It’s that blog time again!
This month we are taking you on a guided tour of the changing world of Customer Service. Central to the role of the RCA’s On Tour blog is its ability to show you worlds beyond the confines of racing. With that in mind we have carried out some research to understand how changing consumer expectations and emerging technologies are changing the shape of customer service. And it’s good news. There are some staggering developments in the world of customer service, in shopping centres, sports venues, online and elsewhere. For those of you with smaller businesses there are a few suggestions just for you towards the end of the blog.
The challenging thing as always for British Racing is the expectations these innovations build in the minds of your customers. Type your registration number into the key pad at a Westfield Shopping Centre and a little map comes up telling you how to find your car; which they may well have washed for you. No more traipsing around a cold, damp multi-storey trying to find your car. And at Heathrow the car park barriers open as you approach them on exit because the number plate recognition system knows you’ve paid your bill. Nice.
How many of you have run your finger across your laptop or Blackberry screen expecting it to be touch sensitive? Or stood in front of a hotel or office door expecting it to slide open automatically. The point being that once we get used to these innovations we begin to expect them everywhere. Worse still, we get grumpy when they are not delivered. After all we were perfectly happy opening doors before someone discovered we needed help opening them. Or even the car boot. Why on earth do we need an automatic boot opener? What will they think of next? Self-flushing loos? Ah yes – we already have those.
So what of the future of customer service?
Service is delivered in two ways, by a person or by a piece of equipment; software, an application, an automatic phone answering service or a self-opening door (or a soft-closing kitchen cupboard door). The reason the pace of change in customer service is accelerating is the increasing affordability of ’smart’ electronic service systems and the growing interplay between the human and ‘smart’ technology. Where once most people in Customer Service were engaged in the endless repetition of mundane tasks, now these ‘smart’ systems are taking their place answering simple questions without rerouting you to a call centre in Hyderabad. This in turn frees up staff members to provide quality answers to their customers. Occasionally saying ‘yes, that will be no problem. I’ll call you back in thirty minutes. Consider it done’. It’s music to my ears.
Two recent examples; firstly in the traditionally ghastly world of utilities. An overpaid, not overdue, bill with a utility led to a call to the utility in question. I’m sure you know how we brace ourselves for these conversations – expecting to blow a fuse. Perhaps that’s just me, but in this instance a well-trained member of staff came on the phone. He said he could fix the problem – now – and fixed it in less than one minute. So shocked I popped the incident on Twitter. And they tweeted me back thanking me for thanking them. Lovely. A utility company for Heaven’s sake! And last year the quality of customer service at The Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore was so incredibly clever, so overwhelmingly good that I felt the need to tweet that as well. In turn they too tweeted their appreciation of the praise and invited us to cocktails that evening in one of their bars. Everybody wins as it becomes a virtuous circle of self-congratulation.
So what is causing this revolution in service delivery?
Firstly the increased acceptance of self-service as a substitute for speaking to a staff member. Not only are we becoming conditioned to accept electronic or self-service solutions, evidence suggests that customers increasingly prefer self-service to assisted service – because they find it more reliable – or less annoying. It is now possible to programme a simple interface to deliver more consistent service standards than we can expect from a human being, especially if they are temporary staff. The real upside is that this frees up your staff to give better personal service to those who really need it.
Secondly the role of the Smart Phone combined with their ability to carry ‘Smart’ money (that’s cashless to you and me) and for landlords to know where you are in their venue with the help of GPRS and RFID devices. The result of these innovations is that the landlord or host (that’s you) can now send targeted offers to the customer, in the right place, at the right time of day. No more blanket promotions assuming that all customers are the same and want the same things. We don’t. It’s surprising how welcome these offers become when the system can tailor the brands and promotions to suit the way we actually live our lives. Scarily accurately indeed. All those algorithms buzzing away. The trick is to make the customer feel like they are in charge. For example Neiman Marcus, the US department store, has introduced an app which regular customers can ‘shake to awake’ when they enter the store if they are happy to be greeted by name or have staff knowing their preferences, or even dress size for trying clothes on. This self-activated approach has proved a great success. Offers are targeted at the customer as they move through the store, the computer ‘remembering’ the brands you like, which colours and size you prefer. In this environment offers and upgrades become timely, bespoke and relevant.
Elsewhere railway termini, such as New York’s Grand Central and Tokyo’s Shibuya have introduced apps with real-time information regarding train and bus times. And if your train is delayed – well here is something for you to do – and an offer to sweeten the pill.
