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…

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Make it easy and make my life easier

It’s not quantum physics!

I just want it to be easy to use and make my life easier.  If it can be aesthetically pleasing that’s a bonus.

One could infer a number of things from the first two sentences in this post.  Is it a new appliance I refer to?  Maybe a printer or fax machine.  How about a flat screen monitor? How about a website! Recently I spent 45 minutes on ADP’s website trying to file a Healthcare Spending Account claim.  Why copy and fax or mail the documents when I can simply upload it through their website, right?

The bigger question is why do companies create websites, advertise to their subscribers to “visit us to get your questions answered”, and then not maintain the website or check to see if it is working properly?  All too often my experience is very poor with the websites of companies that are used to using paper files and fax machines.  “Hey look at us” they seem to say. “we’re so with the times.  Like us on Facebook. Send us feedback.  Tweet us because were #listening”.  Ugh..

Websites from these companies should come with disclaimers:  “We only have a website because if we didn’t we would appear behind the times.  We really don’t want a website but someone, somewhere in our organization, said ‘create a website’, and so we did.” I would rather these companies said, “look, we really don’t want a website because we can’t afford, or don’t appreciate, what it takes to make it useful to our customers.

I would rather these companies said, “look, we really don’t want a website because we can’t afford, or don’t appreciate, what it takes to make it useful to our customers.

 So if you want to do business with us we’ll add value the old fashion way with hard work and by listing to our customer’s needs (unless they want a website)”.

So after 45 minutes on ADP’s website, and after three attempts and countless error messages I was finally presented with the utility to upload the forms.  “Perseverance”,  I thought to myself.  I hung in there because I’ll be damned if I am going to fax or mail anything now.  Now that I see the “Submit” button on my screen.  I clicked on Submit and…..  the website logged me out and sent me back to the Home Page and directed me to log back in.

Years ago a friend of mine was crossing the street and got hit by a car.  He was knocked down and scraped up but not hurt badly. The driver got out of his car, apologized, and asked my friend if he could drive him somewhere.  My friend says to him, “What – are you nuts?!  You think I would get in a car with you – the guy that almost ran over me”?  That’s how I felt when I got logged out of ADP’s website and was asked to log back in.  Why in the world would I log back into a website whose just delivered a terrible experience because their eyes are not on the road (or on their customers).

Company alert:  This is not quantum physics.  Don’t let your scientists and engineers talk you into complex solutions that aren’t necessary.   It’s pretty simple:  make your products and services easy to use and  design them to make my life easier.

Make my customer experience like my iPod experience

iPod Classic

I was listening to my iPod the other day and every song that came up on the random playlist sounded great.  It was like the iPod could sense my mood and selected songs that perfectly matched that mood. Song after song the iPod complimented the previous tune and gently guided me on a wonderful musical journey.  With over 6000 songs my iPod has a vast selection of genres and artists to choose from. I felt as though each song was hand-picked with care to deliver just the right tempo, melody, and arrangement. The longer I listened the more confident I became that the next song would sound even better than the previous one.

This is how our service experience should be.  When I do business with a local merchant, an on-line retailer, or large national brand I want to feel as though the experience was personalized to my preferences with just the right tempos and melodies.  I want an arrangement and genre that anticipates and matches my needs.  If I am a repeat customer I want the next experience to be even better than the previous.

I love music and listen too it constantly. When I walk into a shop or log-in to buy products on-line I want to feel like I do when a favorite song randomly comes up on my iPod’s playlist.  Maybe fine wine or fancy foods are your thing.  If your service providers could make you feel like you do with that first sip of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon wouldn’t you keep going back for more?  Or perhaps the joy created by the first taste of crème brulee after a pleasing meal.  Get the idea?

As customers we make an emotional investment when we choose to spend money.  We seek relationships with merchants we can trust and who will appeal to our senses and each preference in their effort to create an exceptional customer experience.  When they are able to do this it’s music to my ears and I’ll be singing their praises.  If they are not able to do this then I will hit the figurative skip button and move onto the next merchant.  After all just like on my iPod, I have a vast selection when it comes to choosing a merchant.

