Fix your 4 customer-service-when-things-go-wrong issues

Pic from pinnacleperformancechampions.org

It doesn’t matter how good your product or service is. At some point, things will go wrong. But that is not a problem. We all know nothing is infallible.

The problem lies in the way you respond to that situation, the effort you put into it, how you resolve it, as well as the way you treat customers in that process.

The typical and most frustrating response customers get has four main issues:

  1. reactive – problems come as a surprise
  2. insincere – apologies are not heartfelt
  3. disclaim – it’s never anyone’s fault
  4. giveaway – freebies to shut customer up

The above shows that your company lacks professionalism, empathy, accountability and customer-centricity. This hurts customer’s trust and loyalty, impacting your bottom line.

To fix issue number 1, you need to become Proactive. This doesn’t mean that you must know every single issue that could crop-up. But you must be Vigilant and Action as soon as you notice something could go wrong. I would encourage you to think about James Dodkins PXR (Proactive Experience Recovery) framework.

PXR is the practice of fixing a problem during the crisis or before it happens (…) four-step framework is: identify, monitor, communicate, compensate (…) Identify the problem, monitor the problem during the experience, communicate to the customers that you know something is wrong even if they aren’t aware, and compensate for errors

James Dodkins on Kustomer Podcast 9 Jul 2020 (link here)

To fix issue number 2, you should make sure that your staff shows Empathy towards the customer, and offers Earnest apologies. Following up by fixing the issue, ensuring that it was an one-time-only apology! In a recent chat on Twitter (ICMI chat) Stephanie Thum put it very well.

Apologies mean little, really, when they’re consistently the “go-to” for fixing the systemic problems customers face. Fix the systemic problems! That is the best compensation.

Stephanie Thum on Twitter 25 Aug 2020 (link here)

To fix issue number 3, you need to ensure your organisation has a customer-focused culture that puts emphasis on Accountability, where employees feel Empowered to resolve customer issues, and are rewarded for fixing or actioning, rather than deflecting. Supported by Technology that is easy-to-use and flexible enough to make staff efficient, and problem-solving effective.

To fix number 4, focus on Resolution rather than hesitation, idleness, lethargy. As Stephanie Thum said, fixing the problem “is the best compensation”. Customers are not looking for freebies, but for an easy and effortless experience. And if you feel you want to make up for your mistake, make sure it is seen as a gesture of Goodwill.

Foster success by focusing on the “Why”

From “The Apple Experience”

Now, more than ever, companies need to (re)define their purpose – a clearly defined non-financial purpose. And then, ensure that leadership, culture, processes, policies, communications always take that purpose into account.

As Jeanne Bliss says: “Clarity of purpose gives people’s work meaning. It is the glue that unites a team and enables everyone to look beyond their individual tasks, so they can deliver a one-company experience that customers want to have again

Companies need to make an effort to clarify why they exist (and it’s not just to make money!). Then, link that purpose to who they hire, how they conduct themselves, and what they will do (as well as not do) to grow.

This enables the delivery of great employee and customer experiences, and will make successes mean much more and, as consequence generate much more satisfaction. It will also be the perfect environment for collaboration, a key ingredient for innovation, which in turn brings differentiation.

Customers will want everyone to know they are associated with those companies, and shout to the world about joint successes. And employees will be proud to be part of such companies, share with others and attract more talent.

6 instrumental factors for technology projects success

Technology is crucial for the delivery of a good Customer Experience. No doubt all Customer Experience Programs today include a technology enablement, implementation or integration project.

But despite trends around methods like Agile or Scrum (that try and make things more efficient and effective) the success in technology projects is limited – at best people get it done with loads of hassle; often they fail to achieve what they set out to do.

I believe the problem lies on the mix between wrong cultures and the use of legacy approaches to IT projects – where people make big plans from the outset, and then take things in a linear or sequential way (similar to what you would see in Waterfall).

These approaches rely on people making estimations (for timelines and costs) that reach horizons that they cannot see, and are usually far-fetched (as people simply cannot envision the next 3, 4, 5 or 6 months).

The business decides what they want (which is not necessarily what they need or is feasible). To avoid being seen as the party-wreckers IT teams (solution architects, developers, project managers) tend to give the customary nod and optimistic estimates.

What they cannot see (despite falling into that trap hundreds of times!) is that those promises (around timelines and costs for the technology enablement project) become set in stone, and set certain expectations.

It usually doesn’t take long until the project is delayed or stalled, the scope is creeping, and things are going over-budget. But rather than flagging things earlier, there is a tendency to sweep it under the rug.

It’s not until things get to a point of no-return that the project team sees themselves on the cliff-edge, and finally breaks the news – there is no way they will be able to deliver the project on time and budget.

The Business Sponsor needs to make a decision:

  • bury more time and money;
  • deploy incomplete (and potentially buggy) technology platform;
  • bring the whole project to a halt.

None of these options is positive. Actually all of them will have a significant negative impact on:

  • Employee Experience – will feel frustrated and incompetent; will see their time and hard work wasted; will put morale down.
  • Customer Experience – if external customer, will suffer with a broken (or less than optimal) experience; if internal customer, will lose trust in business/IT capabilities.

In a technology-enablement project, there are at least 6 instrumental factors for success:

  1. Pragmatism, when it comes to discuss feasibility and investment appraisals;
  2. Realism, when it comes to set and manage people’s expectations;
  3. Focus, when it comes to design and plan the approach;
  4. Collaboration, when it comes to get things done, and push it forward;
  5. Transparency, when it comes to managing the project, risks and issues;
  6. Courage, when it comes to decision-making.

VoC: 3 dos and 3 don’ts

Recently I went to a Pearson test centre to do an exam. The experience was positive and smooth. More importantly, I passed the exam.

Coming out of the exam I was given a paper, that among exam details had a QR code and asked to provide feedback. I used it to access the survey and provided my feedback.

‪A couple of days later, I got an email asking for my feedback again. Given that I had already submitted the earlier survey, I thought it was an “honest mistake” and ignored it.

One ‪week later, I got another email asking for my feedback. ‬This time I could not avoid a feeling of hassle, and thinking I was being spammed – when I had already (gladly) submitted my feedback.

Looking into the survey invitation emails in more detail, I realised that first one came from the address customerservice@pearson.com while the second one came from marketing@ocrm2.pearson.com.

But there was more. Looking into the survey links, I realised the departments were also using different systems. One of the links was feedback.pearsonvue.com while the other one was surveymonkey.com

Leveraging my experience in this area, of helping companies use technology to enable their CX and VoC programs, allow me to make 6 comments.

  1. It is really good that Pearson is reaching out to their customers, keen to hear about their experiences;
  2. It is really good that Pearson is doing it at different touch-points, particularly after the Moment of Truth – the exam;
  3. It is really good that Pearson is offering different entry points (e.g. QR code, email), making it convenient for the customer;
  4. It would be advisable for Pearson to have a holistic Voice-of-Customer program, that brings together all departments, avoiding silos;
  5. It would be advisable for Pearson to use a single technology platform for collecting and analysing customer feedback, providing clearer insight and avoiding overhead;
  6. It would be advisable for Pearson to create frequency and recency workflow rules, to avoid over-surveying and hassling customers;

Include Expectations in Customer Journey Mapping

A while back, in my blog post You don’t buy customer loyalty… You earn it I mentioned that Expectations are a crucial in customer experience. There is some science behind this…

Expectations are so critical because they are fundamental to how the brain works. The dopamine neurons in our brain that are responsible for regulating our emotions work by generating patterns based on experience: they trigger emotions based on predictions. When everything goes according to our predictions these dopamine neurons fire up and we experience pleasurable positive emotions. However, if our expectations turn out to be wrong, the neurons stop firing and we feel upset.”

Matt Watkinson, The Ten Principles of Great Customer Experiences

Customer Experience gurus and research says that, at a brand level, companies normally use one of two ways to set customer expectations: by intent or by accuracy.

John Lewis (well-known UK retail giant) uses the first (i.e. intent), setting an expectation in their strapline: “Never Knowingly Undersold”. Others prefer to use the latter (i.e. accuracy): “Next day delivery”.

Regardless of the tactic, companies need to make sure expectations are met (if not exceeded). And that it happens at all levels and in all interactions.

“Expectations cascade from the top down. What we expect from the brand applies to the product or service, then to every little interactions. To provide a great experience, we need to see the customer experience as one long journey, and a continuous process of setting and meeting expectations.”

Matt Watkinson, The Ten Principles of Great Customer Experiences

It’s not enough to create a strapline or brand promise. To ensure the delivery of a great customer experience, it’s necessary to map customer expectations at all stages and steps of the customer journey.

Below is an incomplete example that I created for a B2B (Business-to-Business) company, which sells services.

(Note: In this case I was using a spreadsheet to document the customer journey mapping exercise. Contact me or comment post if you want me to share the template. However, there are other tools available, including CJM software)

The leftmost column has the stages and steps of the customer journey. The expectations are in the central yellow columns. In this example I only covered the beginning of the journey (from Awareness to Purchase), and only completed expectations at the Purchase stage.

