In the last few months, I seem to have become something of a magnet for poor customer experience. And this isn’t just from the local panel beater or dry cleaner where you might expect this from a poorly trained staff member. In fact some of my worst experiences are from large corporate firms, where everything you see in their advertising aims to reflect them as offering personalised, delightful services and products to beaming, grateful consumers. From repeated mistakes on a home loan application to waiting six weeks for a new credit card to be issued and sending multiple emails to update an email address are just some of the examples of the poor customer experience I have felt recently. Am I being unreasonable to assume that, once things start to go wrong – as can happen even with well-designed business processes and well-trained staff – there should be a mechanism in place to ensure the problem is resolved without the customer (me) having to be the one to make daily follow-up phone calls or escalate problems repeatedly.

I’m sure no business deliberately sets out to provide a frustrating customer experience, at least not a business that genuinely wants to grow market share and be sustainably profitable in a competitive environment. Often it is unintended – I recall a conversation I had with the genial Mark Rayner, CEO of MultiChoice, about the continual changes in policy around some of the DSTv offerings. Mark shared the difficulties they face, where policy changes are implemented to prevent fraudulent use of their products. This challenge unfortunately then impacts directly on their valued customers too, which was something they were grappling with. Unfortunately this insight is not then shared by the call centre agent who’s reading from a standard set of scripts.

I wondered if I am just particularly aware of the impact of customer experiences? It is after all at the heart of the methodologies we use in our own business, Training Leadership Consulting (TLC). The ‘Voice of the Customer’ is a critical initial input into any business improvement process, and we spend time understanding this for our clients in businesses as diverse as insurance, construction, manufacturing and agriculture.

Deciding that it was time I got more insight from a deep expert in the field, I spoke to Michelle Hill of Delight Consulting, one of TLC’s affiliates. Michelle is a Customer Experience Management expert who is passionate about the topic, and has great stories and insights to share.

Her first step was to classify me into one of four archetypes of customers – an Analyst / Driver (see figure below).

Social Style What do we want as customers?


Details, all of the details! We like organisation, structure and all of the facts


We like to win. We are competitive, decisive and want solutions right now
Amiable We enjoy relationships with others, getting to know others, speaking about families and friends. We do not enjoy conflict at all!
Expressive We are creative, outgoing and enthusiastic. We may exaggerate at times, but are typically spontaneous


Source: Merrill, D. W. and Reid, R. H. (1999)

I wasn’t sure if I liked this or not, as it certainly sounded as though it confirmed my status as a tetchy, difficult person to deal with! But as Michelle pointed out, a large proportion of business owners and executive managers are exactly this type of customer, and in fact while they may be quick to flag their displeasure, they do tend to be very clear on exactly what they expect, and what needs to be done to fix a problem. So in that regard, meeting or exceeding their expectations should be straightforward. (I felt a bit better after that).

Michelle also shared another vital insight. “It can be really hard for people working within a business to understand what a customer might experience difficulty with, and why. When you’ve set up the four options in a Call centre menu, or created the company website, it’s all perfectly clear to you. It may not occur to you that the customer doesn’t use the same terminology for: a specific service (particularly where English often isn’t a customer’s first language), or to predict exactly what issues or questions a customer may be grappling with.”

I mulled this over for a bit before she continued. “We use a technique called ‘Customer Journey Mapping’ to help companies understand what it’s really like to be one of their customers. Usually, it’s eye-opening for them. I love seeing their reactions when I play them a recording of someone phoning in to their own call centre, for example. Even better, is when I give them a query to phone in live to their call centre themselves – those experiences can be priceless, when they get put on hold with elevator music or find themselves getting cut off repeatedly! The benefit that’s gained, though, is in being able to improve the processes so that customers truly have great experiences – that’s even more valuable to a business, especially considering the tough economic climate we operate in.”

So what should I do the next time I find myself wanting to tear my hair out over yet another bad experience with a company where I’d really expected better? Other than escalating it to the Complaints department, I guess I could send them details on the Customer Experience Management programme to help them look at their business processes from their customer’s perspective!


Author: Tanya Hulse (TLC Managing Director)