Book Review: The Endangered Customer by Richard. R. Shapiro

I enjoyed reading Richard Shapiro’s first book: The Welcomer’s Edge.  In this book Richard set out a 3 step model (the greet, the assist, the leave-behind) for making a human connection with customers through every customer interaction.

In his latest book – The Endangered Customer – Richard expands the 3 step model into eight steps in the customer’s journey from the initial encounter to making a repeat purchase. The book is relatively short (less than 150 pages), easy to read, and each of the eight chapters addresses one of the eight steps.

What Is The Endangered Customer About?  

It’s about retaining customers through superior service.  Superior service necessarily involves seeing customers as persons and striving to cultivate a human connection with them. Here’s how Richard puts it (bolding mine):

“Poor service followed by poor service – that’s how you endanger your customers into becoming someone else’s customers.”

Why bother going to the effort of generating good/great service?  After 28+ years spent working in the customer service industry, Richard makes the following assertion (bolding mine):

“.. companies of any size and in any consumer channel, can survive and thrive in the Switching Economy by making human connections that build sustainable customer relationships…..”

“As automated transactions become faster, easier, and more reliable, making human connection will become increasingly rare – and therefore increasingly more valuable. The greatest differentiator for any company will be how well it makes that human connection with its endangered customers.”

What Are the 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business Through Human Connection?

In the Endangered Customer Richard sets out the 8 steps for cultivating human connection, delivering personalised service, and inviting-cultivating lasting relationships with customers.  These steps and associated nuggets of wisdom are:

1 – Make me feel welcome

“Human beings come to you with hope in their hearts. They need or want something they haven’t found elsewhere, and hope you have the answer…. Your job is to give them hope that they’ve come to a place where their problem or desire will be addressed in a helpful, friendly manner....”

“Offering hope beings with a welcoming smile.”

“The goal is not to create a relationship with every interaction. The goal is to invite a relationship…. This is why it’s important to faire the right people for customer-facing positions.”

2 – Give me your full attention

“Customers carve attention. They want and need to feel that you’re interested in them.”

“Fundamentally, giving your full attention requires an ability to acutely listen.”

“Joe Girard, the Guiness Book’s world record-holder for retail sales: “People may have had to wait for an appointment, but when I was with them, I was with them body and soul.

3 – Answer more than my question

“Questions are the customer’s way of inviting you to become a valuable guide in his or her journey. A sales associate accepts that invitation by taking the time to anticipate the “detours” and other obstacles that might lie ahead. That’s often the information that has the most profound effect on the customer. “

4 – Know your stuff

“There is no sales tool as powerful as knowledge. When we were shopping with Rochelle, we knew we were in good hands. Her expertise, coupled with a smile and an uplifting attitude, made all the difference.”

“… in a retail environment, I believe that the greatest cost of employee turnover is the one that is rarely quantified or even discussed: the diminished capacity in terms of customer relationships and institutional knowledge.”

5 – Don’t tell me no

“Never saying no is all about trying your best, because people will always come back to do business with a company that gives them the feeling that it is there for your.”

“…. many companies have standard practices that needlessly leave their customers feeling disappointed and uncared for.”

6 – Invite me to return

“The leave-behind represents any number of little things that associates can do and say to make customers want to visit again…. The point of every leave-behind is to make it easy for the customer to stay in touch.”

“When you are invited to return, it makes you feel wanted and accepted.”

“I can’t emphasise enough that feelings of loyalty naturally develop towards a person and not the business.”

“Relationships are cultivated on a person-to-person basis, not through impersonal automated “thank you” emails.”

7 – Show me I matter

“We are all innately suspicious of someone who seems to lose interest in us after money has changed hands. People just hate feeling seduced and abandoned. People like feeling important and special.”

“… demonstrating genuine concern and care after the conclusion of the interaction is something that many companies do not consider. When it does happen, it’s just an accident.”

“Take a good look at any company that is known for being “loved” …… You will discover that the company has instituted any number of consistent procedures and practices that assure customers of their importance….”

“Everything about the customer experience has to be genuine or it loses its punch.”

