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…

 

Beyond Listening to The Voice of The Customer / Employee

Customer gurus and technology companies push the need for the company to listen to the voice of the customer. Many companies, especially large companies, buy what they are selling. Indeed, it makes sense: listen to the voice of the customer through some manner of surveying customers seems complimentary to conducting regular market research.

HR gurus and technology companies push the need for the company to listen to the voice of the employee. In the service of this sale frightening soundbites are put forward about the state of employee engagement – disengagement is rife and getting worse. What happens, organisations set up once a year surveys of their employees in order to listen to their employees.  Ok, some do it twice a year. Maybe, a handful do it quarterly.

Is this listening?  You may be convinced that this is listening. I do not find myself in agreement with you. I say that listening is a specific encounter between one human being and another human being or human beings.  I say that listening really takes something – it takes a dropping of the self to enter into and get the world of the other. I say that listening rarely occurs inside and outside the workplace – we simply do not have cultural practices that teach us to listen nor call us to listen.

For a moment, let’s assume that surveying customers and/or employees is listening to customers / employees. Is this listening complete?  Put differently, have your heard all that your customers / employees are saying?  Before you come to a definitive answer I consider the following:

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”

The man took this advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.

The Master smiled and replied, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”

Be with this for a moment. Doesn’t the profound truth of this hit you?  One can listen at many levels for the speaking is occurring at many levels AND to truly listen to another person it is necessary to listen to the speaking that is silent.

I invite you to consider the following:

  1. Listening to the voice of the customer and/or the voice of the employee through surveying is the pretence of listening. It is not listening.
  2. Even the best designed survey will not give you access to the speaking that is silent.
  3. Listening of the kind that really hears can only take place when you genuinely respect and care for the person you are listening to.  At a very minimum it requires a deep sense / feel of our shared humanity.
  4. The only real world evidence that listening has occurred is a change in the way that you/your organisation is in the world. By “is” I mean the way that one shows up and travels in the world: being-doing.
  5. Good strategists, leaders, managers, sales people, customer service folk have to be great at listening to the silent speaking.

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

 

 

Why Innovation Is Rare: The Problem of Knowledge & The Curse Of Expertise

Do We Know It All?

I’d like to start this conversation by getting us mindful to a definition:

ignorance

ˈɪgn(ə)r(ə)ns/

noun

lack of knowledge or information.

“he acted in ignorance of basic procedures”

I say that our ignorance is vast.  And we are not present to our ignorance because we are convinced that we have an accurate grasp of the world: we know it all!  Our hubris blinds us that which history makes vividly clear: each age is deluded in its conviction that it has accessed the truth of what is so.  Does this remind you of Socrates? The Oracle claimed that Socrates was the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing.  On that basis we are not wise – nowhere near close to wise.

Do You Remember This Starbucks/’Milk’ Story?

Why have I launched into this conversation?  If you read this blog then you may remember this post and this narrative:

Last week, while on an average holiday shopping trip, my mother and I decided to stop by Starbucks to get a quick snack…..

When we got up to the counter, my mother placed our simple order, at which point she asked for a “tall” cup of two percent white milk. This is how the conversation played out:

“Mocha,” said the barista.

“No. Milk,” my mother repeated.

“Mocha?”

“No. Two percent white milk.”

“Oh… Milk!”

….. I attempted to withhold my personal thoughts. Milk. You know, that white stuff you pour in the coffee? Yes, well, we want an entire cup full of that. Minus the coffee, of course.

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out, but not without a few stifled giggles.

Making Sense Of This Story Through The Insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein

You may also remember the follow up post where I made use of the insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein. And in so doing attempted to point out that:

  • every human being is always a being-in-the-world  – which is to say that the human being and the world are so interwoven that they are one not two;
  • every human being finds himself, at every moment, situated-embedded in a particular world e.g. the business world, the academic world, the public world, the world of home etc and that world ‘takes over’ the human beings working-living in that world;
  • a word such as ‘milk’ does not point at a specific object rather it, and every word-utterance, is a social tool for coordinating social action in a specific world – think for a moment what ‘milk’ means to a woman that has just given birth and compare that to what ‘milk’ means to a supermarket;
  • that the confusion that occurred at Starbucks and with the barista was due to the narrator’s mother turning up in the Starbucks world of coffee and using the word ‘milk’ inappropriately – akin to you turning up at your friend’s home for a meal, enjoying the meal and then asking for the bill; and
  • to really understand a world (e.g. the advertising world) one needs to live in that world by taking up a role in that world and doing that which goes with the role taken up.

