I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of ‘old fashioned values’ in the delivery of great Customer Experiences. Championed by the most customer centric brands in the world, such as the Ritz Carlton, the importance yet simplicity of ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ cannot be underestimated in the effect they can have on customers and the way they are made to feel in their daily interactions with organisations and their people. I have written about this subject in the past – yet I assure you this blog post is not a rehash of previous ramblings. I want to tackle the subject from the other way round – not employees or staff displaying politeness and good manners to customers, but customers doing exactly the same thing to employees.
I am writing this post at 38,000 feet on my way to Kenya. This morning I have personally crossed paths with approximately 20 people who were working for companies delivering my ‘end to end’ Customer Experience. From the taxi who took me to the airport; to the lady at the check in desk; to the staff manning security; to the bus driver who transferred me and others from one terminal to another. When you think about it, we (the customer) come across so many people every day, that we (the customer) are almost certainly guilty of not really noticing these people as well as taking them for granted.
As I often do, I very consciously observed the way customers were communicating with the employees they crossed paths with. What I observed was not particularly heart-warming. 90% of the people I saw did not even acknowledge the employees that were a part of their experience. Sitting in the British Airways Lounge at Manchester airport, a man was clearing away breakfast plates and coffee cups. Not a single customer thanked him. Not a single customer even looked at him – except me of course. When I did look at him with a smile and said ‘thank you’, he was almost as shocked as I would have been if he had presented me with a complimentary bottle of Dom Perignon! Although he was shocked, the smile he gave me back made me feel great – I know it would have had a lasting effect on him today.
Last week I was on a train travelling from London to Chester. I was fortunate enough to be travelling with my wife, Naomi (not something that happens often enough!). We struck up a conversation with one of the train staff. Vickie was lovely – in fact a joy to talk to – our being nice to her (displaying simple old-fashioned values) made our customer experience far better than normal – in fact it made our experience memorable. I therefore pose the following question – do happy customers make better Customer Experiences?
This morning, going through airport security at Heathrow terminal 3, it was quite shocking to see how rude and obnoxious customers were being. Pushing, shouting, ignoring, swearing – it was embarrassing to watch. Most of the time we are so wrapped up in our own little worlds that even if we do not behave this way ourselves, we do not appreciate sometimes how customers are treating employees – focus on this in your daily interactions tomorrow – it is fascinating and disturbing. I believe in treating people the way I would like to be treated myself. I acknowledge and smile and greet as a matter of principle. Nine times out of ten, good old-fashioned values from the customer will be returned in spades from an employee. I firmly believe that if you behave nicely as a customer, you are far more likely to have a better Customer Experience – it is not rocket science – yet it is astonishing how many people do not seem to understand this.
You may have heard about the French coffee shop whose actions went viral – they offer a discount on coffee depending on how polite you are willing to be – what a WONDERFUL idea! I always tell the story about the time I visited a coffee shop in London called Pret a Manger. Pret (for short) is a national chain of coffee shops in the UK. A few years ago, they decided to empower all of their staff to ‘make customers smile’ – they can essentially ‘give’ a free drink to a customer if they think it is appropriate. This happened to me in their shop in Oxford Street. I happened to be the first customer into the shop at 06:30am – I was greeted by the happiest, smiliest man behind the counter I have ever seen that early in the morning! This man was so smiley, I could not help but smile back at him, which sparked a conversation. I did not do this to intentionally try to get a free coffee – it was just a coincidence that he decided to give me a drink ‘on him’. It may sound like an overreaction, but I was delighted!!
The reason I am telling you this story is because I want to describe the effect that this one experience has had on me. I equated me being happy and smiley with the receipt of a complimentary drink. I am now a loyal Pret customer – not only am I loyal, but every time I visit a Pret shop, I do so with a big smile on my face. I do not smile out of expectation – I smile because you never know!! Me being a happy customer is far more likely for Pret to treat me in the same way – with that small chance I may also get a free drink!! It is very clever. The next time you visit a Pret, see how many customers are smiling when they order their drink!!!
Like all relationships, Customer Experience is a two-way thing – it is not just about the employee interacting with the customer – it is also about the customer interacting with the employee. Whilst it can never be guaranteed, a happy customer is far more likely to receive a better Customer Experience than one who is not. Even if the functional mechanics of your Customer Experience are not as you would like them to be, polite, smiling, happy staff will be in a position to maintain the relationship with a customer – and make a customer smile, even when something has gone wrong. So think about the things you can do to not just impress the importance of old-fashioned values on your employees, but to your customers as well – and make sure to say please and thank you every time you deal with another human!