ASS out of U and ME: The voice of the Customer

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a couple of experiences that have covered the full gamut of customer service; the good, the bad and… well, the bloody outrageous.  The sheer absurdity of it all got me thinking: do many service providers actually know what their customers want or are some of them just guessing?

An experience of note took place in a recently-franchised fast food outlet.  I made my order, explaining to the server that I needed a few changes to what was normally put in one of the burgers. I immediately received drinks and was asked to insert my card into the pin machine to pay; at which point the server wandered off.  Approximately 5 minutes later – card still sat in the machine, like an old person abandoned at bingo – she returned with my chips.  She disappeared again.  By this time, my milkshake and the small child waiting behind me for his kids-meal balloon, started to weep tears of despair.  My debit card whispered to me, begging that I contact Amnesty International to negotiate its release.

A few minutes later she arrived with my burgers.  One quick check and I’m politely handing one burger back because my request hasn’t been met.  I watched her take the burger back into the kitchen where, in my eye line and ear shot, the cook loudly started commenting on “the stupid customer” who “should have been clear in the first place about what they wanted”.  Yep, he was referring to me.  So, not only was my food delayed, but it arrived incorrect, in stages and wrapped in a little bundle of customer-focussed blame!  Fantastic.

So, apart from being a supreme example of “How Not To”, how does this relate to the voice of the customer?

Deconstructing the sequence of events, it seems quite clear that the server assumed I wanted my food quickly.  Quickly, as in right now.  Knowing that I’ve made a special request, she knows that my food will take a little more time to deliver.  Therefore, she possibly seeks to dribble my order through – potentially thinking she can mask the delay and/or placate any anticipated impatience by delivering some of it early.

In actual fact and, presumably like most of their customers, what I wanted was:

  • My food delivered in a reasonable time:  I understand that reasonable can be influenced by circumstance – I understand that orders deviating from the standard will extend what is reasonable, and I understand that at times of peak demand, reasonable might take a little longer.
  • My order to be delivered as ordered.
  • My expectations to be managed: For example, a quick explanation of reasons for additional delay.

In summary, I was simply a customer with needs & expectations – the entire scenario presented a platform for a positive exchange and experience.  So, what went wrong?  The server, with the best of intentions, did everything she could to meet my needs… well, my assumed needs.  And, in seeking to meet the assumption rather than the actual, the experience dissolved into a mire of unpleasantness and now I’m sitting here frowning while I tell you all about it.

It’s actually quite startling how many service providers, when seeking to meet their customer needs, simply assume they know what the customer wants in the first place.  This inevitably results in them driving towards the wrong goal.

Take Betamax as a case in point.  Although a superior product to VHS in terms of quality, Betamax was consigned to the infamous purgatory now also occupied by New Coke, N-Gage and Sinclair C5.  Why?  Sony assumed their customer requirements and built a product to meet those assumptions.  When they delivered a product with high quality sound & vision and a 1 hour running time, they were summarily trounced by VHS.  It turns out that the customers for these products actually wanted to use them to record films etc at home and weren’t too bothered about a slightly fuzzy picture or vague hissing in the background.  The key customer requirement for this product was actually length of recording space, with quality being more a ‘nice to have’… a requirement met by the hissing VHS and its blurry 2 hour recording length.

My question to you today is do you actually know what your customers want… or are you just assuming?

No one can be all things to everyone, but in any pool of customers there will be common needs and drivers.  It’s critical for sustained success that you understand (both qualitatively and quantitatively) what these are for your customers.  You also need to understand how this compares with your processes and deliverables.  You need to translate into measurable objectives, so that your customer drivers also become the drivers of your service and your staff.

A very wise person once told me: “you only exist because of the customer – so why wouldn’t you want to find out what they actually want?”.

Don’t tell her I said so… but she’s right…


12 Responses to “ASS out of U and ME: The voice of the Customer”

  1. Gregla

    What a great, insightful example of an all to often experience . Really does make you wonder do such companies really care enough about the customer experience or do they just say they do !

  2. Shaps

    Another witty yet accurate observation EJH
    ReMcable how big companies loose sight of customer service in difficult times.

    Still eagerly awaiting an update on the PDQ machine @ 7am though

  3. Kim

    Loved this! Very well written, witty yet incredibly true. Can’t wait until the next blog!

  4. Nathanman

    Customer service has a lot to be desired in some cases but others seem to have it spot on. Having Said that, I belong to the group of people that really don’t want to upset anyone and will happily walk away with a smile while my insides are rotting with the vile thoughts my head is containing. This is probably what is causing my horrible farts!
    A fine example of this is a time a few years ago when I chose to purchase a burger that was on promotion. I fear the unknown so this was a big step for me believe it or not. It looked great with a new “special” sauce, bacon and tomato (never seen before in this particular chain). Mouth watering, I bit into the beast and forgot all the manners my mother had taught me by flobbing the wretched thing back into to container from whence it came. I opened the brute up and found that some funny bugger had more or less opened up a whole packet of salt on it. Now for the dilemma…….do I take it back thereby causing a scene (in my head it would have been a scene), do I eat the rest or do I leave it?
    That might have been the only time I have never finished a burger. My appetite is legendary, as is my tight fistedness, and it was with a heavy heart that I walked out with a sulk the likes of which has never been seen. I’ve never quite got over that!
    I leave the customer rights to people who know how to do it and for that I thank you with all my heart.

  5. Ange

    I’m beginning to think this focus on stakeholder service, rather than customer service is becoming more and more uniquely British….are we, the great British public perpetuating this by accepting sub standard service, rather than pushing companies, and indeed the individuals who work for them to meet and indeed exceed our expectations? Excellent blog again Liz.

  6. Big P

    Very much enjoyed this.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head- a lot of these calculations seem to be worked out in a theoretical tower don’t necessarily work in the real world. Your server seemed more preoccupied with what she ‘should’ do, rather than engaging with the consumer at hand.

    It’s worth pointing out that a business can make assumptions despite doing consumer research- focus groups and the such. We consumers are a rather unpredictable bunch and react differently in real situations to how we think we might act when asked. Ultimately, we don’t know whether we like something until we’ve gone to the shop and bought it.

  7. The Happy Shopper

    I agree!!. I can guess where you were and think that the voice of the customer was probably done – but in another country. The same customers in the UK will think very differently. More and more, I am refusing to accept poor customer service and leaving stores I have used for many years. Service providers need to catch on that in times of austerity, they should be fighting to be the best and keep customers, otherwise, they will leave in droves for those who will value them and provide good service and good quality. In the time when everyone has customer service targets-its never been so bad. Dont they care?

  8. Mark

    I believe it was Mahatma Gandhi that said “{The customer} is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it”.

    Brilliant blog, Liz.

  9. dw

    This is the first time I’ve accessed this website. Very impressed with EJH’s blogs. Will wait in anticipation for the next one.


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