Customer experience is one of the hottest topics in business today. It has become the business buzzword. The reason couldn’t be more straightforward and underscores a clear business message in today’s crowded marketplace: Your customer experience defines the unique point of differentiation for your products and services and is, perhaps, your only real opportunity to stand out.
Yet, despite all the money invested in CX, most brands under perform. Is that so surprising? Not according to David Burrows of The Design Agency in the UK, who says that “40 percent of marketing investment is wasted, as ill-informed or demotivated behaviour by staff unwittingly undermines the promotional promise. The result is that 68 percent of those who do buy go away because of how they were treated.”
The a major reason for this is that most brand strategies today still rely heavily on advertisements, marketing, endorsements and other media-based approaches in an economy that has become predominantly experience based. While marketers can fairly easily present one consistent external face of the brand, delivering customer service that enhances the brand is another matter.
Customer service is a dynamic exchange between human beings, who are highly individualistic. All too often the brand effort is hijacked – or at best, is not taken advantage of – because employees are not aware of and, don’t understand, the consequences of all their brand related behaviours.
The impact is profound. First-hand experience strongly influences consumers’ repurchase decisions. That’s because customers become primed by every experience to create more positive memories of earlier brand experiences. Based on their research, Richard Elliott and Kritsadarat Wattanasuwan at Oxford University, conclude, “lived experience with a brand, through purchase and usage over the life cycle, will tend to dominate the mediated experience of advertising…” Reinforcing a brand through every customer touch-point, therefore, can provide the repetition necessary to inspire repeat purchasing decisions.
Indeed, the Gallup Organisation polled 6,000 passengers and discovered that, by a ratio of between three and four to one, employees of airlines are more important than advertising messages in building brand loyalty. Banking customers are more likely to return, by a ratio of 10 to 20 times, if the organisation has outstanding employees. And in the telecommunications industry, the loyalty of customers is influenced by employees of the organisation at a ratio of between three and five to one, compared to advertising.
And, dissatisfaction with customer service is burgeoning. Not only is this discontent reflected in many nationwide and individual organisational surveys, but it’s now the talk of the Internet with entire Web sites devoted to slamming different brands. Even as businesses struggle to improve their customer service and top management aims at a strong brand, the word is out that service standards have fallen. In fact, if you believe what’s being said, service stinks and it’s getting worse. A study way back in the early 2000s put a large exclamation mark on this point. A survey of 4,000 customers of nine Blue Chip Australian organisations sponsored by the respected Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP) revealed that only one in 20 customers trusts the organisations that serve them! Has much changed since then?
So what was the key reason consumers gave for this lack of trust?
“they don’t deliver on their promises”.
For example, when organisations promise that you are “more than a number” and yet the first information a service representative asks for is an “account number”, it’s no wonder many consumers are becoming increasingly cynical about the role and purpose of marketing. Consumers do ask: Can I trust this organisation? Was my experience of their products and services aligned to the expectations they had created? Is this organisation following through on commitments, or is its advertising just so many words and images with no action behind them? Clearly, a company’s ability to deliver what it declares is fundamental to its reputation. Therefore, the ability to move from a credible strategy to authentic delivery is paramount in building trust.
Customers are strongly influenced to return or re-purchase by their first-hand experiences with service representatives.The skin care product may be exactly the same product that the client bought the last time she was in your spa, but the person who helped with the purchase is probably a different person, or perhaps the same person but in a different mood. The exchange will impact the client's interaction with the skin care product she purchased and her memories of the spa experience. In fact, branding ultimately shapes organisations precisely because it is trust based: we promise, we deliver. When this is not done, customer relationships are more likely to be short-term, immediate, and transactional—and to contribute little to building brand trust.
The public has leapt ahead of organisations on this one. Consumers do not hold one idea of service in their minds: the public is not generic when it comes to service. When evaluating customer service, consumers hold a multitude of personal, specific and unique expectations about services and products relating to specific brands.
