Can You Solve This Customer Interaction Puzzle?

Q: What Is The Cause Of This Customer Interaction Turning Out As It Turned Out?

Do you have an avid interest in designing-conducting research, eliciting-capturing requirements, listening to the voice of the customer, or designing customer experiences?  If you have this interest then I invite you to help me solve the following customer experience puzzle:

Last week, while on an average holiday shopping trip, my mother and I decided to stop by Starbucks to get a quick snack…..

When we got up to the counter, my mother placed our simple order, at which point she asked for a “tall” cup of two percent white milk. This is how the conversation played out:

“Mocha,” said the barista.

“No. Milk,” my mother repeated.

“Mocha?”

“No. Two percent white milk.”

“Oh… Milk!”

….. I attempted to withhold my personal thoughts. Milk. You know, that white stuff you pour in the coffee? Yes, well, we want an entire cup full of that. Minus the coffee, of course.

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out, but not without a few stifled giggles.

– See more at: http://www.1to1media.com/weblog/2013/12/milkin_it_a_starbucks_story.html#sthash.q04UKrYT.dpuf

I ask you to put your intellect and expertise into action. Please consider the situation and give an answer to the following question: What is the cause of the mismatch between the customer’s request for “milk” and how Starbucks responded to the customer’s request?  

Why it is worth spending time on this puzzle?  Because we are grappling with that which lies at the heart of making sense of the customer’s voice and sound experience design.  It is also the reason that so many systems, including CRM systems, disappoint customers even though the designers are convinced that they have listened to the customer and designed the system to meet the customers needs-requirements.

What Explanations-Interpretations Have Been Put Forth To Date?

To date, I have come across two ways of explaining-interpreting that which occurred between the customer and the Starbucks staff.  Allow me to share these with you.

The author of the story (Anna Papachristos) explains this breakdown in communication (and the resulting experience) as follows:

I’m not sure what was more baffling–the fact that no one in the coffee shop listened, or that they’ve become blissfully unaware of the basics. I understand that Starbucks stands as a status symbol more than anything, but have we really distanced ourselves from the simple things in life that badly? This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious. 

Don Peppers in his post (How To Deal With Customer Variability) sees the same situation in terms of variable customer needs-behaviour coming up against standardised processes and operations:

Starbucks, like the roadside diner and any other business, tries to maintain quality and control costs by standardizing processes and operations. Routine tasks, if they can’t be automated, are at least handled in the same way by every employee.

But customers are all different. They want different things – different sizes of products, different delivery dates, different specifications for services, and so forth.

Variability like this is something Frei and Morriss call “customer chaos,” and they suggest it can be managed in two basic ways: either by eliminating it, or by accommodating it. If you choose to eliminate variability, you will generate more efficiency. If you choose to accommodate it, you will generate better service.

My Take On This Interaction?

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p>I do not find myself in agreement with the author (Anna Papachristos). Nor do I find myself in agreement with Don Peppers.  I propose to share my answer to this customer interaction puzzle in a follow up post – hopefully after some/many of you have put forward your answers by commenting.

Are These the 7 Key Difference Between Effective and Ineffective Leaders?

In light of my experience and the continuing scandals – NSA/Prism and Lloyds PPI complaint handling – I have been reflecting-grappling with the leadership, accountability, and integrity. As such I wish to share with you my  take on the seven key differences between effective and ineffective leaders.

1. Effective leaders are clear on what matters, communicate what matters, and model the desired values and behaviours. Ineffective leaders are either not clear on what matters or simply not able to able-willing to rule some stuff out. Ineffective leaders suck at communicating what matters. And they don’t live-model-embody the fine sounding values, beliefs, and behaviours that they talk about.

2. Effective leaders name and insist on dealing with the most important issues no matter how unpleasant these issues are. Ineffective leaders find all kinds of reasons and excuses for not dealing with the real issues and instead spend their time on what they are comfortable with.

3. Effective leaders focus on getting a rounded-realistic-fact based picture of reality. And as such they give real thought to who needs to take part in the conversation, and how to create a context that calls forth the ‘truth of each participant’.  Please note that feelings are facts! Ineffective leaders are drunk on their own importance and thus push their views, their agenda, on to the favoured few that they invite to the conversation.

