5 Surprising Customer Service Experiences ( and what they tell us )

customer-relationship-management-2If you put “Customer Relationship” into Google you will most likely get a diagram like this.

Which doesn’t look like any relationship I’ve ever had.

Another January, more High Street woe , more stories of how customer service is declining.

My belief ? Service is actually improving in the UK. But far too slowly compared to other countries and the best online providers.

Why? Because it too often focuses on transactions rather than building relationships.

And if you focus on transactions, CRM and cross-sell , you slowly become disconnected. You think “inside out”. Like the company. Not the customer.

I’ve recently been on a trip outside the UK and would like to share 5 examples where the service focused on relationship building.

1 – The Customs Official Who Smiled

Anyone who has been to Singapore Airport will understand why it consistently appears in the Top 3 airports in the world. From free wifi , to a sublime check-in experience, to free cinema’s and botanic gardens – it’s as if Disney did airports. My stand out moment? Being presented with a tray of sweets by the Customs Official (!) , greeted by my first name , and wished a pleasant stay. Not the experience I got on returning to Manchester. Singapore Airport provides the same function as everyone else – putting planes into the sky – but they do it differently.

2- The Restaurant That Doesn’t Say No

You are the last customers in a restaurant – it’s well past closing time. You order a final couple of drinks, but they have run out of vodka. You’d be asked to change your drinks order or offered something else, right? At Again and Again they didn’t do this. The owner got on her moped, disappeared for 5 minutes and came back with a new bottle. Leaving two customers she had never met before sitting alone, and trusting that they would be there when she returned.

This tiny six table Thai restaurant is run by a Mother and her daughter. The service can be a bit slow as Mum has to cook everything from scratch and the daughter helps out in between doing her homework. But the service is provided as if you were a guest in their home. Which , funnily enough, you are. They live upstairs. And that’s the trick – by treating every customer as a house guest – you have turned a transaction into a relationship.

3- The Bank That People Love

Whilst I was away I had to phone First Direct. My comment on Twitter speaks for itself:

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First Direct continue to be a worldwide benchmark through their utter obsession with focussing on the relationship they have with you.

I’m amazed that whenever I mention them on social media I always get fellow fans joining in and adding their own experiences.

Fans. Of a bank. Aren’t we meant to hate them?

4- The Hotel That Apologises Before You Complain

A Hotel puts on a beach fireworks display. Fireworks are aimed at the guests rather than the sky. Several guests have their dinner ruined as they dive for cover. An unfortunate incident but no-one was hurt. (And if you were sitting in the right place it was actually pretty funny.)

But the Buri Rasa Koh Phangan then did something amazing. Some businesses would say something stupid. It issued a letter to everyone in the hotel – apologising and refunding one nights stay. For everyone. No argument.

By showing extreme honesty, by compensating customers before they had a chance to complain , it ensures everyone goes home happy and tells this story.

5 – The Bar That Threatens To Kill Rabbits

Imagine you go for a drink and the first thing that happens is the manager introduces herself and lays a pet rabbit before you. She then threatens to barbecue it unless you agree to eat there. This is the slightly unconventional service offered at Jip Shop , who have transformed an ordinary bar into somewhere memorable through humour and just being….weird.

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Jip will tell you that she only manages the shop. The owner is actually a tyrannical cat who refuses to pay the staff decent wages. The rabbit , Dollar , was captured by the cat and employed as a mascot. Dollar is seeking freedom by jumping from table to table to help guests. (I swear no hallucinogens were involved here).

I went in a fair few bars whilst I was away but which one stands out? Lesson for us all – Be memorable.

The death of the High Street is exaggerated – it’s just going through a necessary cycle of renewal. The big brands who forgot about relationships needed to make way for the next generation. Hopefully it will be a generation who understand that the only way to compete with online is through memorable and surprising experiences.

By the way – we went back again to Jip Shop again. Dollar survived:

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2013 – Do we need a new operating system?

Windows 95

My first post of 2013 has been slightly delayed due to holiday. I love holidays. Not because they get me away from work but because it’s where I can put work into focus.  The further away I get from Bromford and the UK the greater clarity I get on the things that need to change. It’s a great way to put things into perspective and get inspiration. And you get a January tan.

So please forgive the holiday excesses of this post, which was written on a flight back from Singapore with a wine in one hand and an eye on the remake of Total Recall. (Which is absolutely appalling by the way, save yourself the time.) I’ve also blown my usual “Keep a post to 500 words rule”. Normal service will resume shortly.

Singapore is interesting. You will probably get more inspiration from 24 hours there than from any trade publication , sector conference, or benchmarking club you spend time on this year.  Singapore (where someone actually said to me “We solved homelessness and unemployment”) seems to run on a whole new operating system. A kind of iOS 6 to the UK’s Windows 95. The normal rules don’t seem to apply.

Flicking through Twitter whilst I was away it also struck me how much innovation is going on right now. The use of digital to bring together the disconnected. New services and initiatives in housing , health , financial literacy and job creation springing up on an almost daily basis. And these are not just being developed by a few enthusiasts but becoming mainstream provision.

In Africa. And Asia. And South America.

But not the UK.

The young and the hungry seem to be achieving things faster than we can.

I love the UK and I love the sector in which I work.

But is it time for a whole new operating system?  What our businesses do , and how that business is done, surely needs upgrading?  Because at the moment – they just can’t move fast enough.

Our existing OS is often run on Board Meetings and Business Plans and Budget Approvals and Risk Assessments – all things that are 20th Century constructs and need re-imagining.

So. Let’s make a start.

  In December I posted that 2012 was the year that the housing sector went social. By that I meant it had dipped its toes in the waters of new technologies and ways of communicating – particularly social media. And , all things considered, I think it made a pretty nifty start. But no-one in the sector has gone digital. New websites , Twitter accounts and fancy infographics certainly. All are more relevant and engaging ways of communicating.  But has anyone truly redesigned their business for the connected customer?

The big accepted issues in 2013 for the housing sector are welfare reform and the lack of affordable housing supply. However I don’t think that looking back in 20 years time we will agree on that.

2013 will be remembered as the year in which customers started leaving us behind. Operating faster than we can.

We are lucky. We have never lived in a time where our communities can become truly connected with each other and everything.  There are 5 million people living in social housing in the UK  and many more receive care and support services. Everyone of them will be able to connect with one another , lobby us for change , run our services , provide support for each other and create jobs that don’t exist.

The way our business operates can stand in the way of that.  Or we can step aside and facilitate the ascension of the connected customer.

I don’t underestimate the task ahead. It requires a huge mind-shift by organisations and stakeholders. Many have not considered the impact of the connected customer/tenant/user/patient. Some , dinosaur-like , are resisting adaptation and are soon to face their own personal Ice Age.

What sort of things could we be doing?

  • How about we give up our websites and make them open source to users? See if they could do a better job than us?  (I’m guessing they can)
  • What if we let communities design their own hubs – letting them join health , housing , and care in the way they would like to see them work? (Rather than how we think it should operate)
  • Why don’t we let tenants design and run a choice based lettings and transfer system that works? (enabling actual choice ,rather than an illusion of it, could be an early goal)
  • What if people could swap providers of services (support, work programme, care) and design their own as easily as I can edit my basket on Amazon? 

None of the above are particularly innovative. Certainly none are impossible. The only barriers to any of them happening are us. You and me.

This is my first post of 2013. It’s my personal resolution that by the end of the year we will have real examples of how we have used digital not just to engage users , but to fundamentally reshape what we do.

I’d love to hear what others think. Do let me know. And Happy New Year!

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