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Norway's Halden Prison: Showing B2B how CX should be done

‘Good customer experience is all about increasing repeat business.’

Seems reasonable. Businesses do tend to rely on a steady supply of happy, returning customers and positive word-of-mouth to ensure a secure future.

Still, it can be far too easy to design a CX strategy around unquestioned business assumptions and groupthink. When that happens, businesses run the risk of making CX more about their own goals than the needs of their customers.

The nagging feeling that many CX strategies get assembled like one of ten-thousand identikit IKEA flatpacks crystallised when I found a provocative business profile buried at the bottom of a BBC newsfeed.

The ‘business’? Norway’s famed Halden Prison.

If the setting seems about as far from the world of B2B as one could hope to get, the goal with each of Halden’s ‘customers’ is similarly offbeat. Here, successful customer journeys end outside the prison walls – with zero prospect of a return visit.

(And it works. Norway boasts the lowest rate of re-offence in the world, with just 20% returning to prison after two years and around 25% after five years. In the UK, we’re struggling to cope with a recidivism rate of nearly 50% after just one year.)

But Halden's achievement is based on something quite familiar: high-quality interactions between prison staff and inmates; each one a carefully considered piece of a connected strategy designed to lead to rewarding lives on the outside. It's a brilliant example of how a truly from-the-ground-up customer-first approach can deliver stunning results.

The five core principles that appear to serve as the foundation for Halden’s phenomenal success can easily be applied to crafting a best practice B2B CX strategy:

  1. Build a true mutual understanding

At Halden, both staff and inmates – typically violent criminals, including murderers, rapists and drug smugglers – are clear on the mission: rehabilitation. (Norway left more traditional punitive justice models behind in the early ‘90s.) Everyone knows the end goal, so everyone can get to grips with and buy into a shared plan. This transparency also gives inmates the chance to interrogate the system and offer their own feedback.

In a B2B setting, having a clear brand proposition enables customers to see exactly what you can do for them. But it’s also your opportunity to learn about them too – with connected data and action-fuelling insights putting you in a position to continually hone your strategy.

  1. Ensure quality staff and customer engagements

Everyone from Halden’s prison officers and teachers to its tutors and administrators know it’s vital that inmates feel supported – not just managed – which goes a long way to explain why the prison has a staff-to-inmate ratio of just over 1:1. Each member of staff undergoes a lengthy training process to ensure a consistent end-to-end quality of support. (For prison officers, training can take between two and three years). After all, trust and progress are hard won, but easily lost.

In a more traditional business, employees must understand their place within the customer journey – with a shared focus that encourages them to take ownership of any problems. A clear CX strategy is essential in supporting collective service objectives, but must be mapped carefully to every customer touchpoint

  1. Disrupt the idea of business-as-usual

Halden offers innovative yoga classes, work training and higher education programmes, as well as a 'Daddy in Prison' scheme that rewards well-behaved inmates and their families with a weekend of domestic normality in a comfortable, well-appointed chalet. This 'dare to be different' attitude enables the prison to unlock new ways of engaging inmates and encouraging changes in behaviour.

Businesses have to be persistent if they want to develop customer relationships and identify fresh engagement opportunities. But first, they must shed preconceived notions about the right way of doing things and be open to new and even risky ideas. This includes a willingness to employ both new techniques and technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to generate fresh insights and facilitate new connections

  1. Show appreciation and see beyond the now

The day-to-day prisoner experience at Halden is defined by educational programmes and job training – auto mechanics, carpentry and food production – alongside leisure activities and unexpected privileges. Accomplishments are celebrated, and the prison furnishes inmates with the resources they need to publish cookery books and produce music albums. Why? Simple. Life doesn’t stop when convicted criminals enter through Halden’s gates. As the prison’s governor, Are Hoidal, puts it, “We start planning their release on the first day they arrive.”

While it’s fair to hope that your own customers will return again and again, finding a lasting answer to their needs in your products or services, a business must be prepared to step away from short-term targets and focus their attention on what's best for the customer – even if doing right by their interests ultimately leads them elsewhere.

  1. Make a long-term strategic and financial commitment

Halden’s success relies on a steady supply of government funding and the ability to pay its prison officers well. Unfortunately, a downturn in Norway’s economy – due in part to declining profits in the North Sea oil industry – means the prison is now facing potential cuts that could have a negative impact on the quality of the inmate experience, and more importantly, the effectiveness of the system and its benefit to society as a whole.

Investment in CX must go hand-in-hand with a broad commitment to the long-term needs of your customers, and a willingness to engage in the continuous fine-tuning of your engagement strategy and practices. Relationships can be nurtured through better Service Line Agreements (SLAs) and product or service lifecycles built to ensure you are always anticipating your customer’s needs


To build truly rewarding customer experiences, it seems to me like businesses must look beyond flashy ‘surprise & delight’ novelty engagements. Any brand can string together a few ‘Wow!’ moments. Great CX in B2B is about challenging common notions of ‘best practice’ to keep a stubborn focus on one common goal: solving fundamental problems for your customers – in a carefully considered and lasting way.

So take a moment before your next meeting to ask, “What assumptions does our current CX strategy make about our customers?” Can we look harder, learn more and redefine the way we measure success?”

Rest assured, your customers hold all the answers.

Original article found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-48885846

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