Service with a KISS

KISS:  Keep it simple stupid

This well-known term is attributed to an engineer at Lockheed during the sixties.  Over the years variations of the phrase have included “keep it short and simple”, “keep it straightforward and simple”, and “keep it small and simple”.

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The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple not complicated or complex and simplicity is a key goal in design.  I am neither brilliant or stupid but this principle makes a lot of sense to me and is in the forefront of my mind when designing processes and systems that affect the Customer’s experience.

As a consumer seeking a great Customer Experience I love the “S” words in KISS:  simple, small, short, straightforward.  And although as a child my mother didn’t allow the use of the word stupid I embrace that “S” word when used in the proper context.  Such as, “How could I have ever been so stupid to have done business with a merchant who doesn’t care about my experience?!”.  Or, “I know the executives in this company are not stupid so why would they have me wait on hold for 15 minutes after navigating a complicated phone system to only get a recording that they are now closed for the day?”

Even some of the ways in which companies measure their Customer’s satisfaction are highly complex, overworked, and over analyzed.  I recognize the value of data. Over the years I have leveraged data to help drive strategy and decisions.  I am a big fan of data… But, the greatest data point comes from speaking directly with a Customer and asking them “How did it go?  Did we do a good job for you and would you recommend us?  If not what could we have done better or different?”

The next best data point is asking those employees who are charged with delivering that Customer Experience how they feel.  Ask them, “Do you have the tools you need to deliver a great Customer Experience?”  Are you informed?  Do you feel  empowered?  Is there something else the company can do to help you be successful?”

Over the years I’ve had the privilege to work with some great companies helping to design and scale their commercial infrastructure in a way that delivers great Customer experiences.  Along the way I’ve identified three basic tenets that are the foundation for delivering a great Customer Experience.

  • People (Culture)
    • You can’t deliver a great customer experience without first delivering a sound employee experience.  Employees need to have sound tools.  They need robust and timely information whether it is about new products, pricing, policies, marketing programs, or branding.
    • Employees must be recognized for meeting the high standard the company has set.  It takes a lot of very hard work for even the best athletes to win a world championship.
    • Empower your employees, within reason, to take liberties with the policies and procedures necessary to meet customer specific needs and from time to time create a “wow” over and above experience.
    • When hiring consider attitude as much as aptitude (if not more).  The best service reps are those that chose that line of work because they get pleasure out of helping others.  Depending on the size of the team there is certainly room and purpose for transient employees but the best reps are those that enjoy being service reps and aren’t necessarily using the job as a stepping stone to a different function.
    • Management:  mid-level managers should go “hands-on” as often as necessary to support their employees and must be effective leaders as well as good managers.
  • Process Design  (process)
    • Good processes are simple and easy to understand by the service providers conducting them.
    • Policies should be easily explained by those having to communicate and adhere to them.
    • Processes that deliver the best Customer experience are designed backwards starting with the desired Customer Experience or outcome.
    • Good up to date documentation (desktop instructions, process workflows, forms and templates) are important for trouble-shooting, training, scaling and the ability to stay nimble and flexible.
  • Business Systems (systems)
    • Service reps live and die by the business systems they use to conduct their jobs.  If you or the executives in your company don’t understand this they should sit/stand in with the front line reps for an hour or two.  Better yet, have them do the job and use the systems to get the user experience first hand.
    • Systems must be highly responsive (information as well as response time), simple to navigate, user configurable, and pleasing to look at.
    • Let your business systems do the heavy lifting to keep it short for your Customers, simple for your Customer facing reps, and straightforward for your back office workers.
    • Service providers usually need to work in both back and front office systems.  When possible, integrate your ERP and CRM systems either through software or physical components.

It’s not so important that the engineer at Lockheed was building planes.  It’s doesn’t matter that 500 years earlier Leonardo da Vinci’s communicated the same concept when he said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

But what does matter is that your customers aren’t stupid which is why you need to keep it simple.

