Customer Experience: a personal insight into people and organisations (part II)

This post follows on from the previous one – if you have not read it then you may wish to do so, as this post continues the story, the conversation.

Trust – I put my life in the hands of ‘others’

I awaken and notice that I am back in the day ward, what happened, what am I doing here?  Confusion.  My last memory is of being in the ‘operating theatre’: the nurses are hooking me up to equipment and assuring me that they will be monitoring my vital signs throughout the procedure.  The Consultant inserts a needle into my hand, the sedative flows I can feel that it is warm.  Now I am awake, here in this ward.

The nurse offers me a tea and sandwiches, I refuse.  She gently and confidently tells me that the right thing to do is to take the tea and sandwiches.  I agree – she comes across as she knows what she is doing and she is doing it out of care for me.  After finishing the ‘meal’ and the paperwork, she tells me someone will be along soon to take me to another ward until my wife can come and collect me.

As I am wheeled along to the other ward I reflect on what happened today and has happened before.  How many times have I put my life at risk – in the hands of the medical profession?  It occurs to me that trust is present between me, the doctors and the nurses.  I trust that they will act in my best interests, to take care of me, to safeguard my life by doing the right thing.  I can think of two instances where the medical profession saved my life: at the age of 8 when I walked into the path of van and then in my mid-20s when I had a blockage in an artery ……

What is the bedrock of this trust?   I am of the view that the medical profession is  bound by the prime directive: do no harm.  I am convinced that the doctors and nurses are here for me – to serve me, to cater for my needs, my welfare – and not the other way around.  I believe that there are rigorous standards in place to ensure competence – these folks know what they are doing, they haven’t just walked off the street.   What would happen if this trust was eroded?  Would we, here in the UK, end up in the same place as the USA?  Highly likely.  Trust is THE lubricant of friction free relationships between human beings.  Trust is what makes all forms of social organisation possible.

Now compare this with the business world.  What is the prime directive? Can you and I honestly say that the prime directive is to do no harm to customers?  What about the design of the business system?  Is ‘business’ there to serve me and my needs or is it there to find means to sell stuff to anyone who can be persuaded to buy it?  Is it somewhere in the middle?  What about competence?  How sure can you and I be that the business folks we depend on are competent?  I know of a  bank where the vast majority of customer services staff cannot accurately answer the top 10 frequently asked questions.  And then are the customer facing staff in stores – most of them do not have the requisite product knowledge nor the skills to listen to / talk with customers.

Care: the difference that makes all the difference?

The Consultant telling the nurse that he was going to give me a sedative as that was the right thing to do.  And instructing her to find me a bed showed up as care – care for me.

The nurse ringing around, finding a bed, coming back to tell me with a smile in her being, showed up as care – care for me, for my well being.

The Consultant and the team rearranging the operating schedule to put me lower on the list – as I was in lots of pain and not ready to be ‘operated’ on – showed up as care, care for me.

The nurses talking to me, explaining what was about to happen, pointing out that they were hooking me up to equipment to monitor my vital signs throughout the procedure showed up as care – care for me.

The nurse offering/encouraging me to have that tea and sandwich after the ‘operation’ showed up as act of care – care for me.

The trainee nurse coming up every so often to measure my blood pressure showed up as care – care for me.

The nurses on the receiving ward who got that I was not lucid, who first found me chair to sit in and then later moved me to the bed (when it became available) and then put blanket on me showed care – care for me!

What I am present to is the kindness/care of strangers, the kindness of my fellow human beings, the kindness of the medical professionals – at my GP’s surgery and at Heatherwood Hospital.  What showed up in my experience was caring and competence.  Caring is not enough it requires competence. Competence is not enough, it requires authentic caring for the other as  fellow human being. I say that if you care then you make sure that you do all that you need to do to be competent.  Put differently, ensuring competence is a key act of caring and if incompetence is present then that shows a lack of caring, indifference.