8 – Surprise me in good ways

“Customer satisfaction is a minimal standard; loyal customer relationships are built around surprise and delight. Customers crave human interactions that leave them with the experience of feeling special, and nothing conveys specialness better than surprise. “

 

The Heart of Customer Loyalty: Paying It Forward?

Richard has some interesting things to say when it comes to the implementation of the 8 steps, and the cultivating of long term relationships with customers.  Lets listen to his speaking:

“Of the eight steps…. the final three are perhaps the most difficult ones to implement because acknowledgement, appreciation, and delight have noting to so with closing sales and raising short-term revenues….”

Pay it forward is really the ultimate expression of customer service, because it’s a practice that puts people before profits….. A pay it forward culture …. will naturally reap dividends in terms of customer loyalty and repeat patronage because customers will naturally keep returning to anyone capable of giving them this feeling. And they in turn will tell their friends about you ….. as a way of paying it forward.”

Concluding Remarks

I enjoyed reading The Endangered Customer. I am clear that Richard Shapiro knows his subject matter – building enduring bonds with customers by cultivating the human connection between the customer-facing employees and the customers. I am also clear that Richard provides valuable advice if you have the listening for this advice.

My concern is that the very people who are in the position to effect change in organisations – especially big corporations – do not have the listening for that which Richard Shapiro speaks. The human connection seems antiquated in the age of worship at the altars of process and technology.

Please note that this review is necessarily biassed. To be human is to be biased – always and forever.  In my case, my bias is that I consider myself to be a friend of Richard R. Shapiro even though we have never met / nor talked.  Finally, I offer my thanks to Richard for sending me signed copy to read.

I thank you for listening and I wish you the very best. As the French say: until the next time….

 

 

CX and the Art of Getting & Keeping Customers

The Story: How I Ended Up Moving On From My Favourite Cafe

I walked in to my favourite cafe and greeted the fellow behind the counter by his first name. He was so happy to see me that he smiled a huge smile, welcomed me, and came around the counter to shake hands with me.  Delight – what a welcome!

Then I ordered my usual: fresh orange juice, hot chocolate, a croissant, and a pain au chocolate.  My ‘friend’ behind the counter pointed at his orange juice making machine: no oranges, no fresh orange juice – his supplier hadn’t delivered the oranges on that day.  I find myself disappointed – really disappointed.  That is when something important is unconcealed to me: of the breakfast what really matters is the fresh orange juice.

I eat my breakfast noticing all the time the absence of the fresh orange juice.  I pick up my bag, put on my overcoat, say goodbye and leave for work: the client’s offices.

It’s mid-morning and I’m thirsty. I head down to the ground floor where the cafes and restaurants are.  I notice a small place that I had not noticed before.  Why do I notice it? It seems to be like a fresh juice bar! I head over there and sure enough there are various freshly squeezed juices including orange, orange and banana, orange and mango…. A little later I find myself drinking the orange and banana juice. Delicious!

The next day I find myself at this juice bar for breakfast. I help myself to the fresh juice, a croissant, a pain au chocolat, and pay. Whilst paying I strike up a conversation with the lady serving me. Then I take a seat and enjoy my breakfast.

I do the same the next day, and the next day, and the next day.  I find that despite my intentions to go back to my favourite cafe I do not go back. Yes, I think fondly of the fellow who works there. I wonder how he is doing and I wish him the very best. I even think of popping in after work… Yet, I find that I never go back there for breakfast.  I stick with the fresh juice bar.  Why?

It is convenient – on the ground floor of the client’s offices. It always has the products I am looking for. By being a regular customer and willing to initiate conversation I have gotten to know Anne – and she has gotten to know me. The place is clean and there is always plenty of room to stand or sit down and have my breakfast in peace.

What Might This Unconceal About Winning & Keeping Customers?

1 – What happened happened yet I did not intend it to happen. Neither did the fellow working at my favourite cafe. Indeed, if you had told me that things would have worked out this way  I would have argued against it. I would have found many reasons to back up my position. Which makes me wonder how much you/i can trust what customers/prospects say in surveys.

2 – Great customer service was not enough to keep me as a customer.  I am clear that every time I turned up at my favourite cafe I received great customer service. In part this was because I had established a personal connection with the chap behind the counter who served me.

