Moments of truth

Nick Brice investigates what lies at the heart of the customer experience

Ask many senior marketeers about the future and most will tell you that the single most important differentiator will be customer experience. The 2014 Nunwood Survey1 found that 50 per cent of organisations have not improved their customer experience in the last three years but 50 per cent have – so there will be winners and losers in the next three years. The benchmark is moving.


Add to this, the relative ease we as consumers can switch loyalty (often now with just a click), we can see that we’re no longer in the business of trying to create a good customer experience. We’re in the business of continually improving and refreshing our customer experiences to keep turning them from good to great.

As the chief engineer of Toyota once said when asked about the meaning of Kaizen: [pullquote]“It is the attitude of mind that says, there is no best, only better.”[/pullquote]

Is your business and your working culture geared up for this trend? What is the role of learning and development in being the catalyst?

At Naked wines, the business model seeks to put value at the heart of the business. Winemaker Luis Vieira says: “To reach the pocket, you must touch hearts and minds.” Naked’s ethos turns the wine business on its head. With a producer margin, after taxes, duties and other costs, of around 10p for a £5.50 bottle of wine (and apparently, no bottle of wine on the planet costs more than £10 a bottle to actually make), the business is about perceived value.

It would be understandable if the model was based on the more traditional retail one – basically pressure down the supply chain to bash costs into the ground. But at Naked, the model is one of ‘social selling’ – building stories and causes around the winemaker, selling people, not brands2 – reducing the costs you can’t taste, offering the best deals to your best customers, make all staff shareholders – with the result that all stakeholders are on board, advocating the brand and the £8 you spend on a Naked wine gets you a better wine for the money.

In the 1980s, the concept of ‘moments of truth’ emerged, now called touchpoints. The term describes the critical interactions where a brand is built in the consumers’ mind. The concept came from SAS who’s CEO, Jan Carlzon said: “We have 50,000 moments of truth each day…a moment of truth is a never-to-be repeated opportunity to differentiate ourselves from each and every one of our competitors.”

We also saw the focus turn towards another key stakeholder – developing and engaging individual employees – to take personal responsibility for success in these moments of truth, in some of the biggest training programmes in history. The Putting People First programme of the 1980s saw 15,000 people at SAS and 36,500 people at British Airways attend. At BA, under Colin Marshall (who soon became ‘Sir’ and later ‘Lord’) the transformation of an ailing public carrier saw training and development play the strategic role in evolving a business that actually began to live its marketing tag of ‘the world’s favourite airline.’

“We fly people, not airplanes,” said Lord Colin Marshall. “Many factors contributed to our success, but the spearhead was the implementation of our Putting People First training programme.”

Jim Collins, in his landmark study of the performance of values driven organisations over a 60-year period concluded that true excellence, long term, is a function of architect leaders working with great people, in a great culture driven guided by a ‘paradoxical mix of core ideology – core purpose and values, and the stimulation of progress – Big Hairy
Audacious Goals’.3

In his other great study of successful long term transformations Good to Great 4, Collins proposes the delightful ‘Hedgehog Concept’. He uses the parable of the fox and the hedgehog. The fox keeps coming up with new ways to eat the hedgehog but the hedgehog defeats him by doing just one thing well – rolling into a prickly ball.  This concept relates to the need for businesses to uncover the three core principles that underpin their performance. That in danger, they effectively curl up and defend, like a hedgehog.

Collins found the organisations that made the most emphatic and sustained transformations develop a shared culture of disciplined thought and disciplined action around:

What we’re passionate about

What we are best at

What drives our economic engine. 

The key to the process, is then the gradual build-up of sustained momentum, built up around expressing these principles.

Creating real clarity and simplicity for people enables an organisation to also adapt at great speed as a result of the greater levels of trust, clarity and unity that cultivating such an ethos can bring. Again, a key role for HR Development teams here. Have you found your hedgehog? What are you passionate about, what can you be the best in the world at and what drives the economic engine in your business? And, are your people crystal clear and enrolled in these pivotal concepts in a real sense?

For HR and L&D professionals, our mission must be to help our client organisations get the right people, delivering the right strategy, in the right way, as well as continuously adapting the customer experience journey to stay ahead.

So, for L&D teams, it’s about equipping and enabling people across the board to work this agenda collaboratively, rather than top down.

It’s clear from history, however, that sustaining a positive and excellent customer centric culture takes sustained effort from HRD teams. Some of the tools and methods that emerged in the 1990’s in many excellent companies, are now becoming the norm in most businesses.

Adaptive and ethos driven

It was getting late. The Newcastle fans were drowning their sorrows after being knocked out of the FA Cup by Brighton. As their energy returned with the downing of copious amounts of Newcastle Brown, the stewards decided to call time and get the crowd out. The only problem, they were in the middle of a spontaneous and rowdy ‘Okey-Cokey’ routine. “Let’s all do the conga!” shouted one of the stewards and proceeded to start a conga-line. Within five minutes, the whole crowd had joined in and were happily ‘conga’d’ out the door and into the fresh air of the outer concourse.

The result? Laughter, good humour, happy customers enjoying the product, and of course, happy staff.

