Posted on: 1 May 2014
Sorry, that wasn’t the intention
As Canadians, we are well-known for apologizing for things even when they aren’t our fault. As human beings, we are often surprised when something we’ve done has had unintentional consequences, especially when these consequences are negative and brought to our attention by the person who’s been hurt. “I’m so sorry, that really wasn’t what I intended”, is a refrain most of us have used at one time or another. For the most part we’re willing to accept such apologies and carry on since we assume – even if only on an unconscious level – that this person probably didn’t intend to hurt us. Between friends, acquaintances and even strangers, this is perfectly acceptable, required even, if we are to live together harmoniously.
Intentionally bad service
Unacceptable however, are the number of unintended negative things that happen to us as customers, clients and users. Companies and organizations don’t intentionally set out to give bad service, create poor products or design websites that are difficult to use or spaces that are impossible to navigate and yet we all encounter these things time after time. Some companies are so well known for their poor service that their very names live in infamy as verbs. And when we’re told – if we’re told that is – “I’m so sorry, that really shouldn’t have happened”, our anger or frustration over the situation rarely dissipates entirely. If that statement isn’t immediately followed up with some sort of compensatory offering, we become even further incensed. Why? Because businesses are held to a different standard than our friends. We may think of them as inanimate entities and so more easily express our anger but we also think “they ought to know better”. In a for-profit situation there is the added element of reciprocity; I’ve given you my money, you owe me. So when they wrong us, unintentionally, we show our anger in a variety of ways: by telling all our friends never to use them, by complaining to someone at the business, by cancelling our service, never buying their products again, you name it.
From Expectation to Delivery
We assume – again perhaps unconsciously – that the people running the business should have thought of this thing that has happened to us and done something to prevent it. There are a finite number of events, touch points, activities, tasks that take place between businesses and their customers and we assume that the business is well informed about all of these. We also hold expectations and create assumptions about what will be delivered to us based on what the business has expressly told us about their offering. Between our expectations and delivery, though, there are a lot of places where things can break down and customers, users and clients end up feeling surprised at best and angry at worst when we’re gobsmacked with a bad experience. We expect that the actions of businesses should be strategic, well thought out, planned and executed in such a way that we have good experiences, products perform properly and websites will be “user-friendly”. When things go badly, on what ought to be rare occasions, “they” should have a plan for how to manage that experience as well.
Customer, User, Client…What’s the Difference?
Mapping the customer experience, or creating customer maps, can mitigate against many of the risks of unintended negative consequences that will turn would be customers or clients off. The distinction between customers and clients here is important. As customers, our encounter with the organization involves a limited number of stages. Once we’ve purchased a product or become aware of a service offering and choose to take it up, we then become users. We use that product, service, website, software, hardware or space and in doing so we have a new experience. If it’s a positive one, we may choose to use the offerings of that specific business again.
If our experience continues to be a positive one or is enhanced in some way by something the business does intentionally, we then become clients, loyal fans ready to tell all our friends about our terrific experience with this business. Customer experience maps become particularly valuable when we shift from being a customer to a user to a client: keeping clients is easier than acquiring new customers so we need to think about and plan for all the points along this journey. We need to inform ourselves about customer needs, user needs, client needs and ensure that we are delivering to these in the way we intend.
Good customer service, excellent quality standards, software and product testing, website heuristics and way of finding fundamentals — even customer experience mapping — are not new concepts. Companies considered the best in class don’t need to be convinced of the justification of the investment of attending to these things, they do so intentionally and for the right reasons.