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

Good news for Blue Monday: the High Street’s not dead – yet

(2 minute read)

Customer-centricity is the way forward

It’s that time of year when we have a succession of variously-coloured days: Black Friday pre-Christmas and Blue Monday today, allegedly the time of year when people are most depressed. To add to the spectrum there was a super blood wolf moon visible in the middle of the night for those Britons whose anticipation of the Monday blues was already giving them insomnia.

For beleaguered UK high street retailers and customers, the gloom continues. HMV the music retailer seeking a rescue package, has come under the radar of Mike Ashley, whose strategy seems to be to buy up any retailer heading for the rocks. For non-UK readers, Mr Ashley has built up a highly successful business – Sports Direct – selling cut-price sports gear to the public in the classic, low-cost, pile-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap model.

It takes a particular skill, in my view, to offer a poor in-store experience – confusing layout, multiple occurrences of similar products – and still achieve commercial success. This doesn’t bode well for HMV though: if the same strategy is applied, I don’t think it would succeed, since the competition for music/video content (these days a digital commodity) is different from that for clothing, a physical one, so no matter how high or cheap your piles of CDs are people have moved on.

I’m sure Mike Ashley realises this, but if he needs some further ideas he’d do well to take a look at the companies covered in a recent Marketing Week article who are bucking the trend by taking a customer-centric approach.

I’m glad to see Greggs included in this as I particularly liked their introduction of a vegan sausage roll to capitalise on the trend for “Veganuary”. In particular I liked their canny use of social media, when breakfast TV host and self-opinionated uber-bore Piers Morgan took exception to their “PC” behaviour. “Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you” has to be one of the best (polite) put-downs of 2019. It’s possible to do low-cost with style and Greggs manage this as well as responding to customer preferences in a creative way.

Focusing on the experience is the way forward for arts and craft superstore chain Hobbycraft who at first sight would appear to be in danger of undercutting by the likes of Amazon. However, their stores provide workshops and how-to content online recognising that their customers outcomes extend beyond simply buying products. Customers want to feel part of a tribe (hobbyists, bakers etc) and acquire skills: playing to these outcomes moves the business away from being a commodity provider.

It’s this preparedness to think differently about the nature of a store that will distinguish winners and losers in the difficult times ahead.

For more thoughts about successful customer-centred practice sign up for our Inner Circle newsletter or, for more about outcome-based thinking. see our article The concept that will change your view of Customer Experience forever.

The death of high street retail? Bring it on!

The survivors of “retail hell” will be those that are prepared to change the way they think about customer experience

Reports of the death of the high street may have been exaggerated in the past but the decline in shop sales versus the increase in online sales reported over the Christmas period suggests that retail as we know it could well be in its death throes.

After my experience in the January sales in London I can only say the sooner the better.

What I learnt in a brief – but not as brief as it could have been – trip to Oxford Street last Sunday and a spot of grocery shopping on New Year’s Eve was that our tolerance of poor physical retail experiences is lessening, particularly when the online version is so much better.

What’s wrong with shopping?

Where do I begin? Let’s start with everyone’s favourite department store, John Lewis, on a Sunday afternoon. At the height of the sale season we were pleased to snap up a new mattress as a clearance bargain. We’d originally gone in to try out a Simba Sleep mattress – which you can buy online and return if not happy: now a standard with the new entrants (see also Casper, Eve and others) – but ended up with a different make at a clearance price which was more comfortable, albeit not covered by any guarantee should our in-store test proved to have been inadequate.

I get a bargain and a try-before-you-buy stage in the customer journey so what’s wrong? Well not that much if I’m honest, although I got a definite sense from the store assistant that he’d rather have been able to upsell to one of the many more expensive items on display (he could have helped me feel a bit happier about picking up a bargain instead). The trouble really started when we descended to the kitchen shop in the basement in search of a new pair of kitchen scales. As a keen cook and a bit of a kitchen gadget fan, I’ve previously spent happy times ambling through John Lewis kitchen shops, but something has changed since the last time I went to the Oxford Street “flagship” store. It proved tricky to find the right area and, when we did, the shelves were in such a mess that it took quite some time to work out what scales were available and how much they were.

