Cut cognitive load to improve customer experience

One of the more recent books I’ve read this year is the excellent ‘Scaling up Excellence’ with the very apt subtitle of ‘Getting to more without settling for less.’

As a very brief overview, the book details the work and research of Professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao of Stanford University in trying to understand the basic principles that allow organisations to scale successfully. Or, as in some of the real world case studies they document, how not to scale successfully with some painful and expensive lessons learnt along the way.

There’s a lot in the book that’s relevant to the world of customer experience and some useful lessons and principles that can and should be applied by many businesses and organisations, not only to scale but to improve customer experience.

Brain slide

One such scaling principle is ‘cut cognitive load’. The phrase sounds complex, but the principle as demonstrated repeatedly through research, is simply based on the ability of conscious memory to deal with mental load or work under increasingly complex environments.

Take memorising a series of random numbers. The ‘magic’ number for most people’s memory is 7 based on previous memory research. Try and memorise 10 or 12 digits and you’ll feel cognitive load at work!

It’s the same with multi tasking, as much as we think we’re good at it, research has again proven that the more tasks we take on, the worse we perform. In essence, multi tasking undermines everyone’s competence.

The underlying mantra then is to recognise when cognitive overload occurs in both employees and customers when business or organisational complexity increases. Alternatively overload occurs when product choices or options increase or when the customer decision making process becomes overly complicated or cumbersome.


It’s at this point of increased load for employees, that efficiency start to decline, mistakes are made and attention and focus shifts elsewhere. In the customer’s world, increased cognitive load makes purchasing and buying decisions harder, more frustrating and can and will lead customers to abandon purchases altogether and defect to competitors.

Websites are a great example of this with abandonment stats on purchases online as high as three quarters (75%) in 2013, alarmingly up from the 2012 figures.

Biting computer

However by both understanding and applying the principles of scaling overall, but especially cutting cognitive load customer experience can be significantly improved to the benefit of both customers, the organisation and the bottom line.

Other key lessons to reduce cognitive load within a business include using smaller work teams (less than double digits in size), applying the ‘less is best’ approach, and understanding that process and hierarchy are good (and essential) but only to a point, before the bureaucracy becomes self sustaining.

The appeal of understanding cognitive load on customers within the customer experience is a valuable one and adds another approach for businesses looking to take their customer experience to the next level. However, there’s no point using it the most obvious and painful sources of customer irritation are removed or reduced first. Unless of course, it’s cognitive load that the issue!

Pulling hair

Next time you’re at work or you’re being a customer, in a complex environment or processing a complex task, see if you experience cognitive load and reflect on what if any impact it has on your behaviour and how it makes you feel. Now you can’t beat a good experiment can you?

If you want to read more on the topic, try Scaling up Excellence itself, or this article on cognitive load theory and how it relates to learning.



Indifference or inertia isn’t customer loyalty

After sending an unrecognised 0808 telephone number to voicemail recently I foolishly answered the phone after the third or fourth call.

As I suspected, it was my mobile phone network provider who initially claimed they were calling to ‘thank me for my loyalty!’

mobile globe

They then went on to review my account with them, tariff and data usage etc which I monitor myself anyway. After concluding that there wasn’t an opportunity to sell me additional services (well that’s what the cynic in me thought), they then thanked me again for my loyalty which got me thinking. Am I really loyal in the true context of the word?

First stop was google then the dictionary.

Loyalty: Allegiance, fealty, fidelity, faithfulness, constancy.

Well I’ve certainly been constant. I’ve been with the same provider for the last 3 years which in the mobile telecoms industry might seem like a life time!

Do I have an allegiance to them? Not really. Faithfull? Not really a word I’d use to describe my relationship with a mobile phone carrier to be honest.


The last 3 years have, in fairness, been trouble free. My handset works but that’s down to Apple, not the carrier. I’ve never had a problem on my account or with my billing. They bill on time and accurately but that’s what I would expect them to be able to do.

But in customer experience loyalty terms, would I recommend them? I’m not sure I would to be honest. Not because any aspect of their service has been poor because it hasn’t, but they’ve just done what I expected them to do from the outset. Nothing more, nothing less and that’s not enough to generate loyalty between customers and businesses. In this respect, you could say I’m transactionally attached, but there’s no emotional attachment.

