In two short articles, Sarah Cook and
Steve Macaulay offer some advice on
getting closer to your customer. Part one
exploring the gap between customers
and service providers.
Every organisation depends for its long
term future on forging successful lasting
relationships with those whom it serves,
its customers and a constant review of
those relationships are vital.
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Often there is an uncomfortable gap
between what customers want and what
organisations provide. Many of you will
have experience of ringing a GP surgery,
waiting for ages to get through and then
speaking to a frosty receptionist. The
receptionist is unhelpful and blocking, but
feels unrepentant – in her mind she
reasons she is doing her job protecting
the doctors so that they in turn can do a
good job and the patient, the customer,
has to understand that. As a patient, on
your part, you feel the receptionist is not
doing her job, which is servicing their
patients properly. The problem? It is all
too easy for the receptionist to feel their
top priority must be following process
and rules of the surgery – in this instance,
the doctors take priority – and the patient
takes second place.
Another possibly familiar example: a legal
specialist is an important link in a chain to
process house purchase contracts for
clients who are buying or selling
residential properties. When a client calls
to hurry up the process in case the whole
chain collapses, the specialist replies very
briskly that these things take as long as
they take. He firmly stresses that he
certainly can’t cut any corners and his
workload of other cases is high. The
client explodes in frustration – everything
depends on a quick resolution. The
specialist shrugs and puts the phone
In both cases, the client perceives the
service organisation as obstructive, cold
and deaf to their needs and concerns.
How do you change this situation to
become customer friendly? What underlies
these situations is not easily rectified and
whilst most organisations have a mantra
that ‘the customer is king’ in practice,
customer focus often comes down to
changing individuals and their attitudes
and behaviours. This change needs
energy and targeted intervention, based
on some key principles.
As experienced L&D professionals
working in customer situations, we have
given a lot of thought to developing and
maintaining customer closeness and have
drawn up some key principles of
developing customer focus. There are
some key fundamental principles for
developing customer focus:
Telling employees that the customer is
important, even repeatedly, will have
little effect on its own.
Deeds not words are important:
people watch what significant people
like their leaders do as well as what
they say.
People need to understand why
customers are important to them
Developed skills are required to handle
customer situations successfully, but
attitudes are equally or more
Regular customer feedback helps build
Many successful customer
improvement methods place the
employee firmly in the customer’s
shoes by the use of highly experiential
and action-oriented methods.
Targeted interventions
Customer journey mapping
One method that we have seen been
successfully used in an increasing
number of organisations is looking at the
journey the customer takes in interacting
with your product and service from both a
rational and emotional point of view. This
is based on research from the Nobel
prize-winning psychologist Danny
Kahneman who mapped the customer
experience journey on an emotion curve.
He argues that customers will remember
their experiences by whatever the ‘peak’
in their experience was (whether high or
low) and by the ending. If there was a
high point at some point during the
experience, and you make it a great
ending, it will be remembered as an
overall positive experience.
For example, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
have mapped out the customer journey
and focused on the key touch points for
the customer from 24 hours prior to flight
to collecting their bags. Their customer
insight showed that customers wanted an
automated service, but wanted a person
nearby if needed. So SAS provided
assistance at all automated check-ins.
Staff added on ‘chat’ to make the
experience memorable. (Their customer
survey showed that customers who were
greeted with a friendly smile and hello
easily forgot the interaction. By adding a
more memorable conversation, the airline
saw a significant increase in customer
satisfaction scores.) To encourage
conversation staff wear badges that
encourage customer comment (‘You had
me at hello’, ‘Today I’m on fire!’) –
obviously the type of comment will vary
by context. By mapping out the customer
experience in each part of the journey,
organisations can identify effort points
and minimise or eliminate them. An effort
point is a point in the journey where the
customer has to make too big an effort to
move through that step – to such an
extent that they may choose not to bother!
Examples of effort points in your business
might be long queues or complicated
admin that the customer has to complete.
There tends to be three basic things you
can focus on to reduce the effort required
from the customer:
1. Reducing the time on the task
2. Making the transaction more
3. Making things simpler.
If effort points are not addressed they can
cause dissatisfaction amongst customers
which could lead to defection. Insurance
company Aviva makes substantial use of
customer effort minimising techniques
too. Teams visualise the customer
experience and how it feels to be a
customer. In some cases customers are
filmed to help bring the experience to life
and so that managers and staff can see
the unintended consequences of their
Customer safaris
We encourage work teams to go on
‘customer safaris’: find opportunities for
members of teams to spend time at the
customer sharp end by going out and
observing first-hand how customers
interact with the product and services the
organisation provides. This, of course,
involves a lot of setting up but this should
not deter you – direct examples are often
much more vivid and lasting. Other
people in the organisation will want to
hear what has been observed, so provide
opportunities for other people to hear
what the safari hunters found out.
Sometimes bringing customers into the
building in person or making a video
brings the customer message to life. In
addition, actors can be well-briefed to
mirror real-life customer experiences in
role play and selected front-line staff can
describe their experiences in customer
Part two in this series looks at customer
insights and involving team in your