On the basis of this second experience, online would have been much better – although it still took me a while to find the kitchen scales section on John Lewis’s website – and I could have bought my new mattress online as well, albeit at a non-clearance price.

Food, glorious food

Most of the time we shop online for food, via Ocado – it saves time and petrol cost – but it requires advance planning. In preparing for a New Year’s Eve dinner I needed to go to a local mall and that other bastion of British middle-class grocery shopping, Waitrose (part of the John Lewis Partnership). One missing ingredient required a trip to Sainsbury’s supermarket a short walk away. I found my missing spice but then had to wait in line whilst what appeared to be a large section of south-west London queued to pay at the self-service tills. There’s no way these are going to give you the kind of pleasant interaction on a standard check-out aisle that I’d had pre-Christmas in the same store – “unexpected item in bagging area” is hardly the basis for a great customer relationship. Most of the time I end up having to wait while a harassed assistant confirms that I am over 18 and can legally buy alcohol. My New Year’s Eve purchase was relatively smooth but the overall experience – albeit at peak time – was stressful.

Back to the Future?

There was a time when a trip to the shops was a relatively unhurried affair. Growing up in a small town over half a century ago I remember getting most of our food from a short trip to local shops. It wasn’t something full of magic moments as I recall but nor was it particularly stressful even when the local supermarket was involved. And my mother, who I was usually accompanying, would stop and chat to friends, neighbours and shopkeepers in the course of her expedition.

Of course, there was no competition from any other shopping channel in those days, just the choice between a few local shops so you can’t really compare it with our price-driven online interactions. However, leaving wistful reminiscence aside, the past has some lessons for the future of physical retail: shopping in those days was friendlier and less hurried. But if online can take away the need to stand in crowded shops or searching in vain for unavailable items what’s left on the High Street?

Café society

The answer is to forget about selling – at least in the same quantities as online – but to view the online and offline worlds as complementary rather than competing. Let’s look at a couple of retailers under threat from online competition: bookseller Waterstone’s (thriving) and music/video retailer HMV (filing for administration). I’m a customer of both, but in ways that illustrate this shift.

I spent a couple of hours in Waterstone’s Piccadilly branch at the weekend where I combined coffee, book shopping and a pre-dinner cocktail. The branch has three food/drink outlets and several floors of books and I based myself on the top floor café/bar with occasional forays to the book departments. So, my visit to the store is more about an overall leisure experience than a targeted piece of book shopping (which I could have done via Amazon or other online retailers). Waterstone’s still hasn’t integrated the online world very smoothly: one of the books wasn’t in stock and I declined the offer of ordering it as I figured I could do it online. However, I bought other books in the store so there’s no reason why the order couldn’t have been linked to my other purchases and offer a discount, securing more of my expenditure versus Amazon.

At HMV the threats are more extreme – we still like physical books for reading (versus eBooks) but are less enamoured of CDs and DVDs for audio/visual product – but the response has been less adventurous. My local HMV store also contains a branch of independent cinema chain Curzon. The cinema is one of the best in the area – a good choice of films, comfy seats, great sound and a good café/bar – but the degree of integration between the two is non-existent despite branding the venue as hmvcurzon. On the other two floors of the shop the offering is a traditional retail one: racks of CDs, vinyl and DVDs with various add-on products such as t-shirts.

Curzon is, as far as I can tell, thriving: the cinema experience is good and, as a distributor of independent films, it also offers a streaming service. Like many other cinemas it also offers live broadcasts of concerts, theatre etc. This move towards content and experience appears to have passed HMV by. Just as bands now make money from gigs rather than record sales it doesn’t require too much imagination to think how HMV might have evolved into a live experience provider – with links to related merchandise and streamed content – rather than remaining as a shop selling stuff that fewer and fewer people have a need for.

Entertaining outcomes

I’m not going to make any predictions for the future of high street retail other than to say that a better understanding of customer outcomes is required. If you view your customer’s outcome as “buy some stuff at an acceptable cost/convenience level” then you’re operating within the traditional retail paradigm. With online taking up an increasing proportion of shopping, that cost/convenience offer will need to be pretty compelling to cover the cost of high street property.

