Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare: How United’s Culture Failed Its Customers

You’re at home when your phone rings. It’s your child’s summer camp calling to tell you that she never arrived. No one knows where she is.

Make your gut churn? Yes, if you’re a parent — or even if you’re not.

If you were following the news last week, you know that Annie and Perry Klebahn did get that phone call. That’s when they found out that their 10-year-old daughter Phoebe hadn’t gotten off a United Airlines flight to Traverse City, Michigan.  

Here are the highlights of what happened.

Phoebe had been traveling alone. Her parents had paid United a $99 fee for the “unaccompanied minor” service and had every reason to believe that their daughter was in good hands. According to the complaint letter that her parents wrote to United, when they dropped Phoebe off at the San Francisco airport, a United employee put an identifying wristband on her and told her to “only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times.” But when Phoebe arrived in Chicago to change planes, no one met her. The little girl reportedly asked flight attendants three times to let her use a phone to call her parents, and they told her to wait. She also asked if someone had called camp to tell them she had missed her flight, and they said they’d take care of it (but then didn’t).

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Patient Experience: Personal, Emotional, And Critical

Last week my son, Alex, had reconstructive surgery to repair his torn ACL (the ligament that holds the inside of a knee together).

He’s 11 years old.

I have to admit that this procedure worried me like hell for all sorts of irrational reasons. Sure, things could have gone wrong. But the surgeon who operated on my son literally invented this type of surgery, which is only used on children and pre-adolescents who are still growing. Plus we had the procedure donev at Boston Children’s Hospital, which topped the U.S. News & World Report honor roll of best children’s hospitals.

All that gave the left part of my brain comfort, even as the right part of my brain tried its hardest to give me high blood pressure. Fortunately, the operation was an unqualified success, and as I write this, we are three days into the recovery period, which is also going well.

Now normally I wouldn’t blog about something this personal. But throughout the process, Alex — who knows what I do for a living — kept telling me that he was having a great experience and that I should write about it.

Frankly, I was quite curious as to why Alex thought — and forgive me for being graphic — that getting his leg opened up and put back together with a bunch of new parts was “a great experience.” So I asked him.

Harley: You’ve said a number of times that you had a great experience at Boston Children’s Hospital. From your point of view, what made it a great experience?

Alex: Everyone was really nice to me. And they did a great job at keeping my pain level down.

Harley: Were you scared?

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Designing A Great Customer Experience In The Age Of Irrational Customers

Recently we’ve seen a lot of interest in the emotional aspects of customer experience by some of the smartest practitioners we know — chief customer officers. There’s a reason for this. Recent advances in the behavioral sciences now give us a better understanding of how people make decisions, experience pain and pleasure, and recall their experiences.

Maybe you’ve read about some of these studies in books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, or Switch by the Heath brothers. If you have, then you picked up on the fact that we now know our customers to be inherently irrational, making most of their daily decisions without any particular logic.

For example, we know that people experience the pain of loss more acutely than they feel the pleasure of gain. That’s the reason why people dump shares of well-run mutual funds when the economy turns down, irrationally converting their paper losses to real losses. It’s also why it’s easier to lose a customer than to gain one — people are less likely to forgive you when you inflict pain on them (got the order wrong, didn’t resolve the problem) than they are to love you for satisfying them.

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Video Highlights From Forrester's Customer Experience Forum East

Thanks to everyone who made our customer experience event a success! That includes both our many industry speakers as well as our terrific, highly engaged audience and sponsors. You rock!

On June 26th to 27th, we had just under 1,400 people at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. That was up slightly from last year, even though we're offering a second customer experience forum in November in Los Angeles as an alternative (we've pretty much reached capacity at the Marriott). The packed house was a tribute to just how many companies have woken up to the importance of customer experience (CX) as a way of doing business. Personally, I love the positive energy that comes from being around so many people who care about CX.

Our production team just finished editing the video highlights of our main-stage speakers from the event and collecting them on a single page for your viewing pleasure. You'll notice that all of the speeches were themed around Forrester's upcoming book about customer experience, Outside In, which will be available to the general public on August 28th. Forum attendees didn't have to wait until August, though, because we gave them a free digital copy of the uncorrected proof at the event. (With an uncorrected proof, you get a bonus: typos and formatting errors!)

So for all of you who attended, here's a reminder of what we saw. And for those who didn't attend, I hope these videos convey some of the energy and insight that we felt in New York. Enjoy!

Healthcare, The Supreme Court, And Customer Experience: What It Means

The Supreme Court decision upholding virtually all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA “Obamacare”) shifted a balance for customer experience professionals in the healthcare industry. Now they — and the executives they report up to — know that it’s more risky to do nothing than to respond by taking action.

Keeping in mind that “the healthcare industry” is really three industries, here are some of the most important actions that healthcare organizations will need to take.

Health Insurance Providers (Payers)

As we point out in our upcoming book, Outside In, the health insurance industry has owned the cellar of our Customer Experience Index (CXi) since we began that study five years ago. The main reason for its dismal performance is that the CXi is a consumer study, and for health insurance providers, the customer has not been a consumer but a business — or more accurately, a person at a business, like a benefits manager.

The result was that payers didn’t need to focus much on the end users of their products — consumers — so most of them didn’t. But starting in 2014, a greater percentage of their business will come from consumers. That will drive health insurance providers to better understand consumers so they can attract and retain the healthiest ones, who are the most profitable. Payers will also want to get consumers to change their behavior as a way to keep costs down. For example, they’ll want them to opt for generic drugs and to take better care of themselves. But none of that will happen unless the health insurers build a trusting relationship by providing a far better experience than they have to date.

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Banks Make It Clear: We’re Sticking It To You With Fees

An article in Boston.com highlighted the fact that many big banks still don’t understand what customer experience is or why it’s the biggest single driver of business success for most companies.  