3 – Great personal relationship with the customer facing front line employee was not enough.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter was, to use Richard Shapiro’s language, a Welcomer.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter and I had cultivated a personal relationship with one another such that both of us were genuinely pleased to see one another.  Yes, it was great to be greeted by my first name, with a smile, and asked about what I had been up to since the last visit.  No, this level of relatedness did not turn out to be enough to keep me as a customer.

4 – As a customer I did not realise what really mattered in my ‘eating breakfast’ experience until what really mattered was not present.  In my case what really mattered was freshly squeezed orange juice – the experience (taste, pleasure) associated with drinking this particular product.

5 – The customer’s experience is holistic and it necessarily involves the ‘product’. Put differently, the customer’s experience is more than how you treat the customer when s/he is ‘dancing’ with your organisation.  It is more than having a Welcomer welcoming.  It necessarily involves the ‘product’ that the customer came in search of.

Further Reflections on The Customer’s Experience and Customer Loyalty

Based on my experience of being a customer, it occurs to me that the customer’s experience can be broken down down into the following components:

A.  Desired Outcome: Did I ‘get’ the outcome I was after?  The answer to this question is binary: yes or no.  There is no in between.  Think pregnancy – you are pregnant or you are not pregnant, you cannot be somewhat pregnant.

B.  Treatment: Was I treated the way I desire/expect to be treated whilst in the pursuit of my desired outcome?  The answer to this question is not binary when treatment is taken as a whole across my ‘customer journey’.  There may be elements of the journey where I was treated well. Other elements where I was not treated well.

C.  Effort-Time: How much effort-time did it take for me in working with you/your organisation to generate my desired outcome? I am clear that if you are the supplier that is the least effort-time consuming one to deal with then you have an advantage when it comes to winning my business and keeping me as a customer.

When I look at my transition from using my favourite cafe to using the on-site juice bar I notice that the juice bar won because:

  • It generated my desired outcome – every time without fail;
  • I was not treated as well as I was treated at my favourite cafe bar yet I was treated well enough. And I was able to cause improvements in my treatment by cultivating a more human / intimate relationship with Anne who usually staffed the juice bar; and
  • Doing business with the juice bar saved me time-effort because it was on my path-route to work. Whereas my favourite cafe was a 5-10 minute detour.  So it ended occurring up as convenient.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best in your living.  Until the next time….

CX: Are You Speaking The Customer’s Language?

The meeting was due to start at 16:00 and the flight I had taken landed at midday.  Four hours to get to Augsburg.  Take a taxi? Expensive and will get me there three hours too early.  Take a train?  Yes – it will force me to get out of my bubble and my comfort zone. And possibly teach me something about German railways.

I make my way to the train station at Munich airport.  Long line of folks waiting at the ticket office. I walk over to the automated ticket machines.  Fail. “I must have done something wrong. Let’s try again!” Fail. Walk over and join the line for the ticket office.

Ten minutes or so later I am face to face with a German. I don’t speak German. So I speak English: “Return ticket to Augsburg via Munich”.  A helpful friendly voice responds in my language.  Together we determine what type of ticket I need.

Next question. “What trains do I need to take to get to Augsburg”.  The helpful German who speaks fluent English consults his IT system.  I stand there expecting that which is the default: a verbal response.  Surprise!  The German chap prints of the the following document for me:

DBahn

This German ticket office clerk does not just print the document and hand it to me. He takes the time to explain it to me. Whilst explaining the document he circles the platforms and times. Not just that. He goes on to tell me that when I get off the first train, at Munich’s central station, I have then to go up two floors in order to get to my next train.  Delighted!  So delighted that I thank this chap for his helpfulness and reach to shake his hand.  He is taken aback, relaxes, shakes my hand and smiles.

Due to the helpfulness I have an effortless journey to Augsburg.  Upon getting off the train I make my way to the ticket office.  I look at the woman manning the ticket office.  Will she speak my language? That is the question on my mind.  I make my request for train times – for trains leaving Augsburg for Munch between 17:00 and 18:00.  To my relief she speaks English and tells me that she can help me with my request. She taps into her computer and prints off a one page document.  I look at the document. What a useful document!  It tells me all that I need to know: departure time, arrival time, fast train or slow train, departure platform…  I thank this friendly-helpful woman.

