Archive for the ‘Customer Experience’ Category

Great Service Begins At The Top

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017


If you aspire to or are a pre-eminent global service business, shouldn’t the CEO’s communication and feedback systems with its’ customers reflect its’ pre-eminence and branding? Here is a recent example of personal response times from constructive customer service letters to European CEOs:

3 days, in person Ewan Venters, CEO of grocer, Fortnum & Mason

14 days, in person Nigel Wilson, CEO of insurer, Legal & General

135+ days, zero response Dame Carolyn McCall, CEO of budget airline, easyJet

645+ days, zero response Keith Gibbs, CEO of insurer, Axa PPP Healthcare

795+ days, zero response Rickard Gustafson, President and CEO of airline, SAS Group

Letter writing might be unfashionable in certain quarters but when a customer today makes the effort to put pen to paper, it is a common sense assessment that they are serious about their intent to point out a superior or underwhelming experience. Based on my anecdotal research, a great experience buying a tin of biscuits will elicit a 4x faster response from the CEO than buying a cumbersome life insurance policy, 45x faster response from the CEO than being stranded late night in a desolate European airport or 219x faster response from the CEO to acknowledgement of proactive service in a healthcare insurer! Why would a CEO’s office operate like that unless it is seriously disorganised, it doesn’t hold itself accountable for the promises it makes to its’ customers or it is simply arrogant?

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.


A Time And A Place

Thursday, July 27th, 2017


What is the price of privacy and silence in a workspace? Money and demand are abundant from small medium enterprises wanting more flexible offices, and investors hurtling after them with bags of moolala. WeWork, the co-working giant, announced today that it has raised $500 million from SoftBank and Hony Capital to fuel its growth in China. I am helping another ambitious group charm professional investors with their Mandarin Oriental-style idea and secure north of a $100 million backing. Indeed, I write this sitting in my own upscale serviced office located in the heart of London’s West End.  Yet there is one drawback that almost all of these co-working/serviced office operators have not properly addressed. Co-working is great until you want privacy and silence. You struggle like hell to find it. Hip canteen or dining areas, noisy club lounges, and expensive, clunky meeting rooms with time-consuming booking systems don’t provide real-time access to the seamless professional environment and image that your most discerning clients expect. Perhaps in a techie world but sorry, not in a professional services or financial services firm. It is like asking an Englishman to adhere to a relaxed dress code at a wedding, it is carnage. I am sorry but I neither want to work in or be seen as an underpaid HR manager ghosting in a Starbucks mid-morning. Whether we like it or not, informality in a business setting has its’ limits on how we think about ourselves, our productivity and our profit.   The operator, who can truly provide a workspace with “flexible” privacy and silence is really the one to throw serious money at.

© James Berkeley 2017.

High Touch Trumping Parking Tech

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017


High tech is dramatically improving the way we live (transportation, medicine, education and so forth). Yet in some areas particularly related to prevention it is trumping a high touch customer experience for close to zero benefit. Nowhere more so than the indiscriminate use of ANPR technology to record number plates entering and leaving car parks. The technology isn’t smart enough. In a recent example, to inquire about a hotel night stay and meet a fellow guest, it required entering late night through a car park using the technology. For reasons that were out of my control I had to wait for an extended period outside the hotel’s front door. There was close to zero signage visible about the snake pit I had driven into or even awareness of what lay in store until a further two weeks had elapsed when in the mail arrived a £100 penalty notice. Apparently I had stayed longer than permitted even though I wasn’t technically parked and indeed was interacting with the hotel’s front desk. When I sought to appeal you are directed to a cumbersome and legalese riddled process that exclusively treats you like a transgressor.

Thankfully, the common sense intervention of the Hotel’s Deputy General Manager, Jena Smith, was able to right a wrong. When investors look at early-stage tech businesses, the right question to ask is, this business addressing a human need, solving a human problem or kindling the human spirit. Quite clearly, the owners of Parking Eye, Capita, who shelled out £54 million four years ago for Parking Eye, never stopped to consider that simple question. Or if they did, they have come to a warped conclusion that driving away huge volumes of repeat and referral business from the surrounding businesses, generating huge negative media publicity and hiding behind weak boiler-plate defences, is a great advert for the CEO and their Board’s genius.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

PE’s Hidden Value At The Dogs

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016





How many times have you made an advance booking for an event ticket, a restaurant reservation or a hotel room only to arrive on the day to find your name is “not in the system”? How many times have the front line staff sought to caste blame on you or others rather than take immediate steps to resolve the problem and display empathy? How many times have you been turned away when you were eagerly looking forward to that experience vowing never to return in future? How many times has it been a major pain in the backside to ensure the charges have been reversed seamlessly to your credit card?

