A puzzled Leonard Glynn of Bristol writes to a national newspaper: “I have just received an email from easyJet signed by a lady describing herself as a ‘Customer Experience Champion’. What on earth is that?”Although this column finds itself unable to provide a satisfactory answer to Mr Glynn, the problem he poses merits further discussion. Perhaps, following the example set by the English literature faculties of our universities, which have long forsaken appreciation and understanding for stale and profitless analysis, we can “deconstruct” a meaning from “customer service champion”.
First, the job title tells us that easyJet has fallen victim to the malaise common throughout British industry called marketspeak. This is a barbarous form of English designed to dress the mundane in a kind of linguistic finery and to impress the outsider. It fails in both attempts. It either sows confusion and bafflement, as in Mr Glynn’s case, or it simply infuriates through its child-like attempt to bamboozle.
We do not know what purpose the lady describing herself as a customer experience champion serves, but it seems likely that she is a kind of customer liaison functionary, employed by easyJet either to handle complaints or deal with less contentious enquiries. The use of the word “champion” is plainly intended to convey from the outset that whatever the nature of your enquiry, be it downright hostile or mildly querulous, she is on your side.
In making this assumption, I rule out as implausible the possibility that her title is the happy outcome of some kind of internal competition within easyJet; that there are teams of customer experience executives sent on outward bound courses where they paintball each other to trees and play team charades in the hotel bar, from which trials Mr Glynn’s correspondent emerged triumphant.
At any rate, the implication that someone employed by a company to deal with customers is their apologist is plain silly. Are we to imagine that in a dispute between an aggrieved customer and easyJet, the champ will vigorously argue the cause of the complainant? To borrow the expression so often used by customers on such occasion, you’re having a laugh, aren’t you?Now let us turn to another component in the lady’s title, the word “experience”. This crops up a lot in marketspeak. It is related to another word from the same lexicon, “narrative”. Both terms are employed to sound encompassing, important, impressive and are valued because of their vagueness. They are intended to achieve the opposite of the primary function of language, namely to convey meaning; instead, they are intended to convey emotions. So, a trip to the zoo, a meal in a fast food restaurant or a flight on a budget airline is an “experience”, a mystical bundle of exciting sensations.
In truth, of course, experience in the context of eating, flying or giraffe watching means an event that leaves an impression on someone, which may be good or bad. I have not travelled on a budget airline, nor is it my intention to do so, but I hear from others who have that, as an experience, it is not to be recommended. Such glamour as once might have attached to air travel is absent on what is effectively just another form of cheap public transport, no better or worse than a corporation tram, except that you can’t get off should you want to.
When someone else’s child seated next to you on the flight to Ibiza is sick in your lap, or a well-fuelled passenger with a neck like a bull and tattoos on his forehead decides to open the cabin door at 30,000 feet, that’s an experience. No consolation to know that back on the ground in Blighty there might be a champion busy sending emails.
Customer experience, or more properly consumer satisfaction, is something that should inform a company’s operations from top to bottom. Providing goods and services that people want to pay for and are satisfied with is the reason companies exist. These are not things that can be tacked on as an appendage or an afterthought. No organisation should need to have on its staff someone whose designated task is to provide customer satisfaction. That should be the job of every single employee in the organisation.
That Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of easyJet, feels the need to employ a customer experience champion is worrying. He should himself be that champion. He is, after all, the knight. It is as though Don Quixote had sent Sancho Panza in to do battle on his behalf.
But Don Quixote was as we all know, barmy. Sir Stelios is merely mildly afflicted by marketspeak. I wonder, does easyJet also have customer ambassadors? Or crusaders?