Perfect Partners? Who’s the weakest link in your connected customer experience?
According to Econsultancy.com the greatest barrier preventing an organisation from improving its customer experience is ‘complexity of the customer experience and the number of different touch points’. There has been much written recently about the importance of a seamless customer experience across touch points, considering online and offline, digital and physical.
The customer sees and experiences the end to end journey as one and doesn’t consciously recognise the multiple touch points. Customers need their experiences to be seamless and without friction. Importantly, they also hope that any problem will be proactively owned and resolved quickly and satisfactorily by the company or organisation with whom they are interacting.
When talking about touch points and channels, we refer most often to those within our control e.g. the call centre, email, the physical store, social media. We don’t often consider those which are delivered by another organisation for example a business partner. Companies seem only too ready to hand over responsibility for the customer to their partner. Yet some seem quick to blame them when things go wrong and act as judge and jury when their NPS scores, say, are not up to scratch. Delegating companies often seem to want it both ways – let the partner have responsibility for delivering an important part of the customer experience; chastise them even if the customer pain point wasn’t of their doing and punish them for not hitting customer experience or satisfaction scores that they have been given.
To illustrate this, a recent example. We booked a holiday (flight and hotel) with a well known online travel company - one of our preferred brands. We’d decided upon accommodation on a half-board basis. The hotel, according to the travel company, had 5 different restaurants. Great – we would be spoilt for choice and surely there would be something that the kids would enjoy! Less hassle for us as parents.
We arrived and checked in at our 5 star hotel, (we had already received an nps survey request from the travel company whilst in the air, as their systems weren’t intelligent enough to establish we hadn’t yet arrived due to flight delays and transfers). Excited to begin our holiday, we were given the low down on the hotel by the friendly receptionist. Imagine our surprise and disappointment to find out that half board actually meant we could eat in ONE restaurant as part of our booking, not five for the duration of our stay. We could get a 30% discount off two more (so we had to pay 70% whenever we went there) and we had to pay full price for the remaining two (one of which was the local one that we really wanted to try). That wasn’t what we signed up for as far as we knew.
If we had been informed at the time of bookings these ‘terms and conditions’, we probably would have chosen the All Inclusive alternative hotel we were also looking at instead of this one. We made what we believed to be an informed decision and as a result felt more than a little duped by the travel company.
First action was to contact the travel company by email as we didn’t fancy spending our precious holiday on the phone from a foreign country trying to sort it out. We got a pro forma reply to say they would respond within 10 days. 10 days in this day and age; really?
We did in fact receive an email from the travel company the following day. It informed us that it wasn't their problem, hotels select their own definition of half board and consequently no responsibility lay with them, despite the terms of half board when married with description of restaurants on-site at the hotel location being misleading. Either the person in their trave company customer service department didn’t grasp the problem, wasn’t empowered or equipped to solve our problem or that company wants to pass its problems onto its partners. I, as a customer, felt let down, deceived and fobbed off.
Independently, the hotel was sent by the travel company, my negative nps score relating to the check-in process and my comments about ‘unforeseen costs’ and probably told “to sort it”; they did - immediately. Guest relations called me and were keen to listen. Despite the fact that we should’ve been informed from the outset what half-board did and didn’t constitute, which was not the hotel’s problem, as they make this clear to their circa 300 bookers, the hotel management did their utmost to help us out. They enabled us, at their cost, to dine in two of the other restaurants on-site at no extra cost. They listened, they heard, they resolved and instead of making us feel like a complaining thorn in their side, they made us feel valued. Gold star for them and a positive emotional interaction with this new hotel group.
As for the travel company – I’m undecided whether we will continue to use them if first that’s how they take ownership of their customers’ problems (that are likely as not caused by their broad brush approach to definitions) and second if that’s how they treat their business partners.
I haven’t done any research on the subject but I wager that there is high incidence of customers engaging with organisations where part of the experience is delivered by a partner organisation (e.g delivery companies, booking agents, after-sales maintenance to name but a few). Whether the organisation has control of these interactions or not is irrelevant to the customer. They must however take ownership throughout.
What needs to be done to form a successful partnership marriage?
Here are a 10 tips for a better customer experience:
Take ownership and leadership of your joint customer’s end to end journey
View partners as an extended part of your organisation – in effect another silo to break down
Collaboratively map out the journey across key stakeholders with the involvement of those partners
Prioritise journeys according to what’s most important to customers not just what they complain most about or what you ‘hear’ most about
Jointly create a prioritised set of pain points to baseline, address and measure against as a collective team
Establish together how you can elevate key moments of delight or pleasure for the customer
Ensure that analysis gets to the root cause of the real issue (as in my case) and there is an agreed common escalation and resolution process
Agree shared minimum service and experience standards
Be open, honest and communicate clearly with customers so that you aren’t setting your partners up for a fall
Manage customers’ expectations better to prevent and eradicate needless friction for the customer
Partnerships exist to collectively offer something more valuable to the customer. This relationship should be more enduring than transactional.
As Henry Ford said:
Ensuring that the customer experience is aligned around the needs and dreams of your customer, the culture and capability of your organisation, your partner and employees (irrespective of whether they are your employee or that of your partner organisation), will result in smiling companies, happy customers*.