On Saturday night, I found an outstanding customer experience in the most unlikely of settings, Wimbledon greyhound track, host of the Greyhound Derby and owned by private equity firm, Risk Capital Partners. Arriving to find my family “not in the system” or in Wimbledon’s case, “not on the list”, two enthusiastic front line staff (Anita and Sonny) stepped in to help with simple proactive suggestions.

Sonny and Anita: “Pay cash for alternative tickets, we’ll run to our booking office and return with a receipt, personally email our central reservations with full instructions asking them to rapidly resolve the problem. In addition, we will follow up in their opening hours to ensure a rapid reversing of charges and you won’t need to do a thing. Is that OK? Is there anything else we can do to ensure that you have a fabulous night?

Me: “No. That would be wonderful if you can accomplish that.”

I am called this morning by their Central Reservations to be told that the problem was human error (incorrectly spelling our name) and all charges are being immediately reversed.

Applying common sense, taking ownership, displaying empathy and disciplined follow up are all very simple human tasks. Yet what Sonny and Anita displayed is so rare in my experience today.





Even more so, if I told you that they are working in a business, whose private equity owners want to shutter the business and is in the midst of a political fire storm.

None of us want to swap jobs with their predicament. Indeed, I would go as far to suggest that their responsiveness to my problem had little or nothing to do with their circumstances. They are two enthusiastic, proactive and hard working employees, who have the skills and volition to do the right thing at the right time. To use their eyes and not rely on redundant operating policies and procedures.

Many seemingly successful companies get in the way of their employees displaying their talents. It destroys customer goodwill, which in turn harms loyalty, repeat business and value creation.  When you see a business fighting for survival but with a bedrock of enthusiastic employees displaying great customer service perhaps there is value where the existing owners don’t see it?

If you are a Sponsor with a penchant for a turnaround, you could no worse than organise a night out at Wimbledon dogs. Is that helpful Mr Moulton?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.


No Xpense Spared

Friday, January 29th, 2016

We cannot live without technology but there are times when the interaction is so appalling you just scream “Give me Fred Flinstone!” On the flip side, you have a stellar experience resolving a user problem, often self-inflicted (!) and you want to rave about the service. XpenseTracker is an ingenious iPhone app, created by Silverware Software. If you are user you won’t need me to say it but it is an incredible time saver for anyone, who hates the tedium and time consuming process of collating and processing expense reports. I guarantee that you can create an extra day of working time for a $5 investment!

My settings for reasons I cannot fathom prevented me exporting the finished expense report to my cloud server. I emailed Scott, the app’s author, we are on friendly terms in a virtual way of doing things. He immediately responded in 2 minutes with a brief “here is how to solve the problem” email, succinct and on point. So far, so good until I pressed the wrong button and the screen froze. A quick email to Scott in his Boston office, and within 3 minutes, no blame attached, “this is what you do”. Boom, solved.

I don’t know about your firm or its’ clients standards in resolving clients problems but ask yourself honestly, does our access, response times and success in permanently resolving our clients’ problems match our brand? If you don’t know the answer I suggest you test it immediately. If you do, and you are happy with the results, ask yourself, how can we reinforce those results such that there is a discernible gap between our competitors and us in future?

Today, HSBC’s online banking incurs a cyber attack, zero customer notification beyond a brief badge on their site. A call to Hiscox, a market-leading global insurer, goes unanswered for 7 hours. Telefonica, a leading European telecoms operator, asks me to wait on “hold” for 22 minutes or use their online chat room, which takes a further 19 minutes to get to the heart of my difficulty with someone, who struggles to assemble an audible sentence in English.

Large global brands are being disrupted by smart, small technology firms in almost every product or service line because the latter have better organised themselves to provide a “high touch, high tech” customer experience.  It is not about size or scale, it is about how smart your people are.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Eccentric Behaviour

Friday, January 8th, 2016

I love living in London because you sees displays of eccentric human behaviour that defy all logic but are in equal measure very funny. This morning I hopped on a London bus in a rainy Mayfair to be followed in by a well-spoken English gentleman struggling to haul a 7 ft loosely bubble-wrapped, early 19th Century British masterpiece procured from an eminent Bond Street gallery. The sought of place where the red dots on the gallery wall demand a large five or six figure sum. Poor man, wouldn’t his budget stretch to hailing a taxi or the Gallery’s to delivering the piece to his home or workplace?

