Author Archive

What does it take to give that ‘Extra’ bit of effort?

February 10, 2012

There’s a great deal of noise in customer experience cyber space about customer effort at the moment – whether the science and research (Harvard Business Review 2010 ‘Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers’) is sufficiently compelling to inform organisational customer experience strategy or whether it is in fact worth paying any attention to.

Often the best way to test a new bit of thinking is to apply it to reality.  So here’s my Christmas (better late than never) customer experience story.

My daughter was desperate for a Barbie Typewriter this year, so off I went to Toys ‘r’ Us to get her one, throwing in a few other items for the boys whilst I was there (including a £10 drum for the 1 year old, despite an agreement with my better half to not buy him anything as Christmas is somewhat wasted on the under 2’s).

Christmas day arrived and Gracie was delighted to get the typewriter.  Not so delighted, however, when it didn’t work.  On closer inspection I noticed it had been used (rather a lot).  The stickers were worn off and there were parts missing.  I distracted Gracie with the rest of the presents and told her we’d take it back to the shop when it opened – to which she replied, ‘how do you know where Santa got it from?’ (Ahem)

The 1 year old opened the drum, took one swipe with the drum stick and managed to push the stick right through the surface. Another one to take back.

So on Boxing Day, I pootled in to Toys ‘r’ Us with both toys and laid out my experience with the toys. The shop assistant tried to look shocked, but was very quick to say I could have both items replaced.  No apology though.  Effortless service? Well, so far 8/10.

I demanded an explanation as to how a used toy could have ended up back on the shelf to be bought by an unsuspecting customer, but was offered no reasonable explanation, just an assurance that this must be a one off.

Gracie was delighted with the exchange, however, we opened the ‘new’ drum, only to find that this one ALREADY had the drum surface broken through!  A SECOND example of a used toy ending up back on the shelf.

I marched back to Toys ‘r’ Us.  Same girl behind the counter.  Placing the Drum on the counter I said, ‘you’re not going to believe this’ and showed her the drum.  She went very red, apologised (somewhat unconvincingly) and said she would get another.

Again, I demanded to know how broken toys end up back on the shelves for customers to buy, but was informed it was just a massive coincidence that this happened to me twice.  Forgive me for my cynicism here, but really?  A massive coincidence?  Effortless service?  Now down to 4/10 – I had to return to the shop twice.

Effortless - Childs Toy Robot - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

I get home to find my sons new gun (from Toys ‘r’ Us) isn’t working with the batteries bought from Toy ‘r’ Us.

I stampede back up to the shop, (same girl behind the counter looking as if she was going to run).  I show her the toy and explain the situation.  She takes the batteries out and puts in new ones and the toy works. I tell her the batteries were bought from Toys ‘r’ Us and can I have a new set (of 16, which is what I bought) as the ones I bought are clearly dead. Except I haven’t brought the whole lot back, just the four that are in the toy.

Now here’s the thing – given the situation, what would any reasonable empowered customer focused shop assistant do?  What would you do? Here’s what happened.

Shop assistant: ‘I’m sorry, you’ll have to bring all 16 batteries back for me to change them’.

Me: You’re kidding me, right?

Shop Assistant: ‘No.  I can’t (won’t) change them without you returning them.’

Me: So this is my THIRD visit today returning toys that had been bought already broken/not working from your shelves and you are now asking me to go home again to get the batteries (worth £8.99) to prove they are all dead (even though you have four in your possession that clearly are)?’

Shop Assistant: ‘Yes.’

I don’t ask for much and I wasn’t even expecting anything more than an exchange of toys in my previous two visits despite Toys ‘r’ Us clearly being at fault, but I would have thought that given all of that, my custom might just have been worth more than or as much as £8.99 for a new set of batteries. Clearly Not.

For 3 visits, no apology and the cost of a set of dead batteries (£8.99) that would mean me making a FOURTH trip to Toys r Us in ONE DAY…effortless service – 0/10.

So whilst the debate about customer effort rages on, I really hope that companies start to focus their teams on just doing whatever makes it easier for the customer, because this is really what it’s about.


