The ‘big data’ con in customer experience….

The big data con in customer experience: What is important is the right data, usable data at the right time. When it comes to measuring what customers really think about your business, it’s actually small data that really counts’.

 If you want to understand what makes customer experiences special just think about why you remember particular experiences in a positive light, sometimes it is because it just did what you expected but there will usually be some small detail or details that made the difference. The phrase “it is the little things that count” are at the heart of most great experiences. Contrast that with the image conjured up by the phrase ‘big data’, that we now hear everyday that is held up by many (usually with a vested interest) as the answer to defining customer experiences. I seem to remember that a few years ago CRM systems were going to perform the same miracle – help you to understand, manage and even predict what your customer s needs, desires and behaviour would be.

The issue here is not the value of big data, in the right context what can be achieved can be truly amazing – crunching immense quantities of information to unravel science, to produce cures for diseases – the question is where is the value in terms of customer experience design and delivery.

Customer experience is a practical deliverable ‘thing’ it is not a theory that requires a proof, therefore ‘data’ is only valuable if it can be used to either to reinforce the value of an existing customer experience or if it can be used to underpin change that can be connected to an improvement in the value to the end customer and the company.

When I talk to businesses about what can be seen as a highly complex area that requires a high degree of technical expertise and insight to engage with I ask some simple questions. In effect a mini sense check that any Executive could understand the answers to: how much do you spend on collecting customer data…on storing customer data…on analyzing customer data? How do you create value from your customer data?

Occasionally there is a high level of understanding in terms of the answers but in most there is a knowledge gap and if you don’t know the answers how can you begin to understand the return on investment of your own ‘engagement with the great big data race?’

In my book on the customer experience I am challenging companies to think about these fundamentals, it is too easy to invest just to be part of the game.

Over the years I have not come across many companies of any scale that have a shortage of data about their customers and knowledge about what happens inside their business – indeed more than enough to be able to act and improve their existing experience with no further investment.

To illustrate this just consider how a short analysis of the data around customer complaints usually reveals themes and repeated issues. I have seen first hand how when a Bank opens a new customer account, history (data) tells them where the potential new customer will have problems, how that will prompt some degree of customer distress, in-bound calls and therefore cost – yet this is not acted upon and instead the response is to react when the problem – that is entirely predictable – manifests itself! There is no logic to this behavior using prior knowledge to make tiny changes to the experience makes both experiential and commercial sense, after all it is the little things that count!

So why do these changes not happen? It is not about the absence of big data it is in most cases about the disconnects inside the company, in effect the business logic is broken and that means a lack of a clear view on the ownership of the design and management of key customer experience.

You can have all the customer data in the world at your fingertips but if the customer experience does not have a strong voice in the Executive you will deliver nothing of consequence.

The Customer Experience Book explores this and many more key issues in detail to provide practical guidance and helps to engage with improving experiences and commercial results.

Experience the new world (wooden) bicycle….it made me smile….hic!

I spotted this whilst in Majorca earlier in the summer, it stood out immediately because of the colour but on closer inspection you realise that this is actually a wooden bike fro an adult, the first one I have ever seen!  So I did a little investigation and was amazed to find that there is a whole industry out there producing all manner of amazing bikes made out of wood.  Yes you can buy a carbon fibre bike today (if you have enough money and don’t get me wrong some of the wooden bikes can cost thousands if you have the cash) but you can get one that weighs less than 10KG made of ash wood!!  Environmental as bicycles are when made out of metal they still have that carbon footprint and frankly the visual experience of these wooden bikes is amazing and fun – it makes you smile and as in some of the other posts in my blog that counts for a lot when I rank the “emotional experience” of a product – in this case I am sure it makes you smile as the rider and it makes passers by smile too –  a real double win!

