Category Archives: Real Customer Experience

Close the loop with clients, but mean it!

In the first weekend of October, me and my wife Angela decided to celebrate our 2nd anniversary with a long weekend at one of the iconic Pousadas de Portugal – Monument and Historic Hotels, part of Pestana Hotel Group, the largest and most famous Portuguese tourism and leisure group, known for its quality.

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The hotel is situated at the top of a high hill, on the back of the famous Sanctuary, with the same name – Santa Luzia. The view is breathtaking, to the sanctuary, the town, the river, the beaches, and the Atlantic ocean. It is a fantastic and beautiful place, luxurious, quiet and well decorated.

Our 3-day stay was outstanding, and I guess our mood and the celebration also helped tolerate or overcome the less great things – e.g. the hotel doesn’t have a gym, and I really like (and in this case, needed) to do some exercise. That is why, when asked at check-out, we both smiled and said “everything was great!”.

But when I received the request for feedback, via email, a few days later, I thought it would be important to flag a couple of things that, at the time, we didn’t bother mentioning, to avoid ruining our good mood – as we still had a full-day and trip back home, until the weekend was over.

My response to the feedback survey was really positive with regards to staff, service, accommodation, etc. But I pointed out that… a) in both nights we found, and had to kill, two centipedes; b) the quality of the food in the hotel restaurant wasn’t up to their standards.

The hotel’s response came into my inbox a couple of days later, which I must say, impressed me. But when I opened the email, noticed it was sent from a generic email address (even though signed by the Operations – Unit Manager) and contained a very obvious standard message.

Thank you for your preference (…) as well as the time for filling out our questionnaire (…) pleased to receive the evaluation and the comment about your stay (…) we work daily to meet the expectations (…) hence the comments of our clients are a stimulus and an opportunity for continuous improvement”.

The truth is they clearly didn’t address my comments, or even bothered apologising. So I replied again, saying that although I appreciated the prompt response I was disappointed and felt the feedback survey was just a formality, and not something they look forward to, in order to feed continuous improvement.

In less than one hour (44 minutes to be precise) Célia Marques (the Operations – Unit Manager) sent me a personalised email from her email address, assuring me that my comments and criticisms did indeed merit her attention, and apologising for the standard response.

Explaining that the centipedes situation was very hard to avoid in such a historic building with the characteristics inherent to the time it was built (wooden floor and poor insulation), and the restaurant feedback had already found its way to the chef “to jointly carry out the corrective actions to improve quality”.

I was delighted, and will certainly go back. However, the poor experience with the standard email was completely unnecessary. And it could put some people off. Or just prevent them from giving the hotel invaluable feedback next time, which would be a lost opportunity for improvement.

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Bank Policies – Killers for CX and EX

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Photo: Alamy

This week I decided to close a bank account that I have in Portugal and don’t use anymore. Expecting it would be quicker, I went to a Santander Totta branch, where I was greeted by one of the employees. In order to identify the account in the system, she asked me for a card associated, and then printed a few forms for me to sign. So far, so good.

To close the account, she said it was mandatory for me to provide both the credit and the debit cards associated with the account. As I don’t use the account, the credit card is in a drawer in London, and I was in Portugal. “Can you just inactivate the card in the system?”, I asked, only to see her face frown.

She continued to click and type on the computer, and until the end of the meeting never referred the credit card again or the obligation to hand it over. What followed was a request for me to sign two forms, which I did. “Sorry sir, can you please sign as per what I have in my computer”, she said, turning the screen in my direction.

I almost didn’t recognise the signature. My wife said, “Is that your signature?”. The signature was over 20 years old. Naturally, my writing had changed since, and I wasn’t able to recreate that. Her face frown again. “Well, you can check my id card. My signature is there”. Reluctantly, she accepted, and asked to copy the id card for proof.

Despite a few hurdles, all items in the close-bank-account list seemed to be ticked. But I had €2.19 in the account. She put the options to me: a) I could deposit €7.81, go to the cash machine (ATM) and withdraw €10. Or b) I could go to the teller and pay €5 to withdraw the €2.19. Needless to say, it was my turn to frown. I don’t usually like to be treated like a fool.

