0 teeth

If you have followed my blog posts for a while, you will know that I am a big believer in using my own experiences to demonstrate all aspects of customer experience management. Doing what I do for a living, I am not necessarily the easiest of customers to please – I would argue that I am very easy to please if the organisation I am dealing with meets my expectations!! However, if I do identify something that I believe is detrimental to the customer experience, I will ensure that the company at fault understands what the problem is and why it is causing irritation. I know from past experience that if you receive feedback that enables you to correct or resolve a genuine issue, the benefit to employee, company and customer is immense.

I want to share with you an experience I had last week. The experience acts as the perfect example of why the term ‘customer effort’ has entered the vocabulary of customer experience professionals all over the world. The easiest way to understand exactly what customer effort is, one should look to the phrase ‘pulling teeth’ (hence the introductory photo!). If you have ever uttered physically or mentally the words ‘it’s like pulling teeth’ whilst waiting on hold, or when being asked to do something by a company that you deem unnecessary, you are at the receiving end of ‘excessive customer effort’.

‘How do you define excessive?’, I hear you cry! If you ever feel as though you are literally pulling your teeth (or hair for that matter) out when doing business with an organisation, your relationship with that organisation will be detrimentally affected. It is very likely that you will decide to terminate the relationship, or part ways for an indefinite period of time. If at any point it feels like too much effort in the eyes of the customer, then that in my mind is ‘excessive customer effort’.

So allow me to tell you my story. Because of the nature of my business (I work with a variety of organisations all over the country and internationally), my travelling arrangements need to be flexible. For that reason, I do not own a car – if I did, I would run the risk of it sitting outside my house for long periods of time. On the occasion that I need four wheels to get me to work, I hire one. There are a variety of choices for the car hire customer in Chester, and over the last two years I have tried them all. It has been an interesting experiment that has led to me concluding that they could all do with improving their customer experience in some way. Last year I wrote a blog post about my experiences with Avis – if you have the time to read it, you will understand why I no longer use them….. https://ijgolding.com/2012/09/03/what-a-lovely-mug-the-risks-of-taking-loyal-customers-for-granted/.

Having decided that I did not want to continue my relationship with Avis, I switched to Hertz. Up until now, they have been very professional, meeting expectation but not exceeding. However (there is always one of those), last Friday it all went wrong. Whenever I am purchasing anything that relates to my work, I always need to obtain a VAT receipt. This is pretty standard practice, and a pretty normal request. As an aside, it has always bugged me that you have to ask for a VAT receipt when buying petrol. Surely it would be easier just to put VAT on every receipt. Expecting the customer to ask for a VAT receipt is a form of customer effort in its own right. Interestingly, some petrol stations have now seen the light and started to do that. Anyway – back to the story. Last week I hired a car from Hertz for three days. It was a great car at a great price. All was good in the world – that is until I returned the car and asked for a VAT receipt.

The humble VAT receipt

The humble VAT receipt

‘We do not do those here’ was the response. Thinking the lady behind the counter had miss heard me, I asked again. ‘If you want a VAT receipt you need to go online and get one – that is what other customers do’. I stood at the counter with my mouth slightly ajar. I was in shock. ‘So let me just confirm what you are saying – you are not going to give me a VAT receipt?’. ‘No’ was the response. I genuinely could not believe it. Hertz were expecting me, a customer who had rented a number of vehicles over a number of months, to go home, go online, find the pertinent page on the Hertz website, log in, and then print off a simple VAT receipt!! When I said that I have never had an issue before, she failed to respond. She did offer to show me the relevant page on the website…….for me to go and find when I went home!!!!! She could not understand why I had got so frustrated with her. She could not see what the problem was. I had uttered the immortal phrase – ‘it’s like pulling teeth’!

This is the perfect example of how introducing ‘excessive’ customer effort is dangerous for your business. When I got home, I did not find the Hertz website. Instead, I found the email address of Hertz UK’s General Manager. I told him about my experience – he was horrified. Today, I have spoken to two of Hertz’s senior management team. They both apologised profusely. I have had A VAT invoice emailed to me. They have promised to give training to the lady who served me – ‘she should have said yes’ was their response to my story. The problem is, although their recovery has been absolutely first class, I am afraid it is too late. The effort I have had to exert to get a simple VAT receipt has led to me deciding that I will not be using Hertz again.

Customer effort is more than just a debate about a customer feedback score (made famous by the Harvard Business Review – http://hbr.org/2010/07/stop-trying-to-delight-your-customers) – Customer effort is a very real and tangible thing that will determine if customers will come back to you. If a customer asks you for something and you are tempted to say no – think very hard about the effect that could have. Consumers crave simple and easy to execute experiences. The harder it is, the more complicated it becomes, the more likely it is that they will leave you. Removing the effort from your customer experience will go a long way to delivering he experience your customer expects.

Next week, I will be knocking on Budget Rent a Car’s front door with my fingers firmly crossed. They had better be good – I am fast running out of options!!