Don't believe everything you read in the Harvard Business Review

Andrew S - 22 nd November 2013

Pacific Coast Highway

I recently return from a wonderful road trip with my wife and 4 children (they hate me saying that as their ages range from 19- 26!) driving the Pacific Coastal Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. On the plane home I was reading an incredibly relevant paper in the latest and, as ever excellent Harvard Business Review on the subject of Customer Journeys:

In the article there was a short note about a car rental firm that has innovated using mobile book in and especially remote video terminals at the check-in to provide customers a way of reducing queuing time but talking to a remote operator via a phone and video link. The article indicates this has helped improve customer satisfaction and reduced the overall time of check-in.

The company was not named in the article but it is Hertz. How do I know this, because I had just been through the process on our arrival at San Francisco airport some 10 days before I read the article!

Much to the amusement of my family, at the time, I had chosen to use this new video link queue busting and satisfaction generation check in process as I have always been a sucker for the new experiences brands seek to bring us. I should have been suspicious as none of the “locals” seemed keen to use it!

Taking it at face value it looked like a great solution to the usual queuing system and its inherent delays but it soon became apparent that there are some significant flaws in the process, as the locals obviously knew.

As the process processed me it began to feel as if, from a customer perspective, it had been designed not for customer convenience but to allow the organisation to reduce manpower costs at the check-in desk. It operated as if driven by inward looking thinking mascaraing as customer centricity we see in so many customer experiences today.

Anyway this is how my customer journey went. I had pre-booked and pre-paid for a 6 seat mini-van and had all my paper work ready to go, there was a small queue at the airport but we were encouraged to use the new terminal with the video link, which I was one of the few in the queue to choose.

I picked up a large phone handset to see a very nice lady at the other end of my video link - in Denver I think. She did a very friendly job of checking my details and all was well, until her body language changed indicating all was not well with the process, I was asked to hold as she talked to one of her team, then back to me saying they couldn’t find me the car I had booked and she needed to talk to someone at the check-in facility! After about 5-10 minutes of mild panic she couldn’t get hold of any of the Hertz team at the airport, so she asked me if I could find one of the desk staff at my end (slight process failure here I was thinking) and I had to ask the duty manager to drop everything and look after me, which he did after he had sorted out another customer.

The family at this stage are highly entertained by my antics and have gone into that mode that only a family can do – somewhere between frustration and ridicule of the bread winner, it bet they don’t track that impact on the customer satisfaction survey as this is not one frustrated customer but 6!!
Then a miracle happened, they have found us the ideal car for 6 and all was apparently well with the world, we should all celebrate a victory for the new process! So our customer journey took us down to the car park with all the anticipation and excitement that at last we were off to see America. Imagine our collective disappointment when we saw the “solution” to Hertz’s problem (not ours) - The car they had so magically found us was more bus than mini-van, a massive machine more suited to carrying football or cricket teams on tour than a family of 6 on a long journey. We felt that they had just moved us on and found any old automotive device to get us out of the process and off to another poor member of the team and away from their touch point KPI.

So it was over to the customer to manage their own customer journey and try to find a human being to get us back on track. We did find someone right down in the bowls of the organisation, right up at the coal face where the real action happens and real satisfaction is either lost, restored or built. He sorted us out, with an upgraded mini-van – just like the one we had booked, which far from leaving us satisfied/ very satisfied/ ecstatic left us ambivalent/bored/relieved/late, it was, in our opinion, the very least the brand should have done.

There are two learnings for me from this innovatory change in process

  • If we are going to try to improve our customer journeys then view it from a genuinely human and occasion based perspective enabling the team to really deliver with joined up processes that boost the brand and don't degrade it
  • Get the strategists to work with the people who execute to walk through the whole journey with a number of negative scenarios impacting on them and see how they feel and how they can improve things. Don't leave your beta testing to your customers – it is irresponsible.

I know how difficult it is to deliver truly aligned, on-brand customer journeys, because this is what I do for a living. If we are to achieve this “customer centric” experience then we must get out of our silos, collaborate across functions and processes, engage and inspire the team that will execute the plan and ensure the marketers and senior managers walk the talk and not just wash their hands of it, because without their total commitment why should the front of house believe in the brand.

Andrew is the CEO and the other founding partner of Brand Vista. With over 30 years of brand experience both on the client and agency side, what gets him up every morning is a passion for helping clients grow through building genuinely differentiated brands that deliver a customer experience that becomes irresistible.
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