After reading this follow up post, Adrian Swinscoe commented (bolding is my work):

I really like your exploration of this issue from a philosophical angle and learnt a lot from it…. 

However, at the end of the post I found myself wondering if the heart of the problem was something quite humdrum and that the barista just didn’t listen. She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

As you point out, if we don’t get out of our way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.

Now I want to address the points that Adrian is making. And that means grappling with the problem of knowledge and the curse of expertise.  Let’s start with Adrian’s statement “if we don’t get out of our own way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.”

Is It Possible To Get Out Of Our ‘Heads’?

If I was to get out of my own ‘head’ then whose ‘head’ would I use to be able to make sense of the world in which I find myself? Besides we are almost never in our heads, we are mostly on automatic pilot immersed in cultural practices and taken over by our habits.  If this was not the case then thinking, genuine thinking, would not be so effortful for us.  Let’s listen to Charles Guignon:

If all our practices take place within a horizon of vague and inexplicit everyday understanding , then even the possibility of something obtruding as intelligible is determined in advance by this understanding …….. the questions that I can ask and the kind of answers that would make sense are always guided by my attuned understanding of “ordinary” interpretations …. Without this understanding, nothing could strike me as familiar or strange.

For this reason Heidegger says that all explanation presupposes understanding…… The legitimate task of seeking explanations is always conducting within a horizon of understanding that guides our questioning and establishes procedures for attaining clarity and elucidation. Through our mastery of the shared language of the Anyone, we have developed specific habits and expectations that enable us to see things as obvious or puzzling...

A detective trying to make sense of how a crime was committed …. might take even the most mundane item in the room and ask how it came to be there ….. great advances have come about in the sciences through the ability of individuals to step back and question what had been taken as obvious and self-evident. But such cases of departing from established habits and expectations make sense only against a background of shared understanding which remains constant through such shifts. In other words, we can make sense of unintelligibility and a demand for explanation only within a horizon of intelligibility which is not itself thrown into question …..

– Charles B. Guignon, Heidegger and the Problem of Knowledge

To sum up we are always in our ‘head’ and that head arises and is kept in existence through our shared cultural practices. A particular potent cultural practices is language.  Notice that to operate in society we must speak the language of that society – everyday language.  And to operate in particular world (e.g. world of business, world of finance, world of advertising, world of healthcare ….) we must be fluent in the language of that world.

Adjustments can be made to our ‘head’ and it is not easy to make these adjustments. Why?  Adjustments are not made through thinking – not made through cognitive means.  As ‘head’ is given by roles, habits and cultural practices it is necessary to make a shift in these. How? By moving into and inhabiting-living new worlds. This is what occurs when the CEO leaves the world of the CEO and takes on-lives the role of the frontline employee for five days; Undercover Boss is all about this shift.  If you find yourself interested in that which I am speaking about here then I recommend watching the movie The Doctor (starring William Hurt) – it is instructive in a way that my words cannot instruct.

The Curse Of Expertise

How does Adrian interpret the Starbucks/’Milk’ story?  The same way that many of us interpret it:

She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

Why this conviction that ‘that which occurred’ is the fault of the barista? Why this insistence on the incompetence of the barista?  I say that this explanation is so easily forthcoming and attracting (rather like a magnet) because it is the cultural practice to see fault in front line staff, especially as these jobs are low paid, and thus lay blame on them.