The reasons I haven’t swapped provider are two fold. Firstly there’s the fact that it all works as it should do, which again is what I expected it to do so they’ve met my expectation but not exceeded it. So I’m satisfied yes, but not highly satisfied. Out of 10, I’d say I’d score them a 7 or 8 in customer satisfaction terms.

Secondly they’ve never given me a reason to change. I’ve never been dissatisfied with them.

However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m loyal. If another carrier approached me with a better deal I’d definitely consider it so I’m not loyal in that respect. I’m not actively looking though because I don’t currently need to. For me to be loyal, I’d need to score them at least a 9, or even 10 out of 10.

But I don’t think it’s fair to claim that I’m a loyal customer and this is where both businesses and brands can become complacent because I’m really a customer waiting to defect and it’s probably only a matter of time. Whilst, some businesses would kill to get customer satisfaction scores of 8 out of 10, it’s not enough to build loyalty.

Apple tattoo

What businesses should be looking to do is to build customer loyalty by providing over and above their core offering, building engagement through interaction with customers and looking for opportunities to go above and beyond by anticipating customer needs and aiming for those 9 and 10 out of 10 scores.

Only then can businesses build on highly satisfied customers rather than those that are ‘just satisfied’ which is the category I’d put myself in with my provider.

This in part is why building customer loyalty is so difficult if your customer service, your product or offering doesn’t standout. If it’s just ok, or even good it’s probably not enough.





Honesty, expectations and reality

Amongst Richard Branson’s many quotes that have been published over the years, my most favourite has always been this one; “Customer service is about attention to detail and communication. Neither of which are difficult so naturally they’re the first things we forget!”

It’s my favourite because he’s right.    usain-bolt-richard-branson-944438633

I worked with a bank a while ago who measured customer satisfaction every year with their business customers who were mainly small and medium size enterprises. The previous year’s survey had highlighted a very painful customer issue which the bank was already aware of. It was their online customer banking portal that business customers used to transact on their accounts.

And when I mean painful, it was excruciatingly painful for customers. If they were able to log on, which at peak times during the day, they mostly couldn’t, the portal often crashed, was very slow to use and overall wasn’t a great customer experience. You could sense the frustration in the customer feedback that came with the survey.

I specifically remember one comment from a customer who used the portal to pay employee wages. The lady indicated how she had to wait until midnight each month to pay the wages, to ensure she could get onto the portal when very few others were trying to use it and to minimise the risk of it crashing and her having to start all over again!

Online banking

When we measured customer satisfaction the following year, the same issue came up again and not surprisingly. The IT project that was running behind the scenes to build a new online customer portal had yet to be delivered and had faced delays to the original deadline due to a change in provider. It was running about 12 months behind and was already over budget.

Apart from these obvious issues, it was clear from the customer feedback in the second year that the bank hadn’t kept them informed of the project progress (or lack of) or even attempted to manage customer expectation as to when the solution would be delivered.

Again a memorable comment from a customer went along the lines of “we told you about this last year and you’ve done nothing about it. So you are either just ignoring us or you just don’t care!” Either way a scathing observation.

However in reality, the bank was doing something about it based on customer feedback. What it wasn’t doing though, was managing customer expectation by communicating with them at all. Not even irregularly.


Now arguably, it could be said that the bank didn’t want this embarrassing situation made public knowledge, but by not doing so, it wasn’t exactly putting customers first and setting the right expectation. The bank were dammed either way in reality and it was more about damage limitation. Say nothing – customers become frustrated and leave, which was already a real possibility. Say something, and be potentially ridiculed by competitors and customers may still also leave.

However, I personally think they missed a massive opportunity to engage with customers, in addition to failing to effectively manage customer expectation. Even the Bank staff were fed up with hearing the same complaints from customers, but instead the Bank simply said nothing.  A frustrating situation for all concerned, but an entirely preventable one if they’d just talked to their customers and explained.

Sound simple? It should be.

I bet they’d have got more ‘brownie points’ and goodwill back, if they had communicated with customers despite the project being delayed. Don’t you?


You can’t manage from the board room or the balance sheet alone

I like watching Under Cover Boss because apart from it being interesting on many levels, it never fails to highlight how businesses cannot be run solely from either the balance sheet alone or from the ivory towers of a head office, despite claims of the best management reporting and a transparent, open and communicative culture.

I recently watched an episode which featured a company called Pet’s Corner who I’d Pets_Corneractually not heard of before. However, it transpires that they’re a pet shop chain with 89 stores currently, mostly across Southern England and the Midlands. They’ve grown mostly by acquiring smaller pet shops and then rebranding them to look and feel like the Pets Corner corporate brand.