Think about it. If you want to distinguish your brand position from another organisation’s brand, it is difficult to do that when offering advertising that looks like everyone else’s. In the same way, generic service will not enhance your customers’ experience about the uniqueness of your brand. Customer exchanges must reflect and illuminate features of the brand promise and brand values.
As one hotelier remarked to us “Our marketing collateral is very good. But do we deliver? If we really delivered what we imply, our customer-return rate would be much higher". The personal service component of the brand experience is therefore a powerful competitive weapon, waiting to be unleashed. But to move service delivery from the bland to the brand, we must do much better in engaging those tasked with overseeing and managing service. Research by Scott Davis and Michael Dunn across ninety global organisations shows that 45% of managers lack an understanding of their brand. Sixty two percent of respondents highlighted lack of senior manager support for their brands. Both of these deficiencies were judged by corporations as threats to their long-term business success.
Of course, some companies are attempting to bridge this void. Unfortunately, many are continuing to use, without much questioning, branding models that are more appropriate to fast moving consumer goods. Customer service scripting is a case in point. Tightly scripted, rule-driven approaches are fraught with difficulty, because they often lead to inauthentic service exchanges that leave customers either ambivalent or scratching their heads in wonderment about the service they have received. It can also lead to bored, underutilised and frustrated staff.
Brand experts Bob Tyrell and Tim Westall make the same point with a slightly different caution.
“Branding customer service requires something much more complex than the bolt-on activities currently parading as ‘relationship’ building. It implies developing a recognizable style and personality, and that has important implications for brand marketing.”
There are those who say that branded service is too expensive and too difficult. But ironically, the big expense for organisations is in shifting from poor generic customer service to excellent generic customer service. The cost lies not just in training people service skills, but investing in all systems and technology required to deliver quick, assured, high quality, error-free service. By contrast, if you are at the point where you know what your brand promise is, then it is more likely that your internal structure and systems are coherent with that branded proposition, and a relatively low investment is required to move from generic customer service to branded customer service. That’s the service that’s going to get you noticed and more profitable. That’s the service that is “on-brand” and therefore “on-customer”.
Top tips for those wanting to build a culture that supports a great customer experience:
If you want to create a culture that supports the customer experience your brand promises, and which clearly differentiates you in the market. we'd love to talk.
Article is based on extracts from Branded Customer Service - the new competitive edge, by Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart (Berrett-Koehler, 2004). Branded Customer Service is an ON-Brand Partners offering.
One of my favourite articles of all time is The Neuroscience of Leadership by Rock & Schwartz. Sounds technical and scary but it isn't. It really helps to explains why us weird humans do the things we do.
The article appeals because it helps to explain why the application of the principles of behavioural psychology so critical in driving organisational change. Simply demanding compliance ("you will now do this") from people does not work if you want to achieve sustainable, authentic change because humans have to believe in what they are asked to do. And only then will they come along for the ride - the 'why' is so important to us humans.
Another excellent article on the subject from Strategy+Business titled 'That's the way we (used to) do things around here', also helps to explain that change doesn't just happen simply because the boss decrees it. As the article says...
"New behaviours can be put in place, but only by reframing attitudes that are so entrenched that they are almost literally embedded in the physical pathways of employees’ neurons. These beliefs have been reinforced over the years through everyday routines and hundreds of workplace conversations. They all have the same underlying theme: “That’s the way we do things around here.”
So to change 'the way things are done around here', and get peoples heads out of the sand, requires a change in the conversations they are having, which then leads to an actual rewiring of the brain (mindsets) and which ultimately leads to new (and better) behaviours. Sounds like something out of science fiction but then what doesn't sometimes.
The article highlights that the "potential impact of neuroscience on management practice is mostly unrealized". This is surprising considering the compelling evidence to support it and this is something ON-Brand Partners is out to change because experience proves that only by recognising how human beings actually work, can we begin to change the mindsets that drive ingrained behaviours.
