The epic failings of Emirates: are brands really trying hard enough when it comes to Customer Experience?


Emirates Epic Failures

As someone who spends his life eating, talking, breathing, writing and generally  living everything to do with Customer Experience, it is inevitable that on occasion I may get tagged as a serial ‘moaner’. It is true to say that I often highlight the less than palatable experiences I encounter. However, I am just as quick to champion exceptional experiences as I am to expose those at the other end of the spectrum.

At the end of the day, the reason I regularly write about experiences of my own is to bring to life the reality that the Customer Experience has on customers, employees and shareholders. The best way to bring to life the consequences of not being customer focused is to share real life stories. In this post I am compelled to share with you the epic failures of one of the world’s ‘leading’ airlines. Whether you still consider them to be ‘leading’ having read this is up to you.

Emirates has built up a very good reputation over the last ten years. They are very quick to promote their approach to Customer Experience online – in fact, these are two of the claims/promises made on their website:

  • The Emirates Experience – Comfort and attention to detail you can rely on every time you travel
  • The Emirates Experience puts you first

I have flown with Emirates on numerous occasions – all of which have been in economy class. Whilst I have found the experience to be acceptable, it falls short (in my opinion) of its major rival Etihad – you can read my comparison between the two airlines here. It was therefore with great anticipation that I learned I was to be able to make a comparison between Emirates and Etihad once more. In February 2015, I was to fly from Manchester to Chennai in India on Emirates and fly back to Manchester from Hyderabad with Etihad – the entire journey was to be in business class. As I sit writing this blog post in Chennai, I have only experienced the Emirates flights – my experience was so unexpected, I have decided to write about it before flying back with Etihad.

In business class you are treated to a wholly different Experience to that in economy. From the free chauffeur service; to dedicated check in desks; to exclusive lounges. The cost of a business class ticket is not insubstantial, but the benefits do seem almost worth it. My journey to Chennai started well. the morning before my flight I received a telephone call from Emirates. They wanted to confirm the details for my chauffeur pick up the following morning. I was impressed.

At 05:45 the next day, as promised, the chauffeur arrived outside my front door. The lovely man delivered me as close to the check in desk as I could have asked. Check in was a breeze and before I knew it I was seated in the luxurious Emirates lounge in Manchester Terminal  1. When I arrived at the lounge, I was advised that my flight to Dubai was delayed. Little did I know at that point the consequences the delay would have on my trip.

We boarded the plane around 45 minutes late. I was slightly nervous that my onward connection to Chennai once arriving in Dubai would be perilously tight. None of the cabin crew seemed concerned, so I settled back to enjoy the flight in the considerable comfort of business class. We landed in Dubai at 20:15 – exactly the time that my flight to Chennai was scheduled to be boarding. Still none of the cabin crew suggested I might have a problem.

On leaving the plane, I was greeted by a member of Emirates ground crew. The lady advised me that we would have to transfer to my Chennai flight as quickly as possible. She advised that it would not be possible to transfer my bag in time – I was given the option to wait for the later flight, or travel onwards without my bag.

You may be reading this thinking: ‘what is the problem with that?’ In principle you are right – no airline can completely eliminate delays – yet they can work hard to ensure that customers are treated well and fairly if they are subjected to one. The later flight would have seen me arrive in Chennai too late – too late to start the delivery of a workshop for my client. Leaving on the later flight was therefore not an option. However, the materials I use for my workshops were in my bag – the bag they were advising could not be transferred to my Chennai flight.

It took about 30 minutes to get from my Manchester flight to the Chennai flight. Once I had boarded the plane, it did not move for at least 30 minutes. Why 60 minutes was not enough time to transfer my bag is not clear – I personally think that Emirates did not try hard enough to complete the task – they could have got it on that flight if they had really wanted to. I asked the ground crew in Dubai to ensure that their counterparts in Dubai knew what was going on. I wanted to ensure that not only could someone help me with my delayed bag, but that they would also ensure that the chauffeur scheduled to take me to my hotel in Chennai would wait for me.

When I arrived in Chennai, I was pointed in the direction of ground crew – they were not Emirates staff. They did not treat me any differently to any other passenger arriving in Chennai – they made me wait until almost all the passengers had disembarked the aircraft. I was eventually  led to a counter in the baggage hall. I completed numerous forms – all hand written. I was assured that my bag would arrive on the later flight into Chennai and that Emirates would deliver the bag to my hotel. The entire process did not fill me with any confidence whatsoever. However my lack of confidence was soon to turn to despair and anger.

Firstly, I was offered no apology – by anyone – Emirates or otherwise, for the fact that my bag was not transferred. It was not my fault that one of the flights was delayed. It was not my fault that the gap between the two flights was so insufficient for them to transfer the bag. More importantly I was also offered nothing to help me in my current state – I had been travelling for 13 hours wearing the clothes I stood in. I had no change of clothes and no toiletries. It was 2:45 in the morning and I had four hours before a car was picking me up from my hotel to take me to my client. It would have been nice to be given a toothbrush if nothing else! Remember – this is the airline that claims the following

  • The Emirates Experience puts you first

I did not think it could get any worse – but it did. Epic fail number two occurred when I departed the terminal. Not only is it very unclear as to where to go to pick up your scheduled chauffeur at Chennai airport, when I did eventually find the location, there was no-one there to greet me. Not a soul. It was now 3:00 am. I was tired, sweaty and very angry. To make matters even worse, I had no idea what to do about it. If you have not been to Chennai airport before, I must point out that it is not a great place to be in the dead of night. The only people who would talk to me were taxi drivers trying to harass me into their cars – they are very unpleasant. A taxi was not an option anyway as I had no cash and there were no ATM machines with any cash in them for me to access.

