6 lessons from customer experiences in other countries

Over the Christmas period, I was lucky enough to spend time in three different countries – Finland, Portugal & Korea.  Whilst each trip was for leisure purposes, my customer experience radar tuned into to a number of aspects of service delivery in each country, helping me realise that there’s plenty we can learn from around the world.  Here’s the two most noticeable aspects that I picked up from each country.

Finland: My first trip took me North to Lapland, and the small town on Kajaani.  Winter had already kicked in, and with plenty of snow on the ground, you might assume transportation delays, icy pavements, disruption, etc.  But the Finns are masters of planning – they know that heavy snowfall happens every year, and they’ve thought about how to reduce the impact. The main shopping streets in many Finnish cities have underfloor heating and that every driver by law must use snow tyres through the winter.  Lesson 1: Planning ahead for known issues massively reduces disruption, delay and chaos.

The second observation in Finland is that things are built to last. The design and efficiency of products makes for a pleasurable and consistent experience – whether that’s beautiful Alvar Aalto furniture, Iittala glassware or Nokia wellington boots.  The simple & clean design makes the products desirable and timeless. Products don’t need to be reinvented because they’re so well thought through in the first place. Lesson 2: Form follows function (which inspires much design in Finland) is a great concept to consider when designing your process & experience!

Portugal: My next trip was to Lisbon.  Other than the fantastic wine & delicious food, the Portuguese are masters at the small detail that makes a difference.  At our hotel, a hand-written note thanking us for our custom made us feel extra welcome.  When the staff then organised a last minute table at one of the most popular restaurants in the city and even arranged for the kitchen staff to make us an early breakfast on our day of departure, we really felt like valued guests.  Lesson 3: Simple touches make a huge difference!

The other particularly noticeable trait I experienced in Lisbon was a considerable amount of eye contact, whether at a restaurant, store or museum.  You really get the feeling that the person serving you is intently listening and considering what you ask for, making you feel respected and understood.  Despite the language barrier, waiters, store assistants, taxi drivers were all keen to engage in conversation, making for a much more pleasant service experience.  Lesson 4: Talking to your customers as humans can really mark you out from the competition.

Korea: My final trip was to Seoul for a few days. I was unsure as to how easy it would be to get around such an unfamiliar place.  From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was struck by the huge volume and clarity of signage.  It may seem like a strange point to comment on, but signs are absolutely everywhere, and fortunately for me, they were in English as well as Korean.  I got a strong sense that this was cultural, as people looked out for the signs and listened attentively to announcements, but this seemed to reduce confusion for locals and tourists and made a visit to a new country much easier.  Lesson 5: Manage communication and make it clear and simple, and don’t be afraid to over-communicate.

The other lesson from Korea was HOW to communicate messages.  Even warning and safety messages were often communicated through cartoons and seemingly light-hearted characters.  At first, it seemed strange to see danger signs displaying cutesy animal characters, but it consistently drew my attention to the warning.  The metro system was particularly amusing, playing funny jingles before safety announcements. Koreans are overloaded with messages, so making them particularly attention grabbing, even if that means cute and cuddly characters to warn you of danger, seems to do the trick. Lesson 6: If you have critical information and messages to communicate, be bold and creative in the way you deliver that message!

Although each of my observations should be familiar to you, sometimes seeing it exhibited in a fresh or different way can inspire us to revisit our own experience and make one or two changes for the better!

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