Overall the business is looking to expand significantly by opening a new store every month, albeit having been in the red for the last 2 years. As a way of trying to return the business into the black, they decided to significantly cut staff costs based purely on the balance sheet numbers alone in addition to the fact that sales figures overall were down with no signs of growth. Hence the reason for going undercover.

The board wanted to know that when they scaled, they weren’t just going to scale up their current problems into their news stores increasing their financial issues. They wanted to understand and fix any current issues first to ensure that they had the best chance of scaling successfully. Within the first day of the Product Development Manager, Steve Charma going undercover, it was quite clear what was wrong. In the first store that he visited, the impact of the staff cuts were clear. There was one Shelves-emptystaff member alone responsible for a thousand foot plus store. That one staff member, stocked shelves, served customers, unpacked deliveries and answered queries but more interestingly, had to shut the shop to go to the toilet and at lunch time. The result was missed sales opportunities and customers left to wait longer than desired. In addition, the manager’s position had been vacant for 3-4 months and the shop signage was failing to draw footfall from the Tesco store next door.

None of the impact of these issues could have, or would have been determined from the view from head office alone or from management reporting. Further stores visited highlighted stockroom and stock storage issues, damaged products, empty shelves and further lost sales opportunities, none of which were visible from head office and despite the fact that the company spent £100,000 per year on mystery shopping.

One store however, was bucking the trend. The in store team had taken the initiative and had been running a Pets day where customers could bring in their exotic pets and discover other rare animals and exotic breads. Steve Charma was initially not happy due to the fact that head office didn’t know this was going on and they hadn’t been consulted. He was more concerned about brand standards and health and safety issues.

Exotic lizard However, when sales at the half way point in the day were 10% up on the store average, his view quickly changed. A lack of management and leadership, shortfalls in sales training, staffing levels and product storage issues were the barriers to scaling. Ironically all of which had been initiated by head office without consultation, consideration or even observation with the ‘troops on the ground’.

Despite that, they staff were mostly doing a great job, delivering good customer service and in some instances, taking the initiative to increase sales and the customer experience. Overall quite an eye opening experience for the board who at the end of the programme, committed to significant changes. However for me there was a key takeaway which in hindsight is so obvious, but still so frequently overlooked.

MBWA as management guru Tom Peters called it. Management by walking around. You can plan all you like in the board room but without consulting staff and understanding the impact on customers, the best intended plans will fall short. You can cut costs on the balance sheet, but without consulting staff and considering the impact on customers, isolated decisions made on paper without intelligence from the ground, can and will  have the opposite effect to what’s intended. Such is the value in engaging both staff and customers regularly on future decisions and plans, in addition to key decision makers getting out and about regularly to see where the real business operates, which isn’t in the boardroom or on the balance sheet.


UK economy grows, customer satisfaction declines

With signs that the UK economy is now starting to recover after the worst slump since World War 2, customer satisfaction however is on the decline.


July saw the most recent update of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which showed the third consecutive drop in customer satisfaction recorded over the last 18 months.

12 of the 13 industry sectors declined with the Retail (non food) sector remaining top of the league whilst the Utilities sector continues to flounder at the bottom of the list despite a small increase in satisfaction over the last six months.

Of the 197 organisations featured, only 28 increased their satisfaction scores, with a massive 96 seeing their scores decline.

The usual suspects remain at the top of the table namely John Lewis, Amazon and First Direct being consistent over the last 12 months. The only noticeable absence is Waitrose, who have dropped to 6th place, down from 3rd in 2013.

John Lewis logo

Within the top fifty organisations, Centre Parcs has shown the biggest improvement rising to 13th place, up from 89th in 2013 with Welsh Water showing the largest improvement out of all the organisations.

So what’s going on then?

Well as we’ve seen since the UKCSI started in January 2008, customer expectation has continued to rise and organisations certainly over the last 18 months have failed to keep pace. In addition to that, customer needs and preferences are evolving. The use of mobile technology is a good example and generally speaking, organisations have been slow to responded to the changing landscape of the customer and digital experience.

The trust issue, or the lack of, has remained front and centre with customers and the continued exposure of poor practice and treatment of customers in addition to some high profile cases of deliberate malpractice has done nothing but undermine customer confidence. There is a very marked and direct correlation between customer  TrustWordCloudsatisfaction and trust, and the trust will need to be rebuilt in order for the direction of the index to reverse.

