Sermelo is about to celebrate its second birthday and I’m very pleased (and relieved) to say we’ve had a successful second year. Like any growing company, we’ve encountered a number of diverse operational challenges – from submitting our first set of accounts to Companies House, negotiating a lease, moving to a new office and building our very own office furniture. We’ve also hired new employees, figured out how PAYE works, invested in IT and telephone systems, and become a subscriber (note I don’t use the word customer) to various utilities, internet and telephone service providers.
One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that you personally experience the service offering provided by companies – be they professional services firms or an e-tailer – and experience the journey from initial contact to completion of the transaction, or the ongoing customer relationship.
I’m sorry to say the spectrum of my customer experience – from the awful to the great – has a major impact on my stress levels. Why? Because when you are working hard to build a business and provide excellent client service, I think you become even more acutely allergic to organisations that just don’t care.
And it’s not just about the quality of customer services. Essentially, once you navigate your way through the mind-numbing processes the call centres follow, you generally speak to a very nice person who does their best to help you. Whether they are successful or not depends on one thing: how the customer experience is configured.
What does this mean?
A simple test I’d recommend to any executive is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and walk the journey they have to walk. Inspect how well the business processes works and ask yourself at the end of the journey how you feel. Do you want to continue a relationship or close the door behind you?
On my journey with one provider, I found I had to have six separate conversations to move my service 400 metres from my old office to the new. This was because the systems they used were not connected and different departments did not have the means to communicate with each other electronically. A certain utility company is still unable to set me up as a customer after 90 days for reasons which are still unclear, but include claims it never received emails I sent, even though I have the read receipts!
Interestingly, my best experiences are with companies who have spotted opportunities to enhance and add value to the customer experience. The established retailer that understands that sending a text message, confirming a one hour delivery window will build customer loyalty deserves to outperform the competition. And guess what, it is doing exactly that. I fear the leadership of certain organisations must be completely disconnected from what it feels like to be their customer. No doubt data and analytics tell them that their most profitable segments and how to cuts cost and maximise profit but they are out of touch with the most important business fundamental: understanding the customer.
The two companies that have caused me the most stress are official partners to London 2012. I only hope that a little bit of the Olympics’ competitive ethos reaches the VIP areas and stimulates some thinking on how to win the most important game of all: customer satisfaction.