Today is Saturday March 12, JST 22:49 PM.
Yesterday, after the major Earthquake and lot of walking from office to apartment and connecting back with my Son, who was visiting me for last week. I could not sleep all night. After shock tremors continued and are still continuing. My son had a planned ticket to go back home in Virginia from Tokyo.
Our experience started with Japan Airlines sending as message 6 hours before the regular schedule time that flight is delay by at least three and a half hours. Thus we planned to leave little later than normal, as the main modes of transportation to Airport are still not normal. From heart of Tokyo to the Tokyo Narita Airport, it is atleast an hour by fast Skyliner train. However, skyliner was not working, no buses called limousines were also down. The taxi costs (20,000 Yens = $240) but taxis were not going to Airport either. The only option left was a metro and then Japan Railways (JR) slow local train.
We reached the Ueno – the JR station using Metro and to our amazement, the queue to buy the tickets for the airport train was few kilometers long. All customers were patiently waiting for their turns. No one was cutting line and or pushing, screaming, etc. We could not have made to airport if we should in that line. As we walked outside the Ueno station, there were other 1000’s of people queued up other rail services, again calm and quiet. We walked past them and they easily gave us space to go past them. A behavior never seen in India and US for some reason.
We decide to look for a cab to half way or some other station where we can take the train. Finally after 30 minutes of search we found a taxi and took us to Nipori station. For some reason at the moment we reached there the station was not crowded so we got on the local train that has 42 stops on the way to the airport, a journey expected to take two hours. During the journey, the announced this train will only go to Stop 22 and then all passengers need to switch the train from another platform. What an experience when you do not understand the words they say, as the language is new to us.
All passengers got out of the train and moved to another platform and stood in queue in front of the area where the gate of coaches would be. All so automagically, I cannot believe, since everyone was stressed about the time of arrival at the airport. Many folks we talked had flight at 3:30 PM JST same as my son’s flight and expected time for this train to arrive now stood at 4 PM JST.
JAL sent message at 3:30 PM JST saying flight is further delay to leave at 4:00 PM. We arrive at the airport at 4:05 PM. We walked to the first JAL counter (a first class) one even though my son’s ticket was not business class. The JAL employee guided us to another JAL counter. This new JAL employee very softly, calmly and sweetly said, “Let me see how I can get you on the schedule flight.” The flight has not departed. My son’s NYC to DC flight boarding pass was not getting assigned, delaying the process. She went and talked to some one and she immediately printed the boarding pass for Narita to NYC and showed us all steps for going to the gate and said to us. You will board the plane, so do not worry. She even asked us how our experience was from Tokyo to Narita. (The tremors are going on. 23:15 JST). My son commented that if it was United or other airlines, they would send us to that big counter and not care about passengers. This was supported by other fellow Americans we met at the airport. Here the employees took full control to help till the end, and would not send the customer from one counter to another.
What I admire about the JAL and airport employees was their interest in customers experience and their zeal to help to make sure the customer is taken care of. The crowd on the airport was huge as lot of Asian airlines had canceled lot of flights. The security guards, the guides at almost all escalators and turns were guiding people with a smile and soft voice. It must require a lot of patience for being calm, soft, and gentle in crisis.
Finally my son made to the flight and the flight left at 5:03 PM JST for NYC. I am glad that he is on his way home and to be with family members there.My return trip was also slow. More about it later.
For many organizations, the difference between customer service and customer focus is not very clear. Winning awards just for customer service does not always translate into a great customer experience.
To quote Jeff Bezos, of Amazon “The customer experience is bigger than customer service in that it is the full, end-to-end experience. It starts when you first hear about Amazon from a friend and ends when you get a package in the mail and open it.” and he says, “I’am fanatic about the customer experience.”
From the lens of the cultural background I grew up in, the belief is that a “A guest who visits you needs to be treated like a GOD” and in modern business terms, the customer is that guest who is not only visiting you but providing you his money and your salary. So, that guest really needs to be provided with a great experience.
Over the years, I have watched various organizations and companies that, during their early years of growth life cycle are willing to listen to their customers, but as they mature and the revenues and profits become significant, the arrogance and neglect of customers sinks into the culture.
When the revenues and profits start declining, they start talking about voice of the customer internally but the actions do not translate into really listening to the customers. The customer complaints become a statistical number which is so small compared to the total number of customers who do not complain that those issues end up nowhere.
One must understand that when a customer complains and is willing to spend time to write a long email, blog or leave long phone message, then he/she has crossed a patience threshold and for every one customer that complains, there many of them who are quiet as they do not want to spend time voicing their issues.
For organizations to be really customer oriented and focused, they need
- to prioritize the customer facing issues
- to act on the issues
- to communicate in a positive manner with the complaining customers as well as the wider customer base
- to improve their products and services for the customers and not for the ‘product managers’
- to regularly get feedback from the customers.
Good customer experience increases chance of customer loyalty, lifetime value and free advertising via word-of-mouth and during current times via Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. Organizations that have a mission to grow profitably need to have a major focus on providing good customer experience. The following 6C’s could be followed by any company for providing great customer experience.
- Consider each customer complaint as a gift or opportunity to improve service, product or business relationship.
- Communicate with customers in a timely fashion. A customer whose issues are resolved in timely fashion has greater chance of becoming your advocate and recommend you to his or her friends, even though he or she had some issues with your organization in the past.
- Continuously perform customer satisfaction surveys with the aim of understanding problem areas, and the future behavior of satisfied customers.
- Consider your website, as one of the key tools for providing a great customer experience.
- Customer loyalty needs to rewarded. (For example, by providing incentives for future purchases or by providing them referral credits).
- Customer experience reviews and actions for improving the experience should become the integral part of the organization’s DNA or core values.
The customer is one of the top things that matter most in business. One of the key companies that value customer experience is Ritz-Carlton. It is the only service company to have won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice. To that end, all of Ritz-Carlton’s employees in every company hotel meet every day for a “15-minute” lineup to talk about their core values. More companies should have these meet ups to get the day going while reinforcing the company’s core values.The above steps can be easily adopted by any company to be competitive and grow their business.