Tag Archives: Customer Service

Being customer centric

A great way to think about customer centricity that really resonates with me:

“A business is customer centric when it delivers on-going growing value to and for their customers.”

I really like this because…

  1. It’s not just for the short term and the now
  2. It’s about the what (the value) and the who
  3. It allows for customers to include customers as we know them, employees and shareholders and investors

The reason being customer centric is important is not only the obvious – that our customers stay loyal when they have good experiences and the product and sales are delivering on our promises, but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalise that and support those customers.

If you are customer centric, it means that you are observing that evolution that’s happening to your customer base, and you’re able to be very agile and nimble in responding to that as a business.

Being customer centric is easy to say but hard to do and it doesn’t come organically. It needs organisation wide buy-in and sponsorship, from sales, to finance, to operations, to support, to customer success, to delivery! We live at a time of unprecedented customer expectations both for business customers and our end consumers, and being customer centric is critical. Why now? Think about your ultimate consumers – they’re you and your expectations have changed. Forrester research have stated “This new world requires leaders to think and act differently” and George Colony, Forrester CEO predicts, if a company is not customer-centric, they’ll simply be out of business between 5 – 10 years. What are you doing to be more customer centric today? I’m going to share some practical ideas and examples over the next couple of days of things I’ve seen work very well with different companies.

“Customer Centricity is a journey and not a destination.”

Has your service bubble burst?

Continuing the theme of the last post, and some good conversations that followed, I want to think about what happens when service goes wrong and the service bubble that was working bursts.

Bursting bubbles

And specifically what can you do to stop it bursting.  Like any bubble once the process starts, the burst is quick and more often than not catastrophic – there’s no going back!

Bursting bubble

I love the shot above – the bubble is actually made up of millions upon millions of individual droplets of water.  Your service bubbles are no different – they’re made up of different teams of people, multiple customer interaction points and channels, the overall customer experience and all your social conversations, and they all need to work together to provide your service bubble.

Don’t forget – the whole thinking behind the service bubble, is that it’s all about great service, in the bubble.

It takes just one of these different parts to falter and the bubble is at risk of bursting unless action is taken very quickly.  Once the bubble bursts, you lose customer loyalty, that repeat business you relied on before is at risk and your company reputation can be threatened.

To stop the service bubble bursting, you need to focus on two key components – making sure the customer experience works (by constantly listening to what your customers are saying, wherever they are saying it – as part of this you need to be listening and engaging with them on the different channels) and by having the right customer service focused staff on your team, who share and understand the company values (and believe them), and who are empowered to make the right decisions to help your customers.

Service bubble - about to burst

And yes, customers will be willing to pay a premium for service bubbles that deliver and provide the expected service levels.  Just make sure you’re investing sufficiently in the team behind the scenes and that service is one of the core values of who you are and what you do, as a company.

Thanks Bill Quiseng (@billquiseng) for your thoughts on this.

Have you been caught in a service bubble?

Bubbles everywhere

Service bubbles?  So what are they?  They’re the places you are when you’re being looked after and experiencing a brand’s great and amazing service – and caught in their bubble.  You may have never thought about it before, but we’ve all been there.

You’re shopping and having a great experience in the shop, or in a hotel and being looked after by their team – and getting great service.  The service is personalised to you, it is provided by service professionals whose job it is is to understand what delivering great service means and what makes it special, and it’s specific to that brand.

Apple Store

Take Apple – yes one of my favourite service brands:  you step into their Apple stores and are greeted by their Geniuses – easily recognisable, all smiling and friendly and all there to make sure you are helped in the way that you need.  And they’re proactive in providing good service.

Shangri-La Hotels

Another great example – is good hotel chains, like Shangri-La (well known in the Far East but with some great hotels now in Europe as well).  You arrive at the airport in a different country, quite often tired from a long journey.  You’re met after security by a hotel representative to take you to the hotel and you’re then in their bubble.  Again, friendly staff, personalised service (often greeting you by name) and with a smile.  Whilst you’re staying with them – as their guest – and being looked after, you’re in their care and their bubble.

The usual result of the bubbles?  You go away a happy customer, you remain loyal to the brand and come back for more, and you tell people about it.

