Great customer experience doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a long-term commitment to learning about your customer, an understanding that the work is never ‘done’, and a universal vision shared by everyone who works in your organisation – to provide your customer with the service they expect; each and every interaction.

Even with the right intentions, the sad fact is that fantastic businesses fail every day. So what makes one business succeed, where another one doesn’t? Is it down to luck? Hard work? Getting the right support?

Let’s take the current climate as an example. Businesses have had a stark choice to either adapt swiftly, bring in radical new policies and change how they operate or, in some cases, remain closed – possibly forever.

This could be the perfect time to use Covid as an excuse. To let complaints build up or leave customers waiting on the phones for longer than usual with the misconception that your customers will show understanding. We are all in this together after all – aren’t we?

The problem is that whilst customers probably were more understanding at the beginning of the nationwide lockdown, sentiment amongst our customers is shifting now – and with good reason.

Ian King, Business Presenter for Sky News put it well when he asked: “Will coronavirus be latest ready-made excuse for poor company performance? From the weather to the World Cup, there is a long history of companies blaming factors beyond their control for missed targets.”

The public are starting to feel more and more that businesses have had enough time to make plans, to bring in more staff to help with increased demand, or to re-set expectations where things have changed beyond recognition. Customers have run out of patience and if we don’t take that seriously, we run the risk of seeing them vote with their feet.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Amongst the businesses doing the bare minimum, there are plenty of shining lights. Businesses who have taken control and been proactive about their customer experience from early on in the situation, genuinely looking after both their staff and their customers in the process.

One business leading the way in post-Covid preparations is South-Coast based chocolatier, Montezuma’s.

Whilst walking past their Chichester store last week, I was struck by how clear and simple they’d made their guidance to anyone visiting their shop. You could see from a distance whether they were full and if so where to queue and a friendly staff member was permanently present to offer support and guidance.

A quick scan of their recent reviews shows two things. Firstly, that they aren’t hiding anything. Like any large-scale business, they will get the occasional unhappy customer, and those (few) negative reviews are left online for all to see. Their transparency is refreshing.

The second thing is that they clearly pulled their socks up and made changes that impacted positively on their customer experience very early on, whilst some other retailers were still ‘solving’ large call queues by turning off phone lines.

“Challenging times demand chocolate”, “Excellent service despite current difficulties” and “A very good service in these difficult times” are just three direct quotes from customers.

I will certainly never disagree that challenging times demand chocolate, (that’s one customer who has their lockdown strategy figured out!) but I was keen to understand what had left these customers so satisfied, what had driven the changes in store, and whether Montezuma’s had landed on a positive customer experience by chance.

I reached out to Co-Founder Helen Pattinson to ask her about Montezuma’s approach to customer experience, and the challenges they’ve faced since the start of 2020.

Here’s how they approached re-opening, and some handy tips that retail stores can take on board!

1. What’s been your biggest challenge in re-opening and have you experienced a difference in overall customer satisfaction?

Helen: Our biggest challenge was ensuring the stores were safe, and above all the perception by customers (and staff) was that they were safe. Our customers have been fairly understanding about the measures in place, they probably miss their little chocolate taster when they pop into store but again, they understand the reasons why and hopefully this will be back in some form soon.

2. How did you approach your plan to re-open, to ensure you placed the welfare of your staff and customers first?

Helen: As soon as we had the green light from the government to open our stores again, we decided not to rush back in to it and to wait and see what the high street was doing.  We wanted time to ensure that we captured the best practice and had time to train the teams; the extra two weeks meant we were comfortable we would get it right first time for our customers and staff. Risk Assessments were carried out in each store, resulting in a phased opening on reduced hours and days to ensure we didn’t over commit to staffing levels and gauge what the high street was doing. Our Head of Retail and his teams have a WhatsApp group to ensure regular communication. We also ensured every store had a laptop to help with communication and interaction, making training and regular communication via Zoom or Teams much easier now.

3. What do the changes look like in your shops?

Helen: We’ve always had a policy that the customer must be made to feel very welcome with no pressure to buy and a chance to taste and chat about their favourite foodstuff, so a lot of the changes we’ve had to make in store really go against the grain and we’ve had to work really hard to ensure they achieve all our goals.

Measures put in place include a barrier at the entrance to keep the number of customers in the store at a safe level, implementing Perspex screens at till areas, providing staff with masks, visors and gloves, installing hand sanitiser stations, using floor tape to demarcate 2m zones, applying a one-way system in store, maintaining card only payments (encouraging contactless), utilising a pairing system for staff to work together where possible, frequent cleaning of the store – especially high touch areas – following additional control procedures, removing ‘naked’ chocolate from sale, no sampling of open chocolate to shoppers, encouraging all customers to wear masks instore (where appropriate i.e. we are not refusing those who are exempt). 

We managed the customers’ expectations by using signage at the barrier to communicate our measures to customers with the aim of ensuring they still feel welcome but also reassured we’re taking every possible measure to keep them safe.

4. What about your people, how do you make sure you find the right team to deliver excellent service, and how are you supporting them through the current situation?

Helen: we want people who are as passionate about the brand and share our values. You can easily train someone on how to do something, it is much harder to change a person’s behaviour – our interviews are interactive and relaxed to ensure their personalities can shine and encourage people to be themselves – we look for people who love people and enjoy making people feel happier than when they arrived in store.

We’re running customer service training sessions via Zoom every 2-3 weeks (so far for managers, to be expanded to the rest of the team). This has increased since re-opening as stores have benefitted from having laptops to enable more regular and convenient remote training sessions.  We’re about to launch LinkedIn learning for all our teams and in the medium to long term we are reviewing our customer service training, with a view to bringing in an overhauled programme that will deliver consistent Extraordinary Experiences!

I’d like to thank Helen for being so willing to share some of their secrets to success. It’s clear from the detail that she’s gone into in her answers that their customer experience strategy is no accident. In fact, they care about their customers so much at Montezuma’s that they work with a Customer Experience Agency to help collect the right insight, and transform that insight into a meaningful experience.

So, this week’s top tips:

  1. Deliberately design your customer experience, don’t leave room for chance or errors.
  2. Take your time, don’t rush to re-open if waiting to see how things work out will give you better access to best practice and ultimately enable better support for your customers.
  3. Invest in great teams – find the best staff, treat them well, and empower them through regular training!

Check out the previous instalment of Bill and Doug:

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