Finally both public and private sector cost cutting and stalled investment is likely to have had an adverse impact on customer satisfaction, which when combined with the other variables above is painting a less than positive picture of the state of customer satisfaction in the UK.

However, within this environment, there are also opportunities for organisations that can be lean, agile, and innovative with both products and services and who can deliver consistent, simple and effortless customer experiences. In fact now, more than ever in recent years, is a good opportunity to steal a march on the competition for those bold enough to lead the way.

Organisations are going to need to redouble their efforts over the next 12 months and beyond if they’re going to want to see results improve as further decline will start to adversely impact the bottom line.

For further details, visit UKCSI




Brevado – “Creating Products Synonymous with Better Customer Experience”

Like all great products or services, they solve a fundamental problem that meets a customer need, making lives simpler and easier in the process and in doing so creating better customer experiences. The Brevado team has done just that.

Brevado is a relatively new and small tech start-up company born in the New York area in the Eastern United States. It was the brain child of three long-time friends, Nick Zafiropoulos, Steve Garofalo and Mike Perna. Prior to joining forces in business, Nick loved ‘fixing computers’ with his own IT services company, and Steve and Mike worked for a web design company. By their own admission, none were really aware of customer experience practice and design until they had an epiphany moment.


Steve and Mike’s employer was all about the numbers and volume, an approach that didn’t really sit comfortably with either of them. The focus was on looking for and converting qualified leads into customers, ‘shovelling’ new clients in at the front end. Churning out websites with little focus on the customer experience and communication which resulted in a lot of customer confusion.

Conversely, Nick didn’t have the budget to go out looking for new business in volume. He focused heavily on delivering a great customer service to his existing clients; Nick provided on time delivery and sharing project milestones regularly. He would come to find later that sharing progress was a key component to his clients’ satisfaction. In this way, Nick successfully got his existing clients to refer him to others. New clients started actively seeking him out from the positive word of mouth he was getting. His clients loved his approach and more than anything, being kept in the loop on projects was a refreshing way to do business for them.

The 3 friends shared a life-business conversation, as they did from time to time, realizing that the web design company model created problems. Customers weren’t being kept updated and as a result of the poor experience, customers weren’t referring or even returning for repeat business. This compounded the conveyor belt approach where more and more customers were needed at the front end to compensate for losing customers after just one sale.  screenshot brevado timeline

The guys quickly identified that this was a problem that needed a solution and one that would work for creative professionals (like web designers), small businesses and freelancers. It needed to be simple for people who didn’t have huge time to invest, and work in a way that would complement existing work flows so as to not overly disrupt how people currently operated.

The first idea was to create a customer portal for businesses to collaborate and share progress, but this didn’t completely solve the problem yet. It was with the addition of the timeline that they knew they were on to something. This ‘thing’ was the future way for creative professionals to share progress with their customers and create a better customer experience. They were so convinced that they quit their jobs to work on development full time.

Their lean approach had them reaching out to all creative professionals they had ever met, even those they had not known before. Early feedback was positive along with a stream of new ideas and functions that people felt they would like to see. From this, a prototype was born. The prototype enabled the team to get accepted into a growth accelerator program in North Carolina for both funding and business mentoring. Within 3 short weeks, the guys packed their belongings and headed south.

During this time, they released their public beta version for testing where anyone in the world could sign up. A well timed simultaneous press release was picked up by a series of blogs and over the course of a weekend, 700 people came on board. This further confirmed that they were onto something good and that this was addressing a significant problem that people had.

Moreover, people had stopped requesting new features and were now requesting refinements to existing elements which pointed to the fact that the beta feature set was on track. In fact users were already starting to switch from a competitor product which they used for collaboration on their own projects. Brevado’s competitors are good for internal team use, but overly complex and opaque when using with external clients; this was the problem the guys had originally identified and set out to solve. Customers wanted transparency and shared progress on projects, whether they would last one month or a year and this is what Mike, Steve and Nick had built. Brevado was born.

For anyone who’s ever managed a project, whether for internal or external customers, you know how important it is to keep customers updated and engaged to ensure the project actually gets completed. You also know there are always tasks for the clients which often don’t get completed on time despite the best intentions.

