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Great Customer Experience: You know it when you see it

Not too long ago, my son and I went for a drive. Boom! We were suddenly rear-ended by a runaway Mini that plowed into my SUV. Dumb move for the Mini, but no one was hurt and there was minimal damage.

Dealing with the other guy’s insurer after a crash? Don’t get your hopes up

Still, I had to get my car repaired. That’s when the customer experience angle started to get interesting. Why? I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with another person’s insurer. I expected to be pretty unimportant; after all, I wasn’t paying their bills.

Plus, my insurance is with USAA—which gets off-the-chart high marks for service. But USAA wasn’t involved. Reluctantly, I called GEICO and the phone call went surprisingly well.  Yet I couldn’t help thinking:  Weren’t they the low cost provider, according to their ads?  And when did low cost ever = great customer service?

GEICO directed me to Craftsman Auto Body, where I was met by a GEICO adjuster who works from his office there. What a nice guy! — he had the friendliness of a lonely Golden Retriever. He was surprised I only wanted an estimate.  “Why not get the car fixed now?”  But, I explained, I had no way home. He must have thought I had crawled out from under a really bad customer experience rock because he said, duh, well of course, your rental car will get you home! I quickly agreed.

Then—so seamlessly that they must have been practicing this since kindergarten—the Craftsman rep and the GEICO adjuster started marking up my car. Next, the adjuster steered me all of two steps over to the Enterprise car rental rep, who also worked there and was equally friendly.  She was knowledgeable about both GEICO’s and USAA’s policies, giving me guidance on what to accept and decline based on my coverage. Less than 15 minutes later, I had my new SUV (a spotless black Cadillac Escalade), which made me long to head to Florida, purely to enjoy the road trip.

A seamless customer experience delivered by three different companies

Why do I think this vignette is so interesting?  It’s because the customer experience and underlying business process were so seamless, so effortless, and so customer friendly that it intuitively felt like the singular result of one company (not three) that had deployed the most customer friendly process imaginable.  In reality, it was a three company process: the repairer, the insurer, and the car rental company.  This is the way the world is supposed to work, in the book of Connie.

photo of team

Mind you, the elegance of this process wasn’t about the cutting edge technology. Yeah, the adjuster had a ruggedized notebook and the rental car employee used a workstation, but my interaction with them consisted mainly of old-fashioned friendliness and some really cool green markers for writing on my vehicle. The people made a difference too.  The employees, some of whom are in the photo at left, were clearly well-trained in how to interact with customers in every step of the process.

The graphic below shows the basic steps in this process. Notice I’ve drawn interlocking gears.  Normally, I find that using gears to depict business processes is a dehumanizing way of looking at work, but the gears in this process were like an expensive Swiss watch.  It was a beautiful thing to see in action.

These three companies have pulled off something impressive.  And it isn’t because getting these three industries to work together is unique.  It’s not. Craftsman also displayed signs showing that they work with Allstate, Liberty Mutual, and USAA.  But it’s the GEICO Auto Repair Xpress process that stands out as truly seamless and customer driven (even when the “customer” isn’t your paying customer!)

CX_Supply Chain2

Just when I was getting ready to give them a score of 100 out of 100, I accidentally broke the business process by leaving my toll transponder in the rental car.  All of a sudden, everyone turned into the keystone cops—no one was sure who had dropped the ball and everyone was sure it wasn’t them.  In the end, they went with the tried and true: subtly blame the customer.

This unexpected ending illustrates two important maxims: 1) always anticipate exceptions to the business process and figure out how to handle them, even if they occur infrequently; and 2) don’t blame the customer even if the customer is to blame.  There’s no upside in it. And it turns out they were right—I learned a day later that the transponder had been in my purse all along.  Score 1 for the gecko.

I was impressed because the service was that good and because I know that it’s hard to make a business process shine when work goes outside corporate boundaries.  To succeed, I’m sure the project team must have addressed these questions and many more:

  • Which company owns the process?
  • Who is accountable when things go right and when things go wrong?
  • Who in each company drives the redesign?
  • Who owns the process inside the company and across the companies? 
  • How do you align multiple corporate cultures around a uniform, harmonized customer experience?
  • How do you integrate systems so well that the customer can’t tell where one company leaves off and the other begins?
  • How do you integrate the physical world of the customer experience (cleanliness, reception area seating, spotless products, etc.) with the technology world of customer experience management?
  • How do you anticipate handling exceptions to the process?
  • How do you handle the organizational change management across multiple companies?
  • How do you make it work so that the customer is grinning from ear to ear when he or she leaves?

Creating an extended business process of this caliber must start by looking at the customer journey through the customer’s eyes—taking an end-to-end view across all the business partners rather than chopping up pieces of work according to which company does what and which business siloes inside the companies are responsible.  Doing so will help to create a services-industry value chain that adds value across each step of the process and among each of the business partners. It’s challenging to conceive and even harder to create but unmistakable when you encounter it. You’ll know it when you see it.


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