How the AA excels at delivering the perfect service experience – 11 lessons (Part II)


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This post completes the conversation that I started in Part I of this post which you can find here.

11 lessons for crafting a perfect service experience

1: make it easy for your customers to get access to your contact details so that it occurs (to your customers) as no effort at all. Yes, you can put the number on all of your existing interaction channels. Can you go further and issue a membership card like the AA does and give the key details including the contact number on that one card? Why not build an app for that? Yes so that the smartphone user just hits the app and the app does all the work?

2: make it easy for customers to get through to a friendly human voice. First and foremost it means having the right number of people available to take calls. And instead of unhelpful messages like “we are experiencing high call volumes”, “check out our website”, “your call is important to us” do something useful. For example, let the customer know where he is in the queue and how long he is likely to have to wait. Better still use technology to ring the customer back – when his turn comes up – so that he can do something useful with his time. My colleagues in the customer management community tell me that the technology to do this exists. What is missing is the will to do it.

3: use the information that is available to you to make the customer’s life easier. For example, the AA have clearly sourced vehicle data from the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority) and so I simply had to provide the registration number rather than spell out the details of the car. This saved us both time and the AA probably had better data on the vehicle than I would have been able to provide. Incidentally, most organisations can a lot better in this area.

4: make specific, measurable, commitments like the AA lady did when she said that someone will be with you within 1 hour. When you make nice sounding vague statements I, the customer, simply do not believe you. When you make specific commitments – especially in a measured, confident tone – then you inspire my confidence in you. What is more, you reduce my uncertainty, I know what to expect and when and so I can better manage my time, myself. Specific commitments reduce uncertainty (and risk) in the customer’s mind replacing it with a certain piece of mind – a highly desired state.

5: conduct a human conversation and look for opportunities to acknowledge and validate your customer. Let’s face it most of us (if not all of us) experience a surge of joy and affinity when someone who matters to us acknowledges and validates us. Plenty of people turn to counsellors to experience that feeling. So imagine the emotional connection you build with your customers when you treat them that way. Incidentally, that way of treating customers is the ultimately way of letting your customers know that you respect them. The AA lady excelled when she thanked me for offering to take a back seat if someone needed the AA more than me. It is not just what she said it was the way that she said – genuine surprise and delight. Incidentally, you cannot conduct a human conversation if you are keen to get them off the phone. That has the same effect as talking with someone and noticing that he keeps looking at his watch and over your shoulder towards someone else.

6: honour your word. No doubt you are familiar with “under promise, over deliver” – that is great if your promise is acceptable to the customer. Yet many times it is not like the companies that quote 2 days to respond to your email when we expect a response in several hours. The other aspect is that you can honor your word even when you cannot keep your promise. How? As soon as you figure out that you are not in a position to keep your word then contact your customer, explain the situation and sort out the mess. You can only sort out the mess by asking the customer “How can I make this right by you so that we can move beyond this with no hard feelings?” Incidentally the best way of you losing my respect is for you to repeatedly break your word – to me or to my fellows (think social media and social networks). Incidentally, honouring your word is all or nothing affair rather like being pregnant – you cannot be half pregnant.

7: do the job that the customer has hired you to do – deliver the desired outcome. Did I value Andy’s friendly manner? Yes. Did I value Andy’ s knowledge of cars? Yes. Yet neither of those attributes would have had made up for my car being stuck on the drive. The fact is that this was a great experience because Andy got the job done. He (and so the AA) delivered the outcome that I had hired the AA for when I had joined as a member: my car was working and I was mobile once more.

8: take the opportunity to educate your customers. If the customer turns to you to get a job done then it is likely that you have some knowledge that you can share that will leave the customer better off. For example, if you are selling shoes then you can suggest tips on how the customer can best take care of those shoes. In my case Andy told me that my car, an old Mercedes, is prone to the kind of problem I encountered if it is started and then not drive for some 10 minutes or so. So his tip if you start the engine then leave it running for 10 minutes or so. This is another major failing and an area in which organisations can easily improve if they put their heart into it (I will be writing on this later).

9: no matter what technical job you are doing remember that there is always a human job – to make sure that your customer feels great about doing business with you. Too often we get wrapped up in the technical task and forget about our flesh and blood human beings. Andy (and the AA) did not make that mistake. Andy was wearing the right clothes, he was clean, he smiled and talked with me. Specifically, he used my language and asked me simple questions that I could answer. He told me what he was doing. And most importantly he did not do anything to make me feel foolish. Even when I felt foolish and apologised Andy reassured me and by doing so he helped shore up my self-esteem rather than diminish it. If the “experience” bit means anything it means pay attention to the human being and his subjective experience throughout the encounter

10: there is no substitute for genuinely caring about your customers (and your role). When you genuinely care about your customers then that becomes part of your DNA and manifests itself in everything that you do. In every single interaction that I have had with the AA I have been left with the experience that the AA folks care about me (their customer) and the job that they are doing. The ultimate act of caring was the way that Andy ended the encounter: “We’re here to help you!” I took that to mean “Don’t feel bad about calling me out over a flooded engine that I fixed in two minutes. My job, our job, is to help you – whatever help you need big or small!” He didn’t say that in words because he did not have to – he said it in his whole being from the moment that I met him at the door to the time that he left. You can’t fake Being. Yet too many companies that are embarked on the customer bandwagon are doing their best to fake it.

11: the customer facing staff can put on a beautiful show and deliver a great experience to the extent that the backstage people do their work. One of my sons loves to sing and is in a choir that sang at the Proms (this is a major annual event in the UK) recently. I can tell you that it took a lot of planning and practice to plan and pull of that event. It requires a dedication to the cause such that all the details are taken care of. Too many customer experience folks are focussing on the performers on the stage (and the play) and yet not paying the right level of attention to the backstage: the people, the propos…….As the AA has the Which? award for two years running that suggests that it has taken care of the whole package – the performers on the stage and the stuff backstage. Who are the most important backstage people? The people at the top (The Tops) who ultimately set direction, shape culture and management style, make investment decisions, set up KPI’s……….

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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