Does “customer experience” matter?

Fans at events are often beholden to companies that care little about the experience their customers have to endure
Fans at events are often beholden to companies that care little about the experience their customers have to endure

The short answer? Yes it does.

My recent experience of a theoretically straight-forward act of buying tickets for a performance illustrates how some big businesses completely fail to understand – or even care about – the experience their customers have while engaging with them.

I considered making a social media spray about my experience, but I doubt that it would result in any meaningful outcomes, so instead I thought I’d write this post as an illustration of the importance of understanding and being in control of your business’ customer experience.

The long answer…

Throughout my lengthy career in marketing ‘leisure industries’ (mostly small to medium businesses in the arts and tourism sectors), I have tried to put myself, mentally, into the shoes of my customers, trying to understand the steps and hurdles they encounter in order to pay their money, make a booking and hopefully enjoy whatever experience is on offer.

Lately small businesses everywhere are being encouraged to develop ideal customer profiles in order to understand who their customers are, what needs they have and the way they prefer to research, book or purchase products and experiences.

Big businesses too are learning that customer experience is a key element that can make or break a company. Forbes has declared that ‘Customer Experience Is The New Brand’. Gartner says that ‘Understanding the customer journey is about learning what customers experience from the moment they begin considering a purchase, and then working to make the journey toward buying a product or service as simple, clear, and efficient as possible.

So what is ‘customer experience’? Gartner (again) defines it as ‘the customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels or products.”

Forbes (again) suggests that big retailers can avert demise by using big data to understand their customers’ journeys and thrive in an omni-channel marketing environment.

For the rest of us, clues to what our customers love or find inhibiting about what we offer and the way we offer it is often right under our noses, and our customers are often only too happy to tell us about it.

This recent example from my own experience may help to illustrate the issue.

Around eight months ago, friends who live in regional Tasmania phoned me one evening to see if I was interested in attending a performance by Tim Minchin at Wrest Point in March.

“Yes” I said, “sounds great”.

‘OK, they said. ‘We’ll make the booking and you can reimburse us”.

Tickets were available exclusively through TicketMaster. My friends jumped online, but the website was down. They called me back to ask if I could go to the venue the next day to purchase them in person.

“Of course,” I said.

The next morning I duly presented myself at the foyer at Wrest Point and asked for the box office.

“Oh, it’s right here, but she’s on a break. She’ll be back in 10 minutes.”

Twenty minutes later the box office staff member returned and promptly served two other people who had arrived since I had. But eventually I got to speak with her and she was able to make my booking. In doing so, she insisted that TicketMaster needed a truckload of personal information, including my email, home address and phone number, to process the booking. The total cost for three tickets was nearly $450.00.

Only when the transaction had been finalised did she announce that tickets were not being issued at this point, and gave me just a credit card receipt. She suggested that ‘someone’ would be in touch closer to the date of the performance. I took her at her word, figuring they had the means to contact me in any manner they chose.

Now it’s the morning of the performance, and my friends from the country asked if I had the tickets.

“I have a credit card stub,” was my truthful reply, no one having made any attempt to contact me about providing tickets. I had nothing that even told me what time the performance was due to start.

So I called the venue, Wrest Point. A receptionist answered promptly but as soon as I mentioned the performance cut me off to transfer me unceremoniously to TicketMaster. Not the box office at Wrest Point, but TicketMaster’s national call centre.

There I waited in a queue for some time, with recorded messages suggesting that I visit their website (the one that had been down and had, essentially, caused this entire problem in the first place). Grimly I held onto the line.

Eventually my call was answered by a customer service agent who, in short, was – after me imparting more personal details and trying to read the tiny print on my credit card stub – able to find my booking and (after contacting the venue herself) inform me about how to collect my tickets.

My friends and I will attend the performance this evening, and I’m sure Tim Minchin will be wonderful and sufficiently memorable to partially erase the bumpy customer journey I had to undertake to see him.

I made the issues I had faced clear to the customer service agent I spoke to at TicketMaster, but will she report them upwards and will TicketMaster take any notice? I doubt it.

Will Wrest Point even notice that they had two calls relating to the same enquiry (one from me, a second from the agent at TicketMaster)? Again, I doubt it.

TicketMaster (and other event ticketing behemoths) trade in exclusivity – if you want to attend an event they are ticketing, you put up with whatever indignities they care to throw at you.

Wrest Point, as a venue, probably doesn’t much care whether I as an individual have a good experience with them. It is the performer that I’m there for, and the odds are that I’m unlikely to be a high-value repeat customer. I don’t go to many events there, or book for many on TicketMaster; anyone who does may well already know the drum, but that is no excuse.

As large businesses that trade on exclusivity of access it seems that Wrest Point and TicketMaster see little need – as yet – to give much thought to customer experience. They just want the money and then to be rid of the customer. In the future? Who knows – maybe some technological breakthrough will smash the hold that such businesses have on access to events, in the way that the long-held rules of retail success have been broken in recent years.

As small to medium business operators, however, we succeed or fail based on the experience we give our customers – before, during and after they have experienced our product.

Do you know what your customers think or feel about their experience with your business?

I’d love to know your thoughts and comments about customer journeys you have been on.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. gtasoz says:

    Great article Andrew. The flipside to this is badly designed surveys which start with the perennial question “How likely are you to recommend Organisation X? ‘
    When I see this as the lead question I almost invariably click off.
    Anyone asking me to take the time for this sort of survey should at least frame up the question set in a way which engages me.
    Unfortunately the changes you suggest where conglomerate organisations ceed their hold over our various processes (and needs) seems distant. If anything we are being funnelled into less and less choice in the name of efficiency and interface.

    Hope you enjoyed Tim M notwithstanding.

    1. Cheers Gerald. Yes, that survey format is a clear signal that the business isn’t actually listening.

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