When we deliver services to our clients, do we seek to save pennies (demand our people spend no more than £25 on a bottle of wine at dinner) or promote overly cumbersome client processes (onboarding) for no good reason, after we have been paid pounds? Is our mindset and self-talk one of abundant opportunity or desperately fearing poverty? Is that reflected correctly in how we ask our people to behave and act with our clients’ best interests at heart (exemplars, policies and procedures)? You would be surprised how often that there is a huge misalignment, which instantly dilutes client and employee trust and weakens loyalty to top management and the firm.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

20th or 21st Century Business

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Many executives and managers in financial services, insurance, professional services, private equity and so forth presume that they have to go to great lengths to stand out from the crowd with their clients. I am telling you that isn’t true. Look around at your colleagues, peers, business partners, advisers, competitors and clients behaviour. How many of them regularly exhibit attitudes and behaviour that are informed by 20th Century operating beliefs some fifteen years into the new millennium?

In another breathe they quite casually pull out the latest iPhone, Blackberry or tablet device. By any rational count they are hyper-connected. They simply don’t choose to make their clients or customers THEIR priority. They hide behind the “shared” belief that their lack of responsiveness is reasonable and appropriate.

Pick your favourite:

“Sorry I am travelling I will need to call you when I get back from my trip” (are you telling me you have no access by phone, voicemail or email? Are you really in Mongolia?)

“Can you speak to my Assistant she manages my calendar/diary” (is your Assistant in charge of your life?)

“I am in meetings today, I’ll get back to you” (do you really not have 15 minutes to respond via phone or email?)

“He/She is in a meeting, can you send them details via email” (are you seriously suggesting an alternative that demands both of you accept a significant delay and greater labour intensity to decipher an issue that could be solved in one three minute call today?)

There is a perception in many business advisory sectors that a powerful brand = greater responsiveness. I have recently conducted a straw pole of senior executives in Top 5 global businesses in insurance, private banking, executive search and advertising amongst other sectors suggesting a genuine potential client opportunity.

The least responsive sector quite humorously is the executive search business. The average response is 7.5 working days! Well done Odgers, Korn Ferry, Heidrich and Russell Reynolds, you are joint winners of the “Global Customer Disservice Award” (GCDA). There are a great many other global brands who would be appalled at the behaviour of their senior and key executives.

Next time your colleagues tell you “it is tough to compete with XXX, they have such a powerful brand”, caution them that clients buy from individuals who are highly responsive to their needs.

There is a high probability that you can establish a competitive advantage if you focus on customising your people and systems tightly to your customers’ self-interest. You don’t need to be selling some predictive analytic tool, overly complex technology or big data process. You need common sense and enthusiasm.

Copyright James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Free Consulting for British Telecom

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Why does the proliferation of customer or client communication channels rarely result in happier clients? In British Telecom’s case, if the objective is to profitably grow the business, in a world where Pay TV, broadband, fixed line and mobile,  are converging fast (“Four-Play”), shouldn’t you start by looking at the quality of your management and employees. You are rarely successful planting new vegetables where the the soil’s composition largely rejects the seeds.

  1. Cultural constraints: When the customer calls for help with a broadband or mobile connection difficulty at BT, the operating beliefs needs to be congruent with your strategy. If as I witness, “you are advised to contact us by email or online chat and in person, as a last resort” what you are really saying is “you must conform to our business model and needs i.e the lowest cost form of communication”. You have a misalignment. If you are the only game in town, the customer may have no option but when your fiercest competitors are snapping at your heels, you are endangering your business.
  2. Speed of Response: When your customer communications via telephone, online chat and email demand I invest 1 hour “waiting for an agent”, at my expense, you are further destroying our relationship.
  3. Public Profile: When I seek to contact you via social media and your response is so inadequate, you demand that I submit my difficulties online to a webpage that is inaccessible, you are hastening my exit.
  4. Quality of Response: When I finally speak to an agent in an offshore call centre and his default position is to assume that I am ignorant, necessitating 30 minutes testing a connection that has had a visible recurring fault, you are pushing my patience to an extreme.
  5. Accountability: when the “agent” needs authority from “Level 2”, presumably his supervisor, to set up an appointment at my home, you are further wasting my time.
  6. Aligning Customer Needs and Your Competencies: when your engineers will only visit a customer’s home between 8am – 5pm Monday to Friday, you are asking 90% of the working population in London will readily take “time off” work, at their expense. You are putting your cost base and business model, ahead of your customers’ lifestyle needs.  
  7. Risk and Reward: when the “agent” tells me (the customer) that in the event the engineer finds the fault is due to an electrical or structural issue in the premises, I will be charged £140 for the visit, you are telling me this is not a relationship of “equals”. I bare all the “risk” and you none.

