Opinion: Improving customer experience...

...Would you treat your granny like that? David Ripley, executive director of customer services at Thirteen, shares his thoughts on what makes a customer experience a truly great one for the customer and for an organisation in the first of a series of pieces.

David Ripley


As an organisation, Thirteen is always keen to embrace new ways of thinking and improve as much as we can, and a huge area of focus for us at the moment is our customer experience.

I’m sure many of you will have areas of your business that could be improved and we’re no different. Like all organisations, we’re not perfect and sometimes we get things wrong. It’s how we learn from this that’s important. We need to change and grow as a business, and I mean all of us, not just this team or that team in a.n.other company, but all of us so that wherever they are, our customers can become true fans and our colleagues can have great days at work.  

How do we achieve this? Well, I’ve reflected - more times than I care to count – on the importance of being brave and having the courage to raise things that bother us as employees. Previous experiences and feedback have taught me, though not everyone will agree, that organisations need to collectively do this.

In particular, there are two things I’d like to focus on here, bucks and hooks.

Bucks (and how to stop passing them)

I think all colleagues working with customers, in whatever industry, should search deep inside themselves and connect continuously with customers and each other.

At Thirteen, our ‘big three’ priorities to improve our customer experience are quality, responsiveness and speed/convenience.

Our customer base stretches from Northumberland and Tyne and Wear down through County Durham and the Tees Valley to North Yorkshire. Wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances, the experience each and every one of them receives from us should be just as good as the next.

As we pursue our big three, the discussions I’ve had with colleagues and customers alike keep bringing me back to one thing. Bucks. And more specifically, what people can sometimes be an expert at, passing those bucks.

At some time or another, most of us through life will have blamed someone else or blamed something, or looked at a situation and said “it wasn’t me, it was them”. At work, this can manifest itself in those golden words “It’s not my job” or “It’s not in my job description.”

So how do organisations encourage colleagues to take responsibility? Being really honest with ourselves, we probably know we do it. For customers and colleagues, I think people need to be true to their organisation’s values, support each other and remove the buck-passing attitude from their cultural psyche. If we don’t, it will hold us back as organisations. 

Accepting you’ve done something wrong can be hard for people to do. You think you’re going to be in trouble for something. It’s only natural for people to hide away from problems.

And yet, stopping the ‘buck passing’ can be a really positive thing. When we take responsibility for what we’ve done, either individually or as a team, we can work out what went wrong.

We try and do this as a business. What questions could we ask to make sure where customers go next is the right place? Have we made that follow up call we promised? Have we made sure colleagues are up to speed with an issue? Can we share the load and work as a team? And so on.

Each time we question ourselves and our colleagues, we get better at dealing with our customers, meaning we also save time, resource and cost in doing so. And avoiding all of that wasted time and effort is a really positive thing for colleagues. This is not about doing more; when we stop passing the buck we will actually do less as we will get it right more often and get to the solution quicker.

Put simply, admitting things and taking responsibility will make us better…and that can only be a positive thing for colleagues and customers alike.


One customer who recently didn't have the best of experiences with us showed huge compassion and understanding by taking the time to give us advice on how to improve and change. How fabulous is that? What a gift.

Above all else, their suggestions were straightforward and won’t cost us millions of pounds to implement. What they will involve is drive, determination, selflessness. A positive attitude to do our best for our customers. 

This made me think that, as lots of other organisations with various targets and performance indicators, perhaps we need to consider a different hook to hang our successes on as well. Something simple, powerful and meaningful. 

I can almost hear the gasp – why more measures? Well, these are different. Yes for us there are important KPIs such as building affordable homes, supporting families and older people, reducing debt, getting people into work, to name but a few. They’re important and always will be.

A bit like the Inception movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, I feel we need to go deeper – what we do needs to mean even more. I work in this industry to try and change the hopes and aspirations of those who will walk this earth long after me in the hope I made things just a little better for them. Our job is to support each other and deliver for our customers. To big each other up, to make sure that we as a family work together. More important now than ever.

So, the new hooks I’m proposing we adopt as a business to hang our success on, and wholeheartedly encourage others to, are simple. Whilst the wording may be fine-tuned, they are:

  1. Would it make your parents proud?
  2. Would you treat you granny like that?

That’s it. Nothing more.

How we’ll measure these is currently up for debate and I would welcome suggestions and thoughts from any other organisations on whether you’ve adopted, or might in the future adopt, a similar approach.  

As organisations working to support people living across the north east, let’s challenge ourselves and do this well. Let’s strive for fans and for great days at work. All of it, every bit, is down to each and every one of us.