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A while ago I entered the very swish reception of a client of ours in the US to be greeted by an amazing lady who seemed to know all there was to know about us and what we were there to do.

In front of her was a beautiful piece of shaped granite onto which were inscribed the words Director of First Impressions, and boy was she proud if that title. We talked about what it meant to her, how she found stuff out and how the company kept her informed, and in her words, inspired.

It got me thinking that while we are all seeking to deliver better customer experiences through efficient digital platforms, what happens when it goes wrong, or our customers don’t want efficient, they want helpful and human?

They want an experience managed not by code but human beings.

Such a moment presented itself to me only last week.

I am not sure if any of you have ever tried to get a refund from Virgin Trains when they have cancelled the train.

It goes a bit like this – they cancel train, I miss meeting, client upset but understanding, need to go back to office, start refund process.

As I had booked online, I went back online to claim the refund, simple you would have thought. Not so. I would be allowed to reclaim my outbound ticket, at a charge of £10 for the hassle of the refund (and I’m not even thinking about charging them my lost revenue!) but they would be no refund of the return ticket even though it was rendered unusable by their cancellation of their train!

So I next touch base via the email helpline who promise to get back to me in 30days –don’t you just love the digital economy! That was 14 days ago and still no word other than an automatic note to say they’ll get back to me.

How about another channel - I could also claim a refund via the post, remember that, but I would have to send the tickets to them (the fact that I was told not to collect them by the Virgin staff at the station obviously is outside operating procedures) and his would also take about 30 days.

I was beginning to ask myself where was the customer insight when all this process was being developed?

So with massive trepidation I called the telephone helpline, pictures of a call centre thousands of miles away keeping me waiting way beyond the next millennium flashed through my mind. But no, after an acceptable wait, a delightful lady answered, listened to my story, empathised with me, took my details and asked if I would hold whilst she talked to her supervisor. After another short wait she came back to me with the news that both tickets would be refunded electronically, the £10 would not be charged and she hoped that it had not been too much hassle for me.

Within 30 minutes two emails pinged through to my inbox confirming both tickets had been refunded.
All my negative brand angst melted at this wonderful Director of First Impression’s management of her customer, me. It felt like it was personal to her, and the simple elegance with which she resolved the issue was a joy to behold. I wish I had taken her name so that I could have sent a proper customer satisfaction response to her bosses but I didn’t and do you know what, I regret that! Look what a great experience can doto one.

So as we all dash headlong into the digital, big data, staff performance measurement world with our precious brand please remember two things. Brands have personalities and personalities make brands.

Get to know, engage and inspire all your Directors of First Impression they will help build the depth of your brand in ways that a piece of binary code will never be able to.

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