Authentic caring involves doing what is right including going against the wishes of the customer if that is the right thing to do.  After the procedure, when I woke up I was ready to get dressed and literally walk home – I felt that fine.  I told the nurses that I would walk to the other ward.  I asked the nurses to leave him outside on the lawn until my wife turned up so that I would not take up a bed that someone else needed.  They ignored me.  Why?  They had a better map of the situation – they knew that I was not lucid, not fit to make decisions, not fit to look after myself.

One other thought occurs to me, the level of caring varied from one person to another.  Put differently, caring did not show up as an organisational quality, it showed up as personal quality.  That is to say that some people cared and showed their caring whereas others did not.  Which suggests to that the organisation is not consciously, deliberately cultivating a culture of caring.

Now lets take a look at the business world, how do business organisations show care for their customers?  Does care show up in the lives of customers?  In what sense do customers feel cared for?  What would show up if genuine care, for customers and their well being, was present?  How would that effect product development, marketing, sales, customer service, logistics, finance…?  Could it be that genuine care will work where all the shiny toys and fashionable tricks are not working?

And finally

I will conclude this series of posts by sharing with you the aspects of my ‘customer experience’ that were not so great and highlighting issues’/factors that need to be addressed.

Customer loyalty and advocacy: what can we learn from Jonathan Ive and Zappos?

Customer focus: no progress in ten years?

In a recent post on CustomerThink, Bob Thompson shared his experience with AT&T and Colin Shaw made the following comment:

“No progress in ten years…

I am sorry to say Bob but this doesn’t surprise me. I used to work for BT before setting up Beyond Philosophy ten years ago. In that ten years I don’t see a lot of progress on being more Customer focussed.

We have recently undertaken new research in Telecoms. The biggest surprise to me was when we asked Telecoms companies “Which Telecoms company do you most for CE ?” There was a deafening silence.

I can totally appreciate your feeling of ‘doubt’. This, unfortunately is a common emotion that organizations generate. Do you think this is what they want to generate? Obviously not, but their actions have led you to feel this way. In my view there is a massive opportunity for someone to get the CE right in the CE space. But they will need to look outside of their industry for examples.”

Why has there been no progress?

I say that the reason so little progress is due to the lack of genuine care for people (customers, employees, suppliers, community…) as fellow human beings.  When we label a customer as an asset we have turned our fellow human being into an object, equipment, a resource for our purposes.  HR tells us all that you need to know about the relationship between the Tops and everyone else in the company: human resources – equipment, tools, resources that come in a human form.

Human existence, being-in-the-world, is characterised by CARE. We care about how our lives turn out – we are designed to survive and we strive to flourish.  Care gives rise to and is tied up with CONCERN – we have concerns that we have to address if we are to survive and flourish.  John Bowlby pointed out that we  need ‘SECURE BASES’ – people, places, organisations, communities where we matter, where we feel cared for, where we can count on others to care for us and what matters to us.

What can we learn from Jonathan Ive of Apple?

I was reading this article on Jonathan Ive (Apple’s design guru) and the following jumped out at me:

“I think subconsciously people are remarkably discerning. I think that they can sense care.”

One of the concerns was that there would somehow be, inherent with mass production and industrialisation, a godlessness and a lack of care.”

“I think it’s a wonderful view that care was important – but I think you can make a one-off and not care and you can make a million of something and care. Whether you really care or not is not driven by how many of the products you’re going to make.”

“We’re keenly aware that when we develop and make something and bring it to market that it really does speak to a set of values. And what preoccupies us is that sense of care, and what our products will not speak to is a schedule, what our products will not speak to is trying to respond to some corporate or competitive agenda. We’re very genuinely designing the best products that we can for people.”

Is there any doubt that the people who run Apple care, deeply, about making great products that generate a great user experience?  And if care is the access to breakthroughs then why is it that more companies do not care the way that Apple cares?  Is it because it really takes something to genuinely care when we swim in a culture that does not embrace and encourage caring?