Bubble

So what makes them bubbles?  They’re normally temporary for you – you step into them when you start an experience or journey and step out when you’ve done (a good example being when you leave a hotel, are taken to the airport and dropped off – everyone knows that feeling that it’s back to normality), the bubbles normally grow whilst you’re in them – with the service getting better as you complete your purchase or transaction and there is a only a thin line between the bubble and the outside world.

Many bubbles

You can imagine different service bubbles coexisting for different businesses and organisations, and moving from one to another and receiving different experiences in each – some good, some great, some maybe not so good.  Businesses that work well together as partners can even have bubbles that join together and your journey from one to the other, is seamless and there’s no need to step outside of them.

Airlines (and other forms of transport – e.g. trains) are another great example of service bubbles and they differ widely from good old economy, business class and first class!

How do different companies bubbles differ from each other?  How can you rate and compare them?  Quality and size?  Does and should good service demand a premium price tag?  Stay tuned for more on this in a future blog post.

Whose service bubbles have you be in and what were they like?  Do let me know…

And that is how you do good service – thank you Apple!

Apple Store

My trusty iMac (from 2008) decided to not play ball earlier this week.  It was way outside Apple’s warranty (even Apple Care) – by over a few years – but trying to fix it was beyond me and I needed help from Apple.  A call through to the local Apple Store (in the Bentall Centre in Kingston) and they advised that they had no Genius appointments that day but to come in with the iMac and they would see what they could do.

When we got to the store we spoke to one of their guys who said all the iMac tech team were busy all day with no slots, but to hold on and he would see what they could do.  A very friendly iMac Genius then came to have a look and ran a series of quick tests on the iMac.  As typically happens in these situations, everything worked fine and the iMac passed all the tests.  A number of restarts were done – where the problem had been before – but all working fine.

Apple Genius

The guy took down all the details of the problem as I’d seen it and advised that I could leave it there for them to take a more detailed look (which would probably take a few days) or take it back home and see how I get on (which I did and typically again the problem has re-occurred and I’ve booked to go back in tomorrow).

But, the whole point to this post is the exceptional level of service that Apple provided here, going way beyond what they were obliged to do, going out of their way to help as best they can, to listen to the customer and check and test accordingly, to offer options when the standard response (booking a slot for that day) was a no-goer and doing all of this in a friendly professional manner.

This level of service is what makes Apple so great and why people – like me – will now go back and go nowhere else.  It is exceptionally good service and yes you do pay a premium for Apple products but this is one of the major reasons why; it’s not just a great product, you’re buying it’s a full service experience.

It’s not the only reason of course, there are 3 reasons generally why you are willing to pay extra for a product or service.  These are:

  1. The quality of the product
  2. The level of service received
  3. The overall experience of using the product or service

These 3 are the major drivers to creating loyalty for you business and Apple yet again are are leaders here.  Fingers crossed that my visit tomorrow fixes the problem once and for all.

Bentall Centre

Bad service is not far behind…

Only a day after my good service is everywhere experience and post, I had a day of bad service experiences – mainly across companies in one particular industry/market.  I’ll leave it to the reader to guess where…

Mobile mast

Service doesn’t need to be not good and it can easy to do it properly, but it does require some thinking about and a strategic view on what service is all about.

Bad service

In this day and age, giving bad or poor service is really inexcusable.  It says so much about the person and company giving it.

There are a few simple points to take service to next (and better) level:

(1) Empower the guys providing the service – let them make some of the decisions as they see fit.  They’re the ones sorting out issues and queries on the front line.

(2) Give everyone training in good service – it’s a culture shift and mindset change.  And requires an investment to do it properly and making sure people know what is expected and what good looks like.

(3) Define good service or even better, excellent service.  Reach out to the teams providing the service and find out from them what feedback they’ve had from customers and what changes they suggest.

(4) Listen, listen and listen again, before you say anything.  This is so important.  Too often these days people want to tell their story or their version or side.  Listen first though.  The more you listen, the more you can understand and be better informed to make the right decision.

Decision

And smile – it makes a big difference to the person you’re speaking to.  Again as per the last post, start thinking in all the interactions you have with other people, “How can I help this person?”.

Good service is everywhere…

Yesterday was a day of receiving consistently good service – from a variety of different people, in different places and different situations.  And a very pleasant day as a result.

Excellent service

Good or exceptional service isn’t rocket science but it does require a change in mindset.  Some of the key things yesterday that made a difference to the experiences are:

Smile

(1) People were smiling and coming across that they were generally interested, and they listened.  Even on the phone this makes a huge difference.  It’s about empathy and taking the time to fully understand the query at hand.