There was not a single Emirates member of staff to be found – anywhere – inside or outside of the terminal building. To cut a long story short, I spent a thoroughly unpleasant TWO HOURS trying to find someone to help me. At the two-hour mark, a man in casual clothes suddenly appeared asking me if I was the man looking for the Emirates chauffeur. I did not know whether to hug him or throttle him!! Once again, no apology, no explanation – my flight arrived in Chennai at 2:15 in the morning. I finally arrived at my hotel 16km away at 05:00. I managed just under 90 minutes sleep before I had to get in the taxi to my client. Remember this debacle was caused by the airline who claims the following:

  • The Emirates Experience – Comfort and attention to detail you can rely on every time you travel

I finally received my bag at 3pm  the following afternoon. I had to deliver the first day of my workshop wearing the clothes I had traveled in for over 13 hours – clothes intended for the British winter – not the Indian east coast. I had to improvise with the materials I used. On receiving my bag back (which my client had to retrieve from the hotel – Emirates would only deliver it there), I reflected on the entire experience.

Reunited with my bag!
Reunited with my bag!

Emirates had failed me ‘epically’. A large sum of money had been paid for me to travel with them in business class – what they delivered was so far from ‘putting me first’ that it has left a very sour taste in my mouth. I want an apology from Emirates. However, more than an apology, I want them to acknowledge that they understand the consequences their actions (or non actions) have on customers. What does it feel like arriving at your location without your luggage? What does it feel like to arrive in a new country with the person scheduled to meet you not being there? What does it feel like to have no-one from your brand being present to help a customer in need? If Emirates understood the consequences, they would be actively working to improve the customer journey – a journey that right now is inadequate. Emirates would also be working very hard to recover the situation – two days after the event, I am still waiting to hear from them.

I have had it with Emirates. I will not be flying with them again. I have other options I can replace them with. I will also ensure that many people hear about my experience with them. Not only are they likely to fail their customers, they DO NOT TRY HARD ENOUGH when it comes to Customer Experience – saying it on their website is not enough.


If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

You can complete the survey by clicking here

Opinion or Reality? Does Customer Experience really make a difference?


CX opinion or reality

I am unlikely to be the first person to write an article focusing on whether or not the Customer Experience really makes a difference. I am also unlikely to be the last. On a weekly basis, Customer Experience Professionals all over the world are being challenged to demonstrate the ‘tangible’ value focusing on the Customer Experience really delivers. Often tasked by individuals in businesses who demand to see an immediate financial return for any investment made, it is extremely easy to dismiss the need for being a more Customer Centric organisation as just the ‘opinion’ of one person versus another.

In other words, some do not believe a greater focus on ‘the customer’ will actually make any difference to the financial performance of a company whilst some do. It is the prerogative of any human to have an opinion – it is also completely acceptable for one human to disagree with another humans point of view. I have recently been engaged with a debate that highlights just such a scenario. It was suggested that I spend too much time quoting theory and opinion when it comes to the subject of Customer Experience and not enough time sharing reality. It is therefore with this in mind that I have chosen to write this post.

The debate I refer to came about as one opinion (mine) suggested that negative Customer Experiences have a detrimental effect on an organisations sustainability – in the short, medium and long term. Whilst an organisation may not cease to exist as a result of delivering consistently poor (or just inconsistent) experiences, it is extremely unlikely that a business operating in such a way will be able to predict growth – certainly not sustainable growth.

The opinion on the other side of the debate suggested that this is largely nonsense – the ‘speak of Customer Experience folk’. The debater argues that if the opinions of the Customer Experience community were true, then businesses would be ‘bleeding revenues’ and ‘the management would be kicked out’. The very well read and respected professional on this side of the debate continued as follows:

Almost every business is doing well enough by doing well enough for most customers most of the time. And this works well enough for customers at the level of behaviour – irrespective of what they say. Complaining is a favourite human past time in modern society. It is like going to the movies. Then the movie is over, and folks go back to life as usual.

So this valid opinion made me seriously question the very profession I work so passionately to represent. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? Is the reality that whilst it is ‘nice’ to talk about the principles of being more Customer Centric, the reality is that a business more focused on the customer will fare no differently to one that does not?

Those of you that ‘believe’ that focusing on the Customer Experience absolutely does make a difference will be pleased to know that  agree with you! My ‘opinion’ has not changed as a result of the challenge from an alternative perspective. Allow me to explain why. The debater set me a very valid challenge as follows:

Now please explain to me how it is that the almost every single business is doing just fine: customers continue to shop, companies continue to make sufficient revenues, and profits. The only ‘thing’ that gets cut is the employees – including those who directly serve customers – and replaced by one form or another of self-service. Let’s deal with this through numbers. Name the companies that have gone bust? Name me companies other than Ryanair and Tesco that are struggling because they have leaked customers like a sieve?