In any case, I didn’t want the €2.19 but could not contain myself and said the second option was non-sense. She responded “It is just the way it is. Rules are rules”. Again, I could not stay quiet, and told her it didn’t need to be that way, and it shouldn’t be that way. And that certain rules are just idiotic. She didn’t empathise with me.

I decided to try and explain. Put a smile on my face, and said “You know, it is not your fault. You’re just following orders. But the person that is comfortably sitting at a desk, on the 30th floor of the bank’s HQ, very well paid to come up with these rules, would probably need to come down, and visit the gemba”. Finally, she got me!

Sir, if you don’t do anything, when the account is closed, they will send you a letter asking you to come in and get the €2.19. Then, you don’t have to pay or deposit anything to get the money”. She thought I would be happy with this hidden option c) and was disappointed when I frown again. “Really, and you think that makes sense?”, I asked.

At this point she was confused and probably thinking that I was one of those who is never happy. I tried to explain again. “You see, the bank will spend around €5 (paper, printer, post) to send me a letter, so I come and withdraw €2.19. Isn’t this non-sense?” Again, she got me, and nodded.

This is a very good and real example of where a bank is making up rules and policies that serve no real purpose, and sometimes make absolutely no sense. Killing the customer and employee experiences.

Rules and policies that will only increase customer effort, distrust, irritation and disloyalty. Also creating friction between customers and employees, who then get increasingly frustrated and feeling powerless.

We bump into similar things in retailers, telecom providers, hospitals, public services, etc. CX and EX killers which make no sense but amazingly aren’t eliminated, simply because there isn’t a process in place, to actually find them and measure their impact.

The first step to o find these CX and EX killers is definitely to put in place Voice-of-Customer (VoC) and Voice-of-Employee (VoE) initiatives. Without feedback, how will the policy makers understand the impact of their ideas? And how will the Experience Managers improve CX and EX?

High street retail done right, by John Lewis

1 night in hotel, 4 simple CX lessons

Last week I travelled to Dublin, in Ireland, and stayed in a so-called 4 star hotel, the Talbot Hotel Stillorgan.

Arrived and went to reception. Only one customer was waiting, whilst the person behind the counter tried to answer the phone (which didn’t stop ringing), deal with couriers dropping parcels, and assist customers. 15 mins had gone by when my turn came up “I didn’t do anything for a couple of hours, and now everything seems be coming at the same time”, the guy said. First, a greeting would be nice, and second it’s not really my fault that Armageddon arrived at 7:00 PM on a Thursday.

Went up, unpacked and came down for dinner at the bar. There was no customer waiting, only a few sitting at tables already served. Two waitresses ran around, in and out of the kitchen. What appeared to be a manager was checking receipts behind the counter. No one bothered to even acknowledge my presence. 5 mins later, the manager asked “can I help you sir?”. Well, first a greeting would be nice, second I’m standing here not because I need help but because when I have nothing to do, I sit in bars staring at people.

In the morning, no hot water was running in the shower. Eventually I called reception to explain the situation. “It’s cold outside sir, so it might take a while”. I left it running for 10 mins whilst I shaved, and eventually decided to take a cold shower, as I had a plane to catch and a long journey to the airport. Again, first a greeting would be nice, and second Ireland with 7 degrees centigrade, is not really the north pole, is it?

Came down to check-out and, at reception, the same person who had answered the phone 30 mins earlier didn’t even bother asking if eventually the hot water had come. “Check-out sir?”. I have a feeling that I’m repeating myself… first a greeting would be nice, second I’m standing in reception, with my luggage, at 6:30 AM. Would it be because I want to ask where the gym is, or because I want to check-out? Leave it for you to guess.

