customer experience People Technology

People not Bots are to Blame

People not Bots are to Blame

I’ve spent my entire life innovating, creating & delivering Service – It shouldn’t be this way?

I’m proud to have started my career and spent much of it (over 25 years) working to help some great brands deliver on the promises they made to their customers.

Perhaps I was lucky that I started my career at the RAC where I was instrumental in creating the new and often iconic service centres you see alongside, for example, the M6. I was told that we were there to serve our Customer’s brilliantly. When they became stranded nothing mattered other than the reassurance that it was ok, help was on its way and that we would get them back on their journey, safely – The Knights of the Road – that was our strapline – I felt very proud to be part of that.

Needing To Make A Profit Is Nothing New

The other thing I was lucky to learn – Thank you to Dean Nicholson for teaching me these things at the RAC – was that business is about making profit. With profits you can provide certainty and opportunity for Colleagues and Customers alike. So in addition to business growth, how efficiently and effectively are you delivering this – ensuring you are doing things ‘right first time’ – sending another patrol or a contractor back out was a poor experience as well as costing a lot and potentially eroding any profitability.

But it’s like at some point the two things I knew to be certain got separated. Providing great service seemed by many in the ‘C’ Suite to be believed to be incompatible with making a better Return On Investment (ROI).

I will say again, throughout my entire career I have shown this to be a complete fallacy. Great Service improves ROI (more cost effective and delivers revenue growth) which has now been proved time and time again through various global research studies by Forrester, KPMG Nunwood, Deloitte to name a few.

Are Bots Ruining Service – Especially now

I did a post on LinkedIN: Bots Are To Blame. It was prompted by a piece written by Sir John Timpson – Chairman of iconic and renowned UK retailer Timpson which is now run by his son James Timpson whom I have met a few times at various North West events or his restaurant in Anglesey.

To paraphrase, Sir John was commenting in a piece he wrote for the Telegraph where he had seen a demonstrable drop in service quality after an initial lift at the start of COVID. This is to an extent endorsed by the recent UKCSI results posted on the 6th July 2021.

This post got a lot of response and comments so thank you to: Mark Billingham; Stephen Yap; William Carson; David Clarke; Martin Hill Wilson; Morris Pentel and many others for your comments on my post last week.

At the risk of a massive generalisation there was a mixed reaction to ‘Bots are the Blame’ and more agreement that poor service and the decline in service is due to a wide range of reasons. These boiled down to the following:

1. Poorly designed experiences that haven’t been reviewed end to end e.g. something has just been bolted on or stuck in:

a. Bad bots are a result of bad design

b. Bad design has its roots in functional not end to end; sold by a tech business as a must have; or cost driven ,decision making (let’s put X in as it will stop Y)

“Bots which look to stop people talking to humans regardless of need are where I believe the issues lie”

“The cheery 1950’s voice of the IVR still lets me know “we’re experiencing a higher than usual call volume due to the Coronavirus outbreak” more than a year after the first national lockdown. That’s really disconnected, and such an easy fix”

2. Executives who are paying lip service or don’t really care about the experience as they are too focused or pressured to deliver Revenue YOY growth or an EBITDA number no matter what:

“Given the ever increasing trend in retail (and other sectors) to ‘lean’ further & further into the transaction over the last decade rather than joined up thinking around experience I’m not surprised at this report”

3. Customer Contact functions despite their name don’t drive the contacts, it is failings across the end-to-end journey that does that (less than 10% are usually contacting about poor contact centre service), however poor data & insights into these drivers continue to put pressures on contact centre or customer services director having to do MORE for LESS as the other business areas are NOT held to account for the failings, they are driving

“Bots aren’t to blame, that’s just poor management, a good bot can be a great experience”

4. Technology is not fit for purpose – many businesses still cannot join up the experiences through data, channels and interactions – 15+ years ago the industry obsessed about OMNI Channel and we are still talking about this and hearing horror stories of how service colleagues have to navigate 8+ windows on their screens due to different systems they have to work their way around to get to the answer a customer needs – oh and by the way they are usually a colleague on minimum or national living wage!

“If you’re thinking about automation as primarily to reduce cost to serve, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. Automation done well enhances the experience, for example by efficiently routing calls to the right human. It is not a replacement for a human”

“It sometimes gets worse when after finally getting through to a human, I then get a standard customer support scripted response to notification of problems, which are often technically nonsense”

Brilliant Basics – We need to Beat the Bad Out

Whilst the post was couched in CX terms, or more accurately got a lot of response from the CX community, I don’t want to go down a CX angle. I will however borrow a phrase we use a lot in our engagements: Brilliant Basics

For me good design is a fundamental skill. A brilliant basic if you like. Far too often services are designed in a vacuum, set in the context of the end point ‘Customer Service’ but labelled ‘Customer Experience’ as that was the new fad several years ago.  

Put simply, this is not good enough!  So here’s 4 steps that can help beat the bad out …..

  1. Recognise the important elephants in the room
  2. Treat the CFO as your best friend
  3. Following 3 simple steps – See Below
  4. Collaborate widely outside of your functional remit

1. The Elephant in The Room – Service. A cost of failure to be marginalised

I used to be renowned for calling out service that was akin to putting ‘Lipstick On A Pig’. But I’ve moved on and think I will be making more use of the Elephant in the room – which has now donned a bright pink tutu and is dancing to rave music.

Very few if any sectors have emerged unscathed – certainly in terms of service but also more widely – from the pandemic. We have also had the government shore up the economy to a predicted level of £500+billion.

Now let’s remember two things. The government spends our money (even if it borrows it first) and it is going to want it back and secondly, business is about profit, even charities have to make money.

This spills over into (and in my direct experience always has in most organisations) a view that service is a cost that should not be there and as such (and perhaps because the metrics are so easy to capture) is under constant pressure to get rid of itself. VERY few organisations genuinely see, let alone realise, the benefits this often most emotional of contact channels can bring to their companies

2. The Chief Financial Officer – The Your Best Friend

So, this sort of brings me back to where I started. Understanding and creating the link between Brand/Customer Centricity and the ability to drive a better ROI.

If you correctly understand the relationship between the bits of your brand that drive most value and the role your colleagues play in servicing it, then you are on your way to being an asset your CFO is going to want to listen to versus a cost to be squeezed – which affects every decision that you make.

And the single most fundamental skill you need is the ability to Commercialise Service – build a ‘Value’ based Business Case encompassing what the cost of service is and the value it brings, or the opportunity costs to improve through the full end to end impact of the service changes you are proposing, based on real metrics, solid assumptions and ideally the direct involvement and support of all the key stakeholders.

3. Three Step Solution

a. Identify the problem – be specific and seek out root cause

b. Design the solution – build scenarios using design thinking to get to winners

c. Create a business case showing how the solution delivers a better ROI

“Rules based bots are great for simple tasks whilst AI bots are great for customer service issues.  However, both have to be created, developed and reported on!
Very much like a customer service advisor”

This last point is critical – because it universally gets hit with the cheaper hammer. Better might cost more in service, but deliver better customer value (both immediately, or over a defined period that is proven). It may also be cost neutral, but require investment, and also identify up & downstream savings in broken internal processes that are bleeding cash.

“Good design and UX Testing with real people can solve 80% of the problems which can improve customer retention and grow life-time customer value. Bad UX design will lead to expensive customer acquisition costs”

4. The Ability to Think & Act Wider Than Your Functional Remit

This is something we see again and again. In fact, it has led to a canned response when people ask how we build cross functional / hierarchical collaboration in our solutions “we get people from different levels and different functions to come together to collaborate on creating a solution to a problem”

I am not being trite here. Yes, there is a lot of nuance into what goes into this to make it sing, but you would be amazed how many times our initial request for say, finance participation, are met with why?

We very rarely find these mixed groups have the problems some internal people perceive they will have, besides the benefit far outweighs the odd teething problem.

It’s Not The Bots – It’s the People

True Artificial Intelligence is yet to exists (there is a test – nothing has passed it yet), so all bots are only as good as the people who built and trained them and given the systemic issues I have pointed out in this article, it is no wonder that Bots can fail – they have been badly bought and badly trained.

And Finally…

So what I hear some of you say. Well, the so what for me and the team at Custerian is simple. If you want to succeed in connecting your business purpose to the outcomes your customers crave and buy more of from you in preference to competitors… then you need to step up to the People (Not Customer) Experience plate and engage in the sort of business wide outcome orientated change that makes the most of your greatest asset – Your Colleagues – by engaging and aligning them to the things that deliver the greatest return on investment for all stakeholders – including Customers.

Something we have been actually doing since my days at RAC… . and what we created Custerian for – Re-Purpose For Profit.






Nicola Collister

Agile Customer Engagement customer experience new ways of working thoughts

Service Design – The key to faster, better solutions

Service Design – The key to faster, better solutions

My Take on Service Design as a Solution & Continuous Improvement Practitioner

We all experience some sort of ‘Service’ each day, whether it be contacting a company, shopping online, or even something as simple as buying a coffee. But what makes a service great? And how can it be improved? 

Service Design!…but what is Service Design?

We’ll take a whistle stop tour on what service design is, and why you should think about it (if you’re not already) to help make your, or your clients, brand stand out.

Creating Competitive Advantage – Out Of Thin Air

I recently saw a definition of Service Design that prompted me to write this blog, as we likely encounter service design on a daily basis without really realising it, but it illustrates why it’s so important for businesses to focus on.

“When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sells the exact same coffee at the exact same price, ‘Service Design’ is what makes you walk into one and not the other”

This is as customers don’t access brands in a singular way, but within a multitude of interactions that can shape the way they think & feel about a brand, and which ultimately (consciously or unconsciously) decides whether they choose to engage with that brand in future.

Marc Stickhorn & Jacob Schneider, authors of ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ identify their 5 key principles that Service Design should be:

  1. User Centred – Design should be focused on all users
  2. Co-Creative – Include all relevant stakeholders in the design process
  3. Sequencing – Break a complex service into separate process / user journey sections
  4. Evidencing – Envision service experiences to make them tangible for users to understand
  5. Holistic – Design for all touchpoints throughout experiences, across all users and interactions

Walking through the 5 principles, what could each of these look like?

User Centred – All Users. NOT just Customers

Businesses can often focus on what they “think” a customer wants, or on what their “core” customer wants, but doing this could limit their ability to gain new customers and well as annoying some of their current ones!

To truly improve CX, a business needs to cater to various users (both internal & external) and understand the needs, wants & pain points of each group, whilst also taking into consideration that a service design experience often happens across multiple channels and products.

Personas & Customer Journey Maps are a great way to do this, as they help you step into the shoes of a specific customer type and start to think “How do they engage with us?”. 

  • What are the functional things they need to achieve when using us?
  • How do they access our services and information?
  • What do they want to feel when engaging with us? 
  • What steps do they go through when using us?
  • When and where in the journey do customers contact us?
  • What issues (pain points) could they encounter?

These are a simple but effective approach in being able to start your service design for all of your customer types, ensuring you take their needs & wants into account and understand what your current, as-is service provides (or not as the case may be!), so you can then start to identify gaps and areas of improvement for the Future State design.

Co-Creative – But Avoiding Group Think

More often than not, the people that know a business best are the people that live and breathe it each day. They use the systems & machinery, follow the processes, speak to the customers, and most importantly, encounter the issues. But regularly, these colleagues, along with their valuable insight can be an afterthought when an improvement project is underway.