But if you view the customer’s outcome as “feel part of the community” (my experience of 50 years ago) or “have a great time with friends/family” (my recent Waterstone’s/Curzon experiences) then you might view the proposition you offer quite differently. In my little corner of south-west London, the number of coffee shops – both independent and chain – has doubled over the past 12 months and they are all busy: that points to a need that people have to get out into their community (even if it’s to sit hunched over a laptop with headphones on).

I’m not saying all shops should have a café attached. Retailer WHSmith provides a dire in-store experience (occasionally including a coffee vending machine) but it doesn’t prevent them achieving high performance, particularly given a focus on travel-related outlets (where leisurely browsing isn’t part of the experience). However, for most retailers, asking what’s missing from their customers’ experience and taking action to reinvent their outlets accordingly is the best hope to keep the high street alive.

It’s also a highly complex area and different solutions will apply in different localities – what might work in Wimbledon may not play so well in Warrington or Wigan. We’ll be returning to this theme in subsequent articles and inviting other people to contribute. If you’ve got direct experience in this area we’d love to hear your views.

Can customers win the fight against global warming?

Responsible use of data can help

If there’s one thing that gets me going it’s being told I should change my behaviour in order to affect something of global significance. Don’t get me wrong, I recycle religiously, drive a small car and don’t eat a lot of meat but nevertheless my inner libertarian gets worked up when I hear that we should all “do our bit” to combat global warming by making lifestyle choices.

If only it were that simple.

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is as welcome as it is disturbing. I may not be around when a global temperature rise of 2% causes irreversible damage to the planet, but I’d like to think it could be averted or the effects lessened by limiting the rise to 1.5% as the report recommends.

But we won’t get there by suddenly converting to veganism: concerted effort is required at an international level to reduce CO2 emissions as well as shifting the demand towards goods that have a lower impact.

Customers to the rescue

This isn’t a political publication so I’m not going to say anything about the willful ignorance of some administrations with regard to climate change and whether humans are the cause. Let’s assume that if you’ve got this far you think we could have something to do with it and leave it at that.

This is a customer experience piece though, so what can customers do, and how does customer experience figure in it?

I was heartened to read a piece in Marketing Week that revealed that grocery behemoth Tesco is using marketing data from its loyalty scheme to encourage people to eat more healthily. This is an important issue: obesity is on the rise and the consequences for healthcare – and the economic impacts – are significant. The various initiatives Tesco is undertaking – removing the sweet aisle from the checkout, handing our pieces of fruit to children – should help to nudge their customers towards a healthier choice.

Image: newsworks.org.uk

I particularly like their “helpful little swaps” initiative which compares the prices of healthier – and cheaper – alternatives to a customer’s bill. Anything that helps people take more control over their health seems like a good thing to me, even if – to be cynical for a moment – you suspect that the alternatives might make better economic sense for Tesco as well.

Again, this is data driven, as it allowed Tesco to see what worked and what didn’t and whether their customers understood what “healthy” meant in terms of their shopping basket. They could then adjust the mix of promotions accordingly. They have now partnered with TV chef Jamie Oliver, a noted campaigner against unhealthy food to develop exclusive recipe content.

Imagine there’s no future

What’s all this go to do with global warming? We may all be eating healthily but that matters not one jot if the earth is scorching beneath our feet. Exactly! We may hear the exhortations to eat healthily and act more sustainably but – in my view – that’s not enough to make a sufficiently large number of people act differently to significantly shift the dial on health measure or our carbon footprint. (Also, actions to improve personal health have a visible payback: if I eat well I generally look and feel better, so public health campaigns can have some effect. Combating global warming is too easily seen as someone else’s problem: it won’t affect me until it’s too late.)

It strikes me that persuading retailers – possibly working in some form of cooperative alliance – to act to promote goods with a lower carbon footprint would have a bigger impact than trying to dictate to the population at large. Tesco’s use of customer data shows how you can fine tune this type of campaign and use it to commercial advantage.

Enlightened commercial self-interest may just be the best way to keep the planet safe for the next generation.

 

Why the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger is short-termist and simply dumb

The old retail model is dying – consolidation merely postpones the inevitable

The news that UK supermarket Sainsbury’s and Walmart subsidiary Asda plan to merge may have been judged a great move by many analysts but it’s not. It’s short-termist. It panders mainly to the immediate shareholder value issues and, as so often happens, the customer – who holds the key to long term value and success – is insufficiently considered.