Asked about the bus to the airport, and was told I should leave the hotel, turn right and it was a short walk to the bus stop. After 10 mins walking on the dark, cold and rain I could not find it and, to avoid losing my flight, decided to call a Uber – which cost me 3,5 times more than the bus. Turns out that the bus stop wasn’t to the right, rather I should have turned left coming out of the hotel. Reception gave me the wrong direction.

This hotel clearly has very little regard for its customers and their experience. I won’t bother returning, but I did take the time to leave a review on TripAdvisor, and a bit of advice in here….

1. Smile and greet. Little things and small gestures matter more than one may think. A greeting and a smile not only starts the engagement on the right foot, but also makes up a lot on the overall experience.

2. Plan and prepare. It is obvious that one person in a hotel reception will struggle to take calls, deal with couriers and assist customers simultaneously. A plan helps being one step ahead and avoid caos.

3. Empathise and take ownership. If things go wrong don’t make excuses or try to deflect responsibility. Actively listen, acknowledge and concur, apologise, provide a solution and fulfil your promise.

4. Turn disappointment into delight. What could be a (sometimes unavoidable) negative moment is an opportunity to show the customer how much you care. Act fast and go the extra mile to win he customer back.

M&S and CX consequence of data-driven strategy

For those who don’t know Marks & Spencer (M&S) it is one of the leading retailers, with 1,300+ stores in the UK and overseas. M&S sells clothing, home products and food, online and in store.

M&S has been recognised for great Customer Service and overall Customer Experience, always featuring amongst the leaders of the CX rankings in the UK. And indeed they are also recognised by the quality of their products.

I have been a customer of M&S for some years now, and frequently have lunch at the M&S Food closest to our office. I’ve been a great fan of their stores and advocate of the quality of their products, and customer service.

Back in Jan 2017, UK’s most famous airline, British Airways (BA), announced they were going to stop offering free snacks and drinks in the short haul flights within Europe, and were introducing a “M&S on board” menu.

I’m also a great fan and advocate of BA, and a Bronze level member of their Executive Club. A few weeks ago, was flying to Porto (Portugal) and decided to buy a coke and a packet of my favourite nuts: cashews.

Surprisingly, the cashews were awful. They were stale and really tasted bad. Such that I could actually not finish the small packet. After touch-down in Porto, I decided to let M&S know, via Twitter.

It only took 1 hour for M&S to come back, and do the right thing – as I expected from a company that really goes the extra mile when it comes to Customer Service and Customer Experience.

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M&S apologised, publicly, and asked if I could get in touch, and provide my details. I’ve sent my address and email by DM. To which they responded “Thanks Luis, we’ve passed this onto our Food Team and they’ll be in touch with you directly“.

This was a Thursday, and I came back to London on Sunday. To my surprise, a letter from M&S was already waiting for me in the mailbox, with not only a follow up, but also a £5 gift card – notice that the packet of cashews cost £1.60

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What is impressive is not only the M&S speed, transparency and openness but also the evident link that must exist between the different teams (e.g. customer service, food) and channels (e.g. social, mail). I’m sure this is not by chance.

I must associate this with the M&S strategy since a few years. M&S boss, Steve Rowe, said last year that he wanted to turn the retailer into a “data-driven business” and that customer data should be shared “as far and wide as possible” within the business.

Nathan Ansell, Global Director of Loyalty, Customer Insight and Analytics at M&S, also said that it was “hugely important to show [to employees] there is a direct link between a brilliant customer experience and delivery of results”. And that part of his job was “to make sure everyone has the right access to customer data, so people can make the best possible choices“.

I think the experience that I share above is a good example of what the M&S leaders were saying, and a proof that they are actually implementing it. And that indeed, having the right access to customer data, helps everyone make better, and informed, decisions. And ultimately deliver an outstanding customer experience.

 

Southwest Airline’s fame is well deserved

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I was looking forward to our holiday in California, and to participate in the Modern Customer Experience conference, in Las Vegas. For all sorts of (obvious) reasons. One of them was that I booked two flights with Southwest Airlines (SFO > LAS, and LAS > LAX).

