Category Archives: Customer Service

Beyond excellence

Beyond excellence

Beyond excellence

Today I attended a very interesting session about Customer Service, in which it was made clear that customers expect more than service excellence, they want to be delighted. Apparently customer expectations have gone to a complete new

level, in which Customer satisfaction is now worthless, customers expect that their needs are anticipated, they want to be surprised well beyond their expectations.

We all try to differentiate from our competitors by improving and continuously improving our products, services and processes, implementing better and more sophisticated technologies that enable us to do more with less, but this, by itself, does not bring customer satisfaction, furthermore, it does not delight our customers. No matter how good our systems and processes are, most of your experience as a customer will be down to the person that managed the interaction with us. This will determine whether you will be satisfied or not. Even though, Customer satisfaction is no longer enough. It is now necessary to delight the customer, which is down to how you make your customer feel throughout the whole interaction. Whether you are able to anticipate their needs, and create that wow factor that will be long remembered after the interaction.

The shortest distance between two persons is a smile

Yes, technology can help provide the necessary tools for staff to be more efficient and provide a better service. It is a necessary, yet not sufficient condition for delighting your customers. It is down to the physiology of your customer facing staff, the way the talk, the way the make eye contact and above all, the way they smile. And this is not something that is taught in a customer service training, it is something that needs to be part of the DNA of the Organization. It is the face that you have when you arrive at work that will be seen -and remembered- by your customers. What differentiates good companies from great companies is precisely that, their staff, and how the culture they breath every day influences them, which will ultimately determine how genuine their smile. After all there is nothing worse than a clearly fake smile right?.

Personal experience

As the session went by, I started remembering a few past experiences in one of my favorite companies, Singapore Airlines. Air travel is by nature very anonymous, as you share a small space with a few other hundreds of passengers, and crew see hundreds, if not thousands of customers every week. This seems to be the perfect base of an impersonal service. Yet after so many flights I still get impressed by how they are able to transform an anonymous experience into a personal one. And how they are still able to create that wow factor, by going that extra few miles that are not in any onboard service manual. It is not only about saying please or thank you, it is about genuinely and generously keeping your ego to yourself and letting customers have their moment.

Not all crew are the same, of course, and there are always good and bad days. But one thing (and I say this by personal experience), these guys are just doing it right and they have managed to create a whole corporate culture around customer service that clearly pays off. The most remarkable flight I have had onboard any Singapore Airlines plane will not be remembered by the quality of the seat, the food, the amount of champagne of the movies offered on the entertainment system. It will be remembered by how genuinely the crew smiled and took care of me throughout the flight, and how they went well beyond the service manual to make sure I enjoyed the experience.

Once I was told that the only thing that truly can differentiate ourselves from our competition, and that can not be copied by them is the human being and their attitude. The session today was all about it, and I can only tell by personal experience that it is very true.


Born Social vs Learnt Social

Citi rewards facebook app

Citi rewards facebook app

Following the previous post on Scoot, and how they are a truly born social company, it is interesting to compare how their evolution is in Social Media as compared to more established companies that are learning how to become social and adopting it on their way.

It is becoming more and more clear that Social Media is not only going to be the way to gain a more close and personal relationship with your customers, but also a full service channel that will probably start moving business out of your current electronic platforms. Some industries will be earlier adopters than others, and some examples of this can be found on the airline industry, where Malaysia Airlines is already offering flight search, booking and check-in can be done in a facebook app.

Security and privacy concerns will slow down the adoption for certain industries, namely the Financial Services, but yet there is already space for certain features to be offered in Social Media. Citibank recently launched a new facebook app that allows their customers group their reward points they obtain for purchases and use them for charity or a group gift. Rewards seems to be quite the right transaction for Banks to start servicing customers over Social Media, as its level of risk is far lower than traditional financial transactions.

