As I mentioned in part one of this blog, I have done a lot of travelling recently. I flew with 5-6 airlines, used 4-5 different rent-a-car firms, stayed in half a dozen hotels, dealt with banks and logistics companies and let me tell you something – the opportunity to differentiate on the basis of customer experience is so much out there, even more than you think, just waiting to be grasped. If you look at LinkedIn and attend a few conferences you almost get a feeling that everyone has jumped on the band wagon and “is doing customer experience”. But they are not! They are lacking 3 main things:
1. a theme / clear vision of what is the experience they are trying to deliver
2. governance structure to embed Customer Experience into the business
3. consistency of the delivery / culture
In part one I showed how much opportunity is there in the airline industry given my recent experiences with what are supposed to be top airlines – Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines. Virgin had introduced a new rule about a cabin luggage limiting it to just 6kgs, but while some of their crew was strict in enforcing it, others weren’t. Same was the situation on board where some got told off for occupying a wrong seat and others didn’t, for occupying not just that seat, but the whole row.
American Airlines on the other side were to deny boarding to myself, a colleague, but another colleague of ours, who didn’t had a driver’s license could board. We wanted to talk about the situation and work out a solution but no one would listen to us, acknowledge our concerns or even apologise for denying us boarding due to no fault of ours.
Now, let me tell you about the Rent-A-Car customer experience. My first rent-a-car pick up as part of this trip started off with a very nice and friendly conversation “Hello, how are you sir”, “what can I do for you”, “I’m going to find the perfect car for you”, “I’m going to give you a really nice car” etc. So I was following, even though I had already booked a car online, I was thinking he might do a complimentary upgrade or just find a nice car. The agent even asked me if it’s for business or pleasure and I said business. That must have given him a clue, but after the initial good start it became apparent the agent is just interested in flogging me an upper category of car and “the offer” was double the amount of what my colleagues have booked for me and the agent justified it with “so you can enjoy your stay in NY and have fun”. I felt annoyed by the loss of time. I told him I was there for business and I just needed it for one day. I was then in a hurry to do all the insurance and paperwork to get the car off the parking lot but we had to go through other rounds of up-selling efforts. The initial good impressions gave way to a feeling of irritation and made the car company seem hypocritical and superficial to me. So the moral of this story is “listen, no really, listen to what customers say” and don’t be too pushy with the up and cross sale efforts. And if you think it’s just the agents fault, you’re wrong. I’m sure the agent has some sales targets as well, which are measured against and regularly reminded that they are behind and need to do more of these. In addition to this you have your recruitment and training process which led to the experience as described.
With our next rent-a-car provider, my colleague lost her mobile phone. It was not even 6am when we were leaving the car and she must have left it on the back seat while checking the flight details and forgot it as we rushed out to catch the flight. Make sure this doesn’t happen to you because you can never take it back even though you have the car registration number. That’s because firstly, you have to wait an hour before you can speak to someone, then you can hardly find the right person to talk to or be redirected to the rent-a-car office at that particular location where you’ve dropped the car. Then also you won’t find anyone within the company to take ownership of your problem. After spending literally hours on the phone with the company, sending them e-mails and messages on twitter my colleague had gotten nowhere. Luckily we flew back to the same city a few days later and while I was waiting on another rent-a-car queue (hoping never to use that company again) my colleague went to the company’s desk. She gave them the date, time and registration number of the car she left her mobile in. Needless to mention this was the first time the people from that office heard that there was a lost phone even though my colleague reported it lost as soon as we landed.
What we found through this experience was that the IVR and everything else was very well suited and oriented towards making a booking / sale but there was no process at all to connect with a local office, report a loss etc. This was a genuine surprise to us as it must happen to a lot of people.
Finally, with the last rent-a-car we took we got upgraded to a brand new BMW which usually comes with navigation but this of course didn’t. We forgot to ask about a navigation system and no one asked us if we required one so we found ourselves in the car and having to go back to the desk. When we asked the rent-a-car employees at the parking bay they only had one navigation system, if it worked it would have been perfect but it didn’t, so we had to wait again for someone to bring us a GPS. While you may argue that this is not a fault of the company it just shows that often times you need to plan for the deviation of the “normal process”. That’s when the true nature of the company is revealed and customers know that and can sense it.
People are planning the processes from their desks, thinking about what would most suit the company or at best what would be most intuitive for the customer. That’s a good start. But as you all know the devil is in the detail. To get to see these details you need to “walk the experience” as a customer and see where life with its ups and downs and unpredicted turns takes you. Ask yourself the question “what if the customer does this or that or if he / she missed this document”. We call this “customer mirrors”. It’s different from most company’s mystery shopping programs as they are designed from the assumption that the process the company has designed is the optimal and they need to examine if employees are delivering on it, whereas Customer Mirrors makes no such assumption and just evaluates the experience through customer’s eyes.
Talking about “walking the experience” takes me to the Memphis airport. That’s where you’ll really get the picture of what we mean by this. They recently got a new 7-storey parking garage and $11 million covered, moving walkway between the garages and the terminal. It’s a piece of art and looks really good. But there’s a small problem. When it rains you get wet. If they were to test it and “walk the experience” in a rainy day they could’ve make it perfect.
Another sector I’ve had a lot of experiences recently was the logistics sector. Just like with the other experiences I mentioned above, when things work and you go through the “normal” process all is fine. Nothing too good nor too bad. However, when things deviate from the “normal” you see what the company is made of. I had paid over $100 to get a package delivered to the office overnight. I went into the office the following day and to my surprise the package wasn’t delivered and no one had contacted me to tell me there is a problem or will be a delay. Needless to say when I was making the shipping arrangements I left a contact number for myself and the recipient as well as my e-mail. When I contacted them it seems that they knew the package didn’t arrive and had it rescheduled for Monday the following week (three business days). That makes it even more disturbing that they didn’t contact me and let me know. As it happened I went into the office prior to my package and it was supposed to be the other way around.
It seems that many companies collect e-mails and phone numbers just to be used for marketing purposes and not to get in touch with the customer when it really matters.
Finally, you need to realise that consistently good experiences doesn’t just happen by chance. You need to:
a) define what is the experience you want to deliver and let each department align how they can deliver according to that experience or if they are not directly involved, to create a culture in line to the intended experience;
b) you then need to put the governance structure in place to make sure the experience is thought of and looked after. A good way to assess the experience and get senior leadership buy-in is by actually walking in the experience as a customer would walk it and try the “what if’s (what we would call Customer Mirrors).
c) You can never get everything 100% right all the time but if you do the above at least you would have considered the experience from the customers perspective and increase the chances to capture the deviations of the experience and make sure these are thought of as well. This will make the experience your customers get more consistent and reliable.
So the opportunity to differentiate and compete not just on price but on customer loyalty is really so much out there, just waiting to be grasped, and if you are thinking is it really worthy check out these statistics that should’ve changed how businesses work but haven’t yet .
||Zhecho Dobrev is a consultant and project manager for Beyond Philosophy. He has worked with a wide array of large corporate companies. Zhecho’s expertise includes customer behaviour analytics, customer loyalty, complaints management and journey mapping. He holds an MBA and Master’s degree in International Relations.
Zhecho Dobrev on Twitter @Zhecho_BeyondP