4. Effective leaders deal with the thorny issues in a way that tends to build the self-esteem, confidence, learning, and goodwill of their people. Ineffective leaders issue orders, discount the concerns-views of their people, and make threats thus rupture one of the most critical pillars of an effective organisation: relationship and emotional affinity and loyalty.

5. Effective leaders think about the well-being of the wider system – all stakeholders inside and outside the business.  Ineffective leaders focus on what matters to them and their favoured constituency.

6. Effective leaders first hold themselves accountable. And by doing so they create the powerful access to holding their people accountable. Ineffective leaders hold others to account but not themselves. And sometimes they don’t even hold others accountable for fear of being confronted with their own lack of accountability.

7. Effective leaders get the critical importance of integrity. As such they put in place powerful ‘instruments’ that will: detect any ‘out of integrity’ ways of showing up in the world; and call the effective leader to get back into integrity quickly and clean up any mess s/he has made. Ineffective leaders don’t get that integrity is essential to ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ and as such there is little fit between what they say and what they do.  For ineffective leaders, integrity is optional.

How does this resonate with your experience? Please note the word ‘experience’ and specifically the phrase ‘your experience’.

 

Change Only Works When…..

The shift towards an authentic customer-centred orientation is a huge shift for just about every large organisation.  That means organisational change. At the heart of all effective organisational change lies effective communication.  Effective communication is radically different, I say distinct, from what passes for communication in the workplace.

If you are going to make the kind of organisational shifts that are necessary to cultivate customer relationships, call forth the best from your employees, and excel at the customer experience game, then I advise you to listen to the wise words of Danny Meyer, in his book Setting The Table:

Communication is at the root of all business strengths and weaknesses. When things go wrong and employees become upset ….. nine times out of ten the justifiable complaint is, “We need to communicate more effectively.” I admit that for many years, I didn’t really know what this meant……… I thought I was a pretty good communicator, but then it dawned on me: communicating has as much to do with the context as it does content. ……. Understanding who need to know what, when people need to know it, and why, and then presenting that information in an entirely comprehensible way is a sine qua non of great leadership…..

People who aren’t alerted in advance about a decision that will affect them may become angry and hurt. They’re confused, out of the loop; they feel as though they’ve been knocked off their lily pads.  When team members complain about poor communication, they’re essentially saying, “You did not give me advance warning or input about that decision you made. By the time I learned about it, the decision had already happened to me, and I was unprepared.” Team members will generally go with the flow and be willing to hop over ripples, as long as they know in advance that you are going to toss the rock, when you’ll be tossing it, how big it is, and – mostly – why you are choosing to toss it in the first place. The key is to anticipate the ripple effects of any decision before you implement it, gauging whom it will affect, and to what degree. Poor communication is generally not a matter of miscommunication. More often, it involves taking away people’s feelings of control. Change works only when people believe it is happening for them, not to them.  And there’s not much in between…..

Communication, responsibility, leadership and customer-centricity

Did I make a ridiculous fuss about nothing?

Recently,  a reader (pxfast) read this post on Klassic Books and commented:

“You are making a ridiculous fuss about nothing. Leaving feedback is a normal part of online trade so we know whom to trust. It was request, not an order, although the email could have been worded slightly differently so as to be clear it was optional. But is there enough time to consider all nit-pickers? What your list of questions has to do with the email I do not know, but you seem to be super-sensitive about your own affairs. They were simply confirming your order and politely requesting an optional acknowledgment in return, not a surly reply.”

I like to think of myself as a learner so I revisited this post and the memory of my experience. Then I went and looked at instances where I had been complimentary about the communications of book companies.  Three instance  came to mind:

If you look through these three cases of communication and compare them with case of Klassic books, I am confident that you will notice the following regarding the communications:

a)  Better World Books and the RocketSurgery Crew are being of service to me – making my life easier and/or enriching my life.  Whereas the Klassic Books communication is focussed on its needs and asking/expecting me to make the time/effort to fulfil their needs.

b)  The tone of the Better World Books and the Rocket Surgery Crew communications lands as human/warm – human talking to a fellow human being possible across a cafe table.  Whereas the tone of Klassic Books shows up as corporate/cold – lacking that human touch.