The American Express Community Stadium, home of Championship Club Brighton & Hove Albion, have now won awards for every part of their customer journey since they opened in July 2011, as well as record attendance and spend increases. All the leaders and staff were trained in how to do customer journey mapping in their teams, the values and priorities of each customer segment and also were involved in crafting their own ‘Team Brighton’ values – the ethos that lies at the heart of the customer experience across all the touchpoints. Backed up by feedback from monthly mystery shops and group exploration/problem-solving across functions, a way of thinking and acting was steadily embedded. A consistent focus on identifying customer needs at every stage and taking positive steps to keep evolving the journey to keep the service experience strong enough to win spend and loyalty – even when the team weren’t playingso well!

These ways of working are helping the club go from strength to strength in a world where revenue is so pivotal, the creation of the ultimate product – a successful football team.

It’s clear that as learning and development professionals, we have the strategic role to help our organisations develop a leadership and staff culture that can authentically embrace and share a sense of purpose and values – and that teams can tailor the customer experience to the individual and types of people we want to do business with. 

“An individual without information cannot take responsibility. An individual with sufficient information cannot help but take responsibility.”
Jan Carlzon.

At the Amex stadium, away [pullquote]fans are now welcomed by an away stand lit in the team’s colours, their heroes on the screens and a guest beer from their home town on tap[/pullquote] to boot. As shown by the Newcastle United example above, personal touches, like a take-home poster thanking them for travelling the 344 miles from Newcastle to get to the Amex, albeit on this occasion to lose the match, demonstrates what excellent customer service can achieve and how such innovative approaches drive higher levels of revenue.

[pullquote]The key factor in working with teams to create new customer experiences is to go easy on the ‘best practice driven approach’[/pullquote]. Lots of the most exciting, cherry-picked examples of what other people are doing can help set the bar high in peoples’ minds and make you look the expert but if you’re not careful, can overly constrain the thinking and confine people to adaptations of the examples they’ve heard.

If you really embed a powerful and compelling ethos, as well as taking steps to create ‘a space of possibilities’, it is possible to stimulate adaptation at the personal and team level, then the innovations should come if the leadership styleis supportive.

Technical and human

According to Gartner5 more than 40 per cent of organisations expect the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform their business or offer significant new revenue or cost-savings opportunities in the short term (over the next three years), rising to 60 per cent in the long term (more than five years). In this new millennium, it would appear that amidst all the techno-hype, buzzwords and innovation, getting the human factor right will continue to be mission critical. The Nunwood Customer Experience Survey 2014 cites their top three new leaders as follows:

First Direct for their personable staff and the “magical rapport” they create, plus their knowledge and speed of response

John Lewis for the overall polish of the in-store experience and cross channel service, and QVC for the level of personal engagement in their presenters and a “most helpful” call centre.


We’re seeing many existing and new touchpoints handled through digital technology and where there is human contact, the quality of experience is increasing to reflect the iconic nature of such moments of truth for the brand image. In retail, and other sectors, we’ll continue to see this emergence of digital and multi-channel customer engagement, with entertainment featuring in fresh and creative ways to win peoples’ attention. All together, this gives the modern customer a much wider range of engagement opportunities with a brand – to research, experience, compare and contrast when deciding how to spendour money.

Many experts see mobile internet usage surpassing desktop this year and with a study conducted by marketing agency Knotice6 revealing that at least 27 per cent of emails are now being opened on mobile phones or tablets. So we’ll continue to see new methods for mobile engagement of customers and employees as well as a means to measure and improve
customer experiences.

While there is pressure to get the strategy for using mobile technology right, there are hidden challenges to consider, as anyone who’s suffered email overload, or tried to get a teenager-on-phone’s attention will know! Paul Levy, author of Digital Inferno, says: “Too many businesses let down their customers with a poor online service experience that simply reflects their poor understanding and use of digital practices internally – you have to get the internal culture sorted first.”7

The 21st century working climate

With these trends for faster adaptation and greater complexity in service delivery, there may be a growth in the adoption of personal and corporate wellbeing and mindfulness practices, as the potential harm to family and work climates of overuse of digital technology becomes apparent. Paul Levy’s book is certainly well timed and contains some great tips.

There is a business benefit too in getting on top of these issues and it would seem there is room for improvement in the UK. David MacLeod, in a Government Survey8 estimates that in the UK, we’re 17 per cent less productive than the rest of the G7. What we’ve been doing to engage people up till now may therefore not actually be enough.

In some companies, we’re seeing customer service performance being included in the HR remit such is the pivotal role that ‘softer’ issues such as internal working culture and engagement will continue to play in driving business performance. For example, at furniture retailer DFS, HR is responsible for customer centricity.

Perhaps the key strategy is creating a climate where people want to, and can take, personal responsibility for innovation and customer engagement, and find creative ways to better engage their customers. Daniel Pink, in a brilliant TED talk9 on the subject of motivation, cites research that shows that financial incentives can be great for repetitive basic tasks but counter-productive for tasks that require some thought, creativity and decision-making. He concludes that autonomy, mastery and purpose are the building blocks for the peak performers of the 21st century.

With this millennial workforce merging with more ‘mature’ people remaining in work, there will be a demand for great 21st century leadership skills where, “Do as I ask/tell” alone will no longer work. Coaching, enabling, facilitating, engaging different talents, young and old, in a clear shared vision as well as cultivating true core values that connect with people personally (hi-touch) is becoming the role of the new leader, supported by their HR and learning and development function. This means focusing on and enabling people through the employee journey of induction, training, leadership, supportand recognition.

This cultural agenda will also see more inclusion – as online collaborative tools develop the working climate in global organisations – albeit with the need for strong organisation and culture development strategies to optimise them.

All in all, a truly exciting, connected, global phase of our development lies ahead of us!  

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