The first thing you see on Gerry’s site is
“Customers are your lifeblood. lose them and you bleed to death”
Gerry is known as The Customer Lifeguard. His mission is to save the world from bad customer service and if you have been to many high street stores recently you’ll realise just how much work he has on his hands!
He helps breathe life into customer service operations and customer experience strategy and ensures their strategy, people and technology are all aligned to provide positive outcomes for their customers and colleagues.
Gerry has provided organisational leadership on people development, business transformation, customer engagement and technology enablement for huge companies in the UK, Canada, and EMEA. Including the likes of National Express, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, The Royal Albert Hall, O2, Screwfix, Sage, BSkyB, Bell Canada and TELUS.
In this episode we discuss:
- Good and bad customer experience and talk about some of the airlines and telephone companies as examples.
- Gerry gives great suggestions on how companies can go implement better systems to improve the experience their customers receive.
- How AI will impact customer service.
- Customer service in the US, Canada and UK
Exceeding Expectations Links:
Note: some of the resources above are affiliate links, meaning I get paid a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase. This all helps fund the show costs.
Tony: Exceeding Expectations Episode 16.
Welcome to exceed in expectations, the show about creating exceptional experiences for your customers. The guests on the show typically have the mind-set of loving to over deliver on their customers’ expectations and always trying to think of creative ways of how they can do that with each customer they work with.
Our guest in this week’s show is Gerry Brown. He’s known as the customer service lifeguard and he’s got some great stories so stick around. We’re about to hear from Gerry in just a minute. Why not join the Exceeding Expectations Facebook group. Have a conversation there about maybe anything you’ve heard in this episode or any previous episodes and it would be fantastic if you could subscribe to the show on iTunes. Right now, let’s hear from Gerry Brown. So we’re here for another edition of Exceeding Expectations. today I have the pleasure of speaking with Gerry Brown. How are you doing Gerry?
Gerry: I’m really good today, Tony. Thank you.
Tony: You’ve been in customer service for quite a while. We were talking beforehand and you’ve got quite a lot of experience in the whole customer experience area. How long have you been doing it?
Gerry: Well, I guess probably before it was even called customer experience, but going back certainly I would think the best part of 25 or 30 years. Starting, you know, with work I do with Bell Canada at times when it was really looking at how we could help people be more effective on the telephone. But a big part of that of course is creating an environment in which people want to talk to you. We all know how challenging it can be, to pick up the phone and call someone and try to sell them something. So winning them over and getting them to understand what it is you can deliver for them is really important.
So I guess it started then, but it wasn’t probably until about 10 years ago when the term customer experience became more well known and people began to recognize it as a skill or an actual, if you like, a business as well, that I began to really take an interest in it. I think, what I’ve seen over the last 10 years is that there’s still lots of people talking about it, but still not, not many people really doing it well. I think we see that in our day to day interactions as customers.
Tony: So now, because you’ve got your own company, do you consult for people? What is it you do?
Gerry: I do. That’s one of the things I do. In an ideal world, somebody would be interested or get to know me in one way or the other through some of the things I’ve written or see me speak and, would be interested in how I might be able to help them with their customer experience challenges. Now, that could be from a strategy perspective, it could be that they’ve decided that they really haven’t been as customer-centric as they could be. How do we do that? They may find that actually they’re not bad at it, but they don’t have some of the missing components. That could be their staff maybe need a little bit of help, they could need some help with the technology.
I’ve always said that technology isn’t the natural starting point for creating a great customer experience. A lot of technology companies say, you know, put in our wizzy new tech and everything will be wonderful. But at the same time, once you’ve got some of the other things in place, making sure that your people have access to the right technology can find the information on customers quickly and easily because that’s what frustrates many of us when we deal with contact centres and they just don’t know us.
So Mr [inaudible 03:45] do you remember who you were talking to the last time? You know, and you go through that with them and of course they, you go through quite often, especially on the phone, you go through what they call ID and V, Identification and Verification where you have to either put in a password or do something and then when you speak to someone they ask you the same information all over again. So those kinds of things can be very frustrating. So helping organisations overcome that through an effective and an intelligent use of technology is also something I helped them with.
Tony: Okay. So now, I mean obviously people listening to this, they’re going to presume that you’re in a state somewhere, but here in England. So when did you…?
Gerry: That’s right.
Tony: How different, is customer service in England to America?