Sainsbury’s Chairman, David Tyler, has claimed this consolidation as the most “historic and pivotal move” they can make. History will judge this a short-sighted manoeuvre based on preserving a predominantly bricks-and-mortar player in an industry that’s dying on its feet – unless it changes significantly.

Vote with your clicks

If you’re a customer in a town where your supermarket options are Asda or Sainsbury’s ability get exactly what you want with minimised household spend (part of their model) will be limited. In addition, the time, effort, inconvenience and – in my case – sheer boredom involved will encourage me to search for other options. If you’re a customer in cyberspace you have more shopping options than you know what to do with. Its arguable that having 20 choices of grade, size, price and expiration date of a cherry tomato might add layers of complication and the illusion of control.

It might be simplistic to say that online will replace “offline” – the current low penetration of Amazon Fresh suggests that it will take time – because some elements of shopping remain resistant to online. This of course will surely change and as it does rapidly accelerate. Do you honestly see the bricks-and-mortar model being the same in 2025 as it is now? People who extrapolate based on prior behaviour might argue differently on the basis that the experience is not much different from 2011 but extrapolation arguments in a world of customer innovation opportunity are often TOTALLY wrong!

Yes, we’ve had online shopping for a decade or so and we still have plenty of physical spaces to go and buy stuff in so why panic? The trend extrapolators might have a point? Reality check: we’re already seeing the death of many high street retailers as they lose out to online operations so although the death of the high street has been a long time coming, it looks like it’s not only here but accelerating. The high street actually has a big part to play but not in its current guise. This is where customer success, experience and exposure to innovation plays a critical role.

Focusing on what I term customer success which consists of customer outcomes and related experiences (outcome and experience are different things) gets us away from this sterile “bricks v clicks” debate and opens up innovative new areas for growth.

My personal outcome for food shopping is to have my chosen fresh foodstuffs, delivered not only to my house but placed exactly where I want them in my kitchen. I don’t want to have to repeat my eggs, milk and bread order every time, but I do want the option to adapt it if I expect visitors. I don’t want to worry about being in the house when there is delivery, but I also want to ensure my property remains secure.

As a Customer Success expert, I know that there are many people who would want exactly the same, but I also know that there are a large number of variants – because we have levels of uniqueness which we expect to be actively considered. I am also aware that the distribution model for this type of shopping whilst lower cost than traditional bricks and mortar is still more expensive than say “click and collect”. For a few pounds reduction I might opt for a model which places my shopping in the boot of my car at a click and collect location such as a local petrol station.

Brick it

Does this mean the current bricks and mortar is redundant? Time will tell but I think that it does not have to be the case.

If I now live in a heady world where I don’t need to walk up and down an aisle why would I go to the “bricks and mortar” and spend?

What experiences around food would make you get of the house? Certainly, interacting with people and companies online will make many crave getting away from a screen – so what sort of experiences would make you move? Maybe it would be to experience something specific. Maybe it would be to learn something. Maybe it would be to better understand new ideas around nutrition. Maybe it would be meet your friends and do something. I certainly would not meet my friends to do a weekly shop, but I might go if a celebrity chef was doing a workshop which you could join in. Is that workable? Not sure, but I do know that a commodity process such as basic shopping will not be the domain of the high street but companies that offer the customer something different most certainly will.

You can start to think differently about the outcome and ask questions like:

  • How does the arrival of more intelligent devices change the ability to predict my demand for specific goods on specific days?
  • Could we use my social network to pick up shopping for me and automatically recompense them? (note that this could be of real benefit to people with mobility constraints)
  • What other delivery mechanisms might work? How can the principal online provider integrate with other local providers to optimise deliveries?

This is only a starter list – if I took a walk to the shops I might even think up some more…

Customer-centric strategy?

As Charles Bennett noted recently, building customer-centric companies is difficult, usually because customer-centric change must have a business case that stands up to scrutiny alongside other more concrete initiatives. When you get to the level of big strategic moves with tangible benefits (in Sainsbury’s case, assuming 73 stores can be offloaded, and other economies of scale realised) you realise just how far strategic thinking has to go to put the customer genuinely at the centre.