Sally Earnshaw - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement


FLEXing your letter writing

December 1, 2011

My passion for changing the nation’s service extends to written responses.  I have spent the past 20 years paying more attention than perhaps the ‘normal’ person to the written responses that come from organisations.  In fact, I have built up quite a portfolio of written communication from some of the more recognised brands – I quite often send emails and write letters to companies I have no connection with, JUST to see how they respond.  I’m mostly curious about whether organisations have managed to translate their ‘tone of voice’ through the letters sent out to their customers.  Sadly, in my experience, very few companies are any good at this.  Mostly what you get is a cut and paste job full of the phrases that lack authenticity, written in anything but plain English and without any attempt at personality or emotional connection.

Here are some you might recognise, all lacking colour, imagination and a personal touch:

‘I can assure you this is not indicative of our usually high standard of customer service…’

‘I was disappointed to learn of your poor experience with our (insert department, product, service)’

‘I hope this clarifies matters and we apologise once again for any inconvenience caused.’

We often get asked to work with letter writing teams as part of broader customer experience programmes and when we do, the teams involved usually feel a sense of liberation, having been freed from the straight jacket of business scripting, minds opened up to being able to write with warmth and personality.  It’s actually really quite easy to write good letters, so, inspired by my most recent addition to the portfolio from Innocent Smoothies (shared below) I thought I would pass on some of our top tips.

Put the Good News up front

How many times have you waded through the lengthy paragraphs of explanation (excuses) in search of the outcome – are you getting your refund/compensation or not? Putting the good news up front allows the customer to get quickly to the outcome and then read on for the explanation if they want it.  It really makes a massive difference to the response – if you are going to give something back, let the customer know sooner rather than later.  I also think the phrase ‘gesture of goodwill’ should be banned whilst we are on the subject of refunds or compensation.  It’s much better to say if it is acknowledgement of having made a mistake, or by way of an apology for having let the customer down.

Use plain English

I don’t know what drives people when writing a business letter to use wordy phrases, many containing words you would never actually say out loud in general conversation.  Why say ‘at the present time’, when you can say ‘now’, or ‘due to the fact that’, instead of ‘because’.  Every time you write a sentence, stop and think – is there a shorter, simpler way to say this?  A quick search for Plain English guides on Google will deliver you hundreds of examples to help you if you get stuck.

Respond to emotion as well as key points

When you review business responses to customer letters, what you mostly see is that the key points and facts are given a response, but the opportunity to acknowledge some of the emotion is missed.  If a customer writes, ‘I was disgusted by the level of service and don’t fob me off with a ridiculous excuse’, you’ve got to respond to that.  Something like, ‘You mentioned how disgusted you were with the service we delivered and my intent with this response is to explain what happened.  I hope it doesn’t read as a fob off, as that is definitely not my intent. (Or something like that).  It makes it much more personal and considered.

FLEX to the customers style

Using the company ‘tone of voice’ will get you so far, but there comes a point when you need to reflect the style of the customer in your response.  If the customer is very specific and detailed, reflect that back in your response.  Look for words or phrases that the customer has used that you can play back in your response and try to find something you can agree with to demonstrate a level of rapport and connection.  The Innocent letter does that brilliantly.

Create a Peak Ending

The way an experience ends impacts our memory of that experience (positively or negatively) more than any other part.  So the ending of a letter is really important.  In my experience, most business letters finish with a bog standard phrase that lacks thought, imagination of connection.  Think carefully about the best way to finish and try to refer back to something personal that the customer has given you in their letter.  If you find yourself using cut and paste at the end, you are probably missing an opportunity to end on a high.

Adapt - Flexing your letter writing - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

As promised, the latest addition to my collection from Innocent Smoothies.  I was intrigued to know if they would stand up to the funky and fun brand image they portray and I was not disappointed.  As an aside, I am not a freaky mother who worries incessantly about my children, I just couldn’t think of anything else to ask!

Here was my letter:

Hi there,

I am writing to check in as to the suitability of innocent smoothies for babies. My littlest won’t let my older two swig their smoothies without wanting some himself and if we don’t let him he goes mental. I know it says only fruit, but I never believe what I read on the packaging. Supermarkets have a habit of lying to customers and I am not keen on putting anything unsuitable into my baby’s diet.

Let me know what you think.

Sally Earnshaw

Here was the reply that I received:

Hello Sally

Thank you for your email – I quite understand that you want to be certain about what goes into your little ones mouths. I feel just the same with my little boy.

However I can assure you that all of our smoothies are made of 100% pure fruit and absolutely nothing else. However this does come with a BUT for children under 36 months and I have given you all of the information below so that you can make up your own mind. I do give smoothies to my little one (18 months) but at least you will have all the information to make an informed decision:

With everything we make we have to err on the side of caution as the last thing we want is for someone to become ill from one of our products.