Here’s what strikes me about my interactions with the folks that I have encountered at the ticket offices:

  • Both have flexed to speak my language – English;
  • Both clearly have access to an IT system that gives them easy-quick access to train times irrespective of whether the train is metro/underground, overground, regional, intercity etc.  Which is to say that their IT system joins up the trains.  It provides a 360 view of trains and train timetables;
  • Both went way beyond that which I am used to in England – in England the best that I would expect is to be given the timetables and left alone to figure out how to get from A to B;
  • Both took a certain pride/satisfaction in the work that they were doing – this is what touched me the most.

Here, I invite you to consider that many companies look to generate a 360 degree view of the customer. Yet, few, strive to deliver a 360 degree of the business to the employee is face to face with the customer.  The ticket clerk could only print out that which he printed out (and gave me) because the folks at the German railways have gone to the trouble of providing a 360 degree view of the various trains and train timetables.

I am hungry. I make my way to a smallish cafe serving healthy food. Once again, I wonder if the young woman working the cafe will speak my language.  I make my request. She smiles. She responds in perfect English. I strike up a conversation- she joins in the dance. We learn a little about one another.

After the business meeting is concluded, I find myself on a train headed from Augsburg to Munich.  Do I play it safe and take the route that I took earlier that day?  I resist the temptation. Instead I take the advice of the helpful ticket clerk at Munich. I get off the train at Passing.  From here I should be able to get on a train to Munich airport.

One big problem: Passing is much larger as a rail station then I had imagined – lots of platforms.  Which platform?  Which train?  And I only have so much time to get to the airport or I miss the last plane out to England.  I go to one of the platforms. I look around for a friendly helpful face. I find one – a young woman. I ask her for help: which platform for the train to Munich airport.  She responds in fluent English. And helpfully.  She tells me that she doesn’t know. An older – middle aged – woman speaks to her in German.  The young woman now informed by the older woman directs me to the right platform. I thank them both and make my way to the platform. I catch the right train and arrive at just the right time.  Relief. Delight. Gratitude to the German people.

I’d like you to answer this question through the lens of the customer experience: What is it to speak the customer’s language?  Is it merely to speak English with the customer that speaks English?  If you are of that view then I say that you are short of the mark.

From experience I say that to speak the customer’s language is to ‘give’ the customer exactly what s/he is needing at every interaction:

  • It is to speak in the customer’s native language.
  • It is to be provide the information that the customer is asking for.
  • It involves providing information that the customer needs – in order to arrive at his/her desired outcome – even if the customer has not asked for this information.
  • It is to deal with the customer in a compassionate / empathic manner – a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful for the care he receives at your hands.

I say that you have truly spoken the customer’s language, viewed through a CX lens, when you leave the customer feeling grateful that you exist in the world and it is his/her great fortune that your paths have crossed.  It is to have enriched your customer’s experience of being alive in this world.  This is to say it is to live CX from the heart, not merely strategise about it with the head.

I dedicate this conversation to the German people – especially those who spoke my language during my recent visit to Augsburg.

To you dear reader I extend my thanks – I thank you for listening to my speaking. Until the next time….

 

Sales Effectiveness: What Does It Take To Make A Sale?

Does sales effectiveness require process – following a particular process in a particular manner?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness necessitate using the right technology/tools – say like a CRM system? Perhaps.  Does sales effectiveness require  a deep insight into the customer’s industry / business?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness require great negotiating skills. Perhaps.

Last week I presented a sales proposal. It was well received and we were awarded the work.  Several members of the client team mentioned that the proposal was spot on – exactly what they were looking for. A member of the proposal team stated that we had been successful because I had rapidly built a rapport with the client team – by honing in on their core need and talking to that. Another member of our (sales) team attributed success to the “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

To whom and to what do I attribute the success of this sales proposal?  First, let me say that I do not attribute it to killer insight to the client’s industry. I had little understanding or insight into that industry – a highly specialised industry.  Second, I neither followed a sales process nor used a CRM system.  Third, I did not put the solution together – others much more technical than me did that work. Lastly, the occasion to use negotiating skills never arose.  If there is a clue it lies in the comment “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

