By Andy Butler, Client Manager, TLF Research
Working in customer experience is a fascinating line of work – but at times it can also be so frustrating. It’s fascinating as, in measuring customer experience and helping organisations drive changes that enhance the customer journey; I fully understand the value this can have for customers and for a business. But frustrating when every day I see customer experience fails - surely it shouldn’t be that difficult to deliver in the most important aspect of an organisation’s strategy – keeping customers happy.
With customer satisfaction increasingly becoming the leading indicator of future financial performance, it makes complete sense to do what matters most to customers and keep them happy. After all, happy customers become loyal customers, and loyal customers, amongst other significant benefits, spend more money with an organisation – so why would an organisation not strive to get this right?
Having recently returned from 9 months travelling around the globe experiencing all kinds of adventures, I can now reflect on how the different customer experiences helped to create, and in most cases add to, what ultimately was a life changing journey. And that is the power of customer experience – when an organisation gets it right, it connects emotionally with a customer and that’s where future custom is won and lost. Whether it be additional purchases, recommendations to friends and family, or brand enhancement, it begins and ends with the customer experience.
And that was certainly experienced when I found myself in Nepal trekking up to Everest Base Camp, having hired a local guide named Passang Sherpa, essentially to ensure that I survived the trip. But Passang added so much more to the experience than just keeping me alive. He was keen to want to get to know me as a person, and in doing so, shared his experiences of a fascinating life in the Himalaya. He was a treasure trove of information on all things Everest - he sought out rare local wildlife, introduced me to the local people, took me to temples far off the beaten track – ultimately personalising and crafting an experience that was so much better than my already high expectations. There was no monetary value in going above and beyond, it just came down to the fact that he had pride in his work and he simply wanted to do the very best job he could in creating the very best experience for me. I left that adventure feeling as though I had made a friend for life – and though it’s likely our paths will never cross again, I will never forget that experience and I would recommend to anyone without hesitation.
When it comes to customer experience, the Service Profit Chain (as described by Harvard Business Review) best demonstrates the significance of engaged employees. If an organisation wants to be more profitable then it will need to have loyal customers. To attain loyal customers an organisation needs to be delivering the right level of customer experience, consistently, day in day out; and to do that it needs its people. If employees take pride in working for an organisation and are highly satisfied and engaged, they will naturally add the additional value that customers are looking for, and that drives loyalty, which in turn drives profitability.
Never underestimate the power of your workforce – after all, in most cases, they are the face of an organisation.
This was also highlighted when I arrived at New Delhi Train Station, the busiest train station in India handling over 400 trains and 500,000 passengers daily. I had missed my train on account of the traffic whilst travelling across the city from the airport, and after queueing for what seemed an eternity at customer services, tired and exhausted, the railway staff could not have been more helpful. Not only did the customer service representative switch my ticket without hesitation to the next available train which was just about to leave – try managing that in a UK train station without significant cost - he arranged for a colleague to escort me across the station to the right platform, and introduced me to the train manager who went on to show me to my carriage where I would spend the night. Throughout the night as he did his rounds, he checked in with me to see if he could help, and also woke me 10 minutes before my stop to make sure that I didn’t miss it. The whole experience was completely unexpected, and in my mind above and beyond what was required – especially given the fact I was in India, the most populated country in the world, with the sheer number of passengers in the system.
As David Macleod suggests in The Macleod Report – “Engaging for Success: Enhancing performance through employee engagement”, having engaged employees is crucial to the success of an organisation.
He sets out that there are four enablers to having engaged employees:
- Strategic narrative – what journey is the organisation on, which direction is it heading, where is it on that journey, and where do employees fit in?
- Engaging managers – Managers need to facilitate and empower rather than control and restrict.
- Employee voice – employees should be actively encouraged to speak up, and employers listen, consider their views and action where possible.
- Integrity – a belief among employees that the organisation lives and breathes its values.
Customer experience has the power to make a real impression – but with that power comes great responsibility, and when things go wrong there is a duty to put things right. I recall exploring the south island of New Zealand, which is quite simply outstanding. From the grandeur of Milford Sound to the ruggedness of Fox Glacier, New Zealand has it all to offer. In the land famed for where Bilbo Baggins began his magical adventure, setting off across the awe inspiring world of Middle-earth, who would have thought that the actions of a popular car rental company could take that magic away – yet that’s precisely what happened. Having booked a car rental, I turned up at the airport eager to set out on what Lonely Planet describe as “one of the world’s most scenic drives” but was so angry to learn that said company had failed to have a car available for me. Frustrating as that was, the attitude of the employees on the help desk was even worse. There was no effort to help, no attempt to put things right, no effort to get me where I needed to be, just a “sorry mate, there’s nothing we can do.” I was simply left on my own in an airport with a string of hotels booked over the next few days and no way to get there. My complaints fell on deaf ears. Whilst in the queue, on their limited advice, I emailed their customer complaints team to air my views – I’m still waiting to hear back 6 months on, and I never made it onto the road trip.
Dealing with customer complaints is paramount to the success of an organisation. Working in research, there is significant evidence that proves dealing with complaints in the right way actually enhances customer satisfaction. In a modern, digital world, where sometimes the only occasion you interact with a customer is when they have cause for complaint, organisations cannot afford to get it wrong. Of course, its best practice to minimise any cause for complaint, but you will never eradicate them completely because things always have and always will go wrong. Complaints should be viewed as an opportunity to impress, and tackled head on.
So what did I learn from my time away? I learnt that it doesn’t matter where in the world you are or what sector you are in, customer experience is just as important anywhere. The product or service may be different, technology may be more or less advanced, but the principles are the same – when it comes to customer experience it’s all about people. So my advice for any business would be to focus on 3 simple things:
- Employees are the face of an organisation. They represent the brand and drive a business forward, but in order to do this they need to feel engaged and have the right skills in order to deliver on your customer experience goals. An organisation needs to understand that perception is reality, and that in customers’ eyes it’s reality that really needs to change. Employees know an organisation best and their opinions on what needs to change should be sought out and acted upon – driving engagement, and also business change.
- When it comes to dealing with unhappy customers, an organisation needs to tackle them head on and have a robust process for handling complaints. There will be tough decisions, but if complaints are handled in the right way, they will enhance an organisation’s reputation and ultimately the bottom line.
- Be open and transparent with your employees and your customers. Having an aligned approach to communication helps drive employee engagement, whilst also enhancing customer loyalty. An organisation needs a strategy, but in order to deliver on the strategy there needs to be senior management commitment, clear communication, and effective management that leads and inspires, rather than controls and restricts.