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Removing an itch

Some time ago we carried out customer satisfaction research for a brewery that owned a large number of pubs. The numerical scores for people’s satisfaction with its opening times, the quality of the beer, the ambiance of the pubs and so on somehow failed to tell us exactly how people were feeling. We carried out depth interviews with customers and discovered an issue that had been overlooked. It transpired that the problem was the standard of the toilets (or as our American cousins would say, the bathrooms).

When people visit pubs the core proposition of the beer and the service has to be acceptable. However, toilets are much visited and if they are only cleaned once a day they almost certainly will leave something to be desired. We discussed this subject with another client of ours who ran bingo halls. Here the clientele were mainly female. Following our discussion on the impact of toilet cleanliness, the bingo hall operator made some changes. They refurbished and decorated the toilets and every day featured a fresh flower display.

The impact on the pubs and the bingo halls was dramatic and immediate. Everyone visits toilets and everyone likes them to be clean and tidy. Failure in this department might cause customers to subliminally or even overtly think that lack of attention to something so visible might be a reflection on something that is not so visible – such as what is going on in the kitchens.

In the world of customer experience we think of these issues as “itches”. They are not part of the core product, they are not part of the augmented product. They are fringe but basic items which must not be neglected. When a customer visits a supermarket and picks up a trolley, the bent wheel which makes it difficult to steer is not a driver of customer satisfaction or loyalty but it is an annoyance which will play with the customer’s mind. Why can’t the supermarket maintain its trolleys? Why can’t it collect the random trolleys which are scattered around the car park? Why can’t it pick up litter on the street outside the store?

These itches can get overlooked. The road system in the UK is badly neglected. Anyone reading this blog will recently have been held up by road works where nothing seems to be happening. These disruptions to the traffic can go on for days if not weeks holding people up, raising blood pressure, and demonstrating a lack of regard for motorists on their daily round. Roadworks and road conditions may be way down the list of core values that are looked for by a population but they are the equivalent of the grubby toilet or the faulty supermarket trolley. It is why customer experience is so important. Paying attention to some relatively small issues won’t necessarily boost customer satisfaction scores, but it will remove an itch that could jeopardise them.


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