Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownAugust 5, 2020


In your office there will be rules; standard operating procedures that help with inducting new staff, training long-term staff and ensuring the smooth running of day to day business.

Sometimes those rules are well documented in step-by-step guides, and sometimes they are handed down verbally like a long-standing family tradition or folktale. Often, which style your business adopts will come down to your company values and your culture. Neither way is wrong and both have their advantages.

What about those elements of culture that are harder to define? Those elements that are just ‘understood’ to be necessary and are far harder to document in a handbook?

One of those elements is the ability to inspire confidence in your brand. It’s crucial that, if you want to attract, retain, and grow your loyal customer base, everyone in your business understands the term ‘inspiring confidence’.  There are many little aspects of their day-to-day role that can either contribute to the overall customer confidence in the brand or detract from it.

Every action we take has the ability to do one or the other, and shifting towards deliberately inspiring confidence in everything you do has the ability to transform the customer experience.

So, what does inspiring confidence actually mean?

A quick search will tell you that inspiring confidence means to make people feel confident because they trust your ability.

This extends deep into the heart of your business and every staff member can shape the impression a customer has of your brand. Your ability to inspire confidence can be made or broken in the space of just a few minutes.

What can you do to take control and make sure that everyone in the organisation deliberately tries to inspire confidence with all they do?

Well, that is the hard part. This isn’t about training for grand gestures, or wow moments. Inspiring confidence is a quiet, gentle, and steady thing and it’s crucial that it is embedded in the values of your team if it is going to consistently build trust.

That said, here are some examples that might help get you started reviewing your own customer interactions.

1. Pause before you speak and consider the words you choose.

Inspiring confidence in the brand is really just another way to say – will this make us look good, reliable, trustworthy, and like someone that a customer would want to buy from?

It’s always good to try and place yourself in the customer’s shoes when you ask this question.

You can try saying it out loud and always include “I the customer” in the sentence.


Would I the customer be filled with confidence in our brand if someone answered the phone and said ‘Sorry it took so long to answer, it’s been so busy all day – the phones haven’t stopped ringing, we’ve been absolutely manic with new customers!’?

Let’s deconstruct the sentence and see what happens:

Does this message inspire confidence? No – it more likely sends the message that things are out of control, unplanned for, and hectic. These are all ingredients that make it likely for elements of great service to be overlooked, forgotten, or not considered in the first place. It doesn’t send the right message at all.

Try to think of a better way to convey your message; one that inspires confidence. For example – you could say: ‘Thank you for waiting, I’m sorry for the unusual wait and I really appreciate your time. We’ve just had a great response to our new advert and have been busier than usual – but you have my full attention so how can I help today?’

2. Ask yourself the question.

Get into the habit of asking yourself each time you make a decision, or each time you take a customer facing action – will this inspire customer confidence in the brand? To begin with it might feel somewhat strange, you might have to really consider how a customer would perceive an action, a response, or a statement. You will need to unpick sentences, play back conversations and look at documentation in a new light, but very quickly you will start to change the way you work and your output will naturally shift to one of inspiring confidence.

3. Show enthusiasm no matter the time of day

Do you greet each customer with the same level of enthusiasm, whether they are the first call of the day, or whether they just so happen to have called 30 seconds before you switched your phone off for the day EVEN if you now know you will probably be ten minutes later leaving as a result? That customer has called during opening hours and deserves to feel valued. It’s okay to feel disappointed that you might be late but it’s not okay to let the customer feel that disappointment. Try to always present the customer with a consistently positive experience.

If you find yourself regularly being late as a result then it might be worth reviewing the shift times and closing lines fifteen minutes before the last shift finishes for the day to assist with work / life balance.

4. Explain yourself clearly

Often, we think we have explained ourselves clearly. We assume there is a level of knowledge that the customer has that matches our own, when this is not always the case. Consider this example and how it applies to what you do.

Scenario A.

You walk into your office. A strange woman in there. She smiles, walks towards you, points to a chair and then guides you to that chair. Once you have sat down, she takes of your shoes and takes out a tape measure. She measures first one foot then the other – all without saying a word to you.

How would you feel?

Confused, like your space has been invaded, scared and a little upset or all of the above?

Scenario B.

Same setup –  but this time the strange woman smiles, says “Hi I’m Claire, great to meet you. Would you mind taking a seat, removing your shoes and letting me measure your feet?”

How would you feel this time?

Probably still confused – possibly less scared but unlikely to just comply.

Scenario C.

This time, she says: “Hi, I’m Claire – we haven’t met but your company has hired me to measure all their employees’ feet. They are going to provide you with new safety footwear that will help keep you safe at work, reduce the chance of foot injuries and the best bit is that it won’t cost you a penny. Do you mind taking a seat and letting me measure your feet?”

Now how do you feel?

Not only has Claire explained what she will be doing, but she’s explained why, and she’s demonstrated what the value will be to you.

This is a far more comprehensive answer that is likely to leave you feeling happier and more reassured.

Take a look at your own customer interactions and your common responses to customer questions. Can you confidently say that for all of them you have:

  • Clearly communicated – no jargon!
  • Explained why something is the case
  • Demonstrated the value to them

5. Check back in with your customer

Do you check that you have answered your customers’ questions fully? Often a customer will present one question, and we will answer it to what we assume to be their sat/isfaction. How often though do we actually ask, “have I answered all your questions today?”? It’s a simple thing, but often the answer is no. The customer may have only had one question at the start of the interaction, but the discussion can trigger more questions. Sometimes it may just be that we missed one of their concerns or misunderstood their main frustration.

By asking this question before finishing your interaction, you can catch anything outstanding and know that when you end the call your customer is left more satisfied.

There are so many ways that you can add to (or detract from…) your customer confidence, but the key is to ensure that everyone in the team is aware of the potential for this and understand the impact it can have.

Once they are thinking ‘inspire confidence’, they can apply this to any decision-making, any documentation they send out, any questions they answer… It’s not about writing a standard operating procedure that gives them the exact answers, it’s more about training everyone in the organisation to adopt ‘inspiring confidence’ as a core value. That way they can work out the answer on their own, be more empowered, and help drive the brand forward – inspiring confidence in everything they do.

So – give it a go. Put inspiring confidence into the core of your operations and take satisfaction in the positive changes it can make.

Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownJuly 21, 2020


When people talk about customer experience objectives, you often hear them expressed in terms of an overarching desire to delight the customer; to provide them with a next-level experience and exceed expectations. This is, of course, a noble aim, but is it sustainable on a day in day out basis, and if it is – will it make a difference?

In a study published in the Harvard Review (which surveyed 75,000 consumers), the results indicated that customer satisfaction had a smaller impact on customer loyalty than the amount of effort a customer had to spend interacting with a brand.

In addition, whilst 89 percent of leaders stated that their main goal was to exceed customer expectations, 84 percent of the customers surveyed said that they did not feel the companies in question had exceeded their expectations. Why then, with 9 out of 10 businesses trying to exceed expectations, were so many customers left feeling disappointed?

Let’s consider a hypothetical case study where a company – in this case an airline – decided it was time to improve their customer experience.

They looked at ways to delight their customers, (because that’s the big goal, right?) and decided that they would upgrade standard class passengers to first-class seating to fill any un-allocated first-class seats. They did so, and ten lucky standard class passengers joined the first-class section, along with ten first-class passengers. They were delighted with the unexpected upgrade and this portion of their experience exceeded their expectations. Spoiler alert: the result wasn’t what the airline hoped to achieve…

Delighting Customers – Problem no.1

On their return flight there were no spare seats so the customers were not upgraded. Having hoped that there might be an upgrade in it for them and finding it not forthcoming, the passengers started the flight feeling slightly disappointed as, unlike previously, they were now aware of what they were missing out on.

The customers sat in their standard class seat which was smaller, less comfortable and had far less legroom, next to “Gary” who fell asleep on their shoulder and snored loudly. They loved their experience on the way out and they will no doubt tell people about it. And yet… they now have a slightly sour taste in their mouth. You see, there is an unwanted side effect to their trip in first class. Their expectations for what great looks like now are higher than they would have been had they not had that first-class experience.

Next to the level of luxury on offer to them, which they got for the bargain price of a standard seat, the relative normality of standard class is less exciting. Dull even. When giving their response on whether the flights exceeded their expectations overall – they will say that they did not.

Delighting Customers – Problem no.2

The second issue with the ‘delightful’ experience the customers were given is that it is not replicable on a wider scale.

Ten out of 250 passengers were upgraded, the other 240 were not. Those not upgraded may have heard about the upgrades and felt a little disappointed. Those who originally paid to go first-class might also begrudge the fact others managed to fly in the same seats for a fraction of the price they themselves paid… you see the picture starting to build. It’s not easy to give every single customer a moment of delight.

Now, that doesn’t mean we stop trying to delight our customers at all. Aiming to be the best part of someone’s day is always a fantastic goal. All it means is that in terms of operational transformation, pinning all your hopes on ‘delighting’ all your customers with grand gestures is setting yourself up to fail.

You need to pair your wish to delight the occasional individual with a more sustainable, longer-lasting ambition that builds delight up over time. Don’t stop trying to delight, just change your definition of what that means.

This is especially critical in today’s climate. The temptation to try and do wonderful, quirky and exciting things to welcome your customers back to you after lockdown is a strong driving force. Just remember, however, that what you implement now sets the tone for the rest of the customer relationship.

What’s the alternative?

Instead of trying to delight at every opportunity, try to wow your customers with the stability and consistency they receive from you. Be a rock – a reliable constant in an otherwise uncertain world. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting (even with the word wow in there…) but consider this example – again from our hypothetical airline.

Take the same passengers and rewind the clock. Don’t upgrade them and you might not get the immediate wow factor, but this scenario instead: they get to their originally booked seat, having been greeted by a friendly and smiling member of cabin crew, who helps them tuck their luggage safely away in the overhead cabins.

They sit through a safety briefing led by an enthusiastic and entertaining member of the crew, who clearly loves their job and enjoys working with people. The captain comes onto the announcement system, wishes everyone a good morning, tells the passengers the weather is looking fantastic at their onward destination (warm but not too hot) and that the flight will be taking off on time – which should enable them to get to the beach by lunch if they so wish. He introduces himself by name, introduces the cabin crew by name and each one waves as their name is called out – friendly and reassuring – smiling in agreement when the captain says that they will be more than happy to help with anything. Just press the overhead button…

No grand gesture, no big ‘wow’ moment.

What this alternative journey does is something far cleverer. It is consistent. It is the same experience for everyone and everything happens as it should. Nothing is difficult to replicate en masse, nothing is out of the control of the crew, you have received what you paid for – what you expected – and it is, above all else, easy. It slowly starts to build confidence in the brand.

Replicate this experience time after time, and you start to get a reputation for excellence (whether you pulled out the delightful moments or not) and your loyal customer base starts to grow. When your customers think of you; they think “Wow”.

Sustainability is key. The simple equation below sums it up:

Making things easy + Inspiring confidence = Increased customer loyalty and revenue growth

So, what does that look like in reality? Here we split things into two. For more on the concept of inspiring confidence, check out our next instalment of Bill and Doug.

Top tips for making things easy

1. Customer Effort Score

What is the Customer Effort Score? It’s a way to measure just how easy or difficult it was for a customer to achieve their goal with you. It can be applied to any area of the experience, from making a purchase or a return, to reaching out to make a complaint or accessing help.

The survey usually asks the customer to rate their interaction with you on a scale from ‘Very Easy’ to ‘Very Difficult’. It’s a well-established metric, some see it as an alternative to the net promoter score, some build it in as part of their wider strategy. However you use it – switching to reviewing the customer effort score is a fantastic way to make sure you are helping your customers get through their experience with you with minimum effort.

2. Help customers in the channel they reach you through

One of the biggest factors in customer interactions where the rating comes back as difficult is having to switch channels to resolve an issue or achieve a goal. If a customer calls to change their address, change it. If a customer emails a complaint, don’t point them towards your complaint form. Be flexible in your approach and respect your customer’s time and choice. If they have called you, it’s how they want to do business with you.

3. Remove barriers

Step into your customer’s shoes and go through their journey. Journey mapping is a great way to highlight any pain points, and you can use a journey map to develop a service blueprint that helps to highlight which backend processes may be causing the customer frustration and making them go through more steps than they should to achieve their goal.

