A few weeks ago I was returning back home from a business trip travelling to Brno, via Vienna airport. For the connection from the airport to Brno I made a booking through a well known travel company in Central Europe that operates long distance coaches and trains and also runs a travel agency selling air tickets.
The plan involved taking a bus to Vienna station, then catching a train for the final leg of my journey to Brno. I had travelled with this company many times in the past and had always been very satisfied with the service. However, I had never travelled on a journey where I had to change from a bus to a train, this was the first time I had come across such an itinerary from this transport provider. I arrived from my flight earlier than expected and therefore was hoping I could catch an earlier bus connection to the train station. I immediately reviewed the written instructions telling me how to find the bus, they were not clear. There was a map with very small writing that seemed to indicate where the bus could be found, but this was not the regular bus station where the company’s other buses started from. There was no actual company branding & signage in the car park where I was directed to, so I wasn’t too sure what I had to do or where I had to go.
I called the company and spoke to a contact center agent, asking her for details about whether I could catch an earlier bus, as well as where exactly I could find the bus and how I would know it was mine. The lady confirmed the location was this strange car park I was standing in, but she had no idea of a timetable for this connecting bus service. I politely asked the contact centre agent how it was possible they sell a connecting ticket but have no idea of a timetable for this bus service, I received the response “it is not in our system so I cannot see it”.
I was informed by her that I could wait to see if a bus turned up earlier, and if it did, then I was free to board. I had a 90 minute window before my due bus, was I really wanting to stand around and wait, not knowing if a bus would turn up at all? I was tired and hungry, so I decided to go for food and wait for the original planned bus. I was still left a little worried that this location for the bus may not be the right one, especially after the lack of confidence displayed from the company employee.
Following my break I proceeded back to the car park, there I met a couple of other confused people looking for the same bus. Moments later a white minibus pulled up with an A4 laminated sign in the window with the name of the company. It seemed that this was our bus As we waited for other passengers, one lady turned up just before we were about to leave the car park, she was out of breath and had been struggling to find the location and the bus itself, explicitly demonstrating her frustration around the expectation to see a brightly branded bus. That was our bus to the train station and my ride home after a tiring business trip.
As a customer experience, this one was mixed. The train was very good. It was on time, comfortable and the staff were very polite and helpful. The connection with the bus was very badly organized and required a lot of effort on my part to figure out what was happening.
“87% of customers think brands need to put more effort into providing a more consistent experience.” – Kampyle
It seems that the company was trying hard to provide new routes and combinations of routes to their customers, but they didn’t execute successfully. Did anyone really consider the customers needs and understand them properly? As they start offering more complex combinations of routes, how can they make sure that they execute more effectively in the future? Did they really follow through and understand the “full” customer journey and from different personas. It seems not…
By following the “Be you, Be them, Be us” principle, I can start with “Be you”, by analysing my own reaction to the trip. As a customer service professional and an experienced traveller, I am very familiar with using technology and smartphone apps to find my way around strange places.
Not everyone is like this. This is where we get to “Be them”, the customers. Suppose I was a retired person from England on his annual vacation? Suppose I was not a regular user of smartphones and the internet? Suppose I couldn’t read maps very well? I would have been in trouble.
Taking another customer profile, suppose I was a student from China who couldn’t speak English very well? Suppose I was in Vienna and didn’t speak any German? Suppose I was in Europe for the first time in my life and I couldn’t even read Latin letters too well. Would I have found this bus?
This is where we get to the “Be us” part, “us” being the employees. Service needs to be simple. If this company is going to “be what it should be”, then, when they establish a new service or route, someone needs to at least mentally walk in the shoes of the customer and work through the process.
Research by McKinsey & Company indicates that extra work in this area brings a significant return on the effort invested. “Maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential not only to increase customer satisfaction by 20% but also to lift revenue by up to 15% while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20%.”
Once these steps have been defined, then we can apply the “Be them” principle again by adding certain personas to the mix. What if the customer is in a wheelchair? How would he cope? What can we do to help him proactively? How would a customer with visual impairment cope? How would a person who can’t read Latin script cope? How would a person who cannot speak the local language cope? How would a person whose smartphone battery has run out cope? What can we do, the “Be us” aspect of the equation, to proactively help them? What can we do to prepare the contact center agents if someone does call them?
Ideas and answers to these questions can be generated by workshopping the solutions. Many companies that are enabled by technology tend to focus on technical solutions such as FAQs on websites or smartphone apps. They do not always factor in aspects of human behaviour. The customer is in a Central European railway station at 2 o’clock in the morning. He can’t speak the local language. He can’t get a wifi signal. His battery is running out and the only people he can see are a couple of drunks who seem to be taking too much interest in him. A smartphone app won’t help him, but a big sign on the wall with an arrow saying “This way to the bus” would. When people travel and they get lost or something goes wrong, they are literally out of their comfort zone and they may not be thinking too logically.
In the travel industry, your competitors are only a mouse click or a smartphone app away. Customer loyalty can only be secured by the experience they had on the previous trip. In American Express’s recent customer satisfaction survey, they found that 95% of consumers talk about poor customer service experiences with other people. For this reason, poor customer experiences can sink a brand, so executing as flawlessly as possible and providing the right people with back up plans in case something does go wrong is key to the business’s long term survival.
Open questions & talking points?
- Do you have any interesting stories to share?
- How do you approach the customer journey mapping, what tools and systems do you use?
At Be All Ears, we specialize in supporting businesses to successfully overcome growth and operational challenges, driving change through employee & customer experience. Get in touch with us and see how we can best support you.