Let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve landed at Cape Town International Airport for a work trip. As you exit the terminal you head to the rental counters to procure a car. Whether you go to the green one, the yellow one, or the red one, you know that whichever you walk into, you will have a group of vehicles to choose from that are clean, mechanically sound and cost more or less the same per day.

What is the last remaining differentiator for your company? Customer perception! Now consider every person who interacts with a customer throughout the process of renting a
vehicle, from the reservation agent, to the checkout agent, to Customer Care… what you may not be aware of is one of those interactions may be costing you your client or future deals.

Your Market Share

Modern CEOs sit with a dilemma. Looking at the car rental industry in particular, you have 200 000– 300 000 people renting a vehicle every month in SouthAfrica. If that’s the size of the pie, then the CEO of every car rental company is looking at how to protect their portion of market share, and furthermore, how to grow it.

Historically, your company could increase their success through various differentiators. This could be a superior product or service, you could offer a better price or perhaps even a more ideal location. These were variables you could manipulate in order to have a stronger company in the market. In the information age, however, these have almost all but disappeared.

In every industry, the total spend of consumers is fixed, if not decreasing in South Africa. Protecting or growing market share is critical for survival. The biggest differentiator nowadays by far is the customer experience.

A lot of companies cut back on what they deem soft issues and focus their spend on the core operational costs, cutting things like market research and CX (Customer Experience) research, which is crazy, especially considering a shrinking market. If you’re losing money, this is when you need to spend money to find out the root of the problem within your organisation.

One of Your Employees Crushed Your Brand Last Month. Who was it?

I have met with the EXCO of Avis every month for the past 16 years. The same question comes up: Who built or destroyed brand loyalty through service in Avis this month? The dilemma is that if your product alone is no longer a strong enough reason for a purchase, what you’re really looking at is an emotive one that asks, where do I want to spend my money? It’s based on the customer’s experience of the service.

Keeping with our theme, let’s say your flight in endured some scary turbulence. This is a factor that can’t be avoided, whether you’re flying with a premium or a budget airline. What it comes down to, is how the captain and cabin crew dealt with the situation. If they handled it poorly, you know there are other airlines you’ll use in the future that offer similar prices, but creates a better experience (less fear, better communication, feeling more safe and appreciated).

The difficulty for a CEO is you’re sitting all the way at the top with executives beneath you and a long line of managers beneath them, far away from the making or breaking of that emotional experience of the brand, where the employees physically engage with the customer on a transaction. If you don’t understand which processes or employees are destroying your brand at the interaction level, then you're in trouble.

Step 1: Build a Customer-Centric Culture

Building a strong environment that cares for the customer is not the easiest and requires a lot of training, especially in the face of resistance. The bad news is, the process won’t be an overnight exercise. The good news is, it is something your competition won’t be able to spot and yell down the ranks to follow suit. Two years on, if you consistently build at that customer-centric culture, and even if your competition wakes up and starts doing the same thing, they’ll be years behind and simply will find it incredibly hard to catch up.

Step 2: Get those measurements

Let's say you have a team of 100 chauffeurs in a Chauffeur Driven Company, and you get a CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) score of 85.0. That tells you nothing, that's merely the aggregate. You need to go down and establish which of the chauffeurs the clients love and which are just really bad at customer interaction, while understanding if it’s a once off occurrence for an individual or a persistent trend which requires further intervention.

If you consistently weed out the chauffeurs that leave a bad impression, say 10 of 100 employees, and you get that number down to 2, customers will have a better experience driving with your company, therefore encouraging them to recommend you to their friends and colleagues and voila! Your market share starts growing.

How is this done?

  • Surveys consisting of questions relating directly to customer facing employees
  • Identify agents and processes building or destroying the brand
  • Continuously measure each touchpoint in your customer journey
  • Representative sample down to transaction level
  • Use scores in KPIs and to incentivise employees
  • Work with a small dedicated team of research experts to develop a tailored solution

Step 3: Zoom Zoom

You don't get to the details you want for every employee through normal standard CX (customer experience) services, as you have no control over who actually bothers to fill in questionnaires. However if you get a controlled representative sample from the interactional level for each employee involved, you can zoom into the specific processes or specific touchpoints in the customer journey where something may be going wrong. It allows you to zoom into the particulars of that employee in order to take action.

The problem is that due to cost, most research for companies have moved over to self-completion methodologies like email surveys or SMS that rely on the respondents to actually be motivated to fill anything in. If you send out 100 emails, you’ll be lucky if 15 come back, and have no chance of ensuring a minimum sample for each employee. This is useless in this context, because if you’ve got 10 employees facing customers and you want to establish who created that bad experience, you need a sample for each of those employees.

Step 4: The Sample

To control a sample, you could do 5 interviews for each of the 10 employees facing the customer, which you simply can't do with self-completion. If you’re looking to do this research, you need a tool that you can control your sample with. You need the universe list of all transactions that took place for your customer facing employees to get an appropriate score for each particular employee.

This is where you define what most impacts the customer perception and where the trigger point is. You’ll need to focus directly on the customer journey in specific departments and then from the touch points in the customer journey, develop the CX research very specifically. The study for reservations would look very different to rentals, returns or receivables, even though it's the same transaction.

With our work within AVIS, we have 30 different CX studies being done, some of them weekly, some every month. When we started with Avis 16 years ago they were at 18% market share and today they are up to 40%, and are the most dominant Avis licensee in the world, a substantial part to do with this specific effort.

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