What if the barista was not fatigued, not tired, speaks the language well, has no agenda?  What if, on the contrary, the barista is highly skilled in her role of serving coffee to Starbucks customers?  Is it possible expertise, not ignorance, is the cause of the snafus?  Let’s listen to a zen master and see what we can learn:

In Japan we have the phrase “shoshin” which means “beginner’s mind”. The goal of practice is to always keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose your recite the Prajna Paramitra Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it….

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

– Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

The curse of expertise is that the expert only sees that which s/he has been conditioned to see; hears that which s/he has been conditioned to listen to; makes sense of that which shows up through her already given horizon of understanding (see Guignon above). Put differently, the expert is stuck in a rut: all that shows up, including the anomaly, is interpreted in times of the taken for granted.  Which is why altruistic acts are made sense of in terms of selfishness given the Darwinian frame. Or the necessity to postulate ‘dark matter’ given the need to keep the existing model of the universe intact. Or the collapsing of Customer Experience with Customer Service in the business world.  Or the insistence of seeing CRM as technology and business process change rather than a fundamental change in the ‘way we do things around here’.

As a consultant/coach/facilitator what do I bring to the table?  At my best I bring to the table a beginner’s mind where everyone on the ‘inside’ is an expert. Which is why I am often able to see that which my clients cannot see.  The challenge always is to convey that which I have seen to my clients such that they do not reinterpret it into their existing way of seeing-doing things.  Often I fail: despite my best efforts to ‘ask for milk’ I find that my clients interpret as ‘mocha’.  And when I say “No, milk!”, they respond “Surely, you are asking for Mocha!”.  And even if I strike up the courage to insist that ‘milk’ is not the same as ‘Mocha’ I find that they often confuse ‘Two percent white milk” with ‘steamed milk’.  They are not at fault, it is the curse of expertise. And it inflicts us all!

And Finally A Quote

I leave you with a quote that sums up the situation and the challenge beautifully:

Create your future from your future not your past.

– Werner Erhard

Why listening to the customer involves more than simply listening

I am a fan of Teamsnap and I wrote about them a little while ago because they are a great example of a customer-centred organisation.

The subject of customer experience improvement and the need for a rounded Voice of the Customer program to feed into have been on my mind recently.  Many VoC programs rely simply on customer surveys, some include social media, few gather both structured (NPS type surveys) and unstructured (what people actually say e.g. transcription of voice recordings at the call centre).   In the process I came across some interesting research that casts doubts on the accuracy of survey based research when there is a long delay (six months) between an event occuring and the survey being carried out: How reliable is our memory for our own previous intentions.

Reading the TeamSnap blog today I came across a model example of what it takes to really listen to customers and then act on that listening: The Curious Case of the New Tracking Tab. I throughly recommend that you read and absorb it.   Here is what I take away from it:

It takes a team of people who are truly customer-centric to approach the situation in the way that TeamSnap approached the unexpected issue

Most organisations (including many who say they are customer centric) would simply have rushed ahead and imposed a fix to make the new Payments tab work.  They would just have accepted that it is logically and necessary to have customers enter an amount for every payment.  They would not have done more investigation (like TeamSnap did) to understand why customers were doing what they were doing.  Nor would they have thought about the impact the change would have on their customers.

Truly listening to your customers involves going beyond surveys and reports, it involves getting into the lives of your customers – looking at both what they say and what they do

When TeamSnap looked into how their customers were using the existing Payments tab they figured out that lots of their customers were using it to track stuff.  Clearly the customers had a need to track stuff and the existing Payments tab had made that possible – unintentionally!

The point is that this understanding, this insight, came from actually looking into what customers were doing.  It involved having users test the new Payments tab.  It involved getting that it might be an issue for customers.  It involved looking into and at how the customers were actually using the system.  I call this ‘active listening’ which is very different to what I call ‘passive listening’ – usually a survey.   It is highly unlikely that a standard survey would have unearthed this insight.  Why? Because most surveys tend to focus in on what you already know: what ‘you know you know’ and what ‘you know you do not know’.

Yet it is what ‘you do not know that you do not know’  that is often a source of breakthroughs. This realm of ‘unknown unknowns’ only becomes visible when you actually immerse yourself into the lives of  your customer and leave yourself open to being surprised.