I say it is possible that I misinterpreted the intent of Klassic Books.  I say it is possible that I read into their email to me what was not in the email.  I say it is quite possible that I have been ‘unfair’.  And the issue is that my experience is not as such.  My head may speak this way, my heart does not.

My experience is that Klassic Books expected me to provide them a good customer review simply because they delivered a book on time.  Something that shows up as ‘table stakes’ of being an Amazon partner and getting my business.  And when I did not provide them with the review they sent me a second email and told me off for being a ‘naughty customer': We once again request you to leave your valued feedback on this purchase.”

What stance can you take regarding your communications to your customers?

Before I dive into this I wish to point out that the lack of communication (including none at all) is powerful in itself. Why? Because, no communication communicates!  I hope that you get that.  Now let’s dive into the matter of communication and its relationship to customer-centricity and leadership.

When it comes to communication it is worth remembering the following:

– the communication will land/be experienced in a specific way e.g. helpful, unhelpful, warm, cold, relevant, irrelevant…;

–  the communication will make an impact leaving the customer thinking more or less highly of you and feeling closer or more distant towards your organisation; and

–  the communication will elicit a response – a non-response is a powerful response if you listen for it.

Which is my way of saying that when you communicate – and you cannot help communicating because you are always communicating – you act on your customers.  And when you act on your customers they respond, they communicate to you.

Now my question is this, who is responsible for the response that your communication calls forth from your customers?  It occurs to me that you can stand in one of two places.

1. You can make the customer responsible for his/her response to your communication.  This often leads to labelling and blaming when customers don’t respond as expected.  Customers are labelled ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’ and so forth.  And they are blamed for not responding to requests, filling in forms incorrectly, asking ‘stupid’ questions, wasting company time…. This the default stance of many/most folks and organisations.  Why? The charitable view is that we are blinded by our intentions and not the consequences of our communication.  The less charitable view is that we will do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad”.

Notice that this is what pxfast – the reader who triggered this post – is doing.  He is criticising me and other customers like me as ‘nit-pickers’.  Have you noticed the negative labels being applied?  “Ridiculous fuss” and “nit-picker” If a customer is labelled a “nit-picker” and “causing a ridiculous fuss” then the logical thing to do is to ignore that customer.  I call that a ‘get out of jail’ card being played.

2. You can take responsibility for the customer’s response to your communication.  This is taking responsibility as in I am the author of this response.  Or I am the ’cause in the matter of’ the communication that I have received from the customer.  This mode of being is rare at the individual, group or organisational level.

If you want to show up as a leader and/or as a customer centric organisation then embrace responsibility as opportunity

I say that if you want to show up as a leader then it is necessary for you to own up to your communication: how it lands, what impact it makes, and what response/s it generates.

I say that if you want your organisation to show up customer-centric then all the people, especially those who communicate with your customers, must take responsibility for their communication and the communication of your whole organisation: how it lands for your customers, what impact it makes in/on your customers, and the responses it generates from your customers.

Why take responsibility?  Because, it is the most powerful place to stand if you wish to be effective.  When you take responsibility you let go of the option/luxury of labelling/blaming customers.  Instead you listen for how your communication lands, what impact it makes, and what responses it generates. And where there is a difference to what you expected you say to yourself “How interesting!  I wonder what I did to cause that?  I wonder what I need to do more of?  And what do I need to do less of?  And what do I need to do differently to show up the way that I want to show up in the lives of my customers and generate the kind of response that I am up for generating?”

When you have that kind of listening then you have all that you need to become a master of communication; every leader has to be/become a master of communication; and every customer-centric organisation has to be a master of communication.  And if you have not noticed then ‘social’ is all about effective communication between you, your people (employees), your customers.

‘Integrity’, leadership, communication and performance: the most valuable post you will read this year?

This post is associated with and follows on from the previous post: Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012?  Start with ‘Integrity’.  This post clarifies what I wrote in the earlier – some people did not get what I was getting at and I take responsibility for that – and extends ‘Integrity’ into the domain of leadership and business performance.  If you are up for being customer-centric and improving the performance of your organisation then you absolutely have to grapple with the domains of ‘Integrity’ and leadership and connect the two together.  So let’s take a deeper look at these and how they fit together.  This is a long post AND you can get a lot of value out of it if you take the time to really read it and digest it.  Some of you are going to find all kind of issues (too long, too boring, too preachy…) with this post.  How do I know?  Because we ‘resist’ that which ‘confronts’ us and spoils the picture of the world that we are attached to – especially if it means giving up some of our self-serving habits. 

When I speak/write ‘Integrity’ I am not pointing at morality and virtue!

If you take a look at the dictionary you find the following definitions for integrity:

  • The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness –  e.g. he is known to be a man of integrity
  • The state of being whole and undividede.g. upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty
  • The condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in constructione.g. the structural integrity of the novel

When I use the term ‘Integrity’ I am NOT talking about, not pointing towards, nor interested in the first definition.  I am talking about and pointing towards the second and third definitions.  Why?  Because I am concerned with the domains of ‘workability’ and ‘performance’.   Allow me to illustrate this through a personal experience and a concrete example.

Recently I jumped into my Honda Accord and drove fours hours to spend some time with my parents.  I noticed that the car was ‘dirty-messy’ on the outside and on the inside.  I also noticed that when I pushed the accelerator down hard there was a delay of several seconds before the car responded and when it did the response was sluggish and the engine made a noise that suggested that I was asking it do more work than it was able/ready to do.  Finally, I noticed that at certain speeds the steering wheel vibrated suggesting wheel balancing and tracking issues.  Whilst I was at my parents I shared my experience of driving the car with my brother (who runs a car business) and asked him to fix the issues and get the car back into ‘Integrity’.  After examining the car he replaced the spark plugs, he topped up the fluids, balanced the wheels, took care of the tracking to make sure the wheels were in alignment and cleaned the car – inside and out.  When I drove the car back home my driving experience was completely different: instant response from the car when I hit the accelerator, no noise from the engine, no steering wheel vibration, crystal clear windscreen, sparking interior…..

Why the difference in performance of the car as I experienced it?  When I was driving to my parents my car had been out of ‘Integrity’.  It was not whole and complete.  It was not a condition of being unified, unimpaired or sound in construction: the spark plugs were not working, the power transmission was less than it needed to be, the wheels were not balanced, the wheels were not aligned…. When I drove back to my parents my car was in ‘Integrity':  all the components that had to be there for the car to be whole and complete (sound, unimpaired) were there and so the performance of the car was transformed.

Now is the time to address the question: why are you ignoring the first definition of integrity that of moral uprightness?  Different people have different ideas about what is moral.  Different groups of people have different ideas on what is and is not moral.  Morality is simply a social agreement between a group of people: is some groups of people (Christians say) it is moral to eat pork, in others (Muslims say) it is immoral to eat pork; in some groups of people it is moral to make use of all the latest technology (most of us), in others (e.g. the Amish) it is immoral to make use of electricity, phones etc.  Now here is the thing to get no matter what we decide is ‘moral’ regarding my car, in the real world having in place faulty spark plugs or unbalanced and misaligned wheels degrades the workability and performance of my car – that is simply what is so in the real world no matter what I, you, they, we believe about it.   Get it?

What would be present in your life (including your organisation) if ‘Integrity’ was present?

Werner Erhard has done great work on ‘Integrity’ and I cannot explain it any better than he has written it.  So I am going to use his words (I hope that is ok with you Werner and I thank you for putting this into the world):

“What would your life be like, and what would your performance be, if it were true that:

You have done what you said you would do and you did it on time.

You have done what you know to do, you did it the way it was meant to be done, and you did it on time.

You have done what others would expect you to do, even if you never said you would do it, and you did it on time, or you have informed them that you will not meet their expectations.

