In a previous article I indicated the need for organisations to get ready for the new customer experiences of 5-10 years from now. In this post, I explore three simple steps you can take to do this in your business.
STEP 1: LEARN
If words like IoT, blockchain or AI bemuse you, go educate yourself. Put on that Virtual Reality helmet. Go hunt Pokemons to understand AR. Make your first 3D print. But don’t just stick to technology. Visit a home for the elderly to see for yourself how older generations live. Look at how teenagers really use the internet and social media. Leave your cosy urban environment with latte’s-on-demand and venture into geographies where real people live and wifi isn’t ubiquitous. The only way to truly understand the way our world is changing, is to experience it first hand.
STEP 2: ENVISION
Once you have a picture of what technology can and can’t achieve, step away to envision what you want to do with this knowledge. Let go of today’s orthodoxies to develop CX scenarios that consider the way customer life could be. Like car companies create concept cars, think of concept experiences. They don’t need to be feasible today, but merely thinking them through, can inform your actions for tomorrow. Oh yes, and when doing so remember that just because something can be digitised, it doesn’t mean it should be digitised. After all, it’s still humans that pay the bills.
STEP 3: EXPERIMENT
Don’t stay in the land of dreams and theory, but do stuff. Create a safe zone where you can experiment freely with new business and experience concepts. A customer experience laboratory where you and your people can interact with customers in new ways and learn. And when ever you hit something that works for your business, integrate it and roll it out. After all, if you don’t do it, someone else will.
Here is this week's collection of articles, videos, thoughts and other shareables which caught my attention. I hope you find them of interest too.
If you are responsible for the customer experience (CX) in your business, you probably spend a good part of your days looking at Voice of the Customer (VoC) data, closed loop processes, journey maps and - if you’re really good - organisational capability assessments. You battle silos. You update KPI’s. You deliver presentations proving that customer-centricity really does make money.
This is all great work, and it should remain at the top of your agenda. It's what makes good companies great, and keeps them competitive.
But there is another part of the puzzle that should be considered.
While you’re improving today’s business, who is looking at your company's longer game? We live in a world where sci-fi sounding buzzwords like the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, blockchains, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering and mixed reality happily blend with ecological, political and socio-demographic shifts. Each of these topics on their own can be world-changing. What happens when they converge, no one can predict.
But in almost none of the customer experience projects I have seen, these topics are given adequate (any?) air time. All accept reality as it is today.
On the one hand, this is understandable. Most CX programme leads are so busy fixing the basics that anything that goes beyond the next fiscal year seems to take place in another life time.
But on the other hand, it’s also wrong. While we shouldn’t buy every story the Silicon Valley merchants peddle, the signs are clear that the next 5-10 years of technological and subsequent behavioural change will make the internet revolution look like a walk in the park.
While improving today, CX professionals also need to start planning tomorrow. This is important for very practical reasons. If you’re investing in new retail space or a rapid-delivery warehouse with a 5-10 year amortisation, you want to know the likelihood that your great idea of today will still be relevant in 2025. But it also matters strategically. In a world of ultra-rapid change, any existing experience will become a target for disruption as soon as the right start-up finds the right capital. If you are not proactively challenging the way your business engages with its customers, someone will start doing it for you. At which point you’re on the back foot.
So where do you start? Here are three suggested steps:
1. Make sure you’re up to date.
If words like IoT, blockchain or AI bemuse you, start reading up on them. If you’re already informed, keep learning more. No one really knows how the future will unfold and there is plenty of commercial hype (aka. branded content) to confuse us all. So build your own understanding of how technological and socio-demographic trends might impact your customer’s experience.
2. Start developing customer scenarios
Once you have oriented yourself, develop CX scenarios which let go of today's orthodoxies and look at customer life the way it could be. Like car companies create concept cars, start thinking of concept experiences. They don’t need to be feasible today, but the mere fact of thinking them through can inform your actions for tomorrow.
Don’t stay in the land of dreams and theory, but do stuff. Create a safe zone where you can experiment freely with new business and experience concepts. A place where you, and your colleagues, can interact with customers in new ways and learn. And when ever you hit something that works for your business, integrate it and roll it out (or spin it out if that's more realistic). If you don’t do it, someone else will.