It will be interesting to see and compare the adoption curve for established companies, specially on highly risk aware industries like Banking as compared to companies born social like Scoot, who have adopted Social Media in a very natural manner for literally every single internal process they are facing in the journey of setting up the airline: Recruiting, selecting their slogan and offering promotions. It will not be surprising to see that Facebook -their Google+ page is yet to be seen- will become their main sales and servicing channel when they start operating.

Will this be the trend followed by other industries and therefore, will Social Media replace -at least partially- online banking? I make my bet!

An image is worth a thousand words – Bank of the future – part 2

A few weeks back I was introduced to Google Goggles. The technology is amazing, yes, but at that point in time there was little commercial application for it, other than triggering searches with an image instead of a few words. The idea is pretty

Google Goggles

Google Goggles

good and powerful, and promises to be even more when more recognition capabilities are added to the solution. As of today, it can recognize text, logos, landmarks, books, wine, artwork and contact information.

The idea behind this technology is really powerful, and clearly a must have for the compulsive I want what I see buyer. See something fancy on the street? Just take a pic not only to learn what it actually is but eventually to the best places to buy it online, right from your SmartPhone.

Very promising, but still a bit far away from having the level of recognition for such an application to takeoff.

Whilst general purpose recognition might be a challenge, Amazon has taken this technology to the next stage by creating the first commercial application of it. Narrowing

the scope of objects to be recognizes shows surprising effects. Read Amazon remembers here. Still in beta, but yet amazing. See a book, DVD or videogame?. Just take a picture of it, and it is very likely to be recognized. You are instantly presented with the offers of your selected Amazon store. It simply works.


Businesses like Amazon, selling material goods over the internet, are likely to take benefit of this technology, and it is only a matter of time that the technology will mature and image will be as used as text as an input for searches. Actually, it is quite natural to search for something you know how it looks like but of which you do not necessarily know its name.

The challenge comes in industries where the goods are not material, or are not directly linkable to something material of which you can take a picture. Air Travel and Banks fall within this category, yet I think can get great benefit of such technology.

Amazon remembers

Amazon remembers

Air travel can easily be linked with a picture of a location or landmark that is clearly recognizable. Following Google’s own example with San Francisco’s Golden Gate, just take a picture of it and you can be presented with the best offers to travel there from your selected home location. Maybe even better if you actually don’t know the name of the place but see a wonderful poster, just take a picture and find out how much it will take you to fly there for the next holiday. Nice.

Financial Services is a bit more difficult, as the products are not easily linkable to something material, but there are still potential applications for this in the industry. Promotion locators are growing in popularity with the location based capabilities of SmartPhones. These can get great benefit of image recognition, so promotions are now filtered to the specific product you want to buy, which you just saw. This truly takes the buying experience to the next level, as not only you can identify the product you wish to buy and where it is sold, but also in which specific merchants in your surroundings you can get the best promotion from your bank.

The Bank of the future will have to expand its own boundaries, to have more presence in the life of its customers, and technologies like this will certainly play a role on this.

While traditional banking services can still benefit of image recognition (will you take a picture of a checkbook and request it through such a mobile app, instead of doing it through online banking?), the biggest jump comes when the Bank becomes an enabler of your day to day life. Being involved and everything, from every

day purchases to your once in a lifetime acquisitions.

Are you buying something you just took a picture of?. We are here to offer you the b


est promotion for it when using our cards. Are you searching for the ultimate vacation by sending a picture of that beach?. Here we are to offer you the best financing and insurance package. The financial service is not the final product, but the enabler. And I am sure a wise and wide application of these technologies can create a next level of engagement with customers in the Banking industry.


Bank of the future – part 1

BankEver since call centres and ATM’s where adopted as the first form of Alternative Channels banks have been looking for ways of offloading their branches and moving low value, high volume transactions to lower unitary cost channels.

The Internet promised to bring this offloading strategy to the next level, by providing a channel with unitary costs on levels a fraction of those in the traditional ones. Despite few honorable exceptions of institutions that have really given the Internet channel a life of its own, most banks have relied on alternative channels as a means of bringing down the operational costs, leaving the human interaction for the high-value commercial transactions and financial advisory functions.

