What’s The Real Challenge That Lies At The Heart Of Customer Experience?

Monday 14th Jan19: My Story, My Experience

It’s Monday 14th January 2019. It’s the day I am due to meet up with ‘my’ NHS oncologist to learn whether I continue to be cancer free, or if cancer has returned.  So its an important day for me.  I leave early as finding a parking place is always an issue except at night time.

I arrive at the relevant unit, housed in a part of the hospital that has seen much better days. It’s old, it’s drab. I approach the ‘receptionist’ and wait for her to acknowledge me. After a minute or so she looks up and says, “Name.” I hand over my appointment letter. She ‘plays’ with her computer and then says “Take a seat.” I look around and there are plenty seated in the waiting area. Thankfully, there are some empty seats. I sit and start reading the book I brought along.  This is the only way I have found to deal with unpredictable waiting that always occurs.  These folks see you when they see you irrespective of the time slot they have given you; the time slot is there to enable them to turn you away if you do not turn up on time.

Someone calls my name. I respond, “That’s me, I will be along in a minute.”  In a minute I find myself in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar person.  He tells me that he is Doctor…. and asks if his colleague can sit in as a part of the training.  I say “Yes.” Then I ask “Where is Nicola, my oncologist?”  This is when I learn that I will not be seeing ‘my’ oncologist today.

This doctor dives into jargon. The only thing I understand is that there is something unusual in the results. That he is not ok with this. And is sending me over the X-ray unit to have an ultrasound performed in my neck.  He hands me the paper that I have to take with me.  I ask “Where is the X-ray unit?  How do I get there from here?”  He tells me to go ask one of the receptionists…..

Thankfully, the signage in the hospital is good and I happen to arrive at an entrance/exit where this signage is present.  I use this to make my way to the X-ray unit, hand over the paper to one of the receptionists, and then make my way to the next waiting area.  I get my book out again.

After waiting for about an hour, a young woman comes out of the main X-ray room and says, “There will be a delay of an hour…..”  As she is about to go back I ask, “What does this mean for me?  By what time can I expect to be seen? This information is useful to me as it allows me to determine if I can go for a walk, get something to eat, need to top up the parking meter.  Telling us that there is an hour delay is not helpful.  So by when will you be ready to do my ultrasound?”

She looks at me, almost as if she is in shock.  It may just be the first time that anybody has talked back to her and asked this kind of question. She recovers and then proceeds to tell me that there is an hour delay.  I respond by telling her that I heard her the first time. And that her answer does not give me the information that I asked for – the only information that is meaningful/helpful.  She says, “I’ll go talk to the doctor and come back to you soon.”  I wait. It becomes clear to me that her understanding of “soon” is different to mine.  I put my book away, get up, and make my way back to the original unit handling cancer patients.

I approach the receptionist, and when she looks at me I tell her that I did not get the ultrasound done as I am not willing to wait around for the rest of the day. And, that I am going home.  She tells me to wait. Then she takes me to the doctor and tells him that which I told her. What does the doctor say? This: “I got it wrong. After you left I took another look at your case history and I can see that……So there is nothing to worry about.  You can go home.”

I say, “What about my next appointment – in six months time?  What about the blood test form that I get given each time? You do know that I have to get my blood tested about 4 weeks before my next appointment to see my oncologist?”  By his response, it becomes clear that he does not know.  Soon thereafter, I leave that hospital – the blood testing form that he has given me is not the one that I need.  And, I have not the patience to deal with novices.

The next day, I call ‘my’ oncologist’s secretary and leave a message along these lines: I turned up yesterday, the doctor who dealt with me did not know what he was doing.  He did not give me the blood test form that you give me.  And I have no confidence in anything that he told me.  Please ring me back as soon as you can.  As yet, I have not heard anything back.

Deconstructing My Journey: Why Is It That It Turned Out This Way?

I am clear that each unit of the hospital was operating as a silo. Each unit with its own agenda, priorities, constraints, people, tasks, practices…  These units just happened to be housed in the same physical location. And lumped under a label: X Hospital.  Further, it occurs to me that each person in a particular unit of the hospital was thinking in terms of his/her role: the work (tasks) s/he had to perform, the people s/he had to please, the priorities/constraints that had to be respected etc.

It occurs to me that nobody that I encountered on that day in that hospital was thinking in terms of the Customer (the patient – me) or the Customer’s experience. The doctor did not speak in a language I could possibly understand though we both spoke English fluently.  Neither the doctor nor the receptionist was concerned about how I would make my way to the X-ray unit.  The folks in the X-ray unit just assumed that I had all day to sit and wait.  Nobody was mindful that the clock was running down on the parking meter.  My oncologist clearly doesn’t get or doesn’t care that I am concerned about the accuracy of the information I was given by the ‘novice’ doctor.

