Bain & Company, a business-consulting firm, asked leaders of 362 companies if they felt their companies delivered superior customer service. 80 percent believe that the service they provided was indeed superior. What these companies didn’t know was at the same time, Bain & Co. was surveying over 3,000 customers, asking them if they felt they received superior customer service. Only 8 percent of customers surveyed described their experience as superior. How can 80 percent of the companies think they are providing superior service, but only 8 percent of their customers agree with them? Who’s right?
You are in the Customer perception business
Who’s right? The customer! Businesses need to know that they are in the customer perception business. Think about your own experiences as a customer, just in the past week. How often do you experience exceptional customer service, the kind of service where you want to share your experience with others and bring it back to work as an example of a superior approach? Is it one out of every ten experiences? Or is it one out of every twenty experiences? The sad truth is that the majority of businesses rank their customer service significantly higher than their customers rank it.
The million-dollar question
Why is there such a huge gap between what businesses think they provide in customer experience and what their customers think? You can spend hours on this question alone with your management teams, and the discussions and takeaways around this would be incredibly valuable.
Don’t ask the Customer what they want; give them what they can’t live without
Learning from our customers is critical to building the experience we deliver. Many companies do a fairly good job measuring their customers’ satisfaction through their own devices or have outside companies collecting this data. I agree this needs to be done; however, on the flip side, you can’t ask the customer what they want; you have to give them what they can’t live without. Think about all the companies that have revolutionized their industries, broken the old paradigm, and turned everything on its head: Zappos, Amazon, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Uber, and Apple. They didn’t improve on what everyone else was doing; they completely transformed the way it was being done.
Let’s pretend it is the 1970s and we brought a small group of coffee drinkers together and asked them what they would like in a coffee-drinking experience. They would have looked at us as if we had two heads and said, “A coffee-drinking what? There are two ways to have your coffee: with or without cream, and without or without sugar, for twenty-five cents. What experience?” And they would have been right. Not one of them would have raised their hand and said, “I would like to be able to spend ten to twenty times as much.” You probably wouldn’t have heard, “I would like to be able to order it over eighty thousand different ways and get it.” (You really can have your Starbucks made over eighty thousand ways). Someone else probably would not have said, “I would like to be able to hang out here for a couple of hours.” You wouldn’t have heard any of those ideas from customer focus groups, which means we probably would not have ended up with Starbucks. Just the same way we wouldn’t have ended up with the iPhone or Amazon. Customers can only think in terms of what they have previously experienced, and that is typically not revolutionary.
The million-dollar answer
Here is the real answer to why we (the business/employees) feel we deliver customer service so much better than our customers perceive: we are not in our customers’ shoes. The vast majority of Customer facing employees cannot relate to their Customers. Many times they may have little in common with their Customers, they might be a different generation, quality of life, and most of all, have never been a Customer of the product or service they are selling. We do not relate to their reality. We are not and have never been them. And if you can’t relate to someone else’s situation or circumstances, it is impossible to have any kind of empathy for them. Without empathy, you lack compassion and creativity.
Life as a business traveler
I was consulting with a very large resort in Orlando, Florida, that derives the biggest portion of its revenue from conventions held on its property. Prior to one of my workshops with the guest-relations team (front desk, receptionists, concierges, etc.), I had done research with the guest-relations manager, asking for her to share any drawbacks or obstacles in the receptionist’s job. One of the answers I received as an obstacle was “dealing with business travelers.” While that answer surprised me, I was more curious about what was so difficult with dealing with business travelers, since I was one. When I dug a little deeper, she said things like “If you inconvenience them even twenty to thirty minutes, they can become extremely upset and irrational.”
When I met with the entire guest-relations team (150+ employees), I asked them, “How many of you travel once a week?” No hands were raised. I then asked, “How many of you travel twice a month?” Not one person’s hand went
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up. I then said to all of them, “So none of you know what it is like to be a typical business traveler each week, getting up at five a.m., rushing to the airport, waiting in line to get on a shuttle, to get a boarding pass, to get through security, to board a plane, to get off a plane, to get their luggage, and get a taxi. However, that business traveler expects that he will have all those waits and inconveniences. Now, the only thing that is keeping him from collapsing on a bed or making it to a meeting is this front-desk person who says, at three thirty in the afternoon, ‘Sorry Mr. Smith, but your room is not ready’.” And he gets upset and says, “Did you not know I was coming?”
I asked them, “What if you got to see this business traveler’s day unfold on a reality TV show, and you see his day from the moment he gets up, all the way to the point when he gets out of the cab at your front door? And you saw all the waiting in lines and inconveniences he went through until he walked up in front of you at this counter? If you saw all of that, now would his room have been ready?” Some say yes, some say no. Truth is, probably not. Receptionists cannot control housekeeping, inventory, and late checkouts. But what would be different? They all answered, “How we handled the situation.” Bingo! They may say, “Mr. Jones, unfortunately your room is not ready. Can you tell me what it is that you need right now?” and he may answer with “I have a meeting in forty-five minutes with an important client and I need to shower and change.” The hotel employee can then respond with “Well, Mr. Jones, we can help you. We have a men’s spa, with all the amenities, showers, toiletries, and everything else that you will need. Can I show you there?” Problem solved!
How can we expect front-desk receptionists to have compassion and empathy if they can’t relate to what their type of customer goes through on a given day? Once they can appreciate what it is like to be that person, they can then be creative with problem-solving solutions to help their customer instead of viewing them as just overly demanding people.
Walk in the Customer’s Shoes
World-class service organizations teach their employees to view things from the customer’s perspective. Remember, many employees have never been their own customer, have never needed the services and products their company provides, cannot comprehend what the customer’s mind-set is. Therefore, they do not relate well and find it difficult to empathize, be compassionate, and anticipate customer needs.
John R. DiJulius is a best-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker and President of The DiJulius Group, the leading Customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on Customer experience trends and best practices.