Very few in our area of work would ever say that people were a secondary consideration in creating an exceptional (service) experience.
Yet how often does that understanding actually translate into reality?
Well, that is the question I want to explore in this article. But first let me answer the opening question:
For me, people make all the difference, because they add the ‘exceptional’ part of any experience.
Why do people get left behind?
Let’s start with a definition. In my world of CX, people are the customers and colleagues of any business, or enterprise.
So why do people get left behind? Well perhaps it is because people are not like widgets, or processes. They have independent thought. A sense of what they feel is right or wrong and the ability – with great degrees of variability – to make their own decisions.
All of which makes it hard to manage them towards the desired outcome. Especially if you take a traditional “I want you to do X when the customers does Y” approach to getting people to do what you want.
So faced with this, many concentrate on the process & systems, supported with detailed ‘ways of working’ that state acceptable service standards, often supported with ‘guidelines’ and ‘values’, which are launched, and then the NPS or CSat is monitored.
But still the, whilst the experience might shift from Good to Great, it stalls and won’t shift to Exceptional
Exceptional service takes an exceptional (people) effort
So in my view the reason why people often don’t come on the journey to exceptional service is because they are not engaged in it. This is often because managers resort to ‘telling’ and not ‘taking’ as their default approach, because they find it (emotionally) difficult to change people.
The people who can, and do, genuinely understand and are capable of recognizing what will engage people are few and far between and often at odds with many existing corporate cultures.
In short they are exceptional
They are change agents, who put the needs of the company before their personal agendas and more importantly, bridge the gap between the boardroom and customer facing colleagues. Translating corporate vision and strategies into goals, objectives and ideas that the colleagues understand, feel part of, and most importantly of all feel they can:
a) Personally contribute to in their own way
b) Makes them feel good about themselves
And in virtually all case you do this by engaging the colleagues in a discussion about how they feel the company can best serve it’s customers whilst delivering it’s vision & objectives.
This is another of my ‘obvious, but true’ insights – you create engagement between a brand and it’s customers, by engaging your colleagues in your brand.
OK – So back to how important is this really?
Here are a couple of my real world examples of why people really are the exceptional ingredient to any truly transformational experience.
It’s a great holiday – but it could be exceptional
I recently returned from a great holiday. The hotel, although 6 years old, looks like it was finished yesterday. All day you see gardeners and maintenance staff endlessly – and unobtrusively – cleaning, fixing, and painting.
Things happened when they said they would. There was always the right number of beds and towels etc. So in short the process and surface impression were clearly obsessed over and delivered relentlessly.
Not sure – But we can get you a cab?
But here is the thing, step outside the ‘process’ they had put in place to deliver their service promise – which by the way was about limitless possibilities, and things faltered. A request for a phone charger lead was met with blank stares. Probing more elicited a ‘You can get a cab to a local town – they must have a phone store’.
Trying again the next day produced a different response – now a 20-minute cab ride to the main town – not 5 minutes to the next town. A gentle reminder of the original conversation prompted a repeat of the previous days offer, all done very politely.
Then finally, after prompting and the appearance of a ‘self starting’ engaging hotel colleague, the decision was made to call the supplier in the next village to see if they had the right charger, before putting us in a cab.
An opportunity to add value missed
Given it was now early evening, we asked if they thought it would be a good idea to eat out there – which brought about a recommendation of one of the islands best tapas restaurants almost next door to the location of the now much needed charging lead.
From OK to Great
So the outcome here was OK – overall the hotel is great – but what if the colleagues had brought to life the promise of ‘Limitless Possibilities’ Perhaps they could have simply taken away the original request and then come back with the details of the store – with confirmation of availability?
From Great to Exceptional
Or they could have come back with two choices. As above, but with the recommendation to go in the evening and have Tapas at one of the best restaurants on the island, or the offer of getting a member of staff to collect the lead and have it charged to our room?
But for that to happen I think they need to engage their colleagues in the service promise to allow them to create limitless possibilities for the guests.
I always come back to Ritz Carlton as one of the true ‘living and breathing’ companies when it comes to creating and managing engagement between Customers & Colleagues.
If ever you are feeling a bit stuck for encouragement, drop in and remind yourself how it’s done: Ritz Carlton – The Gold Standard
So tell me, how do you get such enthusiastic Staff?
Now this one goes back a good few years, but it always stuck in my mind because it’s so simple – yet so true, and it reminded me of a similar thought from Terry Leahy in his Tesco’s days – When you are planning anything, you start with the customer, you don’t end with them – If you want more on his views, watch this: Terry Leahy Talking at MBS
But this one goes back to a recollection a colleague of mine had from dealing with Charles Dunstone in the early days of setting up Carphone Warehouse.
This groundbreaking business made an early mark by having staff (this was in the days before we called them colleagues) that were endlessly engaged, knowledgeable and renowned for wanting to understand and meet customer’s needs.
What was their secret – we want some!
So of course, much was speculated on the extensive and clearly secret and carefully guarded recipe for these ‘super’ sales people, who regularly topped the tables in the early days of CSat type surveys.
Now this colleague worked with Charles and became privy to this great secret – one in fact that he was very open about, so I have no issue sharing it here.
And it was:
To have enthusiastic and engaging staff, who want to serve customers – you recruit enthusiastic and happy people, who like to serve customers.
It really was that simple to him, but very difficult to grasp for his competitors, who felt product knowledge and previous sales experience were the key. But he recognised that enthusiasm and a genuine desire to understand and met customers needs were innate skills, whilst the product and sales skills could be trained – and copied by competitors – these key skills would mean his fledgling stores were the ones people wanted to come to too buy the new fangled mobile phones.
The Least Thing That Makes The Biggest Difference
So there we have it. For me it is as simple as exceptional service begins and ends with your people. If they do not understand what your brand is trying to do. How they can play a part in it, and feel better in themselves in doing so, then you might get to great service, but you won’t maintain it, nor will you every get to exceptional service.
Structure and process – Journey Mapping and Target Operating Model optimization – may create the right environment, but without harnessing the power of your people, the experience will be that bit less emotionally engaging, and that bit more sterile, than it needs to be to be truly exceptional.
So if you want an a brand that delivers an exceptional experience, time after time (which is proven to deliver transformational ROI improvements), then stop relying in some of your people, and engage all of them, from day one.
Nicola Collister, Managing Director of Custerian.
A strategic transformation partner who drives cost out and embeds CE best practice in to increase revenue.
A practitioner and thought leader, having been one of the UK’s first main board CE Directors with significant experience gained delivering some of the largest and most complete Customer Experience based transformation programs in the UK in industries such as Retail, Logistics, Service Delivery and Financial Services.