Whilst perusing the shelves at one of the UK’s biggest chain bookshops, I found myself making all too close acquaintance with a gentleman who was vacuuming at my feet.
Ah yes, the familiar sound of “it’s 10 minutes to closing time, now please bugger off so we can all go home”.
Coming from California, home of the ‘hiiiii how are you? Have a wonderful day!!!!’ ethos of customer service, my initial experiences in England were of culture shock and bafflement – mutual I suppose – as I watched my groceries pile up at the bottom of the belt while the Tesco teller kept scanning and scanning. Oh, it dawned on me, I have to do it myself. Hurriedly I packed, whilst a queue built up behind me. I find a strange charm in the way that the UK doesn’t try too hard at customer service.
I couldn’t help but laugh when the obligatory surly teenager serving at the local corner shop said, “I can’t be bothered” and scanned in our groceries with an eye roll, no smile.
The times are a-changin’. It’s an exciting time to be in the field of customer experience and execs in traditionally non-customer-centric industries such as banking and insurance are now putting customers at the front of their agenda.
At Solus ARC, Aviva’s national group of accident repair centres, we are putting the customer at the heart of how we run our business, to support the customers in the key moment of truth – that moment when they have had an accident and need help.
As a customer I’ve observed the Co-operative Bank making changes in the way they serve customers – customer experience is a priority for all its customer service officers and staff are making increased efforts to build rapport and follow up at the end of most transactions with ‘by the way, you might receive a customer satisfaction survey….’
We in the UK are at a cultural turning point. A recent study from Nunwood suggests that the UK is trailing 5 years behind the US in customer experience. As customer experience practitioners, we can look to the US both as inspiration and, standing on the shoulders of giants, accelerate our learning curve and avoid needless mistakes. Yet we are not America, and the elements of great customer service do not always translate well culturally across the pond.
We know now that customers don’t like overly scripted service and are hungrier than ever for authenticity. Wally Ollins’ book Brand New is great food for thought those keen to explore the relationship with customers and brands in today’s world, with the increasing demands on social responsibility, environmentalism, individuality and authenticity. The challenge for customer experience practitioners is to bridge the gap between the brand promise created by marketers and the customer’s lived experience.
As organisations drive forward with their customer experience efforts, I would urge the UK to find a balance; Customer Experience must not come at the expense of homogenising our diverse British culture. Yet there continue to be amusing tales of customer service gaffes in UK shops – many would be well advised to follow these common-sense CX tips. No robotic scripts of ‘have a nice day!’ required:
- Always make customers feel welcome, until the shop has actually closed. Closing activities are for after the shop has closed.
- Serve the customer like they are the only one that matters. Do shield the customer from your internal problems and processes. “We are really busy” is an issue for management, not customers.
- Customers are always watching – be 100% switched on all the time. At times it is both amusing and bizarre to observe staff make a Jekyll-and-Hyde switch from exuding vibes of ‘I’m going to pretend I can’t see you, I’m busy’ into ‘HIi! How can I help you!!’, after a customer has stood there ignored, waiting for 5 minutes with pleading ‘help me’ eyes.
- Don’t take ‘trapped’ customers for granted. In B2B environments it’s especially important to be mindful of trapped vs. loyal customers; though customers may not be able to come and go with the agility of the consumer-space, there is a lot more financially at stake in the keeping of a business relationship.
And for the love of Bruce Temkin, Jeanne Bliss and all the patron saints of CX, don’t ever, ever, hoover at a customer’s feet.