Customer Experience Lessons From my Recent Visit to the UK



I did something I very rarely do, travel on a whim. I pride myself on how organized and disciplined I am. I like to have a predictable routine and I like to plan way ahead. I wouldn’t say I’m inflexible, but one of my secrets of getting a lot done is having a routine and discipline.

My wife approached me a few weeks ago suggesting we travel to London the following week. What? I thought. That’s too short notice! What about work and the kids’ school? Which was starting in just a couple of weeks.

But she convinced me it would be good for the family. The kids have not had a proper holiday since the start of the pandemic, and with modern technology we could both work remotely and the kids could attend school virtually. I was convinced and a week later we arrived in London Heathrow.

The five-hour queue and the missing Border Force officers:

It took us five hours to get past passport control! Can you believe it? At first, I thought the delay was due to the new covid procedures, but it turns out it had nothing to do with that. In fact, we weren’t even asked about our PCR test results. At two different times during the long wait, we asked what the reason for the delay was, and we were told that there weren’t enough officers to process the travellers. It was true, of the two dozen or more passport control booths only a handful were occupied. It was sad and shameful. How can one of the busiest and most prestigious airports in the world not have enough passport control officers? I did not dare ask this question, as everyone was tense and there were some tempers that were lost during the long wait.

But surely the Home Office did not fire officers during the pandemic. It’s very hard – not to mention very controversial – to fire government employees. So where are the missing officers? This BBC article hints that Brexit and chronic underfunding are to blame.

Brexit has been a cataclysmic event for the UK, and it remains to be seen in the long term whether it was good for the country or not, but if the long queues are anything to go by, the country is not heading in the right direction.

Five levels of why

If you’re facing a challenge in your business and you’re not sure what the cause is, you can use the “Five Levels of Why” technique. It’s simple, start with writing down a specific problem, and then ask “why?” five times. This simple technique was created by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota, who is considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System. Perhaps the UK Home Office should try it as well.

App #Fail

London is my favourite city in the world. It’s been over two years since my last visit and it was great to be back. It seems we came just at the right time as covid restrictions are being eased (with some theatre plays and sporting events requiring covid “lateral flow” tests).

After our self-isolation period was over, I wanted to join a gym in a nearby leisure centre. I have to say the process was quite painful. I could no longer join and pay at the centre but had to download the app and book and pay for my pay-as-you-go sessions there. The “Everyone Active” app was one of the least user-friendly apps I’ve ever seen. It tries to be too many things at once.

Take it from me; digitisation and automation are detrimental to your clients if not done correctly. If you’re digitising to save costs rather than to improve and enhance customer experience, then you’re doing something wrong. Do not take this task lightly. Plan every step of the digitisation process carefully and make sure you take into consideration the customer or client experience throughout. And whatever you do, do not simply delegate this task to the tech department. It needs all the relevant stakeholders to be involved. Remember, there is an upstart start-up just waiting to disrupt you. Never, ever, neglect your customer experience. [See my further thoughts on technology here].

Westminster University

I was invited by the head of marketing at the University of Westminster, where I did my MBA (more years ago than I care to mention) to meet up. He invited me as a “successful alumnus” and wanted to share the business school’s plans with me and explore areas of cooperation. We had a great meeting and conversation, and I told him that I would of course be happy to help in any way that I can.

But I also told him that I thought the MBA was a degree from a bygone era. In fact, some even argue that a university degree is an outdated concept. I’m an ardent believer and proponent of education, but I’m not sure modern universities truly understand the requirements of the future. I think the most important traits employees of the future need are adaptability, flexibility, and critical thinking. How many can truly offer that?

Universities have been around for hundreds of years, and I do wonder if they are still necessary. We need some form of new, on-going education paradigm that truly meets the demands of the future. Universities will need to adapt or die. I don’t think it’s over for them just yet, but I do think it’s the beginning of the end for them.

My host at Westminster showed me the plans for their proposed innovation, entrepreneurship, and co-working centre. A step in the right direction no doubt, but it seems every university wants to distinguish itself through such centres. I’m keen to see if it works and what the future holds for them.

Greenery, Citizen Experience and Happiness

I love how the UK prioritises parks and greenery. London has some stunning parks (Hyde Park being the most famous). On my last day in London, I did a 12k run that included Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James Park. I truly loved the experience.

But this concern for greenery is not just in the capital. My son Laith and I visited Liverpool for the first time, and again I was impressed with the amount of greenery the city had.

Most of us have probably intuitively known our whole lives that greenery and happiness are linked, but there are now actual studies that link green space to happiness. One study shows that happiness was more strongly correlated to green space than socioeconomic status. Another shows a strong correlation between access to green space, self-reported well-being, and even physical health.

This is confirmed by the UK’s ranking in the latest World Happiness Report. It ranks as the 17th happiest country in the world, five places ahead of the nearest Arab country (Bahrain). If we in the GCC want to improve our citizen happiness, a great place to start would be to focus on public green spaces.

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