4. Don’t make them explain again!

We’ve all been there, all been passed to another agent or a supervisor. All had to call back to chase for an update to our complaint only to find ourselves explaining again, from the beginning. Don’t do that to your customers. Make sure your staff take thorough notes, and get into the habit of a detailed handover, including the issue, the steps the customer has taken so far, the key milestones and any emotional distress your customer might have felt as a result.

5. Understand how your customers want to use your service

Does your customer want to access your service on their mobile on the bus on the way home? Does your customer want to order your product from bed just before going to sleep? Understand the way your customer uses your website and make sure it’s optimised to provide an easy experience. In addition, think of the little things. If your customer does want to purchase your product late at night from the comfort of their bed, do they want to get up, go downstairs and find their wallet to pay? Or do they want to use PayPal or Apple pay in one click and then close their eyes and go to sleep? I think we all know the answer.

So there you have it – Aim to delight your customers through sustainable, consistently repeatable little touches throughout each and every customer journey, and save the big gestures for special occasions!


Check out previous instalments of Bill and Doug:

Easy as ABC: Employee Recognition and How To Do It Right


Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownJuly 2, 2020



It’s a gloomy Monday morning and again, three of your five-strong team are off sick – but who can blame them? It was a tough week last week. Julie from accounts forgot to process the refunds, so Mr Thomas and Mrs White have been calling to find out when you’ll be giving them their money back, and whether you’ll increase their settlement as this is yet another thing that has gone wrong.

To top it all off, you just remembered that your boss wanted a report on the rise in complaints by end of day Friday. You had it ready to go, but you got distracted at the last minute and never hit send…

If you’re a leader on the front line, the chances are that at some point you might have felt like all you do is fight fires. You might even be pretty good at it – appearing calm on the surface whilst like a duck you are paddling away frantically underneath the water, doing all you can just to stay afloat.

Once you’re stuck in a fire fighting loop; it’s very difficult to get out of it. It will be practically impossible to break the cycle unless you recognise it for what it is, notice it happening to you, and take proactive steps to bring about change.

Why do things need to change? Because staying in crisis mode is bad for your health – dealing with unexpected issues on a day to day basis will gradually erode your wellbeing to the point of burnout. It’s also bad for business…

Don’t forget that what impacts you, impacts your customer. The link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction is long-established. Did you also know that one of the key symptoms of severe stress is forgetfulness? You might be the most organised person in the world, but under stress you are not you, and mistakes will happen.

Take a deep breath… You can fix this.

Who’s heard of a time management quadrant? The quadrant splits your work tasks into four distinct categories. There’s urgent and important tasks (Q1), non-urgent important tasks (Q2), urgent non-important tasks (Q3) and non-urgent, non-important tasks. (Q4)


Write down all the things you did at work in the last week. Now allocate them to a section of the quadrant. If you were to add up all the hours spent on each task, how much time would you spend in each quadrant? If you spend most of your time doing urgent tasks whether important or not important (Q1 or Q3), the chances are your stress levels might be higher than if you spent most of your time working on important but not urgent tasks (Q2). You might also find that you run out of time to put in place some of the Q2 tasks that are essential to running a business or team (such as team engagement like one to ones, process improvements or strategic planning).

Most of us spend too much of our time in Q1, Q3 and Q4. Q2 is where we want to be and there are some things you can do to help yourself move towards a more balanced working week. The initial strategy to balance your quadrants is to cut out Q4 and reduce Q3. The time this frees up should be spent in Q2 removing all controllable causes of Q1 tasks (preventing fires before they start). Once all underlying causes have been mitigated, the result will be less time in Q1 and more time to spend in Q2 – creating a positive feedback loop whereby you can spend actual, quality time on strategy, business improvement and, even, just thinking.

Understand the Impact to Your Culture

First, work with other senior leaders and team members to review the bigger picture. How big a problem is there? Then, have them all perform the time management quadrant assessment, and look at where you sit as an organisation. Is this something that is indicative of a wider cultural issue that needs a collective effort to tackle? Once you know the scale of the challenge, you can look at tactical moves such as bringing in temporary staff to clear backlogs and end vicious cycles, or changing processes to give yourself more time to achieve important tasks in a non-urgent way.

Work Backwards

Review an urgent task that you need to deliver regularly. Look at when it is due, and how much time it usually takes to perform it. If it takes a week to do and you know you need to deliver a result by the last working day of the month, start working on that task by the 15th and build in extra time to counteract the possibilities of other urgent tasks taking you away from your goal. This takes a potential Q1 task and ensures it remains as Q2 – reducing your stress and (hopefully) improving the quality of the output.

If you are reliant on another team to help you deliver, make sure the project goals are clearly communicated, that they know what you need from them, and that they have committed to completing it within an agreed timeframe.

Work as a team to make sure that you get what you need and to take the rush away from your task.

Learn to Say No

Saying no can make us feel guilty, it can leave us feeing unhelpful, and we may end up concerned that we appear unwilling to work as a team. It’s crucial to know your limits, know your own priorities and be prepared to politely – but firmly – speak up if something is out of scope of your project, or would delay the important priorities you have been charged with. You don’t always have to issue a flat out no either, you could suggest an alternative deadline that you could achieve, or find a middle ground that would enable them to get to the same result they need without you having to use so much time or team resource to do so.

Review Your Learning

If you constantly find yourself fighting the same fires, set time aside each week to look at what happened, why it happened, and what could be done to stop it happening in the same way again. Ask yourself those three questions for each task that falls into either of the urgent quadrants.

For example: if you found that your week was spent dealing with complaints relating to refunds not being processed in time (which subsequently had to be treated as urgent and important due to the impact on the customer experience and potential brand damage), it could look something like this.

What happened? Refunds were not processed in time, leading to four customer complaints

Why did it happen? Julie from accounts who usually processes refunds took last minute leave and didn’t notify you that she wouldn’t be able to do the refunds; or tell her manager that the refunds had not been done.

What could be done to prevent it from happening again? Ask that Julie trains a colleague to also issue refunds, and that between them they try to avoid taking leave on the same day. Ask that leave dates are sent as an FYI to customer-facing departments at least 2 weeks prior to taking, to ensure customer expectations could be managed if needed. Look into whether there is an option to remove the manual element of the task and automate refunds with a simpler process that benefits customers.