Basically, people aren't robots and never will be. Yes, demanding compliance ("you must do this") can get short-term gains, but this is not sustainable as people have to believe in what they are doing. And only then will they give you that elusive discretionary effort that every organisation wants, something most commonly known as 'better productivity'. Yes, CEO's, CFO's and COO's, productivity is pretty much nothing more sometimes than making people believe in, or feel good about what they are doing. Humans are as weird as that.
For anyone with an interest in achieving sustainable behavioural change in their organisation, I highly recommend you read these two articles. You'll no doubt see a lot of your own behaviour reflected in them but that's OK because you are only human - perfectly flawed like everyone else, but capable of change.
And one last thing that has dawned on me as I learn more about Neuroscience, is that when people talk about culture change as being about the soft stuff (sometimes, sadly in a derogatory way), I realise that is profoundly wrong. It's not about the 'soft' stuff, it's actually about the 'hard-wired' stuff!
I've come across a few articles lately which talk about leadership for the modern world. Some call it Lateral Leadership, others Enterprise Leadership – the ability to lead and influence, without authority, across increasingly complex organisations. The more I think about it, the more I think about the role of the Frontrunner, and how this unique capability is key.
Like most capabilities, if you’re not born with the natural talent, you can develop it as you go, as long as you know what ‘it’ is!. So here’s a starter for 10 on how anyone can futureproof their leadership skills, and maybe one day become a Frontrunner!
Why does leadership need to change its style?
Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock forever, you’ll have noticed that the world is changing! So is the world of business, and changing at a rate greater than ever before. Whatever aspect you want to look at – technology, information, communication, mobility – it’s all creating an increasingly complex and interconnected business environment.
Leaders therefore are facing new challenges. Challenges that maybe didn’t exist in the past:
So, what sort of leadership is required?
In 2004 Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp talked about Lateral Leadership as ‘getting things done when you are not the boss’, highlighting the need for a more collaborative leader, capable of getting the most out of a team over which they have no formal authority.
More recently, in 2015 The CEB talked about Enterprise Leadership, describing leaders who achieve not only their own objectives, but those of the organisation and others by leading across the organisational network. They do this by ‘give and take’ with their peers, pushing and pulling team contribution, and facilitating as opposed to directing change.
And Deloitte’s in their 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report - ‘Re-writing the rules for the digital age’ – talk about ‘leadership disrupted: pushing the boundaries’. To survive and thrive, leaders need to THINK, ACT and REACT differently – become more agile, more collaborative, more innovative and more brave.
At OBP – we call these leaders Frontrunners.
What does Frontrunning look like in action?
Like the name suggests, the role of the Frontrunner is a leadership role, even if you haven’t got your own team. A Frontrunner is someone who takes the lead, leads by example, walks the talk, champions the cause, and challenges the norms.
The Frontrunner asks for forgiveness not permission, brings energy and life to the conversation, and enables those around them to flourish with confidence.
Whilst the name and the concept is helpful, to get any good at it, you need to know the nuts and bolts – the skills and knowledge that makes someone a good Frontrunner.
So here’s my attempt at describing what the Frontrunner does, and what simple things anyone can do to improve his or her effectiveness.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
So if that’s what Frontrunners do, what do they need to be? Well, if we look deeply into the above, we may find that actually, some of the core foundational skills of being a Frontrunner, are the same as they have always been for being a good leader. And maybe as the world has become faster, and more digitally enabled, we’ve lost sight of what’s important.
The profile of a good Frontrunner looks something like this:
Self-aware – the ability to understand oneself, and all that comes with you
Organisationally savvy – the ability to understand the big picture and how to get things done
Emotionally intelligent – the ability to understand others, their emotions, and be empathetic.
Relationship builder – the ability to communicate and work with others, and establish long lasting trust
Connected – the ability to make powerful connections with others, both face to face and virtually
So if you want to future proof your leadership skills, these 5 core skills are probably a good place to start.
As someone wise once said – “Success is not predicting the future, it’s creating people who can thrive in a future that cannot be predicted.”
