When I set up Great Escape Cars the idea of planning out the 'customer journey' from enquiry to completion was laughable: I worked from a rickety shed next to another shed where mysterious Land Rovers with no number plates mysteriously turned into Land Rover parts.
Things now are a little different. We deal with more customers in a week now than I handled in a year back then. And the world has changed. If you run a retail business you're looking down the barrel of Trip Advisor on a daily basis. Customer expectations have ramped up and they know their rights - and what they can do to achieve them. Whether you run John Lewis or a lowly classic car hire company, the internet has made the perception and expectation of service pretty much the same for every business.
This is not by any means a moan. Things change, you step up or step out. We've also grown, which has put pressure on the way we work. Customer service is critical to my business because we're selling a relatively high end product that carries with it an intrinsically high risk of problems or failure. Try lending any typically recalcitrant British classic car to 100+ drivers in a year to see what I mean.
Great Escape Cars is like any business: we tend to get it overwhelmingly right, but the happy people rarely tell you. Sometimes, but not very often, we get it wrong. And those people make damn sure you know about it. And everyone else. A few years ago customers were generally tolerant of mistakes and problems, now that is generally not the case. Blackmail is the new modus operandi - do this or pay this or we will rant on social media and Trip Advisor.
This is my business and I take customer service personally. I still meet most of the customers myself. There are, after all, many many simpler ways to earn a living but I do this because I love it.
Which is the main reason why I have spent quite a lot of the last few weeks mapping, as I believe fashionably disheveled marketing consultants would term it, the customer service journey. It didn't actually take long to work out what we do and with the help of the team here we were able to list out what we do now and what we wanted to make better. This week we applied the results, which I hope, if you're a customer reading this, you'll feel are effective and an improvement.
My objective in looking at customer service wasn't to deliver some airy fairy nonsense about exceeding expectations, meeting desires blah blah blah. I want what we do to be as good as it can be: to make hiring a classic car a very happy memory that remains with you for life.
This, of course, is the stuff of pink fluffy greetings cards and I am not really a pink fluffy greetings card sort of bloke, although the goal is no less critical to me. So we broke it down into some simple goals. These are:
1. Make it simple and easy to book - with transparent pricing and no hidden costs
2. Make the administration process straightforward, simple and easy
2. Make the hire experience as enjoyable and relaxing as possible
3. Find out what we did well and what we could do better
To deliver all that we have introduced some new procedures, including a revamped customer section of our website, which now includes much more information about the hire experience as well as driving tips on each car that customers can download and print before they arrive. We've also improved communication before the hire, including a local events calendar, list of places to stay, eat and visit and advice for overseas customers. When you arrive to collect your car we've improved the vehicle checking and valeting process and the handover procedure. We also provide pre-printed driving routes, information guides and other useful tips when you collect the car.
Normally it would end there: thanks for the hire, see you again. But now we have a feedback system when you bring the car back - so that we can follow up any niggling faults - and a follow up email to find out each customer's more detailed views.
Nobody sets out to do a bad job, at least not anybody I know. If I wanted a business where Not Caring was permissible there are plenty easier options. Yet of course we get it wrong. This process is designed to identify what has gone wrong, analyse any trends and put the wrong right.
I know, sadly, that none of this will stop the acerbic Trip Advisor reviews: we won't be blackmailed so we'll still get them. But hopefully for more level headed objective customers it will mean a far better overall experience. I hope so, because it's genuinely why I and the people who work at Great Escape, do this. If that's made you feel sick, I apologise. I blame the love in the air.