What I did do was a number of things. I recommended that the first cut presentation (put together by the technical folks) be presented to a key member of the client team. On that call, whilst the technical folks, presented that deck, I listened intently to the client. Where anything was fuzzy (to me, to the client) I asked clarifying questions. Following the presentation I talked extensively with the technical folks to understand the solution, implementation plan, assumptions they had put together.  This was not a comfortable discussion – I asked question after question to get from the abstract to the concrete.  Finally, I did desk based research.  After all this work, I cut down the presentation deck from 20+ slides to less than 10; I did my very best to make sure each slide spoke  to the client – relevant to the client’s problem/desired outcome, and written in language that the ordinary business person can easily understand.

Does that mean that I attribute success in ‘closing’ this opportunity to myself? Before I answer that question allow me to share some relevant information with you.  I/we (sales team) turned up on time but at what turned out to be the ‘wrong’ building. Sorting this matter out took something like 30 minutes. In the meantime the technical team via conference call had been asked to deliver the sales proposal. Having no choice they commenced delivery using the original presentation deck – ignoring the one that I had put together. By the time I/we (sales team) turned up the client team (about ten people) looked baffled and somewhat annoyed.  Then we (sales team) apologised and I delivered the sales proposal.

I attribute our success in being awarded the work to the client.  The client gave us (the sales team) a second chance: to wipe the slate clean and represent the sales proposal.  The client has a pressing need with a fixed deadline.  The client was looking to and in fact had to buy from someone – someone competent. The client considered us to be competent based on prior experience.  Put differently, the client was fertile soil for our sales proposal.

Summing up, I say that sales effectiveness comes ultimately comes down to a client that is sold on you (reputation, personal chemistry, word of mouth recommendation), has the necessary authority to influence/make a purchase, and most importantly has an urgent need to get started today to put in place something for the not to distant future. Now ask yourself how much of this is under the influence of the sales guy. Or how a sales process, a CRM system, or negotiating skills are going to make much of an impact on these dimensions.

I thank you for your listening. I wish you the very best and look forward to the next conversation.

 

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Experience Centric Business: A Bridge Too Far For Many?

I experience, you experience, s/he experience, they experience, we experience.  That is what is so.  Yet how deeply are you (and me) conscious of the quality (or the lack of it) of the experiencing that is occurring? Further, where does the quality of experience sit on the business priority ladder?  Let’s shine a light on these questions by looking at a recent experience.

I attended a training course in London not that long ago. Here are the facets of this experience that are still with me:

  • Cramped. The train room showed up as small for the size of the audience. No – small is not the right word. It lacks the flavour of experience. The experience-full word is cramped. There was not enough space for the most basic/normal of human needs. Example: whenever I needed to leave the training room I had to ask people to move their chairs into the tables so that I’d have just enough room to slide past them.
  • Hot. Stuffy. Hot. Stuffy. Due the room being packed with bodies and the lack of an adequate ventilation system the room got hot.  Not true. If we are going to stick to experience then it is more accurate to say that I got hot as in hot/uncomfortable. By the end of the first day of training I had a headache and felt so exhausted.
  • No internet!  We all needed good quality internet access in order to do the exercises. Some of us got good enough access. Others didn’t – I was one of those that didn’t. By the end of the second day of the three day training course the internet access issue had not been sorted out. Given that some 50% of the classroom time was given to doing the exercises I found myself to be frustrated and bored. It really took willpower to stay in the training room on the second day.
  • Long sessions, no breaks.  Imagine starting at 8:30 and having to wait until 12:30 for the first formal break – break for lunch. A computer may be totally ok with that. A brain in a vat – a purely cognitive being – may be totally ok with that. I was not. I got restless. I longed to stand up, stretch, walk… That is what goes with being an organism designed for movement.
  • Poor visuals.  What is the point of splashing something on the screen if the folks in the room cannot read it because the font size is too small?

Why was my learning experience so poor?  Was it because the folks who did the training lacked intelligence? No. Was it because there is a lack of knowledge about what kind of environments are conducive to learning? No. Was it because the folks who delivered the training had no personal experience of being learners in a training room?  No.

