When companies set their internal expectations for customer service – when they decide what is reasonable in terms of meeting deadlines, providing information and feedback, product or service quality, and so forth – one question that always needs to be asked is “Says who?”
Companies often set their customer experience performance by looking at their own internal processes. “Well, it takes us this long on average to do “X”, so we’ll add on another day or two to cover off the unexpected, and then tell the clients that’s how long it will take.”
The problem with this kind of thinking is that this outcome might be eminently reasonable, and supportable in terms of internal process, but it may nevertheless cause customer dis-satisfaction or even anger.
A classic example is airlines. Airlines “pad” their on-time performance, quoting longer times than actually necessary to fly between A and B, so that when a plane arrives a little sooner than the schedule predicted then theoretically people are delighted. And a small delay in arrival (up to 15 minutes from the scheduled time) is actually regarded by the regulatory authorities as “on time”. So they can actually be late, but still spruik their reliable performance.
The criticism levelled at relying on such padding is that it is also used as a reason not to upgrade airline efficiency, whether that be in terms of on time performance or a host of other issues like airport customer experience and environmental impact.
So airline management are happy, but their customers perhaps less so. Airlines spend millions discovering what snacks people want, or how much chair recline they need, or what colour the cabin should be, but what most regular fliers want is simple reliability. “If it says your plane will get there at 8am, then I want to get there at 8am. Because everything else about my trip is predicated around that basic fact.” This very obvious (and entirely reasonable) expectation seems to pass some airline executives by.
The starting point for any moves to make the Customer Experience better needs to be … the customer.
If you’re a pizza shop, and you’re proud of your delicious pizzas and you know you pour your heart and soul into making them look and taste great, you might think cooking and delivering such a delicious pizza in 30 minutes is great. But if the pizza shop next to you delivers an acceptably yummy pizza in 20 minutes – and those ten minutes matters to your customers – then you’re potentially in big trouble. Even if their pizza isn’t quite as good as yours. But how many pizza shop owners ever stop and say to their customers, “Is that OK with you?” Or “Hey, how did we do?”
Now think about any … bank … finance or insurance company … airline (again) … oh, hang it, ANY big organisation. When customers ring, do they get “Thank you for calling Impersonal Corporation Ltd. We value your time. Press 1 for blah blah …”
All these companies employ sophisticated telephone answering and call forwarding systems because they perceive they are saving money – and creating efficiency, not just for them but for their customers – by using those systems to screen calls.
It works, sure. But customers often hate them. They sigh as they hear the digital spiel begin. Some of them even hang up. But which CEO is famous for saying “You know what? Let’s go back to the future. I think we should actually answer every call as it comes in. Train the call answerers properly. And then transfer it to the right place. OK, that means more staff, and better staff, but it’s a price we will pay to be more personable.”
Answer: none of them.
And the real downside of poor customer service is that bad news travels very fast. Warren Buffett once said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." No truer words have ever been spoken about business, yet not all businesses think that way.
So here’s a few thoughts to spur you into taking your customer’s experience very, very seriously indeed.
It is said to take five times as much investment to find a new customer as it does to keep one.
One you’ve sold something to a customer once, it is estimated that you are anything up to ten times more likely to sell to them again as you are to a new customer.
Customers who rate your customer service are less likely to either ‘bad mouth’ you, or leave you, when there’s a hiccup. And they are more likely to praise you to their friends. The research that demonstrates that this word-of-mouth effect is by far the most important element in creating your public persona is voluminous.
Employees working for customer-focussed businesses stay longer and enjoy their work more, so they’re more productive.
And here are a few “Well, I can do that today” thoughts:
Pay to have your business secret shopped by professionals who carefully record the entire exercise and tell you what you need to know, rather than what you want to know. Chances are their advice will pay for itself in no time flat.
Get someone you trust implicitly – a family member or close friend – to telephone your business and report back to you on how it made them feel. Feel, not just whether they found what they wanted.
Get them to go on your website. Forget those complicated reports and waffle that is mainly used to justify the existence of your IT department. Get back to basics: above all, was it easy to use?
Get a bunch of your most recent ads, and play them or show them to real people who you consider to be averagely brainy and sensible. Do they get the message they’re supposed to get, are they able to respond easily, and perhaps most important of all, does the advertising mesh with their real life experience of dealing with your company?
When you’ve done all that, either empower your Customer Experience employees to make real, substantive changes to the products and services you offer, or take over their job yourself.
One well-known Australian business owner of our acquaintance insisted that ten randomly selected customer complaints a week be directed to his desk, so he could then call the customers personally and resolve their problem.
Often they couldn’t believe he was calling them personally, and the word of mouth impact of the CEO actually ringing them was well worth his time. He also knew when his direct reports were gilding the lily on customer satisfaction.
Now just imagine if the CEO of your Bank called you. Or the head of your preferred airline. Or your electricity company. Or, for that matter, the Premier of your State.
Even just once. Just once.
Written by Stephen Yolland - Director of Creative Strategy