About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.
Every day you’re in business, take some time to make sure you’re experiencing what doing business feels like, looks like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like as a customer.
Even great companies fail at this, more often than they realize.
A simple example
Here’s a simple example of what can go wrong, and why. Do you ever wonder why it’s so often chilly in your favorite restaurant? Even the great Charlie Trotter’s restaurant was notoriously frigid, for all the warm service you received as a guest there.
The reason is this: Restaurant work is hard, active work. Restaurants are staffed by employees who are on their feet, hustling, working their rear ends off. Good employees. Helpful employees. But employees who most likely don’t realize that sitting down, expending zero calories as you wait for your caloric infusion (dinner), is going to cause a guest to have a different sensibility relating to comfort and temperature.
It’s not always simple
Striving to see things from your customer’s perspectives has some inherent traps. If yours is an unusually innovative company or trying an unusually innovative approach, sometimes you will throw intentional or unavoidable obstacles (a steep learning curve, for example) in the way of your customer. This means sacrificing immediate sales or immediate ease of use in the interest of ultimate success. For example:
Maybe you have the wrong customers. This is a reasonable theory, for those of us who are truly brave and truly trying something new. If you’re opening a restaurant with cutting-edge cuisine (sorry about the cascading foodservice examples today—I must be hungry) in a primarily tourist-trappy “Tour Buses Welcome” part of town, it may take time before you are discovered by the discerning diners you’ll truly need for your business to ultimately thrive.
Maybe your customers won't immediately get what you're about, and maybe that's ok. If you can see into the future (like Steve Jobs) there’s a chance you can bring your customers with you, not instantly but over time. Just because a system seems alien on day one doesn’t mean it always will. Remember how weird having a mouse and no keyboard commands was in the ‘80s until we adapted. Think about what it was like when ATMs were introduced.
Don’t kid yourself. Usually you’re being oblivious, not innovative.
Most of the time, this innovating-ahead-of-the-customer isn’t what’s causing your blind spots. What’s going on is more likely that you’re simply unaware of how your business comes across to your customer, how you’re abusing your customer’s patience and aesthetic sense while the poor customer is trying to do business with you.
You need to become aware of, and then eliminate:
Elements you intend to be simple that are actually confusing
For example: Does your website violate usability rules and expectations?
Elements you intend to be easy that are arduous
For example: A customer can be in a heck of a bad mood by the time they even get into your store if they find it hard to find parking, if your address is unclear, if your hours are incorrectly reported by Google or Yelp.
Elements you intend to seem trustworthy and straightforward, that don’t come across that way to your customers
For example: Pricing that a customer assumes to be all inclusive but that requires extra charges to be complete. (Charging for wifi may seem reasonable to a hotelier, since she knows what it cost her to install the system, but it won’t seem that way to a hotel guest.)
How do you get there?
Well, there’s no "we are there now—we’re done“ in customer service. But it’s a process you have to start, and continue, forever. Including:
Park where where your customers park
Come in the same entrance your customers come in
Read what your customers read (for example online reviews of your company — and of your competitors); don’t assume their journey with your company begins on your website or at your front door
Use the public website for your company, logging in as customers log in (no insider override here, please).
Wonder why amazon.com is such a powerhouse? Well, there are a lot of reasons. but here’s one you probably only think about if you live in the Seattle area: Amazon has 80,000 built in customers. Literally everyone who works there orders from them, the same way the rest of us do. And these 80,000 users catch issues fast, suggest improvements minute to minute and day to day (which are then often acted on right away).
There’s one more element to it.
There’s value in getting to know your customers outside of their interactions with your company. In other words, finding out what the rest of their lives look like. This isn't easy either, but it’s important. Otherwise you can only create an environment that is comfortable for people who are more or less similar to you. To give you a simple example of this: I worked with some car dealers recently who had the most male-defined waiting rooms you can imagine. Although more than 50 percent of their purchases (and, I’ll bet, even more of the decisionmakers on purchases) are women, the overwhelmingly male managers were who had picked out the furniture and even the magazines for the weighting areas. They would have done better to have someone (most likely female) who understood the norms and expectations of their customers a bit better.
Seeing your business from the viewpoint of your customers isn’t easy, and won’t always come naturally. But it’s worth it.
© 2014 Micah Solomon