Monday, 5 December 2016

Message From America

A recent issue of Tuck in the Media, a monthly round of news worth a second look (from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA) contained an article from Wall Street 24/7 by By Thomas C. Frohlich, Evan Comen and Samuel Stebbins entitled Customer Service Hall of Shame. 
(See HEREwhich is worth a look.
The survey asked respondents to score the organisations on four perception levels- Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor. The survey results included 151 organisations where the response was seen to be sufficiently robust.
What was interesting about the way the data was presented was that the 15 companies in The Hall of Shame were ranked only according to the percentage of their customers who rated their service experience as “Poor”. (See Table 1) and for The Hall of Fame only the 15 organisations with the highest percentage of customers who rated their experience as “Excellent”.(See Table 2). The other rankings were excluded for this purpose but are published on the Wall Street 24/7 site.

This may seem at first seem fairly blunt way of presenting the findings but it is one which harks back to the concept of “The Zone of Indifference” when applied to customer service. The concept proposed that if customer service is scored on a scale of 1 to 100 then it could be argued that a score of 85 is not too bad. However, work done in the 1990’s showed that at a score of around 70 customer loyalty was very damaged and customers would either leave or be ready to leave. So, the “Zone of Satisfaction” is not on a scale of 1 to 100 but on a scale of 70-100 and on that scale a score of 85 is halfway between 70 (they leave) and 100 and indicative of a real customer satisfaction level of only 50%.
So, if the concept was correct would the results of the survey show up in the business results of the organisations?  If customers are dissatisfied would they continue to buy? The only business figure that customers can influence is revenue. Other factors like production and operating costs etc. are beyond the customer’s control.
A look at the revenue figures currently available on Nasdaq showed that on the Hall of Shame seven of the fifteen, almost half, showed revenue results that were either down or level while in the Hall of Fame fourteen companies of the fifteen showed revenue figures that were up.

So the message from America seems to be that The Zone of Indifference is alive and well and that it is as important to understand what is driving dissatisfaction as it is to know what is satisfying customers when seeking to optimise revenue growth.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Instinct or Insight

An article on line recently posed the question “How do you convince the C class executive team that managing the customer experience in the digital age is different and even more important?”
 Given that the short answer to that question is that it is not someone in the organisation who should be dealing with that issue it should be that the C class executive team should have worked that out for themselves!  However, as life experience indicates not all organisational leaders are capable of leading.
So, what is an answer to the question? The key issues appear to be that…
1- Customers now interact with organisations at the speed of a click (which is about the same as the speed of light)
2- Customers have almost immediate access to competitive data and are able to compare propositions without any supplier influence.
3- Competitors can access your site(s) and the less ethical may sabotage them.
4- There is now a proliferation of channels and customers can choose which one or combination of channels they see as best for them at that time.
5- The migration from computer to tablet/phone continues to gather pace.
6- Social media is the weapon of choice for the dissatisfied customer
7- More self-service by the customer means less face to face and more “remote” Value Moments
8- The ability to gather data about customer behaviour is better than ever before
9- Managing the customer experience is still about being perceived as being the supplier of first choice to customers. 

So if there are leaders of organisations that are not yet fully connected perhaps it may be useful to look at the points above to consider what they mean and how any issues arising could be used as an opportunity for improvement.

