For over 28 years I worked for a major high street Bank. For the latter half of those 28 years the Bank, along with just about every other Bank and lots of other organisations in different sectors, tried to balance its customers’ experience with the advent of digital platforms.
Many thousands of customers throughout the UK now bank online and via mobile devices and telephone, but often complain about the lack of personal contact. Of course there are still branches on the high street but aggressive closure policies are reducing these on almost a daily basis. Many thousands of customers also use self service platforms at petrol stations, supermarkets and any number of other outlets and can carry out various transactions without any human contact.
But what impact is this drive towards self sufficiency having on the customer experience? In a lot of cases it’s a detrimental impact – but it doesn’t have to be!
A couple of days ago I was strolling around the shops in the Trafford Centre with my wife and we were walking past the Virgin Holidays store. As we had a balance to pay on our impending holiday I decided I would pay it in the store. I could have waited until I got home and paid it by telephone or online – but I am so glad I didn’t.
The store is the corporate vibrant red and white that Virgin are recognisable for. And both the staff and the experience were equally vibrant. We were met at the entrance by a Meeter/Greeter, who very courteously asked us how she could help. When I told her we wanted to pay our balance she immediately told us she could help and sat us down at the ‘bar.’ “Would you like a drink?” she asked. My wife said yes and was offered tea, coffee, wine – and settled for a glass of Prosecco!!! The payment was completed within 2 minutes. But that wasn’t it – we were then provided with a number of suggestions for things to do on our holiday and a brochure to look through.
Another customer then entered the shop and was attended to by the same Meeter/Greeter who excused herself but told us to take as much time as we liked to look through the brochure and finish our drinks. The other customer, by the way, was asked to take a seat and then introduced to a Travel Consultant, who continued to attend to them and the Meeter/Greeter returned to her conversation with us.
We actually ended up staying in the store for 15 minutes and felt completely welcomed and comfortable for the whole time. As you might imagine I started to compare the experience to that offered by the Banks. I fully acknowledge that the Banks will have a much higher footfall but actually that was my lasting impression. The Banks appear to adopt a conversely proportionate approach to footfall and staff – higher footfall with fewer staff. The Virgin Holidays store had 9 staff that I counted available and serving customers on a Sunday – and what an experience it was.
There’s a lot to be learned here around customer experience and the balance between the digital age and the personal approach. They can be balanced. And with the right recruitment, training and culture the customer experience can still be world class!!