As part of the project management functionality, Brevado allows you to assign tasks directly to clients and automatically suggests updated timescales if they miss a deadline. You can also assign team members in order to collaborate on multiple timelines. Customers can see what you’re currently working on, when it’s due to be complete and what’s coming up afterwards. With a future Google integration, you will also be able to sync deadline dates with Google Calendar with a link to Google Drive documents.

Brevado customers range from artists and video producers to legal and consultant service providers who all have a need to share their iterative work and progress with clients. Curiously, Brevado has had more impact from outside the U.S with interest in the UK, Spain, Jordan, Italy, South and Central America, Columbia, Brazil, Australia and Canada. One Brevado client based in Denmark has customers in the U.S and so use of the tool gets around awkward scheduling conflicts with different time zones. This adds value for both the client and the end customer.

Brevado seeks continuous feedback from clients on their experience and usage and the theme they continue to hear is not only do clients really like it but their clients like it as well, so everyone wins. In addition to progress and updates, it also creates an inclusive client experience that adds to higher levels of engagement and advocacy through usage. Simply logging in and checking progress has solved the panic of ‘oh my god, where’s my project up to?’


When Mike, Steve and Nick set out on their journey, they didn’t realize the importance of the customer experience in business. It was mostly about the bottom line. Once they discovered the problem and did some research they discovered that customer experience is the most important aspect of business and this is what Brevado is focussed on.

This article was originally written for The Customer Experience Magazine, July 2014.


Slides, friction and customer experience

I remember a couple of instances when I was young, when my Mum polished the slide in our local park. She actually took a duster and a can of polish in her bag along to the park when we played. Slide

The slide itself was really high to start with, probably because in part I was quite small at the time being about 6 or 7 years of age. But it certainly seemed high enough at the time. An all metal thing it was with wrought iron steps and a shiny and literally ‘polished’ slide surface. Just standing on the top step was enough to give you butterflies, let alone the sliding experience that was to follow especially after my Mum had been busy with the Mr Sheen!

It was a great experience. Fast, thrilling and without friction to slow me or my friends down and one we could repeat again and again until tea time.

It’s the same with customer experience. The more ‘friction’ in a business process, and the more resistance that a customer encounters, then the less satisfying the customer experience will be overall. The greater the number of steps the customer has to go through or the more forms they have to fill out or boxes to fill in on a web page, then the higher the perceived level of effort will be from the customer’s perspective, irrespective of what the actual level of effort is in reality. MrSheen

This raises the probability that the customer experience will be less than desirable, if indeed they actually complete the process in the first place. If they do actually get through the process, will they think that is was too difficult and so be unlikely to return and buy again?

Recent figures suggest online shopping cart abandonments now reach into the billions of pounds each year and is rising steadily, in part due to the fact that checkout processes create way too much friction for customers. That’s a significant loss to business given the amount of time, effort and money invested in getting customers to a website in the first place. Even instore, abandoned purchase rates are high because customers feel they have to queue for too long before being able to pay.

So in order to reduce friction and improve the customer experience, there’s a number of options available;

1. Gather feedback around customer effort directly from customers. Get an understanding of how much effort customers have to go to in order to buy your products or use your services and at each steps of their journey.

2. Where customers spend a large amount of effort, look at ways to simplify the process by reducing the number of steps customers have to go to or by speeding up the overall time the process takes to complete. Always try and see and experience how processes work from the customer’s perspective.

3. Map the customer journey. Ensure that business processes are aligned to the customer journey and that it’s as effortless and frictionless as is realistically and commercial viable for you.

Simple? It should be. Reduce friction, improve the customer experience. Happy sliding!


Can you value and recommend a product you never use?

Not many people I know like having to pay car insurance. It’s perceived as a necessary evil and an additional expense and cost. I understand why we need it, but it always feels like an additional tax. And it’s not even a remotely glamorous or exciting purchase now is it? No insurance is.  Car crash

Like many insurance products, it sits in the background and you only get to know if it actually works, when you have to make a claim. Until this situation arises, you don’t actually know if the product you bought up to 12 months ago, will do what you need it to, when you need it,  in an easy and effortless way.

Assuming it does all work, the resulting perception of it’s inherent value is probably high. If the claim was problematic and protracted though or didn’t go to plan, then the resulting perception of value will likely be low.

Given, I’ve not had to make a claim (touch wood!) since renewing my policy in January this year, I was surprised to receive an email yesterday asking me ‘rate my car insurance’ and asking me whether I’d ‘recommend them’.

Always the ‘geek’ when I get stuff like this through, I couldn’t help but click on the link for the short questionnaire, powered by reevo the review site.

