Brian StraussBrian StraussAugust 28, 2019


In the not too distant past, a few brave companies adapted their chat products for use within a sales context and produced some startling results against some marquis ecommerce KPIs.

The conversion rate of customers who engage in a chat has increased. In addition, the revenue per engaged customer has seen 5x – 10x growth. With numbers like these, it wasn’t long before many other companies were moving chat from the back office, where it was used primarily in a service context (to save money over phone calls), into the front of the store in hopes of driving sales gold.

While some have realised their chat gold rush dreams, several companies ran into a few economic stumbling blocks along the way, and have been skittish to reattempt widespread ecommerce engagement.

1. Chatting during a sale eats into precious sales margin and can erase profits for many retailers and travel companies, and increases the cost of acquiring new customers for all verticals.

Many etailers and travel companies – that compete on price and service – don’t make a lot of money per transaction as it is. Adding the cost of a chat to a transaction can negate the gains realised from the conversion and order value boost. In short, when you chat you may sell more, but you’re making less or nothing at all in profit (siting feedback from Newegg, United Airlines,, and Expedia). Companies that have been successful with sales chat typically are lifestyle brands – companies that hold exclusivity over their goods, and control all of the means production, distribution, and marketing – and can command higher sales margin.

2. Chatting in a sales context drives up chat volumes and the related supporting costs.

Sales chat volumes often rise to levels that rival or eclipse the amount of service chats that an organisation receives. This puts significant operational pressure on these companies to hire and train significant numbers of additional agents. Some companies are able to endure this and become successful, but may have resisted doing this because of the lack of profit realised in the exercise. 

3. Reach is a challenge.

Even the companies that engage in Sales chat and realise the often incredible boosts to conversion and revenue, are only able to scale up to engage about one to two percent [1-800-flowers engages 0.81 percent of their sales traffic) of pre-sales visitors. Since every chat requires a live agent, the average busy retailer would need many hundreds if not thousands of agents live an available at all times to engage a more significant number of customers.

This is just not feasible for many online companies. In addition, more and more studies show that many customers – particularly those in the ever-growing mobile demographic, don’t start ecommerce journeys expecting to talk to you on the phone or on chat! They want to self-serve. 

So this conundrum exists where the many customers don’t want to engage, and companies are not incented to talk to their customers. Was the whole promise of customer engagement merely fool’s gold? Or is there another way to turn digital engagement into real profits by overcoming many of the key limitations of the format?

There is another way, and the solution is Guided Digital Commerce.

Digging into the challenges a bit more, it turns out that if you can address two key realities, you can pump profit back into digital engagement, reduce costs like never before, increase customer satisfaction and retention, and reach customers that never would have engaged with you previously.

Reality 1: Repetitive Contacts are a huge problem. It turns out that as customers we’re not as unique as we’d like to think – at least in terms of our shopping and engagement patterns online. The customers who do engage companies via the phone, email, or chat tend to be asking about the same four or five things relative to where they are in the customer journey.

Go ask a contact centre agent. They know the top five reasons why someone gets in contact with them like the back of their hand. And these repetitive topics can sometimes make up the overwhelming majority of the total contacts. In financial services, password lock out issues alone can make up 70 percent of total contacts.

In retail, “Where is my order” (known by it’s nickname, WISMO) can make up more than half of all contacts. However, our phone, chat, and email solutions do absolutely nothing to deflect contacts on these topics. Not only do these contacts drive up costs, but they increase the wait time for everyone, and lower customer satisfaction.

Reality 2: Just because large segments of customers don’t want to talk to you during a sales or service journey, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help. It just means that customers want to self-serve.

They want to find the answers to their questions on their own, but often the answers to the most common questions are tucked away on some FAQ page, or are hidden away under some tab – in short, the keys to overcoming the most common struggles and hesitations are not easily available to the customer where and when they need them.

Guided Digital Commerce takes the answers to the most common questions and puts them in front of the customers when and where they need these questions most. This is achieved by understanding where the customer is in the journey and offering a timely contextual and proactive solution to what they are struggling over. As in: “I see you’re struggling with that expired coupon code, here is one that works.”

