Why Great Customer Experience Requires Great Design

Note to reader: This post was written on a smartphone over 14 days sitting on a beach. It was completed at an altitude of 35,000 feet after several white wines.

I’ve chosen to publish it unedited to retain a tropical , stream of consciousness vibe. Subsequently it’s a bit more disjointed and a lot longer than my usual posts.

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Almost everyone who returns from a truly great travel experience comes back to work with the same mindset.  Zen-like calm: pondering why the world has to be so complex.

They’ll change the system this time though. They’ll go through the organisation from top to bottom removing needless bureaucracy , silo thinking and those perverse policies that punish the customer.

A week later and they’ve given up.

It’s easier to just book another holiday.

I’ve just returned from Dhidhoofinolhu in the Maldives , staying with the wonderful LUX resorts. It was a surprise break for Karen’s (special) birthday. I’d stayed at another LUX resort about five years ago and was wowed at how they had created an environment – a stage if you will- for truly special occasions.

LUX operate towards the higher end of the travel market – they aren’t cheap. It’s Apple travel. But a lot of the things they do that are special just take thought, not money.

They design well , join the dots and execute brilliantly.

So few organisations design customer experiences.  They let them happen.

Design is thinking about the exact experience you want people to have.

It’s about creating the right environment, with the right ‘back-stage’ support – and then enabling your people to facilitate an experience that will be truly valued.

It’s not the sole preserve of upper-end travel brands. Anyone can do it.

Many would deny this. Indeed many in the public sector deny the existence of customers altogether.

Customers are regarded as tenants or service users or patients or something else. The public sector is different – people don’t have the same degree of choice so the rules of customer experience don’t apply.

Bullshit.

Total bullshit.

Service is service. You can create an environment for a great customer experience in almost any scenario.

The public sector excuse of a different operating context is just convenient cover for a paucity of imagination and chronic laziness.

Here’s five things that LUX did that we could all do too:

Think of the day your customer just had and make it a bit better

You’ve been travelling for 16 hours , you’re tired and hot. You’ve almost certainly forgotten something. “Do you have your camera ready sir?” , I was asked as we prepared for a seaplane transfer. “I’d suggest you get it ready – you are really going to want to capture this.”  Normally you get on a plane to be told to put away your electronic devices but these guys did the opposite, even making sure our devices were charged. “If you don’t have any charge take your chargers out of your cases now – we’ll have about 15 minutes to get you ready.”

That’s thinking about the day you’re customers have had – and thinking how you can help get the experience off to the very best start.

And on arrival – they didn’t just land. They did a long circuitous sweep of the island – for us to get the very best pictures of the experience. Awesome.

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Get up close with customers 

Managing By Wandering Around (MBWA) – the idea that service gets better just by having managers walking the floor – is one of most hackneyed phrases in the management lexicon.

There isn’t a manager alive that wouldn’t claim to do it.

Doing it and making it truly meaningful are two different things. I was struck at LUX at how the manager , Mamoun, met every single guest arriving by seaplane or speedboat. That’s a phenomenal number of customer interactions. Not only that – he bids farewell to every customer as they leave.  Additionally we had at least two conversations with him when he was wandering the restaurants seeing how customers were being treated.

That’s not just MBWA – that’s being ever present and making yourself as close to the customer as you can be. He even left us his business card!

Don’t rip people off if you don’t have to

Virtually every hotel I’ve ever been to tries to rip you off with international calls. But this place has turned that on its head with this free phone box that you can use to call anywhere in the world.

As it says in the picture below “We don’t like to see faceless international telecommunications companies profiteering off our guests through excessive roaming fees.”  This is designing services to be deliberately different. Plus I love how they’ve hosted this internet based service in a traditional box with retro phone.

A delightful mix of old and new tech. Innovation!

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Surprise people at every opportunity

So you’re walking along a picture perfect beach and everything’s great but the one thing you really need is a cool drink. You went out walking without thinking of taking a bottle of water. But the guys at LUX have thought of this and put these juice and water stations in the trees with a couple of seats for you to take five.

Most organisations don’t think of these small things that go a long way to creating an awesome customer experience. Or they think of them but just can’t be bothered to implement them as the only person who truly benefits is – the customer!

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Also who can the resist the idea of a treasure hunt for a secret bar – that moves around the island to a different location every day? Genius!

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Design the ending to be as good as the beginning

You’ve got an outgoing customer. They are leaving you. They’ve spent their cash and you don’t really need to bother anymore.  That’s how most organisations treat the departing customer. Here they did things differently.

They noted the food we most enjoyed most throughout the holiday (admittedly I kept raving over the reef fish curry) and did a special dish on the last night even though it wasn’t on the menu.

