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!


UKCSI results – Consumer satisfaction is on the decline

January 2014 saw the releases of the most recent wave of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as commissioned by The Institute of Customer Services. The full summary can be found here.

Some of the highlights include;  Companion_member_logo_-_full_colour

  • Customer satisfaction has fallen for the second consecutive period (12 months in total) down by 0.8 to 77.1 out of 100 – a significant change
  • Customer satisfaction declined in 12 out of 13 sectors. Banking ironically was the only sector to buck the trend!
  • The top 5 organisations continue to perform consistently with Amazon ranking highest at 88.6 from 100
  • There’s large diversity in performance over the 120 organisations included with 81 of those seeing performance drop.
  • A 10 point increase in customer satisfaction sees a 13% increase in customer trust
  • A 1 point increase in customer satisfaction (out of 10), generates a 10% increase in customer loyalty and recommendation.
  • When faced with the choice, 60% of customers favour a balance of price and service and will not accept low service levels in exchange for a cheap deal.
  • A substantial minority of consumers – 25% – seek excellent service and are prepared to pay for it, while 15% are highly motivated to find the cheapest deals.

Some great insight from these results and a reminder that organisations can’t afford to ‘ease off the gas’ when it comes to delivering consistently great customer experiences in a backdrop of rising customer expectation.

It’s going to make for an interesting year!



Finding the missing million

I recently met Guy Letts, Founder and Managing Director of CustomerSure which is an all in one customer feedback system.

Apart from what I learnt about the product itself, I also learnt about  Guy’s journey, his experience and his ‘battle scars’ of being tasked with finding a missing million in revenue that took him ultimately to start the Customer Sure business after turning round the operations centre he managed.

Before founding CustomerSure, Guy was Head of Customer Services at Sage, the market leading business software company based in Newcastle and Guy was responsible for running a medium sized services operation with 120 staff, which was a business unit within the larger Sage organisation.

His customers were small and medium sized companies and, together with his experience prior to Sage, he’s been fortunate to learn by working with people at both ends of the corporate spectrum.

When he first took on the role there was a challenging revenue target in a less than favourable business environment.  He was tasked with growing a £20m ($30m) revenue line by 10%. This was before he discovered the customer attrition problem, which was running at 9% which made tackling the growth target even harder.

Guy set about the challenge by starting to improve customer satisfaction to both stem the attrition rate and to try and make headway into the challenging financial growth target he was tasked with.

In the period of time that he was in the role, he tried what all the customer service books typically tell you to do;

  • Train frontline staff
  • Use mystery shopping to provide feedback
  • Standardise processes
  • Answer the phone quickly
  • Audit people and process
  • Benchmark
  • Introduce a VoC programme
  • Conduct an annual measure of customer satisfaction

However in reality he soon realised that all these aspect didn’t work for him and his team. His experience in implementing them, showed that whilst most of the practices were good things to do, for him and his department at the time, they were not effective in moving the needle on their customer satisfaction dial. They didn’t deliver a return on the effort they were investing because they weren’t the things that were most important to customers.

All they succeeded in doing was to make a bunch of committed people even busier and more exhausted than they already were. 

Training the ‘front line’

This is of course important but it’s nothing like the whole story. Of course it’s vital to make sure that people who are in frequent contact with customers know how to listen carefully, deal with people appropriately to all the circumstances and reach an outcome that leaves the customer completely satisfied. Training also helps people deal with the often stressful demands of their roles.

The mistaken belief that organisations often have is that the ‘front line’ are the only people who influence customer satisfaction, and that training them solves the problem.

In fact, people who do that job generally enjoy dealing with people and are often good at it. Where it falls down is how they themselves are treated, the policies they have to defend, the systems and data they have to work with and the support that’s available for solving customer problems that are not mainstream or that need attention from someone elsewhere in the business.