Gerry: Well, it’s probably quite a lot different in many ways. But my background is in Canada rather than the US and I guess, I’ve spent probably half my life in both countries in the UK and Canada. I was born here, went to Canada at a fairly early age and grew up in most of my business experiences, are from Canada, but also in the US because being that close and working for Canadian companies, there was always a situation where you had to do business in the US as well. I think there are similarities between the U S and Canada. I know that people in Europe quite often, mark the North Americans, you know, have a nice day and all that kind of stuff.
The thing I say about it is in Canada, I think they actually mean it and I think Canadians are really good at customer service. They’ve had awards, for winning or have been rated highly in customer service by various organisations. I think it comes down to their, you know, their personalities. They’re naturally very tolerant people, they’re understanding. I think there’s a general feeling that customer service in Canada is pretty good. I won’t say it’s perfect, but a lot of the good experiences, really great experiences I’ve had, I’ve certainly had with Canadian companies.
Tony: How has, how different has it been in the UK?
Gerry: Well, I think when we came back here, which was 20 years ago, what brought me back here then was I was working for a company in Canada in the contact centre software business. they presented an opportunity to come here and do some work here. I thought, well, that was interesting, sort of because of my background. But it wasn’t really for nostalgic reasons. It just seemed like a good opportunity. When we came back, this was in 1998 I’d say that customer service and customer experience was particularly great here. I think one of the things that’s improved it quite radically is the fact that people have travelled more.
So a lot of people here, if you think probably, I mean, not 20 years ago, it probably 30 or 40 years ago, the instances of people from the UK traveling frequently to Canada and the US was probably not that great. Now more and more people go, they go to Disneyland, they have places in Florida and so on.
So they’ve been exposed to that level of customer service for quite a few years. I think not as much as anything has rubbed off on them. So I think people have become more demanding. so as a result, a customer’s expectations have been going up everywhere. But I think that has changed things. Many of the organisations here of course, do business in the US and Canada and realise that the service they have to deliver there is probably people were expecting a bit more. So it certainly has improved over the last few years. There’s no question about that.
Tony: do you do, business in mainland Europe as well?
Gerry: Ah, yes indeed. It depends really on the organisation. I think working as pretty much as a solo entrepreneur, it’s not like I have a huge reach, but quite often I’ve worked in situations with companies who have got a footprint across Europe. Therefore if I’m doing something here, they have asked me, ‘Well Jerry, could you help us with this in our other organisations?’ Which is a really nice business if he can get it. So it’s a good way of doing it. But my main target is generally in the UK, in organisations that are UK based.
Tony: Right. Okay. You mentioned before you’ve written… How many books have you written?
Gerry: I’ve written one book and a number of white papers on customer service and customer experience.
Tony: Okay and what was the title of the book?
Gerry: The book is called “When a customer wins, nobody loses.”
Tony: so what is the book… I can guess what it must be about.
Gerry: Well, the reason that I came up with the title was that I had written a lot about customer experience and customer service. So I had quite a lot of information already there. I, rather than starting a fresh, I thought, well, I’ll take what I’ve got and start to try and put it in some kind of order. I thought about various titles and I thought about things like, you know, ‘wowing customers’ and all of this kind of stuff, and I thought there’s quite a bit out there about that. I thought, well, wowing is a good idea and people liked to be wowed, but I thought I’m not sure that’s really what I wanted to be talking about.
So the idea of a customer winning, the idea of a customer going into an interaction, whether it’s in a store, whether it’s online, whether it’s in a contact centre, and coming out of that feeling like they’ve won seemed like an important thing to me. So I started to think about, you know, what that meant and how that translated. That really seemed to make sense. I think most of the people that I’ve talked to or have described the book title to, they seem to think, yes you know, they kind of get that.
So I think we all like to feel like we want to come out a winner. Winning is often in a sporting environment. You know, when somebody wins, somebody loses. But in a customer environment, there can be no loser. There really can’t. Certainly it can’t be the customer. But unfortunately I think we find many times these days we do feel like we’ve come out on the wrong end of the stick.
Tony: So when did you do the book?
Gerry: I published it early this year, in 2018. So it was again, putting together a lot of the stuff, finding, you know, some people that could help you publish it. So I published that on Amazon in April of this year.
Tony: How has the reaction been?
Gerry: It’s been pretty good. I think, you know, I’m sure I could sell more. I’d like to sell more. I think everyone that does, unless you happen to be, somebody very, very well known, you know, I think no one’s going to make, I’m certainly not going to make a fortune out of being an author. But I think in terms of it as a calling card, in terms of being able to have someone look at something and say, well, look, if you kind of want to know what I think about things, you know, here’s the book and hopefully people will buy it. It’s a reasonably priced book.
