Make Life Easier By Asking Only One or Two Questions of Your Customers

I find myself living in an age where we take good ideas and squeeze the life out of them through inappropriate implementation.

It occurs to me that the scourge of the customer-centric fad is customer surveys. It seems to me that just about every large organisation that I deal with asks me for my feedback through some kind of survey.  And this scourge is not limited to these big organisations. On my last visit to my GP’s (doctor’s) surgery I was asked to fill in a survey – it was over ten pages long!

I say that you only need to ask one or two questions of your customers. What are these questions?  Let’s start with what I say you shouldn’t ask. Don’t ask your customers to rate their satisfaction using some kind of scale e.g. 1 to 10 – with your brand, your product’s, your people, the last interaction etc.  Why not?

First, I (the customer) find it hard work to figure out how to rate you. Second, my asking me to figure out/apply ratings you have switched on my reasoning brain not my emotional brain.  Third, satisfaction is the wrong word to use – it is not a word that you find folks using much in every day talk.

So what are the one or two questions?  At the end of major work on my home – main bathroom, the ensuite bathroom, downstairs toilet, and utility room – the fitter asked me and my wife this question:

“Are you happy?”  

As soon as I heard that question I realised that no commercial organisation has ever asked me such a simple question!  And it occurred to me that it is exactly the right question:  short, simple, worded perfectly, no misunderstanding.

“Are you happy?” taps into emotions and the emotional brain. The answer is either a definitive “Yes!” or its not.  If it’s not a definitive “Yes!”then you know that you (the person/organisation supplying the goods/services) have failed to live up to one or more of the customer’s expectations.

Our fitter didn’t just ask the question for the sake of asking the question. The way he asked it suggested that he genuinely cared about whether we were happy or not with the work he had carried out.  How do I know this? Because when he picked up that we did not immediately come out with “Yes!” he asked the second question along the lines of:

“What needs fixing in order for you to be happy?”

Our fitter really listened to our answer to this question. How do I know this? Simple: he immediately set about asking us to show him what needed fixing and what “happy” would like like in each case.  Then he set about fixing the ten or so little things that we wanted fixed.

What happened after the fitter had completed the work of fixing?  Did he simply assume that he had done the necessary work, get paid, and walk away? No!  He went back to the first question” “Are you happy?”

The fitter genuinely cared about ensuring that we were happy with the work that he had carried out for us. Why? For three reasons:

  • He thinks of his customers as people and treating people right matters to him – it is part of who he is;
  • He takes pride in the work that he does – he invest himself (his identity) into this work and thus doing merely OK work is not acceptable to him; and
  • He does no marketing/selling – all of his work, and he is busy really busy, comes from word of mouth recommendations.

 

I wish to end with my take on what listening to the voice of a customer is. It is not sending a survey. It is not the automated processing of the results of customer surveys. It is not presenting summarised results every so often to the executive team.   Nor is listening simply meeting up with customers and hearing that which is spoken by customers.

From a customer’s perspective, you have listened only when you do that which our fitter did: take speedy/correct action to fix that which the customer says needs fixing.   If you do not do this then you have not listened. Worse, from the customer’s perspective you have wasted his/her time and disregarded him.

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

 

How To Cause Customer-Centricity By Shaping The Work Context (Part 2 of 3)

Recap: Where We Are At

If you took part in the previous conversation you will have a good grasp of the work context that led to the receptionists running to-fro from the front desks to the problem rooms, seeking to keep rooms in reserve so that they were in a position to placate angry customers by moving them to a different-better room, and using their newly acquired guest engagement skills to negotiate with customers – offering them refunds, room rate reductions and/or vouchers.

What Is The Core Challenge Here?

So I ask you what needs to happen for InterLodge to generate its desired outcomes: higher occupancy rates, higher price points per room, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and ultimately a higher share price?  Let’s make this question simpler, what is the challenge here?  Have a go, formulate an answer to that question.

Isn’t the challenge to shift the work context so that it calls forth, naturally and by default, the kind of behaviour that will result in guest rooms being fit for guests, leading to happy customers, leading to less rooms being kept aside by receptionists and no need for the receptionists to offer discounts-refunds on the room rates?

Now look further-deeper, go into the heart of the matter. Venture into territory that few venture into: think!  Keep peeling the onion.

What is the core challenge when it comes to doing that which needs to be done in order to craft-deliver the kind of customer experience (end to end) that causes happy customers?  Isn’t it cooperation? Cooperation between all the organisational actors who directly-indirectly influence the customer experience. Is it not your experience that the bigger the organisation, the higher the importance of cooperation, and the lower the likelihood of finding genuine cooperation?

