I recently planned a special weekend getaway for my family. I had booked the hotel months in advance, in addition to securing reservations for quite a few other activities, special meals, and more. When we arrived at the hotel, I was surprised that the clerk could not find our reservation. After speaking with the manager, we had learned that our reservation was accidentally canceled by the online booking company. Even though I had a copy of the original confirmation (which was already paid), I was told the hotel was fully booked and they could not honor our stay.
The news was, let’s just say, frustrating after we had traveled five hours to get to our destination. After some discussion, the clerk finally “found” a larger two-bedroom suite for us. However, the manager wanted us to pay again, in addition to a premium for the room upgrade. After an hour’s worth of phone calls with the original online booking company (which was quite difficult to reach), we were finally granted the room. This turn of events, unfortunately, may have had something to do with me mentioning that our experience would serve as a case study for my next customer experience blog posting.
While we ended up having a great weekend, we will probably not go back to the same hotel and will never again use the third-party vendor for any important reservations. The hotel manager should have taken more ownership of the situation—even if the mistake was made by a business partner. This scenario presented an opportunity for her to really stand out and define our experience and reinforce the brand image of her hotel. She could have gained a loyal customer, and potentially a great story we would’ve likely shared with others.
Taking the Customer's Point of View
Customer experience leaders are making significant changes to their businesses by taking a much more customer-centric approach. One impressive example that I recently encountered was from a well-known provider of financial and insurance products, which is continuously recognized for its top rankings in customer experience. The organization recently presented a case study at the 2012 Forrester Customer Experience Forum. The company realized that in order to maintain its differentiating level of customer service, it needed to go a step further toward putting the customer at the center of the organization’s thinking. Rather than thinking about how to improve its individual products and services, the provider needed to also consider the whole process, from start to finish, from the perception of the customer.
This financial institution offers products and services, such as car insurance and loans to its members. But, it realized that securing a car loan and/or car insurance are merely individual elements of a larger experience. In order to make a significant impact upon its members, the provider needed to take on the customer’s view of the experience and provide a complete end-to-end solution. The challenge was that the organization doesn’t sell cars, which is a key component of the car purchasing experience. So it did the unthinkable for a financial services and insurance organization—it got into the car-selling business. It then linked together the different elements that members would need to create the ultimate auto purchase experience.
If this organization can help members finance and insure a new car, why not also help locate the right car as well? This way, members only need to deal with one organization they trust—making a typically stressful process filled with haggling and negotiating into an easy and seamless experience.
Thinking Outside the Customer Service Box
It may not be a viable solution for many organizations to significantly expand their business focus. However, the example above demonstrates a new way of thinking from the customer’s point of view. There are many other ways organizations can take more ownership of their customers’ experiences. Sometimes even the smallest details can make a significant impact. Paying more attention to your customer interactions and listening to their voice across different channels is the best way to identify these opportunities.
Simple experiences are sometimes the best ones. I had recently made a very tight connection with an international airline. Since I was inflight, I couldn’t print my boarding pass in advance for the next departure. I rushed to the counter and was pleasantly greeted by the ground agent. Apparently, they anticipated my arrival and already had my boarding card printed. I then dashed my way to immigration, but as I had approached the officer, I realized that I forgot to fill out the departure form. I opened up my passport and there it was—the departure form, beautifully filled out with all my details including my passport number. All I needed to do was sign it.
The airline had access to all these details in advance, and for someone to take that time to save me the trouble was priceless. It’s possible that someone has this job—to track tight connections and help passengers get ahead of the game, or perhaps they do this for every customer. Regardless, it made an impression on me and created a memorable customer experience. In any event, this simple gesture stuck with me and I have continued to fly with them, and always select the airline when I have the choice.
Taking ownership of the customer experience can be achieved in many ways, from small gestures to strategic business shifts. Organizations that master this new currency have a significant advantage in the era of the social customer—where both positive and negative experiences are shared by millions. As we start making our plans and wishes for the year ahead, we should all think about how we can make each and every experience memorable for our customers, our employees and our family and friends.
Here’s to new, memorable service experiences for all of us in 2013!