Castles Made of Sand

mused on 05 Sep 2016


I had to deposit some money in the bank the other day so I went to the nearest branch.  Obviously the economics of banking today meant that many of the smaller branches had shut down in favour of centralisation in one bigger facility.  The facility had recently been refurbished to a very high standard and as a result of a new branding campaign had beautiful bright colour combinations; plenty of high res. screens and piped audio content.  The facility had been organised into tastefully arranged zones which included a help/greeting point, frosted glass individual consultation booths and private offices.  It also had the counter service area with six serving stations.  The piped audio was a carefully crafted playlist of inoffensive but relatively wide appeal music, interspersed with commercials for the banks services, while the video was a series of stills and short animations of their recent campaign featuring well known cartoon characters the licensing of which must have cost a fortune.

As I stood in the line to approach the counter I thought ‘well done’.  I thought the real estate and designs teams had done a nice job on the settings.  The colours were bright without being tawdry and the layout was functional.  The audio and video were not over-loud or jumpy but suitable for the space.  I pondered the cost of the marketing campaign, the care and attention on branding details, what must have been very carefully planned and co-ordinated work with design, architecture and real estate teams to realise the vision as well as the active involvement in very senior management in the creation and realisation of the consumer strategy including branch location strategy.

As my wait in the queue persisted into the twenty to twenty-five minute range (there were only two servers on the six stations at a busy Friday lunch), I found myself thinking about how futile it is to spend huge sums of money and effort to create beautiful contexts for your customers, if your operational delivery is going to undo all of the good work.  Whatever the good reasons, having your customers wait twenty to twenty-five minutes at a busy lunchtime while you have four serving positions unstaffed is as blatant a lack of regard for customer experience as I could think of.  Indeed my thoughts moved from the admiration for the hard experience work done in the organisation, to considering which other banks to which I could move my accounts. 

And then the coup de grace, the killer moment that turned tragedy into farce.  An advert came on the audio telling us all how the bank had invested huge sums and effort in making the customer experience simpler, better, and more responsive to our needs.

I looked at the people around me in the queue, most of whom were on lunch breaks trying to get their banking done.  Admittedly some had not noticed the audio.  Those who had, experienced a moment of shared cynicism; an increasingly common shared experience these days.  A moment when we look at each other and almost laugh, so absurd are the claims being made when contrasted with the experience in which we are embedded.

This illustrates a point I seem to make over and over again in our work with clients and in general.  You can dress up in the cool clothes, wear the designer gear, have all the best brands on display, but if you don’t treat your customers right it counts for nothing; it’s a waste of money.  Further if you claim to treat your customers right when you patently don’t, then what was tragedy descends into farce. 

I’m all for the work on design, brand, campaigns, facilities and all the rest.  It is a huge component in creating great places to be.  BUT, it is undone by lack of attention to the customer experience.  The strategy must be effective in operation or it is useless.  Spend a little less on your fabrics, artwork, audio voice-overs and so on if you need to, so that you can spend time on the hard work of building customer experiences that will attract and retain your customers.  The customer experience work is the single most important element in all of these transformations.

You have got to do the hard work as well; in fact, it’s the most important piece.  So when you find yourself talking about sensors, or colours, or licensing ask yourself the question; ‘Have I spent enough time on the customer’s experience?’.

Well, that’s what we think, how about you?