You May Be Listening, but Are You Paying Attention?

By Jean Marie Johnson

Great service experiences — consistently delivered with grace and flawless execution — don't just happen. You know this. They are the outcome of an orchestration of intention, training and action.  They are also the result of paying attention, all of the time. Just what are we paying attention to? The experience of our customers and our employees in the delivery of service.

The Best of Intentions

Consider this:  The service department of a car dealership opens its gates at 7:30 a.m. The line of vehicles begins to build as early as 7:10. By 7:29, it often angles around the block! Most of these customers, armed with their morning coffee, newspaper and cell phone are on the run. They've a commute to make, a meeting to get to. You know the scene all too well. By the time the service representative appears at 7:31, the engines are revved and the rush to park the car and get in line begins. It's not pretty…otherwise “civilized” men and women racing to beat down the door to be first in line.  And that's not all. Once inside, “Excuse, me, but, you were in the red 2005?  Well, I was in front of you.”  And so on….

That was the reality.

Clearly, the management did not intend to create this morning mayhem. It was stressful on the customers and equally challenging for the employees who were often left to “referee line status and changes.” Clearly, this didn't set a “magic-al” start to the workday.

The design of this seemingly logical process—first in line, first served—simply didn't meet the test of reality. And, its impact was deadly. Imagine being the technician having to speak with the lady in the “red 2005” after her scuffle with the guy who claimed to be ahead of her!

Change the Process, Change the Experience

To the extreme credit of this service department, they weren't just listening. They were paying attention. How do I know? They changed the process: a simple refinement that completely eliminated the confusion, the competition and the overwrought emotion. They could have simply empathized, apologized and refocused on what they could do to help the customer. In fact, they did. And well. But empathy alone would not address the systemic cause of a chronic problem. 

The next time I visited this establishment, I dutifully took my place in line, expecting a re-run of my previous experience. But this time, at 7:29 a.m., the service representative approached each vehicle in line, in sequential fashion. He then handed a number to the driver, greeting each with a warm and friendly “Good morning!” Then the gates opened.

Once inside, a hearty, friendly voice asked all customers to please fall into line based on their number. And so we did. No hustle, no hassle, no scuffle and no competition. Brilliant.

Aligning People and Process

While this example is about cars, its lesson is about service. People create the service experience for others.  However, people operate within systems that are often antiquated, fragmented or broken. As managers and leaders, we have a unique opportunity to champion service by becoming keen observers of process. Quality guru W. Edwards Deming emphasized some decades ago that the source of many of our service problems is in our systems. The MAGIC Service Culture System includes “the continuous alignment of processes and systems” as an integral step in creating consistently exceptional service experiences.

If you are a manager who is reluctant to “go there,” please reconsider. Perhaps your hesitation is rooted in the thought that you will upset the apple cart, open Pandora's Box or ruffle feathers. Maybe so. So begin with how you think about the opportunity. Consider framing your message as a contribution, as opposed to criticism.  Then think about how you might:

  1. Become a keen observer of you customers' experience. Where are there hiccups, disconnects and confusion? What processes, policies or systems underlie them?
  2. Listen and pay attention to your customers' complaints. The seed of positive change may be in “negative” feedback. Welcome dissatisfaction as a source of invaluable information.Then, do exactly the same with the experience of your employees. After your external customer, they are your most valuable source of information about what's not working.
  3. Invite your employees to a “process exam” meeting. Encourage them to tell you all of the opportunities for enhancing the customers' experience that they can think of. Coach them to contribute a suggestion on how to change whatever's not working, so that they truly become part of the solution.
  4. Thank employees, collectively and one-on-one, for their good thinking and encourage them to not only listen, but to pay attention, as well.
And, if you need help with becoming a process sleuth, give us a call; we're happy to help.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.

Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.