1 night in hotel, 4 simple CX lessons

Last week I travelled to Dublin, in Ireland, and stayed in a so-called 4 star hotel, the Talbot Hotel Stillorgan.

Arrived and went to reception. Only one customer was waiting, whilst the person behind the counter tried to answer the phone (which didn’t stop ringing), deal with couriers dropping parcels, and assist customers. 15 mins had gone by when my turn came up “I didn’t do anything for a couple of hours, and now everything seems be coming at the same time”, the guy said. First, a greeting would be nice, and second it’s not really my fault that Armageddon arrived at 7:00 PM on a Thursday.

Went up, unpacked and came down for dinner at the bar. There was no customer waiting, only a few sitting at tables already served. Two waitresses ran around, in and out of the kitchen. What appeared to be a manager was checking receipts behind the counter. No one bothered to even acknowledge my presence. 5 mins later, the manager asked “can I help you sir?”. Well, first a greeting would be nice, second I’m standing here not because I need help but because when I have nothing to do, I sit in bars staring at people.

In the morning, no hot water was running in the shower. Eventually I called reception to explain the situation. “It’s cold outside sir, so it might take a while”. I left it running for 10 mins whilst I shaved, and eventually decided to take a cold shower, as I had a plane to catch and a long journey to the airport. Again, first a greeting would be nice, and second Ireland with 7 degrees centigrade, is not really the north pole, is it?

Came down to check-out and, at reception, the same person who had answered the phone 30 mins earlier didn’t even bother asking if eventually the hot water had come. “Check-out sir?”. I have a feeling that I’m repeating myself… first a greeting would be nice, second I’m standing in reception, with my luggage, at 6:30 AM. Would it be because I want to ask where the gym is, or because I want to check-out? Leave it for you to guess.

Asked about the bus to the airport, and was told I should leave the hotel, turn right and it was a short walk to the bus stop. After 10 mins walking on the dark, cold and rain I could not find it and, to avoid losing my flight, decided to call a Uber – which cost me 3,5 times more than the bus. Turns out that the bus stop wasn’t to the right, rather I should have turned left coming out of the hotel. Reception gave me the wrong direction.

This hotel clearly has very little regard for its customers and their experience. I won’t bother returning, but I did take the time to leave a review on TripAdvisor, and a bit of advice in here….

1. Smile and greet. Little things and small gestures matter more than one may think. A greeting and a smile not only starts the engagement on the right foot, but also makes up a lot on the overall experience.

2. Plan and prepare. It is obvious that one person in a hotel reception will struggle to take calls, deal with couriers and assist customers simultaneously. A plan helps being one step ahead and avoid caos.

3. Empathise and take ownership. If things go wrong don’t make excuses or try to deflect responsibility. Actively listen, acknowledge and concur, apologise, provide a solution and fulfil your promise.

4. Turn disappointment into delight. What could be a (sometimes unavoidable) negative moment is an opportunity to show the customer how much you care. Act fast and go the extra mile to win he customer back.

M&S and CX consequence of data-driven strategy

For those who don’t know Marks & Spencer (M&S) it is one of the leading retailers, with 1,300+ stores in the UK and overseas. M&S sells clothing, home products and food, online and in store.

M&S has been recognised for great Customer Service and overall Customer Experience, always featuring amongst the leaders of the CX rankings in the UK. And indeed they are also recognised by the quality of their products.

I have been a customer of M&S for some years now, and frequently have lunch at the M&S Food closest to our office. I’ve been a great fan of their stores and advocate of the quality of their products, and customer service.

Back in Jan 2017, UK’s most famous airline, British Airways (BA), announced they were going to stop offering free snacks and drinks in the short haul flights within Europe, and were introducing a “M&S on board” menu.

I’m also a great fan and advocate of BA, and a Bronze level member of their Executive Club. A few weeks ago, was flying to Porto (Portugal) and decided to buy a coke and a packet of my favourite nuts: cashews.