1-The pace of change is still very rapid so understanding and responding to trends in customer behaviour is something that has to be a day to day, business as usual type activity if the organisation’s competitive edge is to remain razor sharp.
2- The fact that customers have this power means that the organisation has to monitor both its customer’s behaviour and their attitude to the brand and position and reposition its key product or service propositions on an ongoing basis. Techniques like “Influencer Marketing” may be useful in creating a steadying effect on brand perception but need to be carefully developed to ensure both resonance and confidence in the target markets.
3- There is a need to monitor the possible activities of competitors on the organisation’s online sites by having high quality technical support either in house or available. A periodical routine check is a good idea.
4- Omni-channel marketing is here and it requires all channels to be aligned and integrated to the degree that the customer enjoys as seamless an experience as possible. That means that journey mapping and processes within different departments, who may not traditionally have been aligned, will need to be reviewed. Could take a fair amount of effort but Microsoft state that 89% of companies with extremely strong omni-channel customer engagement retain their customers, compared to only 33% for companies with weak omni-channel engagement so unless the organisation is happier to accept the costs of customer churn it could be a worthwhile investment.
5- As customers do more on the move what opportunities does that create for the organisation? Is it worth becoming a “customer” of your organisation to test whether or not the experience, which may always have been good on computer, still works when used on a smart-phone?
6- Social media should perhaps be called “social immediate” as it is being seen as the most effective way to express dissatisfaction. The answer may lie in the new 3 R’s. React, Resolve and Repair. React quickly to stop a bad message spreading fast. Resolve the issue to delight the customer (a fast fix generally costs a lot less that a long argument – Marks and Spencer figured that out over 100 years ago!) and Repair the cause of the issue so that it doesn’t happen again.
7- Self-service by the customer places greater responsibility on delivery processes to be clear, effective and easy to use. For example, in the 24/7x365 era does the organisation have statistics on how many purchase attempts were abandoned due to it being too hard to complete the transaction?
8- The good news is that the digital age creates major opportunities to gather, organise and analyse data on customer behaviour and to gather insights that can create both a better experience and increase productivity. Analytics can be immensely valuable but rely on a number of key factors, like all channels understanding who the customer is and what part channels play in the customer journey, collecting the right data, having systems that can do much of the analysis automatically, understanding the importance of subtle changes in trends or behaviours to inform intelligent innovation and ensuring that new information is widely shared to all relevant stakeholders. If in doubt employing an analytics expert could be a wise decision.

So to go back to the original question. If the C class executive team are not up to speed on such things the answer may be to present them with a business case for paying attention to the way the organisation addresses the digital world. Facts and numbers about customers, markets, competitors, emerging trends and potential innovations in most sectors are easily researched. Facts about the customer experience for your organisation in terms of satisfaction, purchase and usage behaviour, value moments, churn, loyalty, share of wallet etc. should be readily available and a compelling case could be presented that could help the organisation to ride the technology wave towards a better customer experience. 
 A business case could remove the need to make decisions based on hunch or feeling and replace it with the insight necessary to make the right choices about the right things at the right time.

Monday, 14 November 2016

How Could Regulation Change Impact Your Customer’s Experience?

What happens to the customer experience when a change in a government’s regulatory framework affects the price to customers of almost all goods and services?

 It has been a well communicated fact that the UAE will introduce Value Added Tax(VAT) at 5% on 1st January 2018. It is likely that all other GCC countries will also introduce a similar regime by 1st January 2019. There are many sources of advice for organisations and management around how VAT works and who is obliged to register but it seems that little thought is being given about how to deal with the group of people most affected by the change, the customers. Customers are the sole source of revenue for every organisation and when it comes to VAT the buck stops with the end customer. So what to do? A few general thoughts may help planning the introduction and avoiding unnecessary customer dissatisfaction.
Perhaps a place to start is to properly understand
A - Which customer groups will be affected?
B -  To what degree they will be impacted?
C - Who will handle the key customer touch points?
D -  Are they skilled to be able to help the customer understand the changes?
E -  Can such skills be positioned as a value moment in the customer’s experience?

Which Customer Groups will be Affected?
Is your business required to register for VAT?  Are your customers registered for VAT
If your business is predominantly with VAT registered B2B customers then they may be able to recover their input tax.
If your business is required to register for VAT and is predominantly B2C then your customers will pay the full uplift.

To What Degree Will They be Impacted?
Are the goods or services you supply liable for VAT or are some/ all exempt. How would you explain which are and which are not included?

Who Will Handle The Key Touch Points?
Such changes often generate a high level of additional traffic from customers who are confused or unclear about the change in price and process and may need to have the changes explained in a clear, polite and concise manner. So where are the key touch points? What are the key communication channels that customers are most likely to use? Can you proactively manage these channels to give the best possible service?  Have you reviewed your customer journey maps to consider these factors?

Are They Skilled To Be Able To Help The Customer Understand The Changes?
What skills, information and processes do the staff involved need to have to be able to give the customers a satisfactory experience that potentially enhance the customer’s view of the value of your organisation as a supplier? Be sure not to overlook  the use of digital communication to provide “self-help” to the increasing volume of customers who turn to smart phone and tablet as their first choice for information. Have designed a skills development plan?