One of our key principles at Custerian is that we “do with, no to”, as creating engagement and a shared purpose for any activity is key to ensuring initial and ongoing success.

Where possible, colleagues from departments that interact with the customer along the customer journey (whether direct or indirect) should be engaged and brought on the journey, as it’s likely that their area or department could have an impact on the customer experience should an issue occur, so should be factored in when looking to improve.

Sequencing – Eating the Elephant A Bite at a Time

Depending on the size and scale of a business, processes and customer journeys can be daunting. Sequencing can be a good way to break these down into more manageable ‘chunks’ and start to group certain processes and working areas together.

For example, a customer journey for purchasing a product online can be long-winded from initially browsing for a product, through to having It delivered and using it. Breaking this journey down into key ‘Stages’ can help understand the process at a high level, and allow you to segment some of the lower-level touchpoints & processes under these headings (e.g. The above browsing journey could simply become the following stages:

Research – How are people finding you? 

Browse – What are they doing to find out if you have something they want

Buy  – The end to end purchase experience 

Delivery – How are the services/products getting to the customer

Aftercare – What happens after the ‘sale’ has happened

These 5 steps illustrate the typical customer journey, and will now allow for key aspects of each stage to be identified easier, and enable any data you have to be appended onto each stage to start to understand the key issue.

Evidencing – Making it Real As Soon As Possible

When working on Service Design, it can be quite hard to visualise and explain how you think something should work, how it should look, what features it should have, etc.

Prototyping can help with this.

Prototyping is a process where design teams will turn thoughts & ideas into tangible paper / digital forms so they can be shared with wider teams and even tested on customers prior to full launch. It helps companies get ideas down and circulated without making it too complex too early, as well as prevent sticking with a poor idea for too long.

Whilst working on a prototype, it’s important to think also think about some key aspects of the product / service you’re designing:

  • How Feasible is this idea? – Can we achieve this?
  • How Desirable is this idea? – Do customers want this?
  • How Viable is this idea? – Does it make business sense?

If the answer to all of these is Yes, then chances are you’re on the right track!

Prototyping will be completed collaboratively as part of or after an ideation session once you’ve worked to understand your key issues and customer pain points that require addressing.

Holistic – Test it at Every Touchpoint

As we mentioned right at the start, the service you provide is experienced across a multitude of ways and touchpoints. It’s therefore important that the service design journey you go on encapsulates all of these touchpoints and interaction types to provide all customers types, across all journey stages with the service that works for them to make their experience a positive one.

Whilst improving a certain area of your service may be great, if the customer then encounters inconvenience or barriers at the next stage, their journey is still going to be a poor one!

So the next time you buy a coffee, walk into a shop or purchase a certain product, there’s maybe something other than personal preference that’s help you make that decision!

But So What?

The thing for me that is good about Service Design as an approach, is that you only need to remember the 5 principles to get going.

The whole point of it is that it is better to have a go, than spend months agonising about the right way of doing it, because the very worse you are going to do… is to do a better job than you would by doing it almost any other way. And that’s someone who spent 5 years training to be a lean practitioner! 

So go on.. give it a go today.

Liam Allen
Outcome Solutions Lead

Agile customer experience

M&A or Stress Test your existing business – How to bring businesses together to create value

M&A or Stress Test your existing business – How to bring businesses together to create value

A lot of M&A activity tends to focus on legal and financial aspects but equally important are the operational and commercial elements, as they often show where the businesses can add value / improve efficiency and effectiveness by coming together (integrating) as little or as much as you believe will create value.

We have conducted many of these due diligence activities over the last few years (both face to face and virtually) and whilst our approach is generally the same, our expertise, findings and outputs are all bespoke to the situation. I thought it would be useful to show our approach and the benefits. This approach can also be used to stress test an existing business to help build a strategic plan for improvements or identify opportunities for revenue growth. 

What approach do we take?

  • We start with a kick-off meeting to understand more about the companies involved and objectives – this will help us to decide where / what we want to see and who we want to meet. We also agree the approach and messaging to stakeholders to maintain confidence (if required)
  • We request information (which we walk through also) – this will be adapted dependent on the organisation we are looking at – e.g. is it multi-site, how do they serve customers, how many years have they been operating etc. The request can be extensive for businesses with high volumes of customer contact, operational activities or customer interactions
  • We begin our stakeholder process (remote or on site) – conducting interviews with agreed colleagues from executives to operational leaders to ascertain insights into the proposition, the processes, people and organisational design, and the priorities – we do this in order to gain insights into how the business currently operates, the future strategy and plans and evaluate alignment or differences between peers, or colleagues within the organisation. Often the stakeholder process also includes interviews with clients, prospects, lapsed clients and partners too.
  • We attend sites and sit with colleagues to find out more about the organisation – getting a feel for how an organisation uses its buildings and runs its operations is insightful. We know what to look out for! We also use a question framework with front line colleagues and first line team leaders which supports the stakeholder interview process.

How does the approach add value?

It is important to have an experienced team leading any activity.  We use practitioners, (people who have run/led businesses and functions) and bring specialists in where required to use their more specific skills to review and interpret information and suggest improvements. This could involve workforce planning expertise (where there are contact centres to consider) and commercial contracting expertise (to review contracts commercially as opposed to legally). The team have well-honed skills in questioning and interpretation to get to what we need at pace.

Importantly, Custerian bring together what we see, hear and can evidence through data and insights and then align this to objectives / priorities and create actionable outputs. This adds another dimension that supports integration planning that many may not consider.

The other way we add value is by working closely with other partners such as legal and financial. By partners sharing key thoughts and risks / issues identified and agreeing the impact, you can really help to inform any offer made or for stress testing, ensure financial targets are achievable and then measured appropriately.

How quickly can this be done?