Surprisingly, the cashews were awful. They were stale and really tasted bad. Such that I could actually not finish the small packet. After touch-down in Porto, I decided to let M&S know, via Twitter.

It only took 1 hour for M&S to come back, and do the right thing – as I expected from a company that really goes the extra mile when it comes to Customer Service and Customer Experience.

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M&S apologised, publicly, and asked if I could get in touch, and provide my details. I’ve sent my address and email by DM. To which they responded “Thanks Luis, we’ve passed this onto our Food Team and they’ll be in touch with you directly“.

This was a Thursday, and I came back to London on Sunday. To my surprise, a letter from M&S was already waiting for me in the mailbox, with not only a follow up, but also a £5 gift card – notice that the packet of cashews cost £1.60

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What is impressive is not only the M&S speed, transparency and openness but also the evident link that must exist between the different teams (e.g. customer service, food) and channels (e.g. social, mail). I’m sure this is not by chance.

I must associate this with the M&S strategy since a few years. M&S boss, Steve Rowe, said last year that he wanted to turn the retailer into a “data-driven business” and that customer data should be shared “as far and wide as possible” within the business.

Nathan Ansell, Global Director of Loyalty, Customer Insight and Analytics at M&S, also said that it was “hugely important to show [to employees] there is a direct link between a brilliant customer experience and delivery of results”. And that part of his job was “to make sure everyone has the right access to customer data, so people can make the best possible choices“.

I think the experience that I share above is a good example of what the M&S leaders were saying, and a proof that they are actually implementing it. And that indeed, having the right access to customer data, helps everyone make better, and informed, decisions. And ultimately deliver an outstanding customer experience.

 

Southwest Airline’s fame is well deserved

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I was looking forward to our holiday in California, and to participate in the Modern Customer Experience conference, in Las Vegas. For all sorts of (obvious) reasons. One of them was that I booked two flights with Southwest Airlines (SFO > LAS, and LAS > LAX).

For those who don’t know Southwest Airlines is mentioned as an example, and a success, in several Customer Experience books. It is recognised to be the best airline in the world, when it comes to Customer Service, Experience and Loyalty.

The Airlines’s advocates love it so much that in 2001, after the terrorist attacks in the World Trade Centre, Southwest received thousands of letters from customers who wanted to make sure the company would stay in business. Many of those customers sent checks with the letters. Others returned traveller vouchers.

I had no doubt that the experience was going to be good, but I wanted to experience more. I wanted to experience Southwest in action when things go wrong. To prove that what I read in the books was true. But what if all went well with our flights and travels? Well, the truth is it didn’t really…

When trying to check-in to the SFO > LAS flight, via the mobile app, it said my reservation was cancelled. So I reached out to Southwest via Twitter, on our way to the airport. The response came back in 27 mins. And 5 mins later, after I provided my booking reference via DM, Jennifer had checked us in, even before we got to the airport.

One week later we got to the airport 4 hours before our 15:40 LAS > LAX flight, so I asked at the check-in desk how much would it cost to go in an earlier flight… “Your flight to LAX is delayed 20 mins so I will put you in the stand-by list for the 12:55 flight free of charge. If that one is full you will be also on the stand-by list for the 13:55 flight”. We were called to the 12:55 flight.

We were truly delighted with the customer service, and I decided to praise Southwest on Twitter, whilst I was at the gate. In a matter of minutes, Adam replied back, asked which was our flight, and gave us a treat (a code for free WiFi on the flight), even before take-off.

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So… the stories are true, and Southwest’s fame is indeed deserved. As they seem to have a big focus on the customer, the experience they deliver, and the service they provide. And the good thing is that some times it doesn’t take much. Small and subtle things make the Customer Experience great. Some good examples below, related to our experience.

Southwest doesn’t try to make (what in CX terms we call) “bad profit“. Each passenger is allowed two pieces of checked luggage free of charge (up to 50 pounds), and a carry-on bag plus a personal item (e.g. backpack, purse). And, if for some reason (even when it is not their fault) there is a delay in a flight, they pro-actively put passengers in earlier flights (or in stand-by lists) free of charge.

