It’s All About the Customer – right? – Clearly not!

This week’s report by the Ombudsman Service (PDF) paints a pretty poor picture of Customer Service delivery in the UK. In fact, it’s a damning indictment.

There were 55 million complaints made by customers about products or services in the UK in 2016. That’s up 6% on the previous year.

Telecoms, a sector close to my heart, is the second most complained about area, even more so than energy, transport and banking, the traditional bad boys of customer service.

6.9 million complaints were made about telco’s in 2016. It’s clear that a growing number of customers are becoming dissatisfied with the levels of service provision and support. 19% believe their feedback is ignored. 17% believe that complaining makes no difference and too many are resigned to receiving poor service.

Why are we getting it so wrong?

It’s not that hard to work out and several factors are at the root of the malaise. There’s an ugly and evil culture of living for the spreadsheet, the stats or the number, flowing through UK Customer Experience delivery like poison. Customer Experience managers, HoD’s, GM’s sit in an office far removed from the customer and the “floor”. The focus is on the scorecard, the bonus, the quarterly review rather than the customer. Too often we “chuck” resource at a problem rather than lifting the stones or the rocks and establishing the root cause of the issue or challenge which is impacting the customer. If it’s not a quick win, which can be measured and boasted about in the weekly, monthly or quarterly management review, we don’t want to know. If it doesn’t add immediate value and deliver an often manipulated “green” on a RAG report getting us close to our bonus, we don’t want to know. A longer term, more strategic and meaningful fix, at the heart of the problem, can appear impossible, “out of my control” or simply too challenging.

So how do we fix it.

Firstly we need to get back to basics. Senior management should not simply rely on CSR’s, TL’s or Managers to gauge or judge customer sentiment. As leaders, we must know our customers. Are our CSAT or NPS results credible or real? Don’t just rely on spreadsheets or slides or reports. Prove it by lifting the stones and inspecting the data. Get on the floor, hear, see, feel and smell what’s going on. You get what you inspect, always! How many times have we heard “THE GROWN UPS DON’T NEED TO KNOW” and all too often THE GROWN UPS DON’T WANT TO KNOW. Well they should know and they must know. Until you are certain that your CX is superb you cannot relax and even then you must keep on inspecting, challenging, questioning and proving.

Customer Experience is not just about picking up the phone, replying to emails, tickets or tweets or having a Facebook page. It’s about cross business responsibility and delivery, every area of the business has a role to play in delivering an excellent Customer Experience. It’s still shockingly apparent that way too many leadership teams pay lip service to great Customer Experience. They go through the motions, make the right noises but remain in the world where CX is seen as a cost centre or something the business must be seen to be doing. Too often leaders fail to recognise the value great CX brings.

At a leadership level, we all know the CEO, COO, CTO, CMO, CPO roles. Where does Customer come in? How many businesses have a Chief Customer Officer? Who has the voice of the customer on the Exec team? Often it’s the COO, but that’s nearly always the fox in the hen house. If Customer Experience in the UK is to improve, it must start with leadership. There has to be an owner, a single voice on the leadership team with sole, unconflicted responsibility for customer experience.

We must value the benefit excellent CX delivers to our businesses, our brands, our growth strategies and our P&L. Paying lip service and focussing simply on numbers driven CX is why the Ombudsman Services report paints such a bleak picture and is why far too many customers feel let down by businesses.

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Experience surpasses mere knowledge!