2020: the summer when everything worked (yes, really)

How will we look back on 2020 in years to come? I’m quite sure that we won’t be calling it the time when everything went more or less right. The failure of countries to get on top of coronavirus, with the prospect of a second spike in infections means that right now it’s tempting to view everything through the lens of failure.

I’m not going to line up behind MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s remarks about people’s “constant carping” – I’m all for a good old carp if it represents criticism and concern over something that’s plainly not working (in this case the UK’s test and trace system) – but I am going to take the opportunity to celebrate a few things that did work for me this summer. In no particular order:

  • My experience of my local hospital following a lockdown Zoom injury.
  • Zoom calls where I didn’t break any limbs that helped me feel connected to the wider world.
  • Going to a comedy gig at Battersea Arts Centre where Covid restrictions made it feel like you were being looked after.
  • At least two pubs – one local and one in Devon where we were staying on a brief holiday – where social distancing was in force and table service staff were determined to make sure we had an enjoyable evening.
  • Great service at The Ivy Café for a family celebration.
  • My street in SW London developed a sense of community with an active WhatsApp group and much helpful neighbourliness happening (more on that shortly).

The one thing that didn’t work however was my fridge and that gives rise to a customer experience story that was as remarkably unremarkable.

After 10 years undistinguished service (it kept things cool or frozen – that’s what fridges do: they’re not the most exciting household appliances) I came down one morning to discover my fridge-freezer at a distinctly un-fridgelike temperature. Thinking I’d left the door open I ignored it until it became obvious it wasn’t keeping its cool like a fridge should.

I didn’t relish the prospect of buying a new fridge and adding to the world’s mountain of waste if it could be repaired. Inquiries to our street WhatsApp group produced a couple of recommendations for local repairers. One duly turned up the day after and within an hour had apparently freed a frozen fan leaving me with instructions on how to do it should the problem recur. This however was short-lived as the fridge cooled over the next 24 hours and then stopped cooling. I repeated the cure but to no avail – a replacement part was sought and then fitted. Same problem, at which point the collective might of the street rallied round, providing me with a whole freezer in a neighbour’s house which was empty awaiting refurbishment and a cool box whilst I defrosted the whole thing and started again. Still no joy, at which point the fridge was officially pronounced dead. Repairers J R Griffiths offered to help find a replacement at a discount to allow for my wasted expenditure but couldn’t beat John Lewis’s price on the model I’d found.

That model turned out to be out of stock, but a search found a supplier at an even lower price: I ordered it at lunchtime on a Wednesday for next day delivery (no extra cost) with a promise that my slot would be confirmed between 7 and 9pm that evening. An email duly arrived informing me that the fridge would arrive between 3 and 5pm the following afternoon, told me the names of my deliverers and that they would call me around 30 minutes beforehand to say that they were on their way.

At 4.50pm the call came through and I manoeuvred the old appliance to the pavement ready for collection. I also took their “we’ll be with you in 25-30 minutes” with a pinch of salt as traffic in my neck of the woods can be grindingly slow at that time of day, not helped by several road closures in the neighbourhood so was unsurprised when they were a good 15 minutes behind their estimated time.

Farewell to the old fridge

The new fridge was wheeled into place, the old one taken way and I’ve been enjoying chilled drinks and milk that doesn’t curdle as soon it goes in my tea ever since.

As stories go then, it’s remarkably unremarkable – and that’s my point: we are much more engaged with a story where something awful happens to someone (as long as it’s not us) or someone survives a stressful or traumatic situation, or snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Most classic stories are built on such a narrative arc. My story has no such drama – though I’m open to discussing film options with any avant-garde directors who might want to take it on – but behind its dull normality someone had:

  • Trained the frontline staff to be courteous and efficient in spite of working a long day and running behind their schedule.
  • Worked out a customer journey from order through to delivery that fulfils its promises.
  • Prepared and deliver clear customer communications.
  • Realised that combining efficiency and customer journey effectiveness can enable you to offer low prices.

Marks Electrical emerge as my customer experience favourites of the summer because they managed to deliver the above unremarkable things very well and judging from the comments of other customers on their website, do so on a regular basis.

In these stressful times it’s good to realise that out there people are getting on with their jobs and doing just fine. We should feel free to carp when something doesn’t come up to scratch but let’s also celebrate the mundane work that delivers a great customer experience.

Main image by sandid from Pixabay

Nothing goes together like a bird feeder, chocolate and the Bossa Nova (?!)

One of the less stressful aspects of COVID-19 lockdown constraints has been the increased amount of birdsong and, I think, more birds in our tiny back garden. Encouraged by recent nesting robins and blackbirds we decided to tempt some more visitors in and bought a squirrel-proof bird feeder, ordered online from garden/DIY supplier Homgar (“unique products, all in one place”).

Delivery times were impacted by COVID-19 and our expectations of a long wait – set by the supplier – were duly met, but when the feeder arrived there was a faintly bizarre addition to the box: another box containing a set of recipe cards and a CD of Bossa Nova music. Taken in isolation this might be one of those “thoughtful” Christmas gifts from a distant relative (logic: you like cooking and music so this is ideal for you!) but in the context of the delayed delivery it was both unusual and rather touching.

