Friday, March 2

Delivering an exceptional customer experience - 10 Reflections from 35 years of listening to customers

Dear son

sorry i wasn't able to pick you up last night. I was sleeping when you texted at 2:36am and I had my phone on mute. So anyway, somebody dropped you off so that's ok. But next time, please call us on the home phone or try mamma's mobile as well. I felt bad that I couldn't pick you up.

Anyway, here's the interesting bit which I read today. As I have said before, this is part of my job, to make sure that one of the bank's business improves its sales function. But as you might be considering yourself to be a banker or actually setup your own firm, this is crucial to remember. Everybody sells, son. Mamma is trying to sell her books. I might be an academic and I am trying to sell my ideas. I might be a service provider or a call centre person. Doesn't matter, we always have to sell something to somebody. So its good to learn about these points.

Now usually i find these 10 point plans facile. They are far too generalist and easy to write, son. But the real challenge is to actually implement this. That's where most of the people fail. But many don't even think about these basics, son. Simple things and a great checklist for you to know whether or not you are actually dealing with your customers in a good way. Nothing wrong with this, but yesterday, at an industry dinner, I did a very scientific survey of 6 people who were at my table. They were from different organisations in various industries. All of the FT100 people and we are talking senior managers there. Did you know that pretty much everybody said that they wont be able to tick off more than 2 perhaps 3 points on this list? Points to ponder son, points to ponder. Think about Virgin or Apple, the top firms in customer service and you will realise why people are ferociously loyal to them.

Build better customer service and the world will beat a path to your door.




Just before Christmas, Alex Matthews (customer experience guru for HSBC, M&S and many others) decided to change the pace of his working life and stepped down from HSBC to pursue a portfolio of consulting projects.  Having spent the last 3 years getting to know Alex really well I can say without doubt that when he talks on the topic of “the customer” it’s time to sit up and take notes.  I am therefore delighted that Alex has been good enough to share with me his collected wisdom from 35 years of listening to customers and working to deliver an exceptional customer experience.  Collated below are his top 10 reflections for business leaders looking to get the customer experience spot on.
1.  Know Thy Customer – And I mean KNOW
A recent study showed that on any given day the front line were aware of 100% of the customers’ issues... the average UK CEO at the time could name only 4% of them.   The smart CEOs seek out real (as opposed to stage managed) opportunities to get in their stores, branches, call centres etc and actually talk to and serve their customers.  There is no substitute for this.
2. Know the difference between what the Customer Wants and what the Customer Expects
There are always elements of any product or service that customers just expect and there are some that can absolutely delight them.  Being able to distinguish between the “everyday” elements that tend to drive “satisfaction” and the handful of “wow” elements that enable a business to truly differentiate itself is essential. It enables the business to put its energy and resources into being better only where the customer needs it to be great. Don’t try and beat the competition on the everyday stuff.  It’s OK to be as good as the best of the rest on the everyday stuff.
3. Understand exactly how the customer makes you money
Understanding that whilst the overall interaction and impression the customer has of the organisation is important it is often how the customer is dealt with at one or two “moments of truth” that will determine the customers’ loyalty and advocacy.  Being able to identify what parts of the interaction you have with your customer are truly the “moments of truth” and then aligning your resources to deliver a phenomenal customer experience is essential to maintaining a profitable relationship with your customers
4. The BIG things are often the little things
The “wow” aspects of the customer experience, whilst not always easy to identify are often the easiest to implement by the individual e.g. acknowledging a customer by name, smiling at a customer and saying thank you to a customer in their own words; little things yes but the hardest things for the organisation to implement.  It requires a lot of effort to be expended on developing the culture of the organisation to the point where the “little things” are natural.
5. Talk about customers.  About what they would think, not what we think of them
Does the leadership at all levels, but especially the top, have conversations about customers?  Not high level strategic presentations about customer segment migration (important though these are) but just plain simple conversations. They might be about last week’s complaints or about last week’s store visits (M&S ‘s board would all be in stores at the weekend and those comments would form the early part of the Monday board meeting. Tesco used to have an empty chair at its trading meetings to represent the customer and what she, yes she, might think about what ever was being talked about).
6. It’s about people!
The most important cog in the machine is the person you speak to. I know, I know we can all have wonderful digital lives now but businesses that treat their employees as real human beings tend to find those human beings transferring that feeling to customers.  Are staff required to use a script or are they trusted to use their judgement? Are they empowered to make a decision on your behalf or does it have to go to a higher authority? Does the employee look like they enjoy being there??? Old fashioned stuff I know but amazing how often that really is all you need to know!!
7. Look after the middle managers
And of course there is now oodles of research to prove that happy employees deliver a better customer experience and the biggest factor in the creation of happy employees is the quality of their middle managers. They are the biggest influence on how those who serve customers feel about their life at work. How are branch managers, team leaders, etc assessed? Are those who get promoted the best examples of the brand values and are they rewarded on their ability to performance manage?  In Disney 50% of a leaders’ performance rating is generated by how they bring the Disney values to life... as judged by their direct reports!!
8. Make it easy
Customers don’t want complicated.  Life’s too busy for that already.  Numerous channels, numerous products, loads of small print…  Over the years, we’ve managed to make it all so complicated.  Customers just want it to work.  There has to be a cost and profit component to what we do, but we also need to ensure that it’s easy to use and easy to buy.  Metro and other new entrants are picking up on that, and building simplicity into their business.  The chef Gordon Ramsay is a stickler for a trimmed back menu at all his establishments – learn to think like Gordon
9. Bring the customer in – live transparently
The beauty (and horror) of our digital age is that the customers will be inside our organisations whether we like it or not – the smarter businesses have learnt that trying to keep them at arms’ length is pointless and have thrown wide the doors to invite them into improve all manner of processes including sales and service, product design, ethics and compliance, complaints handling and organisational governance.
10. Now and again, let people err on behalf of the customer
The people who interact with your customers, for all intents and purposes, tend to be the most junior in the business.  Yet it is what they do that wins or loses those customers.  You need to give clear guidelines and support for what decisions they can make – but in the end it’s their decision and they won’t always get it right.  Accept it.

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