People: The Secret Sauce in Customer Experience Success

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There is a tremendous opportunity to innovate the customer experience with digital or social technology. One of my favorite examples is Tesco’s Virtual Subway Store in South Korea. Shopper sees a virtual display in the subway, orders by mobile phone, and the store delivers!

Really cool stuff, but time and time again, when I ask people to recall a “memorable experience” they don’t talk about technology. After the initial rush of excitement of something new, great technology fades into the background, like the ATM that always works or online banking that is easy to use.



People are what people talk about most often in great (or terrible) experiences. Yesterday this was confirmed for me once again in a Chief Customer Officer Forum organized by Bill Price of Driva Solutions, a good friend and long-timer supporter of CustomerThink who invited me to speak to his meeting of CX executives in San Francisco.

I asked the group to think about recent “memorable” experiences, good or bad. Out of 20 people, 12 recounted positive experiences and 8 negative. About 80% of these memorable interactions were about how an employee handled a situation. To be sure, some had to do with process, policies and technology. But it was amazing how much personal interactions counted.

Here are a few examples to illustrate what I’m talking about:

  • A UA frequent flyer was upgraded to first class, was told they would serve a meal. After getting on board the flight, found that wasn’t true. Flight attendant wasn’t empathetic, said the passenger could buy a meal from coach.

    My take: This was a process screw up that could have been recovered from by just giving the passenger a meal from coach. Why wasn’t the flight attendant empowered to do so?

  • During car maintenance an Infinity owner was informed her car had a small ding. Declined to spend the $100 to fix. Dealer fixed it anyway for free.

    My take: This was a small repair that didn’t cost the dealer much (a few minutes to pull out the dent) yet earned a lot in customer loyalty. Great example of Marketing Lagniappe (“a little something extra”).

  • A customer of a pool and spa company absolutely hated the company, due to lousy service. Yet he shopped there anyway because it had the stuff he needed, and once a year they ran a promotion. During his last visit he was pleasantly surprised to find a delightful service experience, because the store had a new manager.

    My take: Classic story of a “trapped” customer who was not really loyal, but shopped anyway. Leadership turned things around, not the store, products or price. How much do you think the positive WOM will be worth to that store?

  • A Saks customer bought a new dress for an important event. Got it home to find the security device still attached. Called Saks, they sent someone over immediately and removed it.

    My take: It’s a good thing that UA flight attendant didn’t get that call! (“Could you drive back to the store and, oh, be sure to bring your receipt, 3 forms of ID, and $20 as a service fee to pay us to remove the tag.”)

  • A Cuisinart owner had a problem with the product, finally sent it in for repairs after several calls. Three weeks later, no replacement, no update. Called for a status and was told it would be another 3-4 weeks. Now using a competing product and wouldn’t recommend Cuisinart to others.

    My take: A poorly designed service process that left the customer in the dark. Even high-quality “premium” products have alternatives. Why didn’t Cuisinart give a replacement order a higher priority? Send an automated email with estimated ship date? Have a clue?

  • BofA customer was amazed to find a rep offer to help reduce accounts down to one and eliminate monthly charges. A personal touch she didn’t receive at a small home town bank that wasn’t knowledgeable and didn’t want to help.

    My take: Great example of building trust. Big doesn’t have to mean impersonal. Why don’t more companies help their customers “rightsize” their spending, instead of letting customers discover, for example, that the best deals go to new customers? Companies are training customers to threaten to quit, because that’s how you get a fair deal.



To be sure, some of these incidents could have been avoided entirely because, as Bill Price likes to say, “the best service is no service.” But “stuff” happens even in the best-run companies, so service experiences are a great opportunity to stand out.

Granted 20 people is not a statistically valid sample. But the results of this exercise were amazingly similar to a study I did a few years ago. In an online survey we asked customers to write about a memorable experience and found roughly 50/50 split of positive/negative experiences, where people-related factors accounted for about 70% of memorable experiences.

In that study we also found these were the top 5 attributes of companies that delivered “consistently excellent customer experiences” where you’ll note the importance of empowered, capable and friendly employees:

  1. Well-trained and Helpful Employees
  2. Excellent Customer Service
  3. High-Quality Goods and Services
  4. Friendly and Caring Employees
  5. Personal Attention, Reward for Loyalty


Thanks again to Bill for inviting me to join the CCOF meeting, and to all the participants for sharing their stories!

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