A bad environment can grind down even the most motivated and talented people, and no amount of training will counter that. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that everyone in every role in a company has an impact on customers in some way. The people who set the policies, who deal with recruitment, deal with suppliers, drive the vans…everyone influences customers and potential customers one way or another.

Mystery shopping

“We found it told us what we already knew or could have worked out for ourselves.”

Clearly there’s some value in having a fresh perspective, and it’s sometimes easier for a third party to share uncomfortable truths, but however skilled are the proxy customers, they’re not real customers.

Guy’s view is that “I’ve found that customers are won or lost one at a time, according to their own specific preferences, circumstances and experiences of dealing with the company. It’s impossible to second guess the critical factors for a particular real customer. So again, we found this method can produce interesting results, but it didn’t improve conversion, retention or average spend.”

Standard processes

One of the common tenets of customer experience is that customers like consistency and people do, in general. Some restaurant chains, for example, go to extraordinary lengths to make experience the same no matter which restaurant you visit. Menus laid at the right angle, chairs neatly aligned and a precise number of pepperoni slices on the pizza. It’s all designed to make us feel more comfortable and reduce anxiety. Even in offices all over the world, brand consistency rules: colours and margins must comply for the sake of a consistent customer experience.

“Consistency does not beat quality” Guy explained. “Consistent presentation does not overcome a sub-standard deliverable, or an unhelpful attitude, or a call that’s not returned, or a deadline that’s missed without warning or a promise that’s not kept. So while there are benefits in standards, we had to make sure that we didn’t risk hitting the standard but missing the point, and disappointing the customer.”

Fast phone pick-up

This point Guy confessed, was an initiative that they were supposed to comply with at the time but they kept their heads down on this.

“Customers want a fast response and that is the key to customer satisfaction. Three rings to answer a call was the maximum at the time, and one ring the gold standard.”

However speed of answering the phone became a crusade and they saw other areas decline as response times improved dramatically. The result was that customer satisfaction actually dropped rather than improved.

This highlighted to Guy the danger of setting the wrong targets. Of course as customers ourselves, we all want a fast response. But customers prized more highly a call in which they would receive a sympathetic hearing, a friendly approach and a competent and caring first-time resolution. This was the new target that Guy subsequently adopted for his team.


Guy is a big fan of peer reviews in helping to improve customer satisfaction. Having a competent ‘second pair of eyes’ observe and make constructive suggestions to his team was one of the biggest contributors to quality that he says he’s come across and used, and it can be applied to most tasks.

On the other hand though, he hated prescriptive checklists which just rewarded people for going through the motions and distracted focus from the quality of the deliverable. Audit is good for maintaining quality and developing people, and he adds “I’d say there’s always a place for it, but by itself it’s not the answer – it can improve quality and consistency, but it doesn’t guarantee the customer will be happy.”


Guy’s got an interesting view point on this subject which won’t sit comfortably with some people.

“Benchmarking customer satisfaction is a waste of time. There is no RoI because the activity does not benefit customers.”

“You might benchmark some other things, perhaps the specifications of your product or service – that could be helpful, especially in a competitive market. Certainly you should measure customer satisfaction. But the only thing you should compare against is the reasonable expectations of your customers. If you score highly on that, you’re good. If you don’t, you have work to do – and one by one they are the (only) people who can tell you what that work is. It really doesn’t matter how other companies are doing. At least not in my experience.

If you still want to try, then benchmark yourself against somebody impressive, not your competitors.

Voice of the Customer (VoC)

The challenge here is that most VoC projects are not done in a way that actually benefits individual customers. On the contrary, the problem is that they can often leave individual customers feeling that they have been ignored.

Here’s the issue as Guy sees it:

“If you ask customers for their views, you need to be prepared to respond immediately if they use that opportunity to report a problem.

A problem may not be the type of feedback you were looking for. But if you ignore the ‘wrong’ type of feedback, how do you think a customer will feel when that happens?

Of course it’s not the feedback you wanted. You were looking for feedback that helps you plan the future shape of your business. What are the deep insights that you can get from customers to make your company even more popular and so even more profitable? Well, you may well get some responses like that.

