This week I travelled by train to Leeds and then on to London for meetings with CCA members, mobile operators and Government departments. Having treated myself to first class travel to ensure some hours of uninterrupted work time, I had high expectations of service. Sadly the first leg fell far short with a cold carriage, no working wifi and dismal catering; frankly zero benefit for the extra cost.
The second leg with Virgin trains was a pleasure; cosy and comfortable; loads of helpful staff and fine cuisine. Wifi patchy but at least partly functioning. The same country, same rail tracks, similar pricing but vastly different experiences. Of course my first experience was magnified by the second and so a new bar has been set for expectations.
And this is the challenge facing us all today; consumers constantly benchmark against new levels of service, whether it's an app which wows, a great reassuring predictive SMS service making your life easier; a helpful callback when it was promised; or a friendly expert who seems strangely generous with their time for YOU as an individual. These experiences collectively change our norm and shine a bright light on any deficiencies in those organisations that are lagging behind.
Our mobile world has caused the biggest driver for change in customer service since the advent of contact centres. Meeting with O2 and Carphone Warehouse; they are each committed to rapid digital transformation for their own customer service, in the face of fierce competition and a need to evolve wider portfolios of services to maintain and grow their brands in the future. We had interesting discussions about value; mobiles have been described as 'another limb' in terms of tangible value to us. Many of our lives cease to function without them; a radical development in a relatively short timeframe. Losing my phone has now overtaken my fear of losing keys and bag; so long as I have a phone most things can be sorted. Arguably the price we pay is not actually commensurate with this value; a classic example of mobile services becoming commoditised in advance of their maturity. And ironically as mobiles gain in complexity, necessity and sophistication, the imperative for mobile operators is to nudge us all to successfully self serve reserving voice for where it is required.
Few organisations have suffered such scrutiny of its service as HMRC; and none can compare in terms of scale of calls handled. Meeting with the senior team yesterday, it was encouraging to witness a commitment to innovate and improve; unlike commercial operators they have little control over demand which is driven by Government tax policy and of course endless complexity which demands explanation. Handling 63 million calls from 50 million customers and collecting £518 billion with a staff complement similar to some large banks or media operators is a challenge; not least in motivating hardworking colleagues who are burdened by bad press. Like share prices, improved results often lag real performance, so hopefully the recent improvements will be highlighted in due course.
Regardless of whether we are contacting government, police forces, retailers, insurers or banks we have 'new norms'. The task in hand for decision makers is to get to grips with this dynamic, and ensure that what's promised against their brand can actually be delivered consistently, and not fall foul of empty adverts.
My journey ended with a flight home and I'm happy to report that there were great queue busting personnel at London City airport; so I'll end the week with a compliment rather than a moan!