5 THINGS ABOUT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE YOUR SKI INSTRUCTOR CAN TEACH YOU

I have recently returned from 3 days of throwing myself down the French Alps at speed. In my head I looked like James Bond for most of this time. In reality I probably looked more like Mr. Bean. But you know what they say, perception is reality.

Aside from aching muscles and sun/wind cracked lips, I finished my holiday musing about the things my French ski instructor Phillipe taught me, and how they could be applied not just to skiing, but also to every brands’ Customer Experience Strategy. Too much snow does funny things to the mind!

So here are five nuggets of wisdom from Phillipe via the French Alps. Maybe one of them will help you achieve the CX James Bond status we all seek?

1 Look Ahead, Not Down

Until you are a relatively competent skier, it is natural to keep looking down at your ski tips, making sure they don’t cross, ensuring the parallel turn is indeed parallel, concentrating on keeping your side slip straight. But looking down takes your eye and focus off where you are supposed to be going, and so your balance and momentum suffer.

It is the same with your Customer Experience. Too often a business focuses on one given aspect of their Customer Journey or delivers fantastic CX at one point, forgetting about the wider journey. Good Customer Experience is visionary, with any given consumer’s journey, but should be focused and optimised at every point.

Sometimes a business has their head down focusing on their own processes or procedures without looking up at how this may be affecting their customer. A recent re-mortgage application process of mine with Allied Irish Bank has taken over 6 months because the mortgage team took their eye off the customer journey as an entirety, each party blaming the other dept. for specific delays and failures.

Good CX comes from a holistic ‘head-up’ vision of the entire journey. Don’t look down. Don’t focus on the internal things or your own processes. Focus on the entire journey for the customer.

2 Uphill Skiers Give Way to Those Downhill

The only way the slopes work, and don’t result in collision after crash, is if those hurtling downwards at speed take responsibility in going around or avoiding those below (mind you we have all been wiped out by someone who has forgotten this – yes goatee bearded Snowboarders, I am looking at you…). The uphill skier can see the downhill skier, but that is not true vice versa.

Your business or brand is the uphill skier, your customer the downhill. You know your product and service and the customer journey. You have designed it and know how it works (or should). A customer may be going through it for the first time. You need to realise that the things you ‘know’ are their first-time questions.

Too often Customer Experience fails as customer service operators treat customers like they are idiots. Chatbots help answer the easy routine questions, but ultimately we need to adapt to the strange and unexpected ‘turns’ a customer may take within our customer journey. And they will.  Gold standard CX will adapt to their change of direction, wrap itself around their new reality and keep them upright. You need to learn to adapt CX to that ‘downhill’ customer, as they might alter their journey at any given moment.

3 years ago, I was awarded penalty points for driving while holding a mobile phone. Fair enough. My motor insurance premium with AXA the following year was loaded as a result. Again, fair enough. This year the points finally lapsed, mid-term through my insurance policy, and so I contacted them with this new information to reduce my premium. They said their procedure was “not to acknowledge such changes in circumstance mid-policy” and the reduction would only take effect in 6 months, at my next renewal. I felt as valued and welcome as a wailing baby on a trans-Atlantic flight.

While I was on the phone with them, I remembered that they hadn’t updated my mailing address since I had moved house a few months before. I gave them my new address. And guess what? The change of address resulted in an IMMEDIATE loading of my policy, mid-term. No waiting for renewal when there was more money to be made. This is a company and process not built around the downhill skier!

It is very like something else Phillipe said. Keep your knees soft. It is the only way you can retain your balance as a skier. Soft responsive knees ensure you stay upright as you cross uneven terrain. AXA could learn from that. Adjust your processes to take account of changes in the customers terrain. Rigidity in your CX delivery is never good.

3 Learn from Your Falls

Failure is never overly pleasant, but in skiing you have two choices. You can get grumpy when you fall or you can work out WHY it was you fell in the first place. Learning any new sport is not always fun, and regardless of how good a skier you are, you are bound to take a decent tumble at some point when learning new techniques. Learning what went wrong, getting up, adjusting and trying again is how we all learn. But getting up and continuing to make the same mistake over and over again is not how you better your skiing.

No matter how well you design your CX touchpoints and process, sometimes you will drop the ball. You will fail a customer. How you deal with this moment defines you as a brand and business. Pretending it didn’t happen or simply ignoring the bodies lying all over ‘the slopes’ is not good business.

A failed Customer Experience moment is a beautiful gift. Learn to see them as such. Examine them with absolute curiosity. What went wrong? How can we ensure this never happens again? How can we make the customer feel better now that things have gone wrong? CX fails are a learning experience for everyone, but only if there is a genuine desire to ensure they never happen again. Make sure you have invested in the people, skills and systems that allow you to capture and action such moments.

4 Ski with Your Mind & Body, Not with Your Skis

Once you have learned the basics, skiing is really about feeling the slope, reacting to the terrain and just ‘skiing’, feeling the flow. It is not about your skis or poles or boots. Better boots won’t make you a better skier.

This also applies to business in terms of the systems and technology they are investing in within the Customer Experience delivery. Yes, there is some system investment required sometimes, but often some businesses are over focused on technology and automation within the customer journey, often seemingly just for the sake of technology. This is focusing on the ‘equipment’ of Customer Experience instead of the overall philosophy.

Customer Experience is a philosophy driven by culture not by the ‘skis’ of the process. A new CRM system isn’t going to embed a CX philosophy into an organization. It is just equipment, technology, a supporting player.

A great skier could probably ski on two pieces of board taped to their feet. Embed CX as a culture and you will find that the tools and technologies you need become the enablers not the drivers. The driver should be the belief and passion for gold standard CX.

5 Relax and Have Fun

Sometimes we are so busy learning to ski, learning new skills that we forget we are there to enjoy ourselves. Sure, we have to push ourselves on occasion, but overall, we ski to have fun, for the thrill, for that ‘feeling’.

Sometimes a brand or business becomes so focused on their service delivery they forget that we are all human. We are all people, who like a laugh and a joke or a smile. That no matter what you are selling or providing, that it is the human touch or surprise that makes the difference.

Have fun with your customer experiences and interactions. Don’t get overly formal or stuffy. Of course, be professional but also leave room for that authenticity and ‘genuine vibe’ that the new modern consumer craves. If your CX becomes hyper efficient and frictionless but devoid of personality, then you have missed an opportunity.

So, there you have it. 5 things that Phillipe taught us all about how we can further hone our CX strategies while wearing thermal underwear. 4 days after returning home my muscles still ache and my lips are still cracked. But it was worth it, as it is when a customer gives you that 5-star review. It is always worth the effort.


To hear more on CX philosophy, see more detail here from one of the latest keynotes launched for 2019 by Ken Hughes entitled “What The FUCX: Why Your Customer Experience is Everything

Ken Hughes is now widely recognized as one of the world’s leading Consumer and Shopper Behaviouralists, blending his significant expertise in new consumer values, cyber psychology, digital realities and societal change to help brands and businesses navigate the latest consumerist challenges and to survive & thrive. Click here to read more.

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