Monday, May 30, 2011

Your Call is (Not That) Important to Us

Emily Yellin's Your Call is (Not That) Important To Us is a fast, fun read about the customer service/call center business, with a little bit of IVR thrown in. The book does well when it describes the history of customer service. There are some insights into companies that try very hard to get it right, like FedEx and Zappos and Jet Blue. It doesn't do as well with the speech IVR material. She grants too much credibility to fringe players like the MIT profs who want to create "emotional" computers and the companies pushing interactive avatars.

One of the central observations in the book is that customer service doesn't occupy a very high place in the list of priorities at most companies. This I've seen many times in the companies I've worked for or consulted with. Personally, I'd love to work at a company that decides at the highest levels that customer service is a top priority. The challenges of getting customer service right are very hard, even with a lot of support from executives. Without that support, it's impossible.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Doctors or waiters?

How would you describe your company's approach to customer service? Is it a waiter or a doctor? The waiter is friendly and engaging, and after some small talk, takes your order on a pad of paper and disappears for while. Eventually your order arrives, and if you got what you asked for in a timely manner and the quality is good, you're happy.

When you go to a doctor's office with a complaint, the doctor takes some time trying to understand the issue. He or she may order some tests or consult with others before producing a diagnosis and prescribing some treatments. If you respond to treatment and the malady disappears, you're happy.

Of course, there are different kinds of happy. The doctor has provided a different level of professional service than the waiter, who took some simple orders and was reasonably pleasant and efficient in the process. Not surprisingly, the doctor charges a lot more for his or her expertise than the waiter. Can you imagine a doctor listening to you describe your symptoms briefly, then pulling out a pad of paper with a friendly, "OK, now tell me what drugs you want." You'd think the doctor was a fraud. Doctors are trained to understand and diagnose health problems. They aren't order takers, they're problem solvers. Waiters take orders.

So, how would you describe your company? Doctor or waiter? Problem solver or order taker? If you're an IT shop, it makes a big difference to what you can charge your customers.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What if your company gets verbed

Everyone knows what it means to xerox a printed page. A printed page is reproduced on a thermographic sheet of paper. It also implies less directly that the copy is highly accurate and done with a miminum of fuss. Likewise, Fedexing a package means shipping it to a location for delivery the next day. It also implies that the sender can be sure the package will arrive on time. If you're asked to Fedex something and you send it USPS and it doesn't get there overnight, you may find yourself in some trouble. Everyone is probably familiar with the verb "to google."

Verbs are the words for actions, and we can't do without them. To eat, to sleep, to talk, are all things that we have to name because the concepts they capture are so necessary to our lives that we have to call them something. Nouns come and go, especially company and product names. Xerox and Fedex created functions in the business world that have become so necessary that we can't imagine operating without them. In the 1970's the idea that you could ship a package anywhere and guarantee 24 hour delivery was considered ridiculous. Now we expect to be able to Fedex anything anywhere in 24 hours. Need to move 24,000 sea turtle eggs from the Florida gulf coast to the east coast ahead of an oil spill (or "BP'ed")? Just Fedex them.

These companies were rewarded for their status in the business world by having their company names verbed. Other companies may provide a service that fulfills the function, but the verb adopted to name the action comes from the company that invented and fulfilled the service.

So, if your company name was verbed by your customers, what would it mean? Would it mean providing a unique and necessary function with high reliability and outstanding customer service? Or would it mean something else? What would you want it to mean? Do this exercise. Come up with a definition of the intended meaning of your company's verbed name. If you can do that, you just wrote yourself a mission statement.