As if Comcast weren’t hated enough

Comcast has done it again!

Almost a decade since the infamous sleeping technician (it’s only 8 years, but the “almost a decade” quote is relevant — read on*), Comcast has managed to demonstrate once again just why, and how much people hate the company. What’s the latest snafu? A customer service rep (in title at least) barked at a customer and her husband for almost 20 minutes while they tried to cancel their service. The husband managed to record the final 8 minutes or so — it makes for really painful listening.

Unfortunately, for Comcast, the husband — Ryan Block — is a bit connected online. He pasted the recording and it went viral over the past couple of days.

Many of the comments by readers to the various and sundry articles that I read call for the rep to be fired. Heck, CNET even asked in its headline whether he might be the worst customer service rep in the world. What all of this ignores is that this isn’t an isolated incident. Anyone that has tried to cancel internet/cellular/TV service, a credit card, or just a magazine subscription has experienced something similar. Generally, you need to put aside a chunk of time to spend on hold, arguing, and prepping with every last shred of information you might need — the third initial of your grandmother’s middle name? No, sir, that’s not what is in our records!

The barriers that firms place — hiding phone numbers, forcing you to run an exit script gauntlet, patronizing questions about why you’re leaving — do nothing but instill hostility towards the company. Why is it so hard to see that these actions are counter-productive?

In their statement in response to this incident, Comcast claimed to be “very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block” and claim that the way the rep spoke to Block “is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.”

That smells like an incredibly large pile of horse manure to me. It’s staggering difficult to believe that this rep — and every colleague and peer of his with whom I’ve ever spoken — went off-reservation and decided to bark at a customer out of the blue. I would bet my shirt that not only is he trained to do everything he can to retain the customer, but he’s no doubt also compensated on “saves.”

While this call is horrifying to listen to, it’s not surprising. This is really what the media might call a “dog bites man” story — albeit an excruciatingly painful one. It would be a “man bites dog” story if this happened at Zappos or Disney. While Comcast might describe this as a “very unfortunate experience”, I can’t help but think that what they think is unfortunate is that the call was recorded and went viral. If they are truly bothered by it they need to change. What should Comcast — and the rest of us do? If I may channel Souza, they need to:

speak

as though the world is listening

respond

as though the world were watching

act

as though you actually care

Cheers,
Dave

* The recording brilliantly captures the rep’s incredulity that these customers are leaving “after a decade” as customers of the best service out there.

 

What every brand can learn from T-Mobile’s “uncarrier” strategy

Since publishing the Customer Relationship Architecture report, one of the most common questions I’ve received relates to the notion of a collaborative customer relationship strategy. Among other questions, folks have emailed to ask which companies we would classify as collaborative. Well, as we state in the report, they aren’t all that common. And, even where they do exist, not many firms are executing on the strategy particularly well. We’re not in a position to disclose the companies that took the survey, but what we can do is provide some examples of companies that appear to be pursuing this strategy.

T-Mobile

t-mobile international fee ad

 

One company that comes to mind is T-Mobile. At least in the States, T-Mobile is pursuing a really interesting “uncarrier” strategy. I saw Peter DeLuca SVP of Brand Communications for T-Mobile USA speak at the recent Ad Age Digital Conference and he explained their approach as one that was rooted in customer understanding. Essentially, they looked at the major pain points that customers had with their carriers and sought to change the dynamic in the wireless industry.

How? By introducing policies and procedures that turn the traditional cellphone industry approach on its head. For example, they eliminated contracts. They offered to pay prospective customers’ early termination fees if they left competitors and signed up with T-Mobile. They introduced new ways for customers to upgrade to the newest phones.

When you think about these moves through the lens of a customer relationship architecture, each one feels like they checked the “understand your customers” and “apply that intelligence” boxes pretty well. But, let me give a personal story about where they check the “to the mutual benefit of the company and the customer” box. I was heading to Ireland just after Christmas and saw ads in the airport that claimed T-Mobile was no longer charging for data usage overseas. I was so skeptical I went to their website found the relevant explanation, read it with a fine tooth comb, and took screen shots of the pages in case I had to go back and fight any charges. Sure enough, my data usage while I was there was free. Fast forward a few months later and I received an email telling me that my bill was going to drop by $14 a month because the company was no longer charging for texts sent overseas. I was paying for both my wife and I to have unlimited international texting and they were simply eliminating the fee. It’s fascinating to me that in an industry renowned for the lack of customer concern, T-Mobile has changed the game for me as a customer and begun to act in our mutual interest – not just their own. The zero-sum game has ended.

