By Robert Craven, MD at The Directors’ Centre

Businesses spend so much time trying to sort out the big stuff for their customers and clients, but maybe they spend too much time there.

It doesn’t matter how great one’s big idea is because little, apparently minor, faults will chip away at what would have been a great idea. (And the little problems may become massive in the eyes of the customer).

The awesome presentation, the remarkable meal, the amazing car showroom experience, the brilliant hotel stay that we want our clients to enjoy and relish can be destroyed by the smallest of things that, when put together, contribute to creating a poor customer experience. Even the telephone company call centre should be able to give the caller what they want. Basics!

More importantly, when things start to go wrong, the customer starts to notice the irritating minor things. Or are they so minor?

All the failures which, alone, would reduce your rating by one or two percentage points add up to make a five or ten per cent gap between what was possible and what actually happened.

While I can happily forgive a few human errors, there comes a point where customers and clients start to believe that the sloppiness may actually be systemic. A few nudges or shoves in the wrong direction and they think things like:

• “If they can’t clean a bath of the previous resident’s hair, then how clean is the kitchen?”
• “If they booked me in for the wrong night and never apologised, then should I trust them with my credit card details?”
• “If they insist I pay for using my room phone (before I even checked in) then what else should I be looking out for?”

To quote my mother, one-star service creates one-star problems and five-star service creates five-star problems.

Case Study: The awesome presentation:

The signage to the room is misleading (process and human error), the loos are filthy (process error) the presentations start late (technical problem), the coffee is predictably foul (system error), the presenter’s clicker doesn’t work properly (technical error), the slides have typos and the wrong words (lazy human error). This happens again and again.

Case Study: The remarkable meal:

Made to wait at the restaurant door by the sign that says ‘Please wait here’ (process and human error), have to wait for menus (process and human error), not offered a drink (process and human error), menus are littered with typos (process and human error), food is warm because the plates are cold (process error), food is slow/late, etc. Ironically, the food, when it arrived, was great, but we had lost the will to live.

Case Study: The remarkable car showroom experience:

Staff ignore me on arrival at the showroom (process and human error), rude receptionist (human error), no test drive model available (process and human error), no brochure available (process and human error), website not working (system error). All these errors yet they want me to buy their car for £50,000.

Case Study: The brilliant hotel stay

Electronic key fails to work (system error), receptionist accuses me of not knowing how to work the key and refuses to accompany me after second key also fails (process and human error), no apology when they realise the door lock was broken (human and process error), no windows I can open and broken air-conditioning and no alternative room and the kitchen fan outside my room that starts at 4.00am and the TV doesn’t quite work... (now I think they are taking the mick!). They declined to refund me even though they said they would when I phoned reception at 4.00am.

Case Study: A UK phone operator

Just spent two hours in a circular debate across three continents trying to ask why they only cashed one of two cheques we sent them in the same envelope. In order - they denied receiving any money, then one cheque, then insisted I give them the postcode of the letter box and proof of postage as it had not arrived at their end. They said they would disconnect the line if I didn’t pay (but I had). The line manager put the phone down on me. No apologies. Was I in the wrong? (No.) Who said the ‘Customer Is King’?

In case they forgot, I am the customer. I wouldn’t care if these were occasional instances but they are not. It happens all the time.

In every case the inability of the staff to be civil and polite adds to what are basically system problems. The inability (or refusal) to say ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ sky-rockets my blood pressure to ridiculous levels.

The main root problem, however, is the system which is designed for the convenience of the organisation and not for the convenience of the customer. Unbelievable.

Do we design our own businesses to suit our own convenience or that of the customer?