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…