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We’re shortly due to have our first post-covid holiday and I’ve completely forgotten what to do. Is 4 hours early too early to get to the airport? Should I take Travellers Cheques carried in a bumbag for safety? Maybe I should photocopy all our important documents, just to make sure.
It also means I’m in touch with travel companies again. And it turns out, I’m not the only one who’s forgotten what to do.
As part of the planning, I thought I’d quickly contact our airline to ask a few family travel-based questions and sort out a potential problem with the seating.
There’s no phone number to call. The website points you to a webchat. The webchat to Twitter. Twitter to a real person. The promise was that I’d be put in touch with someone as soon as possible.
And then the wait started.
After a week of waiting, I managed to find a phone number hidden in the depths of the site. On the call I was told by a chirpy automated voice that ‘we’re a bit busy so you may be waiting over 30 minutes’. Once someone answered and we’d started discussing the issue, they had a problem with their line and the call was disconnected. They didn’t call back.
My main question with all of this is: when did this become acceptable? When did organisations decide it was ok to treat customers like this and why do we, as those customers, put up with it?
It’s now commonplace to call a company only to be told that ‘we’re experiencing unexpectedly high call volumes’, or words to that effect. (Note, if you’ve been experiencing ‘unexpected call volumes’ for over a year, they shouldn’t be unexpected anymore.)
Webchats routinely cut off or take an unnecessarily long time, possibly because the agent is dealing with multiple queries at once.
And there seems to be a general reticence for companies to want to speak to their customers. I recently posted on LinkedIn about my frustration with phoning an organisation and navigating through their escape-room-esqe menu options, only to be told ‘sorry, you have to go online for that’ before being hung up on.
Of course, Covid has played a role in this. But in my view, this acceptance of mediocrity by some of the UK’s biggest companies comes from a simple lack of ambition.
Fergus Cusden told a superb story at an event in 2017 about his time as Safety Directorat National Air Traffic Control (NATS).
Whilst recognising the amazing work the team at NATS do, something still irked Fergus about the attitude to safety. Whilst it wasn’t unsafe, the assumption that twenty or so ‘near-misses’ a year was as good as it could be didn’t seem ambitious enough.
So Fergus challenged the organisation to accept that any near-miss was one too many and that the aim could and should only ever be zero.
What followed was revelatory.
The first big step was saying it out loud, to everyone, that this was the aim. The second step was just as important: the senior team admitted to everyone that they had no idea how to achieve it – but were determined to try.
Having realised and stated that zero was the only target the team could morally contemplate, they found that sharing it had a wonderfully aligning effect. It led to far more open and honest communication between the senior team and the air traffic controllers, and a far greater exchange of ideas.
And it worked. The number of near-misses steadily dropped to zero or near-zero from that point onwards.
Whilst me struggling to get a reply from my airline clearly isn’t the same as someone being responsible for landing hundreds of planes every day, the theory remains the same.
As soon as the leaders within an organisation accept that customers waiting to speak to someone is acceptable, then the wait time will grow and grow. As soon as those leaders show or tell their team it’s ok, then respect for customers’ time – and for customers overall – will start to fade.
But being ambitious can change all of that. Clearly stating the aim – whether it’s for waiting times or an overall CX vision – will influence opinion and behaviour throughout the organisation.
It will lead to surprising results, too. Being faced with an impossible challenge is often when people are at their most determined and most creative – just look at record-breaking vaccine development from the past few years.
So, when it comes to your customer experience, what are you aiming for?
Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly newsletter below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation