Category Archives: Real Customer Experience

Airport Pricks and Starfish Experiences

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Since the attacks of “September 11” security in airports has become the most important thing, surpassing any other aspect – including the most basic sense of inter-relational behaviour between two people.

Those of you who travel quite a bit are surely fed up of being treated like starfish – and by that I mean brainless, irrational and emotionless animals. I have my fair share of airports and I sure as hell am tired of being treated badly and unfairly.

It’s not really due to the way we need to move inside the airport (always between queue and belt barriers) as I appreciate that’s done to manage large amounts of passengers. It’s due to the way staff, in every role, mistreats us.

From security to passport control, or from check-in to gate. We are constantly being treated in a condescending, discourteous, indelicate and even rude way. By staff that, in some instances, wear Customer Ambassador vests (see picture) or Customer Service badges.

I can only think of two reasons why staff behave the way they do towards passengers. Either there’s a hiring policy in airports that require people to be pricks, or a complete lack of awareness for passengers and their experiences.

I’m almost sure it is the latter. Which puts the focus entirely on the operational processes. Leaving the staff, from management to front-line, imbue a culture where they feel empowered to do whatever it takes to enforce “the rules” regardless.

This ends up in a significant amount of situations where staff is completely unreasonable towards people, in particular those who are most vulnerable. Not long ago, at Dublin Airport, I witnessed a disgraceful situation.

A 10-12 year old girl who suffered from schizophrenia didn’t want to pass the metal detector without her mother. And even after both parents explained the situation to security staff, they forced her to do it.

Crying and visibly upset, the girl passed the metal detector running only to hug her mother on the other side. Unfortunately, the metal detector went off. The girl was hugging the mother crying whilst the security guard grabbed and pulled her, so she could search and scan her.

Voices were raised, some were screaming. I don’t know what happened after that. I was too upset and outraged to see more of it. And there were already enough people (the parents, the older brother, and other passengers) manifesting their dislike.

Airports and other organisations, should know that sending surveys to people, installing happiness-meter/smiley panels, or dressing staff with Customer Ambassador vests or Customer Service badges, does not mean they care about passengers and their experiences at all.

If they really want to be customer-centric, they should not only change their strategy and approach, training their staff, but also, and above all, look at the information they have to make passengers’ experiences much more agreeable, smooth and seamless.

After all, they are in a unique position – as my friend Ian Golding pointed out in a recent CX workshop. Unlike many other organisations, airports know exactly how many people are going to be at the airport, and when. And if they work with airlines, they could even know who those people are, and where they are going.

Does the NHS have any Promoters?

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After a visit to the St Thomas’ hospital A&E department, I received a request for feedback via SMS. For the second time this year (the first was with Rosa’s Thai Cafe) I was surprised with what was clearly the NPS question, but with a scale of 1 to 6.

It seems that the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is so bad that they assume, straight off the bat, everyone will be a detractor!

Despite all efforts from CX specialists, we still see misuse of well designed, considered and established CX metrics, created to measure customers experience, but also to ensure the market has standard and consistent metrics, that allow comparisons.

I’m all for people being creative when measuring customers experience, and using whatever scores and calculations work for their organisations. Ultimately, the goal is not the metric, the calculation or the score itself, but the actions or improvements they trigger.

However, certain metrics are used for more than that. And they should serve the important purpose of benchmark. NPS was created, and is a trade mark of Bain and Satmetrix. The way it should be used is well explained in the official website – with Detractors (0-6), Passives (7-8) and Promoters (9-10).

I’m unsure if there are CX guidelines from the NHS, or if each of the NHS agencies has its own program (NHS England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales, HSC Northern Ireland), or even if each trust does as it pleases.

A quick Google search throws things like “Patient experience book” or “Patient experience improvement framework” where lots of right things are said “Good experience of care, treatment and support is increasingly seen as an essential part of an excellent health and social care service, alongside clinical effectiveness and safety“.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a joined up and consistent approach to measuring the patient experience, which will surely make it harder for the trusts, and the NHS as a whole, to improve the experience of patients – as well as their families and the staff.

After all, the NHS is not as bad as this “bastardised” St. Thomas’ NPS question scale question makes it. I, for one, am a Promoter of the services of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Simple but crucial customer need: Ritz-Carlton, Nando’s, Tossed

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Recently, on her CX podcast, Human Duct Tape Show, Jeanne Bliss interviewed Horst Schulze – founder, Chairman & CEO of the Capella Hotel Group, and Co-founder & Former COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.

Horst shared very interesting things, from the time when he was founding Ritz-Carlton Hotel – which is now recognised by their outstanding customer-centric culture and the experience delivered to customers.