What Steps Did InterLodge Take To Shift-Shape The Work Context?

According to the authors of the Six Simple Rules, InterLodge took the following three steps:

  1. Did away with the organisational elements that were useless and/or counterproductive.  For example, they did away with the financial incentives which were supposed to motivate the receptionists to improve room occupancy. And they stopped the soft skills “guest engagement” training program.

  2. Made managerial promotion dependent on having worked in multiple functions. Why? To encourage and ensure that managers had a lived-experiential understanding of the work of each function and how it related to the work of other functions.

  3. Changed the work context so that cooperation was called forth between Housekeeping, Maintenance and the Front Desk (receptionists).

Let’s dive into point 3 shifting the work context to cause cooperation as the default behaviour. Imagine that is your challenge.  What specific action/s would you take to shift the work context and call forth cooperation between Housekeeping, Maintenance, and the Front Desk (receptionists)?

What Actions Did InterLodge Take To Generate Cooperation Between The Multiple Actors?

Before I share the answer with you, I invite you to listen to the authors of Six Simple Rules:

Their [receptionists] work put them in the closest contact with customers, and they were the most directly penalised when customers were unhappy. They had an interest in cooperation but had not way to influence the behaviour of other groups – specifically, the housekeeping and maintenance staff.

So the clue is there: find a way to directly expose the housekeepers and maintenance staff to the wrath of unhappy customer/s.  Did management pursue this option?  No. Why? Because the did not find a practical way to expose these folks to the wrath of the customer. The customer was most likely to be angry in the evening when s/her checked into or returned to her room. And this is exactly when the housekeepers and maintenance were not at work.

What did InterLodge do?  Management give the receptionists a say in the performance evaluation of the folks in housekeeping and maintenance.  Did it work? Yes. Why? Because the Receptionists had a say and their say mattered. This is how the authors put it (bolding is my work):

In the past, it had always been enough for these employees [housekeeping, maintenance] to fulfill the criteria and meet the targets of their individual function. Now, people in the the two back office functions were also being evaluated on how effectively they cooperated with each other and with the receptionists, and it was the opinion of the receptionists themselves that carried special weight…. After all, their careers and the possibility of promotion were on the line

Was it as simple as that. Not quite, this change had to work in conjunction with the other big change:

When this change in how personnel in back-office functions were evaluated was combined with the new cross-functional rotation of managers (which gave managers more of an appreciation for the interdependencies among the various functions), the nature of work changed rapidly at the hotel.

How exactly did the nature of the work change?  By this expression the authors are pointing out, in particular, how the way the folks in housekeeping and maintenance ‘showed up and travelled’. Let’s listen once more to the authors:

The housekeepers checked the equipment in the rooms when they cleaned and let the maintenance groups know immediately when something needed attention. What’s more, the two back office functions were a lot more responsive when someone from reception would call asking for help to resolve a customer problem.

What Results Showed Up At InterLodge?

According to the authors:

… InterLodge hotel business unit’s gross margin increased by 20 percent within eighteen months. The rapid improvement in margins allowed the company to … nearly triple it [stock price] in just two years.

If you want to understand the logic behind this then I recommend buying-reading the Six Simple Rules.

What Is The Core Insight-Lesson For Those Working On Customer Experience And Customer-Centricity?

The core insight-lesson is spelt out rather pithily and it is one with which I am in full agreement.  The lesson is so obvious and yet neglected.  Why? Because it involves taking the “road less travelled”. What is this central insight-lesson:

To achieve customer-centricity make the organisation listen to those who listen to customers. Changing interaction patterns among functions is much more powerful than creating a dedicated customer-centricity function.

There you have it.  The challenge of customer-centricity is that of disrupting, shifting, and shaping interaction patters so that transformed work context calls forth the requisite degree of co-operation from-across-amongst all organisational actors which directly and/or indirectly affect the customer experience. And the authors have shared how this was done at InterLodge. And they give other examples in their book, which is well worth reading.

Enough for today. In the next and last part of this conversation I will lay out for you (and comment upon) the sociological theory behind tools for shaping the work context. And why it is that the standard-commonplace approaches (hard, soft, hard+soft) to organisational change and customer-centricity do not work. Like they did not work for InterLodge.

Thanks for listening, I hope you got value out of the conversation.

 

 

 

 

Communication, responsibility, leadership and customer-centricity

Did I make a ridiculous fuss about nothing?

Recently,  a reader (pxfast) read this post on Klassic Books and commented:

“You are making a ridiculous fuss about nothing. Leaving feedback is a normal part of online trade so we know whom to trust. It was request, not an order, although the email could have been worded slightly differently so as to be clear it was optional. But is there enough time to consider all nit-pickers? What your list of questions has to do with the email I do not know, but you seem to be super-sensitive about your own affairs. They were simply confirming your order and politely requesting an optional acknowledgment in return, not a surly reply.”

