top of page

Customer experience: a personal odyssey

A big part of my professional life is spent helping organisations to be better at creating a more positive customer experience. Most businesses recognise the importance of making progress in this area and becoming more customer-centric in their outlook and behaviours.  But it still amazes me how poor customer experiences can be.

A few weeks ago I moved home.  Anyone who has been through the experience knows the drill – a raft of phone-calls, revising of account details and ensuring that everything is in place.  My own recent experience of doing this has been ‘interesting’.  I have had amazing experiences and those that can best be described as truly dreadful.

The hero for me has been British Gas.  UK utilities aren’t famed for brilliant customer service; but British Gas helped transform a dreaded necessity into a positive and reassuring experience. 

They did five simple things, and they did them well:

  • Own the problem and the solution

  • Take the time needed to make a single contact the only contact needed

  • Ensure that the customer is listened to and heard

  • Delight in the customer’s delight

  • Be humble

A lot of thought and training has obviously gone into achieving these simple ideals.  But they result in the creation of a different kind of customer experience and, importantly, deeper affinities. 

I won't name my second example.  The company is a major name in the UK and will be familiar to most.  My contact with them stretched across store, online and telephone.  The sum of money involved was relatively small, but the level of complication and lack of ownership was vast.

In order to get my service working properly, I need to register a new account.  I was told in-store that they couldn’t help me register, even though they were happy to take my payment.  So I spent what seemed like an eternity trying to register online.  In the end it became evident that I couldn’t register because I didn’t have an account number.  But I needed to register to generate an account number…..

So I called a help-line (off-shore).  After spending 30 minutes going through all the details and repeating everything I had done in store, I was told that I could have an account number: “Dr Thorpe, I am very pleased to be able to give you your registration number.”  Amazing!  I was then told that I would need to call the team that would use the registration details to set up an account…..  I’d had enough at that point and ended the call.

This company did five fundamental things fundamentally wrong:

  • No one owned the problem and no one seemed bothered to find a solution

  • There were multiple disconnects (and thus multiple potential drivers of dissatisfaction) across what should have been a simple customer service need

  • There was a basic lack of cohesion – an inability or unwillingness to join the dots

  • The opportunity to escalate (due to customer unhappiness) was absent, and this meant that customer unhappiness (and deepening unhappiness) was almost inevitable

  • They lacked humility and responsibility when it was obvious they were at fault

There is simply no excuse for getting things so completely wrong.  The basics of good customer service and experience are easy enough to work out, once the customer is actually at the heart of the experience design.  Fortunately, companies increasingly live or die by the quality of the service and experience they provide for their customers.  There may be painful lessons ahead.


bottom of page