We have developed draft reports within a 3 – 4 week period for medium sized companies. This tends to be a requirement of due diligence activity, as often Letters if Intent (LOI) as issued with a 30-day window. For stress testing it is actually also useful to conduct the work at pace and then continue this into action planning whilst the momentum is there to deliver.

What kinds of things are considered in the approach?

We have delivered outputs incorporating views on many things. Here are just a few:

  • Commercial risks & opportunities
  • Efficiency & effectiveness of operations
  • Colleague engagement
  • Organisational design
  • Transformation capability and opportunities
  • Technology risks, issues and opportunities

We would also outline the priorities and roadmaps to improve and create further value and can even offer additional solution design if required to get the process of improvements and value creation moving!

The Top 4 benefits of our involvement summarised:

  • You get to understand more of the ‘how’ the business operates as opposed to what the financials say
  • You obtain valuable insights from your clients, prospects, and lapsed clients and partners about your proposition, processes, people and priorities
  • You gain a wider perspective from colleagues, a feel for the culture of the organisation(s), where challenges may lie, or opportunities exist to create better aligned organisations – that can be used to inform integration or business improvement planning
  • You gain roadmaps and prioritisation plans for improvement that you can pick up and start to work on now, with your own teams or with some ‘kick start’ support – especially for stress testing

It would be great to hear of any other thoughts you have in relation to this activity and if you would like to chat, please do get in touch via – or


Beverley StagCusterian Outcome Creation Specialist 

Agile customer experience

Changes Done, Well

Change Done, Well

Changes Done Well Custerian

We all experienced (been involved in, or seen) changes that have worked, but often we have seen change done badly (we tend to remember those well) and those are the ones we tend to remember.

Change is a given, a bit like death and taxes, but now the PACE is unprecedented – it’s like a roller coaster of a life time

I often hear people saying well change is a constant, so we just have to embrace it and get on with it, that is certainly true of the last 7 months, however often we are really just adapting to changes that are happening rather than driving it or embracing it.

This is true often in work life and our personal lives. Most people don’t like change, as they want to do what they have always done, it feels safer and so on …. we have all read the book on the ‘emotions’ that people go through during change.

There are a few personality types that thrive on change, but that doesn’t mean they are all great at getting change done well – you have the idea makers (lots of different ideas (scope creep), the planners and updaters (they love excel, to do lists) and the deliverers (who just want to get on and do it, hate all the talk, let’s just crack on).

Leading Significant Change is not for the faint hearted – as you have to be designer, negotiator, counsellor, planner, coach, auditor, communicator, motivator.

Covid created a ‘Burning platform’ – but it doesn’t necessarily mean it was done well.

Recently through discussions with various business leaders I have heard stories about how at the start of Covid there were significant challenges that had to be overcome, quickly and
that the teams: rallied together; were creative; focussed; resilient and got the tasks in hand done with a huge sense of pride.

From setting up homeworking, getting premises changes made, ramping up resources – for those businesses who have thrived (eg. online, distribution, food).

However, some of this now needs to be reviewed, as part of the future operating model not just a ‘temp fix’ – there are conversations about how inefficient or too costly some of these solutions may have been, or that for some it’s not sustainable.

Digital leaders – this put them on a pedestal – this became the only channel or the ‘promoted channel (not always best for the customer) this had a huge step up in focus. Many digital projects fast tracked and delivered from concept to production in a matter of weeks, some of which had been fighting for attention for months, even years.

So why don’t changes get done? Or done well?

In my personal experience, and our teams experience when working with companies whether that be for kick starting an existing change, or a new change there are many reasons as to why change fails from: cultural; leadership; governance; lack of focus; resources; skillsets; inadequate support, too complex, and many more.

However based on a recent poll that I did: 50% said this was due to inadequate change leadership; 25% due to the Purpose and Outcomes not being clear; 17% poor planning, 8% due to lack of engagement or support.

Adapting something should be simple, and often is, little adaptions feel easier. Changing is much more challenging but not impossible – often we make the change impossible

Change should be delivered with PACE, and this is not about the methodology you are using, which could be agile, prince and other methods. Using PACE framework is at the start, throughout and the end of change – ensuring that you have done this with PACE.

So, I will explain a bit more about this.

Custerian 4 P's approach

Purpose – creating a clear sense of why we are doing something – it’s about creating understand (if we understand it, we will get it quicker) – the reasons as to WHY we need to change. What’s the problem / opportunity? What do you want to achieve (objectives/outcomes), how would you describe once you have achieved it (Vision).

Agility – often mistaken for getting on with something quickly. That isn’t what working with agility is about. That would be like saying right we need to run ….. setting off running before you heard the end of the brief ! You still need a clear purpose, the journey of how you are going to get from A to D (depending on the change, this doesn’t always need a detailed line by line plan), break it down into bite sized chunks of time (so in the next 2-3 weeks we need to), and then having the ability to quickly react, adapt and evolve in response to circumstances – which maybe a business need, the effects of part of the change, or user research.

Contribution – three things are important about contribution.

1. Change Lead/Owner – at the outset it is important to define who is the change owner, some companies are calling this a Product Owner – this is the person who is accountable for making the change happen – they are there to who is going to give support, break down the barriers, galvanise the team. They are the Change Lead and Champion, typically there are less than 10% of people in businesses who can fulfil this role – this isn’t the project manager! Someone with a successful track record of delivering change, well.

2. Getting the Right Contribution at the Right Time, so who needs to be in the team? and when ? SME’s, partners, suppliers, who is the change impacting? What are their persona types – how do we get their input & involvement? Identifying some of this at the discovery sessions, and then ensuring you are reviewing this throughout for the weeks ahead.

3. Governance – where do you need to update or get contributions from the wider
business ?

Empowerment – often leaders and teams make the mistake of saying off you go you are empowered to make this change happen, or even worst just assuming the team knows what they can and can’t do.