I’m hoping that somewhere in Sainsbury’s there’s a someone taking a creative view of what the future of retail might look like from a customer perspective and how the company might respond to it, but I’m not convinced. I think it’s more likely that the company will lurch, albeit elegantly, from one defensive manoeuvre to another – we’ve fended off the lower cost supermarkets (Aldi/Lidl) and we’re staying ahead of Amazon (for now, by removing one UK acquisition target from the game) – keeping analysts happy and, in the case of one senior executive, apparently staying “in the money”.

But it’s not the best outcome for customers and, ultimately, not the best one for the company.

There’s no place like Home(base)

Pretty soon, there may be no Homebase at all

My track record as a DIY-er is not all that great, but I’m thinking I could have done a lot less of a botched job than Australian company Wesfarmers did when they acquired UK DIY retail chain Homebase back in 2016.

The analysts’ views could not have been more damning with GlobalData’s retail analyst, Patrick O’Brien referring to it as “undoubtedly the most disastrous retail acquisition in the UK ever.  I can’t think of a worse one that has made these kinds of losses so quickly.

According to reports in the Guardian, up to 40 UK stores could close with a possibility that the parent company could exit the UK altogether as Wesfarmers recovers from a £454m write-down due to the acquisition.

My use of the term “botched job” is not a management consultant’s know all “post-disaster” arrogance but the term used by Rob Scott, Wesfarmers’ managing director, who stated the problems with Homebase were largely of their own making – a slightly diplomatic way of saying “we just shot ourselves in the foot with a gun we already knew was loaded. The number one – and probably most critical – mistake was to remove the entire management team plus 160 middle managers as soon as the takeover was concluded.

If you want big change, do it fast but beware of the risks

There’s a school of thought that suggests that if you are going to implement big change then do it quickly and do it early. The catch of course is that these have to be sensible changes and if you haven’t assessed the strategic landscape effectively then hitting fast and quick can make the acquirers look like drunken rhinos in an overpacked china shop.

Moving fast was not the mistake. Streamlining is an obvious first move but arguably they went too far. Including the people who effectively ensure at least short term smooth running – the middle managers – in the first tranche shake-up was too great a risk. All the knowledge about what worked in the stores and what did not – gathered over years of trial and error also walked out of the door at the same time.

Don’t change what’s already working

Homebase had already achieved some success attracting more female shoppers with an emphasis on top-end soft furnishings from Laura Ashley and Habitat which created  a differentiator over other brands. Based on the experience of their Bunnings chain in Australia, however, Wesfarmers decided that a different approach was needed and opted for a purer DIY warehouse, providing customers with a no-frills (or chintz) experience.

Judging from customer feedback and our own research the previous approach seemed to be working. And, subjectively, our experience of the post-acquisition Homebase has not been that great – product facing is poor, and it seems harder to find what you want with too many options and price-points in some categories.

The lesson here is don’t change what’s already working and expect feedback from customer segments in one country to be replicated in another without sufficient research. History has shown time and time again that this approach does not work.

Ignore middle managers at your peril

Middle managers get a bad rap: the term suggests a lack of ambition and a degree of mediocrity, so they’re a target for easy downsizing. But middle managers hold a lot of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t and, whilst you can argue that companies would be more effective if they codified and shared that knowledge better, it seems a rather crude piece of change management to cut it out just like that.

Home or away?

Homebase’s problems are challenging – a £1bn rent obligation prevents Wesfarmers from walking away completely. The UK retail market is depressed, and the outlook remains uncertain for the short to medium term. The new Homebase have clearly not listened enough to their customers (or their voices in the company). They might want to think more about what their customers – male and female – want from their outlets before wielding the axe further.

Mistakes may have been made and recovery will be tough, with a degree of downsizing appearing all but inevitable. But in a crowded market, customers will shop around and loyalties can change. Homebase has every chance of recovery if a customer first philosophy is adopted and aligned to every aspect of the organisation. Time will tell whether the new owners have learned from their mistakes.

Customer service basics can make all the difference (part 2)

In the first part of this two-part article I dealt with some examples of keeping the customer informed and managing their expectations. There’s a common theme emerging in both those and the following examples of basic customer service – and my experiences over the post-Christmas period emphasised this:

Communication is everything

Here’s the remaining four of my six basics…

3) Don’t hassle the customer

My in-store experience at Warren Evans was a classic example of getting the level of attention just right. We were greeted by an assistant, Michelle, who determined our needs, then showed us the range of potential beds. She then left us to get on with working out which one we liked and when we’d made our choice, took us through the transaction, including the commitment to dates.