This also means giving the customers who do like to or feel the need to live engage, an opportunity to find the answer to their question faster than they could with a live engagement. This can mean intercepting chat requests with common solutions first, as in: “Checking on your order? Give us your order number and we’ll give you the latest information.”

The key to Guided Digital Commerce is proactive automation for the majority of contacts and preserving your live channels for your more unique and complex inquires. If you can give the customer the right answer to their concern the overwhelming majority of time, you can deploy a profitable engagement solution that can reach all of your customers instead of just a few.

This doesn’t mean that chat and email completely fall by the wayside, but it means that while automation is handling the majority of contacts, your chat and email practice can focus on the more unique customer use cases, escalating profit, reducing costs, increasing satisfaction and reaching more customer than ever before.

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthAugust 5, 2019


A growing number of UK customers are choosing to purchase from brands using smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, with the devices predicted to drive the next wave of ecommerce.

In a study of 2,000 adults carried out by data agency Artefact UK, six out of 10 smart speaker owners say they have used them to make a purchase in the past year, with almost a quarter (22 percent) saying they have done so within the past week of being asked.

Sarah De Martin, Managing Director at Artefact UK, says: “Voice offers a simple and spontaneous path to purchase that reflects how people behave naturally. Forty percent of our sample already owns one or more of these devices so the channel is nearing critical mass. Both Google and Amazon are offering aggressive discounts on their smart speakers and ownership grew by 79 percent last year alone.

“As an e-commerce business, it’s clear why Amazon wants to get Alexa into as many homes as possible. During its recent Prime Day event it even experimented by allowing Prime subscribers to access to some of its best offers through Alexa.”


Rory OConnorRory OConnorJuly 24, 2019


The scalability of online shopping is any retailer’s dream.

Any marketer will tell you that a happy and satisfied customer is your best weapon when it comes to success, but the waters are muddy in the online world and the downsides are even more slippery.

When somebody buys from your online store they get an instant dopamine hit with even more coming as the anticipation builds over the following hours or days until delivery. Every brick and mortar shopper gets the same hit initially, but by walking out with the item in hand that level of anticipation doesn’t hit in the same way. In other words, every customer that buys from your store is on a high from that moment all the way to when they are opening the package and then wearing/using the item.

This is great news for e-retailers, but the downside of this is much steeper if you get this process wrong, with customers being much more let down than by a poor in-store experience.

Positive customer experiences are an imperative for the sustained growth of a business; it builds customer brand loyalty, affinity, and encourages them to refer their friends and interact positively with your brand.

According to the American Express Customer Service Barometer, people tell an average of 15 others about a poor service experience. This means that if you’re having issues with your supply chain, deliveries, or any other part of your business you’re doing untold damage to your future sales and reputation with Forbes reporting that US companies lost $75 billion in 2018 due to poor customer service. 

On the other hand, according to Zendesk, as many as 42 percent of consumers will repeat purchase following a positive online experience.

So how might your business combat this?

For online players, the key focus has to be customer-centric. Customers increasingly want next day or even same day delivery options with the ability to tailor times and locations accurately to their needs. To ensure this occurs, having integrated systems that allow you to improve all facets of the digital Customer Experience is key. These include the user interface, mobile responsiveness, and design along with clear communication methods and a way to relay real-time data across all interactions with each customer.

Not only does this ensure a frictionless process for your customers, but it ensures consistency on your end and open communication lines around all aspects of each delivery to ensure proper deliveries or fix any issues in real-time. Companies in retail or in any other industry have been traditionally poor at fixing customer issues in real time and at the customer’s convenience. This comes as no surprise that even now Harvard Business Review found that 64 percent have no dedicated system in place. All companies will have customer issues and while you should always strive to minimise these instances, those who get them right are in a strong position to keep their customers satisfied and differentiate themselves all at the same time.


Winning new customers is very difficult and expensive with the Harvard Business Review finding that it is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one, yet only 49 percent of consumers say that companies provide good CX. 

PWC also found that customers spend up to 16 percent more with retailers who provide good CX and are also more willing to share data with these companies also. At this stage you would have hoped that online retailers would have gotten the memo about online CX, satisfaction, and relationships, but it appears for many there’s a lot of work left to do to keep their customers’ dopamine flowing.

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthJuly 9, 2019


Online shopping will account for more than half of all of retail sales within the next decade, a new report predicts.

