Do You Know What Your Customer Experience is Costing You?

I visited a museum at the weekend – just scraping in on the last day of a heavily-promoted, blockbuster exhibition.

As I waited at the ticket desk, I noticed that, despite there being a queue, only one team member was selling tickets – and yet there were four team members behind the desk. Two of the other three were having a chat; the other was (there’s no other word for it) slumped in her chair, staring into space.

I waited, passing the time by looking at the digital display screen above the heads of the2016-05-15 14.56.07 team members. It crossed my mind that the screen had probably cost upwards of £10,000 – not including the ongoing cost of creating content and keeping it up to date.

After a few minutes, during which time the queue had grown, the first team member looked up and announced that there was a problem – would we kindly go to the third floor and buy our tickets there?

As we obediently trooped up the stairs, I wondered how, on such a big day (last day of a blockbuster exhibition, remember), there was so little energy, so little customer focus on display.

Arriving at the exhibition ticket desk, as I bought my ticket, I noticed that the team member did not offer me the option to pay 10% extra – which, had I done so, both the museum and I would have benefited from the Gift Aid scheme. Nor was I offered the exhibition catalogue.

I noticed that the shop at the end of the exhibition was poorly merchandised – there was a considerable amount of related product (and plenty of catalogues!) but it just didn’t look very appealing. The team member behind the till looked disinterested too.

The exhibition was great – I’d recommend it to you, but it’s over!

Also over is the massive opportunity the museum had to maximise its return on investment, including:

  • Investment in staging the exhibition
  • Investment in marketing the exhibition
  • Investment in employing those six team members
  • Investment in that digital display screen

Set against that was the lost potential income, including:

  • Income from Gift Aid
  • Income from catalogue sales
  • Income from upselling museum memberships, or (for example) offering vouchers to spend in the shop or cafe

Why does this matter?

It matters because these few observations are just the tip of the iceberg. Multiply those missed opportunities by the number of visitors to the exhibition (the museum as a whole received over 800,000 visitors in 2015) and you start to see the scale of what accountants call the “opportunity cost” – in other words, what that investment could have generated.

In summary:

The digital display screen is a useful metaphor for generally investing in physical infrastructure and technology in order to drive the visitor experience. The approach frequently taken by customer-facing businesses is to invest as heavily as possible in these items. After all, they argue (reasonably), whatever we create needs to be as good as it possibly can be. It needs to be “state of the art”. The more expensive it is, the better it is – or at least, if it’s any good, it’s bound to be expensive.

But – unless the investment in people is also sufficient to create “state of the art” outcomes, it is impossible to maximise return on investment in physical and tech. And, too often, investment in the former (people) gets squeezed by the cost of the latter (physical and tech).

The answer, however, is fairly simple. The investment you make in your people must deliver the following: 

  • Hire the nicest people you can find
  • Give them a breathtaking induction to your organisation
  • Give them a training experience that will give you total confidence that they will do their very best to maximise every opportunity to delight the customer
  • Communicate with them so well that they remain engaged and motivated at all times
  • Aim to reward them, retain them, develop them and build a culture that will affect everyone in the organisation
The POSITIVE Compass

I call this approach POSITIVE Leadership. I’ve developed programmes and tools that help organisations to achieve POSITIVE results.

It starts by identifying what the Customer Experience is costing the organisation. Once you know that, the fun can begin – you can start to build a programme to maximise return on investment. I call this “Project STARS”.

The key to it is – don’t think only of the return you need on your investment in “training”: think rather of the return you need on your total investment. In other words, the first question to ask is: “Do you know what your Customer Experience is really costing you?

If you’d like to know more, do get in touch.

Stephen Spencer is a keynote speaker, business coach and consultant, helping organisations create better Customer Experiences to unlock team and profit potential. He has over 25 years’ experience as a leader, trainer and experience developer with some of the UK’s most prestigious Retail, Tourism and Hospitality brands. Sign up for Stephen’s POSITIVE Customer Experience newsletter here.


9 thoughts on “Do You Know What Your Customer Experience is Costing You?

  1. Excellent article that highlights a big bugbear of mine! All too often I have experienced staff in shops, for example, that carry on a conversation with each other while serving customers and don’t even bother to look up at the customer as the customer hands over their money. It is very frustrating!