Can the Use of Such Skills be Positioned as a Value Moment in The Customer’s Experience?
The impact of a change like VAT can have on the internal process and systems of an organisation may be considerable and create an internal workload that can temporarily distract the organisation away from its customers’ needs and/or generate errors that can cause customer confusion. VAT is not new but it is new to the GCC.  It may be helpful to retain a focus on the customer experience and to develop a programme that foresees and addresses many issues before they arise and makes the VAT introduction to your customers a positive value added experience that creates competitive advantage by enhancing your value to them as a supplier. While you may not be responsible for VAT being introduced it does create an ideal opportunity to differentiate your organisation from its competitors.
The final point is that as with any a new regulatory obligation and if any organisation is in doubt or unclear on any point it is sensible always to seek expert advice.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

......and they still don't get it!

After almost 40 years working in the customer service/quality/experience/happiness space and through multiple iterations of measurements/standards/kpi's/journey maps et al it is still hard to believe that there are still many organisations who through ignorance or incompetence or a combination of both still don't get it. A few recent examples.
At a high level Pan European business growth conference in Milan the session on business funding was led by a prominent Italian bank leader who made the proposition that Italian banks in general and Milan banks in particular had plenty of money available for businesses to fund their growth strategies. (Leaving the latest news about the state of Italy's banking sector to one side for the sake this example) In the Q & A session following the presentation a delegate asked how could such funding could be accessed. The banker replied along the following lines.........
First YOU have to do ABC, then YOU have to do DEF, then YOU have to do GHI, then YOU have to............ (trust the picture is emerging), then YOU call us and we will see if we might be able to help you. So you have to, you have to, you have to etc etc......... the audience gave a collective sigh of disappointment as their new high flying hopes crashed back onto the runway. Could it have been better for the bank to have said, please contact us, we will make an appointment to come and see you and help you through the process and help you select the best for you from the available options? Some banks still clearly don't get it.
A pay-as-you-go telecoms customer of TMobile (now EE in the UK) has been with them for over 20 years and NEVER uses texts. EVERY time the customer tops up their account TMobile gives them a number of time limited free texts as a reward! It cannot be that the company does not know the customer never uses texts, it doesn't take a major piece of big data analysis to uncover that information from their own records and yet TMobile persist in irritating the customer by giving them something useless perhaps in the mistaken belief that the customer will have a radical behaviour change in favour of texts. How many years will it be before they notice that one size does not fit all? Some telecoms still clearly don't get it.
Marriott Hotels are a global operator still unwilling to catch up with their customer needs, particularly Wi-Fi. They persist in charging their customers for Wi-Fi in their rooms at a rate, which if annualised, is eye wateringly expensive (try £15 per 24 hours’ times 365! -Financial Times 14/1/2015). However, they are happy to proudly advise their customers that Wi-Fi is free in reception and if you join their loyalty scheme –incentive or duress?  So, a complete stranger can walk into their reception and enjoy free Wi-Fi while their paying guests are charged for the privilege or have to suffer the inconvenience of decamping from their room to the lobby. Marriott Hotels do not appear to get it.
It’s not only big business. A local golf professional regularly bombards club members with offers of kit and equipment via the internet. One member responded to an offer regarding a new set of golf irons. He provided the specification required and advised that as he was going on a golfing holiday in two weeks a prompt reply would be appreciated. Eight days later nothing was heard from the professional. The member contacted the local down town golf shop and had a price in 5 minutes and a promise that the clubs could be with him before his holiday. They unsurprisingly secured the customer's order. Clearly the golf professional had a listening skills deficiency and did not get it.
Lost luggage is one of the worries associated with air travel. When it happens, the customers have the right to expect the airline to understand both the predicament created for the passenger and to respond quickly and empathetically to resolve the issue. A recent experience from KLM shows how every step in the customer journey map must be viewed from the customer’s perspective. On a flight from Amsterdam to Birmingham in the UK a passenger, who is a “Platinum”loyalty club member, on a touring golfing holiday arrived without their golf clubs.
The lost luggage and the itinerary was explained at the airport. At no point during the next 48 hours did anyone from KLM contact the customer.  During that time the worried passenger called the airline on numerous occasions requesting an update. After a number of calls to update KLM on the customer’s itinerary it was eventually ascertained that the items were with the courier. The frustrated customer repeatedly requested the telephone number of the courier to allow direct liaison. KLM advised they did not have that information available, a response that is either an example of unbelievable mal-management or a dissembling masterclass. So the customer had to continue to call KLM to try to track down his luggage waiting sometimes for up to 10 minutes for the phone to be answered. Eventually the luggage arrived unannounced at the Welcombe Hotel in Stratford Upon Avon after the courier had already been to the customer’s previous location. Outstandingly wasteful and ineffective customer experience management. Almost beyond belief is the fact that KLM cancelled the customer’s return flight and lost their luggage on that journey too!
Contrast that with the attitude of the golf professional at the Welcombe Hotel who hire sets of golf clubs. On hearing of the customer’s problems they immediately, without a moment’s hesitation lent him a set of almost new clubs free of charge!
If that is how KLM treats it Platinum customers what chance does everyone else have? Clearly KLM still don’t get it.
What is it that they don't get?
Each example highlights a different aspect of how the customer journey could have been a better experience.
The banker clearly saw it as the customer's responsibility to get all the gound work done in accordance with the bank’s needs, potentially wasting much of the customer’s time on unnecessary work, rather than offering to visit the customer to get both a better feel for the quality of their organisation and to get the data they needed. The attitude of the banker was a first class example of a style of bank service that should have died out with the dinosaurs but unfortunately persists in the culture of many banks today.
The telecoms company clearly does not take any interest in its customers' usage patterns. If they were at all customer orientated they would have after 20 years made a more sensible offer (like some free minutes) which could have encouraged greater customer loyalty and instead of creating a customer that is ready to listen to any competitive proposition.
The hotel is out of touch with what customers need and even worse what their competitors are offering. So called peripheral facilities, like Wi-Fi, are no longer a luxury they are, like sat-nav in a car, a mainstream necessity of social and commercial life and a purchase discriminator. Not providing such facilities free in a market place where most of their competitors do is highly likely to damage their customer loyalty.
The golf professional is just sloppy and will continue to lose business if he continues not to listen carefully to his customer's requirements and to act promptly in accordance with those needs.
KLM appear to have some fundamental process management and communication issues that exacerbate rather than resolve the customer’s distress and demonstrates that their “Platinum” level loyalty has little value. From the customer experience perspective it was a masterclass example of how not to do it.
So multinational or SME, looking at your organisation's customer experience management are there any areas where:
Your organisation’s attitude to its customers belongs in days gone by?
You do not bother to invest time to understand how your customers use your products or services?
You are out of touch with the everyday mainstream expectations of your customers?
You are just too lazy or disorganised to listen carefully and respond to individual customer's needs?
If so now might it be a good time to have the drains up before it’s too late? All of these could be low cost simple fixes with a potentially high return for the effort involved.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Has it Come True? The Future is Now

