Monday, June 5, 2017

Let’s Make Flying Great Again!

In my last blog about the airline industry and its recent customer experience challenges, I talked about the possibility of Congress trying to legislate the industry.

The bottom line, from my perspective, is that you CANNOT regulate customer experience. It’s based on emotional connections and touchpoints between the customer and a brand. How can you possibly enforce legislation around that?

There is no denying that the relationship between airlines and passengers needs to change. Something is systematically broken and we need to fix it. We need to take a closer look at the dynamic between the customer and the carrier and make some tweaks.

Back in the day, air travel was something the elite did. People dressed for flights as if it was a special event. Flight attendants took etiquette classes. Now, flying has become a commodity. There has been a convergence between accessibility and affordability. More people are flying but there has been a noticeable shift in the relationship between travelers and airline staff.

Customers on airplanes don’t’ want to be treated like threats and airline employees don’t want to be enforcers (a dynamic that took over post 9/11).

I recently spoke at The World Aviation Training Conference and Tradeshow in Orlando, FL. As an advocate for customer experience AND as a consumer, I was thrilled. Why? Because the focus at these events is usually only about safety, but this year, I was invited to specifically speak about customer experience. And this wasn’t a reactive move either. It’s been booked for well over six months. That, my friends, means that the airline industry is aware that we have a situation that needs to be addressed.

I met people from all over the world who are passionate about creating a great customer experience. The silver lining is that in an industry shrouded by a string of unfortunate incidents, it’s comprised of people who want to get it right  - down to what the coffee cup they are handing a passenger looks like.

Government regulation is not the answer here; changing the dynamic is.

Both sides must have more empathy for the other. Passengers are stressed out, trying to get to a life event or work obligation, or traveling with young children in tow and freaked out about pissing other passengers off. Staff is concerned with following protocols, keeping everyone safe and operations running smoothly. It’s A LOT of pressure at every touchpoint at the airport, and in the air, at any given time. But, if we strive to build connections between the two sides – through kindness, compassion and an understanding for what the other is dealing with- it will inevitably change the air travel experience. There is a human being on the other side of you; the passenger and the employee are both someone’s child, mother, brother, father, son, best friend. If we can all remember that, we can change the dynamic and leave the channels of social media open for all of the important content being provided by the Kardashian klan.

Essentially, we need a new contract between carrier and passenger, and we need it now. The conversation needs to change and so does the paradigm between the traveler and the airline.

Let’s start there. Not with regulation that won’t make a difference and only heighten the tension that already exists. Let’s get back to the way it used to be done, in a sense…when air travel was a special event and both parties involved were on the same page – and on their best behavior. Let’s make flying great again!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Customer Experience Goes To Capitol Hill

(This is part two in a three-part series. See the first blog here)

Open any news source and you are bound to see another story about drama between a traveler and an airline. Ever since United Airlines “planegate”, the floodgates have opened and it seems there is one video-documented mishap after another. I mean, seriously, if there were a drinking game that had you taking a shot every time an airline was negatively highlighted on social media, we’d all be drunk.

In my last blog I talked about how the man being dragged off the United Airlines flight was horrific in itself, but United’s lackluster response and the onslaught of social media, to shine a spotlight (or maybe it’s a strobe light?) on the situation made it even worse.

New day = new video of a passenger experiencing a problem onboard a plane or at the gate. While United Airlines certainly bore the brunt, no airline is really safe. The customer experience related to flying is under a microscope right now and travelers everywhere are keeping a close eye out for the next flub. Who will it be? What will the incident be? It’s like waiting in great anticipation for the next episode of a miniseries.

And just when you thought the drama had hit its height, enter Congress. That’s right! At the beginning of the month, the airline industry got a stern talking to from Congress about the customer experience complaints that have been highlighted recently.

Not only are the airlines being publicly reprimanded, but some members of Congress even offered threats of regulations if they didn’t get their collective customer experience acts together.

Here’s the thing…you CANNOT regulate customer experience. I mean you can certainly institute regulations, but you can’t truly regulate an experience.