But because I’ve done this, and read all the responses, I’ve found that you’ll get far more reports about things that need fixing for customers now – not in a month or two when the feedback has wound its way round to every stakeholder in the business and then a team has decided what to prioritise.

In our experience, we realised that we needed to deal with issues and problem within 24 hours (although preferably within an hour). Once we started to deliver against that, we started to blow customers’ socks off!”

The foundation to put in place first and foremost then for a VoC program to be successful, is to prepare staff and systems to respond quickly to whatever comes back from customers.

Annual satisfaction surveys

Again, Guy’s view on this typical and often traditional approach that many organisation follow could be viewed as counter intuitive or even down right heretical!

“These provide great sentiment, but I’ve never seen these deliver good results for customers nor, therefore, for a business.”

In his role in which he first learnt all these lessons he inherited two annual surveys from prior years.

“The background was that I needed to deliver 10% growth, but I’d just learnt that we had 9% attrition – so in reality we needed nearly 20% growth because we first needed to replace the revenue we’d lost.  I was therefore very anxious to read what all these customers had said.”

He described the feeling as his heart sank though when he read line after line of cries for help in the customer feedback, all of which had not even been read, let alone actioned.

“I counted that we could have saved 6 in every 10 customers that we had lost…if only the surveys had been read and the customers’ issues resolved.”

The light bulb moment came for guy when he realised that these initiatives weren’t exactly wrong, they just weren’t enough. He recounts;

“I spent many months trying things like these, visiting other companies, reading the literature and listening to people who’d achieved some success.  It did feel like we were making progress, but we were only inching forward.”

His breakthrough came when he and his team set up a basic customer feedback system.  After the painstaking, incremental improvements in customer satisfaction he’d seen before, this one system started delivering remarkable results.

With hindsight it’s easy to see why but when you’re in the thick of it and under pressure it’s much more difficult. “Looking back it’s obvious why it worked” he says.

“When we did something for a customer, we just asked them simply and politely whether they were completely satisfied or not, rather than leaving it to chance.

If customers were happy, they appreciated that we were concerned to check.  We also got some positive feedback to encourage the teams or to display as a review.  If on the other hand there was a problem, we made it dead simple for customers to get it fixed.”

The customer feedback system delivered dramatic benefits from the outset and Guy and the team carried on working hard to get the process right for customers so that they could continue getting the maximum benefit for the business.

“The main thing we learnt was that customer satisfaction doesn’t depend on what you do, it depends on how the customer feels.” Something that’s easy to forget in a busy and fast past business focussed on delivering on its financial commitments.

Between doing the best and the final outcome for the customer all sorts of things can go wrong.  “You think you’ve done a great job, yet the customer can be fuming.  Unless you close the loop and check for satisfaction, you have no idea.  Meanwhile your marketing goes in the bin, your reputation suffers, and your competitors are being asked to quote.

Even when someone has smiled and shaken you warmly by the hand, that’s no guarantee of success.  Nobody likes initiating an awkward conversation…sometimes they just decide to vote with their feet.”

What the team came to realise is that by checking for satisfaction, in a way that’s fast and convenient, for customers and making it clear that honest comments were welcomed, they started to guarantee and realise increased satisfaction, retention and more repeat business with the confidence that there was a firm grasp of all the issues that were important to customers.

“By improving customer satisfaction we met our revenue budgets and then grew it for 3 successive years before I left to set up Customer Sure based on the principles and my experience of what really works.”

This approach can be succinctly summarised by the 3 key principles for a successful customer feedback system which not only made Guy’s operation a success, they also form the basis of the CustomerSure approach;

1. Focus on business benefits

2. Make it easy for customers to have their say

3. Act on customer feedback.  Immediately.  Every time.

Simple. And so it should be because that’s exactly what customers want.