Strategy or tactic?

Overall, T-Mobile appears to be pursuing a collaborative strategy. And, it’s only fair to point out that we could debate whether it’s out of necessity as the number four player or not. But either way, as a customer I feel that the company understands my pain points and is making strides to eliminate them.

I can think of lots of anecdotal stories about other companies. I’ve written previously about GoDaddy’s call to me that saved me money initially and had me gladly spending more with them by the end of the call. Or, I could point to BankUnited with whom I bank. I landed off a flight one day to three voicemails and an email asking me to call them. Before I had the chance, they called me again. A check I had written was about to bounce and they wanted permission to transfer money between my accounts so that I wouldn’t be hit with an overdrawn or returned check fee. They lost out on the $35 or whatever it might have been, but made me feel like they had my best interest at heart. Does that mean that GoDaddy and BankUnited are following a collaborative strategy? I’m not sure. So far, it feels more like a tactic than a strategy. That doesn’t make it a bad thing, but it does highlight the point that a collaborative tactic — while admirable in its own right — does not a collaborative strategy make.

T-Mobile is one company that stands out as approaching a collaborative relationship strategy — and not simply stringing together a series of collaborative tactics. Who else do we think of as collaborative? Some of the old reliables like Disney and Zappos also jump to mind, but I’m curious to hear about your experiences — who stands out to you either at a strategic or tactical level as collaborative? Email me or post a comment below and I’ll continue to post examples over time.

Cheers,
Dave

An alternative to “Random Acts Of Kindness”

One of the great buzz phrases in the world of customer experience is “Random Acts of Kindness.” These programs — which even have their own acronym: RAOK — empower employees to randomly do something nice for customers. This isn’t systematic and algorithmically calculated in the way an airline or hotel might upgrade one of their better customers, but something that is truly random.

Two of my favorite examples were shared by Sean Risebrow, then of Virgin Media at Forrester’s Customer Experience conference in London a couple of years ago. Sean referenced a Virgin Media employee who sent a picture frame to a new broadband customer who mentioned that he had just become a grandfather for the first time. He wanted the faster speed internet to be able to Skype or FaceTime his family to see the baby as he grew. The employee sent the picture frame along with a note of congratulations – just because it was a kind thing to do. In a separate example, another Virgin Media employee received a written cancellation notice from an elderly woman who had bought two smartphones — one each for her husband and herself. When the couple received the phones, they discovered that their elderly and shaky hands weren’t the greatest for using a touchscreen smartphone. She wrote and said that she loved Virgin Media but was going to have to cancel her contract because the phones didn’t suit their needs. Rather than slapping the couple with hefty cancellation fees, the employee went online and researched the best phones for elderly people. She bought two of them (yes, they weren’t phones that Virgin Media sold) and sent them to the elderly couple with a note that expressed their hope that they would work better for their needs and said “We love you too.” Now, admittedly, I’ve heard from plenty of UK-based friends that they’ve had markedly different experiences with Virgin Media, but regardless of your direct experience, I think these are two great examples of how a RAOK program should work.

But, whether or not your company has a formal RAOK program, it’s worth considering whether they have an unofficial CAOH program. Yes, I’m coining my own acronym which stands for “Concerted Acts Of Hostility”. Unfortunately, in my experience, they are far more common. I think of these as different to Reicheld’s ‘bad profits’ — you know those charges that firms slap on their customers, usually when the customer is trapped into the relationship. Instead, I’m thinking of policies and procedures that are deliberately unfriendly to customers. And, policies that employees either won’t or can’t circumvent to help the firm appear less deliberately unkind to their customers.

I’ve written previously about Apple’s lack of employee empowerment, and my experiences with Starwood, Hertz and JetBlue as it relates to customer animosity. As an update to my US Airways experience, I was back in Dublin last week and worked with my mother to complete the requirements to get the value of her canceled ticket transferred over to me – minus the $150 fee, of course! Today, they called me to tell me that the letter that she had signed and witnessed — as requested — has to be notarized. At what stage does a company stop and consider its policies and realize that they are engaging in Concerted Acts Of Hostility? In the case of US Airways, that stage clearly hasn’t happened yet. Have you taken a look at your own policies lately? Even if you don’t have a formal RAOK program, for the love of your customers, please take a look and see if you have any CAOH behaviors that are damaging your customer relationships.