Wooden Bike

Of course the picture below courtesy of ‘Woodbikes’ was almost enough to have me go out and buy one (….not that I would drink and ride of course) – it is a new take on the ‘water bottle’ holder on those boring old metal bikes….cheers :))



Archerfield Golf Club takes the ‘Expectation versus Customer Experience reality” challenge and scores 7.5/10

For my next review let’s look at this Golf Club on Scotland’s East coast south of Edinburgh – it is a course I have played for several years and on this occasion the visit was over 3 days.  The fact that I have been here before adds another dimension in terms of experience because I have not only what they say about themselves on the web site but my personal experiences to draw on in terms of my expectations before arrival.

Here is an extract from what they have to say on the well constructed web site – even if the site itself is a little short on content – sometimes less is more….

“More relaxed, more about you, and your enjoyment of the great game of golf. Archerfield is not just about playing golf (although, with golf courses this good it’s a close run thing!), it’s about an attitude of mind. We think it’s our privilege that you have chosen us, not the other way round. We want you to feel at home, bring guests, and of course, play as much golf as you like.”

“From the armchairs to the service, atmosphere to menu, this is a place to kick back and feel truly relaxed.  Certainly, it’s a long, long way from stuffy rule-bound Clubhouses. Elegant, but not overpowering, this is where to meet, greet or just lose yourself in the daily papers in your favourite seat in the sun.”golf_1156x515_dl-to-the-clubhouse-nolamps

So going in the expectations are quite based on my previous experiences and the brand marketing.

On arrival the whole experience is managed very efficiently clubs are left at the door and transferred by the hotel team down to the pick up point close to the courses, everything is tagged for you and ready to go.

The facilities are all very good and pretty much s advertised but what makes the Clubhouse is the staff, I have as mentioned been here before and a core of the team have been there since I first started visiting, they are smiley, attentive but not overly so and make the effort to do the little things well.  Let me cite and exam, we were sat a table in the bar and I ordered a pint of Guinness, I then left the table and wandered out on to the balcony area (the only place you can get a phone reception…probably a good thing!), the waitress who had taken my order rather than leaving it on the table sought em out and delivered the drink to me outside – a tiny thing but it makes a big impact.  Staff retention is so key to providing that consistency and to ensure that as new team members come in they are given great examples with which to work.  Th team are very much led from the front and by example by the lady Manageress, big tick in terms of bringing the brand to life allowing you to “kick back and feel truly relaxed”.  The Club also adopts a very relaxed approach to dress code, smart jeans and trainers are fine – such a contrast to the overly pretentious approach adopted by many clubs that in particular puts off the younger generation so again living the expectation “it’s a long, long way from stuffy rule-bound Clubhouses. Elegant, but not overpowering..”.

There is also a Spa on the site and after three rounds in 48 hours I felt the need for a massage, having not booked in advance I was not expecting to get in and duly found that they were booked up, however the took my number and less than half an hour later called to say they could squeeze me in for 30 minutes – perfect.  the actual Spa experience was superb, highly recommended.

So all is well and it sounds like a 10/10 BUT a couple of things let the experience down both to do with the Golf Course not the surrounding experience.  Firstly the course whilst i am no expert golfer even I found some of the greens on one course (the Fidra) more akin to putting on my back lawn rather than a Championship golf course – this was even more of a surprise as it had been used for televised Championship play a few weeks earlier – maybe that was the issue – either way the experience was not good and did not meet the images I had seen or my previous experiences.  Secondly the human factor – the team that manage the golf courses include a group of young men who sort clubs, buggies and no doubt assorted other roles one of which is manning the ‘halfway house’ small retail facilities at the mid point of the round where refreshments are available.  My expectations are the same standard of smiley faces and service that the rest of the Club offers but no instead of smiley faces, simple “how is your round going today” there is pretty much silent service, zero engagement and no proactive conversations which is a real shame.  I suspect that this job is the one they really don’t enjoy but that really should not matter it lets down the other members of the team who work so hard to create that positive atmosphere.

So it is with some regret that I have to only award the Archerfield team a 7.5/10 on this occasion, success in experience is about every part working to use the old statement ‘you are only as good as your weakest link’.  However this would not stop me recommending the Club to friends and family or indeed you my readers.


