Service challenges. We all encounter them in our lives. And some have much greater impact and have the potential to recalibrate our tone and mood for the day. Peter Armaly, Strategic Advisor for Customer Success at Oracle, examines this impact in relation to customers’ digital experiences:
On average, most service challenges go almost unnoticed, or at least unnoted in a typical day; a day that can see an urban dweller like me interact with numerous humans and machines in my unconscious quest to receive accurate, prompt, and respectful service. Just because it is unconscious though doesn’t mean it is unimportant.
Do you know how many services you experience in a single day?
Allow me now to run through my day, not necessarily a typical one, but one that happens often enough to warrant a blog post.
- First thing in the morning, I’m forced to wait longer than usual for an elevator (we live in a condo) because the other one is offline (mechanical)
- Intending to toss an empty glass jar into the city’s recycling bin, I’m forced to hold on to it because the bin is overflowing (procedural, attitudinal)
- I wait for a treadmill at the gym because of the 18 machines, 5 are out of service and the others are occupied (mechanical, attitudinal)
- Wait for a shower at the gym because, yes, my time collides with most of the other men readying themselves for work but also because 4 of the 12 showers are inoperative (mechanical, attitudinal)
- No complaints at Starbucks; used the app so it is fast and accurate (gold star)
- Subway delayed due to…. well, they’re being vague and obtuse about the reason (mechanical, procedural, attitudinal… who knows)
- At work, I manage to go the entire day reluctantly accepting the fact that finding files and information (both internally and externally) that I need consumes probably 10% of it (procedural)
- Line up to buy lunch in the food court across the street but have doubts about my choice at the last second; get snapped at by server because I’m taking too long to make a final decision (attitudinal)
- Back to work; VOIP (I’m going to blame it but it could’ve been the virus scan software) causes distortion issues during my web meeting (mechanical)
- Log off system to head home; my walk to the subway is delayed because the traffic lights are malfunctioning and although the cop seems to be doing his best to keep traffic flowing, it means pedestrians must wait longer before being allowed to cross. (mechanical)
- Decide to go out for dinner (without a reservation) and show up to hear the hostess say that there are no available tables. We scan the room and can see at least 4 free tables. We ask about those and she said they aren’t available because they’re reserved for OpenTable. I jump on the app, while standing off to the side, and book one of the tables. I step back to the hostess desk and she immediately escorts us to one of the tables. (procedural)
- When it’s time to pay the bill, the server, who was appropriately attentive throughout the meal, is nowhere in sight. I finally flag down another server who tells me he’ll get the credit card machine (my long-departed father-in-law’s voice admonishing in my ear about the importance of carrying cash). Turns out that one of the machines is broken and the other one can’t be found and I’m asked if I’d mind paying cash. Luckily, my wife had some and we were able to escape but not before bumping into our server returning from her smoke break. (procedural)
Were any of these situations invented for this blog post? No. Did they all happen on the same day? Probably at some point in the not too distant past I had a day like that but it’s not my main point. The main point is that we’ve been conditioned to expect things to work all the time. Maybe we’ve lost the sense of wonder that all our interactions during a day are really a complex dance of processes, machines, and human attitude. Look at that list.
I encountered no villains during my travels (or should it be travails?) that day. It’s not as if any of those companies embarked on strategies to annoy their customers. However, you can see that with the exception of Starbucks, in each of those situations there was either a mechanical, process, or (human) attitudinal breakdown. Making those things better and making them consistently better isn’t simply a matter of the management person responsible coming down hard on an employee or team of employees.
In today’s business environment, whether it’s B2B or B2C, the foundation for accurate and consistent customer service and experience is strategy, transparency, communication, data, processes that leverage and action data, and a monitoring mechanism (whether human or machine) that is able to capture the customer experience and mood and feed it back to organizations responsible for services and products.
Delivering great customer experiences consistently is difficult, but possible, for complex organizations
Because they were born in digital form, companies like Amazon and Uber have an easier time delivering the kinds of experiences their customers expect. It’s more difficult for traditional companies because they have to tackle the burden (which once was a virtue) of converting their processes and assets to digital. Or, as McKinsey says, “What is required is a more radical abandoning of traditional ways of working in favor of new approaches.”
The Boston Consulting Group elaborated on that theme in an article discussing how traditional companies should look at evolving into digital entities to be better able to compete against pure digital companies.
At Oracle, our goal is to mature to achieve the capability of the example company, Alibaba, mentioned in the piece. Bit by bit we are tackling older methods and redesigning them with consideration of a number of digital inputs. Are we going to get to Alibaba level overnight? No, but we’ll be learning and improving all along the way, and any unintentional experience challenges we might be forcing on our customers today will become a thing of the past.
Change is hard but worth it
That list of experiences I had that day is just a sample from me, from one person out of 7.6 billion on the planet. Imagine the complexity of action required of machines, processes, and humans just to deliver what I needed that day. Then imagine the opportunities for improvement. And then, finally, we can imagine how much more work and leisure I could have accomplished that day if I hadn’t suffered through those various delays and negative experiences.