Commissioned by law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD), The Digital Tipping Point claims a growth from the current rate of 19 percent will be boosted by three primary factors – the changing demographic of the UK adult population; the development of faster, cheaper, in-home deliveries; and fewer physical stores.

However there are also potential risks ahead for retailers that don’t prioritise data security when embracing the new technologies needed to thrive in a digital future, it warns.

As the UK adult population evolves over the next decade the shopping habits of younger groups will become more dominant. The research, conducted for WBD by Retail Economics, showed that 62 percent of 16-24 year olds shop online at least every fortnight (compared with just 29 percent aged over 65 years), averaging around three online purchases per month. Millennials also spend the highest proportion online currently (22.1 percent), averaging £42.32 per online transaction and spending £110.45 online each month.

The report highlights that there have been five consecutive years of net closures of retail stores and with dwindling levels of footfall across high streets, shopping centres, and retail parks this trend seems set to continue.

Richard Lim of Retail Economics, said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the retail industry is undergoing a period of unprecedented change. Despite concurrent waves of political and economic upheaval in our midst, our work with retailers suggest this is a mere distraction from the seismic structural shifts reshaping the retail landscape.

“Successful retailers have always had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. However, the pace of change will inevitably prove too fast for many – as shown by the number of CVAs hitting the headlines. While the impact of future technologies and consumer acceptance is highly uncertain, it definitely feels like the digital retail-revolution is only just getting started.”


Jurgen KetelJurgen KetelJuly 9, 2019


Sales from digital gift cards are projected to hit nearly $700bn in global sales by 2024 – if you’re a retailer, it’s an area you simply can’t afford to avoid or get wrong, especially since 72 percent of retailers now spend more than the value of their card.

However, while gift cards present unique opportunities, they also present some unique challenges.

The gift card space has evolved considerably due to improvements in technology: they’re used both online and offline, and it’s become easier for brands of all shapes and sizes to operate gift card programs. There’s a real need to differentiate and provide a gift card experience that’s a cut above the rest.

If you’re running a retail business, you might well be asking: how do I go about building a modern gift card program that delivers real benefits to both the brand and its customers?

Make it easy to purchase and redeem

On and offline: Cards should be redeemable in a way that suits the customer

Great Customer Experience is all about cohesion. If you experienced an issue buying something in-store and an advisor was unable to help you resolve it online, then it would present a problem, wouldn’t it? It’s the same with gift cards – they need to be easy to buy and redeem across all different online and offline channels.

When your customer buys a gift card in-store, they should be able to use it online – and when they buy it online, they should be able to use it in-store. If they can’t use it in the way they prefer, they’ll rightly wonder what the point of buying it at all is – damaging their experience and your brand reputation.

Some brands still rely exclusively on physical gift cards and don’t have any kind of digital equivalent, which can be an immediate turn-off for customers. Others run disparate online and offline gift cards that aren’t compatible with one another – a situation that’s common even for more established brands.

So, make sure your provider unites the offline and online experience. Work to migrate separate programs into one distinct program, ensure it converts all kinds of currency if you operate locations globally, and make sure gift cards are clearly available to purchase on your e-commerce platform, as well as from any resellers, such as department stores. You can even distribute them to some businesses to use as a corporate incentive.

The idea is to make your gift cards available across every possible commercial touchpoint: to create a true multichannel gift card program.

Make it global

No borders: Digital gift cards should be scalable worldwide

Ever get annoyed when a much-anticipated film or TV is released in the US – and only released in the UK a week, a month, or even a year later? It’s really annoying, both because you don’t get to watch what you want to watch and because it makes you feel like there are two tiers of viewer: the one in the home market, and the one in the less-valuable foreign market.

The same thing applies to gift cards. If you’re a large international retailer, a hotelier, or a restaurant chain, you need to make sure your gift card program is scalable all over the world rather than restricted by geography. You shouldn’t ever be in a situation where you’re setting up specific programs for specific countries – the same experience, in the preferred language and the preferred currency, should be available to all.

A customer who uses your service in Boston, a customer who uses your service in Berlin, and a customer who flits between the two, should all be able to buy and use gift cards seamlessly.

