Saurabh Singhal references a recent airline experience, to ask: who is responsible for which parts of your customer experience?
Unboxing an Apple product – Wow!
Buying products from Amazon and ease of returning – Wow!
Being put on hold for 15 minutes during a customer support call – Terrible!
The battery lasts for 3 hours compared to the promised 5 hours – Frustrating!
We all have experienced moments of delight and despair during our interactions with “brands”. The above examples are not of good/bad products, but of “experiences” that we have around products or services that we buy.
Social media channels created to engage customers often end up becoming complain boards where angry customers are venting their frustration with brands. These complaints are ALWAYS about mismatch of expectations from the brand promise.
In an extremely crowded marketplace, as products and services get commoditized, it requires more than just low prices and innovative products to survive the climate and competitiveness of the retail business.
The one factor that differentiates a winning brand is the “experience” they provide to their customers.
When Bain & Company asked organisations to rate their quality of customer experience, 80% believe they are delivering a superior experience. This is compared to only 8% of customers who believe they are receiving a great customer experience.
Customer experience (CX) is defined as the product of an interaction between an organisation and a customer over the duration of their relationship. It involves every touch point the brand has with a customer.
Why is it so important?
As per an Harvard Business Review article, customers who had the best past experiences spend 140% more compared to those who had the poorest experience.
These studies also point that almost 50% customers switch immediately after the first poor experience with a brand.
So, given this is so important and obvious, why do we still have poor experience while buying/using certain products and services?
The answer is, most organisations don’t have ownership of CX.
To illustrate, let me take you through a personal journey on which I thought hard about this very important but often lost in execution aspect of business growth.
I travel quite frequently and sometimes long distance for work and usually chose the same airline each time for predictability and consistency of experience.
Recently, I decided to experiment and try another airline to break monotony and because I noticed the service levels going down slightly.
My “Customer Experience” (CX) journey starts here.
Touchpoint 1: Awareness, Consideration (typically led by Brand/Marketing/IT)
I started searching for flights on for the route I wanted to fly. Searching for the “hygiene” factors like duration, arrival and departure time, cost etc. I shortlisted 3 airlines.
One of them that came up on the top was rated as a “5-star airline” and it was quite reasonably priced -impressive, I thought.
I went to their website, created my user ID. I signed up for their frequent flyer program and downloaded their App. Everything that a marketing team would aim for, I did exactly that!
However, when I went back to the site later, the website treated me like a new visitor – a missed opportunity to delight me by being aware of where I left last.
I tried logging into the app with my frequent flyer ID and it did not work. The error message said “unknown error” which left me clueless on the next steps.
So at this early stage of my engagement the systems were a letdown. I did not give up because I was still lured by the “5-star rating”. Well done marketing!
Marketing had done their job here by securing the 5-star rating, but did they own the customer experience?
IT had implemented the website and the app, but did they own the customer experience?
Touchpoint 2: Purchase (led by Sales)
After a few more tries, I finally managed to book my tickets. Sales happened without interacting with a sales person (very normal behavior these days).
Could sales do anything to delight me or own the customer experience?
Yes, they could have sent me a welcome email or marketed an up-sell campaign to me to try and get me to buy an upgrade?
Touchpoint 3: Post Purchase
I always like to web check-in to avoid queues and to secure an aisle seat.
The web check-in interface was broken (seats not displayed properly) on the app, but works just fine on the laptop browser.
Minor details, but very noticeable. IT and reservations departments clearly not working together here.
Touchpoint 4: Core Product (led by R&D/Manufacturing)
The day of travel arrived and the first touchpoint was the check-in staff at the airport. I asked them if I could get a seat with an empty seat next to me and was happily honored.
Very efficient, polite and swift. Super customer delight. I was proud of my decision. I could see the 5-star rating come to life (finally!).
Entered the plane, notice the seats, cleanliness, smell, temperature and the welcome greetings by the crew. All good! The mind continuously trying to compare these against the incumbent airline.
As the journey continued, the meals were served. I usually order a vegetarian meal and in some airlines the staff serves “special meals” before everyone else.
This is a problem since the rest of the passengers are not ready for meals yet, so seats are pushed back, the drink service has not happened yet etc. This airline had it all clubbed together.
This was a welcome change. On enquiring I found that it was driven by insights in terms of how customers preferred meals to be served. Brilliant!
An example of a solid product offering living up to the brand promise.
Touchpoint 5: Customer Support
On the return journey just before landing I realised that my phone was not in my bag. I informed the crew as soon as we landed and the response was amazing, they all lined up to help me.
In fact, the crew started offering their phones to call my phone, trying to stop evacuation from the plane, helping me call my wife, informing her so she could track etc.
We couldn’t find the phone. As I had to rush for my connecting flight, they told me to go and meet ground staff and report this so further investigations could be done.
The ground staff was quite inefficient in handling this matter. They took 20 mins to figure out and tell me that I had to send a mail at some Email ID reporting it and they could not do anything.
All the delight just disappeared in frustration and anger and panic. No attempt was made to show empathy or reassurance.
On sending the email the reply was quick but very non-cooperative simply saying that they did not find anything.
I even asked them to giver a letter for my insurance company but they denied saying there was no procedure to do that.
In summary I had interacted with multiple touch points during this maiden journey on this new airline, and I would rate my overall experience 7 out of 10. This is despite of the fact that the core product was probably close to 10/10.
So, who should have owned this journey of mine in that Airline?
If we draw a parallel to the organisations we work with, who owns this in our organization?
Is it good enough for sales, marketing, product management, IT to just deliver on their typical KPIs (examples, # of likes on social media, revenue growth, profitability, # of products delivered etc).
All these metrics when measured in silos and can be green and yet the business might be losing money and customers due to poor overall experience.
So, What’s the Solution?
The consulting company McKinsey suggests three major components that make a customer-experience transformation successful.
1. It needs a top-down push. The top management to be convinced, and create this conviction across the organization.
2. Look at the journeys, understand them and sometimes create them when they don’t really exist or they are not formalized, prioritize them, and then go through the main ones and transform them.
You look at major cost items, what’s creating problems, and rework, rework, rework until you have an increase in customer satisfaction.
3. Implement a feedback-loop system. There are plenty of indicators, choose any one and create a loop to measure satisfaction.
Some organisations have created positions like “chief customer officer” to drive this transformation.
Other organisations make individual departments own the relevant touchpoints and ensure delivering best CX possible and having an NPS score for each department.
My take on this is that everyone owns CX in an organisation. Every employee in the organisation needs to be culturally aware as well as have defined MBOs on driving customer experience. They should understand which part of the customer journey they are in and how can they maximize their impact to this journey.
For example, if you are in R&D, that’s by building products around the use cases (what is the job the customers is trying to get done), if you are in packaging, see how the easy is to unpack by a customer, if you are running support, then empowering your officers to delight an upset customer and so forth.
We truly live in the “experience economy” where business MUST form unique connections to secure customer loyalty and advocacy.