Sign above The Ritz arcade in London

Puttin’ on the Ritz – for everyone

The newsreader Justin Webb told an amusing story on BBC Radio 4 recently (starts 5 minutes in). He had apparently been brought up by his mother to believe that if you were to ask for anything in The Ritz in a suitably polite manner then – whether you were a guest or not – they would do it for you. One evening he was on his way to a corporate function, suitably smartly dressed, when he realised his top shirt button had come off. Not wishing to arrive looking unkempt he realised he was near the hotel and so went in and asked if it would be possible to replace the missing button. The hotel staff duly obliged and he was ushered into a side room where the shirt was swiftly restored to its former neatness.

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a nurse with a syringe

This is(n’t) going to hurt

Another day, another trip to my doctor for a blood test… yep, getting old requires taking my aging body in for maintenance with what seems like increasing frequency. But my day was brightened by an excellent interaction with the practice nurse extracting another armful. Here’s what made it great:

  1. A cheerful greeting.
  2. She acknowledged that this was the second test in a few days.
  3. We had a conversation about singing with choirs and performing on stage – two of my favourite topics.

Let’s unpack this because although the whole thing took less than 5 minutes and seems quite inconsequential, it carries important messages about great customer experience.

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Are you an inspirational customer?

Customers should be better at providing meaningful feedback
and service providers should make it easier for them to do so

Another caffeinated customer experience gave me a new perspective on feedback. I was in a local chain coffee shop, taking advantage of a freebie courtesy of my mobile provider and the productivity benefits that seem to accrue from being surrounded by a general buzz of conversation. I noticed that both the coffees I drank seemed to be particularly good – better than usual – and both were courtesy of a “trainee barista” (according to her t-shirt). I passed by her on the way out and congratulated her on her exceptionally good coffee – clearly the training was working well – but she looked slightly non-plussed.

This made me think: are we, as customers, bad at giving feedback?

I think we are. And the trend towards surveying every inch of our experience doesn’t help.

Hi guys, how’s your food?

If I’m in a restaurant I think it’s nice if someone takes the trouble to ask if you are enjoying your food. But how many times has that enquiry been made when I have just started eating and not in a position to offer any feedback? Moreover – and this may just be British reticence – how often have I or people with me said it’s OK when some aspect of the food isn’t quite up to standard?

It’s the equivalent of the “How are you?” enquiry on greeting someone – we don’t usually respond with a list of current ailments or life situations – polite but meaningless.

Anti-social media

Back to my coffee chain. It has an app for payment and collecting loyalty points which is great and, if I’m being brutally honest, almost certainly does encourage me to spend more with them than with other brands. Every time I use it a little window pops up: “how was your last visit?” Are you spotting a problem here? At this point I’m thinking about my current visit and – since I’m in the process of paying for my coffee – can’t be doing with providing feedback on any visit.

I just checked my app: there’s no opportunity for me to provide more reflective feedback on my last visit so that I can’t more permanently record my verbal feedback to the barista.

Give us feedback – and your organs

And so it continues… a friend with a donated kidney posts a link to the NHS organ donation site. Although an opt-out approach will be adopted in England next year, it seems simple enough to register and it proves to be. And there is the inevitable feedback tab at the bottom of this screen – how can we improve the site? Well to be quite honest it does the job perfectly, so I leave a very satisfied rating and a comment to that effect, adding “you’re doing a great job” as the web team have implemented a nice clean website that helps you register quickly and, moreover, the outcome of their work is saved lives. I’m faintly surprised they didn’t ask for a Net Promoter Score as, in this case, I would recommend the site to friends, family and total strangers – if you’re in England, please do register!

But, actually, what is the point of feedback now? For all I know it may have been terrible to start with and customer feedback improved it but at this point it’s just creating work for people. This illustrates a tendency I have noticed in organisations:

Once we start collecting data, we get stuck in a rut and it has the potential to be wasted effort.

Get inspiration: get meaningful feedback

So, let’s be clear, there’s nothing wrong with collecting data on customer behaviour and feedback: technologies are available to allow you to collect and manipulate ever-increasing amounts of data from all touch points. But it’s getting meaningful data that allows you to turn data into insight and insight into action that’s important.

In my view it’s qualitative feedback that gets you that insight, whereas quantitative data will give you trends and aid segmentation. We can cover quantitative data in another article but for now let’s look at five ways to get meaningful feedback from your customers to inspire you to improve.

1) Always provide a qualitative channel to capture feedback

My coffee chain is a good example of how not to do this: there’s nowhere on the app to provide ad hoc feedback which suggests they’re not that interested. Even the Feedback tab on their website is broken but there is a link to email channel, so I’ll be sharing my feedback with them soon.

