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.

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