Make it sustainable

Green card: Physical cards made of non-plastic materials are in demand among eco-conscious consumers

Sustainability is a big draw for modern-day customers – and many gift card programs are heavily reliant on plastic. 

You can make these programs more sustainable by using an eco-card, which has all the advantages of a standard plastic gift card, but is made using substantially ‘greener’ techniques. These cards can be made of recycled PVC, corn-based plastic, or paper stock, and their carriers can be made of soy-based inks or recycled materials. It’s also worth making sure you shred and recycle all deactivated cards.

Plastic waste is a significant issue in the modern world, and a more sustainable approach can not only reduce your environmental impact, but also boost your brand’s reputation.

Make it easy to integrate

Does your gift card program fit in with your electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) system and e-commerce sites, or is it tethered more loosely? The more tightly you can integrate it, the better. Gift cards should be easily compatible with in-store ordering technology to make it as easy as possible for staff and customers to process sales and redeem cards. The same goes for ecommerce sites.

More integration means a more cohesive customer experience, and it also makes it easier to collect and report data related to gift card transactions. This should help you refine your sales and marketing strategy. Integrating gift cards with EPOS systems can also decrease processing times and improve the ability to offer tailored promotions.

Make it different

Blank slate: Retailers are urged to be creative with their card programs

Finally, think about specificity. Gift cards haven’t been around for all that long, and they weren’t always commonplace. Now they’re available everywhere, so it’s worth making sure yours stands out.

Think about creating different gift cards for different purposes. They come in many flavours: loyalty-based gift cards can be sent to particularly long-time customers to reward them for sticking with you; mystery gift cards can be sent to entice new prospects; you can send them on birthdays or weddings, or you can send them when a customer has checked into a specific location – for a hotel chain, you might want to send customers a specific resort gift card.

You can, of course, also use them to compensate customers for a negative experience. They should all be a part of the same program, but there should be a range available to suit the full range of Customer Experiences you offer. If a customer returns an item for whatever reason, you should give them the option of putting the value onto a gift card – this means the money stays with the retailer, the customer is statistically likely to spend more, and you can easily turn a negative experience into a positive one.

Gift cards, ultimately, are a show of faith in your retailer: instead of spending money on you directly, customers buy them for friends and family – trusting that something within the range of what you offer will make them happy. Repay this faith and trust by making the gift card experience as positive as possible. Customers will reward you for it.



There’s a wonderful German word, ‘Ärger’, that comprehensively stands for every kind of trouble and strife you can imagine.

Lost keys? Ärger. Missed flight? Ärger. Decades of warfare with the neighbours? Ärger. Say it: “AYR-gurrr”. No English word is quite so robust; and no word so perfectly describes the state of Customer Experience in Germany.

Unusually for most countries, Germany combines a high quality of life with a low cost of living. This makes it a great place to live and raise a family. But there’s a catch: life in Germany will cost you in other ways – namely time, effort, and Ärger. The normalisation of Ärger in German culture has knock-on effects for Customer Experience, including:

  • Too few businesses prioritising CX excellence
  • Poor understanding of CX best practice, or even how to get started
  • Widespread lack of vigilance around preventing and resolving customer problems.

In this article, I’ll describe what we can learn from real-life Customer Experience, featuring Rewe and Netto (online grocery shopping), as seen through two specific lenses: Convenience and Friction.

Convenience as a CX issue

Customer convenience isn’t always the priority is should be. Many German stores offer limited hours during the week, typically close for two hours at lunchtime, open for a half day only on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday.

Doctors’ and dentists’ offices open for the morning only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Local and regional government offices keep highly irregular hours that vary from department to department and day to day. Invariably when you need to go there, they are closed.

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School hours aren’t necessarily regular either; secondary schools typically have long days and short days. With little or no advance notice, they reserve the right to turn long days into short days, or short days into no-school-at-all days. This can be a nightmare for working parents. Often you don’t know from day-to-day what your child’s schedule is going to be.

German grocery stores have been leading the charge to offer customers more convenient opening hours, with many now staying open as late as 10pm. You still can’t shop on Sundays, though!

Exhibit A: Rewe Online Shopping

Rewe was the first in our area to offer online grocery shopping via their website or app. My expectations were high for the amount of time and energy I would save shopping online. That was until I actually tried it.