Warren Evans is by no means the only store that can get this right – it’s something every floorwalker in a store should be trained up in and, in my experience, most stores can get it right. However, when stores move online, the ability to judge how much attention a customer needs seems to go out of the window. In part this is understandable since the customer is not visible in the same way as a physical store, but sites often over-compensate by forever pestering you to provide feedback or reminding you that you had the temerity to leave goods in your cart without completing the transaction.

Feedback and nudging customers to complete make good sense commercially but don’t always lead to customer satisfaction. Involving customers actively in the evolution of online services helps you to get these details right.

4) Pay attention to unspoken needs

My most frustrating recent experience came on my birthday at the beginning of January, where I had arranged to meet family at a central London restaurant. It’s a reasonably well-established American-themed venue and seemed just about right for a lively celebration. On arrival it appeared to be too lively as our table was close to the bar area where a singer/guitarist was providing live entertainment for the evening. I did a quick tour of the restaurant looking for a quieter table, at which point the manager spotted what I was doing and immediately moved us to a better table. So far so good, sadly there will be some negatives to come…

5) Deal brilliantly with complaints

…and indeed, the restaurant managed to get so many basics wrong that a 15-point complaint email followed. However, the initial attention to my dissatisfaction with the table was a great example of one element of dealing brilliantly with complaints and that’s dealing with them before they happen.

A further example followed when two aperitifs took 20 minutes to not arrive. On raising this – an expression of dissatisfaction, so a complaint in all but name – we were offered them gratis.

Overall, despite good food and great company there were other basic restaurant service elements that left something to be desired, so I emailed the restaurant at length. I received an email the following day from the manager we had seen who demonstrated the following good practice:

  • Acknowledged the error(s)
  • Apologised
  • Offered compensation, even though none had been requested.

In this case the compensation is four free dinners, which we’ll take up soon, if only to check that the promised improvement in service has been implemented. Sometimes I think it’s a mixed blessing having me as a customer…

6) Don’t be average

Part of the problem with the restaurant was that, whilst Ben the manager was attentive, the other service staff didn’t seem to be on the same page. Certainly, they were not responding to what should be a given at a venue like this: that my desired outcome is a great evening out, not just some reasonable food and drink.

Many retail outfits – particularly in the food and hospitality sector – are content to provide average transactions. I reflected on this when writing the first part of this piece in a nearby outlet of a coffee chain (inexplicably named after a decadent Roman emperor). I ordered my flat white and it was prepared in short order but, whilst the assistant wasn’t in any way unpleasant he wasn’t exactly personable.

I don’t expect hugs or a life-transforming experience when I’m buying a coffee, but I couldn’t help thinking an opportunity had been missed for a bit more human interaction, otherwise I might as well be buying coffee from a vending machine.

First world problems?

Dissecting one’s own experiences like this is an occupational hazard when you’re in my line of business and sometimes it can seem like I am obsessed with what might be termed ‘first world problems’ but the problem for first world businesses is that competitive advantage can be gained from getting all these things right, particularly when so many companies don’t.

Will you seize the opportunity to fix your service basics and get ahead of the competition?

 

Branch banking? Let’s get personal!

I’ve been working in financial services on and off over a period of more than 20 years and the debate over how many branches a bank needs has been going on for at least that long. So it was good to see the Financial Services Club keeping the debate going this week. Despite money becoming increasingly virtual and the growth of online banking I think the industry has a long way to go before we see a significant change in the number and style of bank branches. Banks that invest in their people as well as new technology will maintain both a distribution network and the valuable customer relationships that go with it.

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Waitrose hashtag fail: too clever by half?

My social media credibility – recently boosted by having a tweet ‘favorited’ by a jazz pianist admired by my 16 year old – has taken a bit of a dive as I was unaware of Waitrose’s recent Twitter campaign – #WaitroseReasons – asking people to complete the sentence “I shop at Waitrose because….”. Initial reaction in the press and on Twitter suggested that this was serious hashtag fail. I personally think it’s a brilliant piece of marketing.

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