This might have come to an end, thanks to two main factors that are driving a substantial change in the way banks interact with their customers: Mobile and Social Media.

Mobile: A life of its own

The exponential growth of mobile applications have finally created a channel with a life of its own, where customers are approached and serviced in a new way. Where services exclusive to this channel are offered, and where banks are fiercely competing to differentiate themselves. Mobile applications and the power of Smart Phones are allowing banks to expand their relationship with customers, no longer constrained to the provisioning of financial services, but providing an emotional link between them and the customers lifestyle.

It is not just about allowing you to make a payment easily, or to buy or sell shares on the move. It is about providing an offering that is meaningful for you, in the place you are, in the mood you are or in the stage of your life you are in. More and more advanced services are proliferating around mobile applications which deviate from the traditional approach of using alternative channels as a cost cutter.

Wisely used, mobile applications can help the bank be seen an enabler in the customers lifestyle, which is just what it should be.

Social Media: The focus shifted

Social Media has probably not created the concept of digital life, but definitely has helped bring it to a level where virtually anyone has a very complete digital life, which is no more than a reflection of one’s real counterpart. Sharing your real life in your digital one has become a habit for hundreds of millions. The activity in these media is such that companies can simply not afford to be there, where their customers life happens. Where customers express their views and opinions about companies and their experiences with them, and where the early adopters are already starting to do some good business.

The focus is radically shifted towards the customer, which now has truly become king, now yes, this being completely true. Now customers decide what, where and when. Customers decide how and where they give you feedback, and how and where they want to interact with you.

Yet another channel with a life of its own.

As suggested by the title of this post, more to come on very interesting forms of channels like QR Codes and Microsoft Tags, and possibilities opened by new technologies like Siri.


App Stores in the Enterprise?

App Stores

App Stores

The App Stores are one of the key pillars on which the SmartPhones have built their success. Not that mobile applications where only introduced at the time the stores became available, but they solved nearly all of the issues that existed until them.

First, it was very difficult for developers to find customers, and for customers to find the applications they wanted. This also discouraged many from investing time, effort and money in developing these native applications, which resulted in a low number of available ones.

Second, all the logistics of applications installed in devices rather than browsed from devices where not solved, in some cases falling into the traditional burdens of software distribution. Installing, uninstalling and specifically maintaining your applications up to date was not an easy thing to do.

Last, but not least, charging for the apps meant each developer had to find a solution for managing the payments, with PayPal having been a traditional partner on this space.

But suddendly these App Stores arrive, and buying applications becomes as easy as buying any other article online, making the installation and uninstallation of applications as easy as 1-2-3, and more importantly, you no longer need to worry about keeping your software up to date. The App Store will tell you and let you update what you want, when you want it. Easy right?. Bringing developers and consumers to a single place has also boosted both the availability and consumption of applications, with numbers of applications in the hundreds of thousands.

So are these new stores the panacea for software distribution?. I suspected so, and I kind of confirmed it when Apple launched the App Store for Mac. The concept is reaching the desktop. So this is when things get interesting. Can this be applied to your corporate environment?. I hope so.

Distributed computing

There are a number of issues typically associated to large estates of PCs usually running Windows.

First, one size does not fit all, so you will face different users with different software needs, meaning that you will need to find a balance between standardization (critical to keep support and maintenance costs under control) and the specific needs of your user communities.

Second, you will have to automate as much as possible the possible of provisioning applications upon users requests, and more importantly, keep an inventory of all of this, as you want to know who is using what to avoid any licensing issues.he

Cost. This is usually tackled by complex approval processes which in the end do not really cap the amount of money a user spends on software which is likely to be rarely used.

And not to talk about software updates and patching.

