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, â€œWhy is he doing that? How foolish. He canâ€™t save them all.â€
As they came near one another, the younger one felt compelled to point out to the older man the futility in his action. â€œYou know,â€ he said, â€œyou canâ€™t save them all. Most of them will die here on the sand. What you are doing really wonâ€™t make any difference.â€ 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, â€œIt made a difference to that one.â€ 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”.Â 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.Â 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.