You can’t force employees to care, to be nice, to smile or to be authentic. You simply can’t mandate a great customer experience. But…what can be done (and needs to happen) is to change the mindset, the way employees think about the customer and how customers view employees. We must change the culture to be customer centric, then and only then will we begin to gain the trust of the customer and a true relationship can be forged.

So you see, company culture and therefore customer experience isn’t this “thing” that Congress can step in and regulate. It’s a living, breathing and intricately complicated entity that is constantly changing. To put legislation around it is impossible, because while you can regulate actions or behaviors, you can’t put guidelines around emotional connection. It’s like telling someone you are going to legislate their feelings, their soul. CX comes from the connection between people, at every touchpoint throughout the travel experience.

You can’t regulate things like compassion and understanding. So, in order for real change to happen, we need to look at customer experience in a whole new way. The customer experience can never and will never exceed your employee experience. What is your employees experience like?  What is the culture they are working in and is it one that will produce a customer experience that you can be proud of, one that you are comfortable having captured on social media?

If you still think customer experience isn’t a big deal, this should make you perk up. It’s such a big deal that it made it to Congress. Pay attention everyone…customer experience has officially arrived! The answer is NOT government regulation; it’s changing the narrative between employees and customers and in many cases, that may mean changing the paradigm between business and their employees. And I’m going to dig deep and lay out that paradigm in the third and last blog in this series…stay tuned!

As always, I love a good convo, so feel free to chime in and tweet me @gmagenta.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

United We Do NOT Stand…Without an Apology

Just like anyone with a pulse and Internet access, I have been closely following the United Airlines saga. No, not the leggings fiasco. Nope, not the scorpion falling out of the overhead compartment. You know, the one where security physically and forcibly dragged a passenger out of his seat and off the plane…yep, that one!

Stop. Just stop.          

Yes it happened and it’s horrific. There are no excuses for it. I’ve been nudged by many who know me, asking why I haven’t written about the most widely talked about customer experience debacle and given my two cents. The answer is simple. I have been waiting for the dust to settle (which is near impossible with social media). I wanted to be able to separate emotion from fact and come from a place of clarity and understanding when I discuss the situation. Social media amplified a seriously bad move and the images are playing in a continuous loop everywhere, which had us all lathered up. When you watch that video, your emotional response is triggered immediately and that man becomes all of us.  I wanted some time and distance to gain some perspective before offering my thoughts and now I am ready to discuss what I see as the real issue.

The real issue was not the incident itself, it is the incredibly poor job United did in the recovery. United Airlines blew it. Plain and simple. Their actions and response following the debacle is as bad, if not worse than the incident itself. They had a chance to own it, show empathy, remorse, apologize and ask for forgiveness to win over the hearts and minds of that poor passenger and the rest of us, and they failed.

Don’t kid yourself and think this is an isolated occurrence either. All of our businesses make mistakes in how we handle certain customer situations every day. From being served the wrong cup of coffee to being forcibly removed from an airplane seat, sh*t happens. We disappoint, irritate and even alienate customers on a regular basis. However, when we take responsibility and show that we are willing to do what it takes to make it right, THAT makes the difference between the public embracing you or vilifying you.

United Airlines did more damage in their “recovery” instead of SHOWING the appropriate emotions and TAKING actions that would gain back customer loyalty. The way I see it is that the recovery, or the lack of an adequate recovery, speaks to an obvious absence of a customer-first culture at United. If United is explaining away the forcible removal of the passenger by assigning blame to the non-United security team, what is their excuse for their poor recovery? They are not focused on the customer first, they are focused on United’s policies, procedures and protocols first, and that has now put them last.

If you get ahead of mistakes in the right way, which is quickly and with a clear and genuine admission of wrongdoing, you have a much better chance at a positive rebound. You need to show empathy and transparency, not release a fluffy statement filled with buzzwords and jargon.

Historically, any public figure or company guilty of a blunder is usually forgiven (cough cough, even Charlie Sheen).

United failed to put themselves in the seat of their customer and instead went into full-fledged defensive mode. And that’s why they lost and continue to lose the support of the public. You know what defense mode does? It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

As I was thinking about this whole cluster, I saw the Jimmy Kimmel clip and momentarily thought I wouldn’t even write about this because he NAILED it. If you haven’t watched it, you should! As a matter of fact, as a brand, when you find yourself in these disasters, perhaps you should ask the poignant question – WWJD – What Would Jimmy Do?

I also found myself asking what would I do in this scenario…as the passenger? As a fellow passenger? And even as United’s CEO? I can tell you right now, that if I were CEO, I would have scrapped that ridiculous letter, that was likely written for him, and instead driven to that passenger’s house myself to offer a heartfelt and personal apology and find out what could be done. Instead we will all get to see how this case plays out in the courts.

Unfortunately, United Airlines has set a new standard in what NOT to do in a bad situation and likely sealed their fate in the world of CX perception. Just because this didn’t have a happy ending doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton to learn.

What would YOU have done differently? Anything aside from what I’ve put out there? Tweet me at @gmagenta

Monday, December 19, 2016

How Microtouchpoints Can Elevate the Customer Experience

In a recent blog about technology-enabled customer experiences, I introduced the concept of the “microtouchpoint” and its importance on delivering a great customer experience in a technology-enabled world. Think for a moment about all of the interactions you have in daily life – at retail, at restaurants, while traveling, etc. that incorporate high-tech elements.

At hotels we have electronic keycards tied to an app.
At airports we have self-serve kiosks to access our boarding passes.
At restaurants we can order and/or even pay the bill via tablet.

All of these technological advancements can make you feel like we have officially moved passed the imaginary technology that captured our imagination in the original Star Trek series or the Jetsons cartoon!.

My story about Starbucks in that blog is a perfect example. I now order everything from the app on my phone and simply pick up my completed order, but still have microtouchpoints that build my relationship with the baristas at my local spot.

Recently I was traveling for business (I know, shocking) in San Diego and was looking for a spot to grab dinner. I hopped in an Uber (chalk that whole model up to a pretty spectacular tech-enabled customer experience too, btdubs) from the airport headed to the area I would be staying, which was a very industrial office park. Wanting something in walking distance wasn’t going to leave me with a ton of options, but I happened upon one of those conveyer belt sushi joints.

A host greeted me warmly and walked me a short five feet to my seat (microtouchpoint 1 = 20 seconds). Then I was asked, by a bus boy, for my drink order (microtouchpoint 2 = 5 seconds). For those of you who have not experienced this dining trend yet, you basically sit at a sushi bar with conveyor belts moving in front of you carrying every different variety of sushi. You simply pull the plates you want off the belt. When you finish you insert the plate in a slot in front of you and it calculates your total based on the number of plates you deposit. This particular restaurant had two belts – one for the standard menu items and one for custom orders that would stop right in front of you. An iPad was affixed to each station allowing you to order. Pretty much everything was automated, from ordering, to plate removal, to paying my bill. In addition to the first two human interactions mentioned above, there was one more and it was my drink refill (microtouchpoint 3=10 seconds). An entire meal (and I was lingering awhile – over an hour) with less than a minute of human service combined, and all were seamless and pleasant.

Then there was one last, but meaningful, microtouchpoint. An employee saw that I was about to order a soft serve ice cream for dessert on the iPad and in one swift move, whispered a recommendation for a frozen tea dessert instead in the same area. I checked out sans dessert and took his advice. It was packed when I got there and amazing! I spent my time at the restaurant catching up with my older son by phone and still had a great customer experience made up from microtouchpoints that not only provided me with the service I wanted and needed, but also gave me a great local dessert recommendation.  My only question was trying to figure out how does one tip with this minimal about of service.  What do you think?

Another recent example of technology changing the customer experience in the hospitality industry, is at hotels. As a matter of fact, several companies have made it possible for you to check-in and access your key , allowing you to skip the whole old-school check-in process, and instead head straight to your room.  The unintended impact is a shift away from the guest and employee creating a personal connecting during check-in. 

