I must get at least four or five emails every day offering me help becoming digital by default.
Every single one gets deleted. Not because I don’t need help , but because they talk of cost savings and efficiency rather than beautifully intuitive service design or of creating a rewarding customer experience.
Don’t believe me? This is how the agenda to get more customers using online services is described (“Channel Shift” – ugh!) on a prominent consulting website:
Achieving channel shift is what the council website is all about – about moving customer contacts and transactions from more expensive options (people) to less expensive options (the web) and moving from services which require staff to be involved to those which do not.
I’ve not provided a link to spare blushes but you can google it if you think I just made that up.
I agree that those ‘more expensive options’ (formerly known as people) do cost quite a bit. But they can be pretty wonderful at connecting with fellow humans, personalising service and , you know , just being nice to chat to once in a while.
If you listen to people who want to remove the humanity from organisations it will almost certainly lead to the death of your business.
Many who glorify channel shift and tech have forgotten that most of us are in the business of providing human centered services. And our digital presence should embrace this , not seek to repel it. The reason that social networks are so popular – with their gossip , selfies and memes – is they celebrate our humanity and the power of our connections.
The businesses that are truly successful in changing the way customers contact them have done it by prioritising a better customer experience overall - not through just moving people to a cheaper channel as though they were an inconvenience.
I recently attended a talk by O2. In the past two years they have seen over 2 million fewer phone calls as people increasingly choose to use their web and social offerings.
I’m a long term customer of O2 and have seen their progression to digital up close. Dealing with them via social media or Live Chat is mostly a joy. After using their digital services you simply wouldn’t think to phone them.
Here’s some things I took away:
Design your organisation for mobile customers
As mobile becomes the default way the internet is accessed so the culture must be designed around serving people on the go. Designed around people who are time poor and impatient. If you haven’t tested how your customer service works from a smartphone , accessed whilst sitting on a bus – you simply haven’t tested it properly.
Invest in the right team and the right skills
Just because you have a team that has delivered an outstanding call centre does not mean they are equipped to serve the connected customer. It requires new skills , thinking and a culture of digital leadership.
To drive change people will need to be retrained. To drive transformational change you will need new people.
In a social business people are recruited to speak like real people and not to broadcast. Leaders implicitly understand social. What companies like O2 are achieving is the exact opposite of the prevalent public sector culture of “I don’t understand digital – I”ll get some 22 year old to do it for me”.
Be relevant in time
Response times matter – particularly in social where service expectations work in minutes rather than hours. O2 were generous enough to name the leaders in this field as the airline KLM – if you haven’t seen their wonderful Twitter feed that estimates the time it will take to give you a response – it’s worth a look.
If you’re going to do social – be social
O2 have a lively, social and fun brand. They are known for the humour and unique tone of voice in their social response. But the message is clear – don’t try and be cheeky and fun if you’re not. It’s embarrassing. Establish your brand values and stick to them. By the way – they didn’t let me down when I name checked them on Twitter during the conference.
What can we learn? The digital agenda risks getting derailed by the rush to technology as the solution for everything. It’s inherently flawed. As Tony Smith has said – only 25% of great customer experience is about technology, 75% is made up of people and deployment.
Really we shouldn’t be talking about channel shift and digital by default at at all. We should be talking about digital by design.
I will never phone O2 again because they have designed a Live Chat and social experience that is rewarding to me as a customer.
I went back to my organisation with the aim to make our digital experience so enjoyable that people choose not to phone us anymore. It’s an important shift of emphasis.
Let’s stop talk of “less expensive options”. Let’s use the power of digital connectivity to make our organisations more human , not less.
Had a bit of drama over the past week. I’ll recap it for you as quickly as possible – as most readers of this blog don’t work in the same sector as I do.
Essentially Mick Kent, my CEO, wrote a challenging piece setting out why we have embarked upon a different service vision. Bromford are celebrating 50 years in business - so you wouldn’t think it particularly controversial to reflect on the past and consider the future.
Not so. The piece sparked some astonishing responses – especially on social media. Many in the sector expressed derision and even outright contempt. How could one of their own say such things?
But experience suggests this is just a natural crowd reaction to someone stepping out of line and being different.
You’ll never see a sector – be it Housing, Care, Support or Health, drive innovation. It’s simply not in the interests of the majority to reward disruptive behaviour.
It’s one of the eternal challenges for industry bodies – they have to reflect the views of their average member. And the views of the average member are, by definition, average.
You’ll never find a sector that is wholly admirable either. Be it banking, retail, travel or charitable – you will find the good, the indifferent, and the bad.
And you’ll also find a few disruptors – pacesetters who are pushing forward with a bold new vision. Often that vision will be treated with initial scepticism – sometimes by customers as well as industry peers.
In the last month the 2013 UK Customer Experience Excellence Top 20 was announced. You’ll see that it’s made up of companies who have faced criticism precisely because they challenged the accepted order of things.
Let’s glance at the Top 10 :
10 – Waitrose – Broke out of their southeast heartland despite people saying, “It’ll never work in the north”.
9 – M+S – Launched Plan A (“because there is no Plan B”) a programme to instil innovation across 81,000 employees and lose their old fashioned image.
8 – Ocado – A High St store “without any stores “ founded by three guys with no experience of retail. “A disaster waiting to happen” said critics.