According to him, at the time, they realised there were three basic customer needs that needed to be fulfilled, and one of them was crucial, as it was the one that drove greatest satisfaction – they needed, as a company, to “be nice to customers”.

The interesting thing is that they didn’t stop there. They went to determine what “being nice to customers” meant. So they researched, and even consulted behavioural analysts.

No matter what you are doing, you look the customer in the eye and say: Good morning, how are you doing”. You don’t just say “Hi” as that is putting yourself at the same level. You want to lift your customer higher.

It made me think of two recent experiences I had. One in Nando’s (the famous chicken restaurant) and another one in Vital (from tossed a very healthy salad place).

At Nando’s (in Gatwick Airport) I approached the counter to order and was greeted with a “table number?”. The girl took my order and payment without looking at me once, and the only thing she said was “anything else?” and “twelve pounds, fifty pence, please!”.

Food arrived to the table in the hands of another visibly bored staff member, who put the plate down, took the table number and menu away, without saying a word. What if I wanted to order something else? I didn’t, because I no longer had table number or menu.

At Vital, things are completely different. I’m always greeted with “Hello sir, how are you today?” and whilst they prepare my salad they keep going “How has your day been so far?”. Always with a smile on their face, and clearly looking after you and paying attention.

This week I was about to get in when a homeless man approached me “Excuse me sir, could you buy me something to eat?”. “Sure, come on in, choose whatever you want, and I will pay for it”, I said. He came with me to the check-out, I paid and he thanked.

Two days later, I went to pick up my lunch. At the check-out the girl (funnily enough not the one I paid the previous time) said “The other day, you paid for that man’s lunch, right?”. I nodded. “Well done sir, today your lunch is on the house. Kindness generates kindness”, she said.

It’s going to be hard for me to return to Nando’s in Gatwick Airport, but I will definitely keep having 4 out of 5 meals (lunch during week) at Vital.

10 Lessons from an uncomfortable booking

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This real experience involved me (the customer), booking.com and Comfort Inn Downtown Salt Lake City. After reading this blog post you will understand why, after 72 bookings with booking.com and 3 stays at Comfort Inn, I will never use their services again.

  • I booked 3 rooms for 5 nights, via booking.com, at the Comfort Inn Downtown in Salt Lake City, 2 months ago
  • Today (after a 16-hour journey from London) at the hotel check-in desk, I was informed that the hotel was over-booked, they could do nothing about it, and I should call booking.com

Lesson #1 – When you (or your partners) fail the customer, don’t tell him you can’t do anything about it, putting the burden on him to sort himself out. Contact your partner and try to resolve the situation.

Lesson #2 – If the communication or process between you and your partner has failed, don’t throw your partner under the bus, as it will only make you look even worse (the words used by the hotel receptionist were “If I were you I would never use booking.com again… they always mess up”).

Lesson #3 – If the procedures and policies make it impossible for you to help the customer, at least empathise, apologise, make an effort to be helpful, and be supportive (even if just morally).

  • After a winding IVR and 10 minutes waiting, booking.com put me on hold for another 10 minutes, only to tell me “we will get back to you in 30 minutes with a solution”

Lesson #4 – When you pick up a call from a customer that has been on hold for 10 mins, don’t put him on hold again for endless minutes. If you need time to find a solution, at least check-in every couple of minutes to apologise, update, and ask him to bear with you.

  • The “solution” arrived by email, and suggested I went to booking.com, looked up an extremely scrappy side-of-the-road motel, and booked it myself.

Lesson #5 – If you are going to offer a solution to your customer, make sure it is at least as good as the original one. And if not possible or available, provide an explanation (in this case, everything else was fully-booked) and show some goodwill.

Lesson #6 – If the solution you are providing the customer is one that he could find himself, you should first confirm if he has already done it (I had already gone to booking.com myself searching for alternatives).

  • After a winding IVR and 10 mins waiting, booking.com put me on hold for another 30 mins (yes, 30 mins!), only to tell me “we found an airbnb, will send you a link via email, you can book it yourself, and then claim the difference”

Lesson #7 – If you are providing a solution via email, get in touch with customer straight after, to ask if he is happy with what you proposed, provide other alternatives if not, and confirm he is all sorted or in need of further help.  

Lesson #8 – Review Lesson #5 (the original booking was for 3 hotel rooms, and the airbnb had 3 rooms but only 1 bathroom) and Lesson #6 (I had already gone to airbnb myself searching for alternatives).