It is important at the outset to decide what level of empowerment it warrants ?

a. Tame problem/Minor step change – something you can just let people sort it out

b. Wicked problem / new product – lots of collaboration to master the resolution or delivery

c. Critical – to the survival of the business, product line growth – important that someone take the lead and tells the team what they need to do now, next

and then what level of support do the team, members require…


So if you want change done well, remember PACE: Purpose, Agility, Contribution, Empowerment or if you have a struggling change programme or project – in order of priority CPAE ! 

Often an Outside In view can help – to get a fresh set of eyes, a different perspective, not teams who are familiar with your ways of working. 

That is why our clients get in touch with Custerian to work with a clients teams to get the right stuff done, brilliantly !

Customer Engagement customer experience

Custerian Backs Raise Your Hands

Custerian supports Raise Your Hands - Charity

It is hugely important to us here at Custerian, as an SME in the UK, and as a member of Business in the Community, that we continue to support very worthy causes at this extraordinary time.

Small charities transform lives every day. Which is why at Custerian we proudly support Raise Your HandsRaise Your Hands exists to increase the impact of exceptional small charities.

Their work has impact and yet they still struggle for funding so please head over to their website below and see how you too can help out!

Raise Your Hands Charity Website Link

Custerian supports raise your hands
Customer Engagement customer experience

Why Customers (Don’t) Choose You!

Why Customers (Don’t) Choose You!

I recently supported the Awards International CX Awards as a judge for the second time. It’s great to see the ongoing focus on customer experience of the entrants and seeing some of their reactions to Covid impacts. Some of them however stood out more. Those that have truly brought their employees with them and created solutions together.

Recent months have affected us all in different ways from both a business and personal perspective. Habits have changed. I’m shopping more locally but also thinking more about what I need and what I don’t and more consciously trying to keep in touch with friends and family as it’s easy to lose that when there are no gatherings. I for one miss that interaction.

So let’s put this into customer thinking….

Are you in touch with your customers?

Ask yourself the following (honestly):

  • Are you keeping in touch with your customers?
  • In a way that they want you to?
  • About the things they want from you?
  • Are you making it easy for them to get in touch?
  • Ae you monitoring their needs and expectations?
  • Are you considering emotions – how your interaction makes them feel? (Don’t forget this as it’s a key element to engagement)


  • When they contact, is Covid being used as an excuse for long wait times or lower levels of service?

Are there things you instantly think you could do better now you think about it?

Can your own experiences shape your approach to customers?

This is something I feel is a great way to drive improvement. I often think about what I like / don’t about the service I receive and how I would support the improvement given the opportunity…..

Here are some examples of my recent experiences:

  • Car service booking – long wait time to answer with a Covid message being played (many times!) to justify the holding. I sat there thinking – is there a staffing issues, are they trying to save costs, are there really many more calls etc and of course – I could be doing something better!
  • Delivery due between 3&5pm. Changed on the day to between 1&3. That’s fine. Never arrived or attempted & received an email that I’m not in (I was sat in the window!!) and then tracking stated there was a problem (really!!). I then had to contact the retailer – who would accept my query 7 days after the product was due. Trying to find contact details was equally frustrating – anyone would think they did not want me to complain!!!
  • Telecomms company – received an email regarding my package a couple of weeks before renewal. Sent messages prior to renewal date for more information and followed up twice – still no response weeks on!!! If I knew others were better, I would have moved. I have contacted them to offer support!

I don’t know about you, but with some many things on the go – isolation, home schooling, work, entertaining children – I want other things to be easy.

How fast are expectations changing?

So are my expectations greater now than in the past – yes. The leaders in service set our expectations and we expect others to follow – across all sectors.

I’m not asking for same day delivery – I’m asking for the product I want, to be right, to be delivered on time. Or for a services – for my contact response time to be minimal and my query answered first time ideally. That’s not a lot to ask.

Expectations are changing as fast as the leaders are driving them. You only have to look at Amazon this year, accounting for around 47% of retail sales I believe. It’s not the cheapest anymore, but it’s simple, convenient and reliable.

If you’re not doing the basics well, you won’t be chosen.

People don’t want to spend more time than they have to – if it takes too long, they won’t come back – unless they have to. But once they don’t, they will leave.

Meeting or exceeding expectations is the way to retain. So now for the great things I’ve seen over recent weeks – I’ve spent much more time remembering these (key point!)

  • Co-op App – I received a leaflet to ask me to sign up. It was quick and easy and I receive weekly offers to choose from (relevant to me) so I now make savings most time I shop. The other thing I love is that I am reminded to choose a local charity that I will support by shopping at the Co-op. The charity changes and this week I needed to choose again. I feel that shopping locally is helping others locally too.
  • Local Retailers – In my local town, a number of stores have taken to thanking you for shopping with them, every time you visit. Again building your engagement with them. Linked to this I ordered some personalised notebooks for a gift and received a personalised message on the box and inside thanking me also. Nice touch!

So what can we learn from our own experiences?

  • I feel it is the recognition of brands of what we are going through, of being nice, of saying thank you, you’re making a difference of making it easier. We can all do this in some way.
  • Know your customers and their needs and follow their experience with you and think about what you know could be better and make it happen.

I could go on – but I think you get the idea.

Think outside in….

  • follow the journey your customers do, use your own experience to improve theirs
  • find their needs and their frustrations (colleagues can help here),
  • fix what you can now
  • plan for the rest

and you’ll be on the right track

Beverley Stag - Custerian Outcome Creation Specialist

Customer Engagement customer experience

Purpose is the New Digital in Retail

We all need Organic Mango’s from Finca Los Pepones!

