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5 Customer Experience Mistakes -- In Real Life

Brian Cantor

It is 12:45AM ET. As an entertainment blogger unwilling to be vilified by the "spoiler police," I am live-Tweeting my recorded version NBC’s "The Voice" in conjunction with its live broadcast on the west coast.

Suddenly, I hear a click. The screen goes blank, and my cable box starts displaying random characters and symbols rather than the time. Presumably due to the introduction of an upgrade from the central Time Warner Cable office, my box needs to go through the reboot cycle. By the time its functionality returns, "The Voice" is no longer airing on the west coast and I can no longer successfully "live Tweet."

This was not a first-time issue. Insofar as my television coverage responsibilities require that I watch recordings of numerous programs in the early morning hours (I cover too many shows to watch them all live), I often use my Time Warner Cable service between 12AM and 3AM. Over my two year relationship with TWC, I have encountered numerous service disruptions during that early morning time window.

When not due to box reboots or upgrades, the disruption stems from the "emergency notification system test," which produces a loud, piercing beep that could last for several minutes. For someone trying to do his job without distracting roommates or neighbors, such a disruption is particularly problematic.

The issue is also not exclusive to the world of cable.

Several years ago, I resided on a second floor apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey. My bedroom window overlooked the city’s main street.

While I completely understood that such a location would subject me to noise from cars and drunk pedestrians, I did not realize that the city’s garbage service would ignore common sense (and decency) and loudly collect trash during the hours between 3AM and 5AM , when most normal people are trying to sleep. Considering the extent to which my neighborhood was populated with young professionals, wouldn’t collecting garbage between 10AM and 12PM, when most are at work or at least out of bed, have made far more sense?

In both cases, the businesses are making decisions that impact specific customers without considering the perspectives of those specific customers. 1AM cable box upgrades be convenient for some customers, but should they simultaneously be imposed upon those who find them inconvenient?

And in the case of the noisy garbage collectors, it is hard to imagine why anyone would prefer disruptive late-night/early morning pickups to tree-in-the-forest mid-day collections.

Sadly, this inability to consider the voice of the individual customer – or even the collective voice of the entire customer base – persists despite the supposed power customers have in today’s social-driven marketplace. From failing in my quest to initiate a policy change at Time Warner, I can also tell you that such insulated decision-making, flawed or not, is taken for granted by businesses that should be doing everything in their power to appease customers.

Since speaking from the perspective of the customer experience does not initiate action, the answer to driving change might involve relating problematic customer service mindsets to "real world" scenarios. If businesses see how insanely unsuitable their generic, stiff, impersonal policies are for everyday life, perhaps they will recognize the absurdity of ignoring customer-centricity when it comes to the service experience.

Baseball – Since most people are right-handed, players are now required to exclusively bat from the right side of the plate. They can only throw with their right hands, and they can only catch with their left hands. This will assure consistency for viewers and for those who manufacture gloves.
(Lesson: Consistency is important on a transactional basis but can be detrimental when applied holistically. A customer wants to know that he will receive support of the same caliber no matter when, where or how he engages, but he does not want his supposedly personal experience to be restricted to the one that works most often for most customers)

Name Tags – In the interest of a more efficient registration process, a conference organizer is no longer printing tags with attendees’ real names. It will instead require male attendees to select from a list of five pre-printed name tags: they can be James, John, Robert, Michael or William. Female attendees can opt to be known as Mary, Patricia, Linda, Barbara or Elizabeth. Since these are the most popular names for American adults, they will probably cover the largest possible percentage of attendees.
(Lesson: Businesses need to recognize all customers as individuals. Crafting policies and strategies around a handful of prototypes will ruin the experience for those who do not precisely fit those molds)

Dating – Tom meets a charming, beautiful, interesting blonde, but he has to reject her request for a date. His previous girlfriends have all been brunettes, and that is the only hair color for which he is prepared.
(Lesson: Since new customer types and new issues will inevitably confront the business, customer service policies cannot be held prisoner to previous approaches and audience compositions. They must be versatile)

Conversation – Maria is a fully capable listener and speaker, but she chooses only to acknowledge those who communicate in writing. If one wants her attention, he needs to write his comment on a piece of paper or Post-It note.
(Lesson: In today’s omni-channel world, customers establish the parameters of the conversation. A customer-centric business adapts to those parameters and assures it monitors, listens and responds in the channels that make sense to customers rather than the ones it feels are best for internal stakeholders)

Homework – Jill hasn’t finished her homework, but she decides to call it a day. She has already spent a lengthy two hours on the project and cannot afford to commit any more time. If she did, she might miss "The Big Bang Theory!"
(Lesson: Contrary to common blogger sentiment, many customers do desire efficiency, and there is nothing customer-centric about deliberately locking them into deep, lengthy, strategic calls. But their desire for resolution trumps their demand for efficiency, and it would be far more outrageous to destructively hasten their calls in order to meet a specified average handle time)