Customer Experience Heroes and Villains: sourdough and sour commuters
Image: Nigel Thompson, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Customer Experience Heroes and Villains: sourdough and sour commuters

Don Hales finds that attention to detail is the key to a great customer experience, but gets frustrated at the railways’ continuing contempt for customers

Hero: Marks & Spencer

My Professional Speaking Association pal, business coach and occasional contributor to The Next Ten Years, Claire Boyles submits this story:

“I’ve just had a brilliant customer experience, I was on the search for sourdough bread locally.  Unfortunately, not all sourdough breads are equal, many of them are sourdough in name, but also have added ingredients such as yeast.  The wheat and added ingredients in normal breads leave me looking 6 months pregnant and give me a variety of unpleasant digestive symptoms!  Genuine sourdough is made using a slow fermentation process which means that my body can cope with digesting it, yay!

“This morning I ended up on a trail which included 6 different shops, I asked about the ingredients in the shops which had sourdough loaves, none of them were the real deal.  Then I went into Marks and Spencer and the baker noticed I was looking for something on the shelves.  She was able to tell me that the (genuine) sourdough was in the oven and would be ready in ten minutes.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to wait ten minutes, but I really, really fancied avocado on sourdough toast!  So, I came back 10 minutes later for it.

“The baker recognised me, greeted me with a friendly smile and we got chatting about what sourdough actually means.   She was proud to tell me that the sourdough they made was genuine sourdough from the ‘starter’ which was 27 years old!

“Patricia is originally from Galway and she told me stories of being a teenager working in the local baker and the baker sharing with her the sourdough process.  As a teenager it wasn’t really that interesting to her, but now she’s fascinated by the process and quality of bread that comes from sourdough.

“She was proud of her job, had brilliant knowledge of the different breads she made, cared about quality and clearly cared about me as a customer.

“Patricia the baker is a genuinely lovely person and Marks and Spencer’s should be extremely proud to have Patricia as one of their team.”

Thanks to Claire for sharing this story.  Once again, we see an example of an individual staff member, taking time to provide a great customer experience.

Villain: the train, again

Today “The Railways” – tomorrow, the Utilities and on and on….

To be honest, as someone who has been part of the CS/CX movement for over 21 years (and in personal actions, for years before this), I am disgusted at how bad the situation is in UK right now.

Whilst waiting for the next “Heroes” story to come in, I seem to stockpile around 40 to 50 “Villain” stories. Mostly, these reflect short-term, short sighted managements, looking for quick profits without regard to customers and certainly not providing a great experience and building long-term relationships.

The Railways are an obvious target but the provide so much ammunition.  Recently a report showed that complaints of overcrowding and late trains combined, have risen.  Fares rise above inflation and trying to ascertain the best price for long and complicated journeys is just about impossible.

Total chaos

For some months they have been warning us of major revisions to the time-table to improve the service.  Despite months of planning and large posters showing smug rail staff, confidently assuring us that all will be well, the day – and indeed, week – of the introduction of the new time-tables was total chaos.  Trains were cancelled (at my station, they cancelled three suitable consecutive trains but put in an extra one that was not going to stop at my destination.  Additionally, it emerges that they were selling advance tickets for journeys that would not be taking place, due to the forthcoming changes,

Whilst waiting at the station for delayed trains, I was forced to listen to the inane message “see it, say it, sorted” but real information was scarce.

I was pleased to hear that frustrated passenger, Seph Pochin, finally got paid after taking rail operator Greater Anglia to court. Seph successfully took action against the rail operator for 183 delays, totalling 28 hours in a year and was awarded £350 in a County Court. Seems like Greater Anglia were so used to delays that they stalled on paying up, leading to them being threatened with bailiffs before they acted. Extreme measures perhaps, but sadly necessary until the railway companies raise their game.

Don Hales

Having successfully built two major businesses using great customer service as his USP (long before it was fashionable), Don launched the National Customer Service Awards in 1998. Right from the start this event attracted over 1600 diners to the award event each year and Don started to use the stories as best practice examples to fuel his live presentations. Today as Chairman of Awards International – a leading awards company, operating in several countries and International Advisor to the Customer Experience Foundation, he remains an in-demand speaker on an international basis. He is joint author (with Derek Williams) of “Wow! That’s What I Call Service” and welcomes contributions to his “Customer Experience Heroes & Villains” series of articles. Now in his mid-70s, Don retains his enthusiasm and belief in the benefits of great service as a key business differentiator.