I think it is fair to say that the US is first to adopt and introduce many ‘things’ to the world. Whilst it is obviously not the only nation to invent and create; many innovations – especially those related to business and management principles – are very much led by US based organisations first. This is not to say that all ‘things’ founded in the US are appropriate to all of us, but in most cases, they are.
Customer Experience – as a concept…. as an idea…. as a principle… as a profession… – it all started in the US. Now that is not actually true (he says quickly contradicting himself) – regular readers of my ramblings will now that I am always very quick to point out that all organisations since their inception have been delivering Customer Experiences – so technically, the first ever business to be created was the ‘founder’ of Customer Experience…. without even knowing it!!!
However, it is true that most of the best examples – the earliest examples – of Customer Experience being deployed as a core element of business strategy was very much a US led phenomenon. Even now, some of the best examples of Customer Centric organisations are brought to life by US powerhouses of Customer Experience (CX).
Amazon; Disney; Ritz Carlton; USAA – just to name but four – are all companies I talk about regularly as I travel around the globe. In 2015, I visited twenty countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East – on my travels I observed varying degrees of Customer Centricity. If I were to rate each part of the world from left to right, in my opinion, it is possible to see a difference in CX adoption – From high in the UK and Western Europe – lower in the Gulf region – lower still in Africa – rising a little in Asia – rising again as you reach Australia and New Zealand.
Obviously I am being extremely generic and vague in my personal observations – I do not want to upset entire continents!! Up until now, I have generally been of the opinion that the highest level of CX adoption is in North America. So when I confirmed that I would be travelling to Florida in January 2016, I immediately sensed an opportunity to put my personal theories to the test! Despite being a regular US visitor when I was a young boy (I have an American Mum – or Mom if you prefer), it is ten years since I last crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I was genuinely excited to see if it really is true – is the US ‘better’ than the rest of the world when it comes to Customer Experience?
Before I tell you, please allow me to write a very quick disclaimer….. I visited the US for three days – in one part of one state. My observations are based solely on this visit and as such, are NOT representative of the entire country! However, I very much specialise in ‘flying visits’ to countries I visit, so my opinion is based in relative terms to the other countries I have visited in the last ten years.
The starting point for any trip to a country is likely to be the airport. It is not common to find courteous, friendly, smiling employees in one of those – especially when going through customs and immigration. In the last few months I have been grunted at, ignored, shouted at and in one case, asked for money by a Customs official (I kid you not). So my expectations are always pretty low at the start. Would the US be any different? No…. is the simple answer.
They have tried to make the experience more ‘accessible’ – you complete most of the immigration process on self-service terminals – the only problem is that the terminals are not that intuitive. I spent five minutes arguing with the machine!!! It kept telling me that my left hand was my right hand and vice versa – it was very frustrating – and slight amusing to the casual observer. The problem is that there was not a member of staff in sight to help me. I battled for five minutes before finally an unsmiling; uncommunicative lady appeared and showed me what to do.
The immigration official and customs official I still had to interact with were no better – I was certainly not getting any sense of the ‘have a nice day’ culture non US citizens tend to see as the stereotype. I was not too surprised though – airports are a slightly different kettle of fish to any other environment – would I see the real Customer Focused US on exit?
I could walk you through my trip step by step – but I am sure you do not want to hear about every detail. What I can confirm is that in my opinion, what I experienced in the US was NO DIFFERENT to the majority of countries I visit. It is not as bad as those who are yet to adopt CX in any meaningful way, but certainly no better than any other.
However, I did observe a key difference between the US and everyone else (in my opinion) – that difference being the likelihood of encountering the two EXTREMES of CX. In three days, I experienced the very very bad, and the very very brilliant. I cannot remember being in the same situation anywhere else – ever.
The reception staff in my hotel were dreadful – slow, rude, ineffective – very disappointing. Yet the waitress at breakfast – coincidentally called ‘Angel’ – was AMAZING – a real credit to the hotel. The cabin crew on my American Airlines flight to Miami were…. Well let’s just say there is not anything positive that springs to mind – apart from the fact that they probably fulfilled the tasks they were asked to.
I can sometimes understand when my first name is mispronounced – especially in non native English speaking countries – however – on my US trip I was called ‘Iron’ at least five times by different people – really! The ‘piece de resistance’ though were the security officials back at the airport on my return. I genuinely have not encountered such rude human beings in an equivalent role as those at Miami International Airport – everyone (US local and visitor alike) commented on how astonishingly bad there behaviour was!
As I boarded my American Airlines flight back to Heathrow, I was almost disappointed – disappointed that I had not really encountered a ‘Ritz Carlton’ like ‘Magic Moment’ to share in my blog. Most of my experiences were just the same as always – unmemorable. But like everything in life – sometimes things happen when you least expect it – and they did on my flight home.
I was greeted on the aircraft by a member of cabin crew – nothing unusual in that. But I was about to discover that the lady who greeted me – Jackie – and her colleague Tamela were exactly what I had been waiting for – the absolutely shining example of US Customer Focused BRILLIANCE.
What I found in these two ladies who were able to demonstrate the difference between just DOING YOUR JOB and doing your job whilst EMOTIONALLY ENGAGING with your customers. They performed exactly the same tasks as every other member of cabin crew I have encountered on more than 100 flights in the last 12 months alone. Yet Jackie and Tamela are to this date the only members of cabin crew I will remember by name – and I will never forget them.
I am writing this blog on an Emirates flight from London Gatwick to Dubai. The cabin crew are very professional and courteous – yet their actions are so robotic, I almost do not feel like a human. What I saw with Jackie and Tamela were two people doing their job with humanity and enjoyment. They made me FEEL like a real person – they talked to me and smiled at me and went about their work with undeniable authenticity, honesty and sincerity. When I spoke to the ‘purser’ to give her my feedback on them, she advised that ‘many customers say that about them’. Well I hope that many more have the fortune of encountering them in the future – they will make the most significant part American Airlines experience wonderfully memorable. If American want to know how ALL of their crew should deliver the customer journey, then Jackie and Tamela should be made the ‘poster people’ – the ‘gold standard’ for others to follow!
So there you have it – Jackie and Tamela restored my faith, yet not enough for me to conclude that the US is any better than the rest of the world when it comes to CX. In fact, it is possible that other nations are not just adopting CX tools, techniques and methodologies as quickly as the US – they are doing so at a faster rate AND with more authenticity. It just proves to me that you are NEVER finished when it comes to being customer centric. Delivering intentional, customer centric experiences is a never-ending journey!
At the end of last year, I wrote about my observations of the state of Customer Experience having worked with multiple industries in 20 countries around the globe – you can read the article I wrote for my column on Customer Think.
One of my learning’s related to COMMITMENT – you will need to read the post to find out what I said – however, the reason for me sending you this email is that the article has inspired me to launch my first and only survey for 2016 – a very short survey investigating organisational commitment to Customer Experience.
I would hugely appreciate it if you could take two minutes to answer three very simple questions – the results of the survey will be published in a future blog post. Please also forward the survey to anyone who you think may find it of interest. Thank you so much for your very valuable time in advance…
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