Am I the only one who has troubles with the process of picking up a rental car? I’m not a heavy user, but as a frequent traveller with about 6–7 rentals a year (across all the major brands) I do consider my sampling to become representative. And I must say, I'm not too impressed with what I see.
Still, as my life's philosophy is to be part of the solution, rather than the problem, I don't want to be one of those people who write about all the things that are wrong with the world. Instead, in this post, I’d like to offer up a few suggestions to make the handover experience in automotive rentals a little more agreeable from the customer side. If you know people in the industry, feel free to forward them this article. Also, if you know of any rental company that actually does the below, please tell me … I’ll become their client tomorrow.
#1 Provide your people with better user interfaces
No matter how extensive an online form you fill in as a client, there always seem to be a whole battery of buttons the people at the desk need to push. The result is 5–10 minutes of awkward client waiting time which typically leaves the rental car agent pro-actively apologising and making jokes about “the system”. While I can imagine that for clients without reservation there is some complex inventory checking and information gathering to be done, there must be ways to simplify the process which desk agents have to go through, even with legacy system issues.
#2 Give clear directions on where to find the rental car office, where to pick up the car (and what ever else is relevant).
Most of the time — when you’re travelling — you're not intimately familiar with the environment you need to navigate. Especially at complex airports finding the office/courtesy van or picking up your car can become somewhat of an adventure. Provide clients with (previously e-mailed) mini-maps that clearly indicate where what can be found, can do a world of miracles. The same can apply to other pieces of relevant driver info. What are nice places to stop for coffee? Which museum should you add to your trip if you've got an hour to spare? What are the traffic regulations of the country you'll be driving in ? The rental car experience isn't just about booking and collecting, there's the finding, driving, returning and all the other steps. Simple guidance on each of these, can make a world of difference.
#3 STOP THE UPSELL RACKET. Seriously, STOP IT!
Every business needs to up-sell, I get that. However, in most car rental pick-ups I have encountered, the up-sell techniques cross a line with attempts for creating fear (you really need this insurance), funny maths (if you buy our full tank refill service it is cheaper than filling it up yourself) or other questionable sales tactics. My personal favourite was a Sixt sales agent at Los Angeles Airport which tried to guilt me into a $650 upgrade by stating that “if I was happy to drive around my family for three weeks in a small Volkswagen Passat, that was my choice”.
While I totally understand the need to make money, and accept giving it your best pitch, badgering clients doesn’t get you loyalty. There are other ways to make the same margin on clients without resorting to bad profits.
#4 Provide an optional car handover
Often, when you rent a car, you drive a model that you haven’t driven before. This means the buttons may be in places you don’t expect or interfaces just work that little bit different from your car at home. Doing an optional car handover to explain how to connect a mobile phone, or where to find the gearbox on a Mercedes C-class could both improve the confidence (and safety) of drivers while also vastly improving the customer’s driving experience.
If it's too expensive to do this through staff (which I could understand), use technology. Most renters have smartphone's these days, so a very simple QR code in the car with some form of Wifi access can give them access to videos explaining everything before they turn the key (or hit the start button, or ... what ever it may be their car does).
BONUS: Actually, just sort out your customer experience
While they would address some of my personal pet peeves, I realise all the above are just incidentals in your customer-lifecycle. But I’m afraid they are indicative of an industry which is caught in orthodoxy and ripe for disruption.
It’s only a matter of time before the car industry figures out the rental value of all the unused cars on their lots or some Silicon Valley whizkid comes with a truly viable way of shaking up the industry.
Before that happens, you want to have an army of loyal customers who will not switch away. This means looking at every aspect of your rental experience and making sure it not just meets, but exceeds customer expectations.
Or get ready to move to another industry.
PS. I must be honest
I did have one handover experience in Croatia which ticked all the above boxes. I will not name the gentleman as he’s bound to get fired over it, but in addition to a personal handover and an introduction to the region he also told me where to get cheaper gas than that his company was selling.
Finally, he advised against taking the ridiculously priced GPS option, as all I needed to go to my destination was to follow the road outside the airport. To make sure I didn’t get lost, he gave me a map and even indicated the route to my hotel. Guess who’s cars I will rent again next time I’m in town?
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.