For those who don’t know Southwest Airlines is mentioned as an example, and a success, in several Customer Experience books. It is recognised to be the best airline in the world, when it comes to Customer Service, Experience and Loyalty.

The Airlines’s advocates love it so much that in 2001, after the terrorist attacks in the World Trade Centre, Southwest received thousands of letters from customers who wanted to make sure the company would stay in business. Many of those customers sent checks with the letters. Others returned traveller vouchers.

I had no doubt that the experience was going to be good, but I wanted to experience more. I wanted to experience Southwest in action when things go wrong. To prove that what I read in the books was true. But what if all went well with our flights and travels? Well, the truth is it didn’t really…

When trying to check-in to the SFO > LAS flight, via the mobile app, it said my reservation was cancelled. So I reached out to Southwest via Twitter, on our way to the airport. The response came back in 27 mins. And 5 mins later, after I provided my booking reference via DM, Jennifer had checked us in, even before we got to the airport.

One week later we got to the airport 4 hours before our 15:40 LAS > LAX flight, so I asked at the check-in desk how much would it cost to go in an earlier flight… “Your flight to LAX is delayed 20 mins so I will put you in the stand-by list for the 12:55 flight free of charge. If that one is full you will be also on the stand-by list for the 13:55 flight”. We were called to the 12:55 flight.

We were truly delighted with the customer service, and I decided to praise Southwest on Twitter, whilst I was at the gate. In a matter of minutes, Adam replied back, asked which was our flight, and gave us a treat (a code for free WiFi on the flight), even before take-off.

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So… the stories are true, and Southwest’s fame is indeed deserved. As they seem to have a big focus on the customer, the experience they deliver, and the service they provide. And the good thing is that some times it doesn’t take much. Small and subtle things make the Customer Experience great. Some good examples below, related to our experience.

Southwest doesn’t try to make (what in CX terms we call) “bad profit“. Each passenger is allowed two pieces of checked luggage free of charge (up to 50 pounds), and a carry-on bag plus a personal item (e.g. backpack, purse). And, if for some reason (even when it is not their fault) there is a delay in a flight, they pro-actively put passengers in earlier flights (or in stand-by lists) free of charge.

Southwest operates as a whole when it comes to customer service. They decided to be there, immediately responsive, on the channel that is most convenient to the client, and they decided to trust the customer, removing all the policies and barriers, resolving issues within minutes, without hassling with too many questions. Moreover, they decided to empower their staff, letting them decide when and where to give goodwill and turn customers into advocates.

10 easy things BT could do to improve CX

As many other customers of BT (British Telecom), I subscribed a fibre package that includes voice, broadband, and TV. I also enabled direct debit, and opted out of paper or even email bill. The only thing I get is a monthly notification that my bill is issued and ready to view online. Normally I check the value (if it is what was agreed) and leave it. But in the last couple of months noticed the value increased by £15, so decided to check the bill, which, as you would expect (but not accept these days) was indecipherable. So contacted BT to ask for clarification.

My preferred channel is Live Chat, so I requested a chat session. The chat launch form asked me for Name, Phone Number, Email Address and Topic of Enquiry. Customer Service agent Naveen greeted me, asked me for my account number, and after I asked if he could clarify my bill, dropped me a whole load of pre-formatted messages with generic links to policy and communication documents about fee increases.

1. Why would BT ask customers for Name, Phone Number and Email Address on the chat launch form, if that doesn’t help the agent identify customer accounts, requires agent to ask again, and increases customer effort by forcing customer to repeat information already provided?

2. Why would BT guide its customer service agents to flood customer’s with pre-formatted blurb and generic links to policy documentation, on a Live Chat session, which is supposed to be a 1-to-1 personalised conversation?

I thanked Naveen for the information but said it didn’t help me, nor was it related to my question. I didn’t want a reason for the increase, but rather a clarification on my bill, products and services included, and associated fees. He started by saying that I should not “look at the left side of the bill” as that was only “for BT’s reference“. Then started going in circles. It was clear that not even him could understand or clarify my bill.