Why Is It That Customer Experience Is So Poor In The UK?

How is it that an institution whose purpose is to provide care treats a human being like an object?  Let’s be clear I was treated as an object – to be processed according to the rules. I did not encounter any humanity at all. The people I encountered could be replaced by robots – the level of humanity would not be reduced one iota.

In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, the main character tells his traveling companions that his son has been diagnosed with mental illness.  Now lets following the dialogue:

‘What do the psychiatrists think?’ John asks.

‘Nothing. I stopped it.’

‘Stopped it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is that good?’

‘I don’t know……..’

‘That doesn’t sound right.’

‘No one else thinks so either…..’

‘But why?’ asks Sylvia.

‘I don’t know why…..it’s just that….I don’t know…they’re not kin’…Surprising word, I think to myself, never used it before. Not of kin….sounds like hillbilly talk….not of a kind……same root…..kindness, too…..they can’t have real kindness toward him, they’re not his kin……That’s exactly the feeling.

Old world, so ancient its almost drowned out. What a change through the centuries. Now anyone can be ‘kind.’  And everybody’s supposed to be. Except that long ago it was something that you were born into and couldn’t help. Now it’s just a faked-up attitude half the time, like teachers the first day of class. But what do they really know about kindness who are not kin?

It goes over and over again through my thoughts……mein Kind – my child. There is it is in another language.  Mein Kinder…..

I walked away from my visit to the hospital thinking/feeling this: Nobody here cares whether I have cancer or not. Nobody cares whether I live or not. They are indifferent to my existence. And this is true for the society I live in.  Yet, here I am – the person who finds tears flowing down his cheeks whenever he remembers that one of his best friends is no longer due to brain cancer.  What a difference there is between how one is treated by kin, and those who are not kin!

Now ask yourself this: Is it any different in the business world?  I say that if you are truthful, you will see that which I see. And if you do see what I see then you will see the real challenge that lies at the heart of genuine customer-centricity, Customer Experience, and customer loyalty.

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

 

Maz Signature

 

Human-2-Human: A Personal Reflection on Service, Experience and CRM

Reflecting On Some Of My Recent Experiences

Be a human, bring out each other’s humanity.

Abdul Sattar Edhi

Recently, I went to a new hairdressers and a young lady ‘worked’ on me.  Whilst she worked on me I noticed a difference.  What did I notice?  It occurred to me that here is person who cares: cares about me and cares about the work that she is doing. When she finished her work, I looked her in the face, smiled and said something like this “You care! You care don’t you?  I can tell that this is not just a job for you. I can tell that you care about hairdressing and that you care for people like me – your customers. Thank you.”

What showed up, how did she respond?  Despite being English, she was not embarrassed at this acknowledgement.  Instead, I noticed a light go on inside of her: she beamed a smile, her eyes lit up and it occurs to me that, at least for a moment, she had wings.  She told me that I had made her day and thanked me.  The experience, this experience of the human to human connection, left me at least two feet of the ground.

I saw my Chiropractor and she worked on my neck. In order to work on my neck I had to lie down on the ‘couch’ and rest my head in her hands. Whilst she supported my head and worked on my neck I felt the manifestation of love: she was totally present in the moment, totally with the work that she was doing, she was patient (not in a hurry to get it over with), she was gentle.  I found myself to be deeply touched by this. It occurred to me that I had just been given a gift, one that I have rarely experienced. At the end of our session, I told her exactly that and thanked her.  Once she got over her initial surprise, a smile came over her face and she thanked me.  I left with joy being present in my being.

I did some consulting work for a client.  And I put all that there was to put into the work. One could even argue that I went ‘above and beyond’ that which was stipulated in the statement of work.  The work was well received by the senior managers who received it. At the end of the final presentation, the Sponsor left the conference room without any acknowledgment of my existence.  No thank you. No shake of hands. No meeting of eyes and all that can be conveyed through the eyes and the face – without any words.

Why Am I Sharing These Experiences With You?

It occurs to me that there is so much talk of Customer Service and so little understanding of what service really is.  It occurs to me that I hear so much about Customer Experience and there is so little understanding what it is and what it takes to generate a great customer experience. It occurs to me that business folks are so addicted to ‘data-technology-process’ in CRM that they are not present to that which creates-consitutes customer relationships, and keeps them in existence: the genuine caring, respect and affinity that occurs between two or more human beings.