When you look at these traditional issues, it seems miraculous that the App Stores have achieved to resolve most of this issues for a wider, more diverse crowd than the one in any of the Company.

Applying the concept

So how about delivering vanilla desktops or laptops to your employees, and giving them a budget according to their profile?. If a concept such as an App Store could exist in the corporate environment, users could have a budget to spend there. Go to the supermarket, choose what you need and install it. You are running out of budget? Maybe you can return to the App Store that application you downloaded which no longer you are using.

This, if tied to an inventory of licenses, will surely help software costs under control on a very predictable manner, while giving a much better user experience. Your users are now autonomous and can self manage their software, which would also have a very positive impact in your helpdesk and engineering budgets.

Did I talk about software updates and patching? How much money do you spend on that?

I am sure there are lots of challenges to be solved before such a concept can be applied completely in the Enterprise world, but after seeing what Apple has achieved with the Mac App Store I am hopeful it will come…


Social Media and Customer Relations

Social Media

Social Media

This wonderful article made me think about how some industries are making use of Social Media whilst other are still very hesitant about it. It also does a very interesting insight on how the relationship between these companies and their customers are changing, and even more interesting, how the perception the customers get are also changing accordingly.

Air travel is being one of the industries which most benefit is getting from Social Media. Nearly 200 airlines are already actively present in Social Media, and the nature of this industry is clearly benefiting from having a direct and real time communication channel with their customers. Air travel operations are subject to innumerable and unpredictable situations that cause disruptions and delays. So from a purely operational point of view, it is clear that Social Media, specially facebook and twitter are key elements in this new way of addressing customer communications. Delays and cancellations for any of the classical reasons -weather, plane maintenance, crew rotation, etc.- can now be made known to the wide audience.

Not that this will solve any of the issues and eliminate the delays or cancellations, but it is definitely helping customers be aware of the situation and plan accordingly. Knowing is better than not definitely.

This is probably the most obvious usage of Social Media, but probably not the most powerful. Three different usages can be identified:

  • Communication with customers (operational)
  • Feedback
  • Marketing and sales

The power of feedback

Think about feedback. This is a double edged weapon. Feedback is good, and making things easier for customers to give feedback right where and when the issue or the good experience is happening clearly encourages more than filling a feedback form. People just tweet their last good or bad experience, or post a comment on your wall about it. This is really powerful, but demands a managed presence in Social Media to be able to listen to this feedback effectively.

But this has a downside too, which I tend to see as a big opportunity. You can no longer hide failure. If you cause a problem to a customer, not only you will know, your whole set of followers will do. This obviously can be seen as a downside, but I clearly see this as an opportunity for companies to improve customer service and attention, and really treat customers as they deserve. Furthermore, most of the failures in customer service will remain undetected behind the fact that customers rarely complained, and even more, complains never reached the media. Now this has completely changed, but also for good, now you know where your weakest points are, so your customers become your best allies.

The true revolution

Customer Satisfaction

Customer Satisfaction

The more I look at Social Media adoption in the large Enterprise, the more I see it as a movement towards customer centricity. No longer we make the customer come to our online systems, we go to where the customer spends his or her time

online. We do not ask for feedback or claims to be given in a particular manner and a particular place, we listen to the customer wherever and whenever the customer is.

This is for me the authentic revolution of Social Media in the Enterprise. Not only being able to communicate, but reinventing all our customer interactions to be where and when the customer is, on every occasion where the customer needs to interact with us. For good and for bad.

For me, this is why Social Media is already revolutionary. Now I am really keen to see how other industries adopt are able to open themselves to this new world of possibilities. Challenging but really thrilling and full of potential.


Customer experience – When it is all about YOU

When finding your place in the market maybe you are differentiating by price, or by having a niche product. Some other companies would like to be recognized as leaders in Customer Service. I really like these kind of companies, as I think it is really difficult to achieve excellence in customer service. If you combine this with the size of a large, global business, then the task acquires a completely new dimension. Not only you need to design and deliver an outstanding service to your customers, but you also need to do it consistently in any location and interaction point. It is all about how your customers perceive your company, and in the premier league of customer service, no flaws are allowed, anytime, anywhere.