So I’m hoping that people will think, okay, it might be worth a read. So that’s a good way to introduce yourself. certainly if an organisation or someone within an organisation is looking to bring you on board and they have to maybe go and talk to somebody to get there approval or something, it’s probably a little more helpful if they can say, well actually he’s written a book. You should say, oh he’s really a book. Oh that’s good. So it adds some credibility. I think that’s what I would say at this stage anyway.
Tony: Now that you’ve done that book, and I imagine the…because you must’ve had so many ideas in the first place, that you want to put them down in that first book, are you now thinking I’ve got so many more ideas. I’m going to do a second one or…?
Gerry: Absolutely. I think really it’s, as I think many authors do in this kind of space is really perhaps taking it off in a slightly different direction. One of the things I’ve got quite interested in lately and that is very important I think in a customer service and customer experience world is how you measure things. There is a lot of debate about, you know, what are good measures in customer service and customer experience.
For many people they will recognize what is called the Net Promoter Score, N.P.S., which is really developed from asking a very simple question, would you recommend this customer to your friends and colleagues? I’ve thought for quite some time that one single measure simply isn’t enough. It’s almost like saying you go to the doctor, they take your temperature and they go, oh, it’s 98.6, you’re fine. Well, there may be lots of other things going on. Unless you do other tests, unless you to do other things, you may never find these things out. It’s very much the same thing here.
So I’ve started with a blog, an article that I’ve written, which is called Lies, Damn Lies and the Wrong Statistics. The subtitle is, What Matters for Customer Success. Really it’s about saying, okay, there’s lots of things you can be measuring out there, but if you’re not measuring the right things, it’s sort of again like think about a car. Well you know, you could be going to speed limit, but you know, you could be spewing out all kinds of pollutants and all kinds of stuff into the air. So that’s not necessarily a good thing. So we want to make sure we’re measuring lots of the right things and right things are going to be different for different companies. For many businesses it’s about, they might say, well, strictly on sales, as long as we know our sales are going up where we’re doing well. I mean, Ryan Air sales are probably going up. You might argue that they’re not delivering great customer service. Although in thinking about that they’re actually delivering the customer service that Michael O’Leary says he’ll deliver. You want to go from point a to point B inexpensively, we’ll do it for you. Anything else? Forget it. So in many ways they deliver what customers want.
Tony: That’s it. It’s funny because in my talk I mentioned about, you know, about expectations and as you say, their expectations are set so low, they do meet them.
Tony: They don’t exceed them.
Tony: But they meet them.
Gerry: They do. So there’s a number of different themes that I’m, you know, I’m exploring that I think it really is kind of taking in the book, what I talk about and what I’ve been talking about for quite some time and writing about is what I call The Four Principles of Customer Experience. this is Culture, Communication, Commitment and Community. They’re intentionally fairly simple words that everyone understands. They’re one word as opposed to a longer word. But most people understand culture. They understand how important it is to have a good corporate culture.
Again, that’s different things to different people. But unless you get that right, getting the other three is going to be hard. But if you, if you have a great culture, you have an organisation where people really do understand what their purpose is and what their values are and they’re not just things that you write and put them up on the wall. They’re things that people actually believe in. Then these four principles are what I call really, it is the framework to build a great customer experience on.
So what I do is work with organisations to look at how those, how those cultures, how are those four principles working in your organisation? What’s your culture like? How well do you communicate? Do you have commitment from both the top and the bottom? Is everyone committed to the cause? From a community perspective, is there a real feeling of community in the organisation? Because again, when people get together, they can deliver great experiences as you know, and I think really it’s down to looking at those four things. There may be more, but those four for me, when I’ve looked at successful companies, they’ve had these four things really working well for them.
Tony: Then so how do you lead from that? So what was the second one?
Gerry: So it’s Culture, Communication, Commitment and Community. So typically what we, as an example, in a workshop environment what we would do, we’d be working with organisations and having them self-evaluate. So if we have a group of people in the workshop, we may have 10 or 15 people. Well, let’s start talking about culture. You just start with a really basic question. Such as, what do you think your culture is like here? It’s amazing that that question will stir a lot of debate. Well, you know, we could, well, you know, sometimes we don’t own it, you know, whatever it happens to be, and from there you can build on the other things.