All our products are 100% natural and as such are dependent on the elements. Some fruits, in this case apples, contain micro bugs that aren’t suitable for younger stomachs. The weather conditions last season meant that our suppliers couldn’t guarantee our usual level of bugs and so to be prudent we’ve put this warning on our fruit tubes to make sure that we look after those little ones, with more sensitive stomachs than us. As I mentioned before, children under 36 months have very sensitive stomachs and there is a stricter limit for them, within food production, about what they should eat. The tubes are completely fine for children over the age of 36 months. Please rest assured that the level of bugs in our fruit tubes is still well within all normal levels and legislation and is nothing to be concerned about.

None of this is said to scare you – but we just want to ensure that our products are doing people good.

I hope this helps to explain things more to you.

All the best,


A great example of flexing style, to meet tone and deliver service.


Sally Earnshaw - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Ever tried to bake a cake without an egg? Part 2

September 8, 2011

We know that customer advocacy is vital, now we need to explore the current shift in customer perception and mindset.

So, there has been a shift – a big shift!  So why, following this big shift in focus and perceived capability to deliver against a customer focus from the top, are the top dogs for service still relatively similar to the one’s we would recall from 10 years ago?

Really! The same organisations that were at the top of the tree in the UK; the likes of First Direct, John Lewis, Waitrose, Virgin and BUPA are still there today. (Check out any of the UK CSI results over the years)

Some, like BT, Tesco, British Gas have slipped a bit, but if you were to look at Britain’s best-loved customer experiences then and now, there would not be much difference.

So despite making a shift in implementing processes and retaining really strong intent from the top, success still eludes the vast majority of companies.

As with ten years ago, successful companies are those that have the greatest appeal to their customers in both rational and emotional terms.

We’ve spent much of the last decade shoring up the rational ways we do business – better processes, better measurement, better management, but have potentially neglected the emotional appeal.

Engage - Hand Holding - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

So what’s the answer?

Well, I think there are probably many things that the best of the best have in common in the way they create customer advocacy, but I was recently reading the Starbucks story and Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks summarises the customer experience transformation undertaken by Starbucks as a combination of Intent – the genuine and visible intent of the leadership team, Process – those that truly support customer advocacy, and Heart – the engagement of the people within the organisation to deliver.

We often get asked to focus purely on Heart – ‘please come in to our business and make our people more engaged!’. But what we know is unless all three are working together and continually finely tuned, you’ll always be good, but maybe not on the list.  It made me think – focussing purely on one bit is really just like trying to bake a cake with just an egg.


Sally Earnshaw - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Ever tried to bake a cake without an egg? Part 1

September 2, 2011

It’s pretty common knowledge now that creating customer advocacy pays off.

By ‘advocacy’, I mean generating such an emotional connection with your brand that customers remain loyal in the long term and by ‘pays off’, I am referring briefly to the robust research that concludes that loyalty leaders have lower costs and higher growth rates than the average organisation.  (If you don’t believe me, check out any of Fred Reicheld’s work on-line.)

So armed with this knowledge, you’d think organisations would be getting much better at creating high levels of advocacy, wouldn’t you?  Well I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling a massive amount of advocacy for many of the companies I am a customer of – there are some, but they are still the same companies I liked 20 years ago.  They are probably the same companies you like, or at least have heard other people raving about.

Connect - BlueSky - Bluesky Performance Improvement

10 years ago research was conducted into Customer Centricity, to establish the extent to which organisations truly did place customers at the heart of their organisation.

What this research revealed was this:

  • 83% of companies believed their CEO’s were passionate about customers, although few had evidence to support it.
  • However, whilst over 80% of organisations had strategies in place for customer acquisition, development and retention, in some cases as few 40% actually had the relevant processes, targets and measures in place to implement the strategies effectively. Companies knew what to do but didn’t have the mechanisms in place to deliver.

Now 10 years on, we repeated this study in to a smaller number of organisations, but the pattern was evident all the same.  The picture 10 years on looked like this:

  • Interestingly 88% of organisations now believe their CEO is passionate about customers
  • However over 90% now have not only the strategies in place, but claim to be happy with the supporting processes, targets and measures in place for each business development component – customer acquisition, customer development and customer retention

The next part of this blog will explore the shift and what it means to the ‘Top Dogs’.


Sally Earnshaw - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement