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View from the high street: Don’t just talk at people – bring your values to life

By Andrew McMillan, ex John Lewis head of customer service and principal at Engaging Service.

In previous pieces I have talked about the need to clearly define, articulate and measure your customer experience; this month I want to talk about how to communicate it inside out. 

Not surprisingly this starts with staff communication. 

There are some obvious channels here: a daily briefing, the weekly review, the monthly summary meeting and the annual conference.

These are all valuable opportunities not to be missed, but only really effective when done regularly and face to face.

Non-verbal channels are important too and would typically include a monthly internal newsletter or magazine and the intranet. 

All fairly obvious I suppose and I imagine some of you may have been mentally ticking that list off in your own minds.

But what are you communicating?

If we take the generic definition of customer experience that I have been using throughout these articles – Welcome, Wanted, Remembered, Cared For – the communication in all of the channels should reflect those aims.

I’ve seen some businesses do this really well, so I know there are some great examples out there.

However, I’ve also seen businesses do this really badly too, with some of the key channels missing altogether and often the content talking at people and being limited to sales performance, product spec changes, upcoming promotions and recalls.

All very important, but they will do little to develop the consistent execution of your customer experience aims.

The businesses really good at internal communication mix in stories about dealerships or individual employees when they have done something exceptional that demonstrates the values the business aspires to deliver.

This often isn’t direct commercial activity, but may be the support of a local charity or a really outstanding piece of great customer service.  

Bringing the customer experience alive

Critics might call this propaganda, and to a point it is, but as long as all the stories are true it’s a great way to keep your defined customer experience standards in the mind’s eye of the whole team on a regular basis and that’s the key point.

Putting your customer service definition on the wall of every site won’t bring it alive for customers and staff – continual stories about real people will, over time, shift the culture and attitudes while the content will also inspire the team to deliver even better customer experiences. 

So what about customers?

Personally I don’t think that you should communicate your customer experience aims or stories to your customers, they should be able to sense it for themselves.

If you feel the need to tell customers then you have failed, although an argument can be made for telling customers when you are confident that you are delivering excellence 99% of the time. 

However, there are some aspects of customer communication that are important here.

The tone and style is critical if you are to present a distinct and consistent personality to them and so is the relevance and appropriateness.

This is particularly challenging with automated communications from a database as I think the following example demonstrates:

Last year I had my car serviced and MoT’d by a franchised main dealer.

The car is mainly used at weekends and covers around 3,000 miles a year.

The service was com-pleted  and I was asked if I wanted the brake pads replacing as they were 60% worn.

I explained the low annual mileage and that I expected to get several more years wear from them – the service manager agreed.

A month later I received a text message suggesting I should return the car to have the pads replaced.

I phoned the dealer and repeated the previous conversation.

A few weeks later I received another text suggesting that my brakes should be replaced as a matter of urgency – this was becoming irritating and even more so when the text was sent for a third time. 

Last month I received a letter from the dealer reminding me that my MoT was about to become due. 

I phoned and explained that as I live some way from their premises I would be arranging for the MoT to be carried out locally. 

A week or so later I received another reminder letter – irritated again. 

A few days later my 14-year-old daughter took an early evening call from the dealership who apparently needed to inspect my car.

Concerned this was a recall I phoned them back and, I was eventually told, this was a marketing agency they use to follow up MoT customers.

The lesson?

There’s nothing wrong with proactive direct communication to customers as long as it is individually tailored and relevant.

Then it feels like somebody is taking a genuine interest and making life a little easier.

My experience felt like a crude sales campaign more interested in revenue than me as a customer and a long way from what may have been intended.

The outcome? 

I shall find another dealer group to service my car next year.  

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