It turned out to be even less convenient than shopping in person. How is that even possible? Let me count the ways:

1. The shopping process made Rewe’s internal organisation into the customer’s problem. Online orders had to be assigned one specific store. By default, this is the closest store to your home. If you don’t want that one, you have to choose another.

2. Each Rewe store is a franchise and carries a slightly different range of products. The online shopping app allowed me to change from the closest store to another one of my choice, but that didn’t actually help because…

3. The online shopping inventory was limited. Even though I could select the store of my choice, I could not order items that I knew for a fact were in that particular store.

4. The basic item search and add-to-cart functions were clumsy and slow. It took at least 20-25 minutes and many steps to put a basic grocery order together.

5. I couldn’t be sure of receiving exactly what I had ordered. Many of the substitutions were for products I didn’t want, and it was annoying having to send them back.

6. In the end, I still had to do in-store shopping. If I couldn’t order what I needed, or I received substitute products that weren’t acceptable to me, then the online order was mostly in vain.

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Tech solutions that don’t solve the problem are not convenient

So online shopping at Rewe was an imperfect solution. It doesn’t really save me time or effort if I still have to venture out and visit the stores. However, there is still a lot that Rewe is doing really well. For example, this cheery array of browsing categories – with pictures – makes it super easy for customers to zero in on what they are looking for:

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The text you see highlighted in red (“So funktioniert’s”), tells the customer “this is how it works”. Clicking that link takes you to a page showing four simple illustrated steps to shopping with Rewe:

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It’s clear that plenty of care has gone into Rewe’s online shopping system. The system is designed to reassure the customer and make the process as clear and intuitive as possible. That buys a lot of goodwill from me. Even though I didn’t get reliably good results, it’s easy to forgive a company that shows it cares about its customers. I would be willing to try it again and see if the system has progressed.

Key takeaways for Rewe:

  • Make it as convenient as possible for shoppers to buy the products they want
  • Make sure to have the widest possible range of products available
  • Ideally, if it’s available in the store then it should be available online as well
  • Avoid having to make substitutions, or else agree what they can be at the time of ordering
  • Look for ways to simplify and streamline the order process
  • Conduct regular using testing of the website and app
  • Don’t forget to test with older shoppers

Exhibit B: Netto Online Shopping

More recently, Netto has also begun to offer online shopping, so I decided to give them a try as well. Unfortunately, Netto seems to share many of the same problems as Rewe:

  • The order must go to one particular store (of your choice)
  • The interface is slow and clunky, making it a real chore to find the desired items
  • The product inventory is very limited compared with the in-store experience

A major problem unique to Netto’s online shopping system is top-level browsing categories that are not very intuitive.

Just to cite a few examples, the Food category (“Lebensmittel”), does not include things like fruits and vegetables, meats, or dairy products. Everything in this category seems to be non-perishable staples like sugar, chocolates, and gummi bears. Is that even food?

It takes a bit of hunting around to see that all of the fresh food items have been bunged into the category for weekly specials (“Unsere Werbung”) along with a ton of other stuff, like bicycles and barbecues.

At one point, I thought I could save time by using the search feature instead of trying to find things by browsing. The results were truly strange – when I searched for potatoes (Kartoffeln), the top eight search results included four jars of baby food, two kitchen gadgets, and this adorable toy potato harvester (imitation potatoes included):

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So no joy there. Going back to the browsing categories, I started looking for bags of Japanese mixed snack crackers that Netto has begun carrying lately. They’re one of my must-buy items, but I can’t find them anywhere in the online store. In fact, the entire category of “crackers-plus-other-baked-salty-crunchy-things” consists of only three products, and one of them isn’t even available:

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Even more surprising is that Netto only allows two modes of payment for buying groceries online: you can choose PayPal (seriously?) or you can hand over your bank account details for Netto’s own mobile payment system, whatever that is. These days there aren’t very many examples of online stores that don’t allow debit or credit card payments.

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Key takeaways for Netto:
  • Organise credit and debit payment systems for the customers’ convenience, or they will order their groceries from Rewe instead
  • Restructure browsing categories to make it easier for customers to find what they want
  • Make sure that search results are complete, relevant and believable
  • Look for ways to simplify, streamline and speed up the shopping process
  • Conduct user testing and collect detailed feedback to inform the design process

Friction as a CX issue

Another major theme in German CX is friction. Sometimes you arrive at a business that is supposed to be open, but it isn’t. Sometimes there is a note, sometimes not. There is a phone number…but nobody answers. There is a website but it doesn’t work and the contact form is broken.

