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The Price of First World Experience in a Developing Country



April 27, 2007.



By Francis Wade


Critical to delivering the experience and customizing practices is understanding that customers build up their experience of companies through what are called “touch points.”

Recently I made my first visit to a new bicycle shop here in
Kingston, Jamaica. The outside looks rather ordinary, as the shop is tucked away between other stores behind a very shallow parking lot. However, when I entered it for the first time, I had only one thought: “This feels like America!” The layout was superb, the store was air-conditioned, and the merchandise was well lit and attractively displayed.

It was a vivid touch point, and I have not visited another bicycle shop since then, as this one is a clear step above any others in terms of its environment.

Perhaps the owner designed the store’s interior with a particular experience in mind: “inviting.” If so, he has succeeded—the layout invites the customer to linger, and, in my opinion, it’s the only bicycle shop in
that comes close to accomplishing this feeling. The first entrance into the store is a powerful touch point.

At my company,Framework, we have developed tools to help companies define the desired experience, inventory the touch points, and define standards of behaviour and process that deliver the experience.

When I first did this exercise for Framework Consulting, the insights I gained were stunning. When I stepped into our customer’s shoes, seemingly trivial details became critical.

When I made the first list of touch points, I realized that the firm’s brand was being experienced through multiple channels, some of which were as follows:
• A visit to the company website
• How long it took to get a reply to an email
• The length of the voice mail message I heard when I called
• The fit between my proposals and the client’s budget
• A casual encounter in the mall or on an airplane
• A speech heard at a conference

These are all valid touch points, and they all work together to create our company's particular brand and some overall experience for our customers. I found that I was managing a mere subset of all potential touch points.

Unfortunately, in the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the touch points that I personally encountered were a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences:

• The press was full of reports of things that we West Indians were not allowed to do on match day.

• When I called to order tickets, I was told quite unprofessionally that "they were sold out".

• When I bought a ticket online the following day, the website was confusing and would not allow me to pick the row or seat, just the “section”.

• When I picked up the ticket, the agent appeared unconcerned that I was given incorrect information.

• It was amazingly easy to be transferred from the parking lot to the ground itself.

• The degree of security (in crime-ridden Jamaica) was wonderful to behold.

• I was told I could bring in no food or drinks, but I saw people do both.

• The ground's vendors ran out of decent meals, and my family ended up eating something awful for lunch.

• Kingston's cricket ground, Sabina Park never looked more beautiful, or better prepared, as a physical facility.

• There was none of the noise that’s always a part of cricket in the Caribbean.

• The brand name of the toilets was neatly (and bizarrely) covered with duct tape . . .

All of these touch points together—good and bad—helped to make the total experience.

A note about the duct tape on the toilets: While covering the brand name on a toilet may have something to do with a world-class standard (i.e., ambush marketing), the feeling of outrage that I felt at that moment has stayed with me.


Apparently, the manufacturer declined to be a sponsor, hence the peculiar need to hide its name from the public. I cannot imagine that too many West Indians would take this particular tactic lightly, and many sportswriters have written about the greed and selfishness that it exemplifies. Clearly, this touch point created an experience that was foreign to the majority of the ICC Cricket World Cup customers.

Taken together, the mixed bag of experiences, via different touch points, has resulted in empty stadiums to date and a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans—a bad taste that the organisers are now desperately trying to correct.

Unfortunately, some recent public pronouncements by the executives of the ICC Cricket World Cup have only added more negative experiences. Apparently, they deliberately decided to overlook the customer’s experience and instead tried something bolder—to “change Caribbean
culture,” in the words of Stephen Price, the tournament’s commercial director.

Needless to say, it’s much more difficult to “change” customers than it is to provide a particular experience that customers value, and more recent actions seem to indicate a course correction.

This is not to say that there aren’t aspects of the
Caribbean culture that work against us, but the customer is the wrong element to try to change. Instead, the tournament staff—those who deliver the bulk of the experiences to the customer—should be the real point of focus.


Interventions to Deliver the Desired Experience


Companies that decide to transform themselves to deliver a consistent customer experience must start with the people who deliver the experience. Coaching and training interventions are the best way to change the knowledge, skills, and motivation required.

Unfortunately, the average employee in the
Caribbean region is at a severe disadvantage.

One benefit of being a service worker in a
First World country is simply having consistent exposure to companies that deliver better service, or even world-class service. Contrasted with the average Caribbean employee, First World
employees can more easily become savvy service providers as a result of having had a direct

Here in the
Caribbean, however, the average service provider just hasn’t had that same experience. In fact, the average Caribbean
national is hard-pressed to identify a single company with which they interact that provides excellent service.

That doesn’t mean that Sandals, for example, isn’t providing excellent service. However, the income gap between our average service worker (earning perhaps US$200 per week) and the average Sandals customer (paying $US200 per night) means that the majority of workers will never spend a night at Sandals.

service workers are therefore in a bind—How do they meet customers’ expectations when theirs have never been met? How do they provide a service level that they’ve never personally witnessed? How do they effect behaviours that deliver an experience that they’ve never had?

This question is not an easy one to answer, as we at Framework are finding, but we have had some success by taking the following two steps.

1. Use Specific, Familiar Language

Managers must define the customer experience in terms that the service worker can appreciate and understand. This may mean using language that’s colloquial, based in patois or local jargon. The point here is to make it easy for the service worker to remember and focus on delivering the experience.

The benefit derived from making the experience explicit is that the service worker is better able to judge whether or not the experience is being delivered. When general terms such as “world-class” are used, that actually communicates very little to the service workers—leaving them unable to correct their behaviour, even if they want to.

This is quite different from a situation in which a manager asks his worker whether or not a particular customer was “delighted, inspired, and energized.” A manager who uses such terms is more likely to get an intelligent response than one who asks whether or not the customer was merely “satisfied.” Using specific language is
the key to communicating what the goal of each interaction actually is.

2. Develop Emotional Intelligence

Managers must train workers to develop aspects of their emotional intelligence that emphasize the ability to recognize, and respond to, the emotions of customers—especially when those emotions might be negative.

At one extreme is the kind of worker who cannot recognize the emotions of others, even when those emotions are obvious. These workers probably should not be in the service industry at all. Further along the spectrum are those who recognize the feelings of others, but react in a way that’s inappropriate because they cannot
control their reactions.

The emotional intelligence needed to consistently deliver a customer experience can be learned. With consistent coaching, an employee with a basic level of empathetic skills can learn how to use touch points to accomplish the company’s goals.

Most are not able to turn themselves into experts overnight, however. Managers must make time to not only train, but to serve as role models for the standards it takes to create a desired experience.

The best managers believe this rule: service workers will not deliver an experience to a customer that exceeds the experience that they’ve had with their own management. The best managers give enough of the “right” experience to their front-line workers in order for those workers, in turn, to be able to give that experience to others. For this reason, the first-level, or front-line manager’s role is a critical one.

Long after the ICC Cricket World Cup has come and gone, companies in the region will be able to use the example of its citizens direct experience to see that delivering good service is not merely a matter of repeating what is done elsewhere.

Instead, it takes the precise application of touch point standards and interventions in every case—and when the job is done well, the customer’s experience is assured.


Francis Wade is a writer and management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. His passion is the transformation of Caribbean workplaces, economies and society. He blogs at Chronicles From a Caribbean Cubicle.


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