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Why is customer experience more important than service?

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Some recent research indicated that the customer experience is now a more important competitive differentiator than customer service.  I twittered this and got an interesting response from Nigel Dean that raised the question: “Surely Service is a massive part of the customer’s experience? Can the experience be good if the service isn’t?” 

Admittedly I have found it hard to think of an example of when a customer experience would be considered good when the service wasn’t but, on the other hand, quite often the customer experience can be poor even when the service is good.  Essentially service is one contributing factor to the customer experience but it is wrapped up in many other factors many of which are not directly in the control of the provider.

Consider the interaction with the customer. On one side the provider presents things to the customer: quality, a brand, trained staff, service and so on.   They provide these things in the hope – even the strong belief – that they will delight the customer. On the other side of the deal the customer takes away an experience. 

But this means the focus of the service provider is on what they provide and not on what the customer actually sees, feels, touches and emotes about.  These reactions constitute the customer experience and they are the factors that will affect the result or outcome of the experience.

Understanding the customer experience is an exercise in empathy.  What is their emotional point when they first deal with you? Are they angry, desperate, indifferent etc?  These are emotions generated before contact and quite often be less than rational.  What does the customer expect from your brand? I expect different things  from a Ramsay restaurant than my local greasy spoon where frankly the service is often better but my experience at Chez Ramsay is better.     

How did they react to your way of doing business – remember, it may not be theirs. Was their issue resolved, be it service or purchase?   Did they get value for money? 

And finally how was the transaction loop closed – what was their emotional reaction to what happened?  What was the outcome of those reactions? Will they promote you or be a detractor? In the age of social networking the voice of the customer travels at the speed of light through a network of millions so this is crucial.  Do their peers think the experience/outcome was cool? (Peer pressure is a surprisingly powerful motivating force from kids with the latest gadget to business people and their BMWs?)

For a time there was a philosophy around called Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that attempted to round up this ‘experience issue’ but it suffered from two flaws.  It suggests you can control the relationship with the customer – the customer is now in control.  And the second problem is that CRM is about making managers look inwards at how they do things:  structure,  technology, processes etc and not at the customers’ experiences.  Having said that, CRM software tools are great at collecting massive amounts of raw data and we are now seeing some clever analytical tools work that data to give tremendous insight into customer activity and behaviour.  There is a caveat there, of course, that previous behaviour is no guarantee of future behaviour.

One other route to understanding the customer experience is to carry out a customer satisfaction survey but that will give you a figure for “how much” – it does not give any real insight into “why?” or “what was the outcome?” which are much more important if you are to keep doing the right things and put right the bad.

There are some real experts in this area – not just an old hack blithering on – and the one I would recommend is Colin Shaw at Beyond Philosophy.

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My guilty secret – I like Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary

November 4, 2009 Leave a comment

There I’ve said it.  That’s a weight off my mind. 

For years the “customer service industry” has been saying what a poor airline company he runs; that they are shifty and deceitful, that they offer terrible customer service  and indeed that CEO Michael O’Leary himself is the service industry’s bogeyman.  He is the monster under the bed who will get us and draw us into his evil ways if ever we let our service standards drop.  Instead, we are told,  what we should be is more like that nice Sir Richard Branson.

So why after 20 years of writing about customer service have I recently felt drawn to Mr O’Leary – not in a physical way, perhaps I should add –  I have never met him personally, I think I’ve only flown Ryanair once (when Bournemouth Airport was a shack next to a grass runway), and despite my lifelong love of the Irish (well, Phil Lynott mainly) it’s not a nationalistic thing either. 

I think it is for two reasons.  Firstly he puts customer service in its proper context.  Service is a means to end and that end is enhancing shareholder value – simple as that.  It is not all the fluffy bunny, cuddly stuff that you pay through the nose for at other airlines (anyone for a £30 TV dinner?).  It’s about having an identified customer segment and providing what they want at a price they want to pay.  Cheap, safe, low cost,  reliable, inexpensive, convenient, cost effective  air travel. 

The second reason is because everyone else seems to hate him – he appeals to an iconoclast and rebellious spirit.   Read some of his quotes some of them are gold dust. He takes on the mean-spirited industry giants and kicks butt.   He is synonymous with his own brand, keeps it in the limelight by force of character rather increasingly deperate media stunts – this BBC interview is typical.  And he hasn’t grown a ridiculous hippy beard yet.  He is what he says he is – someone who runs an airline because he wants to make money. 

The fact that his service policy is a little off beat should be celebrated.  Instead of criticising because he may want to charge people to have ice in their drinks, we should celebrate the fact that he is offering choice and that if you don’t want that particular service you don’t have to pay for it which you do with all other airlines. In fact you don’t have to fly Ryanair at all but some 67 million times last year people decided they wanted to.    He is criticised for driving hard bargains with suppliers – nowadays managers should be criticised for not driving hard bargains.

I am not saying the company is perfect so please don’t post your stories about how your luggage ended up in Uzbekistan or how the check in staff were not as deferential and subservient as you felt service people should be.   

I like him and we need more like him.