Cheers,
Dave

Research report: Consumer relationship strategies

Customer relationship architectureWe’re delighted to release a research report that we’ve been working on for the past few months focused on the nature of company/consumer relationships. Ignoring the CRM-esque acronyms and buzzwords, we set out to understand the current state of how firm’s approach relationships with their consumers. To ground the research, we surveyed 200 consumer-facing professionals at large North American firms, and interviewed scores of others.

The research is founded on three simple questions that we see as key to any relationship:

  • how well do you know your customer;
  • how well do you apply that knowledge; and
  • to who’s benefit?

Based on the results, we identify 5 distinct relationship strategies

  • non-relationship-focused;
  • revenue-focused;
  • experience-focused;
  • engagement-focused; and
  • collaborative.

We don’t advocate that any one strategy is better than another. In fact, one of the headlines in the report is that “The ‘best strategy’ is the one that’s right for you.” But, we found lots of opportunity for improvement for most firms. For example, while 58% of survey respondents are “company focused” (i.e. either non-relationship or revenue focused), 52.5% wish they were “consumer focused” (i.e. either experience-focused or engagement-focused) and a further 17% desire to be collaborative.

Meanwhile, despite these aspirations of more consumer-centric strategies, as few as 0 to 24% of firms perform well at their specific strategy (defined as a 4 or 5 out of 5 in our scoring).

The research goes on to show how relationship strategies permeate the entire business and have broad impact on business culture and results.

If you’d like to take the survey and receive a free diagnostic that shows your current strategy and “score” assessing how well you perform against that strategy, you can do so for free here.

I hope you’ll take the time to read the research and take the opportunity to examine your current relationship strategy.

Cheers,

Dave

Customer satisfaction is a board room concern. What about “customer relationship”?

CSAT-Graphic-for-blog-postWe recently surveyed 200 customer-facing professionals and asked respondents about what three things they perceive drive board and executive level decisions at their company. Answers ranged from revenue and profit to internal politics, corporate social responsibility, and confidence in their ability to deliver. While it was encouraging to see “internal politics” lowest on the list, it was even more encouraging to see “customer satisfaction (including Net Promoter Score)” selected as the third most common response (38%), behind profit (51%) and revenue (42%).

Net Promoter Score (NPS) has generated a fair number of column inches and pixels — and has it’s own share of promoters and distractors. But, I’ve noticed it coming up more and more in conversations with practitioners. I’ve interviewed several customer-facing executives lately who referenced NPS specifically as one of their key corporate metrics. In these firms, NPS is part of their operational model. It impacts every employee’s MBOs and compensation, and serves to rally the whole firm around the customer.

None of the folks that I interviewed described it as a panacea. But, I do notice too many firms use it as an objective rather than a metric — in my opinion the objective should be something along the lines of improving the customer experience or boosting customer loyalty. NPS is just one way to measure the customer’s reaction to that experience. The best description that I’ve heard in recent interviews was from a senior retailer who said “NPS gives us a scorecard/benchmark on where our customer-focused-activity is working and where there’s friction. But, it’s not about relationship building. It’s a scorecard on how well we’re doing something”. If your objective is to build relationships, beware of assuming a high or improving NPS or CSAT score as a proxy for strong or improving relationships. It might be. But, you won’t know unless you look beyond the metric.

Cheers,

Dave

P.S. We’ll release a report with additional findings from the survey in the next few days.

How popular is your “animosity program”?

 

Wheels coming offFirms spend millions of dollars on loyalty programs — not all of which drive loyalty, of course. And, they go out of their way to try to measure and track loyalty. But how many firms track animosity? How do they know when the wheels are coming off a customer relationship? I doubt I’m alone in having brands that I will go out of my way to avoid. I’ve written about my experience with Starwood Hotels. And, I will never knowingly rent a car from Hertz (after they charged me for two one way trips in the same car). And, to round out my travel examples, I’ve just gone from being an ardent and vocal fan of JetBlue to joining the animosity program they might not know exists.

Why, am I down on JetBlue? Because I expect more from them and they failed to deliver. We go out of our way as a family to fly JetBlue. For example, we are flying JetBlue to NY this Christmas and then Aer Lingus (their partner) to Dublin — despite the fact that it cost more than on another airline. When I called to see if we could change our flight to NY by a couple of days, they told me that the difference in price was $1 and that they would waive it. They told me they would book it and send me confirmation — I was on the phone with them for 45 minutes and they were extremely apologetic that it was taking so long. All of which is behavior and customer care that I expect from JetBlue.

