These days when we buy a product, unless it is a fast moving consumer good like a Mars Bar or a bottle of shampoo, we are often buying an experience as well as something that provides a practical benefit.
So when you purchase an airline ticket - the product is the transportation that gets you from A to B. The experience surrounding the product is the convenience (or not) of booking and checking in, the queues for security at the airport, and the onboard service.
The product you are buying when you go to the cinema is the film you want to see - but again the experience begins when you try to book tickets online, how long you have to queue to get in and how comfy the seats are.
Buying a protection product is also as much about customer experience as about receiving a piece of paper promising to pay you a large sum of money if you get a critical illness.
The experience starts with the adviser and the quote; includes the accompanying product literature and the clarity of the words you read; encompasses the service you receive during the underwriting process and the responses you receive to future requests and, ultimately, how your claim is handled at what could be a physically and emotionally difficult time in your life.
If any one of these touch points fails to deliver an excellent experience people are likely to feel that the company and its products are not providing good value or meeting their needs.
The need to have all the elements of the customer experience aligned was brought home to me recently when my son asked if we could go and see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 on opening weekend.
I guess I was secretly looking forward to seeing Johnny Depp mincing around the screen doing his flawless Keith Richards inspired pirate routine, so I scurried upstairs to book tickets. I logged onto the cinema's website which asked me which performance I wanted and which seats I preferred. Then it demanded my credit card details.
It was at this point that the first error message appeared - they couldn't apparantly complete the transaction. So I tried another credit card only to get the same result. Same with the third card. I was getting annoyed. Defeated by the internet I phoned their helpline only to discover that unlike many interactive phone systems where you type numbers for different options - this one worked on word recognition.
The fact that the system didn't seem to recognise anything I said meant that after 25 minutes I was eventually connected to a human being. This sullen and thoroughly bored sounding individual informed me that their booking systems were down and that they couldn't book tickets either online or over the phone and that I'd have to try later.
I tried again the next morning and found they were still not up and running. So I then faced the choice of having to walk to the cinema to try and buy tickets or to risk turning up and queuing for a popular film on opening weekend and finding no seats left available.
You'll be surprised to hear I wasn't happy by this service which had gone wrong. Which begs the question why couldn't they have put a warning up on the website to say the systems were down? And why wasn't there a message at the very beginning of the phone call rather than 25 minutes into it?
The experience surrounding product is so important. It's likely that I will go to a different cinema as a result of this run around. And it's left me wondering how many customers does the protection industry lose every year as a result of similar experience breakdowns?
And there's an important difference to take into account here. Most people don't have to be convinced to go to the cinema - it's something that most of us like to do. With protection it's likely that the customer has had to be sold the product, it may even be a grudge purchase, and one they feel that they don't really need.
So, having got them as far as making the decision to purchase protection, it would be doubly unacceptable to deliver a poor experience. It could well result in them taking no protection cover at all!
Roger Edwards is product director at Bright Grey.
The views expressed are those of the author and not those of the company he represents.IFAonline
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