Listen to your customers and get proactive

Once you open the floodgates to feedback, and make it as easy as possible for customers to let you know what they love and what frustrates them, you will have all the tools you need to get the root cause of any complaints coming in. Once you know the cause, you can start to work on fixing it ahead of it going wrong – potentially preventing the complaints from coming in at all. If you don’t quite manage to prevent the problem in time, take back control and get in touch with your customer before they even have to pick up the phone. By reaching out proactively you have taken some of the inconvenience for the customer away, and you show them that you care enough to notice their problem. It will make for an easier, quicker resolution and fewer complaints in the long run. That will free up your time.

Whatever course of action you choose to take, think of it like this: if you’re constantly putting out fires, you don’t buy a bigger hose – you get rid of the dry wood.


Check out the previous instalments of Bill and Doug:

Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownJune 19, 2020


This week many retail businesses are starting to reopen. Shops that were considered non-essential during the initial phases of lockdown are preparing to throw their doors open again in a new era for customer experience.

It’s been 89 days since lockdown was first announced on the 23rd of March, and people were told to work from home where they could. So, the big question is, how much can 89 days change how our customers think, feel and shop, and how can we meet their expectations in this new world?

No doubt you’ve heard about the perspex screens, the one-in / one-out policies and the closure of fitting rooms to try and ensure that both customers and staff are kept as safe as possible. There are plenty of health and safety guidelines available, and businesses offering to help you get your premises up to code popping up daily.

It is of course crucial that any retail business re-opening follows any health and safety measures as issued by the government, but there are plenty of articles out there that deal with that side of things. This is a different sort of Covid related article, and here’s why:

Our customers have just undergone a massive change. It has been thrust upon them with little warning, with no consultation and they have had limited control on what their day to day life has looked like since March. That has been scary, but it’s not the end of the story.

Dr. Larry Richard, a leading expert in the psychology of behaviour when it comes to change management, believes that when dealing with change, there are essentially two types, episodic and continuous. We are able to deal with episodic change easily, a loud noise might distract us, or startle us, but we move on quickly and soon forget about the noise. Continuous change, however, such as the state of change we have been experiencing since March, has the potential to be far more unsettling.

Continuous change is relentless and far more unpredictable. It puts us in a constant state of alert. We remain “off balance” much of the time. Since it has no end point, we’re never fully able to relinquish all of our refocused attention.” – Dr. Larry Richard

Our customers could be suffering from the effects of living in a state of continuous, unpredictable change with no clear end in sight. So, doesn’t it make sense to try to understand what kind of impact that might have had on them, how to help support them through this period and ultimately how to adapt our businesses to their needs?

Change of this nature – unrelenting, sudden, and continuous – can trigger our threat response, setting off anxiety and a heightened sense of constantly being on alert. Alongside the increased anxiety, our customers may:

  • Suffer from mood swings and emotional instability
  • Feel an increase in negative emotions such as irritability, distractibility, sadness, worry, agitation or passivity
  • Have a lower attention span
  • Experience lower levels of trust, and increased cynicism
  • May feel disconnected from others (this is especially true in the current climate)

So, what can you do to help your customers, aside from the more obvious safety measures being put in place?

Look after your staff

Looking after your staff should always be no.1 on your list of priorities.

Staff who feel cared for, and genuinely looked after, will always be happier, more dedicated and more likely to enjoy their work. This impacts your customers.

This isn’t new advice, but what might be new are the measures you may need to take to make your team feel safe and cared for. Ensure they have everything they need to keep them, and their families as safe as possible during their return to work. Ask them what would help them feel safer and ensure you really take this chance to listen and understand their concerns about returning. Don’t just assume that everyone will be happy to get back to work now that the government advice has changed.

It’s the right way to treat your team, but now we know it’s also something that’s important to your consumers.

Ninety-one percent of UK consumers who took part in the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 felt “brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends”

Crucially, the same study also reported that 71 percent of consumers felt that if they saw brands placing profit ahead of people those brands would lose their trust forever.

Be consistent where you possibly can

Ease the impact of all the change where you can by clinging to the things you can be consistent on. If it’s possible:

  • Keep your opening hours the same
  • Keep your usual people on the tills – a familiar face will go a long way to creating a sense of normality and trust
  • Where you can, keep your stock in the same place as normal and don’t make the route around the shop too convoluted
  • If you need to put some stock away to make more room for customers to move around in a socially distanced way, try to anticipate customer needs and have high sales items readily available, clean and ready to replace

Don’t become so distracted by the required changes dictated by government guidelines that you forget your core messages, your core values, and how you communicate with your customers.

Make things clear

Don’t assume that your customers have read the social distancing guidance that you have, or that they will instinctively understand any new ways of moving around your premises.

You will have thought out your opening, and planned a safe route for shoppers to follow. Make sure there are signs available on entry and at every potential point of confusion. Be careful not to remove the human element though, a friendly and reassuring face to help explain to any shoppers what to do on entry is a great way to ensure your returning customers feel more at ease. Don’t forget, it’s a nerve-wracking experience going shopping for the first time since lockdown, and many shoppers will be hesitant, unsure and look to you and your staff for clarification on the new rules.

Another element to consider is how you ask your frontline staff to handle anyone who has misunderstood the new ways of shopping. It might be scary for them if someone steps too close, or picks something up they shouldn’t, but the chances are your customer has simply forgotten, become distracted and slipped back into a lifetime of habit and if your team can politely and firmly but in a friendly way just remind them of the new rules it will help everyone feel safer. Empathy, as always, is key here.

Be kind – you could be the best part of someone’s day

With the heightened level of anxiety and new guidelines for how to go shopping, your customers may not know what to expect.

Showing kindness is a great way to help your customers feel more comfortable and to ensure that their first shopping experience with you cements their brand loyalty.

If you can, be flexible with explaining how things work, extending returns deadlines, allowing vouchers that expired during the lockdown period to still be used. If someone can’t make it to the shop, think outside of the box – could you send them photos of a product, or give them advice over the telephone instead?

Look for ways to add value and be prepared for a little light-hearted conversation from your customers – you might be the first person they’ve had a chance to speak to face-to-face for three months. You could change their whole day by showing some kindness.