2) Get feedback at the right point in the customer journey

Whilst you need an always-on channel for ad hoc feedback, it’s important to identify the points in the customer’s journey where it makes sense from their point of view to provide you with feedback. Most companies, to be fair, put this at the end of a transaction but there are still a significant number who don’t or who launch a feedback pop-up on their website before you have even done anything.

3) Ask the right questions – and the right number of questions

You should always add on a qualitative text input field to allow customers to explain why they gave a particular quantitative rating but do this sparingly: there’s nothing more annoying than having to justify every score you’ve given. And always have a general text input field at the end – some people like to save their comments for a single message.

4) Recognise negative feedback as inspiration

This is tough: I have long maintained that complaints are an under-used source of feedback but treating them as inspiration is a bit of an ask. It’s a question of mindset: if you have repeated complaints about some aspect of your products, services or experience then this is a great opportunity to turn that around. Genuinely customer-centric companies will have this mindset.

5) Follow up and reward

Whether grumpy or inspirational, your customers are devoting their time to improving your company, which should generate plenty of business value, so it seems right to offer some form of reward. My favourite is the pizza chain that sends you a voucher for free dough-balls for every time you feed back. The incremental cost of this is negligible but it encourages customers to provide feedback and – I have experienced – they do follow up with further discussion if appropriate.

Do let me have feedback both on this article on your experiences with customer feedback.

Wake up and smell the cologne… how are you inspiring your customers?

“Magic moments” are not the be-all and end-all of customer experience – but they are important 

Wednesday in Wimbledon – I’d say wet if I was seeking an alliterative effect but in the interests of veracity it was a fine day – and I had an hour’s “office time” before a meeting. I went to an independent coffee shop on Wimbledon’s main drag – once apparently the high street with the most chains in the UK – not because it was an indie but because I knew it would be quiet, got my coffee and my WiFi code and logged on.

The welcome screen was not what I was expecting. Instead of the usual MSN collation of news items there was a poem (see below).

Now whilst I don’t read a lot of poetry and my limited abilities as a literary critic are safely confined to my book club, I’d say that the author’s efforts were a bit overwrought. Nonetheless I loved the idea of the coffee beans’ “cologne” and this little poetic pause set me up in a good frame of mind for the next 60 minutes.

And it made me think: how often do businesses go out of their way to inspire their customers?

In my experience – not very often.

At which point, if you’re in the business of providing customers with a service on behalf of your company you might be thinking “hang on Nick, isn’t it enough that we provide a great service day in, day out? That’s hard as it is without expecting our agents to be inspirational poets!”

Up to a point

Well, you may have a point: broken processes, malfunctioning systems and a back office that’s still in the 20th century may be some of the daily challenges your front-line people successfully manage every day to deliver a great service. In which case any further requests to create moments of magic will fall on deaf ears.

Note that in my example the magic moment didn’t require any human intervention – in fact, the coffee service was pleasant but unremarkable – but someone had taken the time to think about what might make the experience a little bit special.

Your call is important, so here’s something that’s not muzak 

Of course, the effect can wear off. For example, my bank, First Direct, have a different approach to hold music, playing some ambient street sounds while you wait to speak to someone. As I have been repeatedly calling FD with regard to a foreign payment that’s gone astray (that’s a CX epic that will find its way onto this site soon), this is now as grating as listening to 16 bars of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on a loop. Any element of surprise wore off about 30 seconds into my first hold.

Maybe First Direct think they’re being smart and different but it’s part of what’s become, for me, an increasingly frustrating customer journey so it’s having a negative effect.

That old black magic

The quest for “magic”, inspiration and out-of-the-ordinary elements of a customer journey is important, but it’s not the only thing that’s important. One organisation I came across liked to devote considerable management time to deciding whether a customers’ experience could be classified as a “magic moment”. If it was deemed to contain insufficient pixie-dust to make it magic, it was deemed a “brilliant basic”. Both were rather aspirational terms as exceptional customer experience hadn’t exactly become the norm and there were plenty of basics that were far from brilliant. In my view they were well-intentioned but probably should have been a bit more rigorous about identifying and fixing process breaks and then empowering front line staff to create magic themselves.

Having a commitment to inspiring customers is a worthy ambition and it’s something that’s etched into NextTen’s DNA. We challenge ourselves to present material and ideas to our customers that inspires them to think differently about their businesses to deliver better results. Whether or not we succeed is something only our customers can judge. We haven’t yet employed seaside sounds or poetry to help us, but who knows what the future holds…

Meanwhile, what are you doing to inspire your customers?