And you have informed others of your expectations for them and have made explicit requests to those others.

And whenever you realised that you were not going to do any of the foregoing, or not going to do it on time:

You have said so to everyone who might be impacted, and you did so as soon as you realised that you wouldn’t be doing it, or wouldn’t be doing it on time, and

If you were going to be do it in the future you have said by when you would do it, and

You have dealt with the consequences of not doing it on time, or not doing at all, for all those who are impacted by your not doing it on time, or not doing it at all.

In a sentence, you have done what you said you would do or you have said you are not doing it; you have nothing hidden, you are truthful, forthright, straight and honest.  And you have cleaned up any mess you have caused for those depending on your word.

And almost unimaginable: what if others operated this way with you?”

‘Integrity’ and communication go together

If you read what Werner has written you get that ‘Integrity’ and communication go together – think of them as two sides of the same coin.  Being ‘in Integrity’ means ‘being in communication’.  How?  Why?  We live in relationship with one another and we progress our ‘projects’ (and an organisation exists to progress specific ‘projects’)  by making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests of one another – these requests can be implicit (implied) or explicit as is clearly set out by Werner.  Making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests how is this done?  Surely it is done through language – right?  That is to say through speaking and listening – whether that is face to face, on the phone, email, SMS…

Let me put it more bluntly when you are part of a group – and we are always part of a group as we exist in relationship – not ‘being in communication’ with the group is being ‘out of Integrity’.  That is simply so even if you did not promise to be in communication.  Why?  Because it our normal functioning to expect the people in our group to ‘be in communication’ – to let us know what is going on.  How do you feel when your son or daughter does not let you know what is going on his/her life?  How does your mother feel if you turn up and tell her that you have been experiencing a really difficult time for the last year?  Does she berate  you for not sharing?  Does she say that you should have called her and shared your pain?  I hope you get what I am saying.

‘Integrity’ and leadership

One of the people who read my last blog on ‘Integrity’ made the comment that his organisation (he is the CEO) relies on a contract manufacturer and fulfillment partner to honor its promises to its customers. He also pointed out that this contract manufacturers is out of ‘Integrity': this organisation has committed never to be out of stock and to despatch order within one day and it is regularly out of stock and often takes up to five days to despatch orders to my readers customers.  Bob (the reader) also stated that whilst the CEO of the contract manufacturer is in ‘Integrity’ the people in his organisation are out of ‘Integrity’ – else the organisation would honour the agreements around stock and fulfillment.  My response: bull***t!

What goes with being the CEO (the leader) of an organisation?  When I or you step into the CEO role you automatically become responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the whole organisation!  That is what is so.  The CEO is the top dog and rightly or wrongly we (customers, partners, employees, suppliers, regulators) expect the CEO to make sure that his organisation works:  it does what it says (keeps promises) and says what it does (honesty, authenticity).  So the hallmark of effective leadership is taking the stand: I am responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation that I lead.  What goes with this stand?  It involves setting up an ‘existence structure’ that regularly gets me present to where the organisation is out of ‘Integrity’ and another (or perhaps the same) ‘existence structure’ for taking action to get the organisation back into ‘Integrity’.  Any fool can take responsibility for his own (personal) integrity it takes a special fool to take responsibility for the group of people – family, organisation, community, society.

Does you CEO relate to himself as the person who is responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation he leads?  And when the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation is out does he/she ask the question: who am I being such that the ‘playing field’ that I have created (upon which the organisation plays the game of business) gives rise to the organisation that I lead being out of ‘Integrity’?   Or does he/she simply point the finger of blame at other people in or outside the organisation?   Why do I say outside of the organisation?  Because the CEO is also responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of value chain partners!  When I, the customer, order from Amazon I expect Amazon to be accountable for getting what I have bought to me by the promised date.  I do not care if Amazon has outsourced part of the value chain to another party e.g. the end delivery to a fulfillment company like Yodel – I hold Amazon responsible!

‘Integrity, leadership, communication and performance – how are they connected?

