Is your customer ecosystem wider than you appreciate?

Is your customer ecosystem wider than you appreciate?

When you provide a product or a service to customers, its rarely your product or service that matters to them, but how it enhances their lives. To achieve this goal, there are likely to be multiple interactions for the customer. From finding the right solution, to ordering it, to paying for it and using it etc. Sometimes it will even involve more than one provider either consciously or otherwise combining to fulfil a desired outcome.

This is what we call the customer ecosystem. There are three layers:

  • Customer centricity (internal focus to ensure customer experience motivations, mindset and methods are cultural
  • Customer experience – the interactions your organisation has with the customer to deliver (or explain why you haven’t delivered) the reason they chose you to contribute towards their goal
  • Customer’s reality – the priorities and goals the customer has and therefore engages with you, but also every other interaction which is connected to yours which help them achieve their goal

The three layers of the customer ecosystem

When customer experience is ‘slapped on’ it is only the middle layer which is applied. It’s paper thin and customers see right through it.

To this end, I recently gave Enterprise car hire a lower satisfaction score because of the poor experience I encountered from Rye Street Car Repairs. Unfair? Not at all.

It’s my world and companies I interact with just live in it.

(to paraphrase the great Dean Martin)

This scenario can apply to anything, from arranging quality time away with your family, to organising Christmas at home. Or, in my case, arranging for a damaged car to be returned so you can return to your routine of collections and drop offs for your family. Each engagement has a higher purpose to the customer, more important than the organisation they engage with or the product and service they purchase. Each organisation involved is part of a chain with other companies before and after them. So as consumers, we are looking for seamless engagement from start to finish.

However, organisations can be self-centred in their approach to customer centricity. Even if they have frictionless interactions between them and the customer, they don’t think about the next engagement customers will have. For instance, we witnessed a family distraught at the airport. Despite their plane landing a little late, they missed their connection because the airport baggage handlers system broke down and everything was being booked in and out manually.

A personal example was when I returned to pick up a very late car repair from Rye Street Coach Repairs of Bishops Stortford. I hadn’t been kept up to date on the delay of my vehicle repairs (which is another story). The car being repaired was less important to me It was the inconvenience of not being able to do the trips we had in the diary including a couple of longish distance ones for my sons hockey. A fact which didn’t matter to the car repair centre. Due to the extended time it had taken to get my car back I had needed to hire a car. I collected it from Enterprise, a train and a bus ride away from my home, which ate in to my weekend. But the car was clean and upgraded so a small compensation (not that Enterprise were aware of why I needed a vehicle).

When I got a call to say my vehicle was ready to collect from Rye Street, I explained I had to drop a hire car off first. That day we’d had an unexpected downfall of snow. To which the receptionist told me I could drop the hire car off at the garage and they would return for me, because they had a deal with Enterprise. Now this resonated with me because it would save me 60-90 mins extra travel on a workday. It could never make up for the poor experience to date but was a well appreciated gesture. I delayed my journey, and completed some business tasks knowing I had recovered some time and I could leave later and still get back for my next meeting.

How a ‘customer last’ culture plays out in reality

Then I got a call from the ‘Enterprise Rep’ from the garage who informed me that because I’d booked the hire car from a broker and not directly from Enterprise, they cannot return the car on my behalf. In fact, I’d have to pay a £35 fee for the privilege. Having had five weeks of pain with this garage, a quick reference to my notes would have shown some empathy to my situation, which would have been wise. In fairness, I’m not sure the organisation keeps a central record of customer details because this was one of many interactions with the garage which highlighted that no one knew the customers situation. However, I was now out of time. Due to pending meetings, I had no choice but to drop the car off at the garage and incur a £35 charge. This was all down to the receptionist having the permission to provide and offer, which was not available and management not overriding it irrespective of the situation. I dropped the hire car off and explained to the Enterprise representative I was disappointed. He shrugged, said there was nothing he could do and took my keys.

That was my last contact with the garage. They had washed their hands of me. A customer experience of 0 out of 100 scored.

A few days later Enterprise car hire phoned to inform me the £35 would be deducted from my deposit. They also asked for feedback. I explained, that as part of the overall experience connected to Rye Street, they would earn a low satisfaction score from me. Their choice of car repair partner had tarnished my experience with Enterprise. With several others available from the airport, I would not be choosing them again. They apologised and asked what could be done. I suggested they ensured that if they bestowed their reputation with Rye Street Repairs they trained the staff to understand what is and what is not permitted.

When you work in partnership with other companies, you don’t hand over accountability, instead it is shared. Whether that’s a BPO practice to move contact centres to new geographies and affinity deals to reach more customers, both demand greater care, not less.

In this case Rye Street Repairs has damaged another brand’s reputation. No doubt this will happen again and again as they are a multi-site car repairer providing services to insurers such as LV=, Sheila’s Wheels, Direct Line, Sainsburys, Ageas and many others. It’s customer centricity’s responsibility that the customer standards are understood by partners and delivered. And it’s the responsibility of the senior management of companies, such as Rye Street Repairs, to honour those standards when they take on partnerships, and not see them as simply a new contract to make money from.

So, apologies Enterprise, this will actually impact your future business. However, this is not because of your ‘on us’ customer experience (which was pretty good), but your choice of those who deliver it on your behalf. A salient lesson of what customers now expect in 2022 and beyond. Customer centricity, spread your responsibility wider. It’s those who care less about customers in your ecosystem, which will undo you.