Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Why BIG companies will never, EVER be able to do customer service.

 There is no such thing
Everyone bangs on about a brilliant customer experience but there is no such thing. What works for me (someone talking honestly about what’s going on and being frank but with a decent dose of humour, pace and provocation) isn’t going to work for the next person in the queue. The poor bastard behind the till can’t adopt his style for everyone and match it perfectly as we’re all human beings and as a result, put more than two in a room and they’ll be friction at some point. Concentrate that into short time experiences (buying a dress in a shop you’ll visit once) is not enough to create an intense bond with anything genuine; unless you’re a spiritual healer. Big businesses forget that all their systems involve people. As soon as you call it a process it’s broken.

Companies make the mistake of appointing a head of customer experience
The head of customer experience should be the CEO. If not you’re basically telling the whole business it’s someone else’s responsibility and not yours.

You can’t scale personal sensitivity
We all have an example of our favourite butcher, garage owner, builder, gym instructor etc. He or she goes out of the way to help you, remember your favourite colours, bands, nicknames, where you went on holiday and what you love and hate.  It’s called ‘giving a shit’ and you can’t scale it.

Case studies are not the answer
Anyone who quotes Southwest Airlines as a model of customer service should be yelled at or laughed at for being un-original. There’s little point in trying to scale an outrageous service at BA or Virgin etc. as I’m unlikely to ever fly the same airline to the same destination and meet the same crew again. What I get in return for consistency is the same health and safety briefings (no-one ever listens to) and the same flaccid, insipid half hearted welcome-on-board-to-our-one-world-alliance-and-partners-do-you-want-to-give-to-our-charity-duty-free-complimentary-pilot-talking-shit-about-weather-condtions speech instead.  Have you seen the laminates they have to read out? (often stuck to wall by the toilet door). This says to the employee from the business that they’re not trusted enough to think intuitively and sensitively about the job they do daily and that some over paranoid executive in tight shoes has to tell you what to say...  Occasionally we hero stories of cabin crew saving lives with breadsticks and coat hangers but as an employee, I can’t suffocate my passengers and bring them back to life to show I’m living the values.  As a result, I can only serve tea 1000 times a day and be asked to smile.

You can only train who applies.
No matter what training you provide, laminates you produce, videos you show, you’re only EVER going to be as good as the combination of employee who applies and the HR folk who explain the customer experience/brand promise.  Whilst waiting for a meeting in a London HQ of a retail chain, I overheard ‘HR Madam’ explain to ‘employee Miss’ that she didn’t need to worry about what the customer thinks as it’s just about getting ‘our message across’...  couldn’t help but think she had done just that perfectly.

Businesses forget that customers, partners, agencies and clients are equals not supplicants.
I was asked by the Head of Customer experience of a large international organisation to prepare some thinking on what the future of that business could look like.  How flattered and delighted I thought. Instead of sending in PowerPoints and emails, our business takes time on bespoke responses and physical material to provoke the discussions. It’s part of our brand. It’s part of our promise. It’s evidence that we deliver genius.  All this costs time, money and effort. BUT it’s what we want to do and live for so off we went.
You can imagine how we feel when we receive NOTHING in reply. Not a single acknowledgement.  Personally, I’d prefer “thanks Andy, but your thinking sucks” as it completes the conversation and I know where we stand. We didn’t get anything. Not a jot. Not a text. Not an email. Not even a ‘got it’ message. Nada. Zilch.
And now I’m telling the whole world about it J
Right now you’re reading a passive aggressive paragraph about someone who for whatever reason has forgot that being the Head of Customer Experience creates and expectation. If s/he can’t keep that context in mind and wont respond, what hope is there for the rest of the employees and business? I'd suggest NONE!
Think also about the international lens on this business (and it is an international business). I smile inside about the whole thing but if this were China – s/he’s PROPERLY insulted me and risked the loss of the relationship. To think these senior people are invested in too is the additional sadness as its evidence again that learning transfer happens less the higher the manager you become.

A customer experience is inevitable whether I like it or not and the more you remind your staff on what to do and how to do it, the worse things get.
Not being looked at in the eye by the cashier at Zara is inevitable if the cashier is made to feel the customer is always right. Employees are the most important part of the business. If they are given the freedom, responsibility, and belief from the higher ups that they can be themselves and as a result – as by product of good intentions - help others, then the business will flourish.  Managers who think otherwise, just take it away.

Having said all that – I missed an appointment today.
BAD CUSTOMER EXERIENCE! Caused by me. 100% my fault. No-one else’s.
I’m off right now to make amends.
Now, you go do the same.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Ignore the obvious at your (and clients') peril.