Frontrunners both thrive, and develop the ability to thrive in others.
Top Tip references:
It’s not uncommon for people to see the name ON-Brand Partners and think that we’re a marketing company. After all, anytime the word ‘Brand‘ is used, most people straight away think of advertising campaigns, promotions or packaging – something the marketing department usually looks after.
While ON-Brand Partners isn’t a marketing company, we do have brands at our very heart. And most importantly, what those brands promise.
All organisations have a brand, whether it be for a product or a service, that promises their customers something. That promise could be anything from better service, to better quality, to lower prices, to cool new products, to the biggest range and so on. Most organisations then spend significant marketing dollars promoting that brand promise to their customers.
And when you make a promise to your customers, your organisation needs to live up to that promise because customers are more aware and demanding than ever. And if you don’t live up to it, the means by which they can punish you are infinitely greater and more powerful than ever before. Yes social media in particular has become the great megaphone of a generation, who either want to publicly punish, or reward you. And that strongly influences future transactions/purchases from that brand.
Therefore your brand is the most important asset you have, and everything about it must be managed well if it is to survive the disruptive forces that typify today’s commercial world.
“Our brand is what people say about us when we are not in the room.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder and Chairman, Amazon.com
And how do people judge a brand? Well it’s not whether they necessarily like your advertising or not, but a broader combination of all the interactions people have with every person/touchpoint/product from the organisation behind the brand, which influences their perceptions. So every organisation needs to make sure that every touchpoint delivers a consistent experience that matches what is promised.
Matching (or exceeding) customer expectations is what being ‘on-brand’ is all about.
And ultimately, the ability to be ‘on-brand’ is a reflection of the culture an organisation has, that allows it to consistently meet it’s promises, or not.
So back to why we are called ON-Brand Partners. It’s because ultimately we help organisations build the ‘right’ culture to support their brand promise and create the desired customer experience. A culture that allows them to consistently deliver the customer and product experience they need to in a fast changing world. And we do this by getting people engaged and aligned around:
Our approach to culture change ensures it’s not just the marketing department that is that the guardian of the brand but critically, every person that works for the organisation. Essentially everybody becomes ’on-brand’.
This way customers will think and talk positively about your brand, and keep coming back for more. The very reason for your existence.
Also see: ON-Brand Off-Brand: It's the (customer) experience that counts
The saying ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ is repeated so often now, it has become quite an iconic statement, summing up much of what ails todays organisations.
Those words were apparently said by Peter Drucker in reference to why so much company strategy fails – his thinking is that it's not necessarily because the strategy is bad, it’s just that the organisation can't get its act together to make the strategy happen. Sound familiar? You only have to work for a few organisations in your career to realise how many are often their own worst enemy when it comes to getting the important stuff done.
The right culture (as opposed to a good culture) has always been critical to an organisations performance – anywhere from being able to turn an entire industry on it’s head, to adding that extra 5-10% performance improvement that makes all the difference to bottom line profit and stakeholder satisfaction. But today, as we face a commercial world where disruption and constant change are the norm, culture will be what defines whether an organisation not just thrives but also survives! Whether that culture needs to build a greater customer focus, drive product and service innovation or drive greater business efficiency, it is the one thing that will ensure strategy comes to life.
Most senior leaders, now recognise that creating the right culture for their organisation is essential to getting the important stuff done, and out-performing others. But what many don’t know is HOW to build the right culture. The question we commonly get is “I know our culture is working against us but how do we fix that?”
A lot of articles and advisors will tell you that culture is critical, but can’t begin to tell you what actually needs to be done to create that culture. One thing for sure is, you just can’t tell people what you want the culture to look like and expect them to quickly move there. Years of behavioural psychology research, and a long road of corporate failures, will tell you that approach just doesn’t work. We must never forget we are dealing with humans, and all their idiosyncracies, when it comes to shaping culture.