By now you should be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ can only occur if you are also ‘being in communication’.  You should also be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ for the organisation as a whole is related to leadership.  And you should know that ‘being in Integrity’ is desirable because when any ‘system’ is not in ‘Integrity’ then workability and performance of that ‘system’ degrades.  So I’d sum it up as follows:

  • Leaders are responsible for the performance of their organisations;
  • Performance (the output) is correlated with the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation (the ‘system’) – ‘Integrity’ gives rise to workability and performance;
  • Leadership is fundamentally about being a stand for the ‘Integrity’ of the entire organisation (including value chain partners) and setting up ‘existence structures’ to quickly detect where the organisation is ‘out of Integrity’ and then taking prompt, effective action to put the organisation back ‘into Integrity'; and
  • Communication is essential to ‘Integrity’ and so leadership about effective communication – communication that tilts the table towards the organisation being ‘in Integrity’ rather than being ‘out of Integrity.

I have covered a huge amount here.  If you take the time to digest it you should get it.  And if you get it then you can dispense with a library of books on leadersip, organisation development and business performance.   Really you can!  You don’t agree with me?  OK where have I gone wrong?  Please educate me – I am listening and everything that I can do today is because someone took the time to educate me.

2011: are you ready to move beyond the 4Ps and the 4Cs to embrace the 5Hs?

In the period of 1950s the concept of the marketing mix was introduced and this led to the birth of the 4Ps: Product, Price, Place, Promotion.    This has been extended  to include another 3Ps: People, Process, Physical Evidence.

With the birth of the Customer age in the 1990s Robert Lauterborn proposed the 4Cs: Customer, Cost, Convenience, Communication.  Whilst this is a move in the right direction it is not enough.   To my mind it smacks of the abstract, the intellectual, a machine way of thinking and talking.  A move forward yet still within the Newtonian paradigm of the universe (including human beings) as a gigantic clock.

How about embracing the 5Hs: Human, Heart,  Honesty, Hospitality and Harmony?

Human:

Get that you are dealing with flesh and blood human beings and treat your customers as human beings.  Strive to treat them with the best of our humanity: kindness, benevolence, humaneness.

Being human, we notice, even if it is at a subconscious level, when these qualities are present or not.  Given the choice we walk towards organisations that have a human look and feel:  that are humane and treat us as human beings not machines.

How about starting with a small step that makes a huge difference: speaking with a human, conversational, voice?

Heart:

As the expression goes “Have a heart!”.  What does that mean?  In a word it means compassion.  The ability and willingness to put yourself in the shoes of your customer.  To see life through her eyes, to experience what she is experiencing.  It means following the golden rule “Treat your fellow man/woman in the manner in which you would like to be treated if you were in his/her shoes?  Go further and embrace the platinum rule “treat your customer as he/she would like to be treated”.

How about following Zappos and making it easy for your customers to reach out and speak with you?  To reach out to you – via chat, click to call etc – when she is shopping and needs guidance or reassurance?  To reach out to you when she needs help in using your product or service?

How about making it easy for customers to make complaints?  How about making it easy to return faulty goods?  And so forth.

Honesty:

Let go of the spin and be honest with people in a tactful way.

Human beings stay clear of people who they find to be dishonest.  When you are honest I may not like what you say yet I will respect you for being honest.  Tell it as it is – upfront – it will save you a lot of pain later on: sooner or later your true colour will show especially in this densely connected world.  When I catch you being dishonest (including omitting stuff that you do not want me to know) then I no longer trust you.  If I don’t trust you then you are going to have to pay in way or another if you want to do business with me.

Put bluntly put as much focus on the steak – the product, the service, the reality – as you do to the sizzle of advertising and other marketing messages.   Another way of saying this is to say ensure that there is a harmony between the sizzle and the steak.

Hospitality:

Be a good host, be hospitable – to prospects, new customers, existing customers and customers who have either left or are on their way.

When you are being a good host you take the time and trouble to think of your guests and their needs.  You do your best to welcome them, to make them feel at ease, to introduce them to people that they will find interesting or useful. And when the time comes for them to leave, a good host will see them to the door and wish them well and mean it!  How about behaving the same way with your prospects, new customers, existing customers etc?