(Article originally written for the January 2014 edition of Customer Experience Magazine)


Case Study: Findel Education – Transforming Customer Experience.

Getting shortlisted for the UK Customer Experience awards is an achievement in itself. Winning an award is a huge success. Findel Education fought off strong competition from the likes of LV, Virgin Media and Capita to win Best Business Change or Transformation at this year’s event.

However not content with winning one award, in the same day Findel Education won The Best Customer Experience Programme at the North West Contact Centre Awards. In addition, they’ve recently won an award for Best Improvement Strategy at the European Call Centre and Customer Service Awards. As with success in many areas, the origin of their customer experience journey started a few years ago amidst a climate that was the opposite of where Findel Education are today. Findel logo_v3

If you’re not familiar with Findel Education, a trip to any school will soon reveal who they are. Part of Findel plc, they are Europe’s leading educational resources supplier, employing over 400 employees with an annual turnover of £104 million.

A little over 2 years ago they were a very different company and the word ‘customer’ was seen as a negative word to everyone internally. Findel Education had grown dramatically over the last 15 years through a series of acquisitions bringing together a multitude of different brands, people, systems and processes.

Not surprisingly, a full business review identified that there was a significant need to change as a business, and to focus on the customer experience delivery. The findings didn’t make for easy reading. They discovered that;

  • They had lost a significant number of customers throughout 2010/11, resulting in £7m in lost sales.
  • The business was not focused on the customers’ needs; removing cost was the main business driver for decisions.
  • The marketplace was changing; there was more choice, less school funding and nothing to differentiate them from their competitors.
  • Employees were not motivated.
  • There was no clear company strategy or vision.
  • Customer Service was a contact centre responsibility.
  • They had a poor reputation for service in the market.

With this troubling environment and under a new leadership team there was the go ahead to launch a project aimed at turning the business around with 4 clear objectives;

  1. Understand what customers want.  Business and customer signpost
  2. Become easy to do business with.
  3. Engage employees (to engage customers).
  4. Focus on continuous improvement.


Their new vision was to become the first choice for educational resources in the marketplace, and to achieve that they had to truly put the customer at the heart of everything they did and not just talk about it. Something that is a challenge for a lot of organisations looking to improve the customer experience but an important point of congruence between what an organisation says and what it actually does.

To kick this off, a ‘Best in Class’ service culture quickly became one of their new 8 strategic goals alongside people development and process excellence.

Part of the change in culture came early on by the introduction of 3 simple questions to get employees to think ‘customer first’.

 Customer first questions

 This simple ‘Ask yourself’ campaign meant that every decision, every meeting, every discussion was focused on the customer. This became Findel Education’s customer mantra and meant that they could start to shape their customer experience change strategy.

In late 2010 the company launched their ‘Employee Voice’ and the ‘Customer Voice’ campaigns. This was a simple yet structured feedback programme that would help benchmark ongoing progress and also help them remain focused on taking the right actions.

Employees provided feedback around how customer and employee focused the business was. This gave people a voice about how Findel Education should do business and the experience provided to customers.

Once a quarter customers are asked three simple questions;

  1. Are you happy with the recent shopping experience?
  2. Would you shop with Findel Education again?
  3. Would you recommend Findel Education?

Despite the positive start, the company soon realised that they didn’t have a full view of what their customer experience looked like, where they were winning and where they were failing. They needed insight from an inside-out and an outside-in view of their existing customer experience. It was at this point they engaged performance improvement company Blue Sky.

This gave additional credibility to the programme and gained the support of employees. Hundreds of customers were involved and over 150 employees provided insight. The vast amount of information gained unfortunately presented an overwhelming picture of how much there was to fix.

However, as a priority, customers wanted Findel to focus on 4 key areas:

  1. Allow them to find the products they needed easily.
  2. To meet their service expectations, before, during and after they’ve shopped.
  3. For Findel to listen to them.
  4. To be ‘easy to do business with’.