But, then they called me back to tell me that changing my flight to NY would require us to pay for a business class ticket to Dublin despite the fact that we weren’t looking to change our flight to Dublin. In speaking/tweeting with some travel industry experts, this is apparently normal procedure — once you change one leg of a booking, the whole thing must be re-ticketed, and the Aer Lingus flight, which is now sold out, would cost a lot more. Where JetBlue fell down in my opinion was in a) trying to blame their partner, and b) not showing any empathy. JetBlue has just gone from an airline that I felt stood out from the crowd, to one that is the same as the rest. But because my expectations were higher, I’m more annoyed with them than I might have been in the same situation with AA or Delta.

JetBlue bill of rightsOur perception of customer experience is directly linked to our expectations. It’s why Costco scores highly in every customer experience index. They meet or exceed their customer’s expectations extremely well. When I think about the companies and brands for which I’m a card-carrying member of their animosity program, it’s either because they were unreasonable (hello, Hertz) or because they failed to meet the expectations that I had formed. For a non-travel example, consider the Cleveland Clinic. When I was at Forrester, one of their senior executives had spoken at our Customer Experience Forum, and had impressed me enough to switch doctors to the Cleveland Clinic in Palm Beach. All went well, initially, until they sent me to another Cleveland Clinic facility for tests. I’d had some sinus trouble and they wanted to do more detailed tests. I drove for 45 minutes to the other facility, waited for more than an hour to be seen, sat with a nurse and then a doctor for another 20 minutes or so, only to find out that the doctor I was seeing was an allergist (I already have one) and not an ENT (which is what I needed). The doctor was polite and apologetic, but when I explained the story to the receptionist, her response was, “so do you want to make another appointment”. A year later, nobody has ever followed up. If I hadn’t had raised expectations, I might still have given up on them, but with raised expectations, I just joined their animosity program.

And, I recognize that customer’s expectations might not be realistic. It seems my expecting an airline to charge me to change the leg of a flight that I’m changing and not one that I’m not, is unrealistic within the travel industry thanks to inter-airline policies and acronyms that, as a flyer, I just don’t care about. So, you can’t change the policy, but does that mean you can’t get around it? It might not be worth it to JetBlue, but they’ve now lost the loyalty and advocacy of a Mosaic family. I will now only fly JetBlue if and when it works for me – and probably begrudgingly. I might be high on my own opinion of self-worth, but if JetBlue had offered to fly me to NY on a separate reservation and then let me fly to Dublin on my original reservation, they’d have surpassed my already high expectations of them. Instead, they’ve positioned themselves in my mind with United and Ryan Air. Perhaps some naivety and innocence lost on my end; but a loyal customer and advocate lost on theirs.

To go back to my original question though, I’m not convinced that many firms look to measure and understand animosity. I was taking to an agency CEO a few weeks ago who pointed out that because of a bad experience, he had gone from spending hundreds of dollars a week on food for his dogs to not shopping with the store — a national pet chain. Nobody has ever contacted him to ask whether there was something that had happened or something they could do to bring him back. He had one bad experience, and now shops elsewhere. And, nobody seems to notice or to care. In an era in which it’s possible to analyze buying behavior and to predict that a teenager is pregnant before her parents know, surely it’s possible for firms to frequently ask:

  • what are our customers expectations and are we meeting them?
  • what have we done to delver value or to upset customers?
  • why has a frequent/loyal customers behavior changed, and can we change it back?

When it’s possible to analyze and predict so much, it’s not always the analysis that’s interesting. Sometimes, it’s the question. This might be a good time to look at what your data scientists are evaluating, and ask whether you’re asking the right questions to understand, meet, and exceed customer expectations; and to recognize and repair the damage when something goes wrong.

Cheers,

Dave

Not stuck in park!

I don’t expect to get a great customer experience from local Government services. Which, made it all the more pleasant when I did. I went to my son’s school late last week for a presentation that he gave (and he did amazingly well). All of the school parking spots were taken, so I parked at a meter.

ParkMobile emailAnd, the meters in the town are clever. Sure, you can fire in your quarters and try to remember what time you have to get back to the car. Or, you can manage the entire process through an app. I’ve used the app for a while now, but on this occasion it led to an excellent customer experience. Why?

  • It was fast. I pulled up the app, punched in the four-digit code on my meter, confirmed which car I was parking (I had it pre-loaded), and accepted the price (including the 35 cent usage fee) which was billed to my registered credit card. I completed the transaction half way between the street one block away, where I’d parked the car and the school. It was a lot quicker than had I had to go in to a local store and grovel for quarters.
  • It provided a service. Ten minutes before my time expired, the app alerted me that my session would end soon. I had lost track of time and was grateful of being reminded.
  • It provided a valuable utility. Rather than having to run back to the car, I was able to extend my session on my phone. Yes, I paid another 35 cents for the privilege, but I was more than happy to do so.