This inherently changes the roles of staff at hotels. The front desk employee will of course still be there, and happy to help. However,  I now see a bigger role for the folks who used to be seen as much more peripheral – like the bellman and housekeeping. You may have more contact and engage with these roles for a greater length of time than you do with a front desk person. A hello in the hallway from a housekeeper might become your only human touchpoint in a hotel stay.  This creates a heightened need to truly understand and define the microtouchpoints. and maybe equally as important to think about, how it impacts hiring decisions for these roles. If the people on the periphery are not our key touchpoints, do we have to change who we are hiring and why? What we pay them? How we train these employees? It’s the same thing that happened with the person who sat me and refilled my water at the sushi restaurant. There was no waiter. But my engagement was at least as strong with someone refilling my water because he took the opportunity to engage via a microtouchpoint!

The roles that used to exist in the background, are very much evolving with the microtouchpoint model. In a way, each one of these roles – from busboy to housekeeper – are now wearing a chief engagement officer hat, aren’t they?

Businesses are moving toward tech-enabled experiences that are helping people move past the mundane, transactional stuff more quickly and spend more time in the heart of the customer experience. The under-a-minute microtouchpoints are very much a new and unique opportunity to engage customers and enhance their experiences.

One last story that relates to this. Recently a friend was with her young daughter at Disney World in Orlando. Now, it’s no secret that Disney hires very uniquely. We know, for example, that they refer to their staff (all of them) as cast members. Everyone from the parking ticket attendant, to the custodial staff, to Cinderella, has the same cheery disposition and will tell you to have a “magical day” and mean it!

On this trip, my friend was sitting outside at one of the restaurants in Tomorrowland as a man walked up to sweep up some trash. Simultaneously, a little girl walked out of the restaurant in full Elsa garb and wearing an “It’s my birthday” sash. Without missing a beat, the man stopped sweeping and used a tool he had on him that had a piece of chalk at the end, to draw a 15-second picture of Mickey Mouse with a Happy Birthday message right in front of her. It was so slick and subtle but an incredibly amazing example of a microtouchpoint that certainly impacted that little girl’s (and her parents’) experience. He saw her birthday sash as a cue, and sprung into action to do something that had been ingrained into him somehow through Disney. Happiest place on earth indeed!

Here’s the net net of the whole thing. You can absolutely enhance the customer experience with technology, as long as you maximize the microtouchpoints.
And now more than ever, they are  coming to life through unexpected people. It changes the perspective about who you hire for these roles. People who used to blend into the woodwork are now your primary touchpoint, and people who used to be primary have a reduced role but they still need to make it count. So how do you accomplish that?


Your front line employees need to make the experience  personal, like the dessert recommendation from the busboy and the impromptu street art from the sweeper at Disney. The possibilities are there and they are endless and it’s up to you to help  your people make each interaction count, no matter how small. Engage them in how important they are to the customer’s experience and how they can elevate the customer experience by making it magical… one micro experience at a time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Canned Customer Experience

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know that I have started a grassroots campaign to help businesses see the impact their CX is having on their customers and their loyalty.  I am both professionally (as a customer experience expert) and personally (as a savvy consumer) invested in helping companies everywhere understand the need to be at the top of their game in terms of customer experience, if they are going to win and retain the hearts and minds of their most important asset, their loyal customers.

There’s no shortage of promises, proclamations and CX strategy prototypes created by leaders, all with great intentions to deliver great CX to the customer while positively impacting business results. It looks and sounds great…on paper but what’s really happening in the trenches? Does the CX actually match what you make it out to be in promise-filled presentation decks? How about service recovery? Inevitably the CX will breakdown at some point and recovery is key to saving and even clinching a customer’s loyalty. In fact, a customer who has had a problem that is resolved to their satisfaction is actually more likely to become loyal than one that has had no problem at all.  How about that?

Here’s what I am noticing, and it’s NOT great news in the world of service recovery.

After I shared my poor experiences with Brooks Brothers and Hertz, there was a glaring commonality in the communication I received initially from both companies. Almost immediately after I shared my blog, tagging these companies on Twitter, I received a response. Both companies asked me direct message them with more information. A fair enough request, and so I did. But what happened from there involved a series of canned responses that put more work on me - the customer - and the person who already feels burdened with a bad experience. Whether it was to provide further details, answer a series of “due diligence” questions, or fill out a questionnaire/survey, I was putting in more effort than I really wanted to without understanding where it was all leading. It wasn’t really until I pushed back in both situations, that the conversation was elevated to a more senior position. That’s when the real conversations started and that’s where my service recovery differed dramatically. Hertz really stepped up, and through a series of personal emails and even a phone call, they cleared up any discrepancies, but more importantly, they listened and heard what I had to say and responded through actions and sentiment that let me know they wanted the chance to earn my loyalty again.

