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!


npower: Customer experience Titanic or Titan in the making?

Paul Massara took over as the chief executive of npower in January 2013. Arguably a difficult job to take on, not least because of the poor customer service reputation and previous mis selling practices conducted between 2009 and 2012, allegedly while they were ‘making changes to their sales practices’. Ofgem found them guilty in December 2013 and ordered them to pay £3.5 million back to vulnerable customers. So not a great back stop or foundation from which to make the announcement at the beginning of his tenure that his company would be “number one in the industry for customer experience by 2015”.

Bold words indeed. Not least because of the very challenging timeframe he’s committed to delivering on, added to the very low starting point npower are trying to build from.

Looking at the UK Customer Satisfaction Index results from January 2014, the utilities sector as a whole is the lowest performing of 13 sectors with an average index of 69 from 100. This has dropped by 2 points in the six months from the previous measure in July 13. Whilst all bar one sector saw decreases over the same period, utilities was the largest decrease. In comparison, from the January results, the highest performing sector is Retail (non-food) at 83.1.

To further compound matters, January saw Which? publish their Which? Switch customer satisfaction survey, covering 20 energy providers (17 from England, Scotland, Wales and 3 from Northern Ireland).

As shown in the table below, npower came 20th out of 20 based on each energy supplier receiving a customer score based on their overall satisfaction and the likelihood they would recommend it to a friend. nPower had 892 customers respond in the survey. To further add to npower’s woes, this isn’t the first time they’ve featured bottom in the Which? survey. It’s the third year running.


2014 energy companies satisfaction survey

Customer service

Value for money

Bills (accuracy and clarity)


Helping you save energy

Customer score

England, Scotland and Wales
1. Good Energy


= Ecotricity


3. Utility Warehouse


4. Ebico


5. Ovo Energy


6. The Co-operative Energy


7. Utilita





8. First Utility


9. Marks and Spencer Energy


10. Spark Energy


11. Sainsbury’s Energy



= Eon


13. EDF Energy


14. Scottish Power




16. British Gas


17. Npower


Northern Ireland
1. Budget Energy



2. Airtricity



3. Power NI



Reflecting back on Mr Massara’s statement and intention given npower are already 12 months in to their 24 month improvement target timescale, a number of questions arise that I wanted to discuss;

  1. Was it all hot air and bravado in the first place that npower wanted to be No.1?
  2. Can it actually be done?
  3. Can it be done in 2 years?
  4. Has anyone ever done it?
  5. What would it take for it to be achieved?
  1. Was it all hot air and bravado in the first place that nPower wanted to be No.1?Whilst I’ve not spoken to npower directly, I’m assuming it wasn’t all hot air and bravado. The consequences and ramifications of making a statement like that without the necessary intent would be a further nail in npower’s customer service coffin. So, if we assume the intention was a serious one, it’s still a very brave statement not least because people will hold him accountable for delivering on his promise. People being customers, npower’s owners (RWE), industry watchers and the regulator Ofgem. Also by putting a statement and a commitment like this out in the public domain, in a reverse psychological sort of way, npower may actually commit to taking the significant steps and making the changes to achieve what they intend. Top down commitment and leadership, not just in creating a truly customer centric culture but in any business change is essential so Paul Massar’s message sends out clear signals into the business.
  2. Can it actually be done?In theory yes. In practice it’s a lot more difficult which is where the fun starts.
  3. Can it be done in 2 years?No. And it’s this timescale that casts doubt on the seriousness of npower’s intent, or at least their understanding of the task involved; the systems and process changes, the culture change and the process of becoming a world class customer experience organisation which isn’t achieved in two years especially starting from the position that npower are in. Not to mention the significant amount of customer trust they’ll need to win back and the vast amount of perceptions they’ll need to change along the way. 5 to 6 years might see them up to mid-way in the table or at least top of the big 6 and only if they deliver on everything they need to. I’ve just read a case study about the UK hotel chain, Best Western who successfully implemented a customer engagement strategy and it took 4-5 years before they realised the benefits. Having worked with organisations trying to improve the customer experience, it can take them 12 months to work out exactly what it is they need to do, so 24 months just isn’t achievable.
  4. Has anyone ever done it?Improve –yes. Improve radically and in this timeframe– very unlikely. I must confess, I’ve not trawled all the records and data, and there are many case studies of companies that have made significant improvements, but much more incremental change over a longer period of time. Invariably, large businesses like npower don’t or can’t ‘do’ radical change quickly. There’s too many processes not to mention the behavioural changes required which don’t happen overnight. It’s the old analogy of trying to turn the Titanic –trying to change the direction of something so large that you have to start turning (or changing) long before you want to see the change. What they’ll be likely to achieve in the 2 year period you could liken to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It might look tidier in the end but the ship is still going to sink.Another factor at play here is that the satisfaction improvement curve is exponential. Initially when organisations start working to improve, especially from such a low starting point, it is possible to make significant advances. However, as levels of customer satisfaction improve, further gains become more marginal and harder to achieve and so progress slows. At really high levels of satisfaction performance, incremental gains are very slight and barely change year on year. At this point it’s more about maintaining levels of satisfaction. In addition, none of nPower’s competitors are going to stand still for fear of losing market share. So in order to improve in relative terms, they’ve got to move faster than everyone else. On current data, they’ve not even started the momentum.
  5. What would take for it to be achieved?In some respects, npower should just scrap everything they do and start again, including the brand. Whilst not always practical, it would give them a psychological clean start and an opportunity to disassociate themselves from their previous mis demeanours. However as recent as February 2014, an article reported by The Telegraph carried the story of a customer who had been overcharged on her gas and electricity bill by over £1,600 for which npower cited ‘internal billing errors’ as the cause. Whilst it’s possible that that this could be an isolated incident, it’s unlikely but it’s these sort of significant process changes that need to occur in order to be at the top of any customer ranking.Assuming they’re not scrapping everything, then they need to go through and implement the usual suspects;
  • Top down visible commitment and actions
  • A significant budget and a serious appetite for change
  • Customer focussed outcomes clearly linked to business benefits.
  • Processes designed with the customer in mind and convenient to them rather than the business.
  • For everyone in the organisation to own the customer experience, not just the frontline staff
  • Effective metrics that both drive and encourage the desired behaviours
  • A willingness to listen to and engage with the customer

