How your staff can rescue even the most frustrating customer experiences

October 28, 2016

Here, Research Director, Anna Ritchie shares her thoughts on the importance of customer experience and how managing all experiences no matter how bad, could help turn a negative experience into a positive one. 

From listening to thousands of customers, we have found time and time again that good service can mitigate a poor process. Whether it is a long queue in a shop, a disappointing meal or an incorrect bill then a poor experience can boost advocacy by up to 40 percentage points if the staff interaction is both memorable and true to the brand. However, if staff fail to excel then customers’ expectations fall drastically.

Have you ever waited in a queue at the till on a busy Saturday, getting increasingly angry about having to wait and wishing the shop had more staff? Have you ever then got to the front of the queue where the member of staff immediately apologised and was warm, friendly and engaging? Our data shows that an excellent till experience can actually negate the effect of the queue, raising an interesting choice for companies looking to compete on the basis of customer experience – should they invest in more staff or a better quality of service?

The importance of customer experience

Over the last few years we have witnessed an increased awareness of the importance of customer experience. 89%1 of marketing leaders expect to compete primarily on the basis of customer experience in 2016, as compared with 36% four years ago. This increase has been fuelled by a better understanding of the potential financial benefits of a good experience but also by increased awareness of the potential reputational damage of a poor experience handled badly.

Maru/edr have identified a number of themes in the insights generated for our blue chip clients, drawn from listening and interpreting customer feedback across 200 customer experience programmes in five sectors. An engaging interaction with a member of staff who the customers describe as helpful, friendly, patient or caring can truly stand out in today’s increasingly self-serve world.

Poor process often lies at the heart of a bad experience

There are many drivers of a poor customer experience but a poor end-to-end process is a common cause of dissatisfaction for customers and staff. Either the process hasn’t been designed from a customer perspective, there are legacy systems behind the scenes or unpredictable events occur. If poor process is the root cause of a poor experience then the obvious recommendation is to fix the process. However, often this requires significant investment in legacy systems and sign off from the most senior levels in the business. In the interim, the customer suffers and revenue is lost.

Great service can mitigate poor process

In our work across retail, hospitality and media sectors we have found that great service can make a difference in brand advocacy of between 30 and 40 percentage points when something goes wrong. In some cases this completely compensates for the original issue, leaving the customer as happy as they would have been if it hadn’t happened in the first place.


Rescue customer experiences

We have the answer

What this means for any business is that it is not good enough to simply wait for an underlying process or system to get fixed to improve the customer experience. A focus on great service can make a real difference as soon as it is implemented.

The way that the employee deals with the customer of course needs to fit with the situation and the brand. We commonly find that there are three to eight supporting behaviours that are common to a good experience that employees need to adopt if they’re going to live up to brand expectations. When staff are empowered to engage with customers and tailor these behaviours to the situation then the customer notices and satisfaction improves, driving incremental revenue.

In our work driving positive outcomes for our clients we have identified three steps to realise a great customer experience, despite a poor process.

  1. Identify the 3-8 core behaviours that customers care about, ideally in their own words.
  2. Build the behaviours into your front line training, monitoring and internal KPI’s.
  3. Empower staff to adopt these behaviours, reward success and actively manage failure.

1 Source: Gartner