Example Customer Journey Map, documented in a spreadsheet (open image in new tab/window to augment)

It is important to map not only the Customer Expectation but also the Reality (I suggest this is researched or confirmed, with customers or front-line staff). It would also help mapping the expectation that you (as a company) want to set at each stage.

Meeting customer expectations will make sure your customers experience the “pleasurable positive emotions” that leave memorable moments – which is exactly what drives customer loyalty and repeated business.

Apathy. Policy. Churn

Back in December 2019 I decided to buy, as a Christmas present, two tickets to see Guns N’ Roses (a band from our youth in 80s and 90s) at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on the 30th May 2020.

With the Covid-19 pandemic striking the UK early March, it was obvious that the concert was not going to happen, but I waited for Viagogo to contact. Two weeks before the concert date Viagogo sent an email informing that the concert had “been postponed” and that they would contact “as soon as the new event date” got announced.

A few weeks later, and given the pandemic developments, everyone knew that the concert was not going to happen in the foreseeable future, so I contacted Viagogo. An agent told me that “no refunds could take place until the event organiser cancelled the concert“, and as far as they were concerned, it was going to be rescheduled.

It’s been 3 months since the concert date. It’s clear that no Government will allow thousands of people into a stadium any time soon in 2020, and most likely not even in 2021 – unless a miracle brings a vaccine and the capacity to provide it to millions of people in a matter of weeks.

So I contacted Viagogo again, asking for a refund. The agent told me that “the event organiser has not cancelled the concert, and until then Viagogo cannot provide refunds“.

I said that surely Viagogo and the even organiser knew that concerts were not going to happen anytime soon, to which she replied “as I said sir, the event organiser has not cancelled the concert, and until then Viagogo cannot provide refunds.

I then asked for how long could the event organiser have the event pending, to which she replied “that is outside of our control. The event organiser has not cancelled the concert, and until then Viagogo cannot provide refunds, it’s on our Terms & Conditions.

I tried to reason with her and said that customers (who are going through difficult times – some even financially, and to whom £375 would make a huge difference) would surely appreciate if Viagogo showed some empathy and refunded them for a product they bought but could not enjoy, to which she replied “I understand, but the event organiser has not cancelled the concert, and until then Viagogo cannot provide refunds“.

At that point I was finding it amazing how she kept repeating the same thing over and over again, without any regard for our conversation – it was like talking to a machine. I decided to empathise with her, and said that even though I appreciated she had her hands tied by a policy, a script and a system, I would welcome a route to talk to somebody that could help me.

For about 5 minutes (and yes, it was starting to become uncomfortable for both of us), she kept disregarding my plea, referring to the T&Cs, saying she could not do a thing, and repeating “the event organiser has not cancelled the concert, and until then Viagogo cannot provide refunds.

I had to insist and make an effort for her to stay on the phone (at this point she was clearly trying to end the call), but finally, reluctantly, and almost in whispering tone she said I could “complaint via email to customerservice@orders.viagogo.com“.

I wonder if the founder and CEO of Viagogo, Eric H. Baker, who studied business at Harvard University and Stanford University, was taught to treat customers like this. Maybe the UK authorities were right (and I should have listened to them) when they said…

  • May 2018, BBC News reported that the UK Government’s digital minister advised that consumers should not use Viagogo;
  • August 2018, UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) took Viagogo to the High Court for breaking the law;
  • January 2019, UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Eric Baker risked jail over failure to properly protect customers.

It is in situations of crisis that we see which are the companies, and who are the executives, that really value and look after their customers. I’m sure that coming out of this situation, many customers (including me) will never go back and do business with Viagogo.

Enabling B2B global customer support

In the CX community this is not news. When it comes to Customer Experience, our expectations are set by the interactions we have with companies like Amazon and Apple (companies on the B2C – Business to Consumer market).

When at work, dealing with other companies (in B2B – Business to Business scenarios), we also expect the same level of service, the same smooth and simple Customer Experiences, the same innovation and type of engagement.

I’m lucky to work with companies in both spaces. One of the B2B companies I work with is Sandvik – a global high-tech and engineering company founded in Sweden in 1862, with 40,000 employees and presence in 160 countries.

My team at Capventis had the pleasure to work with their Global Technical Support Team (for Mobile Mining & Rock Technology), enabling Zendesk – and it’s Support, Chat, Talk, Guide products – to allow them to provide seamless, effortless, convenient omni-channel support to their customers.

