Customer Experience professional consultant Ian Golding is well known to CXM readers thanks to his role as a Non-Executive Editor and a CX Masterclass leader, but his influence is expanding dramatically with the recent publication of his first book, Customer What? The Honest and Practical Guide to Customer Experience.
Now available to purchase from Amazon, this new work is set to become the bible for businesses keen to improve their CX offering, and the first port of call for Customer Experience professionals seeking to fine-tune their skills.
Customer Experience Magazine is proud to be publishing exclusive excerpts from the tome, beginning with an insight into why modern retailers are at a disadvantage to their historical counterparts when it comes to being able to provide a memorable experience for shoppers…
I have observed, and been part of, a tidal wave of focus on customer experience. It has always existed (although few realised it), and customers have always been willing to give feedback. But businesses have only recently started to recognise that doing the right thing by their customers, and actively managing the experience, might make sense.
A few years back, my family and I were honoured to take part in a BBC1 ‘living history’ programme called Turn Back Time: The Family. It was an experience like no other, and we were transported back in time to the turn of the 20th century to experience life as our ancestors lived it and understand how life for the family unit has changed over time.
Our experience started in 1914. Life in pre-war Britain felt much simpler than it is today. Although shopping by mail order had been invented, most shopping happened in person, in a physical shop, with real things in it! The overwhelming majority of people didn’t own a car, so most customers would shop locally with independent traders in the high street (remember them?). Payment was also pretty simple – cash or cheque, with no plastic in sight.
As a father in 1914, I learned how important etiquette was. Manners and politeness were evident in all interactions – at home, at work, and as a customer.
Shops were very orderly places, staffed by smartly dressed shopkeepers standing behind tall counters. They knew most of their customers by name, and would pick, and wrap, products by hand while chatting to customers. Most of the Time the shopkeepers did not even have to ask what their customers wanted to buy – they knew already. There was not a great deal of variety in terms of the products on offer, but the shopkeeper knew each customer’s preferences, their family’s preferences, and their budget, and customers trusted them to help find just the right thing, just as they would trust their children’s head teacher or the family doctor.
Fast-forward 100 or so years. Today, customers do not just have two purchase channels to choose from. We have ten that I can think of – physical stores; the telephone; the web; mobile; live chat;SMS; mail order; TV; social; AI-assisted. I am sure I have forgotten one or two! Local availability is not a consideration either – we can buy anything and everything we want, in any way we want, from anywhere in the world. We can, in theory, live our lives without ever talking to anyone or setting foot outside our front door.
It is not at all uncommon to conduct an entire transaction without a human being involved, and even if one is, they are often just reading back a pre-written script. In shops, it is unlikely that anyone will know you personally. Trust isn’t the currency it used to be – it’s likely you are so well informed by technology that the people working in the shop won’t need to help you make your purchase. In fact, if you need help you are likely to turn to Google – you trust the wisdom of the crowd to tell you what others think about an item before you commit to buying it.
So, when was the best time to be a customer? The personal, simple experience of 1914 or the global, convenience-led experience of today?
I am not advocating that we literally turn back time – far from it. It is impossible to deny the remarkable ease and convenience afforded today’s consumer by the amazing connected world we are part of. However, the experience is less fulfilling somehow. It does not always feel good being a customer of the global corporations that distribute the products and services we buy. We create and share stories of organisations that fail to connect emotionally with us. Not only do they not know our names, but very few seem to understand us. Ironically, we’re looking for something we’ve lost: trust. And feeling known and understood and valued, a little like we used to feel in the food old days in 1914.
Is the customer always right?
Many will argue that today’s experience looks the way it does because consumers have demanded it, and will continue to demand more and more. Is that really true, though? The power consumers have today has definitely changed the relationship between business and customer.
“In the rush to chase convenience, efficiency, and lower costs, many businesses have unknowingly and gradually broken the bond of trust that existed between them and their customers.”
But some businesses have adapted to change better than others. These are the customer experience leaders. They offer all the benefits of today’s experience – choice, convenience, and speedy access at affordable prices – but they have done it without ever losing trust. They have consistently made it their mission to extend the personal, empathetic, emotional flavour of the sopping experience of 1914 to our modern day, connected experience.
Today, business leaders who have taken customers for granted in the past are reconsidering their strategy. Even Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary – infamous for his very public disdain for customers – claims to have had an epiphany, saying:
“If I had known being nicer to our customers was going to work so well I would have done it years ago.“
A whole consulting industry has grown up around creating wonderful-looking customer journey maps. New roles are emerging with ‘customer experience’ in their job titles. Ten years ago, the CCO (or chief customer officer) did not exist. Today, increasing numbers of CCOs are appearing on the scene, alongside customer experience directors; heads of customer experience; customer experience transformists; customer experience futurologists; and VPs of customer success.
Now, more than ever, should be a wonderful time to be a customer
So why do I continue to be on the receiving end of inconsistent, uninspiring, and often substandard customer experiences? Why do I encounter more people who have no idea what customer experience is, than those who do?
Because organisational understanding of customer experience as a discipline is still in its fledgling state. Differentiating on customer experience requires you to embed customer in the psyche of your organisation and every individual who works within it. It is a long-term business strategy, not a quick fix. It requires strategic thinking, scientific measurement, and emotional intelligence. It is an organisation-wide collaborative effort, needing committed leadership and hardcore change management.
This is why group like the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), founded by Bruce Temkin and Jeanne Bliss, are so vital to the development of our industry. And why a new professional qualification has been created to recognise our complex and ever-evolving skill set.
At times, being a customer experience professional can be lonely and frustrating. Putting the needs of customers and employees at the forefront of everyone’s thinking requires a bucketload of inspiration, dedication, and perspiration. I have seen and heard it all, and believe me I have developed a very thick skin!
No matter what role you play in your organisation (regardless of whether you have customer experience in your job title or not!) you can drive this change. Never give up. Remind yourself every day that our businesses exist to serve customers, and without them we would not exist.