How many Customer Experience experts really are experts?

When we are  headed into the unknown, our need for security drives us to latch on to anyone who claims that he has already travelled this path and can take us to the promised land safely.  When it comes to the land of Customer Experience and Social Media ( to name just two) it pays to be skeptical.

There is a big difference between knowledge and expertise. Knowledge tends to be in the domain of ‘know what’ and this can be acquired simply be being in the stands and observing the play.  Expertise on the other hand is in the domain of ‘know how’ and it is acquired by being on the field playing the game – again and again; learning what does and does not work and modifying your approach – again and again.  Put differently, you can probably write persuasively about tennis simply by observing it.  Yet, your persuasive writing does not mean that you are any good at playing tennis.

It is easier to churn out experts in some fields and harder in others.  Lets take direct marketing as an example.  Direct marketing has had at  least 50 years to develop, lot of approaches have been tried, the result of these approaches are in and as a result there is a genuine body of knowledge.  Training and certification is available.  And of course some people have been involved in it for tens of years.  Enough learning through doing to become experts: Drayton Bird is one of these experts.

Now compare that with the fields of Customer Experience.  It is new – about ten years of age.  There is a wide range of views (including mine) on what it is and is not.  There is no single established framework, method or toolset.  And most importantly there are not many companies (organisations) that can honestly say that they have been through the experience and have great results and learning to share.  Those that do, tend to keep the learning a secret as it is a competitive advantage.  Given this is the case how many genuine experts are out there?

Some people claim to be experts because they have written articles or books.  Expertise is relatively easy to assess if there is defined body of knowledge and existing experts to assess claims to expertise.  It is totally a different thing when it comes to a new field where there are no experts and it is really difficult to tell the difference between what sounds appealing and logical and what actually is so and works in practice.  Put differently, telling a convincing story that sells into the existing mindset does not make a person an expert in Customer Experience.  It makes them experts in marketing (figuring what people want) and writing.

All of which makes me wonder how many Customer Experience experts really are experts?  How many have been on the court and played out the whole match – not just once but many times?  Incidentally, I am not a Customer Experience expert and have never claimed to be one.  I have a passion for it, I have been on the court and played the game several times.  Yet, I know that I have lot more to learn.

What is the positive, liberating, side of this post?  If you are working in the field of Customer Experience then you are a pioneer and have a blank canvass to work on.  You do not need to restrict yourself or be restricted by people who claim to be experts.  In fact you have an opportunity to become an expert yourself.

An easy way to connect with your customers: speak their language

Recently I wrote a post asking why it is that Experts do such a poor job of relating to the ordinary person: After This Experience I Am Puzzled: Why?

Some weeks ago I was given a cheque and this week I finally made it to the high street.  As I was waiting to put this cheque into my account I witnessed an interesting spectacle.  A cashier in his early twenties was serving an older man in his sixties and it was clear that they were not connecting.  As I listened to the conversation I noticed something interesting:  the cashier was talking in the language of banking whereas the old man was talking every day language and because of this the cashier was failing to connect with this customer.  An example: the cashier talked about funds and the transfer of funds; the old man spoke about money and asked about how he could get his hands on his money.

It hit me that a very simple way that companies can better connect with their customers is to talk the language of their customers.  No need to get in McKinsey to formulate a strategy.  No need to pay Oracle a fortune to buy their CRM suite.  No need to pay Accenture to redesign processes and implement the Oracle suite and so forth.  Just change the language you speak to match the language that your customers speak.

Language matters.  When you speak my language you acknowledge me, you respect me, you validate me, you make me feel good about myself.  In turn I cannot help but feel good about you and thus want to do the right thing by you – the law of reciprocity.  I have had the good fortune to live in a number of cultures and travel to many countries and the one thing that I have noticed is that I have received much better treatment when I have made the attempt to speak the local language!  And when I have made the effort to learn about and embody the local culture.

This lesson applies to all organisations:  you can enter into the world of your customer and form closer ties with your customer simply by speaking her language.  Yes her language – Professor Moira Clarke of Henley Business School told us today that some 85% of purchases are made by women.

After this experience I am left puzzled: why?

I made a visit to see my doctor today to get his assessment on the results of the blood tests.  It was easy enough to see the doctor, he greeted me warmly and had already reviewed the results of the blood  test.  So far so good.  Then he went on to tell me that there is a problem with ….. and that he will prescribe tablets to deal with the issue.  He gave me the prescription note and enthusiastically told me that the good thing is “you no longer need to pay for your medicines as you can get an exemption certificate from the dispensing chemists”.

So I wandered out of the doctor’s office wondering what exactly is the issue?  What will this medicine do?  How long will I have to take it?  What are the side effects?  And then I wondered why it was that my doctor, a friendly chap who takes his job seriously, did not anticipate and thus address these questions with me.

When I turned up at the chemists I handed over the prescription note and told the lady “My doctor has told me that you will issue me with an exemption certificate as I no longer need to pay for my medicines”.  She looked at me puzzled and told me that on the contrary the doctor has to issue, sign and forward the paperwork to the national health service so that an exemption certificate is issued.  Nonetheless, she told me that she would issue the prescriptions without charge and advised me to go and see my doctor to get the paperwork done.

So while I was waiting for my medicines to be prepared I made my way to the doctor’s surgery and relayed my conversation with the chemist.  The receptionist then pulled out the relevant form and asked me to fill it in – including the medical condition that made me eligible for the exemption.  I told her that whilst I could fill in my personal details the doctor would have to fill in the medical part as he is the expert.  She accepted that explanation, I filled in the form, signed it and left on the promise that she would take care of it.

As I headed back to the chemist to pick up my medicine I wondered why are people and institutions so inconsiderate.  Why had my doctor, a good doctor in so many ways, not:

  • Anticipated  and answered the normal questions that a layperson is likely to have when you tell him that an important part of himself  is not working properly;
  • Anticipated and dealt with the concern, the fear that a normal person has when you tell him that as a result of prescribing him this medicine he will no longer have to pay for any medicines;
  • Complete the medical exemption certificate for me so that all I had to do was sign it.

So this evening I did the research via the Internet to answer my questions and concerns.  It looks like the medicine  is a hormone replacement medicine.  And that once you start on this medicine you take it for the rest of your life.  Perhaps that is why my doctor acted as if I was being prescribed a treat.

Which leaves me asking the question again:  why, oh why, do experts (e.g. the Doctor) behave in such an inconsiderate manner towards the lay person?  Whilst the normal person (the lady at Lloyds chemists) who has no medical expertise was so helpful and considerate: she told me what I needed to do and she did the right thing by looking at the medicine and checking with the dispensing chemist (another expert) that I was eligible to get my medicine free of charge.