Made a difference to that one… why customer service is not a numbers game

I’ve written many times about the reasons why, in a commoditising world, the only true differentiator is the quality of the customer experience. You can read about it here; earlier, when guesting on Shane Richmond’s Telegraph blog late last year, I covered it here, here and here as well.

Where I work, we take this very seriously. And I mean we, everyone in the firm is focused on the issue of customer service. Which brings me to the point of this post.

A poster at work has a summarised version of this story, I’m sure most of you have come across it before:

Two men were walking toward each other on an otherwise deserted beach. One man was in his early 20s, the other obviously much older. The smooth damp sand was littered with starfish, washed onto the land during high tide. They were stranded there when the tide ebbed. Thousands of starfish were doomed to die in the warm morning sun.
The younger man watched the older man pick up starfish one at a time and toss them back into the ocean, giving them a chance to survive. The young man thought, “Why is he doing that? How foolish. He can’t save them all.”
As they came near one another, the younger one felt compelled to point out to the older man the futility in his action. “You know,” he said, “you can’t save them all. Most of them will die here on the sand. What you are doing really won’t make any difference.” The older man studied the young man for a moment. Then he bent down, picked up a starfish and tossed it into the water. He smiled at the young man and said, “It made a difference to that one.” Then he walked on, picking up starfish and tossing them back into the sea.

Sometimes we can get lost in the metrics of what we do, we start hiding behind the numbers. This is dangerous when it comes to customer service, particularly if we start managing what we do according to those numbers. To put it bluntly, getting something right 90% of the time is not much use to the people who had the misfortune to receive the 10%. This is the sort of thinking that issues instructions to “downsize” departments by “66.51 FTEs”.  This is the sort of thinking that designs economy/coach seats on airplanes, I am still looking for the “average” person they used….. or maybe the 0.89 average person they used after someone else “haircut” the budget….

A person is a person is a person. Flesh and blood. Not a number. Not a statistic. So we have to be careful. Customer experience is not something abstract, it is what real customers experience all the time. One customer at a time.

When anyone seeks to improve “the customer experience”, he or she would do well to think about a real customer. Talk to the real customer. Improve the real experience of that real customer. Plan to improve the experience of every customer, one by one.

When you think that way, and plan that way, and execute that way, you will improve the customer experience.  You have to think like the old man in the fable above, and make sure “you make a difference to that one”. One by one if necessary.

4 thoughts on “Made a difference to that one… why customer service is not a numbers game”

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I used to do Products at BTGS Italy, now I’m in CSNO and the things I’m trying to do in my new job is to avoid the “statistics trap”. “The stats look good” my team member say. “What about the clients?” I reply. Trying to bring the marketing/commercial closeness to customers into the operations’ world

  2. Following your customer service blog recently, I have a great example that demonstrates a few interesting observations
    1/ when it comes down to it, even the biggest companies are reliant on individuals who do not really appreciate the difference they can make (good or bad)
    2/ People in certain disciplines miss the real concept of customer experience/service, seeing it as a battle to defer blame or close the call.
    3/ the customer service role is viewed as the lower end of Company hierarchy more of a necessity as a pose to an area of possible strategic value (I thought this Company was different)
    I have been a loyal customer to one of the biggest retail e.grocers in the UK. In the past I worked with this Company (representing a large global network Company ;-)) and thought the secret of their success was that ALL employees were indoctrinated with the “Everything for the good of the customer” mantra. Customer service ran through the veins of the company, or so I thought.
    Talking to the Technical service rep who informed me that it was a Microsoft problem that their website spuriously emptied one hours worth of shopping basket. Accepting I would have to re enter the weekly shop, I assumed a gesture of free delivery would be forthcoming, “No, as its not our fault, but we will send an email on how to configure the browser”
    And so one individual person has damaged the reputation of a £multibillion business whom I have been spending with and recommending for years, and driven me begrudgingly to look for alternatives.
    And here’s the really interesting bit. When questioned why there is no warning of this known problem on the website, before I spend an hour shopping, “We prefer to send an email out to people when they complain”.
    I wonder how many times this person has done this because some of those £multibillions are my annual spend of £1,000s and my guess is there are many similar experiences – Has this individual racked up a £million lost yet?

Let me know what you think