As we’ve often said at ON-Brand Partners , “the problem is not in the thinking, but in the doing”. So HOW do you put in place things that are going to shift that culture towards what it needs to be. After all, culture can often feel so intangible, so hard to define and therefore hard to actively manage, that a concrete plan to change it can seem elusive.
This is where ON-Brand Partners succeeds. With our integrated platform for change, you have a powerful and proven approach to changing your culture to one that supports (and energises) your strategy rather than eating it. And you may be surprised to know it’s all about changing the type, structure and nature of conversations happening in your workplace - our extensive experience across industries has proven that ‘transformation happens in the conversation’ and from there, the right culture will emerge.
As the CEO of one of our major clients said “what I’ve learned through all of this is that if you want to shift your company’s culture, you need to change the conversation throughout the organisation”.
We’d welcome you to give us a call to talk through what we do, and how we’ve helped others to successfully focus their conversations, to build the ‘right’ culture that can tackle a fast paced, disruptive world - head on! Because only when you change the conversation can you change the culture, and transform the business.
If you need more convincing on WHY culture eats strategy for breakfast, or at any other mealtime, take a look at these thought provoking articles. When you want to know HOW to change your culture, contact On-Brand Partners.
Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch - Fast Company
Why Culture Doesn't Just Beat Strategy, It Must Be the Strategy - INC
Culture for a digital age - McKinsey
Behavioural guiderails offer companies a way to keep their staff on-brand and focussed on the same objectives. Let's look at how they can help.
Ensuring that your company stays on-brand is hugely important for both you and your customers. But it can be difficult to define what actions and behaviours deliver an 'on-brand' experience. The concept of behavioural guiderails provides a solution.
What we mean by behavioural guidelines
Jes Smith, Head of Partner Development here at ON-Brand Partners, says that behavioural guiderails are a way of articulating 'the way that we do things around here' - it's more about 'how' than about 'what' a company does.
"Behavioural guiderails are much more about culture than best practice," he says. "When we talk about best practice, that's all about the 'what' - process, procedure and policy. Behavioural guiderails are about the 'how'."
Behavioural guiderails aren't the same as values, but they're related - behavioural guiderails are an expression of a company's values. "They're the brand in action," Jes says.
Rather than a set of rules, a company's behavioural guiderails could be a set of three or four statements that describe the organisation's unique behavioural traits. When done well, these statements can express both how the people who work there act and respond, and also the principles to which they operate. Examples could be 'make it easy', 'make it happen', 'keep it simple' or 'tune in'.
The key thing is that behavioural guiderails need to be unique to a company, and meaningful for that organisation. Jes says that guiderails can give organisations a tool to help people talk about what is and isn't okay within the company.
"Once an organisation defines them, and they've had a hand in creating them, it gives people another way of challenging what we call off-brand behaviour. The concept of on-brand/off-brand is a simple, yet very powerful way of describing both positive and negative behaviour. It makes what could be a really challenging conversation an easier one to have."
Behavioural guiderails will be unique to a company, and meaningful for that organisation.
The benefits of behavioural guiderails
For individuals working in an organisation, behavioural guiderails can also foster connection and identification with the company.
"It promotes a real sense of belonging to the organisation - a real emotional connection," Jes says.
Behavioural guiderails can also help people deal with situations that don't have a clear answer - giving staff a way to approach problems that is on-brand, without imposing strict rules. They provide a framework that is flexible enough for individuals to adapt, but still stay aligned with the company's desired outcomes.
Although behavioural guiderails are primarily an internal device, they can be used to promote a company to customers, says Jes.
"Some of our clients do it. And I think it doesn't necessarily happen on purpose, it might happen by accident. If you get it right, and you get a really unique set of guiderails, they become the internal language which people start to use about how they should be working with each other, and treating colleagues and customers alike."
"And there's no reason why an organisation shouldn't put them out there - 'this is the way we do things around here - this is what makes us different, this is what makes us unique'. If it's used well it can be a real competitive advantage."
