Healing the Customer Experience
Most people love December for the holidays, the parties, the end of the current year, and the excitement surrounding the start of a new year. I too look forward to those things, but there is something else about Dec that I enjoy almost as much: Best of the Year Lists.
As a guy who spends his days working to make businesses run more effectively and efficiently, I love lists as they are a key component of every well run systematized business. I also love trivia and weird, often worthless factoids. So the arrival of magazines with the inevitable end of the year lists adds a bit of excitement to each trip to my mailbox.
I subscribe to a lot of magazines, so it takes me a little while to get through them, and this past week I finally got to the last magazine in my December pile. I was eagerly looking forward to reading the Dec 17 copy of AdAge to see what ad and marketing trivia peaked their editor’s attention for inclusion in their year-end lists. But what hit me from this issue was not their 2018 lists and trivia, but the wrap around ad from Deloitte Digital about Customer Experience being dead.
The copy in the ad goes on to disprove the title’s hypothesis, but it got me thinking. A key component of the customer experience is person-to-person interactions. Interactions that are all too often, less than pleasant. Why is that? I may be naive, but I think that people want to be treated well themselves, so they will normally treat others well because that is how they want to be treated. So if that is the case, and people are not normally waking up in the morning thinking about ways to provide bad or surly service, why does that happen all to often?
As I read through this ad, I kept thinking about the various person-to-person customer experiences I have had since the beginning of 2019. The vast majority have been good if not pleasant, even when the outcome what not what I wanted. But there have been four that really sucked, and because of that, they stick out in my mind. As I thought about them, I came to the realization that there was a common denominator to all, but one of these.
The common denominator is that the person I was working with, could not rectify the situation or move it forward towards resolution. So in each situation, I was stuck in a “sorry there is nothing I can do” loop, forcing me to start over and over again with new people that I hoped and prayed could resolve the issue. If my customer experience was frustrating for all involved, how many times a day was the employee I was working with involved in the same frustrating situation?
To be clear, I am not trying to justify poor customer interactions or suggesting that first level support or sales staff have carte' blanche to make any decision that a client/customer may ask for. I am however suggesting that this is a root cause that can be addressed.
Even when not written down, most businesses have processes in place. The problem is that these are often developed on an ad hoc basis, so they were “designed” to address the process and issues at that point in time. Because of that, all too often these systems do not include a means to address exceptions. The result is that staff either can’t address issues when they arise, making the crucial person-to-person component of the customer experience a frustrating one; or they create an environment where every little thing has to be bumped up to the owner to be addressed.
It should be a safe assumption that if you hired someone to do a job, you hired them because you trust that they can do that job, which should include dealing with the exceptions to the rules when they arise. So why constrain them with systems and processes that prevent them from doing their full job?
Again, I am not suggesting or advocating that everyone in your business have free reign, but that you have a system in place that guides staff in how to deal with the exceptions. This expect the unexpected system should also include steps to review the core process after the fact to see if it needs to be modified. And for the record, a process that simply escalates issues to a “supervisor” who is also constrained from solving issues that deviate from the norm, is not a solution.
Even if you have systematized every facet of your business, if each system does not include steps for addressing exceptions and then steps to review the overall process; I would argue that you have not truly systematized your operations. Because business is dynamic, its ability to grow and change is dependent on its ability to address and change when need be. Just because something is written down does not mean it is set in stone forever.
This also does not mean that you have to develop separate processes to deal with the exceptions that each department or system may run into. It is possible to develop ONE process that outlines how staff should deal with exceptions AND how the core process should be reviewed afterwards to see if the exception is a once in a blue moon issue, or if the underlying process needs to be updated. This ONE process can then be appended to all your others.
There is also a very big secondary benefit to developing a system to direct your staff in handling exceptions on their own: less “in the weeds work” by the owner. An environment that continually pulls the owner into addressing every little issue is one that forces the owner to spend all their time working for the business and prevents them from working on their business. Empowered your staff to deal with the issues that used to get kicked to you to be addressed, may be what allows you to start working on your business.
Oh, and in case you are wondering about the one exception mentioned earlier. That situation arose because that company has such a poorly constructed automated call system, customers are prevented from eve reaching a human. But that’s a story for another blog.