Southwest operates as a whole when it comes to customer service. They decided to be there, immediately responsive, on the channel that is most convenient to the client, and they decided to trust the customer, removing all the policies and barriers, resolving issues within minutes, without hassling with too many questions. Moreover, they decided to empower their staff, letting them decide when and where to give goodwill and turn customers into advocates.

10 easy things BT could do to improve CX

As many other customers of BT (British Telecom), I subscribed a fibre package that includes voice, broadband, and TV. I also enabled direct debit, and opted out of paper or even email bill. The only thing I get is a monthly notification that my bill is issued and ready to view online. Normally I check the value (if it is what was agreed) and leave it. But in the last couple of months noticed the value increased by £15, so decided to check the bill, which, as you would expect (but not accept these days) was indecipherable. So contacted BT to ask for clarification.

My preferred channel is Live Chat, so I requested a chat session. The chat launch form asked me for Name, Phone Number, Email Address and Topic of Enquiry. Customer Service agent Naveen greeted me, asked me for my account number, and after I asked if he could clarify my bill, dropped me a whole load of pre-formatted messages with generic links to policy and communication documents about fee increases.

1. Why would BT ask customers for Name, Phone Number and Email Address on the chat launch form, if that doesn’t help the agent identify customer accounts, requires agent to ask again, and increases customer effort by forcing customer to repeat information already provided?

2. Why would BT guide its customer service agents to flood customer’s with pre-formatted blurb and generic links to policy documentation, on a Live Chat session, which is supposed to be a 1-to-1 personalised conversation?

I thanked Naveen for the information but said it didn’t help me, nor was it related to my question. I didn’t want a reason for the increase, but rather a clarification on my bill, products and services included, and associated fees. He started by saying that I should not “look at the left side of the bill” as that was only “for BT’s reference“. Then started going in circles. It was clear that not even him could understand or clarify my bill.

3. Why would BT put on a customer bill, information and description which is confusing and not for customer’s reference or understanding?

4. Why would BT make billing processes, and bills themselves, so difficult that not even their trained customer service agents dealing with billing enquiries can understand, or are able to clarify a simple enquiry re. service fees?

Naveen asked if he could call me, saying it would be “easier said than written“. But before he called, asked me if by any chance I had another account, and if I could provide my phone number.

5. Why would BT not give their customer service agents the necessary (crucial!) 360-degree view of the customer, avoiding them having to ask the customer for information that they, themselves, should have in the first place?

6. Why would BT ask for a phone number on the chat launch form, if that information is not even passed to the customer service agent, forcing him to ask the same question again, and the customer to repeat information already provided?

The call only lasted a few seconds. Naveen asked me to close the chat session first, and informed me that he was transferring me to the billing department. I got transferred to a line and… got an automated voice message saying the line was only open on weekdays (it was Sunday!). I wasn’t sure if Naveen was sloppy or trying to be clever.

I requested another chat session. Surprise, surprise!… got routed to Naveen again. Could not help asking him if he knew the line was closed (he must have known!). Initially he denied saying that the called dropped, and after I confronted him, saying that I heard the automated voice message, he accepted it was closed (i.e. he lied at first) and started going around saying he was confused by the change of the hour to summer time!

7. Why would BT not teach its customer service agents to be honest and transparent? To acknowledge an error and apologise? To straight away say sorry and positively offer themselves to resolve the situation?

Naveen asked if he could call again, and on the phone said he was going to talk to the billing department and call me back in 10 mins. I rejected the offer. After all the billing department was closed on Sundays, right?! I sensed he was again trying to get rid of me, again. So I said I would be happy to wait whilst he transferred me.

A few minutes went on with Naveen trying to convince me he would call back “I promise sir, you have my word“. And me saying I would be glad to wait for 10 mins, until he transferred me. Running out of options he said I was not understanding what he was saying, and threw “this is your last chance“. I didn’t understand if it was a threat or something else, but because it seemed to be the end-of-the-line, I asked to speak to his supervisor.

