I’m a Sucker for a Process
The dominant thought to ponder in my world at the moment is customer service. And hey, it’s not because our first product was Customer Service Intelligence®. Honestly. I think it’s because I’ve had quite a few well-meaning companies and freelancers (with great websites and slick marketing collateral) tell me about their amazing process and their great customer service.
Well, trouble is, you can’t see customer service on a piece of paper. You have to experience it. But you know what you can see on a piece of paper? A process. Yes. And there it is, right there on that web page with the pretty pictures…or on that glossy one-sheet. Look at it…it’s an amazing process! Look at all the official-looking shapes and lines. I loves me some colorful circles, ovals, and rectangles; that’s some sturdy business geometry right there.
I like to follow the long arrows. The ones that angle back on themselves before darting off in purposeful directions that all but shout how precisely securely they “have your back.”Yep, that’s a process all right, profound yet, oddly incoherent…must be me.
Where was I? Oh yeah, so…I’m dazzled by the biz-speak; the “process-oriented” solution specific value proposition of reporting to various stakeholders and relieving pain points while maintaining a robust feedback loop of checks and balances; all with outstanding attention to detail and stunning customer service. Well, I don’t know about you, but good partners are hard to find so, naturally, I need a bib to keep from drooling on their bright and shiny materials. The colors, the jargon, they comfort me.
I check references, we sign docs, and I’m giddy with glee; handing over all my files and passwords. But somewhere along the line, I realize that the beautiful process on the shiny one-sheet never jumped off that page and into practice. But by now we’re so far along, I don’t dare change horses in the middle of the whitewater. Deadlines are approaching. They’ve got all my stuff. I’m starting to rely on them, like hostage and captor. And they don’t answer my emails in a timely manner. But I’m just happy that they don’t decide to fire me and leave me with all the work of recreating the wheel with another vendor; I don’t have time for more research and vetting; I’m stuck. It’s like a free trial with none of the free and all of the trial, and a tad of tribulation thrown in for laughs and out louds.
So to save my dignity and cut my losses, I start managing my project for them. The bait and switch is stealth to the utmost, clever in its simplicity and diabolically successful. It’s like they planned it all along. I’m paying them to give me the illusion that I’m getting things done faster; hey, I’ve got vendors, baby. I’m a businessman, Mr. Busy, the Vendor Babysitter.
I joke, but I’ve learned a lot about my own customer service through these experiences. It’s so easy to say you have great customer service. In fact, it’s so easy that everybody says it; present company included. Simply arrange a string of buzz words in a tantalizing fashion and you’re off. The tough part is actually delivering on the claim. Customer service skills are honed on a day to day basis, through all types of circumstances and interactions that include successes and failures. And I’ve found that you can’t do it well unless you genuinely care about all of your customers, internal and external; big and small.
I’ll be back later to talk about what genuine caring looks and feels like to me. But for now, let’s just say that I see great customer service the same way I see “experience.” There’s no fast track or short cut to getting it. You just have to settle in for the long haul and try not to make the same mistake twice. Now pardon me, I gotta go see a vendor about a process.