BT has a CEO, Gavin Patterson, who has made highly assertive moves into Pay TV and mobile. What he is experiencing, is that the “strategic intent” at Board level in BT (profitable growth and expansion of existing customer relationships)  is being refracted in the operational layer of the business. Mid-level managers are putting their own mutual interests ahead of BT’s existing customers and demanding their subordinates do the same, irrespective of common sense. Why? The managers beliefs are to protect the firm’s business model at all costs, the rewards and feedback systems are reinforcing this “penny wise and pound foolish” message. You cannot profitably grow if you don’t first align the operating beliefs with the new strategy.  That may sound simple but in large organisations it is so rarely done well.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Synthesising Technology and Outstanding Customer Experience

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

A hugely frustrating experience this past week trying to make a routine order with a Universal Music digital store reminded me that even the biggest brands have a hard time synthesizing technology and the customer experience. “Digitisation” was cited this week in a global business survey as one of the three biggest challenges facing businesses and top management in the next three months (globalisation and productivity gains). Here are my golden rules:

  1. Technology is there to enhance the speed and quality of your communication between different people and the relationship that ensues, it is not there to replace them. What your customers expect today is not instant access but a rapid response. 
  2. Shop your own business once a month, at a minimum.
  3. Ask yourself, where would I rank (high/moderate/low) BOTH the quality and responsiveness of our frontline communication? Where does it need to be in future? What are the changes we must instigate now? Who (by name) is accountable for the behaviours and results we must achieve?

We tend to think of digitisation as some biblical transformation often lost in “geeksphere”. In practice, it is about a large number of small improvements that everyone in the firm can contribute to and the application of common sense.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Enabling The Customer To Buy

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Three experiences in the course of a rain-sodden quiet January week in London: a midday stop by the flagship Apple store on Regent Street.

Me: “Good morning, I would like to talk to someone about buying an Apple iPad Air.”

Front-of-House sales person: “I am sorry we don’t have anyone available right now.”

Me: “What are my options? There don’t appear to be many people here (30 customers max).

Front-of-House sales person: “You must make a reservation in my system (scroll through his iPad, wait 1 minute). I can offer you a time slot at 4:15pm (now 10:30am) or we can perhaps find a date later in the week.”

Me: “Sorry, neither is convenient, nor am I in the area. I will leave it.” £0 expenditure, repeat business or referral potential “low”.

A few minutes later a request to a sales person at the flagship Ralph Lauren store in Mayfair to exchange a £250 sweater given as a gift to me and purchased by a family member in Hong Kong (they have a worldwide refund policy). “I am sorry sir if we cannot identify the bar code as coming from our store I am not at liberty to accede to your request.” Me: “Why does that preclude you not adhering to your brand’s customer promise?” Sales person, “Urgh, that’s the way it is, sir.” £0 expenditure, repeat business or referral potential “low”.

A call to the very welcoming Cotswold country inn, The King’s Head in the picturesque village of Bledington. A request for a family room at short notice for this weekend and dinner in their great restaurant. “Sir, we are fully booked this weekend both in the hotel and restaurant. However we know you have have been a frequent guest. Give me 15 minutes and let me see if I can do something. Would you be available should I contact you? (Yes) I have your details in front of me, would you prefer we call you back or send you a quick email? (Call) If we can accommodate you, do you have a preference over which room you would like, and a time to eat (Yes)?” 10 minutes later: “I have good news. I have you your preferred room, and a table for dinner both nights.” We arrive at the hotel and there is a personalised note on the bed from the Manager, “Welcome to the King’s Head. We are delighted to help you out at short notice, we really enjoy having you as a guest.” Weekend expenditure £450, repeat business and referral potential “high”.

These are three very common experiences for upscale expenditure in England today. Many large, famous and global brands in an effort to maximise efficiency and profitability are increasingly forcing the customer to conform to their policies. They are consciously “blind” to what the customer’s obvious need is. Their front line people lack the authority to apply common sense. Smaller, arguably hungrier and more entrepreneurial  businesses recognise that

  • Upscale and luxury customer buying decisions are increasingly “unstructured”
  • Cash and repeat business is being directed towards businesses that make it easy for the customer to say “yes” (multiple options to buy)
  • Speed is as important as the quality of the response
  • Converting credibility and interest into immediate sales and repeat business necessitates putting the customer’s interests before their own

In search of profitable growth, is your business in the Apple, Ralph Lauren or the King’s Head mode of customer service? What changes in behaviours and skills are needed to achieve your business goals?

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.