want them to have, to make my experience a memorable one.

Contrast this with my experience at B&Q, who have a program called the B&Q Club, which is designed to be a “quick and convenient way to get the latest offers and deals from the B&Q Club.”  Apparently the idea is to reward customers with in-store offers and other prizes which it might do, but frankly, they could do the same thing with a plastic loyalty card and the mobile app is certainly not leveraged effectively. Despite visiting the same store regularly, they’ve not seemed to learn anything about me, nor have tailored any offers that are relevant or timely. Here’s what they could do, that would start to set them apart from other retailers.

  • Link my membership with my on-line account to see what I’m interested in and to use this to “push” relevant offers
  • Monitor my on-line activity,  and, as I often log-out without checking out, as I may want to see the products or check other stores, use this information to offer special deals on the “failed” check-out products, when I’m in the store
  • Use geo-location to greet me when I get to a store and direct me to a certain part of the store to check on a special offer, or to see a demo of a product I’ve previously viewed
  • Connect all the dots of my in-store, mobile and on-line activity to draw a complete and continually updated, picture of my profile

There are multiple benefits to using integrated mobile apps and customer data in your business including:

Consistently saving customers time and money and, as a mobile, social app, engendering sharing and community promotion

Providing accurate and low cost data acquisition and can be one of the key pillars of a truly effective Omni/multi-channel solution

Increasing footfall into stores that can stem losses to on-line only businesses, while potentially increasing the average in-store spend with special offers

Correlating loyalty into value, reducing risk of churn and keeping the company top of mind with customers who regularly engage and access offers.

A study from the UK Mobile Media Consumption Report highlights the importance of location-based advertising, with 41% of respondents claiming that a mobile ad had helped them find something nearby while 20% said it had influenced a purchase decision in-store.

Historically CRM data has been used to answer the question; Do you know who your customers are? And while that’s still important, the questions that should be asked are; Do you know where they are? And are you willing and able to meet them there?

If you’re not, someone is!

Publish Date: May 13, 2013 9:11 AM


Many are called, but few are chosen (to speak to agents)

The recent fine from OFCOM for making a bucket load of “silent calls”, levied against UK based communications company Talk-Talk (I guess more accurately called Not Talk!), was exceptionally heart-warming, and provided no little sense of schadenfreude, for those among us -  yeah, that’s probably all of us - who are sick to the teeth with the persistent bombardment of intrusive calls and texts. Last year it was Homeserve caught in a dialling for dollars wheeze that cost them the thick end of £750k, and recently SSE was caught with their hands in the energy mis-selling cookie jar. I’m sure most of us know from personal experience that these aren’t the only, or the worst offenders, just the one that got caught. We then get an insincere apology and, of course, having been caught, the companies usually say “it won’t happen again guv,” as TT did when it happened before in 2006.

Alright, I know that it wasn’t actually Talk Talk, but two of their out-source partners, but somebody at TT had to OK this, (didn’t they?). And while their leaders will dismiss this as a momentary embarrassment with minimum impact, and certainly the fine was in the same “slap on the wrist” category as that given to SSE, the bigger questions should be; what were they thinking of?  And why would anyone want to do business with an organization that “meets” their customers this way? And it certainly makes you wonder about their overall customer acquisition strategy, assuming that there is one.

There’s already very little love lost between today’s more vocal, combative consumers and the communications and utilities companies that deploy questionable customer acquisition tactics. Dumb moves like this simply generate an avalanche of negativity that leaves a permanent stain of distrust on the Talk Talk corporate landscape.

I know that many companies still use this extremely ineffective way to get new business and the underlying technology, known as “predictive dialling”, which is the “Lada” of the contact centre technology world, is notoriously unstable, and, like the cars, prone to crash at any time. Just ask any contact centre IT manager that’s tried to install it, or keep it running.

Apart from its unsophisticated, intrusive nature, it’s reflective of a seriously flawed marketing strategy that also typically includes poorly targeted and unsolicited emails, texts and direct mail. What it really tells us is that organizations that deploy this “strategy”, show a fundamental disdain for their customers, and their communications preferences, and lack a game plan to implement a fully connected road map, that recognizes customers as individuals with specific needs and wants.

In corporate speak, that means a Total Business Blueprint that maps the complete customer lifecycle via a carefully targeted, well segmented, omni-channel (including digital, social, mobile and traditional contact methods) communication strategy, that provides relevant, timely and value driven messages and offers to its prospects and customers. This translates into delivering the right message, to the right people, via the right medium, at the right time.