Listen, I understand there has to be some sort of vetting process when complaints are lodged through social channels. However, I fear that these “canned” responses are becoming a dangerous standard for companies who see them as enough to suffice for a strong CX. It’s NOT! You wouldn’t tell a disgruntled customer standing in front of you to fill out a form, would you? You would talk to them, listen and resolve their issue quickly and with care.  Consumers are living, breathing individuals whose wallets and hearts are inextricably linked, and the CX and service recovery experience needs to be personalized too.  A personal email or an individualized text or phone call goes a long way.
Sorry Brooks Brothers, as I write this blog on a short plane flight, I am typing it in a new blue and white checked dress shirt, tie and slacks from…yes, Men’s Wearhouse. However, I will be hanging my sports coat from the hook in the back seat of my Hertz rental car because I am giving them another chance based on their service recovery yet I have not visited your stores in months, and since I am in a suit and tie 5-6 days a week and hope to be working for the next 20 years…well, you do the math.

Let’s kick it up a notch and get away from the canned customer experience mentality. Agree or disagree? Tweet me @GMagenta or email me at and tell me what you think!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Technology is Enhancing the Personal Connection with Your Customer, NOT Killing it!

As I rang in my birthday a couple weeks ago, the CRM-churned emails and text messages began rolling in. One by one my inbox and phone were flooded with birthday wishes from my doctor, car dealerships,  investment houses and others I do personal business with.

Do I appreciate the sentiment? Of course! However, I’d be lying if I said that the “Happy Birthdays” surrounded my flickering candled animations felt flat and mechanical. And it’s not just from business-related sources. Even the e-card from my own mother seemed to lack that warm and fuzziness that comes with opening a handwritten birthday card with a perfectly placed stamp.

However, the issue here really is not the technology-driven wishes versus the handwritten ones. It’s about the lack of personalization. Without that personal connection, how can you possibly forge a relationship…right?

In the midst of pondering this challenge, my cell phone rang and my wife answered it. It was Dave from Volkswagen of Naples, FL calling to wish me a happy birthday. As a matter of fact, he has called every year for the last three years on my birthday. The birthday wishes are peppered with questions about the weather in Chicago, what I’m doing for my birthday, is everything okay with the car I had bought for my wife, when are we back in Florida for season. He asks all the right questions to maintain and further our personal connection. And you know what? He still used a CRM system to even remember my birthday and prompt the call,  but where he changes the game is by adding personalization. In addition to the conversation with me, he also took the time to have a conversation with my wife to alleviate her concerns about a recent recall, assuring her that it did not impact her beloved Beetle convertible.

Now, I know you must be thinking, ‘well of course you have a personal relationship with him because you bought a car from him after sitting in painful and obligatory negotiations and mounds of paperwork’. That’s not accurate. I actually bought the car online from the dealership and we only met when I picked up the keys. However, he has made a point to contact me over the years, and every touch point  is packed with personal moments that have actually built the relationship that was not established during the sales process. I essentially avoided everything I hate about purchasing a car but I still got the personal experience necessary to feel like a valued customer.

This is one of many experiences that reinforces for me that it’s not technology that’s killing the customer experience, it can actually enhance it. You see, in the case of the car purchase, the drudgery of the face-to-face purchasing experience was eliminated, along with any potentially negative sentiment I might have had, and the subsequent interactions I have had with my VW representative have all been to support the purchase that I made online.

And it’s not just the big purchases where there is a chance to build relationships that transition from online to personal. Every Saturday morning, after a long bike ride, I place an order through my Starbucks app to get my wife, Angela, her London Fog Latte, extra hot, no foam, with coconut milk.

From there, this is how it usually goes as I walk into Starbucks in full biking gear.

“Angela?”, yells the barista.

“That’s me!”, I say

“Where did you ride today?”

