Recognising your customer is essential for an effective customer relationship.
If you fail to hear the voice of your customer you are hurtling towards worst practice customer relationship management. This amusing story about an automated car park in England has lessons for everyone involved in customer support.
How difficult can it be to get a ticket for a car park?
The car park is rarely the main destination. Most of us want to park the car, get a ticket and then do whatever activity we had planned. We expect the process of getting a ticket to be simple and quick. It is also a bonus when there is more than one way to pay. I keep a small bag of coins in my car, so that I always have change for the parking meter. Modern technology allows payment by text, even if there is an extra charge. So how difficult can it be to get a parking ticket?
You can probably guess by now that there is a story to tell. I was on a visit to England, the land that nurtured me until my late 20’s. Even though I have spent most of the last 30 years in New Zealand, my accent is more English than Kiwi. I do have a slight Kiwi intonation, but this is mild when you consider the huge variations in spoken English in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Back to my story. I drove to Southampton to catch the passenger ferry to the Isle of Wight. I know the area fairly well, having made several visits over the last few years. FInding a car park was the easy part. There was no attendant, just a sign with instructions to phone a toll-free number, state the car registration number and the length of time the car would be parked and a credit card number. Very simple, you might say. I dialed the number and followed the automated messages.
“State the registration number” was the step that caught me.
“KR60ECA” was what I said clearly and loudly to this faceless machine, which repeated my message as “KR60ECE“. I then had to press some more buttons to try again. I made an extra effort to articulate each number and letter clearly, but to no avail. The reply was the same “KR60ECE“. At this point the faceless machine was beaten and advised me to wait whilst a human being deigned to speak to me. After what seemed like a long wait, I found myself speaking to a person. Someone with whom I could converse. “What is the problem?” The matter was quickly resolved and we managed to get to the ferry in time. I was still aghast at being treated like a foreigner in the land of my birth.
I should explain that the New Zealand (Kiwi) accent tends to pronounce vowels in a distinctive way. “Fish and chips” sounds more like “fush and chups” and they write with a “pin” instead of a pen.
What lesson can we draw from this breakdown in communication?
- Do not allow your internal business processes to dictate the way you communicate with customers.
- Offer a choice in how a customer can communicate with you.
- Recognise that not all customers are the same and they may be differences in the language they use.
- Make the customer feel welcome and valued. Even very small gestures can have a big impact.
- If you do rely on technology to offer an automated service, check to see how well this works with different accents.
I am pleased to report that I did recover from the shock of being treated like a foreigner in the land of my birth. This could be a case of “forgiven, but not forgotten “, as the experience reinforces the need to hear the voice of your customer.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post. Please do share it, especially with those with an interest in language or customer relationship management.
How does my recording of the registration plate sound to you?
Accredited Mindshop Facilitator
Business to Markets Ltd