This week we experienced a frustrating and painful customer experience with a hire car company in Spain.
It’s a small, lesser known company owned by one of the big, well known players. We booked it online because it had the car we wanted, when we wanted it, for a reasonable price and available to collect at the airport terminal on arrival (so no waiting to be transported to a rental hub when you just want to quickly get to your final destination). It was booked online in 5 painless minutes and we received email confirmation with documentation requirements. The experience appeared good if a little dehumanised or disengaged.
When we arrived to collect the car we were placed in a huge queue with other waiting customers, irrespective of reservation or pre-booking. The process to get to the car we had reserved was long, complex, transactional and inefficient. The member of staff when we finally had our first and only human contact with the company was surly, hassled and argumentative. They had their work cut out that day and it showed to customers.
This experience made us reflect upon the completely contrasting experience that we had had six weeks earlier in Miami with Alamo. I don’t often name organisations in my blogs or articles but Alamo’s approach and our experience was memorable and worth talking about – and learning from.
As before, in Miami the vehicle was booked online and we received an email confirmation. We were also then offered the opportunity, shortly before the hire date, to check in online before our arrival in Miami, much as you do with an airline. It seemed a sensible and easy thing to do as we were checking in for our airline online anyway. So, minimum extra effort on the customer’s side. We did check in, it took 2-3 minutes. It was simple, easy and we got clear instructions about what to do when we arrived in Miami.
On arrival after a long flight, we went directly as instructed to the car park. No waiting in queues to form fill and discuss the pro’s and con’s of insurance and mileage limitation. We were swiftly greeted by our first human being who was friendly and welcoming. He instructed us with a beaming smile to go to Row X and that we could choose any car in that row that we wanted. Wow! The keys would be inside and we could drive straight out on our way to our final holiday destination. We were trusted by Alamo to choose whichever car in our class that we wanted. We were in control. We had first dibs on a complete row of cars before others arrived. It was a small thing, but it felt quite special. The kids were delighted and quickly agreed upon our Red Jeep, rather than the Nissan something or other that we had been expecting to be told we had to have.
So after a long journey, we were feeling empowered and excited. We drove to the exit and were greeted by another smiley member of the Alamo team who simply and concisely guided us through the returns process. The whole experience took a quarter of the time it took in Spain, (probably less), but it was infinitely more pleasurable and memorable; more human but more digitally automated.
What Alamo have done is they have not only managed to improve the customer journey and eradicate pain points or friction but have succeeded in elevating the customer experience and at the same time, become more operationally efficient. Smiles all round.
My learning’s from Alamo and tips for happy customers and smiling companies?
Use the customer as the starting point for Customer Experience improvement rather than focusing on simplifying administrative tasks
Make customers feel valued, understood and empowered
Focus on convenience, transparency, personalisation and simplicity
Automate the painful customer interactions or moments of friction wherever you can with technology or digital solutions
Improve and retain the quality of human interactions and the human touch
Streamline the journey and seek to cut steps out which add no customer value
Arm employees with more information through digital and artificial intelligence that saves time rather than produces more work
Redeploy staff to more important, less stressful and rewarding activities
Do all this and you too could succeed in reducing the cost to serve customers whilst making the experience better overall.
Alamo have raised the game in hire car in my eyes in an apparently simple and one could say obvious way. They have fixed some basics and made me feel valued. It wasn’t rocket science but they have used technology as an enabler to then employ their staff to deliver a wow. I’m a fan now. As more and more customers’ expectations are raised, the other players like the one in Spain and its huge parent company are going to be left behind if they don’t focus more on what makes customers happy and what they most value.
Another example of a smiling company with happy customers.
In 2018 will we see something new in CX or will it be more of the same? If it is more of the same, then the experience gap that has opened will only get bigger. 2018 needn’t be another year of unfulfilled promise. Using the 6 E’s will help your company succeed. Rethinking your CX around my 6 themes will help ensure a Smiling Company and Happy Customers.
2017 promised such a lot. There was the motivation and there were clear opportunities to really begin to make a significant difference for customers and close the recognised experience gap.Success in 2018 will come from a refocus. We have a huge opportunity to close the experience and expectation gap. If nothing else, to be successful in refocusing on the customer
A short-termist approach of ‘fixing’ what may not be working, but isn’t necessarily of value to the customer, of ignoring the customer’s emotional experience and of keeping responsibility for the customer confined to a small number of people within the organisation means we may not see the current disappointing situation change for some time.
There is a real and present risk to this movement towards greater customer centricity and ultimately better experiences for our customers.
Every day we hear more about how technology is changing the world for customers and employees alike. We live in a rapidly developing world where virtual meets reality. Even brands are investing heavily in IT not only to be able to more deliver efficiently their customer experience but also to interact with customers on a more personal (data led) level. The art is to blend digital and real-world together and present one consistent face of the brand.
Building brand value, customer life time value and winning sustainable loyalty need to be uppermost in retailers’ minds. Black Friday customer interactions need to maintain a brand’s story in an authentic way whilst engaging in the customer experience. Think of it as an opportunity to showcase and engage with customers – where the customer’s experience is positive, painless, seamless, and relevant to them.
I would suggest that companies should not focus exclusively on efficiency, simplicity and optimisation of the rational and functional elements of the customer journey; they alone do not make up the whole customer experience.
Sometimes, change and customer experience optimisation is about baby steps. Sometimes, small steps can result in bigger leaps, or compounded marginal gains. For some organisations, this is a more realistic and successful approach than the implementation of a big CX transformation programme with a well-constructed business case, where the results may be similar in the end.
first direct have recognised that what set them apart for many years – their superior customer service, is not enough to stay ahead. first direct are constantly seeking to improve the basics and at the same time invest in innovation centred on the customer. Customer work, at first direct, is never done.