Too many project proposals left agencies this week that over complicated the client issue and sold them something they didn't need. Sometimes the obvious gives us the answer.
Lot’s of the time we jump to an answer and then dismiss it simply because we’ve arrived at it too quickly.  It’s as if we don’t trust our own judgement or creative powers in a short time.

We ought to re-consider this.
Our unconscious brain is processing material faster than we realise (hence it’s NOT conscious). The under currents of our fast flowing mind can indeed short cut a great deal of distraction and hard work.
Consider this story an old college tutor passed on to us years ago...

In the late 80’s the University Sports dept opened up a gym with clever machines to measure heart rates and respirations.  You can imagine large beige BBC computers and dot matrix printers buzzing and humming whilst professors and psychologists tip toed over the wires and running machines plotting graphs as the students ran new personal bests.
One evening the dept opened up its new physio-lab to the greater good of the community and held a wine’n’cheese style evening. Junior students would serve the cava whilst ‘clever’ academic folk and ‘specialists’ in athletic performance would take other faculty heads around the facilities.
Both male and female students were jogging on the machines and it was noticed that the female chest/expansion/heart rate/oxygen-capacity/pulse/thingy graph had flat lined whilst the male graph continued to rise.  Both students were clearly working hard, but it was interpreted that the female chest ‘was at ease with itself’ whilst the male athlete struggled.
For an hour or so several theories bounced around the room and formed the start of some dangerous looking research papers that could soon become scientific fact.
Eventually a female undergraduate student who had been serving cheese on sticks all evening suggested that the graph looked different as the girl runner was wearing a sports bra.  Her chest couldn’t expand as much as the bra was doing exactly what it was designed to do.
The bra was removed.
Both graphs read the same.

Sometimes the most sophisticated people and the most sophisticated tools can’t do what we pick up at an intuitive level.
The key is to spot it in ourselves when it happens.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Another reason brainstorming won’t work

 Following my hugely popular encomium on the myth of brainstorming, I’m following up with another dear reader.
One of the inherited rules of a brainstorm, is the expectation you’ll arrive at ‘the answer’ having been handed out bags of toys, marker pens, post-it notes, squeezy balls and water pistols. After 5 minutes of coaching on how to think ‘big’ and ‘like a child’ you’ll be given the freedom to dick about for an hour or so and arrive at the perfect solution.
You won’t.
There seems to be a fashion with the creative gurus that we were all once like children (cue joke about being born 30 if we weren’t once a child) and that we’ve grown up and out of child like thinking.  Stats (yawn) tell us children smile 1000 times a day and adults but 10 (or whatever it is) and of course let’s not forget the beautiful, ubiquitous and now a little over done TED Talk from Sir Ken Robinson.
I get it.
Now move on.

It’s too simple an argument and without any difference to what other people say.
Actually, kids are brilliant at having thoughts and not ideas.  Granted you don’t have to tell a 6 year old how to play or have fun, make up games and play dragons, fight wizards, draw monsters, imagine castles, pixies and flying fish.
They’d be shit at solving a behaviour change programme for an investment bank though wouldn’t they.
We ask adults to think not like a child, but to adopt the childlike approach of ‘anything is possible’ and ‘without boundaries we can challenge the norms’ etc. I get all that, I really do. I was also a teacher for 7 years so I don’t need the lecture.
What children can’t do is the other way around bit.They can’t think ,like adults my considering all the challenges, rules, regulations, permissions, politics, norms, cultural sensitivities, costs, time constraints and logistics.  They can’t do this as their experience isn’t that of an adult.  Children are brilliant at being children and doing what they do best – having time to think extraordinarily.
The whole we knock creativity out of them piece is wrong, we just layer learning the way it falls over time through a curriculum. The joy of going on a adult learning creative course is we can look back on all that experience and then judge it and turn it on it’s head.
We can’t do that from the start – much to the disappointment of Sir Ken – as it wouldn’t work. You can’t creatively break rules unless you’ve got some rules to break in the first place!
The best help in any problem IS the problem.  It comes with all you need to solve it – if you listen carefully said one ex-boss to me, you’ll hear the answer. Wise words. His business became MORE profitable and successful in the recent recession...
If you’re having a brainstorm. You don’t need the bean bags and fairy lights.
You need the problem.  Explain it, explain it again and again and again.
Then have discussions.
Then allow the thoughts to muse.
Then go home.
Have a bath.
Take some notes and doddle.
Watch Discovery Channel.
Play with some blu tac.
Go to bed and sleep on it and back at work the next morning have another honest discussion about the project.
But don’t’ whatever you do force yourself and the team to solve a crisis in 30mins.