Apparently Citigroup is about to join a “growing number of banks and credit unions” that have adopted some version of a one-page disclosure form. That form makes it easier for customers to see and understand fees.

Now don’t get me wrong: Making it easier to understand fees is a step forward. After all, ease of doing business is the second level of the customer experience pyramid and only slightly less important than meeting customer needs.

What has me shaking my head is the next part of the article. It says that these new summary pages come in response to complaints about rising fees, including fees that few customers knew about in the first place, like a fee for getting a paper statement and — my personal favorite — a fee for closing an account.   

A fee for closing an account? Really? I may be old-fashioned, but I’m used to paying people to perform a service for me, not paying them to stop performing a service for me.

Here’s why the whole “fee transparency” thing misses the point: Your bank really, really wants you to open more fee-generating accounts with it. When you add a savings account or CD to your checking account, or take out an auto loan or a home equity loan, you ring its cash register.

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Unexpected Musical Fun: "Outside In" The Song Rocks Day Two Of Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum

I’m still digging out from all the things that I put off until after last week’s Customer Experience Forum in New York. Even so, I didn’t want to let too much time pass before sharing some unexpected fun we had on Wednesday morning.

It actually started on Tuesday afternoon when I received an email from the co-author of our upcoming book, Kerry Bodine, which said:

“Have you seen this??? Amazing!

http://blog.neolane.com/events-2012/forresters-book-eve-6-treatment-song/

Lyrics below the video.”

The short note included a link to a blog post with a song. The blogger, Ed Hadley, a senior marketing manager at Neolane, had written new lyrics to the Eve 6 song “Inside Out,” turning it into “Outside In.” I was skeptical, but I trust Kerry’s judgment, so I played the song and loved it.

After some quick back-and-forth between our event producer (Katie Petroff), Neolane’s vice president of marketing (Kristin Hambelton), and one of our backstage producers (the unflappably cool Dave), we had the song ready to play as part of my Wednesday morning opening remarks. As it played, Dave scrolled the lyrics karaoke-style. The audience clearly thought it was fun — lots of laughter and a big round of applause at the end.

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Q&A With Phil Bienert, SVP Consumer Digital Experience, AT&T

It’s amazing to me how many times the telecommunications industry came up as we did the research for our new book, Outside In. From wireless service providers to cable companies, whether in the US, Germany, or Australia, it became clear that customer experience is the battleground of the immediate future for the companies that bring us our voice, data, and entertainment content.

That’s why I’m so excited to bring Phil Bienert to the stage of our Customer Experience Forum 2012 East next week. Phil is a longtime customer experience advocate and expert, whom we first met when he worked at Volvo. He’s always been a clear thinker and visionary when it comes to digital experiences, and he’s now bringing that thinking and vision to AT&T.

In advance of his speech, we put some questions to Phil about what AT&T is trying to do and how it’s planning to do it. Some of his answers will surprise you. Enjoy! Phil Bienert

How would you describe the experience that you want AT&T customers to have?

Effortless. Customers interact with AT&T across many touchpoints — online, mobile apps, our call centers, and more than 2,300 retail stores — and it’s essential that we make all of these interactions seamless, within touchpoints and across touchpoints, each and every time. We want to make it easy for customers to do business with us, however they prefer to contact us, and to get their question taken care of the first time.

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Q&A With Kevin Peters, President, North America, Office Depot

Yesterday I wrote a post inspired by insight from Kevin Peters of Office Depot. Today we’re going to hear from the man himself!

My co-author (Kerry Bodine) and I were so impressed by what Kevin’s been doing to reinvent customer experience at his company that we open our upcoming book with a case study about him. We’re also fortunate to have him to speak at our Customer Experience Forum 2012 East in New York just a week from today (June 26th).

Whether you’re going to get a chance to hear Kevin speak next week or not, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the insight he provides in his answers to some questions we sent him. My favorite nugget: Depot Time!

So without further ado . . . heeeeeere’s Kevin!

1.  How would you describe the experience that you want Office Depot customers to have?

We care about providing solutions, not just selling products. At the end of the day, we need our customers more than they need us. That philosophy must guide everything that we do. Our customers must feel that their business is valuable to us. To that end:

  • They are greeted at the front door and feel welcomed and appreciated.
  • Their success is our success.
  • Their problems are our challenges to be solved.
  • They are recognized and remembered when they return.
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You Need Your Customer More Than Your Customers Need You

Customers today have more choices than ever. Not only that, they have more information about those choices than ever. And they can get that information anytime, anywhere, and on whatever device they happen to be using at the moment. These changes have collectively put customers in the driver’s seat.

If you’re a fan of strategy guru Michael Porter, you can think of this as a shift in one of his five forces of competition: buyer power. But even without a sophisticated analytical framework, you can feel this change in your daily life. That’s because you’re a customer, too, by virtue of the fact that you buy goods and services, day in and day out.

Try comparing the power you used to have as a customer with the power you have today. I recently tried this exercise by comparing the way I picked my bank in 1998 — when I  moved to the Boston area for a job — with the options I have for picking a bank today.

In June of ’98, I wanted to switch to a local-area bank but didn’t know where to begin. I dreaded doing the research on top of moving my home and starting a new job. The woman who recruited me suggested that I sign up with Bank Boston because it had the most ATMs in our area. With a sense of relief, I did just that and went on with my life.

Over the intervening years, Bank Boston was acquired by Fleet Bank, which was later acquired by Bank of America. Today that makes me a Bank of America customer, even though I never decided to do business with it. Fortunately, the relationship has worked out okay. But what if it stopped being okay and I wanted to switch? How hard would it be to pick a new bank and switch in 2012?

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