Purpose is the new digital in Retail

We all shop and spend our hard-earned cash, so everyone can relate to this, so thanks for opening and having a look, I thought I would share my thoughts on:

  • the changes in consumer behaviours
  • the trends for 2020 and beyond
  • my views on these, and why they matter
  • 5 things to add to your basket

Lounge suits are the new business dress, our lounges are for lunges J

2020 has seen a step change in consumer behaviours, due to convenience or really not having a choice due to restrictions, whether that be food shopping, clothes shopping or choosing a new car.  For some, spending has reduced or been paused due to worries about what the future holds.

For others the last few months has been a time to change: in wardrobes – more ‘comfy’ clothes as we spend our lives on video conferences; new cushions, or adding a few more pictures to make the house look nicer – as we are sick of staring at the same ones every day; and gardens which have been our staycations to replace vacations.  

There are various predictions about what 2020 will look like post the retail peak, with suggestions that the whole of UK retail will be down 4.6% versus 2019, and it will take to 2022 (for most) to recover to 2019 levels.  I am sure this will be a similar picture around the world.  Online has increased (no surprise there) by circa 17%.  

There’s no going back – this shift in our spending and our behaviours won’t revert

It’s become our new norms, some wish it would all go away so we can go back how it was at the start of the year, it won’t, but what is changing is our expectations.  We have experienced those brands that have really stepped up to the mark and given us great shopping experiences, our tolerance is now very low for ‘out of stocks’, ‘poor delivery’, ‘dreadful customer service’– businesses have had enough time to shift the dial, and in fact in the main, it’s the ones that were far behind the curve pre Covid that appear to have gotten worse and still using Covid as the reason for poor standards. 

Quite simply consumers won’t and don’t need to put up, as there is a vast array of choices and brands fighting for our money and I am sure like me, many consumers are really thinking about who and where they are spending the cash and the value it brings.

So what are the shifts? The re-inventions of retail?

According to the recent report published by Deloitte they refer to 3 trends:

  • Sustainability is the new paradigm shift
  • Re-invention of retail
  • Purpose is the new digital

Here’s the link if you want to read more on their report: Deloitte

KMPG has also shared their views and research too with 4 trends which are:

  • Business Models will evolve
  • Purpose to the forefront
  • Rethink the cost of doing business
  • Customer Choice is changing

Here’s the link if you want to read more on their report: KMPG

So, some similar themes between the two reports. 

It’s interesting, as I have reflected on an event that we chaired with a number of retailers over 6 years ago at Fortnum and Masons in London. A fantastic graphic artist sketched some the themes that came out of this – it feels a little bit sometimes like groundhog day, as some of the same themes, issues, trends are still being discussed today – and we can say this, as myself and my co-founder have come from many years working in retail and we have continued to work with many retailers over the last few years.

Retail Customer Experience

Emotionless Brands are simply products/services. This has always been the case, but it is now more important than ever.

So my 5 key things to add to your basket

  1. Everything has a Purpose – work out what yours is and see if that is what you want it to be
  2. Brand without emotion – is a product or service that adds no value to people – so how can you add more emotion?
  3. Think of digital in terms of how it can enable your purpose to reach to people who want it most
  4. Colleagues who deal with your customers (store, contact centres, delivery colleagues) understand most what’s not working, where investment needs to be made – so Listen to them, involve them in designing the changes
  5. Retail isn’t dead – it’s just the Old ways are, big adjustments (fast) matter

I hope you enjoyed this post, to read more go to  – A company founded and run by practitioners to get (the right) stuff done using the experience gained operating at board level in large UK retail, distance shopping, financial services, logistics and service organisations, covering all aspects of the ‘C’ suite remit, from brand /proposition creation, to service model creation/development & operational delivery.

Emotionless Brands are simply products/services. This has always been the case, but it is now more important than ever.

So my 5 key things to add to your basket

  1. Everything has a Purpose – work out what yours is and see if that is what you want it to be
  2. Brand without emotion – is a product or service that adds no value to people – so how can you add more emotion?
  3. Think of digital in terms of how it can enable your purpose to reach to people who want it most
  4. Colleagues who deal with your customers (store, contact centres, delivery colleagues) understand most what’s not working, where investment needs to be made – so Listen to them, involve them in designing the changes
  5. Retail isn’t dead – it’s just the Old ways are, big adjustments (fast) matter

I hope you enjoyed this post, to read more go to  – A company founded and run by practitioners to get (the right) stuff done using the experience gained operating at board level in large UK retail, distance shopping, financial services, logistics and service organisations, covering all aspects of the ‘C’ suite remit, from brand /proposition creation, to service model creation/development & operational delivery.

Nicola Collister

Nicola Collister – Co Founder of Custerian. Passionate about getting the right stuff done, through practical strategies and outcomes for the good of customers, colleagues and business. Creating alignment between purpose and outcomes through people. From a travel clerk to executive positions in FTSE 100 businesses. Now working with businesses who want to Transform for Good.

Customer Engagement customer experience

Messy Processes – Messy Customer Experiences?

Messy Processes – Messy Customer Experiences?

I am sure you have heard more than once in your life as a customer, in your businesses, or a reply from a colleague: “Sorry, it is against our policy” or “It is against regulations”.  How is it against regulations when others are doing it? No, it is just an easy escape from feeling you offer bad customer experiences. How many companies actually mix bad internal processes with regulations or policies? Quite a few I’m sure!

Hopefully, that isn’t the case in your company. It is actually easy to test. Find out how many times your clients hear phrases like “I’m sorry, our system doesn’t allow us to do that.” Or “It doesn’t work like that. The way our process works is ……” or “the system is telling me that….”. Those are clear indicators of messy processes leading to messy customer experiences.

And why would you care? Certainly not because more clients would spend more money in your business if those processes were functioning better? Or if your existing clients give you 60-70% higher profitability than the new ones? There is a ton of research now that shows this ‘value’ yet why are more businesses reacting faster to the changes needed? The latest UKCSI report published in July this year shows that overall customer satisfaction is the same as 12 months ago, but now 1.2 points lower that 2 years ago! In a world where digital is at the forefront, it is a lot easier to change the way we operate, and with the recent pandemic, there could be a burning platform that allows you to galvanise the changes needed.