Lets just get present to what ‘care’ involves and why it is so important

We use words automatically and without really getting present to what they signify, what they point at/towards, what they make present/available to us.  So here is definition that I find particularly useful as it is a rounded definition:

care/ke(ə)r/

Noun:
The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
Verb:
Feel concern or interest; attach importance to something: “they don’t care about human life”.
Synonyms:
noun.  worry – concern – attention – solicitude – trouble
verb.  mind

Zappos: a great example of a company based on and operating from a context of authentic CARE for people as fellow human beings

The results that show up in the world are always in line with and bounded by the context which gives rise to these results. If your organisation operates from a context of ‘not caring’ or plain ‘indifference’ then this will shape what occurs and how it occurs.  With this kind of context it is possible that people who do care may from time to time do stuff that is characterised by care and shows up as care in the world of the customer.  Yet, this will not cultivate loyalty between the customer and the organisation.  Why?  Because this act of caring will been seen as an exception when compared with the lack of caring in all the other interactions with the company and its people.

Zappos is the poster child for the customer-centric orientation and great customer service.  Why?  Because the Tops have intentionally created and operate from a context of caring: caring about their people; caring about their customers; caring about suppliers; caring about what they do; caring about what they stand for.  What is this context?  “Delivering Happiness”.  Two words, they say it all, and for many companies these would simply be empty words.  Not for Zappos because they were not crafted for brand messaging nor for brand positioning.  No, these words, are an expression of the philosophy of Tony Hsieh and the founders/senior leadership team of Zappos.  The other point worth noting is this: how many of us would stand up and argue against a philosophy and a stand centred on “Delivering Happiness”?   Do this not meet/ address a fundamental need of human beings?

Zappos and Tommy Walker: an awesome experience of caring for the customer

Tommy Walker, host of “Inside The Mind” a show about online marketing strategy.  Here is his story, in his words:

Just over a year ago I bought a pair of sneakers from zappos and was very excited to get them in the mail.  However, after about a month and a half they fell apart.  After wearing other inferior footwear, I settled upon wearing my indestructible work boots for the rest of the year, and while they did make me a little taller, they weren’t terribly comfortable and started to cause me pain.   And just when I thought I had enough, I got an email from Zappos that essentially said:

“Hi Tommy, you bought these shoes a year ago and we wanted to say thanks, and remind you that we have more of the same. If there’s anything we can do to improve our service, please don’t hesitate to let us know!”

To which I responded:

“Hey there, thanks for reminding me :-).  Though I have to admit, these shoes only lasted me a month and a half.   I’m not overly hard on my shoes but for some reason, these just fell apart.””

What happened next?  How did things turn out?  What was Tommy’s experience?  If you want to find out then click here.

In a world of indifference, authentic caring is the difference that makes the difference

You want your customers to care about you.  Do you really care about your customers?  If you don’t genuinely care about your customers, as human beings, then how/why do you expect them to care about you?  What is so remarkable about Zappos other than the genuine context/culture of caring about people  and “Delivering Happiness”?  What is so special about Apple other than the care that goes into envisaging and making products that customers will love and find useful.

And finally you may wish to consider and act on the following:

CARE:  Customers Always Remember Empathy

CARE:  Customers Are up for Reciprocating Empathy

CARE:  Customers Always want to Reward Empathy

Customer Experience tale: how humanity and inhumanity shows up and the impact it makes

Whilst some of you loved my last post,  some of you found it a little too philosophical.  “Look Maz, we live in the real world.  How does what you say apply to us in the hard world of business?  OK, this post is for you.  I will share with you how humanity and inhumanity shows up in the world of the customer and the impact that it has.  Allow me to share my story with you.

I need to go and see my Dentist

Some days ago I started to experience toothache whilst eating.  I meant to do something and when the pain became painful enough I did do something. I rang my dentist only to find the line engaged so I opted for the ‘ringback’ option.  To my surprise and delight within two minutes of hanging up I was on the line to the receptionist.  We talked and she booked me in for Wednesday morning 8:45am.  At the end of this encounter I was left feeling that the Receptionist got me as a human being in pain who needed help and she played her part in helping me solve my problem.  On Wednesday morning I turned up at the Dentists.  The Receptionist greeted me warmly, told me to wait upstairs and showed me where the stairs were.  Excellent, I am now in the waiting room – all by myself.  Then I wait for around fifteen minutes for the Dentist to see me.  This waiting could have shown up in my world as a pain and it did not as I was busy on my smartphone doing email.