Sweat The Small Stuff

In great affairs men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small things they show themselves as they are.
– Nicholas Chamfort, French Author (1741 – 1794)

More often than not it’s the little things that make a big difference in customer satisfaction and brand loyalty
– Michael P. Morales, Customer Service advocate and blogger

Here is a real life quote from a recent experience with a car dealership I called for post sales support. (With major attitude): “I’m busy selling cars. You’re not my daddy. I will call you back when I can get to it”. Yes, Tony at Antioch Mazda actually said that to me when I called him. Upon my initial call to the dealership I spoke with Tony, posed my question and he promised me a call back “within 15 minutes” with my answer. After more than an hour passed without a call I called Tony who made it clear to me that 1) he was a very successful car salesman, 2) that I was not his daddy (thank God), and 3) there were no guarantees I would ever hear from him with my answer.

With three sentences comprised of 19 words Tony had turned a relatively satisfied customer into an ex-customer. I eventually got my answer by calling the General Sales Manager who also seemed glad to know that I was not Tony’s daddy. But the damage was done and this small exchange with Tony left me with two thoughts; I’m glad that I have so many options when it comes to car buying; and what a bummer it must be to be Tony’s real daddy…

Here is another real life quote from another recent experience. This time with a car wash and detail company in Livermore. “Hello Mr. Morales. It is nice to see you again. I hope you are satisfied with the wax job and headlight restoration we did for you last week.” The reason this is significant is because I had only met Jeff at L Street Car Wash and Detail for the first time the previous week. I needed a car detail and decided to give this company a try. So when upon my second visit Jeff saw me drive up and, presumably, pulled up my license plate in his system to see who I was and what work they had done for me in the past, I was pleasantly surprised at the greeting.

Whether Jeff actually remembered me or just got my information from the computer doesn’t matter. With eye contact, addressing me by name, and asking about my satisfaction from the previous visit, Jeff made me feel valued. He made me feel like a regular before I even had the chance to be a regular. Hey, who doesn’t want to be Norm from the old eighties sitcom Cheers? The only other thing Jeff could have done to make me feel more like Norm would have been to offer me a beer while I waited for my car wash.

But you know what? The free hot coffee and Jeff’s firm hand shake and partnership are enough to keep me coming back to L Street Car Wash and Detail over and over again. As for Antioch Mazda? Well, you’ve been warned.

Customer Service is the business of great affairs. It is indeed through the small things that we see our service providers for who they truly are. So if you are a service provider, go against conventional wisdom and sweat the small stuff.

It’s just plain wrong…

Anyone who has lost their wallet or purse knows what a traumatic experience it is.  Traumatic and time-consuming with credit and bank cards to cancel, drivers licenses to replace, and, depending on whether it was a wallet or purse, a myriad of personal items to replace.

My son recently lost his wallet.  The damage was relatively minimal;  the contents were cash, a driver’s license, and a bank card.  He realized he had lost the wallet as he was leaving work.  As soon as he arrived home he called his bank.  24 hour banking is a great service to have available.  It was around midnight when my son made the call and someone was available with no wait to help him. Nice. The agent took care of cancelling the lost card and issued an order for a new card.  Easy – just as it should be.  Plus, it was reassuring as a customer to know that the bank center was available when my son needed them.  It certainly didn’t take the sting off of losing $300 and knowing he would have to stand in line at the DMV for who knows how long.  But overall it was a relatively good customer experience.

The bank delivered good service under unfortunate circumstances.  This wasn’t a “WOW” experience but they can’t all be and in this case my son didn’t need WOW; he needed efficiency and he got it. Mission accomplished, right?

Wrong… and shame on the bank because this is where things got ugly.  No, there were no service charges for the transaction.  There were no charges of any sort.  There was no scolding about being more careful in the future, or “what in the world were you doing with $300 in your wallet young man?”  In retrospect as offensive as any of those things would have been what the bank did next was just plain wrong!

The agent asked my son if she could transfer him to someone else who would like to discuss his “options”.  Confused, my son asked why he needed to speak with someone else. The agent explained that this was a “service” the bank was happy to provide at no charge and to please hold on.  A different agent came on the line and proceeded to try to sell my son identity theft insurance and a variety of products that would “help him” if he ever lost his wallet again.  Initially son thought that maybe these “services” (expensive unnecessary products) were legitimately needed now in addition to cancelling his bank card.  He asked a few questions to clarify his understanding of what was being described and he quickly figured out it was simply a hard sell (and I mean HARD sell) by the agent preying on a customer’s misfortune.  My son hung up on the agent and was even madder now than when he discovered his wallet was gone; a good experience gone bad that may have cost the bank a customer or two.

The next day my son wryly asked:  “Dad, when did the banks that the American people bailed out become ambulance chasers?”  Yep, it was just plain wrong.