When I tell him, he keeps the conversation going, telling me he loves the food in that neighborhood and makes some suggestions. On my next visit, I tell him I went back and tried the carnitas. He showed genuine excitement and interest asking if I went to Don Pepe’s because it’s his favorite!

What happens between us during every trip to pick up my wife’s coffee, is what I call a microconnection. These 20-second interactions, all based on a personal connection formed because the barista was able to make a connection with me based on me wearing a bike helmet. He picked up on a simple cue and made it into a personal connection, which over time feels like a relationship….a relationship built on a series of 20-second interactions.  
Not only does online technology NOT hamper the personal connections necessary to good customer experience, but it can actually help you bypass the transaction and focus on the relationship!

Don’t let the influx of kiosks and self-service checkouts make you feel like you can’t personalize the customer experience. Instead, let it strengthen the customer’s independence and then use the extra time with them to work on building your relationship.

Rest assured that technology isn’t the culprit to failed customer experiences. In reality, it gives you more time and opportunity to forge the relationship, so USE IT!

Monday, November 7, 2016

What I Learned About Customer Experience From The World Series

In my 53 years on earth, I’ve never been a sports fan. I don’t play anything, don’t watch anything, and don’t have steadfast loyalties to any league, jersey number or team.

But, I found myself in an interesting situation this past week while in Columbus, Ohio for a 3-day conference and wound up at game 7 of the World Series. That’s right! A colleague who I work with in Root’s Chicago office convinced me to make the road trip to Cleveland to see our hometown team play because even without being a diehard baseball fan, this was sure to be a once in a lifetime experience. Well…since I am ALL about experience, my interest was piqued; we spent an unreasonable amount of money to secure tickets through Stub Hub and headed to Cleveland.

At the risk of sounding cliché, from the moment we arrived there was magic brewing. There was palpable excitement in the air coupled with the nostalgic smell of hot dogs, and roasted peanuts being peddled throughout the stadium. The stadium was buzzing with passion oozing from loyal fans of both teams wearing their team’s colors at every turn. Pete Rose was commentating from his box and Bill Murray and Charlie Sheen were there as celebrity representatives of each side.

Masses of people set out to find their seats and settle in to witness a little piece of history. The hour and a half chunk of time of our early arrival flew by in the blink of an eye as I took in every sight, sound and smell in that stadium. Once friends, family and colleagues learned I was at the game, my phone was blowing up with text messages.

“You are at the game?!?!”

“You are part of something really big right now!”

“You are literally witnessing history!”

My colleague and I sat in our seats, in full business attire, having impulsively come straight from a conference, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of jerseys, logoed shirts and hats and even painted faces. But still I didn’t feel out of place. As a matter of fact, fans from both teams welcomed us into this special  community with open arms. I was part of this little club now that I barely knew existed.

And every text message and comment from my friends and the crowd was spot on. I witnessed freaking history. Sports fan or not, it was impossible NOT to get caught up in the energy and excitement of what I was watching.

That’s when I realized something – all of this was not about the “game”, it was about the experience. It was about everything that experience represented – the fans, the food, the celebrity. It was about a moment in time where you feel like you are part of something big. And it was about the support, engagement and camaraderie of the community of people sharing this moment in time with one another. I left the game vowing to be loyal to the Cubs forever and to go to as many of their games as I can next season, I have found myself researching the team and the players, learning their names and their history. I had fallen in love!

All of this was making my wheels spin. My work is based around customer experience and I just had one of the most unforgettable ones of my life. So, in my mind, I knew there was a parallel to be drawn regarding business.

And here’s what I came up with. It’s not just about the product or service being sold. Yes, I bought tickets to watch a baseball game, a game between the Cubs and the Indians, but that’s not what it’s all about. The World Series game was the product I bought but what has made me loyal, what will keep me coming back, was the overall experience. For heaven’s sake, I’m still not sure about all of the rules of the game yet or the names of the players.

So, think about that and what your company is doing to create an overall experience that captures the hearts and minds of your new customers, your first timers who may be skeptics or even indifferent to your product or service. What is the experience that you can offer that has them committing to coming back, to learn more about your organization and to want to be part of it.

And huge congrats to the Cubs! It was more than worth getting back at 3 am and having to be up a few hours later because it’s an experience I will never forget!