 

I draw your attention to the distinction between training and learning experience. I say that my learning experience was so poor because the focus of the training makers and doers  was on the training.  Notice, that when you focus on training you focus on the functional – activities (tasks, resources, materials) that go into training. Whereas when you focus on the learning experience you are focusing on the human – the experience of the learners.

Is that all there is to the matter? No. I suspect that the drivers that shaped the training were cost and time.  Not experience.  Why not hire a better-larger training room-venue? Because it would have cost more.  Why not break the training down into two smaller groups thus giving more attention to each learner?  Because it would have cost more.  Why not schedule more breaks during the day and reduce the learning day to a more humane one?  Because then it would take more days to get through the training. More days for the learners to take off to do the learning. And more time for the trainers to do the training. In business time is money – in this case a bigger cost.

Now I wish to draw your attention to what I found most interesting. During the course of the first day of training most of the experience issues were voiced by the learners. And brought to the attention of the trainers. Yet no effective action was taken – to deal with any of these issues.

 

Summing up, there is huge gap between the talk of Customer Experience and the customer’s experience.  It occurs to me that this is largely because of the following:

  1. Revenue and Cost are the primary drivers of business not Experience.
  2. The default and pervasive way of showing up and travelling in organisations is Function (processes, activities, tasks, resources…) and not Experience. Further, the folks who often play pivotal roles in Customer Experience efforts are pervaded through and through with Function. And they automatically assume that improving Function improves Experience.
  3. Experience requires Flexibility of response to this particular customer in this particular context yet the organisational default is Standardisation on the one best way to carry out this function.
  4. The language of experience  is a human kind of language. That poses a challenges in organisational contexts because the human is unwelcome in organisations.  Organisations prefer a rational / scientific language – the language of the engineer, the economist, the technician.  Notice, how I have had to correct myself in my speaking a few times just to be true to my experience.  Language matters – as a famous philosopher said “Language is the house of being.”
  5. The work that is necessary to generate the kind of experiences that customers desire is simply work that folks in organisations are unable or unwilling to take on. Maybe it shows up as unnecessary. Maybe it shows up as merely ‘nice to have’. Maybe it shows up as too much hard work for little benefit – lack of ROI. Maybe it shows up as disruptive.

This may show up as bad news. I am clear it is good news. Why?  Because the rewards of Experience excellence are only open to those few willing to make sacrifices today to harvest the promise of reward in the future.  Put differently, the route of Experience excellence is available only to those who truly believe in the value of Experience centred business.   For the majority, I say that experience centric business will continue to be a ‘bridge too far’.

I thank you for your listening and wish you a great day. Until the next time….

Dancing With Customers: Rodolphe Renwart And The Art Of Hospitality

What is it to be a human being?  There are many answers. I find myself attracted to the answer provided by the philosopher Martin Heidegger.  A human being is necessarily a being-in-the-world.  One of the key characteristics of human worlds is the presence / absence of others. So one can say that a human being is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

What kind of withness characterises the ‘with-others’ for folks living-working in western cities?  I invite you to relive your ordinary day and come up with your own answer.  Is it primarily detachedness, aloneness even in the midst of others, even indifference?  Are not most of the encounters transactional where the feel and form of the encounter would be the same even if the parties to the encounter were replaced by other parties – even automatons lacking soul?  Which is to say that the primary character of withness of ‘with-others’ is one of a certain coolness as opposed to the warmth of genuine human relating and human connection.

Some folks, maybe even the majority, are ok with such withness. Some folks even prefer it as it leaves them unencumbered by the demands of other people. Not me.  I miss genuine human relating and connectedness. I miss smiling, talking, sharing, laughing with my fellow human beings.  I especially miss this when I find myself away from home like I was earlier this week.

Now allow me to introduce Rodolphe Renwart.  Here he is at work at Natural Caffe on Boulevard Ansbach in the centre of Brussels.

Rodolphe_Renwart

 

This week I walked into Natural Caffe and came across Rodolphe.  On a cloud dull morning I was looking for someplace quiet, clean, and spacious to get a breakfast. I got exactly that. But that is not the reason that I returned the following day for breakfast.

