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.

Falling out of love with John Lewis – even the best find it tough to deliver consistently good customer experiences


JL Falling

This is not the first time I have written about John Lewis. A British retailer recognised by many as the epitome of a people (customers and employees) focused brand, their challenge for a long time has been to maintain their position as a Customer Experience leader for others to look up to and admire.

Founded in 1864, the perception of John Lewis as a brand you can trust has been built over many years of hard work – hard work in adapting to the world around it and the ever changing needs of its customers. With its well know ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ slogan, the retailer will still pay you the difference if you can find an item you purchased from them cheaper elsewhere.

If you have turned your customers into loyal fans of your brand – if they have ‘fallen in love’ with your Customer Experience, it takes a lot of hard work to maintain that love – to maintain their ‘fandom’ and loyal custom. Even if something goes wrong, it is unlikely that your customer will fall out of love with you – especially if you are able to put it right quickly, efficiently and without too much effort.

John Lewis are by no means perfect – like all organisations, it is impossible to get things right 100% of the time, but in general they are well known for dealing with issues in a professional and consistent manner. However, in January 2015, John Lewis’s challenge seems to be getting ever tougher. The challenge for all businesses to maintain our undivided loyalty is becoming extremely difficult as we become ever more demanding. When you are a John Lewis, the expectation is remarkably high.

So the big question in this post is this – is it possible that the British consumer could ‘fall out of love’ with John Lewis? Could a brand with such a strong heritage and reputation lose its differentiation as a Customer Experience leader? In April last year I wrote a post that suggested the ‘omni channel Customer Experience’ is John Lewis’s greatest challenge of the moment. The story I shared demonstrated the risks John Lewis face in failing to connect the different customer channels in its business. The story I would like to share today highlights the significance of this  problem once again. Will this be the experience that sees me personally falling out of love with John Lewis?

On the 5th January 2015, I ordered a  ‘Luxury Memory Foam Mattress Bed Topper’ from John Lewis.com. I immediately received an email confirmation advising me that the item would be delivered ‘within 5 working days’ of me placing my order. I was very happy with this as the item was intended as a birthday present for Mrs Golding whose birthday was on the 13th January! Unusually for me, I was working ahead of time with a little leeway!

JL 1

Two days later I received another email. Entitled ‘Back Order Details’, things did not bode well. In fact I was actually quite astonished to open an email from John Lewis advising me that the item ordered was NOT available for delivery. The ‘call to action’ was for me, the customer, to make all of the effort and contact John Lewis by email or telephone to ‘cancel the order’!! Alternatively I could just wait for it to arrive, or have my order cancelled in 4 weeks.

JL 2

Sadly this type of ‘broken promise’ event is pretty common with online retailers – the problem is that I have higher expectations of John Lewis than I do of other retailers. I was NOT impressed. As I did not want to have to email or telephone, I reached out to Twitter to vent my frustration:

JL 3

A broken promise of delivery of a birthday present and the first suggestion from John Lewis on Twitter was for me, the customer, to contact my local store. I was starting to get a little hot under the collar now. This is really not what I expect from John Lewis. There was no other option but to pick up the phone and speak to them.

On the 9th January I called the John Lewis.com contact centre – more of my time, effort and cost in telephone calls. For the first time during the transaction, I spoke to someone who gave me faith that I was really dealing with John Lewis and not a bogus website! Zain, the contact centre agent, was excellent. Very apologetic, he did everything he could to understand what had happened and what he could do about it. I was impressed. Zain confirmed the weakness in John Lewis’s operating model. The online business did indeed not have any more of the item I had ordered in stock. The item was due into their warehouse on the 5th January but had not arrived yet. The online warehouse is NOT shared by the stores – they have their own separate stock pool. Zain had to put me on hold while he contacted the stores contact centre to see if they had any of the item available. Still with me?!

If you are confused, I will just clarify that John Lewis is not a joined up, connected, omni channel business. Its stores and online propositions might look the same, but they are separate and disparate. I was suffering as a result. The only solution Zain could come up with was to cancel my online order and reserve the item at my local John Lewis store in Chester. I then had to telephone my local Chester store to confirm my reservation. The whole experience was long winded and ridiculous. I had got to the point of almost no return!