The accompanying message – see photo – explains it all (sort of). Effectively they are saying:

We fell below our normal standards of service and, even though it was due to circumstances beyond our control, we’d like to thank you for your patience.

Photo: author

What’s great about this from a customer experience point of view is that the company had already set our expectations of a long delivery time and, whilst I was looking forward to the prospect of more avian visitors, it wasn’t high on my list of priorities. However the recognition that it might have been was key and even though the chocolate/bossa package might have been a job lot bought at random (like a distant relative with hundreds of Christmas gifts to buy) it was a token and signified a lot more than if they had just put a message in the package.

So often in customer experience I find companies are content to deliver just adequate levels. In this case Homgar didn’t “go the extra mile” – a cliché that’s unhelpful to say the least: an extra inch may be plenty – but they did provide something unexpected that lodges a positive emotional connection with their brand which means I’m more than likely to consider them next time I’m thinking about some garden equipment

Mostly though I’ll be glancing out of my kitchen window to see robins and tits feeding up on sunflower seeds whilst I move on from baking sourdough bread in lockdown to some more calorific treats, accompanied by the latin-jazz sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim and others. All thanks to one little bit of extra customer experience.

Main image by Oldiefan from Pixabay

The simple formula you need to shape your post-pandemic planning

In a previous article I talked about the importance of knowing what business you are really in to get a firm hold on what’s going to be critical as your business emerges from the current crisis.

The business you are really in is another way of discovering your deeper purpose or as Simon Sinek puts it, your “why”. But it’s only one side of the equation: as well as understanding this purpose you need to have customers who share that purpose in some way. To use Sinek’s example, Apple would not be successful if their why didn’t resonate in some way for their millions of customers.

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. And we happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?”

Simon Sinek

However, organisations often don’t pay enough attention to their customers’ “why” (you could argue that since Sinek made that point Apple has lost its own why) and end up wondering why they don’t attract or retain enough business.

To uncover the customer why – let’s call it Y for simplicity – you need to look beyond the what and how of your products or services to uncover your customers’ deeper motivations in using them. This isn’t always obvious but luckily, it’s not that complicated, and I want to illustrate it with a recent example that’s quite close to home.

Can’t stop the music…

My son Dave is a graduate of Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and has since graduating two years ago embarked on the precarious but noble career of freelance jazz musician. Resisting the siren call of London he remained in South Wales to work within its small but lively jazz scene.

He and some fellow graduates organised themselves into a collective – Bamzu – that, prior to lockdown, had begun to attract good crowds to regular gigs and jam sessions. Often the attendees were regulars from the college’s weekly Amser Jazz Time sessions who had seen the musicians develop through the years of their course.

When lockdown hit, Bamzu, like other venues and groups, moved their operations online, organising fortnightly ticketed concerts via Zoom live from performers’ homes. I’ve been to two so far and have been very impressed by the quality of musicianship and the sense of connectedness with the musicians (this isn’t just proud Dad bias as my son has yet to play on a session).

Simple gestures

But you can get online performances from almost anyone so what makes this special and what’s the Y? I’d say that what’s important isn’t just the what (jazz) or the how (Zoom) but the sense of community in these events. Having been to a few live events in Cardiff in the past few years I know some of the regulars by sight so seeing them on the call (we’re mostly all on video) is as close to turning up to a gig as I’m likely to get for the moment. Participants are off mute before the music starts so it’s a bit noisy and chaotic too.

This club-like atmosphere may be initially off-putting to outsiders, but two simple gestures add to the sense of community. When the music stops, the mute goes off so that the audience can applaud, whoop or whatever – not a common feature in most online shows – and at the end of the whole session, the host plays a danceable track and pans around the audience allowing a wave or some adventurous/embarrassing on-screen move-busting. It was during this part at the end of the last gig that the penny dropped: our Y was the sense of community and connection as much as the music.

The way of why?

For all those with a lifelong dread of maths, introducing a formula, even a simple one, may mean I lost you at the heading. But don’t worry, it’s a simple one. We have established that customers’ purpose in being your customer is Y so you simply need to make sure your own purpose – let’s label it y – equates to that, i.e.

Y = y.

Jazz has a reputation as a recondite art form (appealing to people who use words like recondite) so the Bamzu collective could have contented themselves with livestreaming performances with minimal communication, relying on their excellence as musicians to do the work. But, intentionally or not, they have recognised that the business they are in is more about community and involvement and – it’s early days so who knows – this may bring them an audience beyond their original geography.

I did it my y

Every day what gets me out of bed isn’t just the alarm clock or the thought of 30 minutes’ lockdown home gym work but because I believe that organisations of all shapes and sizes can do what they do for their customers differently and better than today by realising their inherent capabilities and thinking creatively about their business and its possibilities.

It’s taken me a while to articulate my y and I don’t claim the preceding sentence is the finished article but it’s a bit more specific, and hopefully more distinct, than simply management consulting, which is what I do. By definition then, my clients – ideally – have a Y that complements my y, in other words they want to think differently about their business and turn those thoughts into action.

The Y = y formula is a journey that organisations undertake, and that journey is fundamental to thinking positively and creating a viable and successful post-pandemic future. I have some fun ways of getting to Y (that’s part of my how) that I’ll share in future articles.