My “I-Thou” encounter with the dentist: my dentist oozes humanity!

Before I knew it I was with the Dentist.  He greeted me with a warm voice and smile and mentioned that it had been a while since we last met, “two and half years to be exact”. I told him my issue, he listened and said “That is the issue you came in with last time and I put a filling in there.  Let’s take a look.”

He started looking: he prodded here, he prodded there.  Then he told me that he could not see any issues with any of my fillings.  “I wonder if it is do with the fact that you have sensitive teeth?”  I replied that I did not think so.  He suggested that we do a test and see if he could recreate the pain I had been feeling on previous days.  So he blew a jet of air on the side of my gums and sure enough I felt pain but not the kind of pain I had been experiencing and that is what I told him.  His response? “OK, there might be something there that I am not seeing so let’s do some x-rays!”  So he did the x-rays.

Looking at the x-rays my Dentist showed me how there was no difference between the state of my teeth since my last visit.  He could not see any issues.  Nonetheless, I told him that I had experienced pain. Did he ignore me?  No.  He suggested that it was possible that I had a crack and that was the cause of my pain.  He went on to tell me that he could not see it and the x-rays would not show it.  So he recommended that I use the teeth on my right hand side more than I had been using them (I had been using the left side because that side was not in pain) and if there was a crack then that would show up quicker.

He gave me advice on how to brush my teeth and he gave me some toothpaste for my sensitive teeth.  Why did he show me how to brush my teeth?  Because he noticed that I had been overbrushing my teeth and he knows I have sensitive teeth.  He showed me a way to brush my teeth that would work better for me.  Why did he give me the toothpaste?  So that I could smear it on the sides of my teeth /gums so as to provide some pain relief and protection against pain.

As I was getting ready to leave he recommended that I see the Hygenist.  I noticed that I was hesitant and he looked at his records.  “I see that you don’t like visiting the Hygenist.  Why is that?  What’s the reason for that?”  So I told him that it occurred to me that all the Hygenist was doing was making my teeth look white and pretty.  And that I had little time for vanity – I simply had not been brought up that way.  I ended by saying that I was open to being persuaded if I had got things wrong.  So he told me.  He spent about five minutes explaining the benefits to me – healthy teeth and gums – of seeing the Hygenist once a year, starting there and then.  I found his education persuasive and I agreed to see the Hygenist. [ Now here is the interesting thing: during our conversation on the merits of using a Hygenist I was fully engaged in the conversation.  The Dentist did not have to use gimmicks or tempt me with prize competitions or entice me with an online game…  He simply invited me to enter into a conversation that mattered to me – my teeth, my health.  And by doing so he had my full attention and participation.]

Then it was time to leave.  I looked him in the face, smiled, shook his hand and thanked him for being great with me.  He smiled and wished me well.  “What a great experience?  He really cares about me!  He listened to my concerns.  He did more than that he educated me in an amazingly friendly, non-condescending way!”

I encounter that helpful Receptionist again!

I take the paperwork (that my dentist has given me) and head downstairs to the Receptionist.  She smiles and asks me if I want to book in an appointment with the Hygenistt. “Yes”, I say.  “When?” she asks. “Can you do this Friday?”.  “No, the Hygenist does not work on Fridays.”  I look disappointed and say “Oh”.  The Receptionist, seeing and hearing my disappointment, says “How about today, right now?  She is free for the next half an hours!”  I agree and she shows me into ‘Hygenist’s office’.

