In August, I noticed that my soon-to-be-40 midriff was slightly beyond its original design constraints, prompting a decision to revisit the gym. On the maxim that “a problem shared is a problem halved”, my wife and I joined the local Virgin Active, opting for the monthly membership. We weren’t particularly thrilled with the £40 joining fee, but we relented after an unsuccessful haggle with the staff and Virgin Active’s Twitter channel.
On September 1st, Virgin Active announced a special offer via Twitter and the company’s main website – no joining fees on all plans for a limited period. Obviously, we weren’t happy! Another Twitter conversation pointed to resolving it with the gym manager, which is when I realised – subsequently confirmed by gym staff – that there was no connection between the centralised (or outsourced) marketing function and the local staff who sell memberships. Local membership consultants weren’t told in advance about promotions and this wasn’t the first time it had caused problems with members.
Improve internal communications for all channel ‘operators’
The root cause of the above is a failure of communication about promotions within the business. Simply giving notice of promotions to local membership consultants would help Virgin avoid a situation like this and could even enhance the sales process. If a potential joiner wasn’t convinced to sign up there and then, the consultant could decide to share forthcoming offers rather than lose the opportunity. True empowerment would be a series of offers, some publicised and some not, which the consultant could choose to use strategically.
One solution is a system that distributes information to all operators of company channels. I’m reminded of an example from a client who provided telecommunications for emergency services. Their platform was placed under intense scrutiny in times of adversity such as natural disasters or terrorist activity, so they developed a ‘response’ intranet. Accessible to all staff, this intranet contained up-to-date press releases, press packs, photography and operational statements to enable anyone in the organisation to respond with confidence. Combined with basic media training for key personnel, the company minimised the chance of someone responding to an external enquiry inconsistently, and avoided potentially negative brand impact as a result.
Consistency. Consistency. Consistency.
The importance of a consistent customer experience cannot be understated when it comes to satisfaction, as explored in this recent McKinsey Report. While it’s easy to think cross-channel in the context of acquisition marketing (print, event, social, web, email etc.), customer journeys for all types of business and organisation (b2c, b2b, government, education) span many more touchpoints post-sale, including:
- Service support
Great work at one touchpoint can be undone by a poor experience at another, with a potentially significant bottom-line impact. Last year, Marketing Week reported on an investigation into the impact of poor recruitment experiences on brands:
“Poor candidate experience cost Virgin Media £4.4m in 2014, the study claims. More than 130,000 candidates applied to work at Virgin Media that year, 18% of which were existing Virgin Media customers. However, as a direct result of poor candidate experience more than 7,500 candidates cancelled their subscriptions and switched to a competitor, resulting in millions of pounds in lost revenue.”
As well as a distributed information platform, here are some other tactics to ensure a consistent response:
- Operating principles for staff– either through repeated immersion in company values or prescriptive ‘manifestos’, which set out expected responses, behaviours and attitudinal ways of dealing with situations that inevitably arise day-to-day.
- Defined escalation policies – for example, what should happen if a customer complains more than once? Who should be informed to step in where the customer remains dissatisfied?
- Tracking customer experience – using Net Promoter Score (NPS) or similar, to track customer experience at different touchpoints for variance and conducting surveys to monitor shifts in results and gain subjective insight across the business. This can help to identify weak links which may need reassessing, or rethinking.
Get the right culture and the people to match
Having all the systems and tactics in the world won’t be sufficient if your company culture isn’t customer-centric, or doesn’t give your staff the empowerment to make the right decision for your customers at point of engagement.
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh explores the culture behind the huge success of his online shoe retailer. The defined ‘Family Core Values’ are central to the company’s general operation and hiring, a process that includes offering money to trainees to leave as a way to remove non-engaged employees.
The failings of a system-only focused approach versus a people-centric culture is easily illustrated by the customer experience highs and lows of United Airlines.
- In 2013, flight attendants at United Airlines worked with pilots to delay a plane and make sure a passenger with a delayed flight could make the connection to see his dying mother for the last time.
- In 2017, a culture of overbooking and inadequate processes led the airline to forcibly remove a passenger. A video of the bloodied man being dragged off the plane went viral, causing global brand and reputational damage.
Ask your customers
While building a great brand with customer-centric values, systems and procedures may take you 90% of the way, there’s no substitute for talking face to face and learning from your customers. So just ask them:
- How do they want to communicate with you?
- What does good service look like to them?
- What is the language, attitude and response that engages or may disengage them?
During the customer insight phase of a recent brand project, we looked at what customers wanted from our client. The client thought innovative delivery was the key factor, but this proved to be a minor consideration compared with what customers were actually looking for: consistency and competitive pricing. This insight informed the messaging we developed and took the brand in a different, more customer-centric direction.
Go forth and converse. Consistently.
Hopefully this will provide some food for thought as you plan your customer experience strategy. And if you’re wondering, I got the £40 joining fee credited back and have lost 5kg so far!