This was my response:

Please allow me to remind you of the following company names:

Woolworths; Comet; Land of Leather; Borders; JJB Sports; Zavvi; HMV; MFI; Jessops; Focus DIY; Habitat; Threshers; Dreams; Clinton Cards; Peacocks; Past Times; Barratts; Phones4U; TJ Hughes; Ethel Austin; Oddbins; Adams (childrenswear); Allied Carpets; I could go on…… and bear in mind that I am only quoting names of UK companies who have either entered administration or ceased to exist altogether in the last seven years.

Yes these failures occurred during a financial crisis. However, the crisis only served to push companies over the edge – companies who were already teetering at the top of a cliff. In almost all cases, these brands had lost touch with the evolving needs of their customers and the world around them. Failing to adapt their propositions resulted in customers voting with their feet – the predominant reason why a business ultimately will cease to exist.

Companies struggle to survive on a regular basis – again this is largely down to the fact that their product, service or experience is no longer aligned to the needs of their customers. Look at Nokia, Kodak, Radio Shack – this is not just a UK phenomena.

In fact I would like to remind you of the most clear cut example of all – JC Penney. In 2011, as the new CEO of one of the largest department stores in the US, Ron Johnson (once of Apple) made a number of strategic decisions without the benefit of either employee or customer insight. Johnson decided to change the established logo, change the pricing policy (including the halting of sales and the elimination of coupons). He also changed the layout of the stores. A very traditional business with an extremely loyal customer base, the decisions were catastrophic. This is an excerpt from his profile on Wikipedia:

Many initiatives that made the Apple Store successful, for instance the “thought that people would show up in stores because they were fun places to hang out, and that they would buy things listed at full-but-fair price” did not work for the J.C. Penney brand and ended up alienating its aging customers who were used to heavy discounting. By eliminating the thrill of pursuing markdowns, the “fair and square every day” pricing strategy disenfranchised JC Penney’s traditional customer base.Johnson himself was said “to have a disdain for JC Penney’s traditional customer base. When shoppers weren’t reacting positively to the disappearance of coupons and sales, Johnson didn’t blame the new policies. Instead, he offered the assessment that customers needed to be “educated” as to how the new pricing strategy worked. He also likened the coupons beloved by so many core shoppers as drugs that customers needed to be weaned off.”

By the time he was fired in 2013, JC Penney had lost over $4 billion during Johnson’s tenure. Having fired him, they launched a nationwide TV advertising campaign apologising to customers and ‘begging’ them to come back.

JC Penney apology

This is the reality of what could happen if you do not listen to your customers or employees. Just because a company still exists, it does not mean it successful at delivering consistently good customer experiences. The challenge is for business to achieve sustainable growth – all good things come to an end eventually if you do not remain focused on both commercial goals AND customer needs. You can read more about the JC Penney story in this Forbes article.

The reality is that nothing lasts forever. Organisations thrive, whilst others struggle. Businesses cease to exist on a daily basis. The larger the organisation, the more unlikely it is to fail altogether – but it is not impossible. As we have seen with the likes of Tesco and Marks and Spencer in recent times – failure to continually adapt your proposition to align to the changing needs of your customers will likely result in financial struggle.

The reality is that even already financially prosperous companies have realised how important the Customer Experience is to their future sustainability. I have had a number of conversations with board members of very large UK companies since January – these are companies whose financial fortunes have IMPROVED consistently since 2008. However these companies have openly acknowledged that unless they put the Customer Experience at the top of their priorities NOW, the future will not be as rosy.

This is not opinion. This is fact. This is reality. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? I will leave it for you to form your own opinion.

Leveraging the soft and fluffy: how important are soft skills in delivering Customer Experiences?


Fluffy Dog

Yesterday I had the enormous pleasure of co-chairing the first ever Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) Members Insight Exchange to be held outside of the US. The gathering of Customer Experience Professionals (CXPs) from across Europe was as inspiring an occasion as I hoped it would be. I have always said that when you put a group of CXPs in a room it acts as a mass counselling session – the Member 2 Member principle that underpins the CXPAs approach enabled everyone present to learn from each other in a wonderful collaborative environment.

What struck me throughout the day was the clearly evident ability of almost everyone present to communicate and integrate together in friendly, engaging and warm conversation. It is not often you put practitioners and vendors in a room together, many of whom are technically competitors of each other, only for them all to act as extended members of family!! The CXPA is all about learning from each other (as I have already said), but it is one thing stating the ambition and a completely different thing seeing it actually work in practice.

It was therefore fascinating for me to reflect on the day by connecting some of the thoughts from the very first speaker with everything else that followed. We were honoured yesterday to be addressed by a business that has incredibly successfully re-invented itself in the UK over the last few years. Unlike it’s US parent, McDonald’s UK has managed to maintain a very firm place in the heart of millions of UK consumers. Jack Upton, UK Director for Training, Education & Customer Services shared his thoughts on what lies behind their success – ‘blending the employee and customer experience’.

Jack Upton addressing the CXPA UK Members Insight Exchange
Jack Upton addressing the CXPA UK Members Insight Exchange

Jack shared many valuable insights – from their use of the ‘people-profit chain’, to the increase in importance of ‘emotional engagement’ between employees and customers, to the principle of ‘fusion’ – the better the delivery of customer experience at McDonald’s, the greater the value for the employee. Yet it is when Jack started to talk about ‘soft skills’ that my ears pricked up. Yes…..soft skills.

