When I became an independent Customer Experience Specialist in 2012, I could scarcely have imagined where my chosen career, my passion, would take me. As of today, I have visited 23 different countries all over the globe – talking about; teaching; consulting; guiding; and sharing thoughts, experiences, knowledge, tools and techniques on the profession that Customer Experience has become.
Even now, I am writing this blog post from a hotel room in Singapore. The major drawback of following my passion is that my other passion, my ‘purpose’ – my family – has to suffer from me rarely being at home. I consider myself even more fortunate to have the support, guidance and love of Naomi, Ciara, Caitie and Jack!
Last week my passion took me all the way to South Africa – the first time I have ever visited the beautiful country at the southern most tip of the continent. I know of many who have both visited and lived in South Africa and so was excited to finally be able to see how a land I have never been to approaches Customer Experience. Whilst there are often cultural differences from country to country, the premise is largely the same – how can we influence organisations to be more genuine and authentic at being Customer Centric so we can deliver greater advocacy, loyalty and growth.
I therefore want to share some observations of my week in Cape Town and Johannesburg – a week full of wonder and excitement. In fact my wonder started almost as my feet touched down on the land graced by the legend that is Nelson Mandela:
A typical South African welcome?
Immigration officials are rarely recognised for their empathy and civility. So imagine my surprise to be met by a man with a beaming smile on my arrival in Cape Town. Not only did this particular immigration official smile at me, he was even happy to have a little chat about my visit. It was not difficult for him to do this, but his actions will leave a lasting, EMOTIONAL impression on me. My first impression of South Africa could not have been more positive – a lesson to other countries greeting guests and citizens alike.
Things surely could not continue like this….. wrong. It would take me too long to write about every experience – because almost every one was good – even when it went wrong. From hiring a car with Avis to fantastic service at the Radisson Blu in Cape Town. South Africa seems, on first impressions anyway, to be a country that takes Customer Experience seriously!
So when I met the delegates who I would be spending time with to deliver a Customer Experience Masterclass, I had very high hopes! I was not to be dissapointed. Passion is a much overused and misunderstood word. Some perceive passion to be ‘evangelical’, or naive/immature. I disagree – what was clear to me is that this group of people were genuine, passionate BELIEVERS in putting Customer Experience firmly on the agenda in their organisation. The enthusiasm and vigour they showed in the first hour convinced me of that! It may just have been coincidental that they happened to be South African, but my view of the nation and its approach to Customer Experience was enhancing by the minute.
Their passionate belief was demonstrated in their desire to talk about their LOVE for a South African online retailer – takealot.com – if you are not from South Africa, you are unlikely to have ever heard of them (I certainly had not). However, as a result of my delegates joy at talking about them, I shall be telling people all over the world about them. Just visiting their website sums up the ethos of the company – built around the ‘simple concept that the Customer Comes First’ – I love it. There are overt references to Customer Experience everywhere – and you only have to ask their customers to see what they think about them. This infographic is a useful summary of takealot.com:
Why say how much Customer Experience means to you when you can sing it!
I always ask delegates to present back to me their learning’s, take aways and actions at the end of the each day of teaching – it is a very effective way of cementing knowledge transfer. Every time (wherever I am in the world) I suggest that the delegates could feedback in song – no one has EVER taken me up on the suggestion….. that is until now!!
One of the delegate groups fed back their learning’s via a rendition of Lean on Me – sadly I am unable to share it with you – but take my word for it – I and my client were blown away. Not to be upstaged, one of the groups in Johannesburg rapped, yes rapped – their summary!!!!! Of 23 countries I have visited, no one has ever sung or rapped about Customer Experience before. It is special though – special because it showed how much developing their knowledge of the Customer Experience Profession meant to them.
The ‘pants and socks’ experience!
Now I have made it clear that I travel a lot. So you would imagine I have my travelling routine down to a T – wrong!! I arrived in South Africa after 14 hours of travelling, only to realise that I had forgotten to bring any underwear or socks! So my client thankfully delivered me to a shopping mall to rectify the situation.
Whilst Woolworths may have disappeared from the UK high street, the name is still going strong in South Africa – their answer to Marks and Spencer. Surely the simple purchase of pants and socks could not deliver me with an unexpected experience – positive or negative – wrong again!
The sales assistant greeted me at the till with the customary South African smile. She then entered the underwear I was purchasing twice into the till by mistake. She had to call over a manager to sort out the issue. On approaching the till, the manager very intentionally smiled at me and said ‘good evening sir’…..’how are you?’. Why was I surprised? It sounds so normal – yet so rare in day to day experiences other than in the hospitality industry.
There was more to come though. When my transaction was completed, the sales assistant handed me my carrier bag and my credit card and said ‘have a lovely evening Mr Golding’! Can you remember the last time (if ever) a sales assistant in a retail outlet thanked you by name? I really was impressed. Once again though, it is not difficult to emulate….anywhere.
The Focus Rooms
I have rarely visited a country and felt/seen such warmth and authenticity towards customers. As I say, I could go on and on – but in the interests of time, I just want to mention one more experience. In Johannesburg, we delivered the training in an external venue – the Focus Rooms. Wow. That sums up the experience. We were met on our arrival on day one by a man playing a clarinet! Massages, fresh popcorn, goody bags and more followed. I can not do the whole experience justice writing about it – you will need to look at their website for that.
Suffice to say, their website specifically calls out their ‘raging fans‘ – have a look at some of the testimonials. It is very impressive.
Don’t ever make a South African customer cross though!
Maybe the great experiences I had are as a result of the South African consumer being that more demanding than most. Just have a look at the actions of a disgruntled customer of telecoms company Cell C!!!
I am actually surprised more consumers across the world have not done something like this – maybe it will catch on – be warned if you are a company who does not take Customer Experience seriously!!
The end – I hope not!
That is a good Segway for me to reach the end of this post. A good Segway because like all experiences, not all of it was good. The experience of leaving South Africa at Johannesburg airport could not have been more different to the arrival in Cape Town. It was a shambles.
However, that is not such a bad thing Not bad because it shows that even a country like South Africa has areas for improvement – like us all when it comes to delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I therefore hope that my first visit to South Africa is not the end – but more like the beginning. I look forward with hope to my next visit to a lovely, welcoming country.