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?.
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.
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.
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…
Now that geolocation is massively present in our lives, and used on lots of mobile applications, a new hot topic in mobile technology seems to be coming. It is indoor, short range location.
Some time ago I discovered that in a popular supermarket in Singapore the shopping carts had an LCD screen that showed information relevant to the section you were walking through at that point in time. At first I thought “well, the latest form of publicity in the kingdom of advertisement”, something fancy, but just that. Or was it something else?. Are they just showing you offers that are at the reach of your fingertips, or are they doing something else?. What if they are tracking the movements of the cart by some sort of indoor-GPS so they can know what are the shopping and movement patterns of the visitors?.
This seems like a very interesting application to every public space that receives visitors or customers, as it provides a very useful and detailed insight of the movements of the visitors within the space, also being able to detect hot spots that draw visitors attention, what are the places, on the other hand, that are barely visited, and many other parameters that define the analytics of how users move themselves in any open space.
So probably these guys are not just offering me the current promotion on house wines as I walk by the spirits section, but they are actually tracking, recording, and analyzing all my movements in the store. This way they can know where do I spend more time, whether I come back to a section where I have been before, maybe indicating the products are not too clearly shown as I needed to come back and find something.
The technology seems to be very interesting in its practical applications, but in this particular case it is very probably based on RFID, which means that each cart probably has a passive RFID and they have a number of receivers in the store to track our movements. Not rocket science, definitely, but a very intelligent way of having some insight onto an otherwise very complex problem to resolve.
Removing the cart
Having recognized the value of indoor location and visitor tracking, we can imagine a lot of applications for this, virtually anywhere subject to receiving visits of customers. Airports, Supermarkets, any type of stores, even bank branches can benefit of this to optimize resources and know what are the patterns that drive customer behaviour in real life interactions -as opposed to virtual interactions over the internet, which are much easier to track-.
But the fundamental limitation seems to be how do we stick our customers and visitors to an RFID. Easy in the case of a supermarket where you are very likely to pick a shopping cart, but complicated in many other situations. However, there seems to be some possibilities in using three forms of signals that your mobile phone can be publicly sharing: TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity), Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Whilst Bluetooth and Wi Fi depend on the user having this feature activated on the phone, they are quite good sources of information to perform indoor tracking.
However the first one seems to have a broader application, as it is first anonymous, resolving the traditional privacy issue of location and tracking, and second, is always active. It is based on a regular communication all mobiles perform with their base stations in order to report their location. These communications can be picked by indoor antennas and can be used for locating the position of the user with a precision down to 1-2 m. Good enough isn’t it?.
There is a very interesting paper that describes this technology in detail as well as providing a pilot study with very interesting results. As stated in the paper, this is the having Google Analytics for real life customer interactions…
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
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.
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?.
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
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?.
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.