Naveen’s response was as funny as it was stupid “it is useless to talk to my supervisor as he is equally trained“. I said that was irrelevant – even though sad, if true – and demanded to talk to the supervisor. After resisting for a bit, he finally accepted, asked me to hold on the line whilst he transferred me, and… hang up the phone.

8. Why would BT not have pre-defined processes and guides, specifically for these steps in the journey where there might be disruption (e.g. billing department closed on weekends, and front-line agent not able to resolve customer’s enquiry), which would help a customer service agent push back a customer, without hurting the customer experience?

I contacted BT for the third time in 60 minutes, after Naveen got rid of me twice. Got through to Krunal, a customer service agent who wasn’t able to explain my bill, but told me I was up for contract renewal, which would give me a £10 discount on my final bill – but not without, again, asking me for phone and account number, as well as name.

9. Why would BT not pro-actively contact customers who are up for renewal and eligible for offers or promotions, which would make them pay less, be more satisfied, trust BT, and keep being loyal to the company?

I’m happy with the broadband and TV service, so I renewed. But asked Krunal to open a complaint re. Naveen. Told him the whole story and got surprised with his response: “Maybe he is having a bad day today!!“. If it wasn’t for Krunal being helpful and swift re. the contract and offering, I would have been annoyed with the response. But it was enough already, so I left it there and only asked feedback on action taken re. complaint.

10. Why would BT allow their reputation and brand be hurt by a (definitely) young, inexperienced and scared customer service agent, when all he needed was some guidance and training on how to deal with billing queries (which are always complex and sensitive); a system that would give him a full view of the customer, information and knowledge; and a process (and procedures) that would empower him to make decisions, take actions and resolve customer’s queries?

With the setup that BT seems to have, its customer service agents are helpless and get frustrated, by not being able to resolve customers queries, having to jump from silo to departments, and ending up delivering a fragmented, bad and strenuous experience.

Gatwick, not so express!

Back in 2 January I was coming back to London, from my Xmas holidays with the family, and had my pre-booked Gatwick Express ticket to London. Surprise, surprise! The service was disrupted on that weekend due to works.

Nothing we could do apart from waiting 1 hour for the next Southern Railway train which took 1,5 hours to get into London, rather than the usual 25 mins the Gatwick Express takes – reason why I paid much more for the ticket.

Obviously I contacted Gatwick Express customer service, via email, asking for a refund. The automatic acknowledgement email came back stating it would take them 20 days to respond (call that express service!).

And they did. On the 22 January I received an email asking me to send the electronic copy of the tickets. Problem was, I bought them on the train station and I already had attached a picture of them to my original email.

The response was quick. The advisor asked me to go online, download a form, fill it in and send it via post to the “Refunds Team“. I was obviously not happy with this and tweeted about it @GatwickExpress. Unlike times I praised them, and they came back asap thanking, this time no one replied.

There are many things wrong here, and I will list them below hoping that someone from Gatwick Express customer service can read it:

  • Disrupting trains on a weekend where thousands are coming back from their Xmas holidays is obviously not a good idea.
  • An SLA of 20 days to respond to a customer’s email is absolutely ludicrous.
  • Asking a customer to send the tickets when he already done it shows lack of organisation and attention to detail.
  • Asking a customer to request a refund via post is appalling (does your customer service even live on the XXI century!?)
  • Forcing a customer to use post is a deliberate manoeuvre to make it harder for people to request refunds, hoping they will quit.

It is clear to me that Gatwick Express…

  • Does not have a customer centric strategy
  • Does not have a customer experience focus
  • Does not have a 360-degree view of the customer
  • Does not have joined up operations and systems
  • Does not worry with customers expectations and effort
  • Does not want to go the extra mile for its customers
  • Does not want to embrace the digital world

Maybe they are happy with the amount of customers they have, and not worried about retaining them or acquiring more. As far as I’m concerned, I will start using the competition (Southern Railway) whenever I need to go to Gatwick Airport.

