Avoid the ‘poor service’ news story: enhance your customer experience

Most of us recall a terrible customer experience - perhaps it was the countless hours on the phone going around in circles, the slow or inefficient communication via email, or simply the feeling that the person serving you didn’t really care.

Customer experience stories are everywhere – they’re ubiquitous. And the ones that take the spotlight are usually negative.

By definition, the customer experience encompasses all the interactions a customer has with an organisation across all of its touch points – direct, indirect, or online. Customer experience moves beyond the traditional definition of customer service, but customer service is still an integral part of the overall customer experience.

UQ Business School Tourism Discipline Leader Associate Professor David Solnet says too many companies oversimplify good customer service – viewing it as “service with a smile” or a “just get the job done” approach.

“Many firms get it wrong. They fail to overcome key barriers to a successful customer-centric service culture, or even identify them in the first place.”

Consider United Airlines (UA) in a case you’ve likely heard of - David Carrol, a Halifax musician, was less than impressed when his guitar was broken on a UA flight. He took to making a music video about his experience, called United Breaks Guitars. More recently, the airline was in the media for security dragging random passengers off an overbooked flight.

In both instances, customers – those directly affected and onlooking – used social media to share their disgruntled and outraged experiences with the airline, alerting people around the world of UA’s customer service, or lack thereof.


How to become one of the great service stories

“Great service organisations create systems and customer-centric culture underpinned by a customer experience strategy,” Solnet says.

But creating a service-oriented culture that leads to outstanding customer experience is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are many ways an organisation can avoid being in the spotlight for poor customer service.

“Developing an effective customer experience strategy requires a total business approach, which means looking holistically at your business and all touch points at which your customers interact with you,” Solnet says.

He says your organisation should have:
• a clear sense of purpose
• hire the right people with appropriate attributes for the service and,
• train them to meet changing trends, standards, and expectations that may arise.

“Critically, organisations must also understand the customer journey, including their perception of what value is and looks like, and recognise the connections between their experiences and expectations.”

In the recent United Airlines example, Solnet highlights some of the key reasons the organisation failed to deliver a positive customer experience.

“Sadly, this is an all too common scenario. Where was the service culture and customer focus here?”

“Customers were poorly treated, but what is also lacking here is a culture that prioritises the customer experience, clear and urgent acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and compassion.

“They failed to recognise the customer directly involved personally,” he says.

Carrol, who has since become a public advocate for compassionate business practices, echoes Solnet’s sentiments in a recent CBC radio interview about the overbooked flight scenario.

“This is a person who was actually humiliated and assaulted on a plane, and that needs the personal attention from the leader and the voice of the entire brand to the person affected.”

“If a company is a little bit more compassionate, they can have better outcomes and empower, not just their employees, but their passengers, to think differently about their brand to the benefit of everybody,” he said.


Dedication to service excellence goes a long way

Solnet sites a more positive customer experience example in Singapore Airlines. They were recently named world’s second best airline by Skytrax, an international air-transport rating organisation.

“Aside from my own brilliant personal experiences with Singapore Airlines, their continual flow of awards suggests they are doing something different.

“They site service excellence as a key pillar to their brand promise and success, and this customer-orientated approach has clearly proven its worth for many years.”

“Great service organisations create systems and customer-centric culture that are underpinned by a customer experience strategy."
Associate Professor David Solnet