So, okay. So given that that’s the situation, what’s the commitment like here? Do you feel you have commitment from the top? Because quite often people say, well, yes, our organisation is totally committed to customer centricity, or words like that. Then you find out actually that if the leadership says, well, as long as it doesn’t cost us any money, it’s fine. Yes. You know, we’re committed. So you just get into all of those areas you start to understand whether or not organisations really are good at those things.
Most companies could improve their communications. You know, we know that, you know, a great example of that is, you know, it’s very, very topical at this point it’s the train companies. Train companies just put their rates up another 3.1% and when you see people online talking about, not just the fact that they’re upset about that, but almost exclusively, it’s about trains being delayed and no one letting them know what was going on. It’s the same thing in the airlines quite often when you see some of the meltdowns that the airlines have and most people will understand if it’s weather related or something, what they don’t understand is not being told what’s going on. That’s extremely frustrating for them.
Tony: The companies that you tend to deal with, is there a consistent reason they often come to you in the first place or is it just the kind of myriad of different reasons?
Gerry: I think it’s probably because they recognize that and if I’d been fortunate for someone to read the book or something like that, they sort of understand that those principles are important to them. They…most people I talked to when I talk about those four principles will generally tell me that one or more of them isn’t really functioning as it should. So there’s a recognition, I think for many of them that yeah, those things we could be doing a little bit better. I think there’s a lot more honesty and realization from organisations now that they’re not doing a great job. I think that they’re willing at least to do an assessment.
So one of the things quite often I would start with is just a very high level assessment, because they may think they’re doing well. You see a lot of statistics come out around customer service and customer experience. One that’s been kicked around for a long time, is one from Gartner and which says, when an organisation or organisations put customer experience at the top of the list of things they want to do, and it’s something like 80% of companies say that customer experience is really important to us. The other one that goes along with that is that these organisations say, you know, we believe 80% of our customers think we’re delivering a great customer experience. Then they asked the customers and they find out it’s actually 8% of the customers think that.
So there’s a huge gap, a huge gap in what organisations think they’re delivering and what their customers actually tell them they’re delivering. So I think it’s when people realise that and are honest enough to go, you know what, we’re really not delivering what we should be. They use statistics. They use N.P.S., the Net Promoter Score that I mentioned. quite often I think that tells the wrong story. Because they get a great N.P.S. score so they think, we’re really doing great.
Well that N.P.S. Score may have been generated from just one interaction with a customer, which probably was good. But when they look at the whole thing, when they look at the customer experience as a whole, there could be parts that aren’t working as well as they could. So I think what I find is people, the ones that I work with, normally ones that really have an honest assessment of themselves and go, you know what? I think we could be doing better. You know, how can you help?
So again, it could be strategy, it could be technology, it could be a number of things. All of these things play in. one of the reasons the customer experience sometimes doesn’t get off to the start that people would like. They look at it and they think, boy, this is really complex. There’s so much to this. Wow, this is going to be hard work. Well, maybe we’ll just, you know, I think we’re doing as well as our competitors, so we’re okay. Well it isn’t easy. I won’t pretend that it is, but in a systematic way and sort of working on things like these four principles, it’s amazing how quickly you can start to get traction within an organisation and begin to see improvement.
Tony: Something that struck me when you just talked about how some people approach you because they’ve read your book and then realised that maybe one of the four principles is not as strong as it could be and that’s the premise that they come to you with. Then once you actually go and sort of see the whole situation then you realise, but it’s more than just one. There’s actually two or three that you’re really struggling with, and they haven’t been aware or that is, has that been the case?
Gerry: Very much. I think, you know, what you find is that again, you start to look at what are the triggers, what are the things that tell you that? So clearly if you’re starting to lose money, you know, or sales are down. you know, we’ve seen recently organisations like Thomas Cook showing, you know, who have had two profit warnings in the last few months. So clearly things aren’t going well now.
Now, certainly there’s been challenges I’m sure in the travel industry with what’s going on around us with Brexit and a whole lot of other things. Perhaps the weather was too warm in the UK, nobody wanted to go [inaudible 20:14 ]. But the thing is you have to look at everything like that. So you know, an organisation like Thomas Cook probably has to look at, you know, what’s driving this? What’s happening here? Is it our product? Is it our people? You know, what’s happening here? I’m not suggesting it’s either of those, but I’m just saying they have to start looking at that.
You look at some of the other organisations, especially in the high street, they’re finding it very challenging primarily because I guess if some of the online stuff that’s going on. So these companies, it’s really trying to identify, where things are and I think it is a little easier if someone comes in from the outside that can start to look at this and ask some hard questions. That’s one of the things I do too. I’m certainly not afraid. You know, the phrase I use, I’m not afraid to tell someone that the baby’s ugly because you know, sometimes you just have to be honest about yourselves.
