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Be Honest About the Gas Tanks – Openness and Customer Visibility

There’s something magical about businesses which understand that if you prioritise customer experience, the customers will come. Obviously this is a very simplistic way to look at the intricacies of running a successful business, but with all of my heart, I believe it to be true. Understanding what customers value is an essential part of running an intelligent business, not only understanding what they value, i.e., listening to the voice of the customer, but also getting into their minds, delivering value that customers didn’t even know they wanted or needed.

When working with teams, I encourage them to think of value in the following buckets, to simplify the complexity of all of the different elements that comprise customer value. There’s the classic Quality, Cost, Delivery, much used within industry to measure performance, but then I’d also add Zeithaml and Bitner’s RATER dimensions, Responsiveness, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy and Reliability, which I define more broadly as “service experience”. Then I’ve added two supplementary elements, Ethics and Visibility.

Components of Value. Lethbridge, 2018

An intelligent business measures how well it is doing in all of these areas. With metrics, yes, but also it’s so important to analyse these things from a qualitative perspective. So much can be gained from listening to people’s experiences and stories, without attempting to reduce them to tick boxes and Likert scales.

Technology gives us such an amazing advantage here. With its awesome processing power, free largely from the shackles of individual human endeavour, all kinds of enhancements to service experience are possible. A company that I admire in terms of how it uses technology to provide an improvement in customer experience is DPD, a global parcel delivery company.  Download its app for what feels like awesome service experience – you can see where you are in the distribution queue, where your delivery driver is, and if you’re out, you’re able to make adjustments, and also, you are able to literally see where drivers have dropped your package and with whom. This feels like ultimate power.

Such visibility would have been great with a recent experience on a holiday at a caravan park. At the check-in desk we were greeted with the welcome news of: “Oh, looks like we’ve given you a free upgrade to one of our deluxe caravans.” “Brilliant!” we thought, our luck was in! There then begins the journey of excitement and trepidation as you try to find your caravan, looking forward to the week ahead.

Spirits deflated when we arrived.  This was the view that greeted us.

We soon realised why we had been “upgraded”. Yes, the caravan was a superior model to what we had paid for, but to be honest, I would have preferred a lower-grade caravan with a better view and one that wasn’t quite so close to such a large amount of explosive material.

What really didn’t feel nice was the trick: the illusion that we were benefitting positively from an “upgrade” but then the experience of the reality of what that “upgrade” actually meant. We are far too nice and chilled to make a massive deal out of it at the time, rather I just won’t use that holiday park company ever again. How much companies lose when they aren’t authentic and open with their customers, when they simply don’t prioritise their service experience. If, at the check-in desk, the representative had been honest with us, showed us a view from the caravan, perhaps using technology, and explained that it was a much better caravan, we probably would have accepted willingly. Either that or we would have chosen a lesser caravan (which I suspect was not available) as our home for a week. We would have experienced a kind of tranquillity paying for something that directly met our expectations. Even being honest about the fact that no other lower quality caravans were available would have been met with more acceptance than the lie.

Toy with customers’ service experience at your peril. Use technology, in all of its forms, to be open and honest with them, give them the opportunity to tell their stories, free from the confines of a limiting customer survey, and then act upon it – they’ll reward you with their loyalty.

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