A recently recovered copy of Customer Service Management Magazine from November 1999 proudly presented on its front cover “What customer service MUST become to survive the 21st Century” so 17 years later has their advice been heeded?
One thing that appears to have stayed the same in certain sectors is a statement by Larry Hochman that “…after 25 years of intense focus on Customer Service current research suggests that most customers today think that service basically stinks”
He went on to predict that all customers
1- Will need to do to defect is click onto the next website
2- Will need to buy globally is select their supplier and click 
3- Will position their "expectations" more as "demands" 
4- Will have an ever-increasing amount of power through information availability
5- Will complain electronically and expect resolution faster 
6- Will communicate "bad news" far more widely (not 10 but 10,000 will hear about it)
So not a bad forecast and what were the proposed remedies? The forecast was that the commodity that customers would see as the most valuable is “Time”. As lives became busier disposable time becomes less available and thereby more precious. Thereby “Time is Money” becomes “Time is Life” and service must make the customer experience easier and less complicated if it is to continue to be the key route to loyalty.  What the customer will need is summed up in four words: Speed, Freedom, Choice, Control. Does your customer management strategy recognise these as today’s priorities?
Dr Anders Gronstedt  predicted the idea that while the 20th Century was the “Production Century” but  the 21st Century would become “The Customer Century” and a key strategy would be to use customer service as a key plank in the organisation’s communication platform and should be on-going, frequent, candid and consistent  in all channels i.e. Vertical. Horizontal Internal and External with ALL stakeholders getting the same messages about the importance of giving customers the highest service quality experience. What are your views on the power of those thoughts and the degree to which all your stakeholders are now on board with that approach?
Meanwhile Dr Caroline Fisher felt that perceived value was the key to future success and by moving the measurement from a “Satisfaction Orientation” to a “Value Orientation” and understanding how to deliver those factors would make a much greater contribution to customer loyalty. 
Her chart below.

