Profile: Sir Charlie Mayfield

John Lewis Partnership Chairman

Are we wasting our time perfecting the customer experience?

As marketers, the rule of unbeatable customer experience is right up there and we spend a lot of time and energy on getting it right. But after a rant to some of my friends this week about the service I was given, I wonder if we’re wasting our time.

Secret Marketer

Case one: Sunday lunch at a pub. Like most people, I like to peruse the menu before ordering, and it seems a bit odd to be in a pub without a drink in your hand. So I ordered a pint. I was somewhat taken aback when the barman said that due to people leaving without paying, they did not operate a tab system, and that unless I was ready to order, I would have to pay for the drinks first then make a separate transaction for the food. Odd, but so be it. The problem came when we decided to have dessert. I’d been doing as asked and paying separately for everything but when it came to dessert we were hit with the “sorry, minimum payment by credit card is £10” - and a couple of desserts came to less than that.

We left the pub, minus our pudding, and headed to the local supermarket.

Case two: by the time we got there it was 5.01pm, and an army of security guards blocked our way, saying we were forbidden to enter the store due to Sunday Trading Laws. Apart from wondering why retailers haven’t yet lobbied the Government over this inane law at a time when businesses are desperate for every bit of custom they can get, my beef was that the retailer had higher security stopping people entering the store than it had had all day to stop people stealing things.

I told these stories to friends and they were amazed - but not at my examples of poor service, at my anger. “Life’s like that”, “just accept it”, “go to a different pub/shop” was the without-exception response.

So just how important is it to get the customer experience right? As marketers we sweat buckets to ensure the experience is perfect, that customers feel welcomed, that their purchase journey is smooth. But if my experience is anything to go by, your normal customer can live with operational hurdles - it’s the marketers who can’t.

Readers' comments (6)

  • You are right, they are wrong. Because you WILL go to a different pub and if enough people think the same, all they'll be left with is the customers who they can't trust, not the ones who would spend more money if they were treated well.

    While the British may have once had a reputation for 'putting up' with bad service, I don't think this is the case any more. With the advent of social media, we have become far less shy about complaining.

    Any business (not just the marketers or the CRM peeps but the investors and senior directors, HR and line managers) that thinks it can just do the minimum is fooling itself.

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  • I'm not sure I agree with your sentiment here 'secret marketer'. As a researcher I will hold back the urge to attack the base size of your sample, yet while there is a clear indifference ultimately customers are voting with their feet and walking to a different store or pub! And no doubt they will return to the store or pub that delivers an optimum experience. Therefore, the experience DOES have an impact. Nunwood's 2012 Customer Experience Excellence study, in both the UK and US, have shown that there are brands, in the food and retail sectors, that have got this right (Amazon / M&S Food - in UK, Trader Joe's/ Olive Garden - in US). They deliver against the 6 key pillars of success Nunwood's study has identified, and core to this is Personalisation and Effort. The 2 things you didn't feel on Sunday!

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  • I don't think that it's an either/or scenario.

    Customers can (and do) live with the operational hurdles, but only in situations where they don't have choice.

    You put up the pub's rules and the supermarkets opening times because, although inconvenient, it would have been more inconvenient to do otherwise.

    If however, you went for another lunch the following Sunday, I'd be willing to bet that you voted with your feet and went somewhere that didn't have the obscure rules or the draconian adherence to ridiculous trading laws.

    Customers are like water and they follow the path of least resistance. Great customer service creates a path that is not only easy to follow, but also desirable.

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  • Creating a brilliant but also on brand customer experience is essential – as this is how we are able to stand out from the crowd. It is acknowledged that delivery is essential and it must meet customer expectations, but at the same time the brand needs to be central. There is too much focus on just making the customer experience ‘better’ from a generic point – in taking this approach how do we differentiate?

    So yes we all know someone else or somewhere else which will do it better and people will change. However rather than saying ‘lets not bother’, or ‘let’s just do it a bit better’, let’s say ‘what a brilliant opportunity this is!’ To create not just a good customer journey that will, at best, hold onto customers but a brilliant on-brand one which is memorable and distinctive and delights customers – lets do it right and steal share!

    So yes creating the perfect customer experience is maybe less important but an on-brand customer experience is essential!

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  • You tackle a topic very close to my heart; shoddy customer service. Customer service is becoming an afterthought where companies think you are objects to be pushed through forms and premium rate phone lines. Laws are optional to them, as they opt you in to communications and don't respond to Data Protection requests. It's an epidemic.

    But maybe I think this way because I'm a marketer?

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  • A few bits of food for thought:

    - Not one mention whether the food, drink and other service was any good - was it just one part of the 'journey' that caused the dissatisfaction in the pub?
    - Was the pub an independent retailer and not in a position to be able to swallow any size of loss in order to protect the customers journey? Marketing vs operations vs finance - a battle within organisations of any size.
    - Did the pub have suggestion cards out? Maybe providing feedback would be something that marketeers would hope their customers would do rather than slinking off in a huff.
    - Was the dissatisfaction caused by the fact that the goods were wanted but the author didn't want to go somewhere else and is simply irritated by the experience? Think Apple on this one - often terrible service but with desirable products...you can get away with a lot in these situations and even build additional desirability off the back of it!!

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