Why did I return given that there are so many cafes and restaurants in central Brussels and I like to try out new places?  I returned because Rodolphe provided that something that few provide.  Rodolphe did more than take my order or serve me.  He made me feel welcome. He brought me an English newspapers without being asked. He took up my invitation to enter into a conversation. He shared some things about himself like is German ancestory and the way he has been treated when travelling in England.  He invited me to return the following morning. And when I did return he recognised me and looked pleased to see me.

It occurs to me that Rodolphe is at home, in his very being, in that cafe ‘dancing’ with customers.  Notice, that dancing implies a certain kind of intimacy that is absent in merely serving customers.  Put differently, at the cafe, the quality of Rudolphe’s kind of withness with customers is the differentiator.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because I notice the addiction with data, information systems, and business process redesign. And a neglect of the human  – people, conversation, helpfulness, sharing, caring, smiling, laughing…. In a world saturated with the withness of indifference, detachedness, and superficial politeness, some of us yearn for folks like Rodolphe who embody the withness of genuine humanity, warmth, and connection. They leave us feeling good about ourselves and the world. They provide what technology does not provide: genuine hospitality.

I thank you for listening. Until the next time….

On Technology In Experience Design: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Brussels Airport: Human Beings and Technology Complement One Another to Deliver A Good Experience

It’s Monday morning, early, as we are about to land at Brussels airport I decide to take the train rather than the taxi.  On landing I look for and follow the signs for the train. I arrive at level -1. Now I am presented with choice: to get my ticket from the ticket machines (many of them, all of them available for use) or queue up at the ticket office and be served by a human being.  I choose to queue up and be served by the human being.

To the lovers of technology and its promise to reduce friction and bring about nirvana my decision does not make sense. Surely it would be faster and easier.  So why did I not use the machines? I lacked prior experience with these machines. I lacked the kind of contextual knowledge needed to figure what ticket I needed. And importantly, previous bad experiences – like the refusal to accept my credit card, or being told by the inspector that I had purchased the wrong ticket….

Further, and please make a note of this, I knew that the automated ticket machines do not have the same kind of being as a human being.  What am I getting at? I am talking about flexibility, intuitive contextual understanding born from a shared humanity, and a natural inclination towards helpfulness.  How best to illustrate?  Follow my story and you will see.

Within 2 to 3 minutes of queuing up I am face to face with middle aged man behind a glass screen. Do I speak French or English?  I notice that this man had been speaking in Flemish to his colleagues. So I speak English and ask him for a ticket to Bruxelles-Nord.  He flexes: he switches to speaking English fluently. He flexes: he asks me if I want a single or a return. I tell him that I need a return. He tells me the price and issues the ticket.

Time to pay. I get out my credit credit and look at the card processing machine. I haven’t come across this type before. I cannot figure out where the card goes and which way it goes. So I ask the man. He flexes to meet my need: he shows/tells me the correct place and way of inserting the card. I am grateful as I had not seen that slot in the machine.  I think bad design! Great that there is a human being to make up for the poor design of the credit card machine.  I pay. I thank the man and make my way through automated barriers to the train.

When I arrive at Bruxelles-Nord I find myself happy.  I took the road less travelled – I normally take the taxi – there were challenges. And the right combination of humanity and technology allowed me to overcome this challenges, easily, and left me feeling good.  Good!

London Heathrow: Getting Technology and Humanity All Wrong

Same day. It has been a long day. Finally, I am off the aeroplane and making my way to passport control at London Heathrow- later than expected. The taxi driver has just rang me to ask where I am.  So I am keen to get through passport control.

I arrive at passport control along with many others. Two choices – follow the lane for e-passports or the other lane.  Not an easy choice.  There is long queue in the e-passport lane as the demand falling on this lane is greater than the capacity of this lane.  This lane is automated and the technology (the machines) are not keeping up with the human beings.  On the other hand, there are only two lanes open in the other (alternative) lane.

Whilst in the midst of making the decision, I find myself shepherded into the e-passport lane.  I wait. I wait. I wait. Finally, I am near enough to the machines, the technology, to see what is going on.  There are 15 machines, only 10 of them are operational.  Imagine if you ran a call centre and on a busy day one third of your staff were off ill. What kind of an impact would that have on service levels?  OK, that accounts for some of the imbalance between demand and throughput.  What else is going on? I look.

