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n these turbulent times, customer experience has never felt more crucial.

T ere isn’t an organisation I’ve talked to in the past year that isn’t trying to be number one for service, beat the competition around service, or just improve their overall service experience. Ask a room of 500 leaders to raise their hand if customer experience is high on the agenda, and you’ll see 500 hands in the air. But look at the Institute of Cus-

tomer Service (ICS) top 10 and other industry studies, and you’ll see the same few organisations rising to the top every time. You can no doubt name them: John Lewis, Waitrose, First Direct, Nationwide. It’s an observation that resonates with our own recent research. When we surveyed the public on the quality of customer service in the UK, we found that just 21 per cent of people ranked it as ‘great’, and that 78 per cent would even be prepared to pay more for better service. So the (literally) million dollar

question is – why? If excellent custom- er experience is the holy grail, why are only a few of us still getting it right?

On the inside

Ask operational managers and heads of businesses to defi ne a great service experience and they usually name Amazon’s brilliantly simple ‘one click’ buying process or John Lewis’s ‘freedom to do exactly what’s right for the customer’ attitude. But when you ask them what it is those organisations actually do on the inside to create those experiences, it’s tumbleweed time. T e reason? T ere’s a leadership

gap around service culture, between what leaders want to happen and what they do. And until that changes, their service will stay the same, even though the expectations and loyalty of their customers is moving on. Teams at the top have perfectly

good intentions – a compelling story, a powerful vision, maybe even a good set of service principles and standards. But those things alone won’t translate to a great experience across every customer channel. If it were that simple, they could all just slap a few posters on the wall, sit back and wait for the awards to fl ood in. In practice, the more challenging part lies in creating

a climate within which a fabulous customer experience thrives – and then be prepared to systematically and consistently ‘do’ the activities that will sustain that climate, every single day.

How can we close that gap?

T e fi rst step requires leaders to redefi ne what ‘good’ looks like now. Most organisations already understand that, in a fast paced digital economy, customers buy diff erently and demand a diff erent sort of service. We’re one-click, cross-channel, relentlessly social creatures. Polite and professional is no longer good enough; the whole service experience must be instant, eff ortless and human to a degree that companies can fi nd, frankly, diffi cult. One barrier is that too many

organisations cling to the ‘soft skills’ of the past, when those skills are no longer adequate for the speed and nuance that today’s customers demand. Take empathy. Empathy used to be a big buzzword in service, but nowadays evidence shows that advocating – a clear demonstration that I am on your side and you are safe in my hands – has a much bigger impact on how cus- tomers feel than making sympathetic noises down the phone. Or consider the ‘peak end rule’, which shows that an experience must be ended in a more memorable and personal way than that

There’s a leadership gap around service culture, between what leaders want to happen and what they do

old staple ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’ to make it a success. Another example comes from a

large telecom client. T e leadership team wanted to question what ‘good’ looked like for their customers, so they decided to conduct their own research. Over the past fi ve years, they measured every single customer experience, asking “how easy was it to get the help that you needed from us today?”, and then tracking whether that customer spent more and stayed within the organisation. It’s the single biggest

 | November 2016 | 37

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