Tesco – How “systems” get in the way of a good CX

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It’s been a few years since I buy my groceries at Tesco.com, and so far I have no complaints. It’s easy to search and buy on the mobile app, they are always on time and drivers are very nice.

Truth is, several times, drivers would call me asking where was the building, which I would find strange. Some time ago it happened again. And this time the driver said “it would be easier if the address had the building name“.

I double-check my account details. In fact, it had the flat number, street and post code, but not the building name. When trying to amend, I realised I couldn’t as the post code lookup would only bring up the flat number.

So I decided to contact Tesco, by chat (in my opinion the most convenient assisted channel). James, the customer service agent, was very nice but could not resolve my issue. Why? Guess… because of the “systems”.

You can see for yourself on the screenshot above. James told me that he could not amend my address manually, that it would take 4 to 6 weeks for the IT team to fix it, and that I needed to make note on the “delivery instructions” field.

The consequence of this response is obvious…

  • Staff Experience Decrease – No freedom to resolve customer’s issue; Frustration; Irritation.
  • Efficiency Reduction – Driver going in circles and taking more time to find the delivery address.
  • Increased Costs – Driver forced to call customer in order to confirm delivery address.
  • Customer Effort Increase – Customer required to replicate same comment in every order.

This will make Tesco deliver a poorer Customer Experience. Not only for the concerned customer (in this case, me) but also to other customers who are waiting for their orders. When their turn comes, the driver is already delayed and stressed.

Notice that this started with a very simple query: Can I (or you, Tesco) change my address? Something that is mundane and, I’m sure, a very frequent request from customers. How can the answer be so complicated? (and 4 to 6 weeks, really?!)

Important to say that it is not the system’s fault. The responsibility lies on those people who designed and implemented processes and systems, in a way that it does not allow an agent to resolve the simplest of the requests.

Aggressive CC agents deliver Outrageous CX

Today I came across this outrageous example of customer service. Ryan Block, a journalist, recorded his call to the Comcast call centre, when he was trying to cancel his contract. The call turned into a “customer service odyssey“, with the call centre agent refusing to cancel the contract and even being rude at some stage. This reminded me of a very recent bad experience I had with Three (3), the mobile provider in UK.

Disclaimer: I left Three almost a year ago. Not because the service was bad, or because the customer service was not good enough, but because I needed a tariff to make/take calls when I’m abroad. And maybe because their target customer is different, they didn’t have competitive tariffs. I went to O2 – after the worse customer experience with Vodafone UK.

My girlfriend is still with Three. Last week she received a telemarketing call. The agent offered her a new phone and contract for £16/month. As it was cheaper than what she has (£21/month), she showed interest. But eventually found that the offer was not a replacement, but an addition. Straight away she said that she was not interested.

But the agent insisted, saying that it was a great offer. My girlfriend concurred but repeated she didn’t need it. The agent insisted again, saying she should take the opportunity of a good promotion to get a new phone. My girlfriend said that she would actually like to have a new phone, but didn’t make any sense to have two contracts and two numbers.

So the agent insisted again, suggesting her to give the old contract and phone to a family member or friend, and keep the new ones for her. My girlfriend replied that she didn’t have any family member or friend that would accept or need that, as everyone already had a contract and phone. But he insisted and said he would send her a SMS with the T&Cs.

At this point I already had enough of the conversation so I asked my girlfriend to let me speak with the agent. I picked up the phone and kindly asked him two things: a) if he didn’t understand that she didn’t need or want to take the offer; b) Why was he insisting with a person who told him 10 times “No, thank you“. He started pretending that the signal was bad and he could not hear me.

So, I asked him his name, employee ID and also the ID of the call. The answer was “Ok sir, if you don’t want the offer that is fine. Have a nice day“. To what I replied “I hope you don’t hang up the call before giving me what I asked“. Again the answer was that he could not understand. So I repeated slowly “Please give me your name, employee ID and ID of the call, if you can“. He hung up the call in my face.

