Customer Experience

“Not A Lot Of People Know About It”

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I once heard an employee from a large corporation (whose name rhymes with Zain) boast about some services customers can access with their mobile phones, including a data usage summary. The group he was talking to was impressed, and said that they didn’t know this information can be accessed so easily.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Not a lot of people know about it.”

It seemed as though the services were to remain a secret, and we were privileged to have that information shared with us.

Unfortunately, valuable services are of little value to companies and customers if they aren’t publicized and being used. This is especially important when the available services can help remove customer frustrations or provide customers with information they are eager to have.

When it comes to the customer experience, it is one thing to make valuable services available to your customers, and another to make sure that these services are promoted.

Both are required to create a better customer experience, because not knowing about a service is – from the customer’s point of view – as though it doesn’t exist.

User-Centric Road Signs

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I recently posted a picture of my business card on Instagram, and as is often the case, I was asked: “What the hell is it that you do?” (Except for the hell bit)

Customer experience is still not a common expression, and user experience design is not a common practice. Certainly not in Kuwait.

I explained to an inquiring friend how customer experience takes the needs of the customer into consideration, and aims to maximize and intensify positive emotions, and eliminate or reduce negative emotions from the customer’s interaction with a company and its products.

The fact is, the philosophy, principles, and practices of customer experience design are applicable beyond the corporate world. “Customer” should be defined very loosely.

I gave my friend a simple example of how area road signs can be improved in Kuwait, which will help drivers avoid frustration and gain confidence on the road.

Current area road sign from Qortuba (taken by Barrak Al-Babtain)

I pointed out how area road signs only give the layout of the blocks in the area, which is useful for a driver to navigate his way within the area, but offers no information on the best way to navigate out of the area. If a driver is not familiar with the area he’s in, it’s important to know which exit will take him on the road he wants.

A simple solution would be to add that piece of information.

My friend Barrak Al-Babtain liked my suggestion and, within minutes, came up with a redesign that incorporated this idea.


A re-design of Qortuba’s area road sign (by Barrak Al-Babtain)


He even included information about the surrounding areas, which would help drivers navigate their way between areas, and to gain a better impression of the way Kuwait’s areas are laid out.

This redesign came about by considering how a driver might feel with what little information he is presented in the current area road signs, and what additional information can be provided to eliminate the confusion and frustration he can experience as a result.

If you’re interested in innovative ways to improve life in Kuwait, I recommend you follow the good work of QortubaME on Instagram.

And if you have your own simple solutions to common problems (on the road or off), I would love to read about them.

The comment box is your soap box.


Edit: Increased the contrast. Thanks Hamad! -Barrak

My Experience with Volvo’s Kuwait Dealership

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Below is an email I wrote to Volvo after tolerating a horrible service from their Kuwait dealership over the span of several months. My car was entered for servicing late October 2012, and I have yet to receive a decent update about its condition. But that’s only a fraction of the story.

Dear Volvo,

I chose to buy a Volvo car for its reputation in safety standards, but I’ve put my safety at risk in the past months dealing with Volvo’s dealership in Kuwait.

It all started last summer when I received my car (2005 XC90) after having it serviced. I felt the steering wheel was a bit stiff, and informed the dealership, but didn’t think much of it. I was still able to drive my car safely, but less comfortably. I tend to resist dealing with the dealership because of their poor service and horrendous waiting times. I can spend over an hour waiting to have my car admitted into service or to receive my car after servicing.

After a few weeks I brought my car in for servicing, and they said they will look into the problem. They returned the car, having supposedly solved the problem. But the problem persisted, and so I brought it back in for servicing. The second time I received the car, I had a friend pick it up because he needed to borrow it. He told me that the steering will was stiff, but I couldn’t believe that Volvo would return the car for a second time without fixing the problem. I told him he must not be used to the steering wheel.

When I tried it out, he was right: the problem was not solved. This is after the service center had replaced the steering rack and several other components.

Bringing the car in for the third time proved extremely difficult, as the problem worsened. I couldn’t turn properly while driving, and couldn’t park the car in the Volvo service garage because I struggled with the steering.

I told the service representative that I will not be paying for any more for the same problem, especially since they had returned the car to me in a poor (and unsafe) condition, which they were not meant to do.

As someone interested in customer experience design, I was not impressed with the way Volvo’s service center was being managed, but thought I’d see what sort of mistakes the employees would make in dealing with this problem.

And I can safely say that this has been the worst interaction I’ve ever had with any company in any industry.

I did not hear from the service center for over a week after bringing in the car, and I had to call them up to enquire (a big “no no” in customer experience design, where you have to keep the customer informed, especially after a problem has occurred and the situation enters a Recovery Phase).