I notice that the Customer conversation – whether Service, Customer Experience or CRM – ignores the voice of those who actually serve the customer: the sales rep on the ground, the account manager, the call-centre agent taking the calls, the store clerks ….  What would show up if these people were the one’s writing on ‘all things Customer’?  Being one of them and knowing some of them, it occurs to me that we would say that it really takes something to render great service when those who we are serving (‘Customers’) treat us as mere objects.  It also occurs to me that we would say that whilst the job, itself, is hard and can suck (from time to time), human kindness makes all the difference: the kindness of our colleagues, the kindness of managers, and the kindness of customers.

Does kindness require a lot from us? I say “No!”.  It simply requires a return of a value that is commonly neglected. Which value?  The value that I grew up with and which became a part of me:

courtesy

ˈkəːtɪsi/
noun
the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others.
“he treated the players with courtesy and good humour

I Invite You To Think On This

Everyone wants to know why customer service has gone to hell in a handbasket. I want to know why customer behaviour has gone to hell ..

— I do know how it feels to be an invisible member of the service industry. It can suck.  When the customers were kind and respectful, it was ok, but one “waiter as object”moment could tear me apart. Unfortunately, I now see those moments happening all of the time. I see adults who don’t even look at their waiters when they are speaking to them. I see parents who let their children talk down to the store clerks. I see people rage and scream at receptionists …….

When we treat people as objects we dehumanise them. We do something really terrible to their souls and to our own. Martin Buber ….. wrote about the differences between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat as objects – people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterised by human connection and empathy. 

Buber wrote “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” 

…. I can say for certain that we are hardwired for connection – emotionally, physically and spiritually. I am not suggesting that we engage in a deep, meaningful relationship with the man who works at the cleaners or the woman that works at the drive through, but I am suggesting that we stop dehumanising people and start looking them in the eye when we speak to them. 

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Where Do I Stand? 

It occurs to me that I care little about customer strategy. Little about relationship marketing. Little about customer service. Little about Customer Experience. And little about CRM.  It occurs to me that I care little about B2B or B2C.  It occurs to me that I care little about Process, Data, Technology or Metrics.  So what do I care about?

It occurs to me that I care about being a decent human being: customer strategy, relationship marketing, customer service, Customer Experience and CRM are simply vehicles for me to ‘be a decent human being and calling forth the best of our (you and me) humanity’.

Want to improve the Customer Experience?  Start with yourself in your role of Customer.  Listen to Brene Brown’s advice and stop dehumanising the people that serve you: the sales person, the store clerk, the call-centre agent, the field service guy that shows up at your home/office.  Treat these fellow human beings with respect, start by looking them in the eye when you speak with them.

If you up for being bold, then step up and genuinely thank the person that makes your coffee. And if that person is confused with your request for “milk” don’t assume that s/he is stupid, lazy, difficult, incompetent: this says more about you as a human being than it does about the person standing behind the bar serving coffee.  When Brene Brown was waiting tables she was doing so to pay for her bachelors degree.  I leave you with the words with which I started this conversation:

Be a human, bring out each other’s humanity.

Abdul Sattar Edhi

The vital importance of empathy and kindness to customer experience design and employee engagement

How far can you get in cultivating enduring customer relationships, delightful customer experiences, and ’employee engagement’ without empathy?

What kind of world shows up when we put aside empathy?  What kind of world shows up when we put aside kindness?  The kind of world that arose as a direct result of the ‘age of machines’ – of the Industrial Revolution.  When our way of life is centred on and around machines, we worship machines, and we go about life asking and expecting one another to be-act like machines.  We have become great at showing up in the world as machines. And as result we have lost sight of kindness, generosity, empathy.

Why do I bring this up?  Because it occurs to me that our age is calling out for empathy, for kindness, for the injection of the human back into business and our way of life.  Also because, you cannot get far in cultivating meaningful relationships with customers nor designing customer experiences that delight customers, nor generating ’employee engagement’ without grappling with these topics. Look you and I can make the world accessible, convenient, hassle free and fast.  And, if such a world is missing kindness, generosity, empathy, friendship and love then it is a world that is not fit for human beings.

Empathy is central to customer experience, customer-centricity, and employee engagement

With this context I share with you the following video that was brought to my attention by LinkedIn where Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO shared it:

If this video speaks to you, if it stimulates your interest in empathy then I invite you to take a look at the following posts:

What Does It Take To Generate Deep Contextual Customer Insight?

Customer Loyalty and Advocacy: what can we learn from Jonathan Ive and Zappos?

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part IV)

Is this the access to profitable revenues, loyal customers and enduring success? (Part I)

Is kindness born of empathy fundamental to cultivating customer loyalty and employee engagement?

I say it is. What kind of kindness am I speaking about?  I am speaking what Werner Erhard refers to as “ruthless compassion”.  If you want to dig into this a little more then check out this talk.