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I can’t get there from here

I just spent about an hour on the phone with my local daily newspaper trying to work through a simple billing error.  The printed daily newspaper is a dying industry so I am not surprised that the commercial infrastructure of this publishing company is antiquated, the focus of the organization is internal (i.e., how long can we survive?), and the employees are under trained.  I’m just old school enough that I still enjoy a printed copy of the paper in my hands with a cup of coffee in the morning.  So in spite of the service lapses I’ve stuck with this paper for over 20 years as I’ve watched them slowly disintegrate jettisoning assets and journalists along the way.  A little sad really, but it’s hard to maintain the status quo and you either evolve or you  die.

Here is what stood out to me today.  The person to whom my billing problem was escalated doesn’t have a direct phone number.  So when he wasn’t able resolve my problem today we agreed to speak again tomorrow.  I asked him what number I could use to reach him and he told me he didn’t have one.  He said to call the general 800 number and ask for him.  To me this meant that I can’t get there from here.  Because to reach him on the phone I would have to:

  • Call the general 800 number
  • Wait on hold because they are “experiencing unusually high call volumes”
  • Ask the Rep that answered to transfer me to the supervisor
  • Explain to that rep why I was asking to be transferred
  • Wait on hold to be connected to what I found out was a totally different call center in a different state
  • Listen again to the maddening 1960’s era techno music on hold
  • Hope a rep answered before I ripped my ears off
  • Ask for the supervisor by name
  • Explain why I needed to speak with him
  • Wait for the transfer
  • End up in a general mailbox because the supervisor doesn’t have his own phone number (or one that he is willing to give out) because he was out getting a cup of coffee

I can’t get there from here.

When I described my recent experience which was pretty much the litany of steps that I’ve described above the supervisor relented and gave me the phone number of his call center which was different than where the general 800 number is answered.   This of course made me feel like a very special customer because I can now skip steps 1 through 5.

I’ve run small and large call centers over the years.  I understand call routing, call queueing, staffing, roles, responsibilities, and – oh yeah – the customer.  Not having a direct phone number for a customer to call you on to speak about an existing service issues is not a technical limitation.  It’s an organizational limitation.  Or it’s a process design limitation.  Or worse, it’s a “we’re dying on the vine” limitation and a “we just want you to go away and let us die in peace” limitation.

So if I want a piece of newsprint in my hand while I have my morning cup I guess I’ll have to take the long way around.  Because I can’t get there from here…

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The Customer Is Always Right: Wrong…

The Customer Experience

“The Customer is always right”…. Right? WRONG!  That phrase, the customer is always right, raises the hair on the back of my neck.

I have spent the better part of my adult life on both sides of customer service interactions as the Customer and as the service representative. I can tell you from experience the customer is not always right.

If a customer service representative speaks that phrase or even thinks it they are doing the customer a great disservice and selling themselves, as a service provider, short. As a customer seeking service do we want a “yes-man” or do we want someone to evaluate our needs and offer solutions? As a service representative does one want to be gopher or a problem solver?

Service representatives should be held accountable for listening and understanding both our stated needs and unstated needs. They must approach us as partners where anything less…

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Cowboys and Aliens – a complex relationship

cowboys-and-aliensWhat is so abstract about the term Customer Experience? Both words are basic and simple enough that a five-year old child can understand them, define them, and use them in a sentence. Combining the words, “Customer Experience”, apparently creates an overly complex term for even highly educated adults.

Recently I had cause to express dissatisfaction with the experience I had while utilizing a local company’s services. I had a question about the service and it took several requests by way of phone and email to get an educated response. After a couple of weeks of back and forth I finally spoke with Nancy who was the director of this small company. Nancy easily answered my original question. Great. Thank you. I went on to explain the poor experience I had having to spend a lot of time and effort while waiting to get her simple reply. I like the services and the company and I really wanted Nancy to know about this poor experience so that she could influence a change for the next time.