So I think that it can be a number. It more often isn’t as one thing. As a result, there’s no silver bullet either. That’s the challenge. You know, at some point saying, well, if we fix that, everything’s going to be wonderful. Well that’s one thing. But they’re usually connected. So it could be that their online presence isn’t as good as it could be. They end up with trying to be more digital. They want to be digitally driven or we want to do more things online, which is great and, and it can be very effective. But if it’s not working and then the people end up calling the company, then there costs escalate because they end up having to answer questions on the phone that could have been done online.
So you see quite often, this is one other thing, and I’m seeing this a lot where the desire to be digital but not thinking about it holistically. What does that really mean and do we have to have everything digital? You know, oh yes, we’re going to have this and well sometimes you don’t. It depends on the business. So it is often a combination of these things. It’s never usually one thing. That’s what I think, I feel comfortable because I’ve looked at this from a lot of different angles that I can usually help someone in identifying where the issuer issues are and then how we, how we address them.
Tony: Before we started recording, we were talking about the opposite of, I was going to say great expectations and [inaudible 22:22] and Dickins. Yeah, you said when companies, like you mentioned 118 and petrol prices and so on. Do you want to….
Gerry: Right, right. Well, I think you’re absolutely right. I was very fortunate on Friday, I was an award presentation for the Wow awards and the wild words. So the WOW awards are awards given to people who have done something special and nominated by customers, not just, not just by anyone else in the business, by customers who’ve said, this person’s gone above and beyond. in thinking about that, I was then thinking about, as you said, the other side of this, the people recently we’ve heard about, and you think about these organisations like 118, 118 that are charging people £10, £12, £15, whatever it is for directory assistance call. That certainly isn’t winning in my book.
I wonder, how do they get to that point? At what stage? Are they sitting around in the boardroom going, “Well let’s see, what’s a good price? Well, let’s charge £10.” Is that how they think about things? Is that how they think about customers? You look at the situation, as I mentioned with petrol, with all prices have been going down quite significantly for some time. when I talk to people in presentations, I ask them to think about that. I say, depending on what it is, and right now I would say to somebody, if you’re paying more than £1.25 here in the UK for a litre of petrol, you’re probably not winning. You’re probably paying too much.
The same thing applies to the mobile phone business. You think about mobile phones, most of us have one. Most of us liked to get a new smart phone on a fairly regular basis. So typically what we do is we sign a contract for 24 months with one of the mobile phone companies. At the end of that 24 months, effectively you’ve paid for the phone, but they rarely if ever contact you and say, oh, Mr. Brown by the way, just to let you know your contract is up and we’re going to reduce the price because you’ve paid for the phone now. They don’t do that. That’s something that Ofcom has been looking at to make sure that, there are some of the mobile phone companies that are beginning to recognize that. I realised that a little while ago, I had a contract with one of them decided that two years, that was it. I didn’t need a new phone because it was still working well. So I just went off and got a sim only contract and I saved myself. I think I was paying something like £80 a month for two phones, dropped that down to £20 a month.
Gerry: the service is just as good.
Tony: Wow that’s a significant difference.
Gerry: So that’s winning. I mean that’s to me winning to me. So that’s what I mean when people get that feeling and you know, I happen to use Giffgaff who is a great example of a community organisation and the service is great. The service meaning I can actually get phone calls. One of the challenges I had with my previous provider was they couldn’t always deliver service. As a result, I missed phone calls. Now I never miss a phone call. I don’t, you know, I have a certain amount of data. We all have certain, you know, how much gig data you need, then we’ll go over that. I never pay more than £10 a month. It’s great.
Tony: It’s the way, would you say that the companies, most of the big players, they’re setting quite bad examples, and it’s often the smaller ones that are leading the way with new innovation and so on. Where’d you see that going? Do you have any ideas on that?
Gerry: Well, it’s interesting where that’s going because there was a great example or a great article in the papers this Sunday about all of the utility companies you may have been reading it, there’s quite a few of them gone bust, and it’s because there’s a couple of organisations that can develop a utility company in a box. They effectively sell you a utility company and you can buy this and just go off and yeah, we’ll provide service for you. Well, some of them of course, of finding out that they can’t do it that easily.
So while the idea of being agile and flexible and in a new smart company is great, it doesn’t always work well and it’s no question. It is hard to compete with, you know, companies that have the resources. Of course this is where some of the complacency comes from. I’m not a big fan of people like BT and some of the mobile phone companies and almost everyone I speak to will tell me a BT story. It’s rare that when I tell people what I do, they go, “Oh BT. Let me tell you about BT.”
Tony: I [inaudible 26:28].
Gerry: Yes, exactly. So I think the challenge for those businesses is because they are, you know what we want to call them legacy businesses. They’ve been around for a long time. There’s a lot of people, it’s the Queen Mary story, isn’t it? Turning that around is not easy, but I think that they have to start. The thing I talk about a lot is, you know, empowering people, letting people be themselves. Most people left to their own devices in an individual situation, will always help people. We’re just, we’re wired to do that. Yet people in many of these businesses are not given that opportunity.
So the policies and procedures, so these organisations really have to take a long, hard look at how they do business. Because most of the people in those businesses, and I’ve done many side by sides with agents and advisors in these large organisations and they’re all decent people. They’re not bad people, but they’re stuck with really dumb policies and procedures. They’re quite often lacking the technology. That’s what I was mentioning earlier, to be able to find answers for customers quickly enough. As a result they get frustrated. At the end of, you know, 20 calls, you think, oh boy, you know, I just, there’s no point in me trying to fix this for a customer because I don’t have the resources or I don’t have the ability to do it. So that it’s a lot of frustration.
So some of these younger companies have been able to bring people in. I guess one of the best examples, not necessarily in the phone business, but a company that a lot of people point to in the U S is Zappos. Zappos is a company I’m sure many people talk about. You know, what they’ve been able to do is they just brought people in. They’ve created an environment, created a culture where things can happen and people say, well, that’s fine Gerry, that’s great with these new companies, but you know, the older companies. Well, I don’t buy that. I think anyone can. Yes, it will take longer for someone like BT. It will take longer for someone like EE are O2, but it’s not impossible. I think at some point, as all of these things become more and more commoditized, they are pretty commoditized now, these organisations are going to struggle to keep customers.
Tony: I think one of the biggest differences there from that example you’d use there, Zappos employ people and allowed them to use their initiative whereas companies like BT just employ very poorly educated people who have no initiative and aren’t allowed to use it even if they do have any.
Gerry: Exactly. I think that again comes back to a big sea change in culture. So we know, I come back to my four principles. What’s the culture in the organisation? I’m guessing. you know, one of the things I used as a test when I talk to people, I said, okay, so if I gave you a tee shirt and you could put anything on it, you want to walk into a pub, how many would you want a t shirt that has, I work for BT on it and you walk into a pub, would you do that? I worked for a train company and walk into a pub, would you do that. That’s a question of pride, you know, am I proud of what I do?
Now again, it comes back to people that need jobs. I’m not being judgmental here. If you need a job and there’s an opportunity to work in a BT contact centre, well maybe you take it, that’s life. as one very small cog in that wheel, it’s probably hard to turn it around. But again, it comes down to people. Some of these organisations just need to trust their people and see what happens when they let them, if you like, you let them use their own judgment in doing things. If you think about the phone business, you know most individuals, certainly in small businesses, you know they don’t have huge phone bills.
So if you had to do something nice for somebody as an organisation, it’s probably not going to cost you a huge amount of money. So alright Mr. Brown, we can write that £10 charge off for you and I can’t see doing that for everyone. Of course you can’t do it, but begin to trust. Trust your people. Start letting them make some decisions and when you start doing that you realise that, oh actually this is working well. You get much greater customer advocacy. The people, the employees feel a whole lot better and it just changes the whole dynamic.
But again, it doesn’t happen quickly and is up to organisations to begin to trust in their people. The frustrating thing is that I go to a lot of conferences. I see all of these people talking at conferences about, Oh yes, we’re changing we’re you know, and they’re just not. if you ask the people working with them they’ll say no, it’s the same old place.
So no easy answers. But I think what we’re seeing with these other companies, and I think what’s happening is that whatever you think of Amazon and their tax policies or people like this, they’re changing the dynamic because companies are no longer comparing themselves with companies in the same sector. They compare themselves with, they say, well, if Amazon can do this, why can’t you do this? a lot of those things are down to people and procedures. So you know, if you want to change things, you can change that. Yes, of course, Amazon has a huge reach, but a lot of the things they do, they do because they just treat people the right way. Both customers and employees.
Tony: Can you give examples or any stories of ways that you’ve been able to help people? help companies give their customers much better experiences.