Meanwhile, the town benefits too. There’s probably some form of monetary benefit — for example, if I remove my car before my time expires, there isn’t a way for me to transfer the excess time to another driver. For some percentage of the day, some meters will earn double time.

And, if they are using the data to its potential, there’s a lot to gain. They can tell which parts of town are busiest at what time of the day — potentially determining where to open up new parking areas, or changing parking rules to reduce the time that people can park in specific areas to allow for greater turnover.

But, listen, here come the privacy over-reactors! They don’t want the town knowing this and tracking that. But, I’m a huge believer that we’re generally willing to trade personal data for utility and value, and these smarter meters delver both. Who knows, in time they could even deliver more – it’s not hard to foresee a feature that highlights where there are meters that are (or should be as long as other drivers aren’t overstaying their welcome) available for drivers in search of a parking spot — after they’ve pulled over to safely look at their smartphone, of course.

Value and utility from a local Government? I’ll take it!

Cheers,

Dave

The Emmy is not the story. Kevin Spacey (unknowingly) doles out customer experience advice

Emmy_statueThis morning, media outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Hollywood Reporter to Mashable heralded Netflix’s “historic” victory at the Emmys, as the streaming service’s House Of Cards became the first web-only series to win a Primetime Emmy and thereby disrupt the traditional TV market in its backyard. The WSJ points out that “no broadcaster was nominated in the best-drama category for the second consecutive year, a sign of how much competition major networks face from basic cable channels, premium cable, and now Netflix.”

But, that’s only half the point. Just a month ago, House of Cards lead actor Kevin Spacey highlighted the changing industry in a much more profound and — and if you think in customer terms — relevant way during this summer’s MacTaggart lecture at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

He made an impassioned case in defense of talent and creative, arguing that it is critical to the long term health of the industry that talent is given equal footing with commerce, since each depends on the other. I’d strongly recommend watching it — it’s certainly interesting in relation to the motion picture ecosystem. But If you listen to it with an ear to the idea of customer experience rather than audience; if you substitute the subject of audience for customer, it’s an absolutely fascinating 47 minutes that you won’t want back.

Why? Spacey hits on:

  • Audience expectation. He points out that audiences want control, and that they evolve faster than companies. He says that smart companies will adapt, and marry new things together. And while “we can make no assumptions about what viewers want or how they want to experience things. We must observe, adapt, and try things to discover appetites we didn’t know were there.” Again, if you think of your customers rather than a TV viewing audience, we all have the same mandate. In Spacey’s words, “We need to be … innovative, and in some ways, we need to be better than the audience – we need to surprise, break boundaries, and take viewers to new places. We need to give them better and better quality.”
  • Product expectations and categorization. Spacey points out that the traditional TV, movie, and ‘show’ monikers are becoming increasingly meaningless; a point, hit on last night by Emmy host, Neil Harris Patrick, who pointed out to younger viewers, that TV is “the thing you watch on your phones.” While, in reference to binge viewing, Spacey points out that “When the story is good enough, people will watch something three times the length of an opera.” It feels familiar to when we’re asked how many times a company should contact their customer. When the content and offer is relevant, people will welcome your contact – they do things that are counter-intuitive in the old way of thinking.
  • Competition. Our media consumption habits have changed. We no longer live in the world of appointment viewing. The same is true for customers. If the notion of the customer funnel was ever true, it’s a lot less true today. If you don’t adapt to your customers, you’re leaving yourself wide open to competition and disruption. In media terms, Spacey encourages his audience to “recognize that new competition can’t be recognized right away – even when you’re forewarned.” He later adds that “yesterday’s labels are useless”. It’s just as true for marketing and customer engagement today.
  • Measurement. In a nod to Netflix’s willingness to take a risk with House of Cards, Spacey mentions data several times. He contrasted Netflix’s attitude “having run the data” to the traditional approach by the networks, relying on the upfront system to assess a show. In almost Moneyball terms, he claims that “Netflix did it right, and focused on the things that have replaced the dumb, raw numbers of the Nielsen world. They embraced targeted marketing and brand as a virtue higher than ratings. And, the audience has spoken.”
  • Leadership. Spacey was pretty scathing of traditional networks and their unwillingness to take risks. Having made his case for the marriage of content and commerce, he claimed that “The only thing we don’t know is why it is so difficult to find executives with the fortitude, the wisdom, and the balls to do it,” and “The challenge is, can we create an environment where executives who live in data and numbers are emboldened and empowered to support our mission.” In reference to those that have done it right (the BBC, Granada, United Artists, HBO, and Netflix, amongst others), he said that “crucially, those in positions of leadership at all these institutions also knew that these policies of supporting, nurturing, and protecting their creative communities was good for business. They found a way to make art and commerce come together and had the guts to fight for quality and for talent.”

