Blog: by Nathalie Schooling

We are in the business of understanding the journey of our clients’ customers, and what still amazes me is how many companies forget the fundamental ‘first impression’. This refers to the very beginning stage of the customer/client/guest/passenger/member/patient journey, and why customer journey mapping is one of the most valuable CX exercises a company can invest in. It’s an incredible tool if facilitated properly and on a regular basis, especially when you have changes or new service/product offerings.

Just putting yourself in your customers shoes at the starting point of their interaction with your brand can be a serious eye-opener. Depending on your industry, this would typically be called the arrival/arrive/onboarding stage. Getting this stage right certainly goes a long way in terms of how the relationship will develop over time. Nailing it will ensure that you don’t waste time, effort, and revenue in reparations down the line.

Let me give you an example. My son and I went on a short vacay during the September holidays to Mauritius. Unfortunately, flights are few, and the only one we could get landed at night. We left Cape Town very early that morning (followed by waiting for a connecting flight from Jozi) and finally arrived at the airport in Mauritius at 21h30. We were not exactly oozing with charm after such a long day of travel.

Once we got through passport control (not a friendly experience), we were shuffled onto a tour bus built for people no taller than 5ft. The driver of the bus, who hardly spoke a word of English, was also the baggage handler, so we sat on the muggy, cramped bus while suitcases were loaded (adding more time to this endless journey). With no water to quench our thirst, and no idea of what time we would be leaving, we weren’t sure if we should rush back to the airport to scavenge for something to drink. After an hour of waiting on the bus and then another hour of travelling on said bus, we arrived in pitch darkness at the resort. Parched, achy, hot, grumpy, hungry, and frankly a bit shaken by the bus driver who thought he was Pascal Wehrlein (a German-Mauritian racing car driver), we were ‘greeted’ by someone who was clearly a trainee porter and who looked like he had never seen a tour bus filled with Saffers before.

We poured out of the bus, not quite sure what to expect next. Just getting the luggage sorted took another 30 minutes! Next, we were told to sit and wait for someone to ‘check us in’. Talk about anxiety – we were the last in the queue. Eventually, a woman handed me a tablet so that I could retype all the information I had already provided when booking this holiday. It was now well past 22h00.

We were then told to hurry if we wanted dinner before the ‘restaurant’ would close – a fancy name for what was in fact, a canteen. There we were given the option to select from the tired remains of food available, and then directed to revisit reception to collect our key cards.

There was zero explanation about the resort, or an offer to chat through all the facilities the next morning. We were just given our key cards and pointed in the direction of our room.

Through our travel agent, I had specifically booked a room with two king beds, but the room we were assigned had just one queen bed. I was now beside myself.

This lovely treat of a holiday, which we were terribly excited about, was not starting on a great note. I asked to be moved to the room that I had paid for, but the housekeeping folks said that the hotel was fully booked and that they had no other rooms available. After much discussion, a single bed was delivered, I unpacked… and then stewed until I eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, I sent a rather uptight text to my travel agent, with pictures attached. I was seething. I won’t bore you with further details but, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, we eventually got the room that I had booked and paid for. This meant repacking suitcases and unpacking suitcases. Again! This exercise pretty much took up the first official day of our holiday, including needing to sleep for most of the next day as I was utterly exhausted.

To give credit where credit is due, the guest relations manager did her very best to go out of her way to apologise and offered us two complimentary massages as a token of their apology. This was a sweet gesture, but the arrival part of our experience was so disappointing, and it really did steal two days out of a 6-day holiday.

My son and I enjoyed the four remaining days, but I certainly won’t be a returning guest, nor will I recommend the resort.

What could have been done differently?

Let’s look at some very simple tweaks that would have absolutely changed the game.

First, know your customer. In this case: your guests. We are from South Africa, where most people can speak English but very few understand French. Generally, the SA guests check in at night so the bus transport company that represents the resort’s brand should have someone on board at the airport who can speak English, to welcome guests, hand each person a bottle of cold water, and brief travellers on what to expect (how long the bus trip is, what happens on arrival at the hotel, etc.). If that is too much of a stretch, a bottle of water and a note from the hotel explaining the process would be better than nothing. You want your guests/customers/clients to feel “supported” right from the get-go.

South African tourists are this particular hotel group’s main source of sales – so I ask you, with tears in my eyes, why choose a trainee porter who hardly speaks English to be the ‘face’ that greets a swarm of 50 new guests who are not in the best of moods? Just to be clear – everyone on the bus was grumpy at this point. It would have made all the difference if there was someone who spoke English, was fully trained, and was competent to welcome the guests.

Know that your customer is going to face a long journey from the airport, understand their emotional state, and know that if you ‘on-board’ with genuine kindness at this point, it will be the customers’ ‘moment of truth’.  You need to get this right.

Slip-ups happen, but it is SO much harder to win back a disgruntled customer whose expectations have not been met at the arrival point than to retain a temporarily disappointed client who has already been through enjoyable interactions with your brand.

Typically, it’s financial institutions and retailers who use customer journey mapping to good effect, but as the example I’ve provided shows, businesses should invest in this powerful tool that allows you to put themselves in your customer’s shoes, understand their high points and pain points when engaging with your business, and highlight opportunities for quick win areas where you should be making improvements.