Some recent bad experiences
My area of experience is creativity and alternative thinking, not customer service. However, I was inspired (or perhaps driven) to put pen to paper after recent experiences with several large organisations here in the UK. I will not name them directly but the two worst offenders provide my telephone and banking services.
Large organisations just want to give us what they think we want. They might be so arrogant as to be saying “this is what you are going to get”. Recently I wanted answers to some questions regarding banking. I checked the company’s website for possible answers. After determining that the answers were not there I used the secure messaging system to ask my questions. I did this 4 times and each time the reply was a section of the help text from their website that had been cut and pasted into the response that had been sent to me.
When trying to contact my telephone company I tried 5 times via telephone and their chat service to resolve an issue. Each time I was told what they thought I wanted to hear i.e. you will get xxx within 14 days. They seemed to see themselves as an information service. I was being told how the system should behave. Exceptions were things that they seemed unable to deal with.
What can be done?
In most cases it is not actually the fault of the individuals providing the service. It is the actual system that needs revamping. Use a little creative thinking guys. Ask why I might be emailing or calling you. It is usually because my query is technical or non standard. I want some real help. So why employ knowledgeable people as supervisors rather than let them answer the phone. Just think, if you answered your queries the first time, you would ultimately cut down the number of calls to your call centres.
This has always been a topic for debate amongst those propping up bar counters or for day dreaming types. How do you know what goes on inside your refrigerator when the door is shut? We all assume that the manufacturer has done their job correctly. You can not be sure, unless of course, you climb inside (definitely not advised).
Not long ago I had a similar experience with my car. Like most people, I assumed that when I shut the doors and locked the car all of the interior lights went out. Sadly this was not the case and the combination of the interior lights and the car alarm flattened the battery. The next time I went to the car it would not start.
I am not suggesting that we all become obsessive and peer into our refrigerators or hang around parked cars waiting for lights to go out. I do believe that once in a while it is worth examining all of the things that we take for granted just to see if anything has changed. Maybe I will detect a faulty light switch once in a while. The implications in a business context are far more important.
How many times have we been told that a particular project or course of action is closed to us because of certain ‘givens’ that are accepted as variables that never change? Maybe a project costs too much, or the computers are not fast enough or the container ship takes too long to travel from China. But what happens when costs fall, computers become faster and container shipping times are slashed? Shouldn’t we periodically consider these things?
Our business environments change at different paces. Competitors react faster than governments and customer requirements even faster. We make assumptions at our peril. Most things change at some point so we should be ready and be checking once in a while. Once we get used to doing this we can also avoid the other obstacles that get in our way. The only way to dodge the rocks being hurled at us is to be looking for them!!
Do not simply shut the refrigerator door and forget about what might be going on inside. Just take a sneaky peek once in a while.
Asking the right questions can often get us off to a good start. Below is a list of some questions that you might like to ask yourself either as a group or as an individual. The questions might provide useful answers or lead you to explore other avenues.
- What is the biggest (avoidable) hassle that our customers have to put up with?
- Are there any recent changes in rules or regulations that affect our customers?
- Who does/does not use or products/services?
- Who is prevented from using our products/services?
- Where do our products/services perform unexpectedly well/badly?
- Does anyone use our products/services in ways that we never intended?
- Who does this the best/worst? What can we learn from them?
- How could this be improved if I had all of the resources that I needed?
- Can we improve our products our services by changing people, materials or technology?
- What are our top 5 sources of business?
- What facilities are least used/most used?
- Can we make our offerings easier to understand/buy?
- Do we know the cost structure of our offerings?
- Who benefits the most from our products/services?
- Do we have all of the skills that we require?
- Do we understand the competitive landscape?
- Are we duplicating our efforts in any way?
- What could we do better with more training?
- Do we have the right resources/sufficient resources?
- Can we bend the rules? Have we tested the rules?
Keep your eyes open, why? This is a story about a lady (let’s call her Mary) who works in the First Class Lounge at Cardiff Central railway station. If you have visited the lounge you will know the lady in question.
On entering the lounge there is a comfortable, but not formal, atmosphere and your eye cannot help but see an enormous aerial photograph of the city. The caption at the bottom reads “Cardiff’s best ambassador 2009”. One often sees certificates and ‘thank you’ letters from charities mentioning sums of £100 or so, but those lining the walls here are for amounts in 4 figures. Clearly there is something going on here.
Regular customers are greeted by name and their favourite drink poured for them, with stories exchanged. Clearly this is no ordinary employee (have you travelled by First Great Western trains recently?).
With my freshly brewed coffee and neatly folded newspaper in my possession, I sit back and eavesdrop on a number of conversations. It appears that the lounge is used as a waiting area for hotel guests who check out of their hotels early and still wish to browse the nearby shops. One passenger stays with the luggage and the rest shop. This obviously causes a problem.
Mary has already sorted this one out! What is needed is a left luggage office, perhaps something can be arranged together with the hotels? After all, luggage cannot be left without security scans and a scanner would be expensive. It appears that Mary is a very able intelligence gathering machine and this is not the only suggestion that she has.What happens next? To be honest, I do not know but let us consider two possibilities:
- The lounge is frequented by managers who like to wait for their trains in comfort. They listen to Mary who is closer to the customers than they are and go away to work out the potential benefits/impact.
- The lounge is frequented by managers who know everything about running a company. They do not need information from employees at the bottom of the company in order to make good business decisions.
Which of the above is closest to your situation? Which is the best for the company?
Any employee at any level might be in a position to gather information whether they are a receptionist or a delivery driver. You might need to filter large amounts of data but you must keep your eyes open or risk missing potential opportunities or even threats to your business.
The recession may have touched us all but it is not nearly as bad as the pundits and commentators would have us believe. One or two businesses have gone under but I am here and you are still here reading this. We are all still ‘in the game’ so we have some of the skills and resources necessary to survive. We must at the very least be capable of examining our external environment and reacting to it in a positive manner. We are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and understand our own competencies.
A downturn is a good time to plan and watch what others are doing. Take a look at your competitors, visit their shops and trade stands or use their services. See how your competitors are handling the bad times, take on board their good ideas and learn from the bad ones. In short be ready to beat them when the time is right. Use this slack time to review your own business, something you will not have time to do in the busier times ahead. Now is also a good time to woo new clients even if they are not going to buy from you right now. Understand them and listen to their woes. We are experts in our field.
We know that things are cyclical and so we can safely assume that after the crash will come a period of growth once more. We cannot say for sure what the timescales will be but we know that it will happen. We have demonstrated our flexibility in surviving initially and then been cunning in our approach to observing our competitors, creating a plan and acquiring resources. We have a business that will thrive when the time is right. In the meantime, leverage your expertise and assist your customers to save money or add value for existing customers (without charging them extra). We thoroughly understand our customers and our marketplace.
- are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and self aware
- experts in your field
- thoroughly understand your customers and your marketplace
Congratulations, you are now innovating!