The video above shows Sandvik introducing the new Digital Helpdesk in a mission “To provide world leading customer service through a remote 24-hour technical support desk

Note: Sandvik are specialist in “Tools and systems for industrial metal-cutting; Equipment and tools, service and technical solutions for the mining and construction industries; Advanced stainless steels and special alloys as well as products for industrial heating“.

“Fast-Forward” on Retail Experience

shopping_Right-2-512

The COVID-19 pandemic will have a “fast-forward” effect on certain things, namely in the way we shop with retailers. The transformation was already in progress, but will now happen faster than expected.

Many consumers, particularly in the biggest cities, already shop mostly online and have orders delivered by retailers at home – groceries, clothing, electronics, furniture, etc. The pandemic forced most consumers to do the same.

Some consumers suddenly realised that you can actually do shopping online, having the same offering. Others realised how secure and comfortable it is. Others even noticed how effortless and seamless it can be.

On the retailers side, those who thought it would be hard, and procrastinated their journey to be on-line, finally adopted technology, subscribed to e-commerce platforms (like Shopify) and are now in a much better position to compete.

Opening an online operation, allowing consumers to buy from “distance” also required a customer service setup. Again, many retailers accelerated the adoption of multi-channel customer interaction technology (like Zendesk).

The way we shop, will surely change for good. Going forward, consumers will shop much more online (accelerating the trend of the last decade) and only go to brick & mortar shops when the need exceeds “shopping”.

What I mean is… many people go out shopping (in malls, etc.) not only because they need to buy something, but because they are looking for social interaction and distraction, with family or friends.

This is not news, and that is exactly why malls and retail parks started opening restaurants, cinemas, bowling alleys, entertainment venues for kids, etc. People go there not only (sometimes not even) to buy stuff, but rather to socialise.

The same will now apply to the wider industry – big, medium and small retailers. Meaning everyone will have to do something to attract people to their shops. Of course not all can or have size to build cinemas, so they will have to build Experiences.

Big successful retailers are already pioneering this. Apple designed all their shops with a focus on customer’s experiences. Offering a modern and innovative environment, that unlocks creativity, inspires learning, and encourages connections.

But how do you know what “experiences” will attract customers? Once more, technology can help. Experience management platforms (like Qualtrics) allow companies to reach out and understand customers’ needs, wants, drivers.

That insight can then be turned into action to baseline experiences and improve continuously.

Customer Experience in Water Companies

affinity_water

In England and Wales, OFWAT (part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is the authority that regulates the water and sewerage industry, after services started being provided by private companies, to residential consumers.

A year ago OFWAT issued PR19 (Price Review 19) a comprehensive and stringent report about the way the water industry operates in these countries. And on the back of that, replaced SIM (Service Improvement Mechanism, launched in 2010) for C-MEX.

C-MEX stands for Customer Experience Measurement and is the mechanism OFWAT found to incentivise water companies to become customer-centric and deliver good experiences. Until 2020 incentives would be reputational, and thereafter financial.

But water is a commodity and customers don’t have a choice of supplier. We must use the incumbent in our area. Majority of us don’t even interact with our water company, and a significant subset of us pay bills via direct debit, without even looking.

So how can water companies engage with customers, from a CX perspective? From my point of view there are a couple of things that matter and impact customer’s satisfaction with a water supplier: Brand perception and customer service.

Of course we would like water suppliers to ensure service doesn’t have issues (e.g. leaks, disruptions), that bills are clear, and prices fair. But a new generation also wants companies to care about the planet, and how water is used (or wasted) – see good example in email I received from my supplier (Affinity Water).

When we contact our water supplier (statistic says mostly to complain/report issues) we want empathetic, seamless and efficient interactions. Actually, one of the drivers in C-MEX is complaints handling (and definition of “complaint” includes those made via social media – in line with Consumer Council for Water’s definition).

Another interesting guideline from PR19 is that water companies will need to offer at least 5 communication channels for receiving contacts and complaints. Phone, email, and post seem the obvious ones being used.

Water companies will need to start looking at the enablement of channels like Live Chat, Social Media, and Text Messaging (e.g. WhatsApp), to comply with the 5 channels rule. OFWAT says penalties will apply, if they don’t.

Technology can definitely help water companies comply with PR19, and ensure they follow C-MEX guidelines.

  • An omni-channel ticket/case management platform (like Zendesk) can enable the required multi-channel capability for interaction and complaint management.
  • An experience management platform (like Qualtrics) can enable the required C-MEX capability to measure consumer experience with NPS and CSAT.