Prep your team for the potential of complaints

If we accept that our customers may feel more irritable, experience increased cynicism and generally be experiencing a permanent state of anxiety, it stands to reason that this could materialise in more customer concerns being raised. If this does happen, make sure your team understand the emotional backdrop that your customers might be experiencing, and practise empathy before responding to try to offer a helpful resolution.

We are all in this together, and for the first time in memorable history, almost all staff and customers have something major in common. Build on that to help fuel more understanding customer interactions.

Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownJune 4, 2020


Author: Rebecca Brown

Moving with the times, innovating or keeping up with the Joneses when it comes to customer experience is never easy.

Sometimes it can feel like it’s made even harder by the array of options open to businesses. Being spoilt for choice in an era where decision fatigue is high and the pressure is on to evolve or cease to exist, can leave you more than just confused. It can feel outright overwhelming, especially when it comes to your online presence.

AI has been leading the way when it comes to online innovation, with sophisticated chat-bots that can actually replicate conversation, and automated marketing campaigns that learn from your customer behaviour.

A top ten list of successfully deployed chat-bots was published this week, which talked about a bot that had been programmed to answer questions as Albert Einstein. Suddenly that question of who would you invite to a dinner party, past or present, takes on whole new possibilities…

That said, for every successfully deployed intuitive chat-bot, there are many that haven’t worked so well, leaving customers feeling angry and frustrated at the lack of human assistance. A great example of a bot that’s just missed the mark completely is InspiroBot – a bot that’s sole purpose is to generate inspirational quotes with an image behind it. Whilst I’m sure it’s still getting a fair hit rate based on the occasional blooper is spot on my LinkedIn feed, it’s safe to say that it’s neither appropriate or inspirational when a bot populates the statement ‘There’s no excuse for being Dumb’ as its best effort.

So you might think it’s safest to just do what everyone else is doing? Think again.

Dominos Pizza released an app that enabled the user to order their previously saved pizza by simply opening the app. No swiping, clicking or frantically searching for payment cards that your toddler may or may not have tucked down the back of her mini oven. Just instant, easy ordering. So impressive, that it almost makes you want to try and replicate it doesn’t it? Only here is the issue – it really can’t be applied to the vast majority of brands.

It can be so tempting to look at what other businesses are doing (or what your competitors are doing) when considering how to move your business into the next generation, but even that isn’t guaranteed to work.

Your competition may have different brand values, a different customer base or different systems that they plug into. There can be no one size fits all approach to maximising the potential of your website whether it’s one page detailing your services or a complex web estate.

So, what are your best options?

Call in the experts

As a CX practitioner, I would never try to pass as a surgeon. I wouldn’t be very good and I’m incredibly squeamish. So why try to perform the functions of a web designer or user experience expert? Leaving the innovation to UX professionals who’ve trained, who keep up to date with the latest technologies and can do the relevant customer research required to build an effective solution is by far the best way. If you can’t afford to hire someone permanently then there are some great contractors or agencies out there, doing really exciting things!

Don’t try to be like everyone else

Speak to your customers, find out their frustrations with your online presence and fix what irritates them the most. Your customer’s frustrations will be unique to their experience with you, so implementing a solution that worked for others will leave you just as likely to fail as succeed if you haven’t done the relevant research.

Don’t assume that innovation has to mean gadgets and AI

Sometimes the most innovative thing you can do is listen – actually, properly listen – to your customers. As long as you have sufficient technology in place for your customers to contact you when they want, this innovation comes from changing the way your business and its people think, feel and behave – not from buying the latest Content Management System or implanting speech analytics.

If you listen to what your customers have to say, make it as easy as possible for them to say it and then take positive action to not only respond, but to learn as an organisation so that your next customer doesn’t have the same problem, then that’s more innovation than a lot of businesses… Get the basics right, and you’ll see customer loyalty soar. Then if you want to dabble a little with AI – why not?

Bring your customers on the journey with you

Change can be scary. As a society we’ve just undergone a monumental change to the way we live our lives without prior warning, without getting a say and at a whiplash-inducing pace. To a lesser extent, customers feel the same effect when one of their suppliers changes.

To offset this, we need to ensure that any period of reflection and subsequent change is communicated loud and clear to our customers, well ahead of anything actually happening – ideally with a consultative approach. If you believe in making your business the best it can be, and having that reflect in your online offering, then you probably want to make it clear that in your eyes the work will never be ‘finished’.

Continuous improvement is what customer experience is all about, so position that carefully with your customers. State it on your website, in your surveys, on your calls – something as simple as ‘We care about the journey our customers have, so we are committed to consistent improvement across all our services. We might ask you some questions from time to time to help us make sure we get it right, and you may see some changes along the way.’ This is enough to cover most bases, whilst reassuring your customer that they are – and always be – at the heart of everything you do.


Check out the previous instalments of Bill and Doug:
Experience Isn’t Enough – You’ll Need a Map Where You’re Going!
Easy as ABC: Employee Recognition and How To Do It Right

Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownMay 22, 2020


Author: Rebecca Brown

There are lots of different styles when it comes to leadership.

Lots of approaches, lots of management books and leadership guides. Volume upon volume of materials that you can digest online, on your kindle or even these days, in an audiobook. You can read up on just about anything. You can learn all there is about any subject. Any subject that is, except your customer.

No off-the-shelf book will be able to tell you which elements of your customer journey your clients love, and which bits they are finding most frustrating. It’s not because there aren’t plenty of (fantastic) books on customer experience out there – it’s more that your customers’ needs are a constantly evolving thing. They change with the economy, they change with trends, they change with advances in technology – Let’s face it, it can sometimes feel like they change with the wind!

Being the type of leader who relies solely on your years of experience, and the experience levels of your senior leadership team to shape your customer journey could mean you’re working with out of date material before you even begin. By assuming you know what your customers want because you knew what they wanted this time last year, you could end up like Bill, walking down a familiar road only to get a nasty surprise when you turn the corner.

Experience is no substitute for up to date feedback. The two need to go hand in hand. This has always been the case, but is true now more than ever.

We’ve all been impacted by Covid-19 in one way or another. Some of us are lucky enough to have the relentlessness of 24/7 childcare and the potential peril of stepping on duplo first thing in the morning be our biggest stressor, whilst others have been left in heart-breaking situations that no one should have to face. The world we knew is forever changed, and along with it are the consumers we want to attract and retain.

