In our book on service design and elsewhere, we often talk about how much people are at the heart of services.

Although branding folk like to speak of products having personalities, your car does not wake up with a hangover, and your iPhone does not hate its boss and act surly with its user all day.

Comcast’s employees insulting customers via address labels exactly illustrates the point. Whoever is in charge of customer experience at Comcast has a problem, but I bet it’s a problem created by management culture more broadly.

Customer service experienced in bits

by Andy Polaine on July 21, 2014

in General

Dr Drang tells two stories of failed customer service. The first one involves him trying to assist his mother getting to the gate at the airport. I use flying a lot as an example of services involving silos that barely communicate with each other and generate terrible customer experiences as a result. Dr Drang’s experience is typical:

You will not be surprised to hear that the people at the ticket desk—both our initial agent and his superior—had no idea how to issue me a gate pass. Curiously, the agent did ask for my photo ID, even though he had no idea what to do with it. Force of habit, I guess. Eventually, the supervisor hit upon the idea of sending us to the Special Services desk, where we would become someone else’s problem.

The agent at the Special Services desk knew everything about gate passes and told me right away that I wouldn’t be able to get one. “They’re being very tight with those.”

When I explained to the agent that I’d been told by the airline that I could get a gate pass, she told me with great confidence that the people manning the airline’s 800 number didn’t know anything. But she took my driver’s license, typed my information into her computer, and my gate pass printed out immediately.

“Do you know which gate you’re going to?” she asked sharply as she handed it over.

“No, I haven’t checked yet. I wasn’t sure until just now that I was going to get in.”

“Well, it’s F6A. It’s right on the pass.” There was a note of triumph in her voice, as it was clear she had bested me.

None of these poor experiential moments is tragic on its own, but the aggregate experience is an awful one—something I often refer to as an experience crevasse that customers fall into. When you are at the bottom of one of those, nobody can hear you screaming for help.

When I work with teams to bring service design methods into their workflow, one of the common responses is, “but to do this properly we really need to change or organisation’s structure.” Culture and cultural change within an organisation is key to changing the end experiences of a service. If staff feel frustrated, bored or under pressure to act in a way detrimental to the customer experience, it should be no surprise that this experience is awful. Yet this is regularly demanded of staff under the guise of efficiency. Companies need to switch their focus from the industrial mode of efficiency to a service mindset of being effective. They’re not mutually exclusive, but the emphasis and process are very different.

Without that, customers end up treating the interaction as a battle. As Dr Drang writes at the end of his post:

Now I see my interactions with customer service as a sort of strategy game: can I plan my way around the obstacles the game will put in my way? Today I came out on top. Tomorrow is another round.

Smart companies trust people

March 4, 2014

I just backed David Hieatt’s upcoming book, Do Purpose on the crowd-funded publishing site, Unbound. David is a smart guy and a kind of serial entrepreneur. The book explores companies that focus on their purpose. Here’s an excerpt: Most companies don’t have a purpose. This may sound odd but most people have forgotten why they […]

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Services that fix services and the inverse experience umbrella

February 17, 2014

I often use air travel as the archetypal example of a multi-channel service that unfolds over time. Modern air travel consists of lots of minor annoyances that aggregate to a massive pain in the arse. When analysed individually, each of these annoyances can be dismissed as something not so bad that customers should be willing […]

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Lamy’s attention to detail in customer service

October 28, 2013

Several years ago my wife bought me a Lamy 2000 fountain pen as a birthday present. It is a design classic created by Gerd Alfred Müller, released in 1966. If you like writing, the Lamy 2000 is a lovely instrument1. It is not cheap either, retailing at around 190 Euros here in Germany. One of […]

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