    (sadly it’s not always just staff – I’ve experienced owners of independent shops and market stalls do the same, though thankfully not as frequently)

    Being Italian, it horrifies me that Italy has one of the worst customer service cultures I’ve ever witnessed – I was once on an overnight ferry where self-service restaurant staff were literally shoving plates at the customers! But then again, I grew up in Luxembourg, where it’s even worse. From restaurants, to gift shops, to furniture shops, it seems nobody wants to serve customers (staff and owners alike) – heaven help you if you want something from a business between November and March…December is Christmas, then January and part of February are dedicated to planning the February skiing holiday and the rest of February is holiday time!

    So there you go – two European markets you could expand into and take your services to!


    1. Some great comments Frederika! It’s fascinating to hear of two other European countries that don’t do service well – you might be interested to read this post which I wrote about a year ago: Following this post there have been various attempts to get skills and service onto the mainstream English tourism agenda – with limited success so far. Too often the excuse given is that “we don’t DO service in this country”. Well, that’s our excuse – however it’s neither a good excuse nor is it good business!


  2. Agree that the museum should offer great customer service. I wonder if the people you mentioned were temps who were finishing their service (or about to be laid off) that day. if so, I’m not sure how much training would help the situation.


  3. I agree that excellent customer service is very important. I wonder (given that this was the last day of the exhibit) if the employees you mentioned were temps — who were finishing their term of service (perhaps, about to be laid off that day). If so, I’m not sure you can realistically expect to have high morale. The problem may be a system wide problem involving a lot more than training.


    1. Good point Ron! My point is simple: on the day in question, this museum was missing a raft of opportunities to maximise revenue. Those opportunities were largely in the hands of its team members to either embrace or ignore – and on the day I visited, they were choosing to ignore them.

      It has always been a mantra of mine that every visitor/customer should get the same standard of experience, no matter what stage of the day or season they visit. It’s not always easy to achieve but it’s got to be the goal.

      And of course, this particular experience reflects so much of what passes for customer service – in this country, and, if my sources are correct, in many other countries too. My vision is to see engaged, motivated, happy people serving delighted customers and creating better business, benefiting their communities too.

      That process starts with the recognition that if you are going to invest in world class facilities, it makes total sense to invest in world class training and development experiences for the team that brings those facilities to life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Stephen, I agree with everything you said it your reply. As you may know, I have managed in the corporate learning organization for a huge company. I offer learning programs as an independent now. I agree that you need to invest in your people. I would add that investment in learning and development needs to be part of a bigger picture. Merely investing in learning and development without employees (or contractors) feeling valued may have very limited success. As to the shop running low on supplies the last day, given that I am opposed to waste, one needs to have systems in place to order the right amount, and I am more forgiving than others might be about having less selection the last day than the first (but the show should not look like a going out of business sale was in progress).


      2. Hi Ron, as to your last point, customers will forgive a depleted shop if (a) there are bargains – it would have been sensible for the museum to do that and (b) if there are obvious signs of effort being made! I vividly remember attending the last night of a big Matisse exhibit at MoMA a number of years ago. The sense of occasion was palpable and the shop was thronged with customers snapping up both bargains and (shrewdly held at full price) exhibition catalogues.

        I 100% agree that L&D has to be part of a much bigger picture. Also L&D is there to support and enhance the desired culture – not to spend its budget on a series of initiatives that are little to do with where the organisation is or needs to be.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This kind of scenario has become commonplace in the UK. The level of ignorance in these businesses around how sales and customer service skills impacts on the bottom line is mind-bogling. Hiring for attitude can go some way to expurgating these staff behaviours, but ultimately until or unless those in charge see the problem clearly and choose to do something about it, nothing will change. But you didn’t need me to tell you that! What I’d like to know is how do you approach your own prospecting? I’m presuming that you are not targeting people like this! Too much like hard work! You’d, at the very least, target those with a healthy training budget?


    1. Great question QJ!

      How I approach my own prospecting is based on how I would recommend organisations hire for attitude: in other words, I aim to share my philosophy and insights into the problems they solve and the opportunities they create – and thereby attract clients who share my philosophy. If a client doesn’t have a huge training budget I’d recommend the following:

      1. Let’s look at what the training could be worth to you – what would you like to get back in say the next three months?
      2. Then we will look at the opportunities they are (or may be) missing – and work out a quick strategy to get that ROI.
      3. After that, we will create a longer term plan (“Project STARS”) which will in part act as a business case for a bigger training budget!
      4. I’d also add that training doesn’t have to be expensive – quite often organisations pay £000s for courses that deliver little or no tangible impact. My trainings are action-oriented, results-focused but above all they are about treating people as intelligent human beings who will work out, and own, their own way of delivering excellence, if they are given the space, the support and the encouragement.

      So the target audience prospecting-wise could just as easily be the CEO, the COO, the CFO or the CHRO!


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