Lesson #9 – Try not to mess up with a CX-zealot, otherwise you will end up like Deirdre (the unlucky agent who picked up my call) and put up with a frustrated Portuguese guy giving you a 15-min long speech on the Customer Experience topic, and how you should treat customers.

Lesson #10 – If the resolution you are suggesting is going to ask even more effort (and money!) from the customer, the least you can do is trigger the refund claim process yourself, escalate for it to be processed ASAP, and give the customer a guarantee that it will be approved, rather than using works like “maybe“, “probably“, “likely” or “few weeks“.

Rosa’s Thai Cafe and a 1-5 NPS scale

Yesterday my wife was craving for coconut rice, so we decided to have a late lunch at Rosa’s Thai Cafe – which many say is the best thai in London. We had been there a few times already, and as always the food was excellent, but this time there was something new.

The bill came in a tablet (see picture below). And the app, enabled by Yumpingo, not only had the detailed bill, but also a thumbs up/down against each item, as well as a final quick survey to collect our feedback.

This made our experience at Rosa’s even better. A paperless transaction is a great innovation and, in my opinion, should be mandatory (mainly for environmental reasons). And the willing to collect customer’s feedback is still something most companies, let alone restaurants, are still not keen to do.

But in the middle of all this, something made me raise the eyebrow. The first question in the short survey was “How likely are you to recommend Rosa’s Thai Cafe to a friend or relative” and the answer had a 1 to 5 scale!… When this was clearly a NPS question, which should have a scale between 0 and 10.

A few months ago, in my blog post Does changing NPS scale make sense? I raised the question around NPS, and if it would make sense to have a European variant where 6-7 were Passives (rather than standard 7-8) and 8-10 were Promoters (rather than standard 9-10).

What didn’t cross my mind was having a different scale of 1 to 5, rather than the 0 to 10, set by Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix; Accepted and adopted by the majority of CX practitioners and specialists; Ensuring that the market had a standard and consistent way of measuring NPS.

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5 takeaways from carbon copy NPS

A few days ago, when in Portugal, I took my Gramma’s car to the local Renault dealer, as it needed some servicing. The Customer Service Manager looked up the car in the system, and then wrote down, in what looked a random piece of paper, what I needed – replace a headlight and a tire valve – “the system is having a hick-up“.

No bother. Everyone was very nice and attentive. I left the car in the shop in the morning, and when I came back at the agreed time in the afternoon, it was all done. “Car is ready, you can go to the office. They have all details and will take your payment“, the Customer Service Manager said.

In the office, the Finance person struggled to find the the information about my car’s service. Somehow it didn’t surprise me, as he was looking into a big pile of papers. Decided then to call the Customer Service Manager, who came running from the service area to provide him with the piece of paper he was looking for.

Again, no bother. I happened to have plenty of time, and in between the backwards and forwards, they were actually being very nice to me. I ended up paying and given a printed detailed invoice. When I was about to leave, the Finance person asked me if I would mind providing feedback, and presented me with… a block of chemical carbon copy paper.

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I was not surprised by being asked for feedback in a piece of paper, but it was the first time I have seen it in a block of chemical carbon copy paper. I was curious. Asked if it was a dealer’s initiative, or a global one from Renault. He said it was a dealer’s initiative, across the various dealers of that dealership, and that I should receive another request from Renault via email – “but be aware that the link doesn’t say Renault, as this is outsourced to a 3rd party”.

A few points to take away from this experience…

1 – You must be able to collect, analyse, and action quickly. It is great to collect customer’s feedback, but you must be able to analyse it, and gather insights swiftly, as well as close the loop in a timely manner. Collecting feedback on a piece of paper will surely prevent you from doing that.

2 – You should make sure the collection of customer feedback is effortless. Not only for the customer, but also for the person or team gathering it for analysis. I pity the person who, at this dealership, will have the job of collecting the carbon copies, and count or add responses.

3 – You must provide option for anonymous and more insightful response. Customer feedback surveys of this kind, should always have the option to be anonymous (“I need to put your car registration number, and you to sign, otherwise it is not valid”, he told me), and it should provide the customer with an option to explain why he gave that score.

4 – You should not overload your customers with feedback surveys. Let alone about the same transaction, service or experience. If the global brand (in this case, Renault) has an automated and more modern way of collecting feedback (email invitation + feedback management system), surely the dealer can ask them to provide the data re. their dealership.

5 – You must ask your 3rd party supplier to ensure feedback invitation is branded. These days everyone receives tens of fake emails per week, with phishing links, etc. Hence it is very important that your email invitation for customer feedback, as well as the link you share for the online survey, is branded and trustworthy.

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.