Can a regulated industry create a great customer experience?

Last weekend, I flew out to discover the Rock of Gibraltar, and for an airline geek, landing on such a unique runway (between a mountain and the sea) was very exciting!   I know, I know, I love flying – the plane, the crew, the airport – the whole lot combines to create a great experience.  With my Christmas & New Year multiple flights experience still fresh in my mind, I’m still marvelling at how an aeroplane flies, and how they make it safe.  (In the UK, you are 10,000 times more likely to be involved in a car crash than in an aeroplane crash, and yet many of us think nothing of driving to work each day!)  Aviation clearly has a lot of rules and regulations.  Then again, so do my current industry sectors – health & personal finance. Once again I’m reflecting on how to manage complex regulatory requirements but still deliver a positive & human customer experience.

True enough, when you look around industries that are laden with regulation, such as banking, insurance, government organisations and healthcare, there are very few organisations that stand out.  But in reality, aren’t all businesses constrained by some regulations or other?

Let’s take a moment to reflect.  What we might consider as a really “experiential” customer experience (i.e. I don’t need this, but I really want it), such as vacations, smart phones or restaurants may at face value look very care free.  But take a look “below the wing”, and sure enough, there are a plethora of complex regulations, potentially set by different government bodies and external organisations.  Each rule must be delivered on – food hygiene, health and safety, rigorous testing, and whilst we may ignore the signs, labels and instructions, it’s a clear indicator that businesses delivering “experiential” customer experiences are no less constrained than those delivering “transactional” customer experiences (i.e. I don’t really want this, but I need it), such as utility suppliers, banks & insurance companies.  The difference comes about in how we expose customers (and before that, our people) to regulatory requirements.

Any airline will tell you that “the safety of our customers and crew is our primary concern”, and they mean it, because if they don’t, they’re likely to cause accidents, get sued and go bust.  The way they train their crews is to make sure that the most important messages are never forgotten, and refresher training ensures compliance to the rules.  Staff working in fast food chains are thoroughly trained and constantly reviewed for adherence to rules as well as efficiency and productivity.  It becomes part of the culture of the workplace, meaning that rules and regulations become habit.

For customers, it’s a different matter.  Whilst the rules and regulations are invariably there for the customer’s benefit, it can seem boring and cumbersome to follow rules.  The enlightened businesses acknowledge this and rather than impose the rules, they engage customers in making rules and regulations part of the experience.  One of the best examples of this comes from Virgin Atlantic, with their safety video – the first animation safety video, delivering a serious message in a light hearted way.  Whilst initially blocked by the civil aviation authority because it was considered too non-standard, Virgin Atlantic were able to prove through independent reproach that a more interesting safety video increased safety awareness by a huge percentage.  This led over time to a plethora of fantastic and funny safety videos, still using the same words to deliver the same message.  Air New Zealand leads the way these days – take a look here to brighten up your day!

So in summary, of course we all need to stick to rules and regulations, but you don’t have to make it painful.  Getting creative in delivering the message and respecting customers’ time, patience and culture is the best way to make the rules truly stick.  You can still deliver an important & informative message, but by adding personality, you’re more likely to make an impact as well as comply with your regulatory requirements.

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