One of the great buzz phrases in the world of customer experience is “Random Acts of Kindness.” These programs — which even have their own acronym: RAOK — empower employees to randomly do something nice for customers. This isn’t systematic and algorithmically calculated in the way an airline or hotel might upgrade one of their better customers, but something that is truly random.
Two of my favorite examples were shared by Sean Risebrow, then of Virgin Media at Forrester’s Customer Experience conference in London a couple of years ago. Sean referenced a Virgin Media employee who sent a picture frame to a new broadband customer who mentioned that he had just become a grandfather for the first time. He wanted the faster speed internet to be able to Skype or FaceTime his family to see the baby as he grew. The employee sent the picture frame along with a note of congratulations – just because it was a kind thing to do. In a separate example, another Virgin Media employee received a written cancellation notice from an elderly woman who had bought two smartphones — one each for her husband and herself. When the couple received the phones, they discovered that their elderly and shaky hands weren’t the greatest for using a touchscreen smartphone. She wrote and said that she loved Virgin Media but was going to have to cancel her contract because the phones didn’t suit their needs. Rather than slapping the couple with hefty cancellation fees, the employee went online and researched the best phones for elderly people. She bought two of them (yes, they weren’t phones that Virgin Media sold) and sent them to the elderly couple with a note that expressed their hope that they would work better for their needs and said “We love you too.” Now, admittedly, I’ve heard from plenty of UK-based friends that they’ve had markedly different experiences with Virgin Media, but regardless of your direct experience, I think these are two great examples of how a RAOK program should work.
But, whether or not your company has a formal RAOK program, it’s worth considering whether they have an unofficial COAH program. Yes, I’m coining my own acronym which stands for “Concerted Acts Of Hostility”. Unfortunately, in my experience, they are far more common. I think of these as different to Reicheld’s ‘bad profits’ — you know those charges that firms slap on their customers, usually when the customer is trapped into the relationship. Instead, I’m thinking of policies and procedures that are deliberately unfriendly to customers. And, policies that employees either won’t or can’t circumvent to help the firm appear less deliberately unkind to their customers.
I’ve written previously about Apple’s lack of employee empowerment, and my experiences with Starwood, Hertz and JetBlue as it relates to customer animosity. As an update to my US Airways experience, I was back in Dublin last week and worked with my mother to complete the requirements to get the value of her canceled ticket transferred over to me – minus the $150 fee, of course! Today, they called me to tell me that the letter that she had signed and witnessed — as requested — has to be notarized. At what stage does a company stop and consider its policies and realize that they are engaging in Concerted Acts Of Hostility? In the case of US Airways, that stage clearly hasn’t happened yet. Have you taken a look at your own policies lately? Even if you don’t have a formal RAOK program, for the love of your customers, please take a look and see if you have any COAH behaviors that are damaging your customer relationships.