Archives for June 2012

A Ho Hum Experience

I used to do a ridiculous amount of travel for business.  Now I don’t.  “So what, Barry”, I can hear the rumbles echoing.

So, I’ll tell you what.  When I was a road warrior, I had accumulated all the trappings that accompany such a lifestyle.  The airline club access, the billion mile, premiere, nuclear, titanium status on several airline, car rental and hotel loyalty programs.  I also accumulated the scars too.  But that’s a post for my new self-diagnostic psychoanalysis blog.

The point is that all those perks came at a price.  The price was manifested not only in dollars (spent with all these travel related companies) but in more than a few pounds of flesh in the form of personal sacrifice.  So, I earned it all.  Right?  Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

But, here’s the flip side.  I came to expect it.  I came to expect the upgrades, the freebies and the concierge level perks.  I don’t think I ever developed a sense of entitlement, because of where I came from, how I grew up.  But, did I take a certain level of service for granted?  Sure.  Did that become the new norm?  The new bar to clear?  Absolutely.  And the companies justified the expense because of my lifetime value or some other metric.

By the way.  Those of you that have developed that sense of entitlement because of all the money your company or client has shelled out for you to achieve such status.  Lose it!  Now!  Your not that special.  You didn’t pay for any of this crap.  So, the next time you decide to berate a gate agent or stomp your feet in the aisle because there is no more overhead room for your six bags you brought on board, think twice.  Nobody around you cares.

But then came the day, maybe one of the happiest days of my life, when I lost my status in the last loyalty program.  Now when I travel, I travel with the “common folk”.  And as a commoner, I just returned from a week-long business trip where I flew through five airports, rented three cars and stayed in two different hotels.  And I have to tell you.  It was a ho hum experience.  There were so many missed opportunities to make me go “hey cool! Thanks!” instead of yawn.

If I wanted to simply swipe my credit card, sign the contract and get my car or hotel key, put a kiosk at the desk and let me do it myself.  I don’t need a robotic automaton to do that for me.  And, why would a company continue to staff those desks with expensive resources if completing the transaction and sending me on my way was the only goal? 

No.  If you’re going to have people manning a post like that, take advantage of it.  Every one of those encounters is a touch point, a moment of truth with your brand.  And it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.  Be a little creative.  Such unique experiences are a chance to leave a lasting impression and gain a loyal customer, who one day may take leave of his senses and decide to start living out of a hotel room again 6 nights a week.

The Cash & Culture Paradox

“You get what you pay for”, or so the saying goes.  But does more always mean better?  As in paying more means a better product, better service, better overall experience?

I’ve been seeing an awful lot lately in tweets, blogs, infographics and even survey research that suggest consumers are willing to pay more for better service or a better overall experience.  Well, here’s my opinion on that.  Every company that has crappy customer satisfaction, NPS or other experience-type metrics just got a free pass to raise prices in the name of superior customer experience.  “Yes, we stink.  But if you pay more, we’ll blow your socks off.”  Hogwash. 

How then do you explain the customer experience and trust ratings of companies like Costco and Southwest Airlines?

What I think is that customers are so far down at the end of their rope, that their acquiescence to such a trade off is a desperate cry of those that have simply been worn out.  Companies like Costco and Southwest consistently demonstrate that you don’t have to pay more to get more.

The same applies internally when looking at employees that are responsible for execution of the customer experience – especially those on the front line in day to day customer facing roles.

I was at an Argyle conference on customer experience a couple of weeks ago in Chicago where this topic generating a lot of dialog.

The notion of the “super agent” was batted about for quite a while.  As the execution of the customer experience at the front lines becomes more complex, spanning an ever-growing range of channels, the need to raise the skill level of those delivering the service is real.  Now, as someone who runs a customer experience BPO, I was actually happy to hear general agreement that up-skilling customer service agents would require shifting from continuous cost cutting to making real investments in human capital and other components of the service deliver model.  “How can you expect someone making ten bucks an hour to deliver superior service?”  Admirable.  But, after thinking about it now for a couple of weeks, I came to settle on the same word.  Hogwash. 

So, I did some poking around to see if I could get a sense of what the going rate is for customer service representatives that deliver exceptional service and customer experience.

At Zappos, the average customer service agent pay is $23,000 per year according to this presentation.  And, other data confirms that Zappos pays its reps about 3% below industry averages.  We’re all acutely aware of Zappo’s commitment to and reputation for customer service.

Chik-fil-A is turning the fast food industry on its head.  Not with superior cuisine, but by creating an in-store experience rivaled by none.  So, what can you expect to rake in as an associate manager in a store?  $27,500 a year according this survey updated just last week.

Are there examples to counter my argument?  Of course.  Ritz Carlton pays a heck of a lot more than Motel 6.  But the point is, that the cause and effect between compensation and service delivery does not hold water.

What does matter?  Culture.  Finding, hiring, training and caring about employees that care about delivering a superior experience.  This is the obvious common denominator that runs through all customer-centric companies.  They put employees first.  They are passionate about a service culture.  And, that translates to the experience customers receive.

Money can’t buy you love.  It can’t buy you happiness.  And, it most certainly does not insure happy customers.