I want to leave you with a quote of a hero of mine, Albert Schweitzer:

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

A Final Word

I am putting together a course on communication-empathy-relationship. And there is one slide that I wish to share with you:

Being Empathic Listening.jpg

Customer Experience: what is in unlimited demand yet in limited supply in the modern world?

The Customer Value Equation

My approach to the Customer is fundamentally one of creating superior value for the Customer.  In an earlier post I spelled out my formula for creating superior value:

Value = Benefit – Effort – Risk – Price +/- Treatment

If you want to create more value for the Customer then you can focus on any of these five levers.  In this post I want to focus upon the last one “Treatment”. Fundamentally “Treatment” is how you leave your Customer feeling.

The Values Proposition:Do Small Things With Love

In Why Is It So Hard to Be Kind? William C Taylor shares the story about how his father was treated as an economic object (“I-It” in  Buber’s terms) by his Cadillac dealer even though he had been a loyal Cadillac customer.  Then William contrasts this to the way that he was treated (“I-Thou”) by a Buick Dealer.  To cut a long story short the Buick dealer: honoured an expired loyalty certificate that the Cadillac dealer would not honour; allowed William’s father to take the car for the weekend – without being asked; and then built an amazing bond with William’s father.  How? In William’s words:

“Monday rolled around and my father found himself being rushed not to the dealer but to the hospital, with what turned out to be a medical problem that required surgery (He’s doing great now, thanks.) As he was lying in his hospital bed, thinking about whatever it is we think about in these moments, he realized that the Buick Lacrosse was sitting in his garage! So he called the dealer from the hospital and asked how he could get the car back. “Don’t worry about the car,” he said. “Just get better.” And the next morning, what should arrive at the hospital but a lovely bouquet of flowers and a nice note from the Buick dealer!

In a follow up post William shares his visit to a retinal specialist and this is what he says about his experience:

“This doctor did an utterly competent exam, explained my situation, and offered a sound course of action. So I’m fine. Yet I keep thinking back to the experience, not because of the quality of the medical care I received, which was superb, but because of how uncaring the experience felt.  As I sat in the waiting room, it seemed more like the offices of a payday lender or a bail bondsman than that of a highly credentialed surgeon. “If you arrive late, your appointment may be rescheduled,” one sign warned. “Copay is due upon arrival,” another signed explained.  My fellow patients and I were nervous, anxious, worried about our eyesight. Yet it felt like the doctor thought of us as a collection of truants, tightwads, and general layabouts.”

William goes on to write:

“There is a temptation, amidst the turmoil, for pundits to conclude that the only sensible response is to make bold bets — new business models that challenge the logic of an industry, products that aim to be “category killers” and obsolete the competition. But I’ve come to believe that a better way to respond to uncertainty is with small gestures that send big signals about what you care about and stand for. In a world defined by crisis, acts of generosity and reassurance take on outsized importance.”

“Nobody is opposed to a good bottom-line deal,” I concluded at the time. “But what we remember and what we prize are small gestures of connection and compassion that introduce a touch of humanity into the dollars-and-cents world in which we spend most of our time.

“As the value proposition gets rewritten in industry after industry, it’s organizations with an authentic VALUES PROPOSITION that rise above the chaos and connect with customers. Few of us will ever do “great things” that remake companies and reshape industries. But all of us can do small things with great feeling and an authentic sense of emotion.”

James G. Barnes said something very similar when he published his book Secrets of Customer Relationship Management.  What was the subtitle? “Its All About How You Make Them Feel

What does Frederick Richheld have to say?

In Profiting From the Golden Rule Frederick Richheld stresses the importance of the “I-Thou” orientation.  In his words:

Our system of financial accounting rewards quarterly profits, but struggles mightily to place a value on ethical behavior

“Reputation is earned through the simple, age-old concept of the Golden Rule: treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Each time you live up to the Golden Rule, your reputation is enhanced; each time you fail, it is diminished. And the mathematics of long-term financial success — revenues, profits, cash flow — square perfectly with this scorecard.”

“We all want to be treated with honor and respect in ways, large and small, that enrich our lives. Such experiences not only make us happy, we want to share them with people we care about. By recommending an experience, we’re signaling our trust that our friends will be treated similarly. Recommendations also signal to businesses how customers view their relationship with the company. When customers feel so well treated that they enthusiastically recommend a company to friends, they are promoters. When treated so badly they recommend avoiding the company, they are detractors. Both have direct and measurable economic consequences.”

What is in unlimited demand yet is in limited supply in the modern world?

We strive to deliver something for which there is unlimited demand–being treated with honor and respect. There seems to be a very limited supply of that in today’s world.” CEO Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A (an award winning US company)