How not fit for purpose financial planning is holding back the Customer Experience….

In my new book ‘The Customer Experience Book’ I begin to explore some of the reasons why customer experience initiatives so often fail to really crystallize in terms of their impact on both the culture and business results. But why….?

Well there are a number of factors that are slowing or acting as a drag on companies ambitions in the Customer Experience space. Whilst intuitively leaders know it is the right thing to do and indeed surveys going back to the early 2000’s have cited CE as a business critical if not THE critical driver that they need to rally around – it continues be hugely variable in terms of actual change achieved.

Let’s look at the business planning impacts – in short the world of financial and business planning has failed to adapt to the rise of Customer Experience – ask yourself the question do you have a line in the annual business plan, with $/£’s attached to it that is specifically headed Customer Experience as you do for Advertising, Marketing, Operations, IT, Finance and so on…my experience says most likely not. But you may well say we have it but it is distributed across various budget holders, that may be true but you will also know that in year it is then difficult to amalgamate those budgets behind a common CE theme. What happens then is that CE is seen as a Project often without a well defined outcome and budget has to be bid for and is an easy target for cuts when the inevitable half year review demands reductions in spend. On the flip side a CE team could be charged with reducing business costs as well as promoting and supporting revenue targets – but they have little or no direct influence over the budgets that could be impacted and come across the political fights that then ensue.

Let’s look at an example of how current thinking makes advances in Customer Experience more difficult than they should be – if there is no built in budget then the requirement is to bid for what might be viewed as discretionary spend and that can – depending on the business – mean writing a business case with a clear ROI.  The challenge that creates is that a ‘CE project’ is usually seen in isolation and the wider business impacts are harder to engage with. Let me give you an example of how that would come to life – if you took the Apple retail business and insisted that it MUST make a standalone return of X% and only give small weight to the potential for wider less tangible returns it would never have been born in it’s current format – effectively they changed the game in retailing tech products and how you measure tis value.  Apple is not a retailer it does not have to make its profits from a retail format but could very easily have been constrained by ‘standard retail formulas’ and investment criteria.  We all know that the huge levels of staffing in the in Apple stores would not survive a standard retail approach – but instead the stores are seen as a key part of the Apple customer experience (remember the Brit who lasted just a few months as the Head of Retail after he decided to cut staffing levels to improve profitability and was ousted effectively by a social media storm of loyalist Apple protesters opposing the idea), it is an opportunity to engage with customers, to expose the nuances of the technology, to showcase the commitment to customers.

So when reviewing customer experience from a financial perspective you need to take a different view and use a different lens – in effect the Apple store is an extension or part of the brand/advertising budget and how often do you do an ROI assessment of those lines in the plan they are simply seen as business essentials!

So you might ask if we made the first move forward and committed to the addition of a CE line in the plan where would the cash come from and what might we do with the spend.  In terms of where does it come from it need not necessarily be incremental – look hard at taking a % of your existing Brand/Advertising/Marketing would it not make sense to ensure that what you are spending money on in terms of creating a customer expectation is delivered in order to crystallise the maximum return from that spend?  The Customer Experience budget should be used to ensure that the expectation created by the Brand team is turned into deliverable executions and in an ideal world will in time provide the Brand with stories based on real customer experiences that can become campaignable creative executions themselves.  That means designing key experiences, identifying what is needed in terms of ‘props’, ‘scripts’, training, recruiting, processes and motivating your team to deliver a consistently on brand experience.

Read more about this and other areas where you can think differently in the book 😉



BA take my “Expectation versus actual Customer Experience” test…..and score 2/10..

Ok the background to this is going up to Edinburgh on British Airways to play an annual golf event that has been running for some 27 years now!!

Booked the flight some time ago using Expedia (£215.17) chose BA as it is a full service carrier and and I prefer that to the low cost alternatives, my expectation was better from a safety point of view relatively new and well maintained aircraft, sensible seating with a bit of leg room, perhaps some food and luggage allowance.  This expectation was based on previous experiences and the advertising of BA.