John Lewis state that a customer who shops with them both online and in-store is worth 400% more than one who shops only in-store or only online. All the evidence suggests that tomorrow’s customer wants, and expects, to be able to switch from online to real service wherever and whenever they like – even at leisure and sport destinations such as football grounds and racecourses. Imagine all those sports fans consulting the statistics, tweeting and sharing their insights with their online community, and with other fans in the ground, whilst the match or race is actually underway. It is not a fantasy – it is what an increasing number of customers will come along expecting to experience. In this bright new world the inability to pick up free Wi-Fi will be anathema. This has to be fixed – it cannot be avoided. Real Madrid’s investment to become Europe’s first smart stadium, in collaboration with Cisco, is one such example.
Customers who have shopped with you online have already shared personal details with you. Other new shopping centre apps, such as Westfield’s, invite you to indicate which brands you like and don’t like the first time you open the app. This form of mutual information sharing gives the retailer the opportunity to send targeted offers to you, mindful of weather conditions, the mood of the day (a significant winning horse) or aware of overcrowding at certain serveries.
The most important message in all of this progress and innovation is that good service is becoming the norm. Poor service, or poorly trained staff will no longer be tolerated. Poor service can expect to be broadcast on social media and Trip Advisor. The horror stories of recent years, the Owners & Trainers bar with no ice and no lemon. Not acceptable. The Premier bar which runs out of beer after two hours. Never again. Poor quality over-priced food. Absolutely not. Discourteous staff at the entrance gate and web sites that are a nuisance and time consuming to use – you’re fired! It is time we upped our game.
That’s enough of the soap box. To really scare people we have included a selection of service innovations which give a clue to the changing face of service delivery in the wider world.
New technology delivers good service
In this first collection of images we explore the delivery of enhanced service through the application of new technology:
This little marvel links together real-time train information with information and offers from Grand Central Station’s sixty shops and 35 restaurants.
The Oyster Card comes of age. Pay for everything with contactless payment – linked of course to a loyalty scheme.
Why queue up when a new generation of vending machines can dispense everything from chilled drinks to gifts and even fresh vegetables.
Heathrow’s summer advertising is dominated by the offer of a free ‘Airporter’ to carry your bags for you.
Sharing tips and experiences on this wonderful ‘Social Tree’ at Singapore’s Changi Airport.
Electronic staff members at Luton Airport and elsewhere are now directing customers and answering simple questions.
Plan your itinerary before you go, and then have offers sent to you as you move through the development, using location sensitive technology.
Fed up with losing your online purchases in that fateful ‘final mile’? Now you can pick up your orders from an Amazon locker at a shopping centre, train station or petrol station near your home.
7000 free access iPads at three airports offering full web access plus online shopping at airport shops and even food ordering ‘at gate’.
The role of human intervention and creativity
In this second section we explore how human innovation and creativity combine to deliver an improved guest experience:
Feeling a little over excited? A little shopped out? Then visit the Silence Room at Selfridge. This oasis of calm is exactly what it says – right in the middle of the store.
Major US sporting venues are investing heavily in Wi-Fi technology. One of the many benefits is the ability to order drinks and food for delivery to your seat. No more queuing up at the bar for twenty minutes and missing the race.
A privately run Concierge Service at Westfield London provides a wide range of services from Accompanied Shopping, gift wrapping, left luggage storage and personal valet service.
Poor toilets will become a thing of the past – as will shabby baby change areas. In this centre the baby change has been furnished and sponsored by Laura Ashley.
So what does all of this tell us? Firstly that new technology, not call centres, are changing the face of customer service. Secondly with online service delivery often better than that delivered in store many customers are migrating willingly to an automated interface. Thirdly that head in the sand avoidance of Wi-Fi and 4G technology can only end in disaster. And lastly that the next generation of consumers will no longer be surprised to be served well – they will expect it and will be very vocal, and very public in their criticism, when they are not.
So what can you do if you are a small or independent racecourse? The technology will become cheaper and more widespread in the next two or three years. Already a number of smaller racecourses are welcoming self-printed tickets. But the real opportunity for smaller businesses lies in their ability to communicate with character. The tightly knit team who work together regularly are the perfect group to train in the art of adding warmth and personality to the customer touch-point. A smile, a greeting, a familiar face, an ‘I’ll show you how to find that’, all make the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary experience. My money’s on the smaller racecourses delivering this in the short term. Technology will be right behind them.
Are you ready for the revolution?
Glad to be of service…