True to their word, it was indeed short. 3 sections on ‘rate your product’, ‘rate the provider’ and a final section to add personal details on me, if I so wanted.

However, within the product section, there were 3 questions;

  1. Ease of applicationInsurance claim form
  2. Value for money
  3. Overall rating

I could answer number 1 no problem, but I couldn’t answer 2 or 3 which is where this very well intended attempt to gather customer feedback stalled and then crashed in flames. If I answer question 1, it’s based on my actual experience. If I answer 2 and 3, given I’ve never made a claim it would be opinion, rather than based on my experience and whilst I could do that, how do I know whether my policy is actually good value for money, never having used it? I know how much it cost but that’s not the same thing. And if I never use it, will I ever appreciate the potential value in it?

The second section on the supplier was similar.

  1. Would I buy from them again?
  2. If I contacted customer services, was my query handled effectively?
  3. How likely would I be to recommend them to a friend?

If I was honest, my answers would be;    Recommend image

  1. It depends (based on price if I never make a claim, or how well my claim was handled if I have one which to date I haven’t)
  2. No
  3. It depends (again, if I never make a claim, what am I recommending apart from price in the main?)

Whilst I’m all for businesses and organisations seeking proactive feedback on customer experience with a view to improving it, this could be done in a much more valuable way.

Rather than the Insurer seeking blanket feedback from all customers, whether they’ve had a claim or not, they should separate customers to get feedback on different parts of the insurance life cycle; i.e. purchase, in life, claims handling, repurchase

  • For customers who have never claimed, they should seek feedback on the initial upfront processes (like ease of application) and any communication in life since the product was purchased.
  • For customers who have had to make a claim, focus on the claims handling experience and their likelihood to recommend and repurchase as a result of the way the claim was handled.

It’s a subtle difference and slight change of approach, but one which would generate more feedback and insight from customers which the insurer could then use to improve the whole insurance life cycle.

They might even go some way to making it a more glamorous purchase experience in the future!


How psychology can improve your customer experience

Maybe not an obvious area to look to when trying to improve customer experience, but the disciplines of both psychology and behavioural economics can help us understand how to deliver a better customer experience through understanding both perception and behaviour.

Psychology imageOne such example from the field of psychology is the ‘peak end rule’ which helps us understand exactly how our perception of experience is formed, which we can then use to our advantage when designing and shaping great customer experiences.

The research behind this was initially conducted by Daniel Kanheman, the nobel prize winning psychologist. The experiment has often been replicated but the initial one involved patients undergoing a colonoscopy. Whilst not wading into the gory details, the experiment showed that whilst the two groups of patients had experienced different levels of pain throughout the process, they recalled experiencing the exact same levels of pain, despite the fact that their actual experience varied.

Kahneman concluded that the patients, and indeed all people, seem to perceive not the sum of an experience over time, but the average of how it was at its peak (e.g. pleasant or unpleasant) and how it ended. The graphic below illustrates the principle;


The peak and the end of an experience dominate how the experience itself is remembered even trumping our rational perspective. We’re not saying positive first impression aren’t important as they absolutely are. However, in addition to this, you now need to focus on peak and end with your customers.

Interestingly, there is also another effect at play here. One called the duration neglect effect. In essence this means that the duration of the experience over time has little or no influence on the peak end rule. Therefore it’s of little use to try and extend a positive experience further over time to make it last longer with the hope of creating more imppact. The useful aspect is to identify opportunities to create peak experiences during customer interactions. The more extreme the peak, the more memorable the experience. Positive surprises or moments to significantly exceed customer expectation work well. Better still if you can combine peak and end at the same time, you’re on the way to having delivered a truly unforgettable customer experience.

However this could simply be to ensure you send customers away happy in all instances, and to ensure their end experience is as positive and as high as possible.

As an example of how not to do this, I’ll share an actual experience that happened to me. Many years ago I was invited to a wedding and stayed in the hotel where the reception was.

The weekend and the wedding reception was fine (as far as I can remember) and we went to check out after breakfast on Sunday morning by the 10am deadline as all the other wedding guests had to, which was the problem.

By the time we got into the reception area, the queue to check out stretched from the front desk to the front door! To compound the fact, there was only one member of staff checking guests out. It seemed to take a life time to get to the front of the queue and while we were checking out I asked the girl why there was only one member of staff working. She replied that no one else was in for another hour and it was only her!