Even worse for the CX is the boomerang effect, where repeated follow-ups are needed with the same person or organisation. Emails often bounce or just go unanswered forever. How many hours have I spent crafting well-written emails in my best German only to find they go straight into the void? Too many to count!

The lack of response can mean almost anything. Either they don’t know (or care) how to respond, didn’t get around to it, or passed the task to someone else who didn’t know (or care) or get around to responding. Think that task can come off your to-do list? Wrong! It keeps coming back around again while you chase after people and there you have it again, Ärger.

German businesses can be surprisingly oblivious to CX friction. They can be slow to change and they expect customers to absorb nearly unlimited frustration. But why should customers put up with your unmotivated employees or clunky business processes?

Friction acts like a ticking timebomb ready to go off when the chance arises. As soon as a competitor begins to offer people a better service with less friction, those unhappy customers will take the first opportunity to bolt. Dissatisfied customers have no reason whatsoever to be loyal to your business. Sooner or later, somebody is going to please that customer more than you and then it will be too late to win them over.

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Exhibit C: Vodafone

Vodafone used to be our mobile service provider in Germany. In the few years that we were customers, the entire family was subjected to never-ending marketing calls. We asked them repeatedly to stop calling us, to no effect. Finally, we had to go into a Vodafone shop and complain in person to get any relief.

These people called us like their very lives depended on it and ignored all requests to be left in peace. This was not an accident – someone in sales and marketing had to decide that customer harassment was the way to meet their targets. I would love to know where in the marketing Bible it says that massively irritating customers is Job #1. It’s hard to imagine anyone believing that such an awful Customer Experience would be good for business.

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At that point, we were already understandably upset with Vodafone and then a new issue appeared – something that busted the relationship like a pinata. Vodafone had engaged with third-party providers that we didn’t need, want, or even know about. One of them used deceptive mobile website pop-ups (e.g. “You have just won…”) to trick one of our children. Clicking on this pop-up activated a subscription that added new charges onto our monthly bill. So we complained to Vodafone customer service and…they didn’t do a thing.

They just gave us the phone number of their third-party provider (scammer) so we could go deal with it ourselves. That was both irresponsible and risky. Since our customer relationship was with Vodafone, this third-party provider had much less to lose by damaging the relationship, but their conduct was always going to reflect back on Vodafone, who certainly did have something to lose.

That’s exactly how things played out. It took some arguing but the third-party eventually agreed to refund the charges. Ultimately, getting the money back didn’t erase years of accumulated friction. The damage was done.

Key takeaways for Vodafone:

  • Always respect customers’ wishes in how they wish to be contacted, how often and for which purposes

  • Aggressive marketing to customers is inappropriate and counterproductive

  • Do not require customers to contact you over and over again to fix the same problem

  • Choose third-party providers carefully and make sure that they reflect well on you

  • When a customer has a complaint about one of your partners, it’s your job (not the customer’s) to fix the problem with urgency

  • Do not tolerate unethical conduct from your partners

  • Do not exploit your customers’ children – ever

Exhibit D: O2

At the earliest opportunity, we switched our mobile service to Vodafone’s competitor O2. So far, our experience with O2 has been straightforward and positively uneventful. We’re happy with the service and they certainly don’t disturb my calm in any way.

I never thought that boring could be a great Customer Experience. It turns out that it can be if one of the benefits of the service is peace of mind. O2 has been as reliable as the O2 I’m breathing right now, so I don’t have to think about them at all. Maybe we’re just lucky as it could have been a very different experience. But there is this one little thing that we still miss…

Here’s what Vodafone got consistently right: they made it incredibly easy to look at our bill. Every month, Vodafone would send us an email with the invoice attached as a PDF file. We only had to click once to open the email then click once more to open the file, and voila!

Now to see the O2 bill I have to click to open the email, click on the download invoice button, wait for the O2 website to load in my browser, log in and finally click on download. That’s 28 keystrokes for O2 compared with two for Vodafone, so it’s much less convenient. For most of the past year, O2’s invoices couldn’t be viewed or downloaded from Chrome either, so there were even more steps involved to open up a different browser and try again.