I, like many CXPs am often accused of talking only about the ‘soft and fluffy’. In fact I have used the image of the lovely cute dog at the head of this post in many presentations I have made to senior leaders over the last few years. Whilst I take the ‘soft and fluffy’ accusation in my stride, it is important to consider whether there is actually anything wrong with talking about the soft and fluffy!! Jack’s insight into the importance of soft skills to the McDonald’s business helps to explain why.

Before I expand on Jack’s thoughts, let me clarify what is meant by the term ‘soft skills’. I shall do this by quoting the modern ‘font of all knowledge’ – Wikipedia:

Soft skills is a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.

McDonald’s is one of the biggest employers of young people in the UK. The development of soft skills in these young people is core to their approach. In fact the development of people is one of the cornerstones of the success of McDonald’s this side of the Atlantic. I have seen this in evidence with my very own eyes – McDonald’s training facilities are quite simply fantastic.

Research led by McDonald’s and backed by other organisations including the CBI, Barclays and learndirect, as well as entrepreneur James Caan has identified that Soft skills such as communication, teamwork and time management contribute £88 billion to the UK economy! You can read more about the research in an article published in HR Magazine in January 2015 – in it Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills said:

“Business is clear that developing the right attitudes and attributes in people – such as resilience, respect, enthusiasm and creativity – is just as important as academic or technical skills.”

I could not agree more. In fact some of the best examples of genuinely Customer Centric organisations are those who solely recruit based on the ‘soft skills’ elements of Neil’s statement. Zappos, the online retailer now owned by Amazon, is perhaps the most famous example of all. Jack confirmed that this approach is just as important to McDonald’s. Soft skills alone do not guarantee the consistent delivery of great experiences, but if you are able to leverage the power of these skills, the behaviour of your people will go a huge way to developing unbreakable emotional bonds between employees and customers.

With this fresh in my mind, it was therefore no wonder that a room full of CXPs was able to engage with each other so successfully. CXPs do not just possess a collective obsession and passion for all things customer experience. They are also living, breathing examples of people with highly developed ‘emotional intelligence’. CXPs understand the importance of a strong work ethic; having an unbreakable positive attitude; great communication skills; good time management; the ability to solve problems; working as a team; accepting and learning from criticism; flexibility; adaptability; working well under pressure; and doing the right thing. These are the attributes of brilliant CXPs – these attributes are known as ‘soft skills’

Maybe the soft and fluffy is not such a bad thing after all. I have met many leaders in my time who do not understand the importance of ‘soft and fluffy’. These leaders do not possess an abundance of emotional intelligence. One of these so-called leaders once called me ‘emotionally immature’ – I will never forget it – although it is one of the many things I have learned from in my career.

I believe that the more you can leverage the soft skills within your organisation, the more your organisation will want to engage emotionally with your customers. Emotional engagement and empathy generate advocacy. Advocacy leads to loyalty. Loyalty leads to sustainable growth. Makes perfect sense to me……what about you?


If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

You can complete the survey by clicking here

 

Guest Post: The Importance of Personal Growth for Customer Service Professionals


Deanna Ayres

This week I am focusing my blog on the importance of developing ‘authority’ as a Customer Experience Professional in celebration of the upcoming CXPA Members Insight Exchange on the 10th February in London. If you have not read all about how to earn authority as a Customer Experience Professional here.

I am delighted to follow my post up with a guest article that also speaks of the importance of ‘personal growth’ – this time from the perspective of the Customer Service Professional. Written by Deanna Ayres, I am sure you will find a lot of value in her wisdom…


Customer service professionals are one of the major points of contact between the consumers and the company. Considering that they are a representation of the brand, customer service workers must be well trained and knowledgeable in a wide variety of topics, both general and pertaining to the company itself.

When people leave school, most people consider it the end of the studying, exams and assessments. For customer service professionals, however, it is important to continue their learning process to meet the continuously evolving needs of the customers.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, employees are constantly being judged on their skills and benchmarked against their colleagues. And, unlike studying for a final exam in college, new technology, customer demand and legislation make for an ever-changing environment.

According to a 2012 survey by an adult learning organization, there is a strong correlation between continued learning and sustained employment, especially when it comes to those fields with direct customer contact. Staff that participate in learning programs are more capable of adapting to changing requirements of organizations, putting them in a better position for promotion in their current company or with a competitive edge in the job market. They are also more likely to be viewed by their superiors as highly motivated and engaged in the business, two positive attributes to have for any employee.

Some organizations are good at providing learning opportunities for subjects that directly translate to improved performance on the job. In customer service environments, as well as many other work environments, keeping your employees happy is a way to boost the bottom line. To keep employees happy, companies often invest in creating a culture of learning by organizing continuous learning programs for employees to better themselves and their performance. There is plenty of evidence that these types of work-based learning programs are dollars well invested by the company. They cultivate engagement, flexibility in work schedules and an increased sense of appreciation and connection with the company.