I’m sure you find those as very good reasons to start aligning your organisation’s processes to customer experiences. It will actually increase your revenue; it is as simple as that. Removing waste from a lean perspective is great, removing it from a customer perspective can be remarkable.

Too many companies have “inside-out” focus, that is focusing on themselves instead of “outside-in” focus which is about putting the customer at the centre of everything. Journey mapping is one of the practical ways of putting customers in the centre.

So, what should you do?

Most companies can start from the basics. That is to map out all the relevant customer journeys, possibly by customer type. You can’t fix something you don’t understand first. Having a journey of what is going on makes it easier to plan the desired future state, that will respond to customer needs better. That leads to a second point, which is using the customer journey to see where the biggest pain points are – for people (customers and colleagues) and the business, and the opportunities for improvement, or innovation.  Then you can define how you want the future to look and build a roadmap to get there.


Your customer experiences are outcomes of your internal processes. Messy processes will lead to messy experiences, often for both customers and your colleagues. To fix your experiences, you have to fix your processes through the eyes of the customer – and that will take a much more customer-centric approach than traditional process methods may offer you (Lean, Six Sigma, BPM, etc.).

Here are some reflective questions you can use to evaluate your current situation:

  • Do you have a clear understanding of your different customer types & their needs? This is often referred to as Personas
  • Have you ever mapped their customer journeys? If yes, are they up to date? Are you using them to understand how they produce successful customer outcomes? And making it as easy as possible to interact with you?
  • Do you have a prioritisation model or framework to assess what will make the most difference, as you and your teams won’t be able to do everything at once!
  • Based on the priorities, do you have a plan in place, with clear activities, timescales, resource and the right governance to ensure that progress is made and activities are delivered?

It can help to get an outside in view – Many businesses get someone to help hold the mirror up to messy processes and less than perfect experiences. It’s important to ensure that you get a health check on your ‘Operational Fitness’ to deliver great experiences.


Custerian are expert practitioners having done this for lots of different companies across multiple sectors, often helping embed different tools, frameworks and skillsets into internal teams to continue on the journey of improvement.   Want to simply have chat or know more contact us on 01925 607060 or drop us an email at

By Beverley Stagg - Outcome Creation Specialist

Customer Engagement customer experience

Successfully engage customers and realise 50% higher productivity

Successfully engage customers and realise 50% higher productivity

Successfully engage customers and realise 50% higher productivity

I’m hearing lots about customer expectations & how they’re changing. According to a recent report, companies that successfully engage their B2B customers realise 63% lower customer attrition. They also achieve a 55% higher share of wallet, and 50% higher productivity.*


So how do you align operations to changing customer expectations? In this article I consider:

  • Why expectations are changing
  • How this could impact / what you should think about
  • How your operations may need to change
  • What you should measure to get to the right priorities

Customer Expectations are increasing

An ever-growing challenge that isn’t going to subside, is that we are always switched on & connected. At least 60% of UK adults use more than 2 devices with 87% of us using a smartphone*. We therefore have much easier access to organisations if things go wrong.

Equally, new and emerging consumer technologies continue to become a core part of our lives (I sit here typing this on my Mac with phone and laptop close by & iPad downstairs. They are accessible to all ages for a variety of different needs and are easy to use, with great product design (that isn’t just apple products, a lot of consumer electronics now meet this human need).

Along with next day delivery, (now even same day delivery), for virtually anything becoming part of our shopping habits, are we just becoming intolerant of poor product and service design?

What is a day in the life of an ever-typical customer – more so now…

So if we can check our smart phone 350 times a day, find out ‘near time’ information about: what our friends ate for dinner; how a family members birthday celebration went (as we couldn’t attend); and what a random person we met at a conference a while ago thinks about everything. We can at the same time: book our holidays / staycations from our phones; order dinner to be delivered from a local restaurant; purchase an electronic item through ‘click and collect’ for collection at a supermarket; and download a book that other people highly recommended. All whilst travelling if you need to!

Is this becoming more typical of your customers too?

We are now even more used to online shopping / apps since that has been our main way to purchase over recent weeks / months –  is it any wonder that our service expectations are increasing?

We no longer tolerate stuff that’s not personal or relevant. We get far too many e-mails that we’re quick to hit the “Delete” button or even unsubscribe if we can be bothered to go through that process. So how do we almost stop that deleting or ignoring of things and make it feel real for customers?

We naturally work across multiple channels. I find myself watching TV whilst texting and doing a little bit of retail therapy on my iPad. We are fast becoming anytime, anyplace, anything. How do we deliver that ‘martini service’ for all our customers out there?

We know far more about customers, they are quite willing in most cases to give us information about themselves, you can determine more a more about their persona from their social media footprint. Tailoring services or messages based on this drives engagement. 

So how does this impact how you operate?

The aim for organisations should be to maximise revenue through engaged colleagues and customers. In order to achieve this, we need to understand them. If we do this, we can align what we do best with what customers want most through our people.

Once you know what customers and colleagues want and the issues they face, you can work to improve your processes and ways of working and importantly, measure your effectiveness. It isn’t just about what you do, it’s how you do it.

Finally, you should look at how technology can make it easier for colleagues and customers to deliver and receive the service. There is still a relatively low level of digital automation being used and so cost benefits are not being fully realised.

What does the research say?


The mean cost per inbound transaction by channel was shown to be: Phone (£4.53); Email (£3.89); Web chat (£3.39); Social Media (£3.18). For emails, it is therefore the case that if the query is not answered satisfactorily within a single response, the time and cost associated with multiple replies and possibly phone calls is soon greater than if the customer had simply called in the first instance.**

We can see that customers want to use different channels at different times and after all, we are all different – you won’t win by driving customers to one cheaper channel.