The material and human side

Qantas A380 Business Class

Qantas A380 Business Class

Creating a high quality customer experience is a serious business. And complex, very complex. After you look at all the material aspects of your customer service, which will depend on the industry, you will probably realize that the most important, and difficult piece to achieve is the human bit. If you are a Bank, no matter how good your Internet Banking Technology is, or how fancy your latest mobile app looks like, how well you have designed your branches or how finely tuned your call routing strategies and scripts are in your call center, the human part can spoil the whole experience, or the other way around. Standardizing the material aspects of your customer experience might look challenging, specially if you have a global scale business, but, what about the human side?. How do you ensure that the people that face the moment of truth with your customers deliver exactly the same experience?.

There are very few companies that have achieved this, and there is one for which I feel particular admiration. First, for the quality of their service, and the human side of it. Second for the consistency they have achieved in a global scale. It is Singapore Airlines.

Airline customer service

If you think about what is customer service in an airline, it is really a complex topic, involving many material aspects, and a crucial human part. In the last few years I have traveled half a million kilometers, mostly between Spain and Singapore, and using mainly BA, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. After some hours on board (and half a million kilometers is a few of them) you start to appreciate the difference. Some differences are subtle, others much more obvious. Both BA and Qantas have nice business class products in their long haul fleet, specially Qantas after the introduction of the A380 on the route. The seats are comfortable and the service is quite nice to, but here start the differences when you introduce SQ in the equation. Their service is clearly outstanding and in a different league when you compare it to the other two carriers.

There are subtle differences like the cabin design and ambiance, or the nice orchids in the lavatories, but it really becomes serious when it gets to the food and the way it is presented. No tray food. Delicious food carefully presented in Givenchy tableware, and fine wines served on full size fine glassware by the same firm.

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class


But above all the material aspects which define the great service onboard SQ flights, it is clearly their cabin crew and personnel that really set the difference. Some would say it is part of the Asian culture for customer service, and I would agree only partly. It is also a fantastic job of customer service standardization. No matter whether you board an SQ plane in Singapore, London or Barcelona, the way the crew address you, the way the Satay is served and the way the crew genuinely care about you throughout the flight is exactly the same.

Walk down the air bridge towards the aircraft door and you will start sensing the particular fragrance of all SQ planes -yes, they all smell the same- while you are welcomed by a couple of members of the crew and you already feel a bit home.

Standardized vs personalized

So now we have an outstanding customer service that is also consistent across the all the touchpoints. But wouldn’t this feel a bit cold and non-personal for the customer?. They seem to have also taken care of this. No matter how standardized the onboard service is, but they still manage to make you feel special and truly cared of whilst onboard. It is all about YOU. The amazing thing is that there are hundreds of thousands of YOUs every day on dozens of SQ aircraft across the world, and all of them feel special and unique.

Clearly there is a very interesting lesson to be learnt from other industries isn’t it?. Imagine you could deliver this service in this consistent manner across your whole enterprise, whilst still making your customers feel unique?.

Singapore Airlines A380 upper deck cabin

Singapore Airlines A380 upper deck cabin

Meal onboard

Meal onboard


Moving into the Social Network

Malaysia Airlines MHBuddy

Malaysia Airlines MHBuddy

Malaysia airlines has recently announced their MHBuddy application, which basically introduces all the flight search, booking and check-in features IN facebook. This is not a link to the Malaysia Airlines site, it is really a booking engine within facebook.

Where are your customers?

This idea, not specifically around flight booking but more on banking and financial services has been flying through my mind for the last months. There is one fundamental question I ask myself: How much time do our customers spend in our websites or online applications? The answer is simple, very little. We spend millions in improving our look and feel, making channel based pricing to make the Internet channel more attractive, but still it can not be even compared with the time our customers spend in facebook or other social networks.