To promote personal growth, companies can bring in guest speakers; encourage employees to start office-based clubs built on their interests, and implement computer rooms in the office where employees can participate in online training programs. Each of these three possibilities can be tweaked according to the type of business you operate in to meet the needs of your employees specifically. To help the company help its employees, it is worth it to invest in a call center management software as well just to ensure that the entire process stays on track and remains beneficial for everyone.

What the company offers in terms of training options, however, may not be in line with what you really want or need for your career. Depending on what area of your job you are looking to improve, there are a variety of ways to get started with your personal growth.

A great place to start is to look at past performance reviews or speak with managers, colleagues and the human resources department to seek advice from those whose skills and careers you are aiming to achieve. To improve these areas, you can identify workshops; approach someone in the business to be a mentor or sign up for an online study program. Another idea is to shadow someone who is very good at the skill you’re looking to improve. You can shadow them for one day, one week, or once a week for a longer period of time.

Instead of identifying areas of improvement based on comments of those working close by to you, you can benchmark your skills according to the job market. Check out advertisements of roles similar to yours to understand what it would take for you to get hired in the case that you were unemployed. Are your IT skills up to par? Negotiation skills could use a little improvement? Whatever the job market is looking for, you can adjust your learning program to accommodate those skills.

Sometimes the skills you need to work on aren’t so much about learning something completely new, but rather about refreshing and updating old skills. For customer service professionals, a brush up with handling difficult customers, communication skills or people management skills, for those looking to climb the ladder.

Outside of professional training, personal development outside of work can often lead to the gain of soft skills that can improve your performance in the workplace as well. Volunteer work, fundraising projects, joining local committees or participating in research activities are all ways to create personal growth without focusing on one, specific skill.

A good workplace makes employees feel like their company invests in and believes in them for the long term. Providing and promoting personal growth for customer service professionals leads to happier employees which creates bigger returns for the company and its investors. It’s a cycle with an endless amount of benefits, which just keeps going around.


Deanna Ayres is the SEM Strategist and Community Outreach Supervisor at The Marketing Zen Group & Kova Corp. She loves to come up with new content strategies for and with her team and believes that connecting on a personal level is vital to success. Growing up in Europe has allowed her a unique insight into cultural differences in business & marketing. In her spare time she is a photographer, hobby cook with a love for coffee, gamer and geek. Follow her @deanna_ayres

Earning authority as a Customer Experience Professional – the importance of professional development


CXP

When I started out on my Customer Experience career many years ago, I had no idea that Customer Experience would ever be recognised as a profession. As I started to influence the organisation I was working for, I also did not realise that to be the best Customer Experience Professional I could be, I was going to need certain types of authority. In other words, I was going to need certain types of influence to enable my organisation to become better at delivering consistently good experiences to customers.

I once went to an event in Berlin where I had the pleasure of listening to a keynote presentation from Curtis Bingham. Curtis is Founder and Executive Director at the Chief Customer Officer Council. You can find out more about the CCO here. I found Curtis’s talk fascinating – indeed one of the things he presented that day has stuck with me ever since. I would like to share it with you now.

Curtis talked about the types of authority necessary for a Chief Customer Officer or Customer Experience Professional. He described three types of authority – POSITIONAL, BORROWED and EARNED. As he talked through each one, it made such sense to me and resonated with my own experiences. You can see the authority types displayed in Curtis’s diagram below:

Source: Curtis Bingham, Chief Customer Officer Council
Source: Curtis Bingham, Chief Customer Officer Council

The model starts with Positional Authority – the position that a Customer Experience Professional (CXP) holds within his or her organisation. Most CXPs do not benefit from sitting on the board of directors – it is therefore very difficult to influence from the position you hold in the organisation alone. In my first CXP role, I was four levels below the board – who was going to listen to me?

If you cannot benefit from positional authority, you then need to look to the next type –  Borrowed Authority. Who can you borrow the authority from who does hold the position – i.e. which board member can you borrow the authority from to influence your organisation at all levels. In some cases it may be the CEO. In others cases another senior officer in the business – ultimately it does not matter who it is – as long as they can give Customer Experience the platform and voice it needs at a senior level.

The problem with ‘borrowing’ authority is that you cannot do so for ever. Over time, the impact of borrowed authority wanes. This leads to the third type – the most important of all in the context of the Customer Experience Profession – this type of authority is Earned Authority. As a CXP, there is nothing more important than your ability to earn authority as a CXP over time. Ultimately, your earned authority will exceed either positional or borrowed authority as time goes on.

Earning authority is the primary reason for me writing this post. Knowing how to earn authority as a CXP is a vital component of being one. I personally have earned and continue to earn authority as a CXP. My earning of authority will never end. So what do I do to earn it. Here is my personal 3 point checklist:

  1. Walk the talk – there is no better way of earning authority than demonstrating the core competencies that make a CXP. From developing methods and activities to drive a customer focused culture; to deploying and utilising customer feedback mechanisms; to enabling your organisation to become accountable for the Customer Experience; to developing an approach to continuous improvement of the Customer Experience; to implementing robust customer focused measurement systems. These are the competencies that make a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) – which leads me nicely to number 2:
  2. Become a Certified Customer Experience Professional – attaining an independent global accreditation for your skillset is the most powerful way to earn authority in you field. As CXPs, we are now fortunate to be in a position to do just this. I m proud to have already become a CCXP – if you are a Customer Experience Professional, why wouldn’t you want to do the same?
  3. Learn from others – I will always describe the coming together of CXPs as akin to a counselling session. Learning from each other is a core characteristic of the Customer Experience Profession. Every organisation is different. The way we approach CX is different – yet many of the challenges are similar. Listening and learning from others is an invaluable way of validating your own approach. As a result, I will always make it a priority each year to attend as many CX related events as possible – events where I am pretty certain I will be able to get value in my learning from others.

