Will you take American Express?

I found this little snippet that arose a couple of months ago and thought it was pretty astounding, in a really positive transforming kind of way.

Most large organisations see customer care as a cost. Lets say that again slowly. Most..large..organisations..see..customer..care..as..a.. cost..

Well we believe a little differently to most large organisations, we believe that is it is impossible(apple withstanding) to develop outstanding customer experiences without intimately understanding your customers and the way you do that is by getting up close and personal, not getting them off the phone in 93 seconds.

Hats off to Amex and if only they stop calling me and being faux friendly, I will start loving them again. For now, I am professionally impressed.

In late 2008 Jim Bush, head of worldwide service at American Express, led this charge to again reinvent the company’s approach to customer service. Bush rolled out a three-pillar enterprise strategy called Relationship Care to facilitate this transformation. “The way we look at the service environment is the number of interactions we have with each customer every year—it’s hundreds of millions…. Historically companies view that as a cost…we said, ‘Let’s make that into an opportunity to build relationships with customers,'” he says.
The strategy centers on cultivating a personal connection with each customer when they contact the company. This meant hiring employees from industries like hospitality and sales who can bring real customer savvy, and investing in new technology that can empower American Express’ customer care professionals to increase their knowledgeable recommendations to customers. “We said…let’s leverage [the customer care center] as a means of reinforcing product features and services and deepening relationships with customers,” he says.

Originally sourced from Customers_Shoes: The three pillars of Relationship Care  the AMEX way  and what has made AMEX the most highly rated credit card provider.

For more information on how to get closer to your customers, drop by http://www.protopartners.com.au or call Damian Kernahan for some great insight into the value of Service Design.

Are you engaging your employees to deliver the right customer experience?

I liked Tamsin Smith’s comment about Service Designers being like Magpies, (and I am paraphrasing here here) picking up pieces here and pieces there to form a robust and workable service design methodology. Hearing that almost 10 months ago at her presentation at the Service Design Conference, I felt, our behaviour here at Proto Partners in pioneering Service Design Thinking and Execution in Australia was well justified.

And so following is an article from the the UK and from Gap Gemini Consulting about the importance of engaging employees to deliver sustainable customer improvements. It’s great to source quality ideas from anyone who shares our belief that when everyone understands how customers think and feel, they are in a much better position to deliver what customers are looking for.

The ex CEO of IBM a decade ago said that business success  was all about execution and he was 100% right….and your employees are the key to brilliant execution.

We employ Discovery and Design as our first two phases for any client and that may be the more fun part for a lot of people, but the money part, the part clients really pay for is the Development and Delivery components. The part where we help our clients start really making money from engaging us. For us at proto partners, that is really the fun part and not surprisingly for our clients too.

Robert Heard writes about the critical role of employees in delivering positive customer experience.
Are companies setting themselves up to fail with extravagant advertising laced with aspirational claims and imagery? How many times have we all been induced by powerful marketing claims by companies, but when it actually comes to purchasing or consuming their product or service the whole experience is something of a let down and certainly not “as seen on TV”.

Unfortunately it is an all too common situation across much of the retail and service sectors. We all know of companies who fall short on the promises that their brand, implicitly or explicitly, makes to customers. Boasting a newer, shinier, better experience, they continue to repeat the same old mistakes, with inconsistent service, poor information, under resourced or under trained staff, and no surprise we get the same old excuses and outcomes.

So how can companies better deliver what they promise in times when customer expectations are so high?

The optimal customer experience recognises the simple fact that customers have needs and they want these fulfilled with the minimum of fuss. They want to receive a consistent experience that satisfies their expectations across all the channels through which they interact with you, from the shop floor, to contact centre, to the website and for this to continue even after they have made a purchase.
When this occurs, a state of congruence exists in the customers minds with what they were told would happen (through various marketing messages) and what they physically experienced.

In this joined up thinking a key component of the equation is so often overlooked, the role that employees play is the crucial. Operating at the sharp end, in other words, the customer-facing part of the business, employees are a critical yet under-emphasised element in delivering the positive customer experience necessary to build a strong brand.

Countless studies show that employees have the biggest influence over whether a customer interaction is a positive or negative experience. The behaviours and emotional intelligence of employees at these key moments of truth is crucial. Organisations must therefore take steps to ensure their employees are engaged with the vision and values of the organisation and capable of delivering the right customer experience each and every time.