How about inviting your customers into the business?  To listen, to share, to collaborate on new product ideas, product development, marketing communications, customer services and so forth?  Incidentally, the important part about ‘social media’ is not the media, it is the social.  In a social environment your character, your reputation and your manners speak so loudly that few listen to your words.  A good host is mindful of this and acts accordingly.

Harmony:

As human beings we love harmony and we strive after it.  Harmony is pleasing as it gives us peace of mind.  So how about focusing your efforts on creating harmony?  What does that mean in practice?  Lets take a look at the dictionary definition: “the just adaptation of parts to each other, so as to form a complete, symmetrical or pleasing whole”.

How about a harmony between the promises made and the experience delivered?   How about orchestrating harmony between all the silos that impact the customer experience?  How about harmony between the short-term and the longer term?

It is my belief that if you don’t get the social part – that is the human desires for beauty, for meaning, for connection, for honesty…. – you are going to be increasingly lost in the 21st century.    Maybe I am deluding myself.  What do you think?

How not to communicate: “your call is in a queue and will be answered as soon as possible”

I had the misfortune of having a problem that really needed to be fixed yesterday – the earlier the better.  So I found myself on the phone and after selecting the right IVR options I was told “Your call is in a queue and will be answered as soon as possible” and this recording kept being replayed every 10 – 20 seconds.  The first time I hung up after six minutes – partly because I just could not stand to listen to the recording.  The next time I rang I was listening to this recording for four minutes.  What do I find so irritating about this recording?

Being British I queue – I have been doing it for many years and it is second nature to me.  In the real world when I queue I make that choice.  My choice is based on observation and calculation:  I observe the length of the queue; I observe how quickly / slowly the queue is moving; and I calculate how long it is likely to take me to get served.  Based on that calculation I make a decision: to queue or not.

I found the recording irritating because it did not provide me with any useful information.  Information that I needed to make a decision – hold whilst making a cup of tea or hang up?

Specifically:

  • It did not tell me where I was in the queue e.g. “Your are 10th in line to be served”;
  • It did not tell me how long I would have to wait to get served e.g. “We estimate that we will answer your call in 5 minutes”;
  • It did not suggest when it would be better time for me to call – a time when there is less demand on the call centre;
  • It did provide context and/or seek to elicit my sympathy e.g. “Because of the bad weather, some of our staff have not been able to make it to work today.  That unfortunately means that it will take longer for us to answer your call. Please be patient as we are doing our best;
  • It did not provide me with a sense of progress e.g. ” You were 10th in the queue, you are now 2nd in the queue”.

Why is it so hard for people who are in the business of serving customers to act on insights that have been around for over 50 years?  Insights that show the human need for control – to be in control of his/her life.  Insights that show that one of the best ways to inflict considerable pain on a human is to put him/her in an environment over which he/she has no control.  Martin Seligman (psychologist) even coined a term for it “learned helplessness”.

It is hard because the people who authorised the recording are not thinking of customers as human beings.  They are used to operating a factory: a factory that processes calls.  To the managers of these factories what matters is to deal with the calls in way that minimises costs.  In a factory there is conveyor belt and your call is on the conveyor belt.  And they want to let you know that they will process your call as soon as possible.  The focus is on them and their internal operation not you the human being and your needs.  That does not make these managers bad human beings – they are simply trapped in a factory mindset where you process objects.

Here is what I would have preferred to hear “Dear customer, thank you for calling us today.  We would love to serve you straight away as none of us likes to wait especially when we have a pressing problem that needs to be fixed.  Right now we cannot do that because only 60% of our people have been able to make it to the office today due to the bad weather.  Please bear with us and we will get around to you as soon as we can.  Your are 20th in the queue and we expect to serve you in about ten minutes.  Please bear with us.  Or if that is not possible then call us back later in the day.”

A final thought:  this incident shows the importance of paying attention to the basics before embarking on the ‘strategic’ stuff.   For a customer there is nothing more ‘strategic’ – important / critical – than the way you treat her when she reaches out to you for help.