(2) They were all looking to see how they could help me.  This is something I read a great article about recently, where you should be thinking in any interaction with anyone else, “How can I help you?”.  Not how can they help me, or what do I want, but what can I do for the other person.

(3) Everyone was going the extra mile – without prompting or being asked for something else.  They were all looking to see what else they could do.

(4) They all knew what they were talking about and the services or products they offered or sold, and were passionate about them.

(5) And lastly they were all empowered to make decisions and do the job, and trusted to do so.

This last one is key and a lot of companies and businesses don’t do this and add process upon process around what should be a simple decision, for no real benefit or commercial reason.

Good service is so important in all businesses and so often overlooked or forgotten. It really was a great experience yesterday seeing it done so well and how it should be.

How important is good service to you as a provider and how do you ensure it is delivered?

And as the great Yoda himself said…

Yoda

 

Do digital and online mean the end of the high street?

I’ve long been a big fan of digital content – in all its forms – and how it’s changing our lives for the better.  More choice, more variety, better (read cheaper) prices and convenience.  It’s all about the anytime, anywhere and anyhow philosophy – with us consumers far more in control of when, where and how we consume.  But, this clearly has an impact on the more traditional world of content in its physical form.  And also drives our retail experiences – beyond simple content.

Digital media and content

Some interesting questions come up…

  1. Can digital/online and physical/traditional retail co-exist peacefully?  Yes they can.
  2. What about our traditional high street shops?  We need them but they need to change.
  3. Should we all buy online?  A good question!

It’s not just about digital content – going online for content ultimately impacts my other retail experiences and drives me to the same retail channels, online, for other products.

It’s number 3 that right now is the big one.  In the UK we’ve seen some major high street shops go under recently – or change hands and scale down.  Including – Game, Jessops, Comet and HMV.  Some with years and years of history going right back to when consumers started listening to and consuming content (and buying products).

Consumers

So why are they struggling?  I think it’s quite simple – a reluctance to change and move with what consumers want (all of the above in the introductory paragraph).  Cheaper prices, more choice and one not mentioned above better service.

This last one is important and maybe something not considered as much as it should be.  Good service – or even excellent service (of which I’m a huge fan) – is crucial to build relationships with your customers and get them back and get the all important repeat business going.  Just look at how Amazon do customer service.  No quibbles when taking items back – fantastic return policies – and people to help when you need it, however you want to contact them (not waiting round for someone who might not be the right person to help).

Customer service

Another big plus online is the whole idea of reviews – from consumers just like you, telling you exactly what they think of the item, good or bad.  This helps you make your decisions.

Your typical high street shops now are used more for browsing – and people then compare prices with online retailers, go away and order online for it to be delivered a couple of days later.  Sure there are some purchases that don’t make sense to do this way but more people are going this way.  And yes I’m one of them.  How can I justify a book in one of the few remaining high street shops, when online (and by online I mean Amazon) it’s half price (with great service and quick delivery) – there just isn’t any competition.

Traditional UK high street

I can shop when I want and even when mobile.  It’s all so convenient.

Everyone talks about how much of their Christmas shopping these days is done online and typically this means Amazon.

It’s another post about whether Amazon’s business models (pricing) are sustainable or not for them – but so far it’s working and their bottom line is healthy (now)!

So now to the crunch question – is there still a place for the traditional high street?  I think there is.  A lot of change is needed and retailers need to embrace online and digital as well as their traditional retail arms.  This is critical.  If they don’t – and don’t do it quickly, they’ll sadly go the same way as others.

For us consumers, it’s an exciting time but will be a sad one as well if we lose well known names from the high street.

It’s time to change!

It's time for change

Curry good service

It’s too easy to write about bad service but good service – real good service – needs to be shouted about, so people know who’s doing it well and how.

Saturday nights in the UK are perfect nights – every so often – for a good takeaway curry. And we’re luckily enough in Twickenham to have a good number of local Indian restaurants (a bonus living near to the home of rugby – The Twickenham Rugby Stadium – yes that’s where England beat the All Blacks this weekend).