3. Why would BT put on a customer bill, information and description which is confusing and not for customer’s reference or understanding?

4. Why would BT make billing processes, and bills themselves, so difficult that not even their trained customer service agents dealing with billing enquiries can understand, or are able to clarify a simple enquiry re. service fees?

Naveen asked if he could call me, saying it would be “easier said than written“. But before he called, asked me if by any chance I had another account, and if I could provide my phone number.

5. Why would BT not give their customer service agents the necessary (crucial!) 360-degree view of the customer, avoiding them having to ask the customer for information that they, themselves, should have in the first place?

6. Why would BT ask for a phone number on the chat launch form, if that information is not even passed to the customer service agent, forcing him to ask the same question again, and the customer to repeat information already provided?

The call only lasted a few seconds. Naveen asked me to close the chat session first, and informed me that he was transferring me to the billing department. I got transferred to a line and… got an automated voice message saying the line was only open on weekdays (it was Sunday!). I wasn’t sure if Naveen was sloppy or trying to be clever.

I requested another chat session. Surprise, surprise!… got routed to Naveen again. Could not help asking him if he knew the line was closed (he must have known!). Initially he denied saying that the called dropped, and after I confronted him, saying that I heard the automated voice message, he accepted it was closed (i.e. he lied at first) and started going around saying he was confused by the change of the hour to summer time!

7. Why would BT not teach its customer service agents to be honest and transparent? To acknowledge an error and apologise? To straight away say sorry and positively offer themselves to resolve the situation?

Naveen asked if he could call again, and on the phone said he was going to talk to the billing department and call me back in 10 mins. I rejected the offer. After all the billing department was closed on Sundays, right?! I sensed he was again trying to get rid of me, again. So I said I would be happy to wait whilst he transferred me.

A few minutes went on with Naveen trying to convince me he would call back “I promise sir, you have my word“. And me saying I would be glad to wait for 10 mins, until he transferred me. Running out of options he said I was not understanding what he was saying, and threw “this is your last chance“. I didn’t understand if it was a threat or something else, but because it seemed to be the end-of-the-line, I asked to speak to his supervisor.

Naveen’s response was as funny as it was stupid “it is useless to talk to my supervisor as he is equally trained“. I said that was irrelevant – even though sad, if true – and demanded to talk to the supervisor. After resisting for a bit, he finally accepted, asked me to hold on the line whilst he transferred me, and… hang up the phone.

8. Why would BT not have pre-defined processes and guides, specifically for these steps in the journey where there might be disruption (e.g. billing department closed on weekends, and front-line agent not able to resolve customer’s enquiry), which would help a customer service agent push back a customer, without hurting the customer experience?

I contacted BT for the third time in 60 minutes, after Naveen got rid of me twice. Got through to Krunal, a customer service agent who wasn’t able to explain my bill, but told me I was up for contract renewal, which would give me a £10 discount on my final bill – but not without, again, asking me for phone and account number, as well as name.

9. Why would BT not pro-actively contact customers who are up for renewal and eligible for offers or promotions, which would make them pay less, be more satisfied, trust BT, and keep being loyal to the company?

I’m happy with the broadband and TV service, so I renewed. But asked Krunal to open a complaint re. Naveen. Told him the whole story and got surprised with his response: “Maybe he is having a bad day today!!“. If it wasn’t for Krunal being helpful and swift re. the contract and offering, I would have been annoyed with the response. But it was enough already, so I left it there and only asked feedback on action taken re. complaint.

10. Why would BT allow their reputation and brand be hurt by a (definitely) young, inexperienced and scared customer service agent, when all he needed was some guidance and training on how to deal with billing queries (which are always complex and sensitive); a system that would give him a full view of the customer, information and knowledge; and a process (and procedures) that would empower him to make decisions, take actions and resolve customer’s queries?

With the setup that BT seems to have, its customer service agents are helpless and get frustrated, by not being able to resolve customers queries, having to jump from silo to departments, and ending up delivering a fragmented, bad and strenuous experience.