Customer Experience: Talking is silver, but showing is gold.

Aslan Strategy

One of the most interesting times in my career was when I worked in steel manufacturing. I was challenged to incite initiative, focus, drive and passion for customer experience with the sales, estimating and call centre teams. With varying degrees of experience, willingness for change and customer focus, it was no easy task. We had invested a considerable amount of time discussing and workshopping customer service and experience almost to death, but the momentum wasn’t building as quickly as we needed.

It was time to change gears and try something a little different. With the “Talking is silver, showing is GOLD” rule (thanks to John Lees for that awesome saying) in mind, I put together a customer experience ‘tour’. I had identified 4 key premium brands that were willing to talk to us about the customer experience challenges, best practices and ideas. We visited a ‘Big 4’ bank branch, a leading international kitchen manufacturer, restaurant (where they delivered bad service on purpose… read on!) and global hotel chain.

At 8:30am, we were greeted by the Bank Manager who started by taking us on a tour of the branch. Ending the tour in their meeting room, the Bank Manager guided us through his principles, strategies and drivers of customer service and experience. The Bank Manager also went on to talk about some of their key challenges and limitations they have identified in building customer service in the future.

Following on from the bank, we made our way to a premium supplier of kitchens and kitchen components. An international company founded in Germany, this company is renowned for its quality, service and innovation in the kitchen construction industry. The companies leading customer service manager facilitated an insightful session where points on internal and external sales team best practices, business development, customer standards, and strategies on competing in areas such as imports were shared with the team. We were then joined by the groups Warehouse Manager where open discussions were held on bridging the ‘us vs. them’ gaps that can at times arise between sales teams and other functions in business.

After tour #2, it was time for lunch. We headed to the restaurant where I had pre-arranged an assigned waitress to deliver the worst possible experience in a bid to highlight to the team impacts of bad service. The waitress greeted all of us, identified our team booking, and promptly pointed to our table – yelling for us “to sit down, hurry up and order something”. After a while, the waitress approached our table loudly chewing gum and took our order for drinks. The orders were read out and were incorrect – when we tried to correct her, she politely informed us that we didn’t know her job and that we were the ones that got it wrong as there was nothing wrong with her hearing!

I had originally ordered a diet coke, but instead was handed a glass of regular coke. I informed the waitress that it was a coke, and she rolled her eyes, grabbed my drink, took a sip from my straw and told me it was diet coke. The waitress then ‘threw’ old pieces of bread on the table before practicing her ‘pebble skimming’ skills by skimming small portions of butter across our table. Looking around at the team, I could see they all felt really bad and wanted to leave! After 15 or so minutes of terrible service, I invited the waitress to our table where she introduced herself and we all gave her a big round of applause to collective sighs of relief.

We concluded the tour at a leading global hotel. The General Manager of the hotel sat at our table for an fantastic insight into critical factors of their service and experience foundations including service delivery standards, follow up frameworks and staff initiative strategies. The General Manager also shared with us best practices around accountability, ownership and empowerment and was able to articulate how these impacted customer service and drove high levels of customer experience that led to repeat business.

We ended the day by sharing each other’s opinions on their key takeaways, best practice ideas, and points of interest for each ‘leg’ of the tour. The day was a roaring success, and I was really impressed at how alive and passionate the team became when talking about customer service. The team spent the last hours of the day putting together a 12-point customer charter which they came up with themselves. Checking in since the tour, it’s like seeing a completely different team at work with key KPIs showing marked improvements.

Despite the industry, business size, or product / service composition, each place we visited had striking similarities in customer experience principles, strategies, and challenges.

So, what were some of my key takeaways?

A willingness to help is a cornerstone for anyone involved in dealing with customers. Cast your mind back to a time when you experienced great customer service… once you have that thought in mind, I’d like you to think about what really made it memorable. Over the years, I have asked many people this question, and not once has anyone said “price”. Great customer service is almost always linked with the emotion – the store felt inviting, the person wanted to help me, I felt like I was looked after, they cared about my needs, they made me feel so important, etc etc.

Follow Up Systems and Positive Attitude / Initiative are just as important – these two are probably what sets apart the good from the great. In my research on customer service, these two areas are probably the simplest to do, yet require the most discipline to master. To a customer, initiative = care. Initiative and being proactive are facets of customer experience that show the customer you have paid attention to detail and want to genuinely help them out and almost always is a deciding factor in a customer choosing a business over another.

Technical knowledge and expertise. We don’t always know the answers to every customer question or query. Working in a role where you interact with customers means you must know as much about your business as possible. You must make a commitment to be proactive and source opportunities to self-learn and keep your skills and knowledge complete and up to date.

The customer experience must lead to a business opportunity. Whether it’s a sale on the spot, or a recommendation in months to come, the customer experience rules, standards, frameworks and training must all drive real business outcomes. If the chocolates on the pillow doesn’t lead to a business outcome then don’t do it! This is where Customer Experience strategies can come unstuck real quick… separate the nice-haves and the essentials to keep operating efficiencies maximised while the customer experience movement thrives (click here for a great post on the cost of too much convenience!).

It cost me nothing more than a bunch of flowers and a certificate of appreciation for each business that we visited to help hit the much needed ‘home run’ on the customer experience front. Get out there and talk to those businesses that really wowed you to help inspire you and your teams. It’s the great business spirit in those who deliver great customer experiences that are more than happy to help and share – all you need to do is ask.

Finally – don’t forget about the universal customer experience law!

Until next time,


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