That’s my overriding memory of that weekend and that hotel. The massive queue to get out. Not the leisure facilities or the wedding reception which was the point of being there in the first place but the queue to leave. I also remember the frustration and my thought about how little the hotel must have cared about the guest experience to put people through an ordeal like that.

That apparent lack of foresight and planning of the staff rota (I’m assuming) combined with the fact that the hotel clearly knew that there was a wedding that weekend and that their occupancy levels were very high to full, created a significantly negative end experience. I’d also suggest that it wasn’t just me that felt like that too.

That whole experience could have been so significantly different, if they’d just planned it better. It’s a simple but great illustration about how just one thing wrong in a customer experience can destroy all the good and positive work done prior to that point.

I’m sure that if you’d have asked the hotel how much they cared about their guests and the guest experience, I’m sure they would give you the right answer, but their working practices and the impact on the customer experience conveyed a different message. That lack of planning said to me that they didn’t care enough to rota more staff on, on a Sunday morning when checkout ‘traffic’ was at its busiest.

This also outlines another important point which is to be congruent with customer experience between what you say and what you do. If you say the customer is important, then you have to act in a way that shows that the customer is important and you can only do that from the customer’s perspective.

How could you use the understanding of the peak end rule to improve your customer experience delivery?




6 ways of using customer feedback to improve financial performance

In January’s edition of CXM, I interviewed Guy Letts, Founder and Managing Director of CustomerSure – the all in one customer feedback system.

By way of a follow up, I spoke to Guy again to understand more about his approach, his philosophy and his underlying principles upon which both the Customer Sure software and Guy’s perspective on measuring and applying customer feedback has been created to meet customer and business needs. Below are 6 tenets to collecting, measuring and applying customer feedback that have been forged out of the heat of experience and applied with successful outcomes.

1. Link customer feedback and/or satisfaction to revenue Stack of coins

One of the first lessons that Guy articulates from his time at Sage is this; “Job #1 is that you have to link customer feedback and or satisfaction to revenue. I don’t mean this in a mercenary way as in the numbers are everything, but neither do I mean it in an altruistic way either. The important point here is that unless people are convinced there is a link, improvements just won’t get done.”

Maybe not a startling revelation, but interestingly this link seems to quite quickly get forgotten, once customer feedback data starts to enter an organisation. Suddenly the data become the focus, rather than the customer, service recovery or process improvement that will ultimately make customers’ lives better.

“Once this link is established, everything gets easier because everyone is used to being measured on job #1 being financial performance. People can then relate collecting and acting on customer feedback directly to improving financial performance.”

2. Attracting customers is nothing without retention

Guy went on to expand on job #2;   Please come back sign

“Good marketers know how to attract customers. Great marketers know how to attract and keep customers. The link here is that keeping customers delivers the 2Rs (recommendations and repeat business). If you’re not working at these then marketing is much more difficult as you have to substitute new customers to replace the never ending attrition of less than satisfied customers who leave. This is smart marketing. This should be one of the main reasons, and drivers of action rather than simply having the knowledge that the organisation needs to improve often for improvements sake. Again, being able to clearly link input to outcome, gets things done”

So if we were to construct a working model from these lessons so far that could be applied successfully within any organisation, then it would be;


  • Get customer feedback
  • Act on it first and foremost (and immediately)
  • Thirdly learn from it and continuously improve

Clear and simple, a theme that runs through Guy’s approach and also though the CustomerSure Software itself as we’ll see.

3. Transactional surveys not relationship surveys

Gathering customer feedback after a service interaction or an event is referred to as transactional surveying. This is in contrast to a once a year survey irrespective of recent events, often referred to as a relationship survey. So why this approach and what’s the advantage over relationship surveying – say on an annual basis as a lot of organisations practise?

“Timely customer feedback allows for almost immediate service recovery and if done well, is a great way to create customer advocates rather than trying to use and apply across the board ‘vanilla’ type improvements (from a relationship survey) that may or may not improve overall customer satisfaction, but which often don’t allow for very rapid and reactive service recovery opportunities.”

It’s a fair point and an often articulated advantage of transactional surveying over the relationship approach. It’s well proven in research in that customers who have had an issue and have had it resolved to their satisfaction in a timely fashion, are much more satisfied and as such much more likely to recommend than customers who have never had an issue in the first place.