It’s predicted we’re about to enter the largest recession in recorded history. People are nervous and uncertain, with both their emotional and physical wellbeing under threat with no clear timescale for when that might end. Whilst most people are desperate for things to go back to normal, it’s a safe assumption that even when it does, the new ‘normal’ won’t resemble what we’re used to. How could it?

It’s a grim picture, but it’s not all doom and gloom – or at least it doesn’t have to be. We need to come to terms with the fact we don’t know our customers like we once did. We need to rekindle that relationship, and we need to do it fast if we’re to remain relevant in what’s about to become one of the most competitive markets any of us have seen.

But… here comes the exciting bit! If we accept that our customers are not the same, and that our old way of approaching them may no longer cater for their needs then we can start to open our minds to the possibility of nationwide innovation and maybe even cross-industry collaboration on an unprecedented scale.

By approaching your customer experience strategy as a priority, having an open mind, asking the right questions, and taking clearly defined steps to improve your customer journey through journey mapping, you could well be setting your business up for the best cultural shift it’s ever encountered, and in turn a strong recovery followed by a period of sustained growth.

Our top tips:

1. Look after your people

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 71% of people say that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever. We all know that looking after your people is the right thing to do, but now it’s also good business.

Our most recent instalment of Bill and Doug covers some ideas on how to check in with your employees if you get stuck for ideas!

2. Change the way you ask for feedback

Offer your customers the ability to provide feedback on their agenda, at a time, place and in a way that’s convenient for them. Don’t make feedback all about you and your company by asking old fashioned questions and long-winded surveys.

Utilising simple feedback tools that can be triggered by a customer when they feel particularly motivated to tell you about their experience will yield more results, and give you more relevant insights.

Then make sure you use that feedback in the right way. Share it with everyone in your business. They all play a part in the customer journey so they need to know how they impact it, and what they can do differently. Make customer feedback a part of your team meetings, and make sure that your team see your leadership embracing feedback as the positive and transformational tool it can be.

3. Map your customer journeys

Using current insight gained from feedback and customer focus sessions is the best way to map your current journey, your aspirational one and to complete a gap analysis of the two.

Plotting an emotional curve against your current journey will enable you to know exactly which areas of business change to focus on and which are just fine as they are.

4. Implement a Shadow Board

For those of you who have yet to come across this concept, a shadow board is where you select a diverse group of young individuals from within your company, not necessarily from existing high potential groups, and usually the same number as are on your actual board or senior team. Their purpose is to challenge and innovate, injecting fresh ideas and cultural change into senior leadership decision making and organisational processes.

In a lot of cases they will be far more likely to represent your customer base than those you have in senior positions. Shadow boards see things in a different way to you, and can offer new perspectives on age old challenges, not to mention it’s a great way to encourage employee engagement and personal development!


Check out the first instalment of Bill and Doug:
Easy as ABC: Employee Recognition and How To Do It Right


Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownMay 13, 2020


Employee recognition is key to the success of any organisation, but whilst this fact has been well established, it seems there is still a lot of room for interpretation.

For example, a statistic published by World at work states that the no.1 type of recognition that organisations have in place is still recognising years of service, with a whopping 87% of companies still building their recognition schemes around tenure. Compare that to the research produced by York College of Pennsylvania’s centre for professional excellence which found that Millennials require immediate recognition for accomplishments, and you can see where things could go wrong.

Another potential problem area applies specifically to the world we all work within. Whilst it’s an outdated principle, and becoming less and less prominent in organisations where customer experience is a specialist function, some companies still feel that complaint handling is a negative thing, not to be openly acknowledged or shouted about. They feel that admitting they get complaints shows the company in a negative light, and that can mean that anyone working hard to help customers in a complaint handling function, may not get the reward or recognition they deserve.

The chances are that if you spend time reading CXM, you already know how crazy that is. But maybe you’re having trouble getting that message through your whole organisation.

On top of everyday challenges, employee recognition and engaging the workforce has just become harder with the widespread enforced adoption of working from home to keep us all safe. How your company chooses to respond during this period of remote work will not only help you with your current employees, it will help you attract and retain high quality candidates in the future too – now is a great time to look at your employee engagement strategy.

We’ve pulled together just a few quick tips to help any organisation struggling to motivate and retain top customer service talent:

1. Enable your teams to provide peer to peer feedback, publicly and encourage this as much as possible.

Studies have shown that peer to peer feedback can have up to 36% more positive impact than manager praise alone. Looking at a platform that can allow your teams to shout about great work remotely will help them to stay connected and to know their hard work matters.

2. Reward the continued focus and hard work of your teams since the lockdown with a token gesture.

It’s not easy to adjust to working from home, especially for those also balancing child care. Studies show that gift cards mean a lot to staff, so why not invest in your local community at the same time as recognising hard work? You could buy a gift card for a local restaurant for when they open back up or try something a little different – Employee discount schemes such as My Vip Rewards can offer discounts on local independent retailers as well as larger national brands and may help keep the economy going once things start to re-open.

3. Say thank you face to face, and at a deliberate time.

Fitting a rushed thank you in at the end of the working week, or as part of a catch-up call can make it seem like a bit of an afterthought. Contact your team member via video call (if your internet speed allows) and say thank you. Make the call specifically about thanking them and finish the call without adding any other agenda items, so it’s clear that thanking them was your sole driver.

4. Be transparent and communicate regularly about any plans that could impact your workforce.

Share proposed plans on how you will safely manage their re-entry to the office. Staff will appreciate being kept in the loop and it will inspire their confidence that there is significant consideration being given to their safety and welfare. If it’s more serious than that, and there is potential for layoffs, you couldn’t do much better than look to the recent communication from the AirBnB CEO to all of his team. He delivered a heartfelt, and honest address that reassured his team he would do what he could to look after them, even if the worst should happen and he couldn’t keep them on.


Cartoon author: Rebecca Brown, CEO and Founder of ThinkWoW.


Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownMarch 5, 2020


Anyone who has worked in the complaint handling industry will tell you that like any job, there are good and bad days.

What isn’t like most other jobs is the emotional weight placed on a complaint handler when they have a 40-minute call with someone who alternates between swearing and shouting, and apologising and crying because they feel bad for shouting, and then back to shouting because they feel embarrassed they cried…

Have you ever thought about how you would describe what you do, to someone who had no idea what a complaint handler was or had never even heard of it as a concept?
Picture this: You meet an alien, they have just arrived on earth but speak perfect English. In their world they don’t have business, or transactions – they simply have all they need already. They ask you what you do. On a very basic level, you might say something like “I speak to unhappy people all day, and try to make them happy again.”
They’d very likely think you were some kind of superhero, right?