The following day (10th January) I received a message from the Chester store advising that the item had come in to stock again – hurrah – three days before Naomi’s birthday – I could get them to send the item by next day delivery and still have it in time…………or NOT! When I called the store and suggested that they send it by next day delivery, I was advised that this was not an option. I could either have it delivered to home in five working days, or collect it from the store on the 13th January. The back story of the order was irrelevant – the fact that John Lewis were affecting my ability to get my wife her birthday present on time was not important – the computer said no (albeit very politely).

So 7 working days after I placed my online order; three phone calls and one drive to a store later, I arrived at John Lewis Chester to collect Naomi’s birthday present. Amazingly, no apology for the debacle was given by anyone I interacted with. Naomi was with me when we collected it – no-one even had the courtesy to wish her a happy birthday. To say I am unimpressed by the whole experience is an understatement.

The problem with bad experiences is that it only takes one for a customer to choose to fall out of love with a brand. There were so many failings in this experience from a retailer I once trusted implicitly that I have made the conscious decision NOT to use John Lewis online in the future. I will still visit their stores. I still believe that they have an excellent proposition and wonderful people. Yet until they join their channels together, I will shop elsewhere via the internet – this experience has left a sour taste in my mouth.

So is it possible for the consumer to fall out of love with John Lewis? You bet your life it is – they can and must not ever rest on their laurels.

Update – 15th January

Having read this post, I was contacted by John Lewis on Facebook and twitter. This morning I had a telephone conversation with a very nice lady from the customer service team. Not only did the lady acknowledge all of the issues in the experience (without excusing them), she confirmed that they would be addressing the issues with the relevant teams to mitigate the issues in the future. This is further demonstration as to why it is important for organisations to readily accept feedback like this and seize on the opportunity that comes from bad experiences. If good comes out of bad, I am always very happy with the outcome.


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

 

Dare to be Different – The ‘Dignity in Diversity’ of Customer Experience


Dare to be Different

People often ask me where the inspiration for my blog posts comes from. Whilst there is no single answer to this question, I will say that the best blogs are usually those that are unplanned. In other words, I am regularly inspired by the things I see and hear – my posts will almost always be as a result of a recent experience of my own.

At the weekend, I was fortunate to hear a sermon from a retired Anglican Priest. I must admit that I was not particularly focused in absorbing what he was saying. I did hear him repeat three words at least three times though – those three words were ‘Dignity in Diversity’. I heard the words, but they did not really touch me….. not until my wife brought them to my attention again a little later.

The Priest was describing the importance of being different – trying something new. In what I now recognise as a very poignant speech, he was telling those that were listening why there is actually something to be proud of in driving and accepting change – change is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. It is his speech that is the inspiration for this post.

Delivering great Customer Experiences – consistently – is all dependent on an organisations ability to repeatedly and continually evolve/adapt/change/transform (delete or include as appropriate). Continually doing what you have always done is rarely a recipe for success – it is almost impossible to stand still as the world and the people who populate it (your employees and customers) constantly demand something different…. something better.

Therefore the discipline of Customer Experience is all about knowing what and how to change – easy to say, yet not so easy to do. There are challenges with both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Let us explore knowing ‘what’ to change first of all. For me, this is the bit that requires a structured, fact based approach to Customer Experience. This is where it is critical that a business understands what it is supposed to be doing for its customers and has a clear understanding of what works and what does not.

The problem is that too many businesses still make decisions on what it is their businesses should focus on without putting customer focused facts on the table. It is still very common for companys to look towards their competitors – often from only their own industry and attempt to do the same things……slightly better. Either that, or they look to who they consider to be the best and attempt to emulate them – if only I had a £ or a $ for every time a senior leader has told me that they would ‘like to be like Apple’!