How to implement behavioural guiderails
"The only way to do this effectively is to engage and involve people throughout," Jes says. "You can't just make them up and tell people that's the way you're going to do things from now on. That's pushing someone else's way of working onto an organisation."
Rather than making up something new, Jes says defining behavioural guiderails is about 'unearthing' existing positive behaviour.
"Behavioural norms already exist in every organisation, and not all of them will be good. The secret is to unearth the good stuff, put emphasis on it, and structure around it. So as a leader or as a manager, I know the sort of things I should be rolemodelling, reinforcing and rewarding."
ON Brand Partners' role in defining behavioural guiderails.
"Something that is unique about ON Brand is how we do the unearthing," says Jes. “While many consultancies talk about co-creation, the way we engage and excite people in the process of co-creation sets us apart”.
By exploring the culture of the organisation through techniques like storytelling and appreciative inquiry, we get to the heart of who that organisation is - and specifically what they're like when they're at their best. Together we identify the common threads, and from there we co-create a set of behavioural guidelines that are unique for that organisation.
What can organisations do to ensure that workplace learning sticks over the long term? Find out from TakeON!'s Head of Partner Development Jes Smith.
Committing workplace learning to memory, and feeling its effectiveness over the long term, takes more than a few simple notes.
Learning is a must in today's enterprise environment. After all, if a business isn't looking to better its internal processes with an eye on genuine, continuous improvement, it goes without saying that its competitors will gain an edge in the market.
Consequently, the transfer of knowledge is an imperative skill for organisations looking to increase performance, but what are the best techniques to ensure that information resonates in the long term? Well, to answer that question and more, we sat down with TakeON!'s Head of Partner Development Jes Smith to discuss what makes workplace learning stick.
Sticky learning is an outcome that creates long-lasting insights.
Sticky learning is a broad term, and there are a host of definitions out there, what does it mean for you and ON-Brand Partners?
Sticky learning is a funny one, some people believe it's a newfangled technique. In fact, it's an outcome as opposed to a process. What goes into the outcome of sticky learning is actually a number of different methodologies, processes and thinking. For ON-Brand, it means several things. Sticky learning is impactful learning as it makes a difference and is meaningful for individuals. That comes from the fact that it's learning that's in context and relevant to people's roles, and the organisation they're working in as well.
Ultimately, sticky learning actually changes behaviour. You don't just know new stuff, you change something as a result of taking on new information. That means those insights are going to be long lasting as opposed to fly-by-night findings.
There's only so much learning that can happen in the classroom. The best organisations realise that they need to effectively teach their employees on the job.
How important is it that learning is sticky?
If learning doesn't stick, it's not really learning is it? It's made no real difference. Everything we try and do at ON-Brand is to generate long lasting learning, so it's meaningful and changes the way the organisation thinks and acts. If that's not your overall intent, then you're just ticking boxes.
Many organisations spend lot's of time, money and effort sending their managers away for a few days at a time, maybe on a leadership development course, in a nice hotel somewhere. In some cases, that's all they'll get for the next 20 years. And those few days may make a difference in the short term, but the effects over the long term can be very marginal. By the time they return to their day job, their inbox is so big, any revelations they may have had quickly disappear.
So for us, learning has to be an ongoing process. A routine if you like.
How much of a long-term process can achieving sticky learning outcomes be?
It's just dependent on the size of the challenge and what the organisation is trying to achieve. Real, sustainable change can often be a two or three year process. Creating new patterns of behaviour within an organisation doesn't happen overnight. Trying to turnaround results surrounding customer satisfaction, improving a business's reputation, or seeing significant shifts in staff engagement can be a relatively long-term game.
But that's not to say that you can't make quick wins in certain parts of the learning process. At the beginning, it's a matter of building momentum and excitement. It's a case of showing people the brave new world, and change is eminently achievable, and exciting!
Development strategies that positively impact organisations are best understood and implemented on longer timelines.
How do you get companies to understand the importance of sticky learning and ON-Brand's ideals?
