Can you craft a good customer experience without an intuitive grasp of human nature?

How likely is it that your organisation will create/deliver a good customer experience if your people do not have an intuitive grasp of human nature?  And why is it that so many people in professional services lack that intuitive grasp of human nature and social rules?  Allow me to share a story with you.

My PC needs to be repaired: a bold promise is made

I turned up at the local repair shop and spelled out the issues and my concerns: “Microsoft keeps looping – it won’t boot up properly.  The fan does not work and needs replacing.  From time to time the PC makes a whiny / screechy noise that is annoying; and there could be something wrong with the graphics/sound card as no sound comes out of the speakers or it might simply be that one of the wires is disconnected – I saw one that had speaker written on it and was lying around in the case not connected to anything.  When can you have it fixed for me? Can you get it done by end of play today or tomorrow?”

The friendly young man asked some more question and then told me that PC may have become corrupted.  If that was the case then he would have to wipe the disk clean and do a fresh Microsoft XP install.  He pointed out that he would save the data but I would have to install all the other software programs.  “That’s fine by me” I replied.  Then he told me that he would have the computer fixed by the end of the day.  I replied “That is great if you can get it done today yet I can wait until tomorrow if that works better for you.”  He replied that he would have it repaired by the end of the day as it was only 10am.  Then he charged me for the same day service – £10 more costly than the next day service.  I paid, gave him my contact number and agreed that I would pick up the PC at the end of the day (6pm).

The bold promise is not kept

At 6pm I turned up to pick up the PC.  The same young man greeted me (looking a little confused) and told me that it would not be possible for me to pick up the PC because the installation was not yet complete.  He also told me that he had phoned my home about an hour ago to let me know.  So we agreed that I would come in the next day to pick it up. When I left the shop I had mixed feelings.  On the one hand I was grateful that he had phoned to let me know that the PC would not be ready.  On the other hand I was disappointed that he had broken his promise: after all it was he who insisted that he would have it done by the end of the day when I had said that I could wait a second day.

A mixed bag: I leave confused

The next day I turned up around lunchtime to collect my PC.  The young man gave me a friendly greeting and told me that the PC was ready.  He then showed me a small piece of the fan that had broken off and told me that the fan was working again and did not need to be replaced urgently.  He had not replaced it as he did not have that fan in stock and he assured me that I could buy a replacement fan off ebay for about £8 and that it was easy to replace.  I then asked about what fan I needed to order: he did not have an answer.  Then I asked about the sound issue: he told me that the graphic/sound card was fine and the probably lay with my speakers.  Just as I was about to pick up the PC he said “I’ll carry that to your car!”  I replied that I was happy to carry the PC yet he could help me by opening the shop door and my car boot.  That is exactly what he did.  I thanked him for his help, wished him a good weekend and drove home confused: both happy and unhappy with my shopping experience.

I find myself not telling the truth – the whole truth

The following Monday I got a call from an older lady from the local PC repair shop and she asked if everything was OK with my PC.  I told her that my PC was working fine.  She asked if I was satisfed with my experience and I replied “Yes”.  I even told her that I was happy to recommend her business.  Yet, after hanging up the phone I realised that whilst I had not lied, I had not told the truth either.  The truth being that I has both happy and unhappy with my shopping experience; I was satisfied and not satisfied; I was grateful and disappointed.  How can that be?  Lets dive into that question.

What you can learn from experience

The job that I needed done (and quickly) was to get the PC fixed within a day or two.  That is exactly what the PC repair shop had delivered.  The added bonus was that the price I paid was reasonable and actually less than I had expected to pay.  And in my three interactions with the young man at the PC repair shop I was treated in a friendly and polite manner.  That is the good news.

The not so good news is that the young man at the PC repair shop failed to adequately address my human needs and broke the social rules that many of us take for granted.  Let’s take a look at where he failed and what we can learn about human nature and social etiquette:

He made a promise, failed to honour it and then did not clean up the mess on day 1.  When we fail to keep our promises then most of us expect a good reason and restitution.  He provided me the reason (Microsoft XP updates taking too long) but he did not provide restitution.  The minimum form of restitution is a genuine (sincere) sorry.  It is even better if the sorry is followed by a statement that recognises that you get the impact of your failed promise on the customer.  You can generate delight if you go one step further and simply ask your customer “What can I do to make this right by you?”  Often just asking that question is all that you need to do to make it right by your customer.  The PC repair man did not even say sorry when I came to pick up the PC on day 1!

He failed the fairness and restitution test on day 2.  You may remember that he charged me a £10 premium to fix my PC on the same day and then failed to do just that.  Fairness dictates that when I came in to pick up my PC on day 2 he should have refunded me the difference (without me asking for it) between a same day repair and a next day repair.  This amount is tiny (£10) and I have wasted more than £1,000 in a single day.  So it is not the amount that matters – it is not what is the cause of upset and disappointment.  The cause is that he did not follow the social rules that I take for granted and I assume that most of us take for granted.  Not only did he not refund the difference he also failed to offer restitution.  Have you ever dined at a restaurant and found that the manager offered you a ‘discount’ on the meal when the restaurant had made a mess of things like keeping you waiting too long to be served?  He could have offered to reduce the price of the service or thrown in something in for free – see next point.

He didn’t own my full problem.  When I came to collect my PC he had not done what I had expected him to do: he had not replaced the broken fan.  First, he told me that it did not need to be urgently replaced and then he told me I could buy a replacement of ebay.  Yet when I asked him what fan I needed (make, model, part no) he did not know.  He had not bothered to find out and write it down on a piece of paper.  Furthermore, he simply told me that the fan was easy to replace.  He did not check how comfortable I was in doing that or if I even wanted to do it.  A great way to make up for the failures would have been for him to say: “Your computer works right now so you can take it home so that your wife and son can use it.  I expect to have the replacement fan in stock in about a week or so.  When it gets here I will give your a ring and if you bring your PC in I will fit the replacement fan free of charge to make up for failing to have your PC ready yesterday.  Does that work for you?”  But he did not do that and left me feeling that he really did not care for me: he simply saw his task as a technical one (rebuild PC) rather than a human one (create a happy customer).

A little kindness makes a huge difference.  When his boss rang me to get my views on my shopping experience why did I not make a complaint?  Because when I was about to leave the shop on day 2 he saw me look at the PC then the shop door and back at the PC.  By observing this he figured out that I was wondering how I was going to carry a bulky/heavy PC and open the shop door. And he offered to carry my PC to my car.  In that one act he showed caring for me and earned my gratitude.  How can I repay that kindness by getting him into trouble?  No, I am not willing to take that chance: one kind act deserves another and as such I choose to forgive and forget.

Final Words

I have spent the bulk of my professional life in the marketing-selling-delivery of professional services and during that process I have noticed that a particular blindness plagues many people that work in these industries.  What is that blindness?  The human-social dimension.  Too many people working in professional services forget that they are dealing with flesh and blood human beings. The result is that they focus on the technical aspects of their craft and neglect the human dimension.   When you address the human dimension you put large deposits in the emotional goodwill account and you can cash this in if and when you fail to deliver as expected on the technical dimension.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.