If we look at the other industries that this description could also be applied to, I think we notice something quite interesting. In industries where there are a lot of intense emotional interactions, and where the relationship could be described as helper/recipient, we already know that there is a high risk of burnout.

Burnout: a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

This is an area that has been explored extensively in relation to talking therapies, nursing and teaching – but not for complaint resolution.

I remember my very first role in complaint handling. I fell into it by accident, and tried to quit after two months – determined I’d never listen to an irate customer again.

Luckily for me, my boss at the time talked me round, listened to my concerns, and got me the support that I needed to be able to run an effective complaint handling department without becoming overwhelmed again. I owe him a huge amount, as choosing not to walk away from complaint handling led me to learn to love helping customers and the passion I feel for excellent Customer Experience today.

I once asked someone in an interview for a complaint handling role how she let off steam after a particularly complex complaint handling day with her previous team. She smiled and said “we had a box room, we just used to go and kick boxes”.

We all laughed, but she wasn’t actually joking. Stress is no joke.

Nearly half a million people in the UK have work-related stress at a level that makes them feel ill. – Bupa

Let’s examine the facts.

1. We are increasingly urged to empathise, to look at the human aspect of a complaint

Having been at the receiving end of many escalated complaints, I can confirm that it’s not uncommon for customers to bring unrelated emotional issues to the table.

Often the complaint is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and they are quite relieved to be able to get everything out to a complete stranger over the phone. A customer opening up about their particularly tough week, or their partner having recently been made redundant is often a sign we have done our jobs properly, shown empathy, and broken down the defensive barriers to enable us to get to the heart of what the complaint is really about.

At the time this helps lend context to a complaint, I can’t help wondering if we are paying the toll to help our customers deal with their own emotions?

2. The average complaint handler will be expected to speak to anywhere between 15 and 50 customers a week.

That means that even at the lower end of this scale, they will have spoken to almost a thousand individuals a year.

Most counsellors restrict the number of clients they see at any one time, and how many sessions they have in a week. Whilst it is certainly the case that complex emotions often bubble over into anger, most professional counsellors don’t have to deal with verbal abuse on a weekly basis as is often the case for a complaint handler. Yet they still have practices in place to ensure that any vicarious trauma they experience is resolved in a healthy way.

3. We are encouraged to speak professionally about customers at all times

If we are to ensure that customers get our respect, and that we continue to empathise, then we need to stop referring to them in any way that allows us to subconsciously see them as not deserving of an impartial complaint investigation and help to resolve their issue, (my recent article on learning to love complaints deals with this area in more detail) but that leave us with a new problem, which is – who do complaint handlers complain to?

We don’t want to go home and vent our frustrations at our spouses or children (something I can admit to on more than one occasion). We don’t take our frustrations out on our customers – obviously that would be highly inappropriate and negate the whole point of the customer service industry.

We don’t take our frustrations out on our colleagues, they have a tough time too and we are in the trenches together – the camaraderie won’t allow anything to bubble over, or in theory that’s the culture we encourage.

So is it time to look at how we cleanse the potentially toxic resentments inherent to complaint handling, as opposed to letting them out in an explosive, unpredictable way and potentially damaging those we care about?

So what can we do? And most importantly, what should all good employers do?

We can start by acknowledging that burnout is a real thing, and that anyone who understands complaint handling can see that if it applies to counselling, psychotherapy, and teaching, it definitely applies to complaint handling.

We have a duty to safeguard our employees, that is not debatable.

One potential approach is what we refer to at Think Wow as ‘The Tripod’.

A tripod is the ultimate stable structure. It can never wobble, even when on an uneven surface. We think it’s the perfect random item to influence a support culture.

We like to think that if we start to address the emotional needs of our staff, with a three legged approach, your team will reach a similar level of stability.

Immediate needs

Nothing feels worse than reaching out to genuinely try to help someone only to have them become aggressive, confrontational, or verbally abusive.

No matter how much we may try to increase our resilience against such attacks, our natural instinct towards fight or flight takes over. When we feel attacked, we feel unsafe. This triggers a neurological response that actually makes it harder for us to think, and even to see.

We are no longer in a good place to try and structure sentences, which can make us trip over our words and make an already stressful situation far worse. The result is that we put the phone down and feel emotional, shaken – even scared. If we are unlucky and we work in a particularly busy environment we may even have to get straight back on the phone.

Implement the ‘cup of tea rule’

The ‘cup of tea rule’ encourages two things.

Firstly, it encourages team members to take note when a colleague is clearly on one of those calls. Once they have spotted a colleague is struggling, they should go and get them a hot drink of their choice as a show of solidarity, a kind gesture and to help with the inevitable dry mouth that comes from high stress situations.

Then make it mandatory for that call handler to take at least a ten-minute tea break to calm their nerves and get back on an even keel before picking the phone up again. By making it mandatory you reduce the risk that people will consider taking a break to recover their emotional wellbeing as something that is not an accepted part of the culture.

Short-term needs

If we recognise that dealing with complaints on a daily basis may well have a cumulative effect – and result in stressors that increase rather than ebb and flow in direct correlation to work load – it becomes apparent that we need to offer our teams a way to vent.

Implement a buddy system akin to counsellor supervision sessions, but with the sole purpose to let a staff member discuss any particularly challenging customers, and speak their mind about how they felt at the time.

There are some guidelines for how these should work.

1. The buddy must never be a line manager or supervisor, but a peer who understands the challenges the staff member faces

2. Any discussion about a particular customer should be anonymised – refer to the customer as ‘the customer’ only.

3. This should be a weekly occurrence behind closed doors – it must be confidential in nature so the staff member can feel free to get anything troubling them off their chest.

Long-term needs

If your company is large enough and has the budget, consider investing in talking therapies for complaint handlers on a semi-regular basis.

Proactive management of emotions can prevent damage to mental health, and can often benefit the business in a reduction of sick days, better performance, and lower staff turnover. Ultimately, it shows you care.