7 – Lush – Showed cosmetics can be ethical and environmentally responsible, whist also being super indulgent and pleasurable. ” We hire for values , not skills”.
6 – M+S Simply Food - Darling of the middle classes opens branches in railway stations , airports and hospitals. Critics predict failure – “People will resist the idea of carrying high cost food shopping around with them.”
5 – Virgin Atlantic – Challenging the establishment, improving service and astounding its customers: “We’ve never been afraid to upset people”.
4- Amazon – From “destroyer of Book Shops” to “destroyer of the High Street”. Adored by their customers.
3 – First Direct – The only bank people love. Launched with two ad campaigns: a negative one showing the everyday aspects of normal banking. A positive one showing how good First Direct would be. The banking sector was appalled. Customers applauded.
2 – QVC – Almost universally derided on its UK launch in 1993. Now a global leader in video and eCommerce retail. Just launched QVC Sprouts, a crowdsourced competition to search for the best up-and-coming entrepreneurs and new products
In first place? John Lewis.
A few years ago I was talking to John Lewis employees at a conference where they had been speaking. They told me that far from being lauded by their own sector they were often criticised. People said it was arrogant and pretentious they had their own language (colleagues as “Partners” for example). Their recruitment practices and culture had been described as “a cult”.
“People just think we are a bit weird,” they told me. “But we’re not bothered by what the industry thinks. Just the customers.”
I imagine the retail sector were cynical about the fuss around The Bear and The Hare , the Christmas advert by John Lewis . As was I.
Nearly 8 million YouTube views. Number 1 in overall UK Customer Experience. Profits of 415 million.
A lesson for innovators – don’t listen to your sector: Be Different. Be More Weird.
A new report puts Amazon, McDonald’s and First Direct as the leaders in the top ten of the UK’s ‘simplest’ brands. The companies that are the easiest to deal with.
Whatever you think of them most of us could learn from their “frictionless” customer service. It’s interesting to ponder how sectors might be transformed if we had Amazon Health , McDonald’s Housing and First Direct Care.
“Our survey reveals that both in the UK and on a global scale, consumers would pay more for simplicity” says the report.
There is a huge irony here in a week when three of the brands in the bottom ten , Npower , British Gas and SSE, have announced huge price increases. Simply put – we are being asked to pay more for the companies we value the least.
I’ve been out of the UK recently and it’s led me to ponder how – as customer experience seems to get more complex – it gets easier in places like Indonesia. Now the worlds fourth most populous country and packed full of newly aspirant Generation Y , Indonesia is tech savvy and connected. The number one consumer purchase is the smartphone. It’s a country unencumbered by bureaucracy, rules and rigid infrastructure.
No-one tells you that’s not the way to do it.
Here are 5 examples I saw that remove the friction from customer service:
You know that moment when the plane hits the runway and everyone takes their phones out only to be told you can’t use them? Annoying right? Well Qatar Airways say it’s OK – you are free to use your phones. Texting your parents to say you’ve arrived isn’t going to kill anyone. Which is why it’s great to see that British Airways is the first European carrier to end this outdated “rule”. Don’t create rules for your customer that are meaningless. Or at least revisit your rules often to check they are still relevant.
At Circle K and the convenience stores that are on every corner – WiFi is freely available. Benches are put up to encourage locals to park their mopeds , buy a coke and sit chatting and browsing online. These community hubs – dotted all over the place , bring the internet to everyone. If all the supermarkets in the UK did the same – we’d have a better connected society. And people would spend more in stores. Simple.
One of best things about South East Asia is that everyone seems to be an entrepreneur. It’s hardly ever “not my job”. A lovely example of this are the Pop-Up Bars on many of the beaches. Take one cool box, an umbrella and a couple of chairs , and hey , you’re a bar owner. On hearing that he didn’t stock what we wanted, the “owner” left us for 10 minutes while he popped out to stock up – specifically for us. As a counterpoint – two nights after I got back to the UK I was in a bar where I heard the waitress tell a customer that they had “run out of chips”. The customer asked whether she could go to a local supermarket (literally next door) and buy some potatoes. The waitress replied that company policy said they couldn’t buy potatoes from another supplier.
On arriving at Komeneka – everyone seems to know your name. Even the gardeners greeted us as “Mr Paul and Miss Karen” as if they’d known us forever. We only stayed a short time but in 72 hours Komeneka had built a deep and meaningful customer relationship that most businesses couldn’t build , or rather couldn’t be bothered to build, over a lifetime. The Manager also told me about his unique service vision “We compete on experience. We try to be unique. Our food and wine doesn’t come with the usual hotel surcharge – we want you to stay here so you have a better experience”.
Arriving at another hotel I apologised for being so early and said we’d wait around whilst the room was prepared. “It’s OK” they said “The boat company you used told us what time you were getting here – so we got ready early”. Despite the fact I’d used a fairly budget boat transfer they had noted where I was staying and had forwarded on my arrival time. To make it easier for me. How many times does your organisation make your customers day a little bit easier – not because there’s anything in it for you – but just because you can?
The lessons here?
- Don’t create false rules – check them for relevance
- Give your customers something free – or something that “feels like free”
- Go out of your way to personalise – people remember you for it
- Build deep and lasting relationships – even if the experience is brief
- Make your customers day a bit easier – just because you can
It’s not complicated. Let’s get simple.