These three points have stood me in extremely good stead for my career to date. There are of course other things I have done to gain authority as a CXP, but it is these three that are central to my continuing development.  One of the most valuable learning platforms for me in my career as a CXP has been as a member of the CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association). The not for profit global association is committed to developing the Customer Experience Profession. I have learned so much from my fellow members, that it has become as much a part of my working life as my day job.

On the 10th February 2015, The CXPA is holding its first Members Insight Exchange (MIE) in the UK. Intended to act as a knowledge sharing event between CXPs, the thought of the best minds in Customer Experience across Europe coming together to share ideas and experiences is so exciting. With keynote sessions from customer focused business leaders (including McDonalds and the ex CEO of First Direct), it is an event that I believe all CXPs should make a priority to attend. Additionally, Bruce Temkin, co-founder of the CXPA will be in attendance to share his thoughts and update attendees on CCXP progress one year after launch.

You can find out more about the CXPA UK Members Insight Exchange here. You can register for the event here. It would be amazing to see you there so we can continue to learn together!


If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

You can complete the survey by clicking here

 

 

The Elms Hotel – Customer Experience Review


CX Review - The Elms

Anyone who is lucky enough to have a family with three or more children will be able to empathise with the age old problem of booking hotel accommodation. As the average family size in the UK has continued to rise (1 in 7 families with children in the UK have three or more children), the majority of hotels have steadfastly refused to budge from their belief that two adults come with two children! Every year the Golding family (with our three children) struggle finding both summer and winter accommodation in hotels  – sometimes reduced to ‘smuggling’ one of them into our hotel room, we regularly feel that the travel sector really does not do enough to accommodate larger families.

Travelling with children is tough enough as it is – if you can get past the booking challenges, you then need to determine if the hotel will have everything that little people need. Amazingly, there is less choice than you might imagine. 9 years ago, I took Naomi and our first daughter (Ciara, who was not even two at the time) to a hotel called  The Ickworth – owned by  Luxury Family Hotels, not only had we found an idyllic location to take a break in the Suffolk countryside, we had also found a proposition that catered for everything a family could desire. This review focuses on another of the groups hotels – The Elms Hotel and Spa in Worcestershire. In 2013 we decided to stay at the Elms for Christmas. Having enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided to go back a second time – on this occasion for three nights from the 26th to the 29th December.

The review you are about to read is one that is written in the spirit of all of my reviews – with as open and honest a perspective as possible. The review is based on my own methodology and scoring mechanism and is obviously my opinion – you are completely free to disagree with me!! My intention is to allow anyone who reads it to understand what makes or breaks a good customer experience and to enable those being written about to learn from my expertise as a customer experience specialist. Let the review commence!

Date Review Conducted 26th to 28th December 2014
Hotel Experienced The Elms Hotel & Spa, Stockton Road, Abberley, Worcester, WR6 6AT
CX Review Total Score 32/50
Stars Awarded 3/5

Luxury Family Hotels group of 8 beautiful residences around the UK are a young families dream. Designed to offer fabulous accommodation in idyllic surroundings whilst giving both children and adults everything they could desire,  their proposition is almost too good to be true! Every mum and dad with young children craves relaxation – what better way to do it than in a luxury environment whilst the kids are having fun.

Luxury Family Hotels describe their proposition very well on their website :

Our country house hotels are stylish and sumptuous, yet we welcome the thunder of little feet – and paws too. Babies and young children will love our Ofsted-registered crèches, while older children can make friends in the games room, try outdoor activities, or watch Blockbusters in the cinema room.

Being experts in luxury family breaks, we put family time at the core of your holiday: Make a splash with the kids in the pool, enjoy leisurely family meals, and explore our grand estates and their surroundings. But rest assured there’s plenty of scope for grown-up time too. We offer a complimentary crèche and baby-listening service (or babysitter, if you’d prefer), so you can relax under the spell of a spa treatment, don glad rags for a candlelit dinner, or simply take a walk or some time to yourself.

Our staff will immediately make you feel at home, and are always on hand to give you an insider’s guide to the local area. And to make packing easy, we’ll be in touch to ensure your room is kitted out with everything you need, from cots and sterilsers to toddler steps and bed guards.

Sounds great doesn’t it? The question is, does the experience live up to the proposition. In 2013, when the Goldings (with Naomi’s parents in tow) turned up at the Elms for the first time for Christmas, it certainly did. Luxury, relaxation, happy children, full and satisfied belly’s – there was little to fault it. So when we decided to take another winter break (this time from boxing day), we immediately decided that the Elms would be for us again. The returning customer is exactly what all business crave. The ability to deliver a consistently good experience is the challenge. Were the Elms able to live up to the 2013 experience – read on to find out…..

