Over the last few weeks, I am saddened to confirm that I have been on the receiving end of some shocking customer experiences. Only recently, I wrote a post describing my shambolic experiences in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Whilst many of the issues I faced were as a result of poorly designed and managed customer journeys and business processes, I was astounded at the lack of ability from most of the people I interacted with to EMPATHISE with the situations I found myself in.
Even though we live in a vibrant, modern, innovative, tech-enabled world, where most consumers crave life to be made quicker and easier through the use of technology, we still exist on a planet that cannot operate or function without one vitally important component – the human being!!
Many have stated that PEOPLE are the most important asset that an organisation has – I could not agree more. The most customer centric organisations in the world recognise and very much appreciate this fact. I always state the Ritz Carlton’s approach when bringing this to life – the relationship they want their business to have with customers is described by them as ‘Ladies & Gentlemen serving Ladies & Gentlemen’. They are a business that appreciates the importance of people.
The reality is that too many organisations do NOT appreciate their people clearly or often enough and do little to acknowledge the work they do. Additionally, too few businesses support and empower their people to carry out their work effectively, efficiently and with empathy.
I started writing this post from the departure lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. I discovered midway through writing it that my flight had been cancelled – not from my airline (SAS – Scandinavian) – but by overhearing two passengers having a conversation with each other. What ensued can only be described as chaos. At the centre of the chaos was a human – not an employee of SAS – the airline who had caused the problem was nowhere to be seen. The man who worked for the agent representing the airline was tasked with dealing with the wrath of almost 200 very unhappy customers.
The reason for the cancellation had nothing to do with him. The tools, processes and support provided to him were completely insufficient for the task. The man remained completely composed and calm throughout the two hours it took him (by himself) to transfer passengers to other flights and arrange overnight accommodation for around 100 people. The ability for the man to communicate coherent messages was impossible. We were uninformed, stressed, tired and upset. Although this man performed his role admirably – that is all he did – his job – what he had been asked to do – no more – no less.
You may be reading this wondering if there is a problem with what I have just described. I do not have a problem with a man ‘doing is job’ – especially when he can remain calm in a difficult situation. HOWEVER….. There is doing your job and there is doing your job with empathy and compassion. Like my unacceptable customer experiences in Africa last week, this man had absolutely no comprehension of the consequences of the flight cancellation. There was a lady who desperately needed to retrieve her luggage to try and get important samples on another flight for a critical business meeting the following day. There were grandparents needing to get home to see sick relatives. There were mums and dads with young children who just wanted to get home to bed. Everyone had a story – everyone always does. I myself am on my way to deliver a keynote speech at a Customer Experience Conference in Lithuania – as a result of SAS failing to deliver the functional component of the experience (getting us to our destination on time!) – my client and I will have to accept the consequences.
Despite this, the calm man carrying out his duties did so without a care in the world. No acknowledgement of the inconvenience. No apology. No understanding. For him, it was just another day. He was perfectly polite, but he did not appear to CARE. Is it impossible to add a smattering of humanity to a situation that desperately requires some? Maybe I am asking too much? It did not occur to any of the SAS handling agents in Paris to ask if the stranded passengers were ok. For almost four hours, we were not even offered a glass of water – there was nowhere to sit down. We were like cattle being herded into a shed – the only problem is that the people in control did not know which shed to put us in.
If only these people – normal people like you and me – put themselves in our shoes – felt what we were feeling in this unacceptable situation, they may have thought differently about the way they should have interacted with us. I strongly believe that if your people understand how it FEELS to be a customer, then their ability to empathise with any situation is amplified.
People are SO important in delivering great Customer Experiences – in fact, even if your customer journey is not as good as it could be, the brilliance of customer focused; switched on; connected people, can make the difference between a great experience and one that fails to meet your expectations.
Take the man in this picture. This is Alan; he is 82 years old and works in the Rochdale, branch of DIY retailer B&Q in the UK. A customer of B&Q recently posted Alan’s picture on their Facebook page – this is what they said about him:
“Every time we visit this branch he always greets us with a smile, always asks where we are going and has a tub of sweets to offer to our 3 year old. We got talking to Alan today and he told us he buys the sweets he offers to children and adults out of his own wages every week. He also told us about his fundraising and the causes close to his heart. We have to say we were astounded and in awe to learn he has completed parachute jumps, bungee jumps and many more activities to raise funds for truly noble, local causes. For this I just had to shake his hand and we wanted to let you know you have a brilliant and inspiring man on your staff. His next hope is to carry out a sponsored wing walk and we feel he is a true inspiration and a true gentleman. We would implore you to recognise this man and he truly does what he does for the love of it and to make a difference.”
Wow – Alan exemplifies the power of people in delivering great Customer Experiences. So often we interact with people who will not even make eye contact with us, let alone smile. It is wonderful to see someone being recognised for their empathy and compassion. Alan is someone who cares about other human beings.
It is not just in the physical world that the right behaviours in people can have a positive effect on the Customer Experience. Have a read of this twitter exchange between a customer and supermarket giant Aldi:
What I love about the exchange is that it is so human – so real. It is not a scripted response to a witty customer complaint – it is a genuine response from one human to another. It is very powerful.
One of my most read blog posts is a story about how one of the world’s best known brands demonstrates how much it cares about its customers – if you have another couple of minutes; it is well worth a read. It is a story that once again shows what the power of people can do to the customer experience. People who care.
I finished writing this post at 5am – back at Paris CDG Airport. When the handling agents arrived at the check in desk 90 minutes before our new flight was due to leave, they were laughing and joking. They did not even know that the 100 passengers waiting for them had only got about 90 minute’s sleep – they did not even appear to care. I was half hoping that someone who worked for SAS may be there to greet us that morning – to apologise – maybe to offer to buy everyone a coffee… what a difference that could have made…… but that would have taken a person who CARES to even think about doing it.
I would love to know your perspective on this – do you agree/disagree? What PEOPLE stories can you share?
This post was originally written exclusively for my column on CustomerThink – a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises. The site serves 80,000+ visitors per month from 200 countries.
You can read my column here!