It’s an interesting position and a real challenge of a journey and one that a lot of people will be keen to watch, not least npower’s customers. If they pull it off – there’s a book to be written. Watch this space.



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.

For your free trial of Customer Sure go to

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


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.


An open invitation to Starbucks..

I visited your Leeds store on the Headrow today for a meeting with a friend of mine and he picked the location as he lives in Leeds so it was great for convenience. We spent about 90 minutes in there and both had two drinks. Service was ok, product good and we didn’t have a problem. But it wasn’t a great experience which is why I’m writing.Starbucks

I just completed your online feedback survey and from the language in the questions I believe you want to deliver a great experience, one that stands out, one that people remember that makes their day and even uplifts your customers but to be honest, something somewhere today at least got ‘lost in translation’ in your Leeds shop.

Interestingly, I also tried to call your customer care line but only got a voice mail with a request to call back. To be honest, that’s just too much effort. Why not add an option to leave a number to get a call back?

Most people wouldn’t have even called but they would have voted with their feet and maybe gone somewhere else for their tea or coffee. I’m sure you’ve got many loyal customers but you could have many more. I help businesses improve their customer experience. Like the ‘Hotel Inspector’ but  for customer experience instead.

I’d be happy to help if you want to drop me a note or give me a call.

Many thanks,



Health and safety law becomes the new excuse for poor customer service

After recently hearing that the Health and Safety Executive have a Myth Busters Challenge Panel I thought I’d do some further research into this to see what it  was all about. So to help me do that I requested some general data from them but I certainly didn’t expect to see what I found. The data shows overwhelmingly that Health and Safety law is being used as an excuse by organisations to get away with poor customer service and communication.

A staggering 64% of cases reviewed over an 18 month period by the Mythbusters Challenge Panel were deemed to be either the result of poor customer service or poor communication with customers and not related to Health and Safety Law. This was the very reason the Challenge Panel was established as their website states ‘”Health and Safety” is often incorrectly used as a convenient excuse to stop what are essentially sensible activities going ahead’.HSE logo

One such case, reported by The Independent in June this year arose as a result of staff at a branch of Waitrose refusing to fillet a fish for a customer on the grounds that it was ‘too slippery’, despite the fact that this service was offered on their website.

As ridiculous as this one incident sounds, the data suggests a more alarming trend.In total, over the period of January 2012 to June 2013, a total of 184 cases were reviewed by the panel.

45% were attributed to poor customer service

20% were an ‘overinterpretation’ of the law

19% were poor communication on behalf of the company

9% related to other regulators e.g. Food Standards Agency

It was only a mere 7% of cases that were actually a sensible decision related to Health and Safety on behalf of the company concerned.

