Create a Great Customer Experience

By Lior Arussy

The question “how do we get started?” frequently crops up. Despite the fact that there is a mass of material available in the realm of customer experience, it seems to be too abstract in nature to help practitioners bring it to reality in their organizations. In order to discuss customer experience in a practical way, let’s take a common experience and try to redesign it to be delightful and amazing.

To my chagrin, my extensive travel provides me with ample examples of bad experiences to choose from. A recent car rental experience will serve as a great example of a missed opportunity to create a great experience, even during a problem situation. The company’s name will remain anonymous, as we are not doing this exercise as a form of revenge. I will, however, assure you that the company’s advertising messages reiterate that they are fully committed to customers. The company also segments its customers to gold, silver and otherwise in order to be able to differentiate its service.

As a gold member with this company, I made reservations to rent a mid size car for 3 days in Phoenix, Arizona. This is not my first rental with the company and I am used to the mid size cars they provide. I arrived at night and waited 20 minutes for a bus pick up to take me from the terminal to the car rental station. Other car rental companies had at least two rounds of pick ups, but no bus from my car rental company was in sight. When the bus finally arrived, it filled up quickly with other people who had also waited for 20-30 minutes. The bus was packed to the point that it was downright unpleasant.

Company view - at night we can reduce costs and have less buses traveling. Customers have no choice. They will wait. Filling up the bus until it is stuffed is a good efficiency measure that saves us money.

Customer view - at night I am tired and want to get to my car and subsequently my hotel room ASAP. My time is valuable, please respect it. Do not let me see all the other car rental buses passing by and remind me that I made a mistake in selecting your company.

Upon arrival at the car rental lot, I went straight to the waiting car. To my amazement, it was an old small car, not one of the cars I usually get. The parking lot seemed to be full of other cars. There was no shortage of cars, but someone decided that a gold member should get the worst car available.

Company View - Let’s try it and see if we can get away with it. Since the customer arrives at night maybe he will not notice the lemon we just dumped on him.

Customer View - You know my preferences and my loyalty, why are you doing this to me? On top of waiting more than necessary for a bus, this experience is really deteriorating. This car is not worth the price I am paying. I was just taken for a ride!

I decided to be a good customer and give the car a try. I started to drive it only to notice that it was tiny inside and didn’t have much pickup. In addition, the doors would not open easily and required manual intervention. Upon arriving at my hotel, I immediately called the customer service center and complained. I was transferred between 3 people (one of them contending that the company does not even carry the model I claimed to get!). Eventually I was told that I needed to take the car back to the airport, return it, and rent a new car. Since I was working all day, this needed to be done at night. I pointed out to the service center that they had a local office near the facility I was working at, but they declined to accept my suggestion that I do the replacement there. At one point in the discussion, I was blamed for taking the car in the first place, like it was my choice.

Company View - You’ve got the problem. You have to spend the time to fix it. We can waste your time as much as we want to. We are big and mighty

Customer View - Own your part of the problem. Send a person with a car to my office and make the transition smooth. Why do you ask me to waste my time to fix a problem you created? Why do you compel me to return and re-rent instead of making a smooth replacement?

Upon returning the car (no I did not go to return and re-rent, I simply did not have an extra hour to do it) I was asked if I had a good experience with the car.  I told them it had not been a good experience by any stretch of the imagination. They offered to give me some additional discount on my bill.

Company view - let’s buy us some silence. It is always about money.

Customer View - A discount will maybe help my CFO, but not me. What about me? Can you assure me it that will not happen again? You knew my status and still ignored me. Why should I trust you in the future? How about some free rental for my personal needs instead of a refund to my company? Will you escalate the issue? Will you do anything with what I told you? Will you get back to me with any type of resolution? Do not ask me those courteous questions if there is no real action intended when you hear my response.   This story illustrates multiple missed opportunities

1.   You know you have many gold members waiting for cars, do not have them wait. When competing companies pass by while your customers wait for you, they question the reason for their loyalty.    Be there right away. Schedule your bus service to focus on their needs

2.   Always treat your loyal customers with something extra. Never give them the worst car on the lot. Upgrade them, even if it is not necessary. (Usually upgrades are given when it is convenient for the company, not the customer.)  Be generous, it will pay off. Treat your customers well and they will return.

3.   When someone complains, own the problem. Deliver proactive service. Don’t ask the customer to invest more of their time and effort to fix problem you have created. Send someone with a new car to their office. Make the process smooth and fast. Make them believe that you care.

4.   Follow up is a must. Since I did not return my car early, as requested, it meant that I was still driving the same car and was probably still unhappy. Call me and find out why I did not replace the car. There might still be an opportunity to satisfy me.

5.   Do not ask courteous questions such as “how was it?” if you do not intend to do something about it. We know the difference between scripted text and honest intentions. Do not fake it.

6.   Act on the insights and tell me when and how you will get back to me.

7.   Offer meaningful compensation, not a discount that will not matter to me as a person. My CFO did not drive this car, but he will get the benefit of your discount. Thank you on his behalf!  I am sure he will appreciate it.

The gamut of people I spoke to all demonstrated fake sympathy while delivering pathetic experiences. It was not one person’s mistake. It seems to be corporate behavior. This car rental company missed seven different opportunities to do the right thing. Why? Because they never thought about me, it was all about them. For them, I was in a sense both a cash cow and available for exploitation. They were wrong. Here is a small caveat I forgot to mention. They were also 40% more expensive than other car rental companies. I rented from them because I was paying a premium for the peace of mind of arriving at night and getting my usual car. If on top of everything you are a premium price provider, you’d better get your act together.   If the company was smart, they would notice that I have not booked any additional rentals with them.   Needless to say, those rentals are no longer with this company.

I have always held the position that great customer experiences start with simple customer centric thinking and with proactive service. The bells and whistles are a nice added touch, but the basics have to be done right the first time. And even when mistakes happen, there is still an opportunity to do the right thing immediately. It is not that difficult, you just need to switch from a company view (a.k.a. arrogant, controlling, self serving, customer as a sucker) to a customer view (a.k.a. respect, proactive service, authentic approach, intention to serve).

Read other articles and learn more about Lior Arussy.

For permission to reprint or reuse this article, please contact Lior at [email protected].

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