I was thinking about what made a good or bad customer experience, and even the words we use to describe that experience. I came to the conclusion:  it depends.

It depends on how we are feeling that day,  how previous encounters have been, the type of interaction we are going to have (ie. phone, face to face, ATM machine), what we’ve heard from our friends or read in the papers… This amorphous pool of personal and shared experiences with an inifinite number of variables that we constantly add to or take away from, the sum total of which is like our ‘experience baggage’ that we carry around with us. We unconsciously apply it to whatever situation we might find ourselves in.

We almost score each interaction or ‘micro-interaction’ using the following unconscious equation which has been built up over our life, but is worked out within milliseconds:

experience baggage + expectation = customer experience score

Our set of expectations is equally random. They have likewise been built up over our lifetime and are made up of and influenced by an infinite number of everchanging variables.

We then express thatcustomer  experience with a set number of stock words or phrases, almost like a score: good – bad, positive – negative, satisfied – dissatisfied…

Where am I going with this? Well it made me think that actually this makes it quite difficult for a company. But that made me then think, that even though it might be a difficult challenge for a company, there must be a base level of expectation that needs to be met in order for a positive customer experience to result. What’s difficult is that base level of expectation is everchanging. Take the following two examples.

1) Withdrawing money from an ATM machine. The entire transaction is a physical one – put in my card, enter PIN, account verified, money counted, get card back, take money, buy pizza. Simple. I don’t need to fill out any forms, talk to anyone, just need to remember my PIN. My ‘customer experience score’ is perhaps idling in neutral, until the machine runs out of money, swallows our card…

2) Renewing insurance. Finally managed to renew my insurance last night and unexpectedly had a fantastic experience from Mike at company XYZ. My ‘experience score’ was definitely set to negative. I was expecting it to be a longwinded and frustrating experience. I wasn’t disappointed to begin with and I posted a blog about it – renew my car insurance – make it easier please

The company that I ended up using was recommended to me by a colleague at work. So perhaps I was already off to a good start. I researched the company online and went through the process of getting a quote to see whether it was potentially competitive or not. I had a few questions that I noted down as I went through around legal and breakdown cover, and protecting my no claims bonus. Usually, if money is involved or there’s a legal aspect to it, I’ll do my research online, but end up buying it over the phone: I want to talk to someone about it. 

I called the company up and ended up speaking to someone called Mike. He was friendly, clear in his explanations, and in spite of a few stock phrases, left me feeling that he was genuinely interested in helping me find the most appropriate deal available for me. He was also impartial to a degree: if your current policy is cheaper, there’s no point moving elsewhere. 

Taking out insurance like reading through a booklet sent out by your bank on interest rate changes is a chore. But Mike managed to make the whole process much easier and smoother both for him and for me, because he simply tried to make the experience a pleasant one for both of us. He surpassed my expectations, and in so doing raised my ‘customer experience score’ not necessarily overall for renewing insurance, but certainly for this insurance company. My expectation of them at any future encounters will now certainly be higher and benchmarked against the service Mike provided to me. 

It also made me realise that there is such a fine line between a positive customer experience score and a negative one, and how quickly one can turn into the other. Sometimes, however, if I’m simply in a bad mood, it doesn’t really matter what level of service or customer experience you provide; but that shouldn’t stop us trying.