How did they do?

First thing was checking in on-line and thankfully I did that as I had a rather nasty surprise – when I clicked 2 bags to check it advised me that my ticket was hand baggage only – even thought the Expedia confirmation had a footnote that “The airline may charge additional fees for checked baggage” my simple assumption borne of all previous experiences was that BA is full service I would get my 2 bags and that was more than enough…but no!

So I clicked on the extra baggage to discover that they wanted to charge me another £170 to check in two bags and if I had done it at at the airport £260!!!!  So the cost of taking two bags weighing less than 40Kg was more than my entire journey as a fully grown adult weighing somewhat more than that – unbelievable and totally unjustified.  Ok I had no choice so did the deed and then went to the seating – ok it offered me a middle seat at the back of the plane, not ideal so I moved my seat only to discover that to do that they then wanted to charge me another £11 for one option or £9 for another, what?  I am now getting more than disappointed with my experience.  Having seen this I decided that the middle seat would do they were all reasonable leg room it was a short flight…how wrong I was!!

Get to the airport and check-in unlike my previous experience a month earlier (see my earlier blog post) was smooth and I was airside in under 20 minutes.  Now onto the plane oh no what is this, they have contracted out my flight to a Danish low cost airline Jettime complete with Danish crew.  The plane was old, the seating was so cramped that I had to adopt a very awkward elbows tucked in position for the entire flight to avoid my fellow passengers.  So now I am paying a premium price and flying on a low cost carrier – I think that has to be close to illegal and certainly an awful brand experience.  Rather bizarrely amidst the Danish airline branded crew and aircraft the BA High Life magazine was in the seat pocket – trying to suggest that this was a BA flight and only serving to emphasise what you were missing.  To reinforce the point further that this was not BA flight the crew continuously referred to our destination as EdinBERG mmmm :((

On to the return leg, this was delayed by over an hour but was a big BA jet 7 seats across so a busy flight for such a short journey – about 20 minutes before we landed the crew read out a long list of flight numbers then say “all those passengers on those inter-connecting flights should go to the International Transfer Desk as they had all been booked on later flights”, arghh poor people.  As we approached the Gate the Captain comes on the intercom explaining the delay was having to take bags off when passengers on the inbound flight had not shown up – this can happen – but then he blithely trotted out the script he has been given for just such occasions “sorry I hope you have not been inconvenienced by the delay” now hold on he knows that a significant number of passengers have just been hugely inconvenienced and faced I don’t know how many hours delay connecting and probably other impacts at their destinations!!

After the flight I get the how was it for you survey and give the not good feedback, then I complete the yes they can contact me to discuss this feedback – I hold out no hope that they will or that they will compensate me for the sub standard experience.  Of course the impact in the mid term is less business from me and the knock on impact of me relaying this story that undermines the tens of millions spent on brand advertising.

So what can we learn from this?

Firstly someone in BA no doubt distant for the actual flying experience took a commercial decision to outsource the BA brand to a low cost Danish provider, I wonder if they have ever actually sat on the plane that is supposed to represent BA and justify its premium price position, I think not and if the answer was yes and they then thought that was acceptable then that is even worse – outsourcing is a huge risk for businesses because in reality you outsource the experience and in this case it palpably does not work.  As I noted there must also be a case for fraud through misrepresenting the experience/cost equation.

Second if BA want to maintain the premium brand position they need to reconsider adopting the commercial practices of low cost carriers – I don’t mind that Ryanair charges for hold luggage or assigned seating you are paying a very low base fare and then choosing to bolt on costs and you are in control you know what you get.  BA shouldn’t be expecting passengers to pay for moving seat, for putting some bags in the hold, they are a full service airline with high entry cost of a ticket that now wants the pricing structures of a low cost provider.  That is a commercial decision and yes it might generate a few more pounds but that is BAD PROFIT and will cost the business in the long run.