After listening to my concern Nancy assured me the services they provided were as promised. Wait – she missed the point. My complaint wasn’t about the services it was about how I felt while receiving the services. Ignored, under valued, invisible

So I made another attempt to explain myself telling this educated adult that I wasn’t unhappy with the services. I was unhappy with the experience I had while receiving the services. I said something like, “I agree you’re providing a good service; I’m not questioning that. But, I want you to know that I had a very poor “Customer Experience” while receiving these services. A good Customer Experience is important to me”. Uh-oh, I used the term – twice in one sentence. By doing so I took the conversation to that complex place where Customers are aliens and service providers are cowboys. I really wanted Nancy to know that I came in peace, I was not interested in her taking me to her leader, and I would not be exterminating the planet. Too late. Everything I said after using the term caused her to duck for cover lest she be blasted by my alien phaser and taken back to the mothership for weird experiments.

(Sigh…)

I retreated to my transport and as I flew off I noted the fatigue in Nancy’s eyes. After all, this had been quite an experience for her…

Strike Three Looking

In baseball “swing and a miss” means the batter swung but didn’t hit the ball.  If the batter strikes out “looking” it means that the third strike was a “called strike”; the player didn’t attempt a swing but instead just watched the ball fly past home base somewhere in the strike zone.  Batter out!  Even the most casual of baseball fans know that the batter’s goal in most cases is to put the ball into play.  As consumers we want the companies we do business with to go to bat for us put the ball into play. This can’t happen if they stand at the plate and simply take pitch after pitch without swinging the bat.

I recently concluded a prolonged service experience with a national furniture company.  Carrying through with the baseball analogy this “game” had multiple rain delays, ended with several injuries, broke records for longest game in history, and ended up in a tie which is impossible in baseball but all too familiar in the realm of the customer experience.

For simplicity sake I’ll refer to the furniture company as LZ.  I purchased two chairs from LZ and within a few months the fabric began wearing out.  Some parts of the chairs looked ten years old after just four months of normal use.  LZ’s service department sent technicians to my home several times to inspect and replace worn arms, leg rests, and cushions.  LZ was more than willing to continue replacing parts but I wanted a long-term solution.  My pursuit of this long-term solution took me from the service center, back to the store where I originally purchased the chairs, to LZ corporate HQ, back to the service center, and back to store.  Each step of the journey took several days to several weeks waiting for returned phone calls, escalations, consideration, and decisions.  In the end LZ replaced the chairs.

Reflecting on this experience I can’t help but think about all the missed opportunities for LZ.  With each opportunity they just stood in the figurative batter’s box and watched the pitch pass by without ever swinging the bat.  During what was a ten month period I spoke with a variety of LZ employees and managers and it became quickly obvious that there are deep-rooted problems in this organization.  The team is comprised of unmotivated and poorly conditioned players using broken or antiquated equipment; the coaching staff lacks organizational and leadership skills; ownership is disconnected and out of touch.  Three main things come to mind:

  • When I first reported the problem instead of initiating a dialogue about potential root causes and solutions LZ mindlessly delegated the problem to un-empowered technicians with no service or communication skills.  The technicians have no awareness or interest of how their actions impact the LZ brand.  They are only programmed to do one thing: “inspect and replace”.  Swing and a miss!  Strike one.
  • Except for one person I spoke with at the LZ corporate headquarters no one ever acknowledged my feelings, frustration, or in any way attempted to make an emotional connection with me. Instead they gave rote answers, told me the situation was above their pay grade, and offered hollow apologies.  Swing and a miss!  Strike two.

There are now two strikes against the batter.  One more strike and he’s out.  They’ve made two feeble attempts to hit the ball.  The first two pitches could be knocked out of the park by a player of even average skill.  But the LZ player is under-conditioned, poorly coached, and simply over matched.  But wait – the next pitch is a gift:  the pitcher throws a hanging curve ball up in the strike zone (very easy pitch to hit). The result is shameful…

  • The new chairs were delivered three weeks ago and I haven’t received a call. No email.  Not a peep.  Not from the local LZ service center reps who know me by name and have my phone number memorized.  Not from the manager at the retail store who made money off my original purchase and who should be thankful the chairs were replaced instead of being returned for a refund.  Not even from LZ corporate with an interest in protecting their brand by making sure everything was taken care of to my satisfaction.   Strike three  – looking. Game over!