As I said above, if you inset the notion of customer and customer experience in the above statements, there’s a ton of sage advice regarding the change required to compete in today’s customer-oriented economy. What’s holding you back?

Cheers,

Dave

Customer focus isn’t that hard!

Since I wrote the other day about Apple, I had a bunch of emails and conversations that seemed like veiled attempts to defend Apple, disguised as a question. They went something like, “Why are you picking on Apple. Nobody does this well. Isn’t it really hard?” To which my answer is yes, it’s hard. It’s really hard. But, it’s not that hard that companies should get a pass. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to work for a company when you are stuck behind policies and procedures that prevent you from helping a customer. And, yet, most firms exist in this state.

And, it’s tempting to point to the Disney’s and USAA’s of the world that do this better than most. But, I found myself in these conversations referencing two much less well known examples.

Lisa Lindstrom, a board member of Avanza Bank in Sweeden presented at Forrester’s Customer Experience EMEA Forum last year and shared a story with the crowd about the Chairman of the bank who hosts a customer event every year, walks amongst the crowd greeting them and listening to their stories, and even gives out business cards with his personal cell phone number on it.

Then, last week at Neolane‘s customer conference in Boston, I saw a great presentation by Robb Barrett of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Robb was engaging and funny. But above all, he was empathetic. He mentioned that at every executive and board meeting, a “customer” or patient is invited to attend. Sometimes it’s a celebrity; sometimes it’s someone sitting in the lobby that gets invited on the fly. The board and the management team ask them questions, find out what it’s like to be a customer, and learn what they could do better.

Later at the bar, I spoke to Robb and he explained that this isn’t a lip service or feel-good initiative. He has seen the chairman of the board change policies with the customer right there in the room. For example, on learning that family members visiting patients hadn’t been able to eat late at night, he called the cafe manager to see if it could be kept open longer and made the decision there and then to do so. It might seem simple, but imagine these kinds of examples replicated multiple times a day, every day. And, not just by the Chairman, but by every employee.

Yes, in these cases it’s a senior executive asking the question and making the decision, but that’s kind of the point. If these actions aren’t taken at the top, how can firms ever expect them to happen lower in the ranks?

And, sure, Apple isn’t the only company that could do this better. Every company could. But, no matter where you sit in the organization, it starts with asking the question of customers. And, caring enough to do something with the answer.

Cheers,

Dave

How often do your execs interact with your customers?

The BBC reported this weekend that Norwegian prime minster, Jens Stoltenberg worked incognito as a taxi driver one afternoon this summer, in order to hear what real Norwegian voters really think, in the belief that people share their true opinions in cabs. While admirable in theory, this seems to be as much a publicity stunt as a genuine attempt to hear from citizens. All of his exchanges were captured on a hidden camera and the footage – compiled by an ad agency – is already posted to the prime minister’s Facebook page, and has been made into a film for his re-election campaign.

But, there are plenty of other examples of company bosses getting in to the trenches to get closer to their business. My former colleagues Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine wrote about Kevin Peters, former North American president of Office Depot, wearing beat-up jeans and baseball cap in order to interact un-announced with in-store customers. I have a buddy who’s a Jet Blue pilot that often speaks about how he used to look down from the airplane and see David Neeleman – one of the airlines co-founders – loading and unloading luggage from the plane.

How much time does your executive team spend understanding what employees and customers experience?

Focusing on employee jobs helps executives see the reality of how their processes impact employees, and how those processes often get in the way of delivering a positive customer experience. Interacting with customers gives executives first hand knowledge and direct feedback of what’s working and what needs to be fixed.

And, even if getting out and interacting with customers is difficult because of the circumstances and nuances of your business, it doesn’t mean you get a pass. Spend time listening in on customer service calls, or take a leaf from Credit Suisse’s book and encourage your executive team to follow your customer’s process of intreracting with your firm. Nothing will encourage them to fix problems faster than experiencing your customer’s pain.

Cheers,
Dave

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