I like to think of myself as a learner so I revisited this post and the memory of my experience. Then I went and looked at instances where I had been complimentary about the communications of book companies.  Three instance  came to mind:

If you look through these three cases of communication and compare them with case of Klassic books, I am confident that you will notice the following regarding the communications:

a)  Better World Books and the RocketSurgery Crew are being of service to me – making my life easier and/or enriching my life.  Whereas the Klassic Books communication is focussed on its needs and asking/expecting me to make the time/effort to fulfil their needs.

b)  The tone of the Better World Books and the Rocket Surgery Crew communications lands as human/warm – human talking to a fellow human being possible across a cafe table.  Whereas the tone of Klassic Books shows up as corporate/cold – lacking that human touch.

I say it is possible that I misinterpreted the intent of Klassic Books.  I say it is possible that I read into their email to me what was not in the email.  I say it is quite possible that I have been ‘unfair’.  And the issue is that my experience is not as such.  My head may speak this way, my heart does not.

My experience is that Klassic Books expected me to provide them a good customer review simply because they delivered a book on time.  Something that shows up as ‘table stakes’ of being an Amazon partner and getting my business.  And when I did not provide them with the review they sent me a second email and told me off for being a ‘naughty customer’: We once again request you to leave your valued feedback on this purchase.”

What stance can you take regarding your communications to your customers?

Before I dive into this I wish to point out that the lack of communication (including none at all) is powerful in itself. Why? Because, no communication communicates!  I hope that you get that.  Now let’s dive into the matter of communication and its relationship to customer-centricity and leadership.

When it comes to communication it is worth remembering the following:

– the communication will land/be experienced in a specific way e.g. helpful, unhelpful, warm, cold, relevant, irrelevant…;

–  the communication will make an impact leaving the customer thinking more or less highly of you and feeling closer or more distant towards your organisation; and

–  the communication will elicit a response – a non-response is a powerful response if you listen for it.

Which is my way of saying that when you communicate – and you cannot help communicating because you are always communicating – you act on your customers.  And when you act on your customers they respond, they communicate to you.

Now my question is this, who is responsible for the response that your communication calls forth from your customers?  It occurs to me that you can stand in one of two places.

1. You can make the customer responsible for his/her response to your communication.  This often leads to labelling and blaming when customers don’t respond as expected.  Customers are labelled ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’ and so forth.  And they are blamed for not responding to requests, filling in forms incorrectly, asking ‘stupid’ questions, wasting company time…. This the default stance of many/most folks and organisations.  Why? The charitable view is that we are blinded by our intentions and not the consequences of our communication.  The less charitable view is that we will do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad”.

Notice that this is what pxfast – the reader who triggered this post – is doing.  He is criticising me and other customers like me as ‘nit-pickers’.  Have you noticed the negative labels being applied?  “Ridiculous fuss” and “nit-picker” If a customer is labelled a “nit-picker” and “causing a ridiculous fuss” then the logical thing to do is to ignore that customer.  I call that a ‘get out of jail’ card being played.

2. You can take responsibility for the customer’s response to your communication.  This is taking responsibility as in I am the author of this response.  Or I am the ’cause in the matter of’ the communication that I have received from the customer.  This mode of being is rare at the individual, group or organisational level.

If you want to show up as a leader and/or as a customer centric organisation then embrace responsibility as opportunity

I say that if you want to show up as a leader then it is necessary for you to own up to your communication: how it lands, what impact it makes, and what response/s it generates.

I say that if you want your organisation to show up customer-centric then all the people, especially those who communicate with your customers, must take responsibility for their communication and the communication of your whole organisation: how it lands for your customers, what impact it makes in/on your customers, and the responses it generates from your customers.

Why take responsibility?  Because, it is the most powerful place to stand if you wish to be effective.  When you take responsibility you let go of the option/luxury of labelling/blaming customers.  Instead you listen for how your communication lands, what impact it makes, and what responses it generates. And where there is a difference to what you expected you say to yourself “How interesting!  I wonder what I did to cause that?  I wonder what I need to do more of?  And what do I need to do less of?  And what do I need to do differently to show up the way that I want to show up in the lives of my customers and generate the kind of response that I am up for generating?”

When you have that kind of listening then you have all that you need to become a master of communication; every leader has to be/become a master of communication; and every customer-centric organisation has to be a master of communication.  And if you have not noticed then ‘social’ is all about effective communication between you, your people (employees), your customers.