Finally it is good to give your crew particularly Captains and flight crew the words to use when things go wrong but they also need to be smart enough to adapt what they say when they know that in this case passengers are going to suffer major consequences as a result of a delay, platitudes/insincerity only serve to inflame the situation – it was interesting to see that the Captain did not manage to stand by the door saying goodbye to the unhappy passengers he remained firmly locked away in his cockpit!

The British Airway Expectation versus actual Customer Experience score 2/10







Introducing my new series ‘Expectation versus Customer Experience reality….!’

As an extension to my blog I am going to be doing some reviews of actual brand experiences in some detail, the challenge will be how well did the brand led expectation that I had before actually work out when I experienced the brand in action.

I will still be highlighting specific customer experience examples in other posts.

Whilst you might not have ever or may never try the same experiences what we should see are some themes emerging that characterise both the good and the bad when it comes to the customer experience and how that makes you feel and behave as the paying customer.

To whet the appetite the first two brands will be British Airways and Archerfield Golf Course in Scotland, once a review is up I may well do another for the same brand as I experience different aspects of their services.


When is a bank not a bank….

On a recent visit to Majorca I was wandering the streets of the Capital Palma that is full of that uniquely European stylish shopping – as I approached one ‘shop’ at first glance it looked like a mid to high end home furnishing store (see the picture) but on closer inspection it was a BANK!  The layout was fresh and clean a Greeter was stood at the door armed with an iPad or similar and was directing ‘guests’ to the appropriate part of the bank, the staff were smart but casually dressed and the whole atmosphere was relaxed.  What a contrast to the traditional image of a bank and what an experience for customers and staff alike.

As high street branches of banks are continuing to be closed by increasingly cost conscious Bankers who see the high street as an expensive bricks and mortar option when the have the very tempting alternative of pushing us all on-line and reducing their ‘cost to serve’ …. this is a really good ‘counter’ strategy (pardon the pun).

Make the bank a destination, somewhere that you can forge strong personal relationships with customers, where you can project a brand that is contemporary and relevant not increasingly distant and divorced hiding behind the walls of faceless internet banking and remote Contact Centres.

Bank in Spain


Easy Jet let down on the last leg of the experience….

I have to start this by saying that I do like Easy Jet they are convenient for me being near Luton airport, the flights are usually on time and the prices are good – they have led the way with basic travel with some simple frills like ‘speedy boarding’ and reserved seats.

On our latest holiday the family flew Easy Jet and all was fine on the outward leg and on the return until we got to baggage reclaim at Luton Airport.  Now I am going to guess that they contract out this part of the ‘customer experience’ – so we arrived and after a long trawl through the airport from plane to passport control w eventually arrived at the baggage reclaim expecting the bags if not already to be there then very soon after given how long it was since we had landed.

You can guess what happened the baggage did not arrive, so we waited and waited and waited…after another 45 minutes or so the sound we had all been waiting for the beeping noise and the spinning yellow lamp that says the baggage is about to be deposited onto the carousel.  One bag emerged, then a gap of 10-20 seconds and one more emerged and this continued for the entire time bags were unloaded…one at a time and with big gaps, the crowd was less than happy as that whole process was now extended by another 30 minutes even though bags were actually visible!!!

You can see the strange spacing of the cases in the photo below and trust me the whole flights baggage came out with that spacing!!

Luggage carousel

Now what do we learn from this and what could have happened apart from the bags being put on the carousel at pace not least given the huge delay.  What was lacking was any form of communication there was no one to update the increasingly agitated passengers it was if the Easy Jet journey ended when we left the aircraft but of course it doesn’t,,,so where was that person that could have given us all information???  There was a study done a while ago that showed that once people are waiting beyond a certain time (around 12-15 minutes) if they are not given information the experience degrades at an exponential rate.  What would it take to have someone providing an update even if the delay was going to be another 30 minutes at least people can go and get a coffee, adjust their minds, delay the awaiting taxi or friends…so Easy Jet your responsibility even if you don’t actually move the bags is to your passengers until they have collected their bags and are on their merry way!!

Luggage carousel