Hygenist: an excellent model of inhumanity, of the “I-It” encounter

The Hygenist does not greet me.  She does not smile.  She does not use my name.  I notice that she has not noticed me – not as a human being, not as the dentist did only some 20 minutes ago. She tells me to sit down in the chair.  I sit, she reclines the chair and gets busy working on my teeth.  Have you been to see a Hygenist?  If you have you will know that it is not the most pleasant of experiences.  She prods here, she scrapes there, she pokes here, there and everywhere.  In the process of poking around, vigorously, she pokes one of my upper teeth on the right hand side.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  When she stops doing that momentarily I raise my hand, move my head forward and empty the contents of my mouth – mainly blood into the little sink next to me.

I tell her. I say “That was incredibly painful.  It is the most pain I have experienced for a long time!”.  And move back into the position.   “I am sorry.  That can happen sometimes.  Do you want me to stop? Or I can carry on?  I promise to be careful so that I do not touch that tooth there again.  What do you think?”  That is what I am expecting her to say.  That is what I would say in that situation and mean it.  And that is what my dentist would say and meant it.  What does the Hygenist do?

In my world it occurs that she has ignored me! How? Why? Because she does not say a word.  She gets straight back to work and guess where she goes back to work?  The exact spot that had caused me that pain!  So there I am again: excruciating pain – though less than the last time.   I am captive, I cannot do anything whilst she is doing what she is doing.  And shortly after that it is all finished.  I am grateful that my torment is finished.  There must be some humanity there I say to myself.  So I say “It must take great skill to be able to do what you do in such a small space!”  In a flat, cold, voice she says “Yes, it does.”  The way that is said I tell myself “This person is not a people person.  She is not interested in conversation.  She is here to do a job and that is it.  Everything else is simply ‘waste’.  Clearly she has been to the six sigma school of business: do the job as effectively and efficiently as possible and when that is finished get on to the next job.” I am convinced that in her world I do not show up as human being.  I bet that to her I occur as a product that has to be processed.  This is not that much of a surprise – one of my best friends is a doctor and I remember him telling me (a long time ago)  that after a little while human beings simply show up as ‘pieces of meat’ to be processed and sent on their way.

I thank the Hygenist.  She does not look at me.  She does not smile.  She does not wish me a good day. She does not offer any advice.  I walk out of that room and make a promise to myself.  I will NEVER go and see that Hygenist again – no matter what!

How does inhumanity show up?  Inhumanity is simply indifference to the humanity of our fellow human beings.  We get on with the ‘task at hand’ and completely ignore the person in front of us. We do not acknowledge, we do not validate, we simply ignore the other as a human being.  The leave us experiencing that they have been experienced as objects – not as fellow travellers on the path called life.

What does it take to put humanity into the game?  When I mentioned the excruciating pain a humane person would have:

a) acknowledged that I was in pain – “So when I was cleaning your top teeth you felt a tremendous amount of pain.  On a scale of 1 – 10 how painful is it?”;

b) validated me – “10! That is amazingly painful.  I don’t know how you managed to keep so calm, so still.  If I was in that much pain I would not have been able to do what you just did.”;

c) worked with me to address my pain – “I have only a little bit more work to do on your teeth.  Are you up for that today?  I promise, I will stay clear of that tooth that is causing you so much pain?”

d) left me feeling as one human being interacting with a fellow human being who gets me and who cares about me. 

Final words

You might me tempted to dismiss the example that I have shared with you here – you might label it “extreme” or an “exception”.  If you are serious about cultivating that personal emotional connection with your customers then I counsel you to recognise that inhumanity (the “I-It” mode of encounter) is pervasive – it is the default condition.  And you have an opportunity to differentiate yourself simply by moving from “inhumanity” as the default to “humanity” as the default.  As I said in my previous post, Zappos and Rackspace have become extremely successful businesses in competitive industries simply by the amount of humanity (genuine caring for customers as fellow human beings) that they put into the game every day.

Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity? CARE, deeply

In the West we are taken with that which is visible (the surface phenomena that can be detected and measured) that we lose sight of that which gives rise to the visible (the invisible).  In my last post I disclosed one aspect (Integrity) of the invisible that makes a huge difference to the workability and performance of our lives, our organisations and the impact (customer experience, loyalty or otherwise) we make on customers.  In this post I want to look at another dimension that is critical – to workability, performance and experience – and which is hidden from view and often neglected in organisations: CARING.

CARING is an invisible quality that we bring or do not bring to everything that we do – from something as simple as saying hello to something as complex as creating a harmonious prosperous society – as individuals, as groups, as communities, as organisations and societies.  There is noticeable difference in QUALITY in the level of caring behind a simple “Hello”.  That difference in quality is picked up and experienced by the Customer.  This difference is also present for the person who is communicating with / being of service to the Customer.

The CARING (or the lack of it) that has been put into the design of an office building in present – as an experience – even if this experience cannot be expressed adequately verbally and often it cannot:  the people working in the building know if they are cared for or not.   The CARING (or the lack of it) that has gone into designing and manufacturing products is experienced by the people who touch and are touched (or not) by these products.  The CARING (or the lack of it)  is present in the design of websites – some websites occurs as being useful, easily usable and even inspiring at a deeper level and others do not have this experiential impact. CARING (or the lack of it) shows up in business policies – some policies give rise to phenomena that leave us (as employees, as partners, as suppliers, as customers) moved, touched and inspired so much so that we find ourselves thankful that these organisations exist and we willingly give our loyalty without thinking about giving our loyalty: loyalty simply shows up without conscious effort or decision making.  The CARING (or lack of it) is experienced through the business processes – some make it easy for the Customer to get his jobs done, others make it difficult – even impossible.  The CARING (or lack of it) shows up in the technology that is implemented and how it is implemented.  The people and organisations that CARE ensure that self-service technology is easy to use, that it makes customer lives simpler, richer, easier and they take the time and make the effort to educate/train customers in using that technology.  Many people and organisations do not CARE enough and so use technology badly – the technology occurs as a pain for customers and often staff.  Just go and take a look at the technology that many call-centre agents have to use under intense time pressure – most of it makes the lives of the call-centre agents hard and stressful rather than help them to do their job quickly and professionally.

When CARING is being put into the game of business it shows up in the form of policies, products, service, solutions, processes, technology, people etc.  When CARING shows up in phenomena it is picked up and experienced by: all the people in the business (leaders, managers, back office staff, front office staff); all the people who serve/supply the business; and all the people who interact with and buy from the business.  When CARING is experienced by Customers then ‘customer loyalty’ simply shows up: customers find themselves being loyal (as evidenced by their behaviour) without any thinking on their part on whether to be loyal or not.  Customers are people – not rational machines – and they are hard wired to behave in certain ways.  As human beings living in a uncertain (even dangerous world) we want to / need to believe that we live in a benevolent world.  CARING shows up as phenomena (e.g. keeping promises,  products that do what it says on the tin, apologies and restitution for poor service….) that make us feel that we live in that benevolent world – something that we want so much. Don’t believe me?  Take a moment and experience what your living would be like if you were not able to trust anyone and really did not know what was around the corner – no certainty and danger everywhere.  How long would you want to live like that?  What would your stress levels be like?  What would it be like – the experience – of being around you?  How rapidly would you age?  How long would you live?  What would be the quality of your life? I doubt if it would be anything other that wretched.  CARE is the difference between a wretched and a joyous existence.

There is no escaping CARING.  As human beings we bringing CARING or the lack of caring to everything – absolutely everything.  And that CARING shows up in all the phenomena that we can experience with our five senses and with our sixth sense – sensing what we sense but without being able to put our finger on it and certainly we cannot point to the commonly agreed upon five senses.

