Maya Angelou, who we tragically lost this year, once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” One time I saw Angelou in a dimly lit New York City seafood restaurant. I was 12, and I felt intimidated—but that’s neither here nor there.
When having a conversation with a customer, different things you say will contribute to their positive experience. Even just listening to them will make them feel heard, before you go about fixing their problem. Last summer, I sat in the Cherwell IT department and overheard the IT guys laughing with the customers and cracking jokes between questions. It sounded like both sides were enjoying it. Other times, they were serious when the customer was clearly serious.
I doubt Angelou’s philosophy is present at Comcast, who recently was exposed for “a customer service nightmare.” During the excruciating eight-minute call, the Comcast representative kept spouting what Comcast could do for them. The “we’re #1, we’re #1” rhetoric doesn’t jive with the customers. See, if you do a lot for customers, and keep telling them all about it, you’re not going to give them a memorable feeling—at least not a good one.
Narratives, like novels and movies, are intriguing and powerful not because they necessarily tell us new things, but because they make us feel what we may or may not already know.
So too for metrics. Phil Gerbyshak realized that his metrics were being ignored, but not because they were inherently irrelevant or inaccurate. They were just numbers without meaning. Business may not know if that number is good or bad. Moreover, they will not understand what it means in relation to the overall view.
Metrics only hold meaning in context of each other. For example, average talk time could mean customers are calling in and receiving fast responses and happily going on their way. Or, it could mean your service desk is told average talk time is an important metric and feels pressured to get off the phone faster, even at the risk of lower quality customer service or missing the opportunity to make a relationship.
Instead, put average talk time in context with customer satisfaction, and balance it with an employee productivity metric. Now, you have meaningful metrics that provide a meaningful narrative.
Gerbyshak points out that Comcast probably didn’t have a narrative of what they were really providing their customers, and only emphasized one metric: customer retention. Dave Watson, Comcast Cable’s chief operating officer, even said so. He said, “The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him, and thousands of other retention agents, to do.” Clearly retention is the bottom line. He went on to say, “I know these retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast,” which sounds like something straight from the cigar-puffing mouth of a mafia boss offering you “a deal.”
They of course are only thinking of their best interests. Gerbyshak points that “if the focus of your metrics isn’t on your customers, then it probably isn’t on the business either.”
When it comes down to it, metrics should be more than numbers. On one side, you have to provide an accurate and meaningful picture of ideas the business cares about. Try asking them what they want to know, so that the narratives are answers to relevant questions.
And on the other hand, customer service is really an intangible you can try to capture. Overall, it’s about what you do and say in regards to how it makes the customer feel.