Invest in hiring enough people to comfortably handle complaints. If we can stop seeing complaints as a negative, and instead look at the massive opportunity they represent for our long-term CX strategy, then it’s just common sense to ensure this part of our businesses is adequately resourced.

Taking the time pressures out of the equation for our team reduces stress and ensures a higher quality experience for any customer who has already been feeling let down (certain organisations now implement a minimum call time target as opposed to a maximum, to encourage call handlers to get to the heart of the issue and give the customer a high-quality service).

Regardless of whether you have a large budget or not, you should make it a top priority to increase learning that can help protect your team.

Have a manager look at every single call where a customer became aggressive or abusive. Were there any training tools that the call handler could have benefitted from that would have enabled a calmer discussion?

Could manager intervention sooner have turned things down a notch?

If there is anything that can be done in the wider organisation to ensure customers don’t feel so let down in the first instance, then this should be shared too and the whole business should make it a priority to protect the complaint handling team.

After all, often it’s the other way around.

Rebecca BrownRebecca BrownFebruary 4, 2020


‘Complaint’ has traditionally been seen as a dirty word; whispered within organisations and one that most senior staff would have done anything to avoid admitting applied to them.

The negative connotations that came with complaints meant that for years, anyone wishing to create or grow a complaint handling team was likely to come up against misconceptions such as:

“If we need more staff to handle complaints then we clearly have big issues!”


“We can’t call the customer support team complaint handlers – it makes it look like we have unhappy customers!”

I can almost feel the collective eye roll of hundreds of Customer Experience and customer service professionals who have had to battle against just that type of mindset.

The great news is that the business world is steadily waking up to the power of harnessing complaints to drive continuous improvement. No longer is it frowned upon to admit you get complaints, or that you require a dedicated team to deal with them.

In fact, companies such as Octopus Energy are leading the way by being totally transparent about their complaint statistics. They have nothing to hide, and they want to let their customer base know just how important improving the customer experience is to their whole team.

Interestingly, Octopus Energy have also reported a huge surge in their customer base – in just nine months they managed to go from 600,000 customers to 1.35 million. During this period of intense growth, their complaint statistics remained steady with only a minor increase in issues reported per 100,000 customers.

Despite the increase in forward-thinking companies like Octopus rising to the top, Salesforce recently reported that 91 percent of customers who are unhappy with a brand will simply leave without complaining. They also listed that only one in 26 unhappy customers are likely to raise a complaint.

At the same time, the UK Customer Satisfaction Index dropped for the fourth consecutive year. What this amounts to is that often the first you learn of a customer being unhappy is when they switch to the competition – if you even notice at all!

No alt text provided for this image

So, accepting that complaints are a necessary evil is not enough. We need to take it one step further. The businesses who consistently wow their customers understand that complaints are fantastic, and if we can learn to fall in love with them too, we as a nationwide Customer Experience industry can reverse this trend.

There are several steps you can take today to help your team love complaints:

1. Discourage your team referring to a customer as ‘complaining’

If you search the term ‘complaining meaning’ in a popular search engine, you get the following result:


the expression of dissatisfaction or annoyance about something.

“his complaining has been a little bit annoying”

Meanwhile, a quick look at an online thesaurus returns grumbling, bellyaching, moaning, and whining as synonyms of the word complaining.

This perfectly sums up why the use of ‘complaining’ within a complaint handling team is so corrosive. As a word, it has negative connotations and anyone using it to describe a customer is subliminally giving themselves permission to see that customer as a nuisance.

Instead, let’s just refer to them as what they are – an unhappy customer.

They may have raised a complaint – a factual statement – but when you stop referring to them as complaining you have taken the first step towards respecting your customer and their right to raise a genuine grievance. This simple change in approach eventually helps a team to feel more empathy towards unhappy customers, and this leads to greater satisfaction during – and after – the complaint handling process for both customer and employee.

2. Ditch the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘unfounded complaint’

How many times have you heard a complaint handler or a colleague express their frustration over an unjustified or unfounded complaint?

It doesn’t seem fair does it? You have to spend your time investigating that complaint, even when you know the customer has just misunderstood the proposition, or had too high an expectation of what would happen, right?


In order to truly embrace complaints as a driver for change, we need to accept that we have full accountability for our Customer Experience. We are in a position where we understand our business model explicitly.

We know what our purchasing process is, what can cause delays, and what the product offering is. Most customers will never spend as much time on our websites as we do. We are the experts and it is our obligation to ensure we arm our customers with enough easily digestible, intuitive information that they never have the opportunity to misunderstand, or expect anything other than what we will deliver.

If we set out to explain ourselves clearly and we understand that our customer is not the expert in our business, then we can ensure that any negative review or expression of dissatisfaction is looked at with absolute objectivity. How can we ensure that the customer understands something better in the future, or what can we change in our process to make sure there is no room for concern or uncertainty for our customers?

3. Set yourself the highest standards

When you count your complaints, don’t be tempted to lie to yourself. Just because it didn’t contain the word complaint, or because it didn’t come through an officially recognised complaint channel, does not mean it is not a complaint.

If a customer has expressed dissatisfaction in any way then they should be counted, contacted, and learned from. Take it one step further – if your business model aims to delight customers, then consider anything less than a full five-star review an expression of dissatisfaction.

Sure, you might speak to the odd customer who confirms they actually did love their experience, they just hate to give out top marks for anything. You also might just learn the secret ingredient you have been missing all along.

4. Learn from every single complaint that comes your way

Don’t just collect stats.

So many companies are data-rich, information-poor. There are tools out there that provide the exact analytics you need to spot complaint trends, and enable proactive interactions that can inform your business and ensure that the volume of complaints you receive genuinely gets smaller over time – while your loyal customer base (and revenue) grows.

Make it policy that each person responding to a complaint should suggest two things that could have prevented the complaint arising in the first place. Some of your best insight comes from the experts in your team and you know that they will feel more empowered and engaged if they have been involved in the change process.

So, stop seeing complaints as the enemy and give this approach a try. Embrace the subtle changes with enthusiasm and see how you feel about complaints in a few months’ time.

Who knows, this could be the start of a beautiful relationship!

Inform. Inspire. Include.
A free way to improve your business.

Customer Experience Magazine is the online magazine packed full of industry news, blogs, features, reports, case studies, video bites and international stories all focusing on customer experience.



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