Don’t excuse it…solve it


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Customers don’t care about why you can’t get it done; they just want you to get it done.  Before you say that that sounds unfair, I’m not suggesting they want you to defy the laws of physics and make the impossible possible (well…usually they don’t).  Let me give you a small—yes, trivial—example:

The other day I stopped in to one of the national grocery store chains in my neighborhood.  All the handbaskets were conspicuously missing.  I chalked it up to the likely case that it was some sort of cleanliness effort, what with Covid and all.  I pushed a big cart around the store for all of the three items I was picking up and when I got to the checkout, I mentioned how the baskets all seemed to be missing.  I wasn’t complaining, or even inquiring (at least not out loud…surreptitiously I was curious what the response would be) I just mentioned, “I see all your baskets are missing.”

My initial assumption was verified:  “Oh, yes, that’s because we couldn’t keep track of which ones we’ve cleaned and which ones have been left around by Customers,” was the cheery and pleasant response.  Note for clarity, I hadn’t asked why they’d been taken up, but for some reason this clerk thought it necessary to explain why.  She was perfectly nice and not at all defensive in tone, but consider what her response was meant to be:  an excuse.  Obviously she could have handled it much worse, and bruskly given me the well-tough-cookies/get-over-it routine.  Fortunately her demeanor was quite nice.

Now, while she was polite and non-confrontational, if I’m going to pick nits, she wasn’t fully forthcoming in how she framed what had happened.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t make the handbaskets work…it’s that they didn’t want to do what it would take to do so.  Granted, for such a trivial matter, the resources or effort required to manage all the handbaskets could very well be prohibitively costly.  I surely didn’t press the issue, but notice how the clerk’s explanation forecloses on any possibility of my Customer experience including the use of baskets:  this grocery store had exhausted all possible thoughts on the issue; that was it, end of story.  It wasn’t a matter of priorities, it was it turns out, a matter of physics after all to them.

As Customers, we experience this sort of thing all the time.  Whether it’s having to repeat our information over the phone “for your security,” being shunted into a different channel (not of our choosing) “to better serve you,” or being inconvenienced during some sort of “upgrade to make your experience better” sometime in the unseeable and unspecified future, service providers and manufacturers have a tendency to downplay our inconvenience or hassle in order to make their own experience dealing with us easier for them.  It becomes a game of excuse-making instead of problem-solving:  Customer complains, representative explains why they have to inconvenience the Customer, Customer accepts that excuse, we all move along.

Recently I wrote about the tendency of some organizations to try to shoot for the moon on their CX efforts in a play to be all things to all Customers.  This effort to blow all your Customers away can be a distraction from more achievable goals of simply removing roadblocks and minor aggravations your Customers have when working through your systems.  In that article I mentioned that, rather than trying to amaze every Customer every time, sometimes it’s enough to stand out within your industry by being the one player to empathize with your Customers enough to improve those little things for their convenience or comfort.  I haven’t visited all of them, but there are several grocery stores within a few miles of our house.  If every other one was having a similar challenge with the handbaskets, imagine how much one would stand out if it figured out what it takes to make this little convenience happen for its Customers and acted on it.  Again, nothing earth-shattering, but it’s this sort of Customer-centric attitude—take hassle off your Customer’s shoulders and put it on your own rather than accepting defeat and passing along the inconvenience to your Customer—that culturally makes you stand apart from competitors in your industry.

The one grocery store in the neighborhood to figure out how to keep all the handbaskets cleaned and accounted for when all the others have given up trying to solve that issue won’t necessarily gain all the local market share because of that breakthrough.  But the intrinsic spirit of Customer-centricity in that store’s culture that drove such an effort would likely show up in many other ways, small and large.  And that attitude (and the resultant additional cumulative improvements such a culture enables) will gain loyalty over its competitors.  By contrast, the impression given by this store is a sense of defeatism and an acknowledgement that Customer convenience isn’t worth the bother.  They’re resigned to the fact, as they see it, that there’s nothing they can do about it.  Bummer for me.

Again, and of course, the Great Handbasket Scandal of 2020 isn’t anything that’s going to move the planets out of alignment.  But if they’d ask, I’d recommend members of the team at that grocery store change their approach.  Imagine if the response to my observation had been more along the lines of, “yes, well while we’re looking at solutions for keeping our handbaskets clean and accounted for, we’ve temporarily removed them from the floor.  We’re close and will likely have a solution to it in the next week or so, sorry if it was inconvenient for you on this trip.”

It’s even better, by the way, if that’s also true.

(Originally Published 20200610)
– LtCol Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB, CSM
– Principal, Zeisler Consulting

Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB
I’m a Customer Experience executive, certified Process Improvement professional, Agile Scrum Master, dynamic educator, change management strategist, and in-demand business and leadership coach. I've worked from the inside and from the outside; in organizations large and small; public sector and private; from oil and gas to technology to non-profit (with lots in between too). I've seen a lot, but I haven't seen it all.


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