c25 July 2014


July 2014

Narda Shirley

I heard a great story today about Howard Smith, the Operations Director of Crossrail. In order to truly understand how it is for tube and rail travellers in London he travelled from Euston Square to Kensal Rise pushing a baby buggy to experience for himself what it was like to be one of his customers. And the outcome? There’s now a lift at Kensal Rise tube.

This little anecdote illustrates the insight that can be gleaned from walking in the shoes of your customers. It’s part of a relatively new discipline that is helping businesses as diverse as Royal Mail and Argos to boost sales and loyalty by delivering a better customer experience.

It sounds like common sense, but it transpires that when you ask consumers questions in focus groups, they give you a different steer from their observed behaviour in real situations. The reason is that we switch to autopilot when we are carrying out many tasks and make emotive decisions in the moment, versus using the conscious mind to help make other more rational decisions (like which car to buy) at a distance.  And the subconscious is very susceptible to experience clues that are all around us. We are very able at decoding an experience in an instant without anything even passing through our conscious brain. In retail, a lot has been documented about sensory perceptions and how use of smell or sound can trigger a positive emotional response. The satisfying ‘thunk’ of a German engineered car door for example. We heard other examples of negative subconscious signals including tatty handwritten notices asking for no violence towards staff, and chained up charity collection boxes. It hardly says ‘please come again, we value your custom.’

But what came across very clearly in the presentation from expert practitioner, Sally Burrell, was that most companies are only just waking up to customer experience as a discipline, despite the gains it can deliver at relatively low cost. Rather than embarking on extensive refits, it can be something as simple as inaccurate perceptions of queuing time among customers that need to be addressed.

Last week Forrester put out a new report titled ‘How customer experience impacts revenue’ which will no doubt help cement its place as a new discipline. Interestingly, it isn’t the exclusive domain of brand and marketing people as it often needs operations expertise in the mix.  Where we predict it will really turn heads is in the boardrooms of PE and VC firms looking for ways to turn around tired businesses or steal a march with a feisty new challenger brand.

Brian Harrison, CEO of our newest client, Swoon Editions (backed by Octopus and Index) made the point that even though theirs is an online business retailing furniture, when there are questions about deliveries, there are real people at the end of the phone to help customers.  ‘We found most of them working at the Apple Store, these guys love solving problems to make things work for people.”

As our expert, Sally explained, one of the most crucial elements of customer experience is the Peak-End Rule – nothing matters more in customer experience terms than what happens at the end, as it’s what people remember most vividly when they make a decision about whether to ever return. As Howard Smith discovered, battling through the tubes with a buggy is never going to be a walk in the park, but a little lift at end makes all the difference in the world.