People do not log into a social network, they are IN the social network all the time. Through their smartphone, tablet, netbook and desktop, through notifications, email or browsing. No matter where and when, you are connected, like it or not, part of your life happens there. And moreover, it does not happen in our corporate websites or online offerings, we are outside the life of our customers.

So it does not seem too wild to think that a possible way to go is to stop trying to pull our customers to our sites but, put our sites and online offering where our customers are.

The implications

I know this opens very serious security concerns, specially in some industries that deal with sensitive information and are prone to attacks, phishing and fraud in general, but if you think about it, this is probably one of the trends we will see in the next few years, with more and more moves into the social network, name it facebook or others, but ultimately, I bet it will happen, and ways to make this secure enough will be found to make the risk acceptable when compared to the benefits.

The most powerful CRM

Now think about the power behind this. Not only you are now part of your customers life, also your customer will be sharing with you lots of precious information that you would have never imagined, this is the most powerful CRM system you can imagine. Habits, friends, likes and dislikes, it is all there for you to be exploited and to adapt your offering to your customer, individually, and in the place where his/her life is taking place. Interesting?. I think so.

Adoption curve

We will probably see companies drifting some of their low risk customer interaction points to social networks, possibly things like customer complaints, surveys and service requests. Maybe even online stores will start selling their goods in facebook. Buying tickets for events is also a very possible application leveraging the existing event management facilities in facebook. I see a lot of constraints before we see high risk customer interactions in these places, but after we are able to understand the security implications and overcome the existing issues, what stops us from offering financial services to our customers in their preferred social network?. Do you want to apply for a credit card or loan, while you tag your last trip pictures?.


Breaking the screen barrier

I must admit that when I first got introduced to Microsoft Surface 2 a few weeks back in a Microsoft event I was a bit skeptical about its potential applications. Maybe it’s the size or the price tag, but after reflecting on it a bit I think there is one

Surface 2

Customer interaction

fundamental thing in which it can be extremely useful. Breaking the screen barrier. If you think about customer interactions, a big number of them happen in front of a counter or desk, where the an agent is normally looking at some information in a computer screen in order to complete a transaction, hotel or flight check-in… What about configuring your new car with the sales agent?.

Surface 2

Surface 2

I do find this situation a bit odd, as the screen is not shared, so the customer experience is somehow affected by this barrier. This is precisely where Surface can bring a completely new customer experience by allowing the customer and the agent share the same screen, not only by placing the screen in a horizontal manner, but also not having a default orientation. This means that content can be placed, rotated, fliped, etc. so it can be looked from any angle. This is new. So now you have your customer and your agent interacting with exactly the same information. The multi touch experience adds so this, actually Surface can handle up to 50 simultaneous touch points, and that is a lot of fingers.

When you think about it, this can be really have a great impact in your whole customer interactions. Imagine a financial planning session with your relationship manager in your bank, looking at the same widgets, market reports and graphs, your expenses and investments, your risk profiling. You can now have all these elements in the screen, and they can be placed, moved around, zoomed, all in a shared manner. Or maybe you are checking in for your next flight, so no longer you are looking over a counter where the airline staff key in cryptic commands in order to find you your preferred seat. Now both of you can share the same screen, look at the seatmap, use gestures to zoom and pan around it.

Actually Surface 2 brings a lot more than the ability to look at a screen from many angles and have multiple interactions with it. It opens a whole new way of human to computer interaction. Actually the screen not only recognizes your touch, but can also see you. Or any object placed on it. This opens yet another completely new dimension, but I admit I need more thinking into it before I can imagine practical applications. However, I still wanted to share the customer interaction bit which is more due to the form factor and the multi touch capabilities rather than the new Pixel Sense technology which brings the vision capability.

Now just imagine a 15 inch Surface and you have something that can fit on every customer service counter and deploy massively into branches, airports and hotels.