The alignment of brand values and culture is a significant part of designing an end-to-end Customer Experience. Ask yourself, are my employees “bought in to” what the company is trying to achieve? Have they got the right tools for the job, are we rewarding employees for customer service, for truly “living the brand”, do employees know what is expected of them and their role in delivering the customer experience? If the answer is yes, then your organisation is definitely on the right path to implementing an integrated customer and brand strategy.

If we look at the brands lauded for their success, Virgin, American Express, First Direct, Marks & Spencer, what do they have in common? At the heart of their business is a real commitment to the customer, the experience is celebrated as more than just a transaction and employees are integral to delivering a congruent Customer Experience. The process of interaction is carefully managed, employees understand their role in the process and what the branded customer experience is designed to be and because of this comes a visceral connection between customer and company which in its self is the essence of the desired brand and corporate strategy.

Today to become a successful brand you have to embed “the right customer experience” in every aspect of the business design. Once you have achieved a fully integrated approach that addresses values and culture, processes and customer communications then your brand will become a powerful tool for achieving sustainable competitive advantage.

Building a Better Bank – designing a new service with the customer in mind

I saw this article in Business Week recently and thought it was a great combination of service design thinking and commercial rigour. Take something which usually is a poor service experience and think about doing it differently, putting the customer at the centre. It shows that they started with the category truth and determined what antidote was, the Single Organising Idea to solve the category problem.

Fed up with poor service at traditional banks, Josh Reich is building BankSimple—an alternative with “the agility and mindset of a tech company”

By Ira Boudway

Click here to find out more!

Ask Josh Reich about banks, and he’s quick to tell you they “suck.” Traditional banks, Reich says, have become giant tangles of computer systems that can’t talk to each other and can scarcely keep track of their customers. So the 32-year-old developed what he calls BankSimple, an alternative bank with “the agility and mindset of a tech company.”

Reich, a former equity researcher at a New York investment fund, last year co-founded BankSimple with former McKinsey consultant Shamir Karkal, a fellow graduate of Carnegie Mellon business school. Though the pair have spent almost nothing on marketing and haven’t started providing service, BankSimple has generated enough buzz online that thousands of people have already signed up. This fall, Reich plans to begin serving an initial 10,000 customers.

The Internet-only bank will have no branches. Members will get a single card that functions as a debit card but is also linked to a small credit line. When they have a positive balance, Reich says, they earn interest at “above average” rates. If it’s negative, they pay interest but will face no overdraft fees. Customers can get cash from 50,000 ATMs in small banks, stores, and fast-food outlets across the U.S.

In May, Reich hired Twitter Web engineer Alex Payne to build BankSimple’s site. Through it, customers will be able to set financial goals. “If you tell us, ‘I’d like to save $5,000 by this particular day,'” says Reich, “we can say, ‘the best way to get to that is by putting some money in a high-yield savings account and setting up a laddering of CDs.’ You click ‘yes,’ and it automatically gets set up.” Since BankSimple doesn’t have a banking charter, the money will be held at FDIC-insured partners, mainly nonretail institutions that manage money held on gift cards and flexible spending accounts.

Reich plans to limit membership to smartphone users, though they will also be able to access their account online. The idea is to provide a bank experience more akin to Twitter than to Chase (JPM), with a notification system for debit transactions. After every swipe of a BankSimple card, a message will pop up on the customer’s phone showing the amount charged and the balance—which serves both as a record-keeping tool and an instant fraud alert.

While others such as SmartyPig and ING offer similar online services, BankSimple’s card notification technology is unique, says Jim Bruene, editor of Online Banking Report. Customers, though, may be leery of giving their money to a company without a charter. BankSimple “will have a huge hurdle in trust,” he says. “Any new brand has to overcome that, but in financial services it’s an order of magnitude higher.” Still, the current backlash against Wall Street and the tarnished reputation of big banks have created an opening. “They’ve got a great name and great positioning for the times,” Bruene says. “I think they’ve got a good shot.”


“BankSimple isn’t a bank because banks suck”


A former researcher at a New York investment fund


A card that alerts your smartphone when you make a purchase