The Elms

Accessibility – CX Review Score 8/10

In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for me to do what I wanted to do’ with the organisation I have chosen to transact with. I have awarded the Elms 8 out of 10 for this category. This is a pretty good score, largely driven by the Elms experience having a significant number of plus points. Not only is booking the accommodation easy, the hotel is as accommodating as you would expect it to be in dealing with a family of five plus a dog! Yes that’s right – not only is this hotel able to cater for the needs of families of all shapes and sizes, it is also able to cater for creatures with four legs. We were given the same rooms as we were in 2013 – two separate rooms parted by a small corridor – the set up was perfect. Dog bowls were waiting for Rosie, and the the kids bedroom set up exactly as we expected for the three little people. All great so far.

Whilst our rooms were housed in separate building (only 30 seconds away), my in laws were booked in to a room in the main house. As we entered their room, things started to take a turn for the worse. It was rather cold on Boxing Day – a fact not lost on my in laws who recognised immediately that the radiator in their room was not working. Additionally, the curtains had been pulled away from the runner and would not close. On inspecting the bathroom, my mother in law realised that whilst the roll top bath might look nice, it was going to be extremely difficult for her to get in to it to have a shower. To say that they were not impressed with their ‘lot’ would be an understatement. The problems identified may sound like little things, but when you are paying a significant amount of money to stay in a hotel like the Elms, you expect basics (such as working radiators) to be operational. Within ten minutes of arriving at the Elms, we found ourselves back at reception asking for help. Issues with ‘the basics’ continued in our rooms. A total of three lamps  contained light bulbs that did not work – again, something that we all take for granted in a hotel, but a basic detail that had been overlooked.

The Elms has wonderfully cosy lounges to relax in – perfect on a freezing cold winters day. Two of the lounges benefit from roaring log fires – we could not wait to settle in front of one and put our feet up ahead of dinner. It was with a real sense of disappointment that we found the fire in one of the lounges to be unmade. The staff showed no willing to set it up and light it. Whether a lack of staff of boxing day was the cause I am not sure. All I know is that we did not quite get the cosy rest we expected.

On the 27th December, The Elms hosted a children’s birthday party. A function room and one of the lounges was blocked off for the event. Additionally, a large space in another lounge was reserved for another party of guests not staying in the hotel. The result is that there was very little space for paying residents to sit in the communal areas of the hotel. We wanted to have some lunch after a delightful winters walk to Abberley clock tower – it was a struggle finding anywhere to sit – we then had a lengthy wait to be served as all the staff were attending to the party. We had a genuine feeling that we had become ‘less important’ to the hotel  – not a great emotion for guests to have.

Despite these issues, the Elms (in general) does work very well as a hotel to relax with family. The best way to describe it is that the Elms is a ‘home from home’ for children and adults. Kids are free to roam around the hotel in a safe environment without fear of groans and moans from non child loving guests. A brilliant creche and play room provide plenty of stimulus to keep little people amused. An outdoor play area complete with trampoline sits in beautiful gardens – a space that would have been used more if it had not been so cold and wet!

The spa is also fantastic. A lovely heated swimming pool is complimented by a large Jacuzzi pool that sits half inside the building and half outside. Our children would have spent all day every day in the pool without any problem. Naomi and I had a treatment during our stay – the service was excellent. However, the spa showed further evidence of the lack of attention to detail., Both mens and womens changing rooms have seen better days – locks not working on lockers, unclean and stained showers. It almost felt as though has been an absence of tender loving care  in the twelve months since we last stayed there.

To highlight yet further the lack of attention to detail, I want to share with you the daily newsletter that sat on our table at breakfast every morning. A lovely idea for both children and parents. However, please note both the date of the newsletter (the 29th December) and the article in the bottom right hand corner – about an event that finished on Christmas Eve! This article remained firmly in place in all three newsletters we were given during our stay which started on Boxing Day. If someone at the Elms was paying attention, their newsletter would at least be up to date!

The Elms Newsletter

So it is with mixed feelings that I awarded a score of 8 out of 10 for the accessibility category – mixed because in normal circumstances, with the number of issues we encountered, I would have awarded a lower score. However, the brilliance of the proposition of this hotel in making a holiday EASY for children and adults alike has ultimately won me over!

Range/Choice – CX Review Score 7/10

When it comes to Range and Choice, I have awarded the Elms 7 out of 10. The hotel does very well in terms of its ability to offer a huge amount of choice for families in determining how to plan and manage their time there. From room configuration, to facilities to amenities, there is almost anything to suit the needs of anyone! Even dinner was full of choices – the choice to eat as a family, or for the kids to eat earlier and for the adults to enjoy a child free dinner after they had gone to bed (all made possible through the hotel’s ‘baby listening’ service). There is also the option for your children to be looked after early in the morning so mum and dad can have a lie in – fabulous! We observed a number of parents enjoying a quiet child free breakfast before their little ones were returned to them later in the morning.