Gerry: Sure. You know, the kind of work that I’ve been doing, it’s typically been with some of these large organisations that I mentioned. I mean partly because I guess I feel comfortable with those. I’ve done quite a lot of work with my technology background, I did quite a lot of work like that. But one of the organisations I did some work with around the area of their systems, their internal systems. A lot of these companies have these very old legacy systems. Now, they’re really good because what they do is they do a lot of the heavy lifting. So they could be order entry systems, they could be ticketing systems, billing systems and so on because of that, you’re not going to sort of get rid of those right away.
But what many businesses are challenged with is when someone calls in quite often they get asked a question that is not relevant to them personally. They get asked for an order number, they get asked for a ticket number, they ask… I don’t know. I don’t have that. Ask me my name ask me, my postcode ask me my birthday, I can tell you that.
So what we found was with one organisation we worked with is in being able to design a system whereby using cloud technology, which is pretty ubiquitous these days. So you’re using what we call a customer data platform for effectively where the data can reside or can at least reside for a period of time. So a customer calls in more often than not, now we’re using their phone number or some other identifier. I mean, if you still want to use things like interactive voice response and these kinds of things to get that information, you can get it.
So once I’ve got that single piece of information, now I know who you are. So when I present that call to an advisor, they can get that information. Now that’s not new stuff. I was developing some of this stuff 25 years ago, but being able to use a much more flexible and agile system to do that means that the advisor immediately has visibility of all those customer’s interactions. They don’t have to go into these heavy system, these big heavy systems. Because when you hear somebody say to you on the phone, all my system slow today, that’s code for, I’ve got to go to so many different screens, I’ve lost the will to live.
What we’ve done and I’ve done with working with people is find those solutions that help them get that information to the advisor much, much quicker. A much broader range of information. As a result, the customer doesn’t have to repeat things. The customer has confidence in the advisors because they realise, they know, oh yes, Mr. Brown I see you placed that order with this last week. I’m sorry it hasn’t arrived yet. Let me see what I can do to help you out.
So having that information much quicker is kind of some of the things we’ve done. Also again, giving people, once people in the contact centre realised that that’s doable, they want to do it, they want to do a great job. So what I find can help with getting them, they know where the bodies are buried and they can probably give you a detailed map so they know the challenges that they face.
So that’s the place to start. A lot of the work I do, you’re starting with the people in the contact centre or the frontline people, whatever that happens to be. So helping them get information more quickly, more accurately and in a way that is presented to them so they have a full picture is really how I’ve been able to help a lot of people.
Tony: With the new technology and artificial intelligence and so on, that’s going to kind of take over more and more in the next few years. How do you see that change in the whole area of customer experience?
Gerry: Well, I think that the people that talk about this in terms of what it will do tend to think that it is going to take care of the more mundane tasks, which it will. There’s no question about that. Any organisation that’s done a lot of research into why people are calling in, quite often find it is for very basic things. You know, what are your hours of operation, when do you close, where are you in that kind of stuff. There’s no question that using AI for that can be very effective. I think also you find that it can take them a certain distance through a journey.
So when you hear people talk about doing customer journeys, and I think what we’re going to see is that AI will certainly be used. In some of the examples I’ve seen, people are using it more effectively, especially if it is something where the people calling or people interacting want to self-serve. Because a lot of us don’t want to talk to people in contact centres, we’re frustrated with that. So there’s a willingness for people to do it.
Now, as long as at some point you realised, no, I can’t handle this anymore, and you have the ability to transfer that to a real person because we’re not going to replace humans with this. It’s not a replacement. It is to be able to have people engage with people for the more complex things, to spend more time with them rather than being worried about getting off the phone because their managers saying, well, you’ve been on the call too long.
You know, they can now spend the appropriate time because what happens is that when self-serve or online or whatever it is, when it doesn’t do the job effectively, what you’ve decided to do is outsource your customer service. That’s what you decided to do. When it fails, if you don’t have the people backing it up appropriately, then you’re really going to fail big time.
People are really going to be upset. They’ve tried to do it online. They want to do it online. Now they call you. As an example, if the people in the organisation don’t know what you’ve done, don’t know where you’ve been, don’t know what the issues are. Quite often this happens, they’ll say, well, I’m sorry Mr. Brown, I can’t see. I don’t, I don’t access. Or the website’s not working. Oh, I didn’t know that. Very frustrating for customers.
So it’s really about using AI and chatbots and all of these things to take care of the things that people don’t necessarily want to do, or shouldn’t do. But making sure that when you’ve done that, you’ve got the ability to have someone backing it up and being aware of where they’ve been because otherwise it just increases their frustration.
