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Managing Customer Experiences

bad service

Managing Customer Experiences

When a customer experiences your service, they are receiving messages all around them.

These clues are either Functional Clues or Sensory.

Functional Clues

These are fundamental. Does the service work? Did the car start? Did the leaking tap stop dripping?

These are essential to get right.

The problem is that the Sensory clues are also essential to get right, and much of the time, service providers get them very wrong.

Sensory Clues

These are also known as the humanics.

These include ambience, smell, sounds, voices, tone. These are the things that affect your customer emotionally.

It has often been said that people make decisions based on their emotions and then justify them with logic.

“Companies must manage the emotional aspects… with the same rigour they bring to the management of a product or service.” (Berry, Carbone, Haeckel, 2002).

Do an Experience Audit

One way to understand the experience of using your service from a customer’s point of view is to videotape them. Of course, you need to have permission, but a sign on premises stating that video cameras may be recording may be sufficient. This could be suitable for a restaurant or business that has a large consumption area.

Watch for non-verbal clues from customers. Are they cold? Hot? Do they look happy or concerned? Are there issues or confusions over anything?

Depth Interviews

If videotaping is unsuitable for you, another good technique is to run depth interviews. These are one-on-one interviews with both your employees and a selection of customers. How do they feel when they come in? What could be improved? What do you look at? What do you think about the staff? Are you worried about anything? What were you doing before the service? What would you be doing afterward?

The objective of this research is to establish an “experience motif”, like a mission statement.

University Hospital

University Hospital in Augusta Georgia used an Experience Audit after receiving lower and lower customer satisfaction scores and lots of complaints.

They found that the large EMERGENCY sign was visible from far away. Good sign. However, it confused a lot of people because it was the entry for ambulances only. The entry for patients and visitors was around the corner and hard to find.

Once inside the hospital, it was a beige rabbit warren of corridors with confusing signs like Triage and Paediatrics. A lot of people didn’t know where to go.

When patients were finally admitted, family members had to wait with no knowledge of what was going on and how long they would be.

As a result of the study, University Hospital made a few changes.

They made sure there was signage that indicated Hospital 3 Miles, Hospital 1 Mile so that drivers could navigate there without getting lost. It reassured patients that they were getting closer.

Inside, they changed signage to ensure it used plain English descriptions such as Care Point 1 and Reception. For the children’s ward, they used a lollipop image to guide the family.

The security guard who had been perched in an intimidating office was moved to the waiting area. He doubled as an information giver to patients and their families about what was happening inside the ward.

As a result, University Hospital experienced one-third drop in complaints and a 13% improvement in their patient rating of the quality of care.


Another example is the rental car firm, Avis. They also experienced declining satisfaction scores at their Newark International Airport office.

Their experience audit found that customers were generally anxious lining up for cars because they were worried about missing flights. When dropping off cars, they worried about having a scratch or some defect being reported. They were often anxious about being able to contact their workplaces.

As a result, Avis decided its experience motif would be to relieve customer stress and anxiety.

At the counter, facing the queue, they installed television screens with the flight times and gate numbers so that passengers would feel less anxious.

They also installed a room with faxes, phones, and email access so that business people could contact their offices before they left in the car.

They also created an Express Drop off service, where a valet would take the car and return it to Avis and the customer could continue on to their connecting flight or hotel without queueing.

The result of these changes saw Avis customer satisfaction improve so dramatically that they rolled out the changes to their other rental car branches around the country.

What service organisations do you think could benefit from an ‘experience audit’? Have you made changes like this in your business?


Source: This article is based on the essay by Leonard L. Berry, Lewis P. Carbone & Stephan H. Haeckel (2002)  “Managing the Total Customer Experience” in MIT Sloan Management Review Spring Volume, pp 84 – 89


Danielle Spinks-Earl

Author & Manager, My Virtual Marketing Manager. MMktg | BACS