So why have I only awarded a 7 for this category? When reviewing an end to end experience, I consider range and choice from a number of angles. In this instance, we were staying with the Elms on a ‘dinner, bed and breakfast’ basis. When you commit to something like this, you expect the range and choice of food on offer to be acceptable. We actually had the choice of two types of menu – there was plenty to choose from. However (sadly I have to use that word), although there were options, the Elms were unable to satisfy all of them. For the three nights we dined at the Elms, the steak was not available. On Boxing Day, the hotel could not make a banana split – they had run out of bananas!! My mother in law is a Coeliac (an allergy to Gluten) –  a point we had made clear when booking the holiday. Unfortunately, on our first night, the staff were completely unable to understand the fact that she needed to know what she could eat and could not eat. We had to ask repeatedly for help and for a menu to be marked up by the kitchen staff – it was not a pleasant experience. This was addressed by the second evening – but it should have been sorted from day 1. Additionally, as a customer, I do not care what day it is – I expect a restaurant to have the food it displays on its menu!

People – CX Review Score 7/10

I have awarded a score of 7 out of 10 for the Elms people. I must make it clear that the Elms staff are extremely nice. They are accommodating to children, adults and animals! However, just being nice is not enough to deliver consistently good customer experiences. On our first day (Boxing Day), we were served by staff who whilst being nice, were inefficient, unknowledgeable and actually quite unhelpful. We had to wait twenty minutes for a cup of tea to be delivered to us in the lounge for example. I have already covered the dinner debacle – the lack of understanding and knowledge of the staff made my mother in law feel very uncomfortable. When we asked our waitress about wine, she was unable to answer our questions – she did not look for help either (maybe there was no-one available to ask). It almost felt as though they were understaffed with a number of untrained staff – this was wildly different to our experience a year earlier.

At certain points, one member of staff was visibly ‘stressed’, clearly under pressure and as a result pretty aloof when serving customers. By our third night, all of this had changed. Members of staff we recognised from the year before had reappeared.  The Food and Beverage Manager served us our last meal – he was excellent – it was just a shame he was not present to observe service the previous two nights. In fact I would argue that there was a visible lack of presence of management throughout our first two days at the Elms – I do not recall seeing the General Manager during our whole stay. At one of the busiest times of year, you would expect a hotel to be fully staffed from the top down. I felt as though we were short changed – especially on Boxing Day. If the Elms want to offer a sub standard service on Boxing Day, they should reduce the price to reflect that fact.

All that being said, it is important to point out that that the Elms staff are very nice people. By our third day we finally felt as though we were being looked after. It is this fact that has prevented me from awarding a lower score.

Value – CX Review Score 5/10

The Elms is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group. When you see the word ‘luxury’, you automatically expect it to come at a price to match. It is therefore true to say that the Elms is not a cheap holiday option. It is a beautiful hotel in an idyllic location with amazing facilities. If you are prepared to pay for luxury, it is not unreasonable to expect the experience to match the price tag. That means at a very minimum the basics must be delivered. Luxury does not equal a non working radiator. Luxury does not equal broken light bulbs. Luxury does not equal a stale roll being used for a lunchtime sandwich. Luxury does not equal a customer having to constantly badger staff to find out what they are able to eat. All of these things were experienced by us in our stay at the Elms.

If any organisation fails to deliver on the basics (all of which these issues are), it is impossible to say that you have received good value for money. In many cases I would have awarded a lower score than the 5 out of 10 I have. However, despite the issues, we still felt rested after our three day stay – but we would have felt as though we had got much better value for money if the end to end experience actually matched the price tag.

How did it make me feel? CX Review Score 5/10

As we drove away from the Elms on he 29th December, it was with real mixed emotions. We had enjoyed a lovely break away from normality. Someone else had done the cooking and cleaning for three days and nights. It was lovely being able to go for a swim every day and to walk Rosie in a beautiful environment. These should have been our parting memories. However, as described throughout this review, the EMOTIONAL component of our experience has been tainted by a number of basic FUNCTIONAL and ACCESSIBLE issues that ultimately left a sour taste in our mouths. When we complained about the stale roll used to make a lunchtime sandwich we had ordered, there was barely any acknowledgement of the problem. The whole experience has left us feeling that whilst the circumstances of the hotel are great, the inability of the Elms to deliver a consistently good experience left a stain on our three days there.

The point is that it is the issues we will remember – the emotional component of the experience is what all customers remember. The question is – do you want customers to have negative memories that will result in them never coming back?

Would I use them again? No

It is with regret that I can confidently say I will not be returning to the Elms in the future. I say ‘with regret’ because there are so few hotels that are able to offer the type of break that my family wants and needs. However, if I am going to part with my hard earned cash, I demand that the experience I am promised matches the price I have to pay. The Elms need to have a long hard look at the little details that are absolutely essential in delivering great experiences. Every day of the year is the same – as far as the customer is concerned. Whether it is Boxing Day, Easter Day or any old Tuesday, the price; the service; the experience needs to be the same and at its absolute best. That is not what we experienced in our time at the Elms.

As always, I hope the Elms and Luxury Family Hotel management teams are able to learn from this review. Ultimately the ability of any organisation to react positively to the opportunities offered with positive or negative feedback enables that organisation to continuously improve the experience for customers in the future.


My reviews are based on a format I created to assess experiences I have with a variety organisations. They are intended to act as a demonstration of how Customer Experiences affect the customer in a number of ways. The reviews are based on my opinion as a Customer Experience Specialist – an opinion that readers are perfectly welcome to disagree with!! I always welcome others perspectives and would love to know what you think of the companies I do review.

You can read all of my reviews here.