In order to effectively manage the Customer Experience to deliver on what customers wanted, Findel Education built the foundations from the bottom up including restructuring their contact centre. Curiously, it was only at this point that Findel Education appointed a Head of Customer Service and a Learning and Development Manager. However prior to this, there had been little investment and little training but they soon realised that they couldn’t deliver the improvement programme without employee engagement and this ‘eureka’ moment formed a critical foundation to their success.

Quarterly review meetings focussed on what the business needed to do better in terms of performance and what needed to change, which resulted in improvement actions. This also ensured a process of both continuous improvement and continuous engagement with employees.

Employee engagement was a priority as all Customer Service Advisors needed to take on board the new policies and  the company’s ‘Every Customer Counts’ training embedded this.

Advisors were also restricted by historical processes that had become barriers to customers doing business with Findel Education. If an item had to be returned for example due to a processing error by the company, the customer had to pay the return costs and Advisors had no ability to waive this fee. This gave birth to the ‘no hassle returns’ policy which delivered perfectly for customers on their fourth requirement of Findel Education’s being ‘easy to do business with’ which has subsequently gone on to become their mission statement.

Through various activities like Customer-focused training for all employees, regular “Buzz” sessions for Customer Service Advisors  and a Management Training Programme to help managers support the culture change , the wider company and the contact centre culture has been effectively transformed. Employees now feel empowered to do the right thing for the customer and go that extra mile to deliver ‘Best in Class’ service.

Findel mission

 Findel Education’s new approach to delivering a holistic customer experience was summed up by the introduction of their customer charter, focussing on the three key areas of success with customers.

  1. Customer focussed attitude
  2. Market leading proposition
  3. Best in class service

This charter was designed by employees based on customer feedback and has been communicated and is visible to everyone in the business and includes Findel Education’s service promise of which their ‘no hassle returns’ and ‘free next day delivery’ form a key part.

However, this new approach to business hasn’t come cheap. Findel Education have made a considerable investment in offering free next day delivery, and packaging and courier improvements. Furthermore they have clocked up 1,324 days of customer experience training in 2012 alone. First contact resolution is now the norm and the query to order process has significantly improved.

All this investment and effort though is already starting to pay dividends. Employee perception of Findel Education as a customer focussed business is up significantly year on year with 97% of employees believing that they give customers what they want, compared to only 58% in 2011.

This improvement in results is echoed from customers too. The customer voice feedback showed that 96% of customer were happy in September 2013. The highest score since the customer experience programme began. In the same month, repeat business scores hit 100%. Customer NPS is now at 80% up from only 50% in 2011.

For anyone still not convinced on the financial return on investing in the customer experience, the numbers for this business  are healthy; sales this year are already ahead, average order frequency per customer is up from 3.7 to 5 and extra brand demand in 2012/13 equated to almost £3 million. Findel people_v3

Findel Education acknowledge they still have a way to go on their journey despite the significant achievements they’ve already realised. They’ve already identified their next steps which include customer self-service, multi-channel integration and next generation training to name but a few initiatives.

However, for all their progress they’ve made they have certainly been worthy of their three awards and they have a great story to tell about what’s possible in delivering a great customer experience once the right foundations are in place. If they keep tracking as they are, they might need a much bigger awards cabinet next year.

This article was originally written for the December issue of The Customer Experience Magazine.


Customers don’t feel averages

“On average our customers are 90% satisfied”. A popular headline reported by many businesses and organisations. Ok so the exact numbers may vary slightly but the statement is the same. And rightly so if an organisation is proud of the levels of customer satisfaction it’s delivering. But if you dig a little deeper into this statement we uncover something more than the headline itself.mean wordle

What does ‘on average’ actually mean? From a mathematical perspective, Wikipedia describes it as ‘average usually means the sum of a list of numbers divided by the size of the list, in other words the arithmetic mean. However, it can alternatively mean the median, the mode, or some other central or typical value. In statistics, these are all known as measures of central tendancy.’