Obviously I called Three customer service straight away, and asked to make a complaint against these aggressive and abusive telemarketing calls, and this agent in particular. The customer service agent listened, concurred the behaviour was not acceptable, apologised, logged the complaint, and promised his supervisor would call me in the next 48 hours to give me feedback/update on the situation. 48 hours passed, nothing so far.

So mapping once more the experience to the CX pillars (from Nunwood)…

Three didn’t behave uprightly (Integrity). And then despite making an effort to empathise (Empathy) they failed with their promise (Expectation) and didn’t solve my issue (Resolution), forcing me now to call back asking for an update (Effort).

Poor vs Great Customer Experience

5 weeks ago I went to the City of London Dry Cleaning Co. in Canary Wharf, as I had a suit and a jacket to dry clean. It was my girlfriend’s jacket. A very nice Massimo Dutti padded jacket with knit side panels and contrasting leather details. The gentleman looked twice to the label in the jacket and said “that is fine, you can leave it with us“.

A few days later I went to pick it up and noticed that the jacket was ruined. The leader smudged to the fabric, in the pockets and collar. I showed it to the lady who immediately looked into the label and, after confirming it was ok, said “leave it with me, I will find out what happened and sort it out“. A week later she called me saying that they were still looking into it. Ok, I said, no rush.

3 weeks later I happened to be passing by, so I went in, and asked for the jacket. It was there, with a letter from the company attached, saying that the jacket was cleaned as instructed on label and therefore it was not their responsibility. I had a bit of an argument with the lady. Told her that I thought they were not being reasonable and asking her to put herself on my shoes.

The truth was she didn’t care. Nor her company, for that matter. They blamed it on Massimo Dutti. At some point she was even rude (speaking over me) and ended up turning her back on me when I said that I was a powerless and helpless customer with a ruined jacket, that was just asking them to sort out a problem that they themselves created.

So I went to Massimo Dutti in Canary Wharf, asked for the store manager and explained the situation. He could have said he was not able to help me: a) I bought the jacket in Regent Street’s store 9 months ago; b) I didn’t have the purchase receipt; c) It was obvious that it was the dry cleaning fault. Instead, with a smile in his face, he said “I will certainly help you sir“.

He read the letter (from the dry cleaner) and checked the label. I asked if he thought it was not their fault. He said: “That doesn’t matter sir. If they don’t take responsibility, I will not let a customer of ours in that situation, with a ruined jacket. I will give you a refund or you can choose another product for the same value. I just need to see a proof of purchase“.

So, after I showed him a bank statement (he didn’t demand any print outs or anything) he said we could choose another product or refund. My girlfriend chose a new (very similar) jacket, that cost exactly the same, and even bought another blouse to match the jacket (which she paid separately).

Needless to say that my girlfriend and I will not return to the City of London Dry Cleaning Co. (who just lost two customers) and were delighted with Massimo Dutti (who just earned two loyal customers and advocates).

Now, from a Customer Experience perspective, and picking up the Nunwood CX pillars, here is what City of London Dry Cleaning Co. did wrong and Massimo Dutti did right:

  • Personalisation: An individualised attention, and an effort to understand my motivations, needs and circumstances, created an emotional connection.
  • Integrity: By being trustworthy and taking responsibility, they generated trust. Individual staff actions made me like and trust the brand.
  • Expectation: CSAT = Delivery – Expectation. By exceeding my expectations the company provided a good CX and now have a satisfied customer.
  • Effort: Removing unnecessary obstacles and bureaucracy, making it quick and easy to sort out my issue, they were driving loyalty and advocacy.
  • Resolution: Apologising sincerely, acting fast and resolving my issue turned a poor experience into a great experience, recovering an unhappy and frustrated customer.
  • Empathy: Listening, understanding and putting themselves in my shoes, they created a rapport. Furthermore, they concurred, explained and went the extra mile.