Currys

A few weekends ago, with the kids in bed, it was time for a curry. Order placed with our favourite restaurant and greeted on the phone as normal with a pleasant “How are you?”. 40 ish minutes later and the food arrived, delivered in style by a gent in a nice suit and again very pleasant and friendly. Order complete with the usual free large bottle of Cobra beer. We dished up and Mrs. Noble discovered the naan bread that should have accompanied her order was missing. Shock, horror! What do we do?

Naan bread

A quick call back to the restaurant and apologies from them and driver on his way back. 5 minutes later and the missing naan arrived plus another free bottle of beer and a few more free poppadoms. Nice! Very happy customers.

The morals of the story?

1. Good service always counts – whatever business you’re in, however big you are and whatever size order your customer has with you.

2. Exceed customer expectations. Do more than others will at the same price. Your customers will remember you and they will come back.

3. When you make mistakes – and you will – fix them quickly and pleasantly and do more than your customers expect.

It’s all about curry good service…

And in case you wondered, our very friendly Indian restaurant is called The Green Spice. Pop in and see them or call them up for a take away, you won’t be disappointed.

The Green Spice (Twickenham)

No really, poor service is not good

Ok another post on the sadly too common theme of poor service.  This time it’s from our lovely UK (privatised) utility companies.

It’s been all over the UK press recently with pretty much all of the power companies bringing in a pretty hefty price increase – just before the winter kicks in and we all start using our heating properly.  Clearly the rubbish timing is a coincidence.  Average increases in the region of 10% seemed to be the standard.  So I was prepared – or so I thought.

Woke up this morning to find a nice letter from the lovely people at npower – our power company (who we use for our electricity and gas supplies).  A 3 page letter from them that started off with an apology…

npower saying sorry

Ok, they know it’s not good news and want to be open with me.  Next the reasons…

npower listing their excuses

 

Ok – turn over the page, it’s then the increases, hidden deep in what can only be described as rocket science (and even though I actually do have 2 degrees in rocket science it’s not easy to understand).  They’re planning a 20.3% increase on our electricity and an 18.0% increase for gas.  Did I misread that?  20+%?  I’ve never seen an increase anywhere like that.  Has inflation suddenly changed?  Have the national papers got the average that wrong (and I know it’s an average but this is way off)?  Is it an error?

A quick check on Twitter and it’s not just me.  Lots of people with similar nice letters recently, with the very same reasons (or shall we call them excuses), and with increases – but none quite this high.  Some people even with no increases.  Now maybe I see this in a very simple way but what is it about my supply that means I need a larger increase?  Pass – but npower customer services surely will be able to set me straight.

A nice 0800 freephone number to call and then a multitude of rubbish menus to go through – entering my account number, listening to it, entering my date of birth, pressing the number 6 a few times and a few more.  Then a message saying we’re experiencing a high volume of calls due to the recent letters, oh really?  And you weren’t ready for that?

An irate customer

 

A message then to say they could call me back in about 45 minutes.  Ok, sounds a good idea.  So then about 2 hours later I get the call, and yes more menus and information I have to enter first.  Then the agents on…

I explain the problem and that I’d like to understand why my increase is so much – good question she says.  So then tells me the reasons in the letter – ok that tells everyone why there’s an increase but not why we’ve had the bombshell we’ve had.  She then tells me it’s the region we’re in.  Say what?  Is Twickenham so different in how we receive our power, that they need to charge us twice as much more?  Then she says, it’s also based on our low-ish usage.  Huh?  We have a low-ish usage so the increase is higher?  Nonsense.

Let’s escalate – time for the manager, please can we speak to them?  A 5 minute on-hold pause.  Then, the agent has spoken to the manager and they say the same.  What?  Did “Can I speak to the manager?” not make sense?  So second attempt…

The manager now says the same – and then completes it with we can’t really tell you, we don’t know.  Oh, that’s ok then, so it’s some sort of lottery that even the rocket scientists at npower can’t really explain and it’s ok not to explain to customers, we just charge them 20% more.  Or it’s a secret.

The morals and how this isn’t a good example of customer service…

  1. Don’t send out generic information when what you’re actually saying is very different.
  2. Ditch the menu after menu after menu system – it’s not friendly and no-one likes it.
  3. Employ more staff when you know you’re going to get busy, very busy.  Plan better.
  4. Empower your staff so they can talk to customers and give them real information.
  5. Tell the truth and keep it simple.
  6. Listen and listen again, and understand what is being asked.
  7. If someone needs to escalate, let them – don’t do it for them.
  8. Don’t do something that is guaranteed to lose customers.