If you want to breakthrough in customer-centricity then CARE deeply.  Who can I point you towards so that you can see what I am pointing towards.  Steve Jobs – he cared deeply about ‘putting a dent in the universe’ and about ‘the customer experience’, beauty, simplicity, flow and great design.  He cared so deeply that he refused to compromise – to go with second best even if that would have been more than enough for staff, distributors, customers, the industry pundits, the stock market.  Jeff Bezos – he is stated that his intent is to make Amazon the earths most customer-centric company.  He means it and to that end he plays the long game – making sacrifices today – again and again – to act in accordance with and realise his dream, his intent.  Tony Hsieh – his intent is captured in the simple saying ‘Delivering Happiness’.  Chris Zane of  Zane’s Cycles – read “Reinventing The Wheel” and you get clear that Chris CARES deeply about: the community he lives in, the customers he serves, the people that work for him……James Dyson – cared deeply enough about his ideas for the vacuum cleaner that he risked everything and many years in inventing the bagless vacuum cleaner and today his business is a roaring success. Julian Richer of Richer Sounds cares deeply about what the business is about (the products, the service, the people who serve the customers, the customers themselves) and so Richer Sounds has some of the highest sales figures per square foot of retail space and more and more Richer Sounds stores blossom over the UK.

Do you CARE so deeply that anything less than perfection leaves you feel dissatisfied, in pain?  If not then you do not CARE deeply enough and that means that the arena is wide open for someone that does to reinvent the ‘playing field’ and thrive – most likely at your expense.

Hint:  you cannot CARE deeply enough about a product, a proposition, a mission, an organisation that you are not proud of.  That is simply what is so:  at best you will operate at the minimum level that you need to get by.

What do you think?  Heck if you disagree or you have a different point of view then share it with me – educate me, I am open to being challenged and educated.

Ultimately it is all about people, relationships and experiences

As we are heading into Christmas I want to share some thoughts with can help each of us to cultivate better relationships with people – be that people in business lives or people in our personal lives.  I hope that you find something of value, I thank you for reading this blog and I wish you a great Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

“Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design”  Dieter Rams

I’d go further and say that indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in business and in life.

It is the indifference to customers and the reality of their lives (including experiences with your organisation) that leaves the door open to more open-minded competitors .   It is the indifference towards our channel partners and the reality of their lives that is the source of mistrust and friction in doing a better job of taking care of the end customer. It is the indifference to our people and the reality of their lives that is the source of most failed change initiatives and the rampant alienation/demotivation in the work place.

It is the indifference towards the people in our lives and the reality in which they live that is the cause of difficult relationships in our lives.  The trouble is that we do not realise that we are being indifferent towards people and the reality of their lives until and unless we have walked a mile in their shoes.

“To understand a man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin”  North American Indian Proverb

Intellectual understanding is a world apart from lived-in experience.  If we want to understand our fellow human beings (to really get their world) then there is absolutely no substitute for walking in their shoes.  Allow me to share a personal example that came home to me, vividly, this week.

Last Friday my son was sick with an upset stomach – at one stage he was doubled over in pain clutching his stomach.  How did I respond?  I listened to him as someone who had brought about his own misery by not eating healthily.  Instead of soothing the pain through words and acts of kindness I heaped on the pain of criticism.  I was totally convinced that I was right and he was wrong.  Then on Sunday night I got to experience what he experienced: burning sensation in the stomach, stomach pain, vomiting……. For most of Monday I felt like I had been in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson.

When I had a purely intellectual understanding I responded with my intellect – mainly judgement.  Once I had experienced what he had experienced  I got his discomfort, his pain, his situation.  I’d go further and say ONLY when I had experienced what my son experienced was I in a position to understand how he felt, what he was likely to be thinking and how I should have behaved to meet his needs.  Furthermore, only after I had experienced what he experienced did his needs occur as being reasonable to me.  There is profound lesson here: what occurs as reasonable or unreasonable depends on what you have or have not experienced.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around”  Leo F. Buscagalia

When I had experienced what my son had experienced and then reflected on how I had behaved towards him I rang him to apologise.  This is what he told me “Don’t worry Papa.  I know that you love me by the way that you washed my hair.”  On Saturday morning my son had been weak (after throwing up for much of the night) and had soiled his bed linen.  He needed to have a shower yet felt too weak to stand so I ran a bath for him.  Then he asked me if I would wash his hair as he did not feel able.  So I took a few moments out of my day to wash his hair gently so that he would feel loved – that single loving act made all the difference to my son and our relationship.  Leo has it right when he counsels us to never underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring.  This philosophy can be applied just as well in business as it can in our personal lives.