Everything we do is about people and behaviour, so it's a little complex, and every organisation is different. There's no cookie cutter approach to transformation! Measuring the tangible value of things like leadership development isn't straightforward. It's far easier to explain value or return on investment (ROI) for something tangible like an IT system.
The measure of whether an investment in internal development is working can only really be made over a broader timeline. For example, 12 months down the line it's possible to look at measures like staff retention, turnover, sickness and absenteeism as well as staff engagement to measure ROI.
The measures can be more difficult for the organisation to put its finger on, but that certainly doesn't mean that they aren't there.
What's one piece of advice for an organisation that's looking to ensure that its learning sticks?
At end of the day, in most cases, it comes down to leadership and how those at the very top get involved and support the learning. Sticky learning is an outcome that can only be achieved if the whole organisation is up for it.
Those at the top need to not just give lip service to the learning process, but actually lead it from the very front. In our experience, the most successful organisations have leadership teams that are highly engaged, aligned, and deeply involved.
It's always been our belief that Culture Change needs to come from within and is more of a movement than a mantra.
Our Frontrunner (internal champion) methodology has been instrumental in getting momentum going so we are not surprised to see this approach validated in this article from HBR.
Changing company culture requires a movement not a mandate.
We're starting to see greater emphasis on social transformation. And, rather than starting with a call to action (logic) , movement research suggests it's best to start with emotion.
In the article they note that changes don't have to be big - or even have lots of people involved.
What’s more, social movements typically start small. They begin with a group of passionate enthusiasts who deliver a few modest wins. While these wins are small, they’re powerful in demonstrating efficacy to non-participants, and they help the movement gain steam.
By having the right conversations that connect people into purpose and strategy and creating ‘Frontrunners' who can get lead the way and get the movement going, you’ll get the change momentum you need. Have a read of the article and then ask us how to create a movement in your organisation.
Changing company culture requires a movement not a mandate
ON-Brand Partners - Creating movements through the right conversations
Leah Fisher. Chief Engagement Officer, ON-Brand Partners
Ever been in a situation where you have been having a problem with a service provider and when you talk with the representative it can go from just slight annoyance to major irritation? This happened to me a few years ago when I was living in the UK.
The problem – a simple delivery of a gift.
I was sent a gift while I was away for two weeks travelling in Europe. I arrived back to find two cards from the delivery company. One was the original delivery note, the other a redelivery and instructions that it was now at the depot and that I should call them for redelivery.
I called them and got onto their automated system – voice activated and really easy to use. I was impressed! Unfortunately it didn’t deliver the parcel. So I called and spoke to a very pleasant customer service representative who apologised and said it would be delivered on Friday. It wasn’t. So I phoned again and spoke to another very pleasant service rep who said it would be delivered tomorrow. It wasn’t. (A pattern is definitely forming here). So I phoned a fourth time to be told “It’s been returned to sender – it left two hours ago”. “Really?” I enquired. “But I phoned yesterday and was assured it would be sent”. And this was the trigger point where my patience ran out. The customer service representative did what many unsuspecting contact centre staff do and she said “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do”. There it was. The statement customers dread. The apology was there, but it didn't feel or sound genuine. Reading between the lines it says "I’m not going to help", 'I take no responsibility", 'it’s not my problem", "I’m not empowered to look for a solution".
The conversation was going no-where and I found myself joining the ‘angry customer cycle’. Denial by the service provider that they could do anything. Frustration by the customer that they’re not trying to do anything. When I asked to speak to a supervisor to have the problem sorted out, she told me they didn't have a manager there. So, what happened here and how did it start to spiral downward so quickly? Like most customer service experiences the challenge is the emotional / logical divide.
Situations like this are naturally bound up with emotion (for both parties). When problems occur for customers, in particular repeated problems, a level of frustration starts to build, irritation increases and repeated excuses from the service provider only makes it worse. Trust is lost and therefore business reputation can be impacted. Emotion.