There can be strong patterns for contact based on age, but it does also depend on the nature of the contact, whether emotional, urgent or complex. Urgent queries will for example drive self-serve attempts – to get an answer quickly. For a product which customers really wanted to receive and had been delivered but was incorrect, the most popular option was to email the organisation (46%), with the second most popular (19%), was phoning the contact centre.**

What should you measure?

Based on research and experience, you need to measure use of channels based on contact types, look at time to achieve an outcome, also did all the people who started a process in a certain channel complete it?  If not, why? If they are dropping out or aborting, where and why – have you tried this process yourself, have your customer service colleagues tried it, as an internal test?  and look for opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness of how you serve customers.  There may one or two channels that would be better for a customer to use and it may mean you really do need to speak with them. 

Depending on your organisation this may involve a whole scale change to your operating model, or a focus on the areas of the business where customers are served.

A final thought…

As the green cross code used to say:

STOP – take a pause & think about your purpose and how you’re doing in delivering it

LOOK – at your measures and what they’re saying

LISTEN – to your customers and colleagues (outside in and inside out)

Then start your planning to achieve an effective, seamless service that works for all your people.


Beverley Stag

Custerian Outcome Creation Specialist


*Statista, March 2020

** Contact Babel: The Inner Circle Guide to Contact Centre Remote Working Solutions, 2020

By Beverley Stagg - Outcome Creation Specialist

Customer Engagement customer experience

Customer Experience or Customer Engagement – what’s the difference and how do you truly engage?

Customer Experience or Customer Engagement – what’s the difference and how do you truly engage?

Customer experience is traditionally focussed on flexing what you do to meet customer expectations. Achieving a great customer experience and maintaining it, needs ongoing focus and visibility of:

  • Strong employee engagement with customer vision & strategy embedded into the DNA of the company
  • Multi-channel consistency
  • Always ‘Easy’ to do business with (for the customer and colleagues)
  • Fixes customers’ mistakes easily, often proactively
  • Continuous improvement culture with closed feedback loops, always looking to improve
  • Brand promise delivered every time
  • Wow moments where relevant

Customer engagement, which Custerian have been talking about for years, is about matching what you do best to what a customer wants most. Matching purpose with outcomes.

We actually talk about People Engagement, people being customers, colleagues, suppliers.

People engagement starts with a clear business purpose that everything can be aligned to. You need to have a strong view of what your purpose is, and this is something many companies struggle with. Customer experience focusses on the outcomes – process and priorities.

You need to create this alignment between purpose and outcomes through people.

  • People – they need to understand the purpose and how they can contribute in a way that allows them to feel good/great.
  • Proposition – why should people deal with you rather than another organisation?
  • Process – do you work as efficiently and effectively as possible to deliver what you do best to your customers?
  • Priorities – do you relentlessly focus on creating a great experience for customers and colleagues?

Colleagues play a massive part in customer engagement. More companies are starting to recognise this and are thinking about ways in which they can drive further engagement here.

Here are some tips to start you thinking about colleague engagement:

  • Clarity – this is about translating the purpose so that it makes sense to everyone in the organisation – this may be done through your strategy, plans, values etc.
  • Relevance – build the level of trust through regular communication, consistently re-enforcing messages.
  • Value – showing the value of your colleagues – gaining opinions and developing your organisation through them.
  • Meaning – this goes beyond your organisation – many people want to give back through communities and create relationships with customers in a different way – this makes people feel good – about themselves and their organisation.

So, let’s get onto what customers want in order to create that alignment and in turn, engage them. People just want to know something and want life to be more simple, life is too much in the fast lane.

In recent dealings with customers, they were very clear. In a service delivery organisation where things do go wrong for customers (and they expect it can happen), then they ideally want to be contacted pro-actively but if not, want it to be easy to make contact in a way that suits them, and then they want their expectations managed. Do what you say, and they will be happy with that. If you actually go above and beyond, such as the pro-active contact, then they will recommend you to others.

We heard some other great examples of brands that were achieving this engagement by offering discounts automatically based on spend (that weren’t expected) or by their amazing returns/exchange policies. These companies now have loyal customers.

So, we have brands/organisations telling us about their products and services and we have customers that want a need to be met easily, through their channel of choice. So, what brings the two together? Data!

We have more data than ever before, and brands use this to their advantage. GDPR regulations have, however, thrown a spanner in the works somewhat – we as customers, now have more control over our personal information and can ask for our data to be removed! We’re all so quick to remove Apps that we haven’t used in a while or unsubscribe from annoying communications.

A lot of businesses really don’t know their customers habits. Have you thought about personas for your company and how these could help to drive your strategy? Get your colleagues involved in creating them – it’s a fun thing to do and really gets you thinking about how you need to treat people differently. Knowing your customers allows you to prioritise developments – where to automate and reduce customer effort. As customers we’re becoming increasing capable of serving ourselves – if this is an option for us to use (and we want to) and then it’s quick and easy, we’re happy. One point here – we do need to be reassured that our transaction has been successful!

Technology is moving fast, and we need to stay close and use the developments to our advantage. Adobe released survey data in July 2019 that found 48% of consumers are using voice for general web searches. With 87% of people in the UK using a smart phone*, we need to consider such growth in our contact strategies as our expectations as customers are increasing and quickly.

Hopefully I’ve got you thinking… as we look forward, what are the things you need to plan for and do to operate more effectively and really engage customers? Now is the time to start the planning and then perhaps this time next year any impacts of Christmas, winter or any peak season won’t quite hit as hard and more customers will be raving about your organisation!

*Statista, March 20202

By Beverley Stagg - Outcome Creation Specialist