I was told that they were looking into it, but still did not know what the problem was. I was promised that the car would be ready in a few days, or that they would contact me to update me on the issue, but I was always the one to make contact, after waiting for several days or over a week.

I knew that I was entitled to a replacement car, but the service representative didn’t mention it. So I was the one to request a replacement car, and they said that they didn’t have any available but that they will try to sort one out for me. Again, making promises that go unfulfilled. “We will have one for you by Thursday,” but no call to confirm or even apologize for not providing a replacement car to me.

This persisted while dealing with the service representative and service manager, so I decided to speak to the brand manager to report the problem.

The brand manager was able to provide a replacement car on the same day. But the car was filthy (stained seats and sweets scattered on the floor of the car), so I chose not to use it, and to wait while I hear back from the dealership about my car to inform them about the condition of the replacement car.

My brother needed to borrow a car so he asked me if he could use the replacement car. I told him about its condition, but he was desperate. When he came to pick the car up it would not start at all.

I called the dealership (after our National Day Holidays), and they brought a tow truck to pick up the replacement car. As they were towing the car I noticed that the car’s wheel was damaged (see below).

Although I was patient with all their misgivings, but this was intolerable, and may have put my life, my children’s lives, or my brother and his family’s life at risk.

I informed the dealership about this a week ago and have still heard nothing from them.

No word about another replacement car. No apology. Nothing.

It’s as if the dealership doesn’t exist or hopes that if they ignore the problem it (and I) might go away.

I have given the dealership ample time and many chances to course correct, but the same behaviors persisted, with no improvement. Other customers would have went to their service center yelling and screaming, and perhaps abusing their staff. I have done none of this, though the service center is inviting and encouraging such abusive behavior.

I am now looking to take legal action against the dealership and will publicly post my story for others to know how horrible Volvo’s Kuwait dealership is.

I urge you to look into this matter and to take action to protect your brand and to uphold your safety standards, which I know you genuinely cherish (and which your dealership in Kuwait apparently doesn’t).

I hope to hear from you soon.

All the best,


What’s Customer Experience?

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Many companies approach business backwards.

They think: “We want to make a profit. How can we get customers to buy from us?”

When they should be thinking: “What can we do to WOW our customers?”

To be clear, I’m not saying that companies shouldn’t think about making money.

If they don’t, then they’re not in business.

But customers don’t make buying decisions based on company sales targets.

When was the last time you heard a customer say: “How’s Starbucks doing these days? I really need to pay them a visit and buy a cup of coffee so I can help them stay profitable.”

What drives customer decisions is the customer experience.

Not just the product or service they’re paying for, but the entire experience they go through in dealing with a company.

In fact, the customer experience begins before customers hear about your company.

They will form impressions about what dealing with a company in your field would be like and set expectations of what they will experience dealing with your company.

They will form impressions based on other people’s experiences before they make any contact with you (or if they will ever make contact with you, depending on what they’ve heard about you).

Customer expectations are the foundation of a customer experience.

Whether you miss, meet, or exceed these expectations will define the way your customers see you and if they will continue to do business with you or not.

Unfortunately, many of the backward-thinking companies treat their customers like idiots.

They believe that as long as you can develop the desire within their customers to buy from them, then that is all they need to remain successful and profitable.

But customers are smart, and getting smarter.

They’re setting higher expectations and demanding greater respect from the companies they deal with.

The customer experience is shaped by what customers see, what they think and how they feel about you.

Any negative cue can undermine the relationship between you and your customers.

Consider the following scenario:

Customer: Hello. My internet connection is cutting up every 5 minutes.
Support: Oh my God! You too!? This is like the twentieth call I get today! Man, this sucks! I hate this job!
[Customer hears huffs and puffs of frustration and rage on the line] Support: There! Check now and it should work fine. Bye!
[Support staff member hangs up. The customer checks and the connection is working perfectly]

In this (slightly exaggerated) scenario the customer’s problem was resolved and in a very timely fashion. But do you think the overall experience is a positive one? Nope.

The next time this customer faces a problem, do you think he’ll look forward to calling customer support again? Certainly not.

Companies need to consider all the factors that make up a customer experience, without focusing on meaningless or misleading metrics that make the company look good while driving customers away.

Your aim should be to design great customer experiences that will get customers to:

1- Buy again and again
2- Tell others about how great you are

There’s a lot to say about creating great customer experiences (that’s why Catalyze exists), but a useful starting point is to think about what makes you repeatedly buy from the same company and what gets you to recommend a company to others?

You can then apply your own experiences and insights to how your company seeks to impress your customers, by treat your customers the way you want to be treated as a customer.

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