For those who have ever read Dr Eric Byrnes work on Transactional Analysis and ego states, you’ll know that the customer is probably acting either out of their critical parent ego state (judging and criticism), or most likely their child ego state (anger, frustration). And the best way to combat these states is with an appropriate response from the aligned ego state – nurturing parent (empathetic). Mirror emotion with emotion (not anger with anger but reflect back in an empathetic tone). Most often the service provider is trying to be ‘professional’, as they’ve likely been encouraged to do, so they act from their Adult ego state and rationally focused – but this is a clear mismatch.
The problem is that many customer service representatives stay task focused and jump to solution mode and either try to fix the issue straight away, or in this case make excuses as to why it can’t be remedied. Logic. They deal with the task at hand – ‘the parcel is now on the back of a truck – I can’t get to it’. They ignore the most important aspect in the situation – the customer.
Here’s where complaint handling can fail - while some companies are getting quite good at dealing with the complaint itself, it is the resolution of the complaint that lets them down. From the staff members perspective, they believe that they are doing the right thing. They believe that they are fixing the problem. But in reality, they’re often only making it worse. And phrases like “I can’t do anything about it” or “you’ll have to phone the person who sent it” or “there’s nothing more I can do” are, in the customers eyes, not good enough and they overlook the emotion being felt by the customer – disappointment, frustration, annoyance.
When faced with situations like this, customers usually want two things:
Some customers also want one more thing – to know that something is going to be done about the process that may have caused the problem in the first place. After all, if I’m going to use you again, then I want some assurance that there will not be a repeat. Therefore, savvy and effective operators will also go one step further and let the customer know what they will do to ensure the problem does not occur again.
Sadly, many staff do not get the training to help them understand the dynamics of these interactions, and they are left to ‘do their best’ by being ‘polite and efficient’. When customers get upset, they may resort to defensive behaviour often blaming the customer for what went wrong. In the instance of the parcel delivery, the staff member said “well we did try to deliver it twice!” an underlying tone that it had been delivered and if I wasn’t there in the first place, that’s my problem. They’d done their job!
Now when we think about effective complaint handling, obviously it needs to be conducted in such a way that it reinforces the brand promise. I’ve looked on the website of this company to see what they promise but apart from being orientated toward parcels, and being a ‘force’, I can only assume that being on-brand would mean doing everything necessary to deliver the parcel – worldwide.
How could the customer service representative have delivered a more 'on-brand' experience?
To be fair to the representative, she finally did agree that perhaps she could contact the depot the parcel was being sent to and get it returned, and that she would get somebody to phone me to let me know. Evidence that, when pressed, there was something she could do. And, I have no doubt that her manager probably would appreciate being told of the ‘glitch’ in the system that caused this problem. I’m sure that they want to avoid repeated issues.
Complaint handling (dealing with the customer in the moment) and complaint management (ensuring that process, policy and practices are improved) are two important service experience aspects to any business. When handled well, the relationship can be strengthened and enhanced beyond what it was originally. But having pleasant staff who deal with issues well is not enough if the issue is not dealt with. I had three good service experiences even though I’d had a problem. The problem lay in the resolution – the third person I spoke to should have followed up to ensure the parcel was dispatched. Having spoken to her again I asked what she had done and, as I suspected she just followed the same process as the others – and got the same result. She told me it wasn’t her job to follow up on parcels (If this is true, then I wonder whose job it is?).
Effective complaint management ensures that problems are not repeated.
It’s true that many people have become disillusioned with service providers and don’t bother complaining because they believe nothing will be done. However the damage is done when people leave and tell others, and in today’s age of on-line media, bad news travels fast. The effect of the poor handling is that trust is eroded, and essentially the money spent on marketing is wasted. Surely that’s worth some sort of time spent on coaching and training staff how to deal with these situations more effectively!
Leah Fisher. Chief Engagement Officer, ON-Brand Partners
If you'd like to talk about your organisation's customer experience and how we have helped clients significantly improve theirs, drop me a note at email@example.com