They noted our favourite spot in the day so set up a night table for us with our feet in the water. They gave us some handmade gifts and some a couple or personalised t-shirts that probably cost a couple of pounds all in.

But it’s not the economic value of an experience that leaves an impression. It’s the emotional.

The way you left somebody feeling. The fact that they even noticed the small important things that you value.

Here they designed an experience from beginning to end and executed it flawlessly, without the technology and systems that too many of us think will transform our services.

Your next IT or business transformation programme is virtually doomed to fail. It’s likely to be focussing on your organisational aspirations rather than those of your customer. You’re making it far too complicated.

The challenge is how to design your business to be more simple and human in a complex and digital world.

For the first time in a long time this trip made me think about career change. I came away pretty envious of Mamoun and the experiences he was creating day after day.  I’m wondering if I can ever achieve truly radical change in the sector I work in.

I’m bored of reports and meetings and conferences and campaigns. I’m bored of mediocrity, barriers, and things taking years that should take weeks.

We shouldn’t even need Innovation Labs and Think Tanks and Accelerators (there weren’t any on Dhidhoofinolhu – I checked).

We should be redesigning services and making them truly astonishing.

So here’s my new mantra:

  • Let’s redesign from start to finish rather than just making our services a lighter shade of grey.
  • Let’s challenge ourselves what we’d do with unlimited resources and work back from there.
  • Let’s surprise our customers at every opportunity and set a stage for unique experiences.
  • Let’s make people talk about us rather than keep talking about ourselves.

I’ve been back five days. And I’m still hopeful.

  1. Great article Paul. I’ve borrowed 3 lines to improve our customers experience – I am the boss so agreed change is instantly implemented/used. Regards, Chris

    Reply

    1. Thanks Chris and let us know how you get on!

      Reply

  2. Great blog again Paul with a lot of food for thought. Keep being positive because that’s what brings about change… (Though I’m not bored with some campaigns because they can create momentum that may mean change has a better chance!) Looks like you had an amazing holiday, thanks for the share!

    Sent from my iPad

    Lisa Pickard Chief Executive LYHA.

    Reply

  3. Thanks Lisa and I agree most change comes over the medium and long term and it’s about how you sustain energy and drive. Bear in mind the comments about campaigns was written in a vaguely tired and emotional state 😉 I’m heartened by the ones that have real substance (like Real Life Reform!)

    Reply

  4. It’s a funny old world . Even with coconut juice or similar you get it right. Felt it so important I forwarded it to my housing associations management team.From a tenants perceptive, though I’m only one lone voice in the wilderness, so my thoughts and views are mine alone, seem to have lost track of some of the basics.

    Would also love to discuss Real Life Reforms ,again from a tenant ( now upgraded to customer) point of view. Why do I feel like a lab rat having more and more experiments used on me to see how I react! This is not the fault of RLF reports, but a failure of all governments over the last 30 years to understand the need for more rented homes.

    Still , I’m impressed, you have the current ” guardian ” and a “customer” in agreement on your words of wisdom, the interesting bit is in the interpretation.

    Mike Weston

    Reply

    1. Thanks Mike – I think that’s one of nicest comments I’ve ever had on the blog!

      Great point about basics and the “lab rat” scenario – let’s think how we continue that discussion/debate

      Reply

  5. Reblogged this on Volunteering Counts and commented:
    Love this post and it’s nice to see fresh and honest thinking on the whole customer journey. Without customers there would be no need for many organisations, both statutory, private and voluntary/communmity/faith sector. Cheers Paul 🙂

    Reply

    1. Thank you Eileen for the kind words and the reblog. I agree – sectors are pretty much irrelevant.

      Reply

      1. Thank you for the post. Love th fact that it’s so easy to share great posts and useful info with the people who follow my feeds. Were actually talking about this recently during a volunteer management training session. Your vols are your clients as well as those who use your services, but many v-i-g’ s forget this and don’t put the time and effort needed into looking after them and valuing them for their contributions 🙂

        Reply

  6. Reblogged this on brettamnelson and commented:
    Wise words indeed

    Reply

  7. Absolutely brilliant post Paul. Spot on & Love it. You might have stumbled on a new blogging tip too. A few glasses of wine can bring clarity & honesty, but a bit of reflection before finalising is worthwhile?

    Reply

    1. Oops. Had a couple of glasses of wine. What I meant is its good to compose & reflect over a few days/weeks, then be damned and post it!

      Reply

      1. Thanks Peter! I might do this write and let mature over a few days in future!

        Reply

  8. Hope is the key. We have to hang on to hope

    Reply

  9. Have mentally framed (and may also physically frame) your mantra Paul. Top stuff as ever. Thanks for taking the time during your holiday to share your experiences with others.

    Reply

    1. No problem and thanks for reading and commenting Rob

      Reply

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