Sonia at Linkedin: how to deliver a great customer experience

Customer experience is fundamentally about the human.  And when it comes to the human we are exquisitely sensitive to the tone of the conversation. Get the tone right and you leave your customer feeling absolutely delighted with you.  Why?  Because the right tone validates the customers.  Get it wrong and the same customer will feel invalidated and resent you for it even if she does not ditch you there and then.

My Linkedin Experience

So what do I mean exactly when I speak of the tone of the conversation.  Allow me to share my Linkedin experience with you.

Yesterday I decided to take the premium membership from Linkedin.  So I clicked on the box, entered my credit card details and was then none too pleased to find out that I had been charged for a full twelve months.  Why?  Because I thought I was signing up for monthly membership: with a monthly membership you get billed month by month and can cancel anytime.

So I reached out to Linkedin customer support through the FAQ section and sent an email to the effect that I had unintentionally subscribed to a year membership. And asked Linkedin to cancel that membership so that I could sign-up for the monthly membership.  That was on Tuesday morning.  This morning ( less than a day later) I received the following delightful email from Sonia:

“Hi Maz,

I want to apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Your premium subscription has been cancelled and a refund of $ 479.40 has been issued to your credit card. Please note that refunds take up to five business days to post to the credit card. To see a record of this refund:

1. Hover your cursor over your name in the upper right area of your home page and click on “Settings”.
2. Click on the “View purchase history” link.

You can also view your purchase history from the link below:
https://www.linkedin.com/secure/purchase?displayPurchaseHistory

Your Basic free account will still allow you to:

1. Build and maintain contact with your trusted professional network.
2. Find and reconnect with colleagues and classmates.
3. Request and provide recommendations.
4. Create and maintain your professional presence on the web.
5. Request up to five Introductions at a time.
6. Search for and view profiles of other LinkedIn users.
7. View Company Pages and follow Companies of interest.
8. Join and participate in sharing in Professional Groups.

Please know that you are more than welcome to renew your premium subscription at any time by clicking on “Upgrade My Account” at the bottom of your LinkedIn home page choosing monthly instead of annual subscription.

Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!

Regards,

Sonia
LinkedIn Customer Service”

Why am I Delighted?

I am not delighted that I got what I wanted – a refund of my subscription.  Why?  Because I assumed that as a professional organisation Linkedin would act professionally.

I am delighted because of the tone of the email.  Specifically, Sonia makes me feel that I am talking with a caring human being.  One that I can count on. How does she do that exactly:

  • Sonia addresses me by name and informally the way that a friend might address me if we were meeting up at a cafe.
  • Sonia absolutes floors me with her opening line “I want to apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you.”  In that one sentence, at an emotional level, I totally felt a bond.   Wow, I am speaking with a real human being – one that is speaking to me in normal human language and gets my experience.
  • Sonia tells me that she has sorted out my problem and she shows me how I can check for myself that she has fixed it.  Not that I have bothered to check I trust her.
  • Sonia shows me how I can go about subscribing to the monthly membership but does not pressure me to do it.   That leaves me feeling trusted.
  • Sonia ends the email as beautifully as she started it: ” Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!” I feel appreciated and validated.

The Lesson

Nothing, absolutely nothing beats a human being who gets the fact that customers are first and foremost human beings with deep emotional needs: acknowledgement, respect, validation, trust, caring ……The role of technology is to support these human beings in being great.  And to make life easier where the ease is wanted.  Technology should never be used to replace the human encounter – the personal touch.

PS. As a result of this encounter, I have decided to make a list of companies that I find to be customer friendly, even customer centred.  And Linkedin is on that tab along with other favourites such as TeamSnap and Amazon.