Key takeaways for O2:

  • Boring can be a great experience if it means that everything is running perfectly

  • One of the best benefits a service business can provide is peace of mind

  • Less is sometimes more in CX (i.e. customers don’t always want to interact with you)

  • Look for ways to streamline processes and eliminate unnecessary steps

Where does German CX go from here?

To offer an excellent Customer Experience, you just need commitment to putting the customer first as your starting point. In that respect, Germany still has some catching up to do. Talk is cheap – it’s easy to say words like “the customer is king” (Der Kunde ist König). It’s much harder to live those words and act upon them faithfully.

This is where a stoic attitude towards frustration, and worse, Ärger, is a strong disadvantage. CX requires a plan to deliver excellence and the vigilance to see it through, correcting and improving as you go. Where Ärger is the norm, complacency and lack of accountability tend to follow. No one feels responsible for the things that go wrong, so no one takes responsibility for making things right.

The habit of thinking about another person and what they need is a skill that has to be learned. Despite decades of progress in user-centred design almost everywhere else, I’ve seen websites for German restaurants that give long family histories, and pictures of the dog, but forget to mention their business hours. It just didn’t occur to them that customers would want to know when the restaurant is open.

Some businesses websites still feature tons of colour pollution, scrolling GIFs, flashing words, and spinning icons. Some have entire sections missing or use 1990s-era animated under construction” gifs where the content is supposed to be. Sometimes it’s like the entire profession of user experience never happened here.

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These are not just small business failings. Global brands with big IT budgets can make juddering errors as well. I once spent over two hours trying to book a service appointment on the website. This involved entering details in a multi-page service form. Each data field had very specific formatting requirements but no guidelines or hints to say what they were. Get it wrong and the entire form would reset and you had to start over from the beginning.

Brand differentiation is increasingly driven by CX rather than price. Amazon’s exceptional customer service is having a profound effect on consumer expectations, even in thrifty Germany. To make the big leap forward into the present, German businesses will need to focus on delivering great experiences.

Convenience and friction are two areas with the greatest potential to upgrade German CX, but to do this, businesses will have to decide that no amount of Ärger is normal, natural, or tolerable when it comes to their relationship with customers.

Author Anna Noakes Schulze is a 2019 International Customer Experience Awards judge.

Neil HammertonNeil HammertonJune 17, 2019


In 2019, we’ve seen a number of brands look to simplify their communication channels in a bid to reconnect with their customers.

From Gucci opening six customer contact centres that will provide phone, email and live chat communications, to Lush deleting all of its social media channels in the UK – it seems that some organisations are going back to basics when it comes to their customer service. As AI and social media platforms are increasingly placing algorithms and automation between organisations and their customers, is the desire to get closer to them coming full circle?

Companies less audacious than Lush might be weary of turning off their social channels and turning instead to ‘legacy’ platforms such as email or the phone to engage with their customers. However, it’s important to look at how brands can, and should, embrace traditional communication channels to offer a more personalised customer experience, helping them reconnect with their audience in a genuine, human-to-human way.

Shortcomings of social media

Although social media has been hailed as an unavoidable staple of any communication strategy for brands, its limitations are starting to appear. For instance, an increasing number of studies are showing the adverse effects of social media on the mental health of users. From self-esteem issues to anxiety and ‘Fear of Missing Out’, it’s becoming apparent that these websites are not just the communication heaven they were sold as in the mid to late 2000s.

As a result, a rising number of Millennial or Generation Z customers are turning their backs on social media, either by completely deleting their accounts, or taking regular breaks from the most popular websites. This could mean that, in the future, social media will no longer be the number one channel for companies to reach younger audiences.

Social outcast?: An increasing number of Millennial and Gen Z consumers are unplugging from social media platforms

To counter this, we’re seeing some social media platforms take steps to make the feeds more wholesome. Recently Instagram and its parent company Facebook modified their algorithms to prioritise content from people users are close to – rather than branded content. Instagram also changed its format from chronological order to a system where order posts appear on timelines, meaning customers are much less likely to see native content from brands, and especially small business owners, who might not have the budget to promote paid-for content.