As I am looking, for about ten minutes or so, I notice a few things. I notice that the process of getting through the machines is longer – every time – than with a human being checking passports. So even if everything worked like clockwork, it takes longer to get through these machines. But everything isn’t working like clockwork. It is about as far from clockwork as one can imagine.

I notice that most folks simply do not how to use the machines.  I can see the confusion on their faces. I can see their apprehension as they find themselves face to face with the passport (and facial recognition) machines.  There are no easily (intuitively) understandable instructions. For example, folks don’t know whether to put the passport face up or face down in the scanning area.  The machine does not detect wrong procedure and alert folks. It does its processing and when it is finished a big red cross comes up on the screen. But no useful error message or guidance.

At this point I ask you to think back to my situation at Brussels Airport. Remember me turning to and being served – as in helped out – by a human being?  So you may be wondering what happened to the human beings at passport control. This is where it goes from bad to ugly.  Allow me to explain.

I can only see one human being on my side of the machines – a woman in her late twenties. She is standing in front of machine 11 – only machines 1 to 10 are operational.  She is looking at what is going on.  Her contribution? To look down at the people struggling with the machines and provide useless advice.  The looking down is evident in her face and her tone of voice.  She keeps saying “If you put your passport against the machine and push down then it works fine”.  Folks are doing that and for some of them it is not working out. Clearly, they are at fault given her stance.

I notice that every person who cannot get through the automated passport check  – which is at least one in every three – is instructed by this young lady to go and see the man at the end of the line.  I look and see that there is only one man at the end of the line. He is busy – there is long queue.  The price of cost reduction through technology centred automation is being paid by us – the users.  I look at the faces of the people like me waiting patiently to get through this nightmare. I can see the frustration, even contempt, in their faces. Some of them are voicing this frustration – in a very understated English way.

 

Where I Stand In Regard To Technology

1 – It is my experience that the claims made in regards to technology (in business) are puffery. Or, at best, aspirational – what folks would like to believe. Yes, technology can make things better. But it rarely does especially not for the people who actually find themselves face to face with technology – the users. 

Take Heathrow Airport, I am sure that folks selling the vision and benefits talked about: reducing costs by replacing many people with one machine, the throughput – how it would take less time for the machine to do the work of the human being, the improvement in the customer experience – easier, quicker, better, the reduction in risk as machines don’t get tired….  Now you compare my experience with the vision/promise.  Notice the gap.

2 – Making technology work (for users) requires a deep connection with our own humanity (our way of being_in_the_world). And with the humanity of our fellow human beings through empathy.  Yet this is THE quality that is lacking in the people who purchase technology (managers) and those implement technology.  Further, neither party really cares for the users of technology.  The users are pawns who are to be ‘change managed’ in order for the benefits of automation to be harvested. What are those benefits?  As I mentioned in the last conversation they are almost always cost reduction.

3 – In service contexts, great experience design requires the right blend of the human beings and technology. Why?  Technology is great where something can be reduced a technique – a logical sequence of invariant steps – and thus automated.  Yet an intrinsic and persuasive feature of human worlds is unpredictability, novelty, variance.  These are characteristics of living and life – especially intelligent life like ours. Technology sucks at dealing with this. But human beings don’t. Human beings have the capacity even an inclination to be flexible in an instant. Humans can get an intuitive grasp of the context (the background) and the user and her situation (the foreground). And we can flex to address the specific needs of this user in this context.

4 – It is easier to design and implement technology badly – from a user experience standpoint – then it is do it well. To turn around this situation requires a substantial investment in service designers and ux designers.  As well as prioritisation of the user experience. For all the talk of Design Thinking there is little of it actually occurring – perhaps a drop in the ocean.  As someone in an important position said to me recently “I don’t care about their feelings. I have a deadline to meet!” Further, most organisations are not willing to really get into Design Thinking – it requires a different mix of people, it involves getting out of the office and entering new worlds, it takes time, it takes effort, it requires experimenting and iteration.  None of this appeals when the focus is implementing technology ‘out of the box’ this month using agile.  Were speed and efficiency is of the essence the ground/soil necessary for human centred design is simply not there.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….