Tony: We’ve almost come to the end. It’s been fascinating, but before we finish…
Gerry: Thank you. Sure.
Tony: What are your thoughts on why, I mean so typically did that listening to the show, often people in small businesses.
Tony: What are your thoughts on why people should think about over-delivering and giving an amazing experience?
Gerry: Well, I think the thing is, is that the reality is it doesn’t cost you anymore. I think people sometimes think, oh well if I have to do that, either I have to hire more people or whatever the reality is about it. Great example. I’ll give you a small business. I live in West Sussex and I have this taxi company that I do business with and it’s in Haywood Seeth. A town of about 20,000 people. It serves that area. It’s not the biggest company in the world.
The first time I ever dealt with him, I called in a book taxi, lovely people on the phone and they had some very simple technology. I hadn’t even hung up the phone. I had a text confirming my appointment. The day, I think it was picking me up the next day and the morning of, I had another text, Mr. Brown, just to let you know, we’ll be with you at such and such a time. Then, just before the driver arrived, the driver would be on his way and he’s in this car and this was the license number. Now of course some of that is driven by Uber and stuff. Uber I’ve done. But the point is, here’s a small business that decided that this kind of thing is worth their while.
Tony: It’s reassurance isn’t it.
Gerry: It’s reassurance. It’s just because that’s the important thing. When you think about a taxi, what’s important? Are they going to come? Do they know? Have they forgotten? You know, you’ve got to get it, get to an airport. So here’s an example of a small business that you have used both technology and people in a really, not that innovative but, but you won’t see that everywhere. So I think my message to any businesses, the cost of not doing it will always be far greater than the cost of investing in it. So whether that’s people, whether it’s some technology, the combination of both, I really encourage people to think about doing these things, not just for the sake of technology, but how it can help your people, how it can help your customers. in the long run it will pay dividends.
Tony: So if people want to find out more about your Gerry, where would they go?
Gerry: Sure. Well they can look at my website, which is www.thecustomerlifeguard.com. That’s, well that’s one place.
Gerry: www.thecustomerlifeguard.com. Yes. It came about, because I started to think about, what people were trying to do out there. I had, doing professional speaking with a professional speaking association. I thought I needed something a bit more recognizable. So I came up with the idea, I thought about different things. I thought the customer champion. I think as you know, Tony, in our business, we’ve got a number of people, you’re the one, you’re the value creator. So I decided I needed something that was just a bit more meaningful for people. So I came up with the idea of the customer lifeguard, saving the world from bad customer service. So, if people want to go to my website www.customerlifeguard.com they will find out more about me and some of the programs I’ve got and how to get in touch with me. So I’m delighted to hear from them.
Tony: we’ll put a link to your book in the show notes…
Gerry: Fabulous, yes.
Tony: Also to your website.
Gerry: That would be great. Thank you very much.
Tony: Yes, if you want to get in touch with Gerry. Also there’s the Exceeding Expectations Facebook group. You know, dive in now, ask questions and we can forward them to Gerry if you’ve got any questions you’d like to, to ask of Gerry.
Gerry: Yes. Well that was great. I’m glad you, set that up. So I’m glad to be a member of that because that’s, you’re right. I think that’s what… nobody should worry about exceeding expectations. That’s really not going to cost you any money. That is what we should be doing. it does, I guess just at one small final point, we talk a lot about wowing people and there’s a lot of discussion about what should we be wowing them. Should we be making it easy? Well I think the reality is that sometimes we just wanted an easy experience. We just want to be able to go online, do our banking online and that’s it. Then sometimes if something goes wrong, we need to be wowed. So there’s room for both. They’re not mutually exclusive.
Tony: Well Gerry, thank you for your time.
Gerry: My pleasure.
Tony: Really appreciate it with the fantastic advice and suggestions and stories that you’ve been sharing number with us.
Gerry: Tony, I’m glad to do it. Thank you very much.
Tony: Thank you. In next week’s episode, episode 17, we speak with a lady called Jane Blackman. She’s a humanist celebrant. She does both weddings and funerals. She delivers the services at weddings and funerals. I’ve heard from a few people, she really goes out of her way to give, an experience that really was much more than people could have even hoped for in something which is as emotional as a wedding or a funeral. I mean, they’re quite opposite ends of the spectrum, but both very emotional. So we’re going to hear from her how she’s able to over deliver on her customers’ expectations.
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