Somewhere back in the "me" decade of the 80's this guy Tom Peters got up on his soap box and told us the reason American car manufacturers couldn't sell cars in Japan is because we didn't put the steering wheel on the right side for their "drive on the left" roads. Well duh. Then everybody got on this customer service band wagon and we talked about writing mission statements and building corporate cultures. We spent a hundred bucks on a plaque that hung in the elevator lobby touting both. We talked the talk but didn't walk the walk -- we didn't dig deep enough to get to the real issue behind customer service: the customer experience.
I'm old enough to remember when they used to carry my groceries to the car for me. And when I bought a pair of shoes the sales person always measured my foot. Today, not only do we miss the luxury of someone putting groceries inside the mini-van, but in some cases we even have to ring up the sale scanning each item ourselves. God forbid someone measure our foot, much less take the time to insure we've got the right fit or, dare I say, suggest other styles. They simply hand you the box of shoes and walk away, and the only interaction we get is when the scanner doesn't give us the "Club Card" price or we're told to get out of the way for fork lift coming down the aisle.
I know. I'm a customer. I recently spent $340 on three pairs of shoes ($100 sneaks, $80 sandals & $160 boots). I had to beg to find someone to bring me the shoes in both stores only to have them hand me the box and walk away. I had to lace the sneaks myself and guess that they were the right fit. My size wasn't available for the boot purchase and no one offered to call another location. So I took charge of my own customer experience and purchased at a competitor -- with the same "here's the box experience," but at least they had the right size.
Today's customer experience is a cornucopia of disconnects. Granted, most of the available inventory for the workforce are twenty-somethings who've lost hope. They've lost the ability to communicate too. In Europe over 20 billion text messages are sent every day and the number one reason chosen for sending a text message is because you don't have to actually TALK to someone? Our interaction avoidance has graduated from leaving a note to memos to voice mail messages to e-mail and now text messages on our cell phones.
The really sad part about it is that this same lack of interaction seems to have filtered up through the management chain. Proof once again that the fish stinks most from the head. From the GM to the DM to the RM to the VP -- nobody wants to take responsibility for the customer experience. When sales are soft we blame the weather. We've confused the semantics of "excuse" (an explanation asking for forgiveness) and "reason" (a logical fact for an unexplained occurrence). The excuse being "Sales were soft because it was raining." and the reason being "...and we haven't created a customer experience that drives traffic rain or shine."
There is a cure. It's about taking responsibility and making a choice of managing (not controlling...) our destiny AND the customer experience. There's a simple mantra to begin with: "WHAT GETS TALKED ABOUT GETS DONE." But when we send text messages in lieu of interacting, well...
Marshall McLuhan predicted and wrote about this 30 years ago and it's more true today than ever before:
The medium is the message.