So in this context, average or arithmetic mean denotes the average levels of satisfaction across a number of customers – assumed to be a statistically reliable sample size (by me anyway!). A convenient measure and an easily understandable headline number from an organisational perspective. One that most people can understand fairly instantly. However, if we turn this around and look at it from a customer perspective, do customers feel averages?

Before I give my view on this, let me share an analogy with you that a manager I worked for once used. To explain the point about averages he used to say ” if I put one hand in a bucket of ice and one hand in the fire, on average I don’t feel great do I?”fire and ice hands

To me that makes the point. Customers don’t feel averages. If I have a bad experience as a customer, I don’t cognitively step back and think, I’ve been in this shop ten times and I’ve only had one bad experience so on average I’m 90% satisfied. Customers experience it as it is, good or bad and future behaviour, purchases and recommendations are shaped by these experiences. To further compound matters, cognitive biases such as negative and recency bias often interject and give disproportionate weight to these positive or negative experiences, reinforcing them and the resulting behaviour that follows

I’m not saying don’t use averages. They’re definitely useful and informative but they shouldn’t be taken at face value alone or just seen from an organisational perspective. They should be used sparingly and in context with how customers actually feel about their experience. However you look at the numbers though, make sure it’s from the customer’s perspective.


Case study: Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) – pursuing customer excellence in a challenging environment

Managing 2.85 million customers in an increasing competitively environment whilst adapting to a backdrop of decreasing local authority budgets and funding is some juggling act that would leave a lot of organisations in deep water. Not KAL though– they are on the offensive and are pursuing both customer excellence and innovation to deal with the coming challenges.

KAL logo

About KAL

KAL manage 12 major sports centres and swimming pools on behalf of Kirklees Council in the region. They are organised as a charitable trust and so all profits are reinvested into facilities, their ongoing development and growth initiatives to bridge their funding gaps following their approach of ‘invest to save, invest to grow’. As an organisation they are managed by a Board of Trustees who come from a range of backgrounds to help develop and drive the strategic direction of the Trust.

In March 2013 they exceeded 2.85 million customers, tracking way ahead of their 2014 business strategy target of 3 million customers. All this despite a challenging financial landscape. Turnover for the last financial year was £12.8,m up from £8.5 in 2007/8, despite a cut in funding from local authority of 32% over the last 3 years. Currently for each person that visits a centre, the council pays roughly 59 pence per head. 5 years ago it was £1.

As if these challenges weren’t enough to content with, the competitive landscape for Health and Fitness is about to change significantly in Huddersfield alone.

The competitive landscape for health and fitness

Budget gyms are now the ‘new kid on the block’ with two new planned openings in Huddersfield town centre alone by DW and Exercise for Less in the next 12 months. KAL have already hit back by developing their own ‘Smart Fitness’ package for £14.95 per month which has already attracted over 12,000 members. In addition KAL have their own brand new site development at a cost of £35 million due to open mid-2015. However the competition doesn’t end there though. The University of Huddersfield has approval to build a £22.5 million brand new leisure facility and will open the doors up the general public in addition to the student community in spring 2014.

This is all in addition to a number of smaller gyms and facilities in the Kirklees area. One such facility was the Fitness First gym at Lockwood Park, where Huddersfield’s Rugby Union team are based. After getting into financial difficulty last year which also threatened the sustainability of the rugby club, KAL agreed to take on the facility with its member base and majority of staff. After an initial refurbishment it was rebranded and officially opened in January 2013. Kirklees has certainly has its fair share of leisure facilities!

Customer experience is key

So with expanding competition and customer membership, and with products broadly similar in nature and in price, customer service is increasingly going to be a key differentiator in helping KAL stay ahead. Gym shop

This was first recognised back in 2011. The Commercial Board had been informed of the 32% cut in budget over the next 3 years and so had a funding gap to fill. The outcome was the ‘Big 8’ ideas to boost revenue, innovation, diversification and customer experience.