This approach takes time, persistence and no little effort, to build a clearer and more value based profile of a prospect/customer, and their propensity to buy, through a far more sophisticated method of data management and customer insight, than could ever be obtained through cold calling. However the payoffs are significant with customers reacting positively, with increased purchases from, and greater loyalty to, businesses that can demonstrate that they really do care what customers think and how they feel. Even a relatively small increase in customer loyalty can pay off handsomely at the profit window, especially for those organizations with a large base of customers.

Businesses such as Amazon, Tesco and Charles Tyrwhitt realize that loyalty must be continually earned, and, that by continuing to enrich the data that they get from customer interactions and managing their communications carefully and intelligently, will allow them, in turn, to provide information and incentives to make the customer’s buying process easier.

These are just some of the key features of a Total Business Blueprint, and while the concept can hardly be considered as revolutionary, many businesses struggle to develop, and deploy, a fully joined up, horizontally designed, customer interactions road map to address the complete customer lifecycle. This is not just the responsibility of the marketing department and stakeholders from across the business, including customer service, on-line, digital and sales, must play a defining and contributing role.

The damage done by Talk Talk’s partners pales in comparison with the unbridled, eye watering bets made by the “rogue traders” from many of the casino banks. However, the fact is that a “rogue department” that can operate with impunity (until now) and, apparently, without the knowledge of the management team, not only damages a company’s reputation, but highlights the importance of aligning these key operational groups into a coherent and responsible team, with the authority, credibility and budget to implement the Total Business Blueprint.

Without that discipline, and the company wide coordination of strategy that it can engender, these types of “mistakes” will happen again and again and make rebuilding trust and connecting with customers – the right way, even more difficult,  demonstrating that “silence isn’t golden” – especially with Talk Talk on the other end!



Publish Date: April 23, 2013 1:23 PM


Hotel loyalty scheme disconnected from reality

I checked into the Novatel hotel in Newcastle recently and after the basic pleasantries and confirmation of my reservation, I was handed a blank registration form to fill in with all my personal data. No real surprise there except that I’m an Accor A-Club silver member and all of this data is on file already! So why, I asked the receptionist, did I have to do it all again?

As I guess I’m one of the few people to actually speak up she seemed surprised by my response as I’m sure most people,  just roll over and even apologise for causing any trouble!

 

As she appeared to be a quick study, and sensibly didn’t push it, said she would get the information from the system, but didn’t seem to get why I might be upset. It’s quite simple. Having to fill or provide data, as with many call centre interactions, that a company already has in their CRM system, just screams incompetence, is a total waste of time for both parties, and a major contributor for customer dissatisfaction.

 

One of the main reasons I sign up for “loyalty” programs, and I do use the term loosely, is so that I can make the transaction as fast and painless as possible. But the most obvious issue, and what loyalty should be all about, is that the hotel clearly knew nothing about me before I arrived and consequently wouldn’t be able to accommodate any special requests, low floor, not near a lift, doesn’t like waiters named Manuel etc, and even more importantly, lose any opportunity to “Wow” me.

 

Legendary customer experience stories about hotels are usually all about fantastic memories generated from the fact that a guest is known, recognized or remembered, from a trip many months or years ago and are “welcomed” back. What chance did the Novatel have to do this, even in the most basic of ways, “Welcome back Mr.Brown?”

 

This is a great, and relatively simple, opportunity for a hotel to make an immediate deposit into the customer experience account. So it’s truly amazing that this most simple of data base issues, the ability to transfer the guest data from the reservation system to the hotel, is one that I run into quite often. Not so much with the really great hotel brands, but quite often with those on the fringes and perhaps whose typical customers are less demanding.

 

Here’s what hotel chains need to do.

  1. Make      sure the online registration system is connected to the hotel system
  2. If      not, ensure that the loyalty card is “smart” enough to be scanned on-site
  3. Have      regular and loyalty program customers’ portfolios ready to go on check-in

 

As with most customer experiences, it’s about expectations, and mine, if I’ve taken the time to sign up for a program, and given a hotel my business on a regular basis, are that you at least recognize me. Clearly this hotel brand is unable to meet those expectations so the next form I fill out for them will be a pink slip!

 

Publish Date: September 23, 2011 4:24 PM

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