Value has always been an imperative factor as a part of the service quality equation and the power of 
Value Moments are well explained in the book of the same name by Robert Keay but do you agree that Value has become central to the improvement of loyalty in the 21st century?
Another prediction recalled here was that customer management needed to become “Real Time”. Howard Barrett described that as “The ability of the organisation to respond to customers’ changing requirements in real time” This is to be achieved largely through harnessing the power of technology to address the needs of what is described a s “The never satisfied customer”. Technology was foreseen to have the capability to make every customer transaction a unique experience, to make a” Personalised Offering, Anytime, Anywhere “.  Customers are perceived to be equally empowered and potentially confused by factors like “Information overload, Rate of technological innovation, Alternative channels, Buyer sophistication, Customer time famine, Pace of change of customer preferences”.  The article observes that the capacity to respond to such challenges vary widely across sectors with computer vendors, financial services and telecoms nearer the leading edge and wholesale and government healthcare not so well placed. Agreeing with the latter part of the observation is fairly easy but would you agree that the others have taken full advantage of their opportunity?
Finally, Peter Fisk talked about the urgency of deciding whether or not to become a “Customer Gateway” as the most important strategy of the future. If your organisation can become the trusted portal in which a customer entrusts a section of their comparison and purchasing needs then it can be the key to future success. Amazon would surely agree, whilst it was a long time coming for them it seems to be working OK now! Could your organisation become a gateway for a wider section of your customers’ needs than it currently fulfils?
So no word about the rise of journey mapping or the emergence of happiness but a reasonable outlook from seventeen years ago with technology rightly seen as a key agent of change and one thing was, and still is, spot on the fact that overall the customers is still the central factor in the equation. 
Will the forecast for the next seventeen years be slightly trickier to predict?

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Will the Smart Wallet Make It?

Over the last two or three years the Mobile Wallet has come a long way but may have even further to go. As a payment system it has many benefits for enhancing customer convenience and the experience of hassle free buying and as mobile continuously increases in both use and penetration (80% of world population will have a smart phone by 2020) are there really a myriad of opportunities  available to organisations who engage with their customers via their mobile?
In this simple but powerful concept there could be potentially one of the biggest chances to engage customers that has so far emerged in the digital age.  It has of course to firstly dislodge the incumbent payment methods with which customers and suppliers are familiar and presumably quite happy and also rely on the fact in the future  people will still leave the sanctuary of their sofas for some part of their shopping experience. Big hurdles.
So what can businesses do with the mobile wallet to make it interesting, exciting and engaging?
There is a great deal to achieve if organisations look through the system from the other direction. The mobile wallet can be transformed from an occasionally useful app for customers to make payments to become their window on your world. Their lockscreens can be made to light up their interest in so many ways that are beyond just making payments.

Some observation on what is happening out there right now.
1-  Creating a range of useful services and pushing information that is relevant and valuable to customers via the mobile wallet can greatly influence their attitude to the brand, improve commercial loyalty (buying more stuff more frequently) and give them a more exciting experience. Services using physical materials like Loyalty Cards, Membership Cards, Visiting Cards, Leaflets, Booking / Collection Receipts, Event Invitations, Mailings and Tickets of almost every kind etc etc. can flow effortlessly into the mobile wallet to give greater convenience to customers and save the organisation the production/administration/mailing/replacement costs of such materials.
Ditch the paper and plastic and pitch the electronic fantastic! 
2- Then there are directions, not only of how to get to an organisation but where to find what the customer is seeking in the store (or direct them to what the organisation would like them to see) thus creating the opportunity for the organisation to provide guidance or influence the opportunity to buy before the smart wallet is used for its primary purpose i.e. to pay, by which time it is usually too late to influence the purchase decision. Information about all kinds of things can pass through the lockscreen window from changes to opening hours, special offers, privilege early advice on seasonal sales, upcoming events, loyalty points offers and loyalty points balances, new customers benefit features, joint promotions with other organisations etc. etc.
So what’s in the wallet for them? Potentially a safe secure way of paying plus as much relevant and useful excitement as the organisation can deliver (However a word of caution - it is not a drain down which second rate marketing muck should be flushed – potentially far too valuable for that). It is worth remembering that the smartphone is not the only device with watches and wristbands also set to eat into plastic’s share. Visa UK foresee half of their transactions being non-plastic in 5 years’ time.
What’s in it for you? Done right it can save costs on marketing, materials, and administration, direct and improve sales performance and enhance  brand loyalty by creating an interesting and relevant customer experience.
Will the Smart Wallet make it? It definitely seems worth investigating how push technology could help every organisation to engage and assist its customers increase its share of the mobile wallet and make fast easy payments a factor in keeping customers happy and economies buoyant.