 Mystery shopping to diversify

Once such idea was to introduce mystery shopping but with parallel aims. The first, as you would expect from deploying a mystery shopping programme was to improve customer retention, raise service standards across all 12 facilities and to be able to audit processes for consistency such as the fitness suite visit experience and the membership sales process. The second aim, was to retail the system on to other businesses to use, and so generate additional income.

KAL’s approach was to go to the market initially and purchase an ‘off the shelf’ mystery shopping programme. However they quickly realised that the cost would be prohibitive. Undeterred, they decided to commission their own web based system and so iiD Solutions was born. A subsidiary consultancy business offering insight, intelligence and delivery to other businesses across industry using the mystery shopping software platform for data collection and analysis, tried and tested on the KAL organisation. This approach saved KAL a significant amount of money. In fact the life time cost of the system is actually less than a year’s subscription to an existing commercial package. iid logo

Mystery shopping visits are conducted monthly across all sites using a team of shoppers. Site managers have access to the system via their own log on, and can check their own scores and results, their progress over time and how their site compares to the others in the group to inject some healthy competition into pushing standards higher. The managers can also look at specific areas within their facility such a reception area, pool area, or café to help further drill into identifying areas for improvement or praising staff for exceeding standards.

Monthly results are also reviewed by the Commercial Board in their strategy meetings and there’s an expectation as to a minimum target of achievement by the sites. The numbers tell a positive story. Average mystery shopping scores on product knowledge of staff are up 3% over the last 12 months and fitness suite visit experience is up to 84% demonstrating that the KAL teams are actively engaging and using the feedback from the shopping data.

Annual customer satisfaction focus

This is an additional source of data around understanding for improving the customer experience. The back bone of any customer experience programme is a customer satisfaction survey which KAL conduct annually. 2013 saw over 1600 responses across a robust representation of members across all 12 sites. Again, the numbers tell a positive story amidst the back drop of increasing competition and rising customer expectation, not to mention the increase in membership. Year on year scores are up with the biggest increases in ‘overall satisfaction of staff’ to 87.4 and ‘overall satisfaction of information provided’ to 81.1.

KAL also measure Net Promoter score and 2013 saw a 3% increases to 32%. Interestingly, the health and fitness industry average is around 22%.

Staff are key to the customer experience

Despite the increases in satisfaction around staff from this year’s satisfaction survey, KAL aren’t standing still on staff development recognising the importance of all staff in delivering a great customer experience. In April this year, KAL joined the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) which is 2 year programme they’ve committed to, underlying their seriousness at developing the total customer experience. KAL now have 5 of their own staff as approved ICS trainers and the plan is to rollout training to 80 people between September and December this year. Of those 80, 50 are front of house staff, sales and membership, who will each undergo the 3 day ‘First Impressions’ course, in addition 30 Front line and Operations Managers will undergo the 4 day Service Management course. From 2014, all remaining staff will undergo ICS training to ensure a consistent level of service across all facilities which should see them ahead of the competition in service delivery.

And to the future

2014 also sees the start of the next 5 year strategic planning cycle. KAL have now established a ‘setting the pace group’ to gather further ideas and promote employee engagement. To date they have also;

  • Established a set of KAL values
  • Conducted KAL roadshows across the 12 facilities
  • Created an “Active Thinkers” group to consider and improve key issues
  • Promoted an inclusive culture encouraged by Managers. Staff views are actively sought via staff councils, staff surveys and site visits.


All this will add to the solid foundation already established, and further promote their cultural change within the organisation to further deliver on their philosophy of ‘best of public, best of private’ approach to business with a clear link to improving the customer experience as a differentiator.


KAL’s summer marketing campaign focussed at getting more people into activity used the strapline around ‘imagine, believe, achieve’ Three values that I think KAL themselves use to drive the business into the future.


Thanks to Joe Baker, Business Improvement Manager at KAL for his input into the case study.

Article first written for the July 2013 edition of Customer Experience Magazine.