On a visit to the Mythbusters website where reviewed cases are listed, it doesn’t take long to spot other ‘crimes against the customer’. Case 172 cites an incident on a train resulting in the buffet car service being stopped due to “health and safety” whereas in reality, it was actually due to staff shortage.

Being a parent and frequenter of soft play areas, case 157 also caught my eye. A children’s soft play centre has signs up “customers must not consume their own food or drink on the premises due to Health & Safety reasons”.  However customers are allowed to consume hot drinks and cooked meals on the premises as long as they are purchased from their cafe. The panel’s decision reads ‘There are no health and safety laws which would stand in the way of customers consuming their own food in circumstances as described. The panel all believe that this is a clear case of commercial motives being conveniently hidden behind the catch-all health and safety excuse.’not allowed food sign

Whilst everyone accepts that commercial organisations are in business to make money, clearly some act in a very short sighted way towards customers and customer service, which, in beautiful irony actually systematically undermines and then ultimately destroys the business growth and profits organisations are trying to achieve. In addition to crediting customers with a complete lack of intelligence. However, this lost revenue opportunity is easily quantifiable.

In an article published by the Retail Gazette in 2012 based on research conducted by SMG, they estimated that UK Retailers are losing out on an estimated £45.38 billion a year by not giving their customers the best possible experience. Staff training and a real lack of understanding of what customers actually want from and expect from an experience with companies contributes to this situation, as does a very woolly understanding or over interpretation of Health and Safety law. However this situation is created, the customer shouldn’t be made to bear the brunt of this and the impact of this is financially significant for the UK economy at the very worst possible time.Poor rating scale

However this is completely avoidable and it doesn’t need to be like this. Indeed there are many companies both large and small delivering great customer service and delighting customers on a daily basis. More often than not though, it’s the attention to detail with customers, a smile and the timeless and consistent delivery of the basics which is where companies succeed or fail. A quote from Richard Branson sums this succinctly; ‘customer service is about communication and attention to detail, neither of which are difficult so naturally they’re the first things we forget!’

Customers simply want to be treated like individuals and made to feel valued not fobbed off with excuses about Health and Safety or other attempts to devolve the responsibility of delivering good


When no problem means no problem

We were out for lunch the other day at a great place called The Shibden Mill Inn, just outside Halifax in West Yorkshire and just down the road from Shibden Hall and park.


Shibden Hall, set in 37 hectares of the Shibden valley, is a six hundred year old medieval timber-framed manor house. A Grade II* Listed 15th century house is one of England’s oldest and was built in 1420, five years after the Battle of Agincourt. If you want to read more about the house and gardens the link is here.

The Mill Inn itself dates from the seventeenth century and so has been part of the local area for over 300 years. Opposite the mill is Red Beck, the stream that powered the mill once in days gone by. The website describes it perfectly; “The flow of water now adds to the inviting nature of the Inn’s outside area, a tranquil setting to enjoy dinner al fresco or a few summer drinks.” Unfortunately it was raining on this day but when the weather is good, it’s idyllic sat outside.Shiden Mill Inn

I was surprised how busy it was for a Monday but given it’s reputation, quality and service it probably comes as no surprise. In fact,  among other accolades, it was awarded the prestigious title of Les Routiers Inn of the Year 2011. So there we were eating lunch when a member of staff came over to check if everything was ok. “It was” we said “but could we get another drink please?” “No problem” the waitress replied and then it hit. She actually meant that it was no problem. Now it wasn’t a difficult request but that didn’t matter. What she was able to convey was a genuine sense that it wasn’t a problem or nor would anything else be should I ask as a customer. It wasn’t a stock phrase she was using, it came across as it was truly meant. Then I sat back, watched and reflected on the service moments that were happening all around me and had done since we’d entered.

The service was relaxed, unhurried, friendly, genuine, attentive yet effortless and the staff displayed a sincere desire to serve and serve well. It stood out significantly compared to many of the other service experiences I’ve encountered recently. It felt as luxurious as the interior of the Mill itself. Now it could be argued for example, that the experience of buying a sandwich in an express supermarket outlet for lunch doesn’t need to be like the service at Shibden Mill because of the volume of customer, value of transaction, the smaller amount of time people spend in the outlet and that customer’s just don’t want that level of service in that situation. I disagree. Think how much better the quality of our daily lives and experiences would be if everywhere delivered Shibden Mill service. I for one would be an advocate.

And the result? A blog post and a serious recommendation if you get chance to go. Oh and the food’s great too! Here’s the link


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.