For the past couple of decades, I’ve found myself, for one reason or another, in front of groups of people asking them to identify brands that, for them, sum up really great or really bad customer service.
In the latter category, the types of brands have remained remarkably stable, even if some of the names have changed. Utilities and telecoms companies take a bow. If you dig into why these companies come in for such disdain, it’s because when things go wrong they handle it terribly.
The former category, however, has shifted in the time I’ve been asking. Fifteen years ago, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer would be the exemplary brands mentioned, and reasons why would be related to their ability to rectify problems – whether of their own creation or of the customers’ own misjudgement.
Today, the one brand that is consistently mentioned is Amazon. And the reasons have shifted. No longer is a good customer service brand held up for their ability to rectify problems – now it’s all about delivering on promises and keeping the customer informed. (As an aside, if you are ever on the receiving end of Amazon’s service going wrong, the experience can be quite spectacularly bad).
All of this, for me, points yet again to the importance of understanding customer needs when designing services.
I’ve been introducing concepts of service design to colleagues in recent weeks and in particular the idea of customer journey mapping. I have run a little exercise which gets people to map out the customer journey of ordering a pizza – something which most people have had at least some experience.
One of the things that comes out quite quickly is the huge imbalance of effort that exists within the process; when the customer is busiest (making their mind up about what toppings to have) the provider is doing little or nothing to fulfil their order. When the customer is least busy (and probably most anxious about WHEN EXACTLY MY PIZZA IS GOING TO ARRIVE) the provider is doing all the work.
The challenge here is that when a service provider is most busy, the inclination is to stop talking to the customer. From a customer experience perspective, that means that we enter into a black hole of communication, and anxiety rises.
In conversation with my colleague Tim yesterday, he brilliantly named these “Pizza Gaps”.
If we look at why Amazon has been so successful, surely (alongside issues of aggressive pricing) their closing of Pizza Gaps has been a large part of it. That we can see transparency around the stages of delivery from picking and packing through to delivery reduces anxiousness about what’s happening and provides a continuous stream of information throughout the customer journey.
It’s easy to take this stuff for granted these days – and think about how unsettling it can be when information that we now expect isn’t available for some reason. Those train station indicator boards weren’t there 20 years ago, but today if you can’t see when the next train is due it’s far more frustrating than when the information simply wasn’t provided.
That hype in expectation is an important point. We expect transparency today. So when you are looking at the services you are providing to your customers, can you spot the Pizza Gaps and, most importantly, do something to plug them?