While social media was first considered the best way to get closer to customers as it allowed for a proximity and a dialogue that simply did not exist before, new sets of challenges are starting to appear for brands. They must start reconsidering the channels they previously used to interact with their customers if they want to build strong, long lasting relationships.

Back to basics

As companies strive to embrace innovation, especially in their customer relationship strategies, it’s important to remember that technology isn’t just creating new ways of communication through the internet – it has also completely transformed existing tools.

Phone systems, for example, have come a long way in recent years. While we tend to think of it as the archaic cable phone that takes hours to get us through to a customer service agent, technology has actually revolutionised it. New phone technology now allows companies to safely record data about their customers, enabling them to automatically know exactly who the customer is, what they are calling about and the products and services they have purchased with the company. They can also let brands get closer to the customer by automatically connecting them to a representative who knows their name and why they’re calling. The list goes on.

Phone favourite: Phone tech has improved to provide a seamless Customer Experience

Being able to integrate a telephone system into overall customer support means brands can now make customer communications more seamless and easier. This removes barriers between brands and their customers by enabling them to build genuine relationships with their customers, providing a level of care that algorithms cannot enable on social media.

Reconnecting to customers

Thanks to the internet, consumers now have access to an apparent infinity of products, services and brands. Cutting through this noise is a challenge that can only be tackled with impeccable customer engagement, and this starts with getting closer to your customers. Recent studies have shown that customers now expect the same from brands as they do from their friends: reliability , authenticity, and the feeling like the brands ‘get’ them and what’s important to them at this point in their lives.

While social media allows for a quick dissemination of ideas and products, it cannot entirely replace the type of one-to-one communications that enable brands to truly serve their customers. Companies need to give the phone another chance and embrace it as a key part of the communications-mix of the future.

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthJune 17, 2019


A new study shows that Brits are quick to complain online following a bad ecommerce encounter.

The survey of 2,000 UK customers by retail operations platform Brightpearl found that almost a third of shoppers have left a negative review online, with nearly seven in 10 having done so in the last year. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed will also share a negative retail experience with someone else they know to warn them off a particular brand.

In the digital age, consumers are quicker to take to social media or online review sites to share their anger or dissatisfaction, but even those who don’t vent wish they had.

Fifty-five percent of Brits are yet to leave a negative review of a company online, but the same percentage regret missing out on the opportunity to air their grievances with the brand or retailer when they’ve had a poor shopping experience.

Derek O’Carroll, CEO of Brightpearl, said: “Brits are famously awkward and averse to confrontation and complaining, but, with the rise of so many avenues for customer feedback, from online forms to social media, those habits appear to be changing. Consumers have started exercising their right to have a moan when they receive sub-par service – and brands need to start paying closer attention.”

The research reveals that online consumers are becoming more reliant on the feedback of other shoppers to support their decision making.

Forty-six percent of respondents regularly check star ratings for online retailers before buying from them, and two-in-five consumers have been put off a brand or a retailer they might have shopped with – by a single unfavourable review.

Thirty percent of shoppers do look more favourably on retailers who actively respond to negative reviews posted about their services online.

Meanwhile, 55 percent admit they would also be likely to spend more money with an online outlet which had ‘excellent’ reviews or star ratings. Brits believe they would be willing to spend as much as 22 percent more with a brand or retailer which has received mostly ‘excellent’ reviews than one which has been reviewed less favourably.

However, on average, UK customers want a brand or retailer to have a whopping 30 positive online reviews before they’d trust it enough to part with their cash, and anything rated below four out of five stars is generally considered negative by discerning consumers – with shoppers becoming highly dubious about shopping with any brand that has more than five negative reviews.

“From our research, it is clear that a positive review – or 30 – can make a huge difference in the choices consumers make when it comes to selecting a brand or retailer,” Derek continued.

“It is also important for retailers to be aware of the wide-ranging impact a negative review can have on their business, as well as understanding where those problems are coming from – whether it’s items not arriving on time or at all, to lack of delivery updates or cancelled purchases. Customers pay attention to middling and lower reviews, resulting in lost sales opportunities and potentially damaged reputation. The best approach to negative reviews is to identify and fix the issues that can lead to unhappy shopping experiences.”

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