The moral?  Well, if I want to keep warm – and today it’s cold – I’m pretty powerless to do anything with npower, the price increase stays and they’re not listening.  But I can switch to someone else.  And yes, no doubt they’ll also have an increase there but there’s a chance that it won’t be an obscene one and they might be able to tell me why….

Happy days, and a nice story in the book on how to lose customers.

The same day also, that a story about how npower mis-sold gas to someone and have been taken to the small claims court and the person has been successful in winning an harassment payment from them…

Why testing is important…

Another Olympic post – this time on the genius (not) that is the London 2012 Olympic ticketing system.  This will be a vent of sorts, as I’ve spent too much time messing about trying to buy tickets as have millions of others.

The games themselves have been nothing short of amazing and what all the athletes have accomplished is incredible, but sport is also about people watching it.  And for an event of this scale you need a good mechanism in place to get people to see the sports they want to see.

Before we get started on the main theme of the post, Royal Mail have done it again.  We managed to get tickets for the Paralympics that start in a couple of weeks time.  An e-mail from LOCOG confirming we’d got them arrived (and we’d paid £6 for super delivery rather than picking them up at the event).  But no details on when they’d arrive, even roughly – so a black hole and left hoping they would arrive in time.  Then an e-mail from Royal Mail telling me the tickets were ready to be delivered…

Followed by another to tell me the tickets would be with me the next day.  And then one to confirm they’d been received by me, literally within seconds of me electronically signing for them with the local postie.  Now that is real service and great to see the Royal Mail – that great British institution – as a shining beacon in the whole Olympic ticketing fiasco.

The actual ticketing system went live around April 2011 – so over 16 months ago – and in that time it hasn’t changed one bit (as in problems fixed, updates done etc).  That’s a year with no new development.  How can that be right?  Was it perfect when first released?  Had all the testing that was done shown it to be perfect?  No and that’s one big no.

Rather than go into all the issues myself there is a great post on BuzzFeed Sports by Alex Rees that very nicely gives you all the juicy details – see below (it’s worth a read)…

It is very apparent from this that virtually no real testing on how the site or service works can possibly have been done.  User acceptance testing?  No – why do we need to do that, it’ll work.  Load testing?  Will many people be wanting to use the site at the same time?  Surely not.  Performance testing?  It’s just a web site.  Problems identified by the public (the users or customers), should we fix them within 16 months?  No, what’s fixing all about?

Any of these are part of computing for beginners 101, and to get onto building a web-site 101 you have to have got the first certificate already.

So why has this happened?  Good old outsourcing.  LOCOG clearly aren’t a software house and don’t build ticketing or e-commerce sites.  So they put together an RFI and get it out with all the big boys in the market place, including ticketmaster (who won it and built the site).  And it will have come down to money – ticketmaster will have bid and bid at a price they could win at and LOCOG will have picked the cheapest so they keep costs down.  Now I may be making some assumptions here, but I’ll bet they’re right!

The site will have been designed to some brief specs (or even an Agile type user story) – we need to sell tickets for the Olympic events for the public – it couldn’t be simpler.  They will have been paid to build it and maybe run it for a little bit but future development, fixes, upgrades etc?  Never – why would we need them, it’s only the Olympics and it’s only on for a short known period.  It’s not an Amazon type service that will keep running.

That’s the key here.  This has never been built to improve or do the job well, it’s been built to just (almost) do the job and no-one’s re-visited it (the design) since and has no intention to.

Testing before we go-live?  Why would we possibly need to do that?  Testing with our actual end users and listening to what they say?  Surely not, you only get…

  • Empty seats
  • Bad press
  • Frustrated British public

But like I said at the start it has been an absolutely awesome Olympic games, the best I’ve seen – and we did get some tickets (for the rowing) and saw some of the free events (road cycling) and today we’re off to see the men’s marathon in London.  And my favourite bits –  the men’s 100m, 200m, 4x100m and the men’s 10,000m and 5,000m.  Mo Farah – a local Teddington man who went to St. Mary’s University in Twickenham (where we do our karate now) and a Bushy Park Parkrun runner – is my hero of the games!  What an athlete.

The little Nobles doing the Mobot after his 5,000m win last night and the man himself with Mr. Bolt…