Seth Godin Is Wrong


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In a recent blog post, Seth Godin suggested that organizations should choose between being great in a crisis or being great with routine operations – but not both. Godin thinks if you don’t choose one to be good at, you’ll be less efficient and end up annoying the customers that wanted you to be great at the other (they want great crisis management and you’re only good at the routine or vice versa).

It’s pretty rare for me to say this, but I disagree with Seth Godin. He’s a marketing genius, but I think he’s got this one wrong. I believe organizations can be good at both crisis management and routine operations. The key is to anticipate customer situations that may cause a crisis – before they happen – so there are less crises and more routine situations. And, if a crisis does occur, you’ve now got a small number you can handle either systematically or as a one-off (depending on the situation). Everyone can handle one hiccup every now and again; it’s when we have several at the same time that processes fall apart.

In Godin’s post, he talks about how his utility company, ConEd, is failing when winter storms hit New York. ConEd sees the storms coming, but only has a few days and can’t react in time. As business or customer experience leaders, however, we have an advantage because we can see customer “storms” brewing weeks if not months in advance. It’s not weather radar, but through a consistent dialogue with our customers that we can identify an approaching customer “storm”. More than that, though, we can diffuse the storm so when it reaches us it’s just a breeze instead of gale force winds.

When I say “consistent dialogue”, I mean a few things.

1) You’re receiving and reacting to customer feedback throughout the year. Instead of a once-per-year relationship study, you should be asking for and receiving customer feedback in real time.

2) You should be interacting with at least 20% of our customers. If you’re like I was a few years ago, you’re thinking, “No way! I can barely get 5% and I’m incenting customers to take my survey!” If that’s you, let me know – I may have some ideas for you.

3) Dialogue means customers are sharing more than scores on a 1-5/10 scale. They’re actually sharing their thoughts and emotions.

After establishing this consistent dialogue with your customers, the next step is to track and categorize responses so you can see themes developing. Just like clouds in the Atlantic, we need to determine if these are one-off rain showers or a circulating collection of storms that might become a hurricane. Thoughtful establishment of categories (which may change over time) and an automated system will place each customer response into buckets that enable us to clearly see if trends are developing. And, instead of “battening down the hatches” while awaiting the storm, we can start making changes so the storm stops developing.

By diffusing storms before they become a crisis, we don’t have to be as skilled at crisis management. Instead, we can focus on incremental improvement and every day operations.

Having said that, there will always be one-off “customer emergencies” that require our immediate attention. That’s ok. Because you’ve drastically reduced the number of unforeseen emergencies, you can handle them. And, you can handle them with very similar processes to what you have in place for your routine operations. It doesn’t have be “either or” like Godin suggests, you can use your routine operation to handle the majority of the crisis steps.

How? Because you’re in a consistent dialogue with your customers, you not only see trends developing, you also see when a customer is very unhappy. Up till now, you’re using the same surveys and the same processes. The difference is that instead of your system only dropping the customer scores/comments into the right category, your system is also alerting you to the unhappy customer. The best way I’ve seen is via text or email to the appropriate process/customer manager. That manager then contacts the customer to resolve the issue. Every business has different customer issues, but reaching out, understanding the problem and doing your best to resolve it goes a long way to eliminating the customer’s emergency.

By creating a consistent dialogue with your customers and having a system in place to receive and appropriately distribute your customers’ feedback, you can be awesome at not only your routine customer experience, but also at addressing customer emergencies when they do arise (and there will be less of them).

I’m now going to go back to agreeing with Seth Godin on most things.

Image credits:

Seth Godin:


Brian Doyle
Doyle Team Consulting
Brian has been designing and improving customer experiences for over a decade, Prior to discovering CX, Brian was VP of Marketing at Genworth and a 6 Sigma Master Black Belt at GE Capital. His career began in the US Air Force as a C-17 pilot. Brian has a bachelor's degree in Astrophysics from the US Air Force Academy and a master's degree in Systems Engineering from St. Mary's University.


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