From mystery shopper programmes to having lunch in your own restaurant, business leaders must test the consumer experience regularly to maintain standards
My phone rings…
"Where are you?"
"I'm sorry, who's this?"
"I'm delivering your DVD player. Where are you?"
"Doesn't it have my address on your delivery note?"
"It says The County Hall."
"Yes, that's where I live."
"Well, how do I get there then?"
"Well maybe you should tell me where you are…"
… Seven phone calls later, the aforementioned DVD player and
driver arrive. The equipment doesn't work but the delivery man says it will take an hour to "warm up", and he leaves. Of course, it doesn't warm up, so I call the retailer and the telephonist tells me it will take two weeks to replace the player, and I say that's unacceptable. I email the company's chief executive so she can hear how her company is being represented to customers. Two weeks later someone calls to offer me a £15 voucher.
I read a business book once that said there was always someone in
your company damaging your brand at any one time. Every business
has its glitches and there are two things to consider here – first, to aim to minimise them and, second, how best and effectively to repair the damage to your reputation.
In this economic climate you would have thought that companies
would be trying harder than ever to keep your business but I see so
many examples of how this is not happening, and how such
organisations are not helping themselves by their behaviour.
There's an online sportswear brand whose exercise T shirts I like
to wear and six months have passed since I mailed the company stating that it had sent me the wrongly sized shirt. I asked to which address I should return the item, and wanted to know when the correct clothing would be sent to me. I haven't heard a peep from them. A friend of mine who uses the same brand had a
similar experience. You will all no doubt have your own tales of such
poor customer service to tell.
It is important that businesses look at themselves in an honest and
open manner, and ask, are we really as good as we think we are and how do we test that process?
One thing that I do more than most in my company is to become
a customer, and I encourage colleagues to do the same. Once a
month at Roast I have lunch with members of the team and often for
the first time they see what I see.
It's difficult for them to observe the complete customer experience
when they are busy fulfilling their particular part of it. Mystery shopper programmes often also ring crucial alarm bells about what really happens in your business as opposed to the original dreamy vision.
Soon after I opened the Cinnamon Club just over a decade ago Coca-Cola's chief executive dined there, and I asked him for a
frank assessment. He replied: "Iqbal, from the minute you walk in to the minute you leave, is everything providing the Cinnamon Club
experience you set out to achieve?"
It took me a while, but I got hispoint – you need to engage your
team and sell it to them so that they live and breathe the mission.
You can have all the handbooks and manuals in the world but they won't come to life unless your team has ownership – either literally like the John Lewis Partnership or emotionally like you see in five-star
hotels in India where the mantra is "the customer is not king, the
customer is god".
Businesses like the sportswear company that didn't reply to my
email will over time find their customers will be less forgiving. As
consumers we are getting muchbetter at complaining as they do in
the US but it's how companies handle grumbles that we have yet to
master, let alone selling the ideal customer experience.
My friend let down by the sportswear company and I are now
looking to develop a rival brand which combines the excellence of the
product with outstanding customer care. This is partly driven by spite
but primarily by imagining how much better that business would be
if it did things properly. My motto is, if you don't complain, compete.
Iqbal Wahhab OBE is the founder of Roast www.roast-restaurant.com