Not like Apple

This is where the headline from this blog post comes in – Dare to be Different – there really is dignity in diversity – we should aspire to be different, not the same as everyone else. There is nothing wrong in learning from others, both inside and outside the industries from which our own businesses exist. However I strongly believe that our organisations should have the dignity to be as diverse as their customers need them to be – as different as they need to be – to constantly provide customers with better Customer Experiences.

In my time leading Customer Experience programmes, I have often been ‘knocked back’ for suggesting things that have not been done before – or that have never been tried by another company. ‘Dignity in Diversity’ is a different way of saying ‘Dare to Try’ – it plays to innovators and transformers. Being different is not a bad thing – it is what can truly make your business differentiate itself. To enable your business to change it is vital to unlock the potential that comes from within – this is the ‘how’ to change. Don’t be constrained by the negative (it has never been done before); look to the possibilities of being the first to ‘dare to try’!

In my final blog post of 2014, I suggested that we should ‘sweep the steps’ of Customer Experience in 2014 and move onwards and upwards to the land of opportunity ahead of us in 2015 – we could do this by truly daring to be as different and as diverse as our customers really want us to be. So go on – give it a go – don’t dare to dream of being like Apple – dare to dream to be the first to do something that has never been done before!

Dare to be Different

 

Loyalty Schemes: do they really work?


Loyalty Cards

As we near the peak of the festive season, there are a number of annual rituals that I look forward to undertaking. Once presents have been opened and copious amounts of food and drink consumed, I settle in to the relative calm of the five days that separate Christmas and New Year. I have often looked forward to these days as a way of ‘clearing the decks’ ahead of another twelve months.

One ritual I generally tend to undertake at this time is the annual clear out of my wallet. The clear out has nothing to do with hard cash I am afraid – that happens well in advance of the holiday season! The clear out has everything to do with the plethora of credit card sized plastic I collect throughout a year. The picture at the head of this post is a ‘collage’ of plastic I removed today from my wallet – you will also notice additional pieces of plastic that are also attached to my keys.

These pieces of plastic are all to do with loyalty schemes – coffee shops; retailers; hotels – and this is not all of them!!! I have a number of other cards sitting in my ‘man drawer’ and receive at least five emails a week from schemes I have supposedly signed up to in the past. We will all be in the same situation. The lovely Mrs Golding is in desperate need of a new purse this year (I hope you are reading this Santa) due to the excessive bulging being caused by cards from loyalty schemes. Our pockets are not big enough to contain our keys and the ever increasing amounts of plastic being added to them. When will it ever end?!

For a while now I have pondered over the genuine success of loyalty schemes. Do they really work? Is providing the consumer with a credit card style piece of plastic really a valid way of maintaining a relationship between company and customer?

The quick answer to the question is yes – they CAN work. The undoubted success of the Tesco Clubcard is demonstration enough to show what is possible with a loyalty scheme. However, in many cases, not only do I believe they do NOT work, but I also feel they only serve to make the customer experience worse rather than better. Let me explain what I mean.

1. What is the point?

The Golding family have had a Tesco Clubcard for many years. Initially we used the ‘rewards’ to get small sums of money off our shopping. A few years ago, we discovered that you could convert your points into vouchers to use in restaurants. If you did this, you received 4 times the value of the voucher – a real result. The fact it took a few years to realise this is one of the first issues that I have with loyalty schemes. It is not always obvious what benefits you do get from being a member. What actually is the point. I have had a nectar card in my wallet for many years. To this day, other than redeeming a few ‘money off’ vouchers in Sainsburys, I have never understood what the point of the nectar card is!

Maybe I should take the time to go online and investigate – the truth is, I cannot be bothered. That leads me nicely to my second point.

2. I cannot be bothered!

Joining loyalty schemes and then redeeming the benefits is not always that simple. Every time I book a flight I am asked to enter my loyalty scheme number – what loyalty scheme number?! It is never made obvious how I can join a scheme quickly and easily. I therefore end up ‘not being bothered’ to join. The result is that the loyalty scheme is therefore completely lost on me – and I know I am not alone.

It happens to me a lot – it is just too complicated – and I’ll only get another plastic card to add to the collection anyway!!!

3. Keep it simple

Some loyalty schemes are very simple. The Costa coffee loyalty card does what it says on the tin. Once you have the card, you scan it every time you order a coffee and the benefits rack up. The Starbucks scheme on the other hand is painfully awkward. With Starbucks you have to ‘load up the card’ with cash, so you can then order with it and start to earn benefits. I do not want to put my hard earned cash on a Starbucks card! Maybe I mis-understood when it was first given to me – whatever the case, I will now choose Costa over Starbucks any day.

Sticking with coffee shops, this particular industry does demonstrate that pieces of plastic may not be necessary at all to drive loyalty. Apart from the fact that many (such as Cafe Nero) simply stamp a small piece of card, if you are a regular and recognised customer of Pret a Manger, they will reward you ‘off the cuff’ – no need for paper or plastic of any kind!!! What could be simpler than that?

4. It is not all bad

I do not want you to think that I am anti loyalty scheme – quite the contrary. I am a committed member of the IHG (International Hotels Group) loyalty scheme and will do everything I can to stay in a Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express so I can see my reward status continually improve. The scheme is easy to join and easy to maintain. They did not need to send me a bit of plastic though (in my opinion!!). I also loved the simplicity of the Morrisons fuel voucher – earn a £5 voucher for collecting points filling up on their fuel. They have changed the scheme recently to include store purchases – as long as it remains as simple, I will remain a fan.

So in conclusion, I do think that loyalty schemes can work. However…… and it is a big however……. they must be made simpler in my opinion to keep consumers linked in with them. Why weigh us down in plastic when it is not necessary any more? Make registration as simple as any other transaction. Make it completely obvious and complex free for customers to understand the point of being a member.

It all links nicely to the three components that make any experience:

FUNCTIONAL – does the loyalty scheme work?

ACCESSIBLE – is the loyalty scheme easy to join, use and redeem?

EMOTIONAL – does the loyalty scheme leave us feeling as though we want to keep transacting with the company?

I will not be putting some of the plastic cards back in my wallet this year. I urge you to do the same. The organisations that make the loyalty scheme experience as simple as possible in 2015 are the ones who are likely to win me over as a fan.


 

May I take this opportunity to wish all readers of ijgolding.com a very happy holiday!

What happens if your company overreacts? Your customers exert unnecessary effort!


Overreaction

Last week I had the pleasure of writing a Customer Experience Review on low cost airline Norwegian. I intentionally say ‘the pleasure’ as I was pleasantly surprised by the experience – not a common feeling I have in my experiences with airlines.

I wrote the review after my outbound flight with them to Oslo. If I had written the review after my return flight to London Gatwick, the result may have been very different. Whilst the Norwegian ‘everything is working as it should do’ experience was surprisingly good, the ‘what do we do if something goes wrong’ experience was far less acceptable.

What happened to me and my fellow passengers on the afternoon of the 12th December 2014 serves as a brilliant example of how NOT to deal with an exceptional event – when something goes wrong. I would like to share the story with you.

I was due to fly from Oslo to Gatwick on the last Norwwegian flight of the day – the 18:10. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and settled myself in a cafe near to the departure gate. I opened my laptop in anticipation of catching up on emails. I often have a quick check of the news – on this particular occasion it proved to be a useful move. I discovered at around 16:30 that there was a problem with the air traffic control systems in and around London.

My instant reaction was to check the departure boards in the terminal building. I wanted to know if London bound flights were going to be affected. The BA flight bound for London Heathrow was already showing a delay. My Gatwick flight was still unaffected. That was about to change…..

Flight cancelled

Just past 17:00, the departure screens showed that the London Gatwick flight with Norwegian had been cancelled! Cancelled! I was slightly shocked. No other London bound flight had been cancelled, but within thirty minutes of the problem being announced, Norwegian decided the flight could not depart. Now I must clarify some things here. The air traffic control issue was in no way connected to any airline. It was therefore not Norwegian’s fault. However, how Norwegian dealt with the issue is very much in their control and what happened next did not get anywhere near meeting my expectation.

Having seen the cancellation on the screen, I hunted out a Norwegian member of staff. I found a lady at a departure gate. She was not able to give me any information other than to ‘hang around and listen to the announcements’. At this stage I had no idea if I would be getting home for the weekend. As other confused passengers started to arrive at the gate, a different member of staff arrived and announced something in Norwegian. She had to be asked to repeat what she said in English.

We were told that due to the issues in London, the flight had been cancelled. We would need to return to arrivals, find the ticket desk and they would ‘sort things out for us’. That was it – no more, no less. So 15 minutes later, we were escorted back to the corridor leading back to passport control for arriving passengers. The airport in Oslo is extremely long – we had to traipse the entire length of it. Having got through passport control, the absence of any Norwegian members of staff was notable. Where were we supposed to go?

With no assistance at all, the group of passengers I was huddled with eventually found the ticket desk – already besieged by concerned passengers. Fortunately everyone was extremely calm – and patient. The fact that Norwegian had a ticketing system in place helped matters. I prepared myself for a long wait. Whilst waiting, no member of Norwegian staff came to speak to us. There is no seating anywhere near the ticket desk – it is really not a pleasant experience.

Another fifteen minutes later and the situation took yet another turn. A senior member of staff arrived behind the ticket desk and gestured to all waiting passengers. We moved in as close to the desks as possible. The lady made an announcement in Norwegian this was met by audible sighs and cheers from 50% of the passengers. The other 50% had to demand that she repeat her announcement in English.

Norwegian had decided to ‘un-cancel’ the flight – it would be leaving after all – at 19:30!! I have never heard of a flight being cancelled and then un-cancelled. My relief (at knowing I would get home) was replaced with intense frustration. This meant that all passengers would have to completely repeat the airport departure process – starting with airport security all over again. We burned a few calories on Friday night I can tell you.

The moral of this story is as per the title of this blog post. If a company overreacts to a problem, it is very likely to cause its customers unnecessary customer effort. When Norwegian cancelled the Gatwick flight on Friday afternoon, it did so far to quickly and readily. It was the last flight of the day – it would have done no harm delaying it until they were certain that the problems in London were going to be prolonged. In acting too soon, they created a bigger problem than was necessary.

Aside from the unnecessary physical effort exerted by passengers, we must not ignore the psychological effect the Norwegian overreaction had. Many of the passengers were returning home to friends and family. Cancelled flights do not just inconvenience, they also cause distress. Cancellations are an event that drive an emotional reaction in customers – it is therefore critical that the event is dealt with clearly and empathetically – in my opinion, Norwegian failed on both fronts.

If something goes wrong in your customer experience (which it inevitably will on occasion), it is vital to consider the following steps:

  1. Are you in possession of the full facts? Do not make any decisions until you are certain of the situation
  2. Keep your customers informed at all times – customers will understandably be anxious. To assure them that you are in control of the situation, provide them with information on a regular basis
  3. Cancel the product or service as a LAST RESORT – if at all possible, delay making the decision until there is no other option
  4. Provide customers with face to face support throughout the experience – have members of staff in situ to talk, reassure and help customers. If customers need to move to a different location, ensure that you have sufficient members of staff in place to clearly direct them
  5. Demonstrate to customers that you empathise with them – things will go wrong most humans acknowledge that, but if staff act as though it is just ‘part of the job’, it will only serve to irritate and frustrate

Norwegian failed to follow these steps. As a result, their overreaction to a problem and lack of support throughout the experience left a sour taste in the mouths of most customers concerned. Fortunately this type of thing does not happen on a regular basis – it is therefore unlikely to have a detrimental effect on customer loyalty toward the airline.

However, I very much hope that Norwegian (and other airlines for that matter) read this post – and the review I wrote the day before this event occurred. In that review I make it clear that whilst they are doing well in the delivering the experience they do, they must as a business be conscious of the complete ‘end to end customer journey’ – failures like this, whilst an exception, are part of that end to end journey.

It will not take much for them to improve the experience for the next set of passengers that find themselves on the receiving end of a cancelled flight. I only hope they can acknowledge that the way they approached the problem on Friday 12th December is requires improvement!