I disagree with Richard Branson’s famous quote about taking care of employees so they'll take care of your customers.
Let me qualify that because obviously, Richard Branson knows a few more things than I do about running a successful global organization and any advice he gives on that score is well worth heeding.
It’s just that this particular advice, while not wrong, is incomplete because it implies that if you take care of employees they will automatically take care of customers.
I think that leaves out an important part of the equation, the all-important bit in the middle that connects the employee experience to the customer experience.
No doubt Richard Branson is well aware of this missing piece and considers it so obvious it isn’t worth mentioning. But for the rest of us, it’s the bit that matters, the ‘connecting dots’ between looking out for employees and great customer service.
A few months back, I was poised to leave on a pilgrimage to Monument Valley to ponder my next move. I had recently quit my job with the intention of doing something new, but I still needed to figure out what that new thing might be. My plan was to head for the red rocks, just me and my laptop, and figure it out.
As fate would have it, I ran a content marketing workshop the evening before and forgot my power cord. Unfortunately, my shiny new personal laptop happened to be the kind of laptop that has a proprietary power cable that isn’t commonly sold. With my plane departing in a few hours, I was looking at ten days of trying to capture my big vision on paper, like some sort of person who doesn't have a laptop.
Perhaps this doesn’t sound very serious to you but I’m a marketer. I pretty much live in Powerpoint - it’s my tool of choice for pulling order out of chaos. Not having that cable really sucked.
My husband, never one to get drawn into non-life-threatening drama, simply detoured en route to the airport at the mega electronics store where we bought the laptop. Even his confidence in the universe was tested, however, when it turned out that the store didn’t carry the right kind of cable in its three full aisles containing every other kind of cable. They offered to order a replacement cable but that didn’t help because my plane was leaving in a few hours.
We asked if we could borrow one of the cables from the test machines, of which there were literally hundreds, but that turned out to be against store policy. The final recommendation of the harassed floor manager was to try the help desk where discarded parts were sometimes to be found.
I have to say, this felt weak to us. My husband tried reasoning with them, arguing that he could just buy an entire machine, then bring it back in 10 days for a full refund. Wouldn’t it be easier to lend, rent or even sell one of the many tester cables lying around?
Apparently, it would not. Feeling the pressure of time, I wanted to buy the new machine, grab the cable and leave, but my husband marched over to the help desk.
Long story short, they had a spare cable, covered in dust and hidden in the back under ten flat screen TVs and a tuna sandwich, and even the help desk guy was surprised when he finally re-appeared with it. My soul-searching trip was saved and inspired the company Red Rocks my husband and I have since founded, thanks to that spare cable.
Now, let’s look at this customer experience from my point of view. We’d not only recently bought an expensive laptop at this store, we had also made several other big-ticket purchases. We also had several upcoming purchases to make that we were planning to make in this same store. As loyal customers, we weren’t asking for a freebie - we were asking them to help us solve a problem.
Next, let’s look at it from the floor manager’s perspective. She had a shop full of potential customers to serve – most of whom wouldn't bother to buy anything after sucking up lots of free consulting - and a clear store policy to follow. My problem neither fit the rules nor struck her as a real emergency. At the end of the day, store policy is store policy.
As for the help desk guy, he took his time finding the cable and had he cared at all about solving my problem I’m betting he could have found it faster, but since he saved the day we’ll leave it at that.
This is just one example of disinterested customer service – and fair enough if you think it’s a silly one - but I can think of dozens more and I’m sure you can, too.
Here’s the thing. Unless you connect the dots for people and reward the folks who go the extra mile for your customers, your average customer experience will look something like this one, with a focus on sales rather than solving customer problems.
To offer a great customer service you need to talk to customers and apply a design thinking mindset to the customer experience. Especially in retail, where stores are losing ground to online shopping, you can put customers in the centre of your process design without driving up costs if you take the time to understand what matters most to your customers and recognize employees who go the extra mile.
Like great employee experience, great customer experience doesn’t just happen: It’s by design.
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