Transactional surveying though isn’t for everyone and it’s mainly dependent upon the pattern of business transactions i.e. suitable more for high volume rather than low volume customer interactions. If you’re in a business to business service delivery environment with a relatively small number of high value customers, then transactional surveying may not be best for you.

As a point to add, Guy went on to say “If you gather customer feedback on a transactional basis, then you need to build it (both the feedback and action) into ‘business as usual’. If an unreturned call to a customer happens today, there’s little point in trying to catch and correct that in an annual relationship survey. It’s way too late at that point. The service recovery opportunity has been missed and in all likelihood, the customer has already left by the time you get round to reviewing their feedback, if indeed they are bothered to actually give it in the first place.”

“This is what works from a CustomerSure approach as this is what we see customers doing and getting the benefit from. We simply want to bring this approach and technique to others so that they can benefit too.”

4. Don’t give customer feedback to marketing or the analysts

Well not initially anyway. In line with the model mentioned above and based on his experience, Guy advocates using the feedback first and only then learning from it to continuously improve.

“The lesson I learned at Sage was to get lots of responses going to the front line teams first as these are the people who need to stay in tune with customer’s needs and invariably can fix the issues that the customers have. There’s little advantage if service recovery is the objective, in giving customer feedback data to the marketing department or the analysts first, who will pore over it at their leisure before disseminating it around the organisation for everyone else to review. This process takes weeks, if not months and misses the service recovery opportunities. Of course, let marketing and the analysts have the data, but only after the frontline teams have acted on it first”.

5. Make software simple.

Another big lesson Guy learnt which he brought to the CustomerSure approach is in learning how software is changing. “People now want business software to be simple.” Seems obvious, but you’ve not got to look far in order to see an example which embodies the opposite of this simple approach;

“Take Microsoft Outlook for example. There are now so many configurations in how to make it work in one way or another, options to choose from to turn on or off to customise it to your heart’s content. What you’re actually left with though is on overly complex piece of business software. All the configurations are individually valid and presumably they’ve all been asked for at some point along the way as upgrades or improvements. However, simply adding on additional choice upon choice, only goes to create a paralysing plethora of options that adds to our confusion and anxiety rather than clarifying, simplifying, or eliminating it completely”. This choice paradox (where we think we want more choice, but where ultimately more choice makes us more confused or makes us avoid choosing altogether) is a common and very real problem. Simplicity then (and positive limited choice), is the solution and foundation upon which CustomerSure is founded.

Guy refers to the software as a satisfaction system rather than a research tool which is a simple but important difference. “We built the software to do satisfaction surveys whilst learning along the way, reinforcing simplicity and adding the obvious next steps as we went”.

Thus, CustomerSure was born. A simple, elegant solution combining a customer feedback and case management solution, giving you less choice overall but delivering exactly what both businesses and customers need. Indeed, initial customer feedback showed that customers were prepared to trade off getting 100% of the functionality fit that they thought they wanted, for low hassle, ease of usage, robustness and reliability, a low training requirement and an intuitive user interface.

Easy and simple to follow up features allow organisations to do the best job possible in collecting and acting on customer feedback whilst also allowing categorisation of issues and root cause analysis. In addition, through capturing and identifying positive customer feedback, this also opens up the possibilities of both up-sell and cross-sell opportunities with customers at the right point in time, maximising the feel good factor rather than trying to convert cold or luke warm customers after an event.

Whilst the software was originally put together for SMEs, it has attracted large companies primarily because they appreciate the simplicity of the software. Guy adds, “Our guiding principle is that if you can buy from Amazon then you can use our software!’

6. Who’s benefitting from the feedback – the research department or the customer?

This is a great example of how products and services should be designed. Whether it be software, call routing technology or a delivery process they should all be designed from the lens of the customer rather than the lens of the organisation.  Again this latter point is interesting as some early requests for upgrades on CustomerSure were for the addition of various types of rating scales in addition to conditional logic questions “which are all very good” Guy Commented “but these requests are more important to researchers and marketers rather than customers. What’s most important to customers is being able to give feedback that’s acted on straight away”.

Everyone has their preferred way of working and clearly there are benefits of working in this way and using this approach as Guy has demonstrated. Whichever way you decide to work, organisations and customers alike can benefit from greater simplicity and a re-focus on the objectives for collecting customer feedback in the first place; to deliver a better customer experience with key business benefits.  With this in mind, the customer, the company and the bottom line can win every time.

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Article originally written for the February edition of Customer Experience Magazine.