Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not Just a Button, Not Just a Number

As I read a recent post by John Custy about "buying" customer service ratings I also thought of how many companies make the mistake of looking only at some number without putting it in the proper context. "We need to get 9's for customer service" is not the same thing as "We need to offer excellent customer service." So many organizations make the mistake of thinking of Customer Service in the same way they think of, say, quarterly sales projections. Providing good service that keeps customers coming back is difficult to measure at best. Although customer surveys are mostly created carefully and analyzed by experts in the field, customers are basing their feedback largely on feelings. "It took longer than I expected" may not mean the same to me as it does to you. "The salesperson wasn't nice" may be based on a completely different set of expectations for two different customers. (I usually don't like a whole lot of extraneous chat while I'm making a purchase. Other people may perceive chat as being more personable.)

This past week, I spent a couple of days at a hotel that was smack in the middle of a Customer Service campaign. For whatever reason, their survey team chose 7 as their top rating, and all the employees had buttons with a star and the number 7 on them. (Every time I see employee buttons, I think of the famous "15 pieces of flair" scene in the movie Office Space.) I thought, "Oh boy, here we go. I'm going to be very sick of the number 7 before I get out of here." I was completely wrong.

Every single employee I passed in the hallways greeted me with a smile and a hello. Housekeeping was careful not to disturb me while I was working, but quickly made up my room while I was out of it briefly. Even though the hotel dates back to the 1920's, it was impeccably clean and comfortable.

My friend and I wanted to go to a top rated restaurant a short distance from the hotel, and I stopped at the front desk to have them call a taxi. "Oh, we'll take you, sir," the clerk cheerfully said. The hotel shuttle took us to the door of the restaurant, and the driver gave us his cell phone number, so that we could reach him to come back. When we called, he appeared within a few minutes and asked us how we enjoyed our meal. (It had been delicious, by the way, and never once were we interrupted by a waitperson asking how we were doing. Water glasses were refilled silently, and the waitstaff knew exactly when we were ready for a glass of wine or our coffee—because they were paying real attention.)

Throughout my stay, every indication was that all the employees were really attentive and focused on making sure my stay was pleasant and comfortable.

They weren't asking for 7's—they were delivering 10's.

Does your organization focus only on the numbers when you consider Customer Service, or do you create a culture of Customer Focus that shines through the actions of all the employees?

Give it some thought.

Disclaimer: I am employed by the company that published the post by John Custy.


  1. Enjoyed the story of your experience, Roy, but my first thought was why they were asking for 7's in the first place, and will they stop delivering 10's once the buttons come off?

    I applaud the organization for under taking any effort to improve customer service, but I'm not a fan of flair efforts, as you pointed out, and I am sure many other guests thought fo the same scene in Office Space. It reminds me of a Blue Light Special. Fkashy, geared for quick attention & results, but the pitch is over once the light stops flashing.

    Do you think the staff felt more valued, trusted and respected having to work each day with an implied stigma foisted upon them by poor leadership? You said it yourself, immeditely upon seeing the buttons, you expected to become sick of them quickly. Imagine how demeaning it must have felt for those employees who were consistently delivering 10 before someone slapped a big ole' 7 button on them? How many guests had no idea that 7 was the top rating, nor cared?

    They just looked at the buttons and judged on a base-10 scale anyway. "Service here must have been so bad before that they're aiming only for a 7 - not a 10."

    I am delighted that you had a pleasurable experience. I'm just not convinced that the button aspect of the campaign was well thought out in regards to the customer's perception of the campaign, nor from the poor employees perspective and experience. I think it sounds a little bit demeaning and I'm sure there might have been more positive ways to make the campaign a success.

  2. Kelly--Thanks for your comment. A couple of points:
    - 7 (for whatever reason) was their top mark. They weren't asking for 7 out of 10. There was no 10 (except in my own feeling about the level of service)
    - My entire point is that they weren't performing temporarily because of some program--they truly had absorbed the culture of customer service. This I can state unequivocally, because I stayed there once before--over 10 years ago--and remembered that when I knew I'd be in the area again.

    I must apologize for writing this so poorly that you entirely missed the point.

  3. Roy,

    My apologies good Sir. I think this was very well written, and thought-proviking, else I wouldn't have commented at all, as I rarely do comment on posts.

    I failed in my ability to clearly express my own thoughts. Let's keep at this until we both understand.
    - I will admit that the campaign itself did seem to be the focus of the article, not the overall experience gained through several visits through the years.

    - I got that they weren't asking for 7 out of 10, because you explicitly stated that in your post. My point was that guests who were busy travellers, accustomed to thinking in 'out of 5' or 'out of 10' ratings would not have immediately known, assumed or understood that 7 was the org's top rank for Customer Service.
    (Not everyone is as attuned to the nuances of such thinds as #custserv people are. ;> )

    As such, I believe that some of the customers interpreted the 7 much differently than you did. And not necessarily positively. And while the staff might have delivered 10's, I'm sure they would have been delighted to continue to do so without walking around with a bit old visual clue (target) on their uniforms all day.

    Perhaps add into the article that you were pleased to note that you'd previously enjoyed the same level of excellent customer care in the past, when there wasn't an obvious campaign underway?

  4. Kelly--we have to agree to disagree on this one. So, let me state clearly here what I was trying to get across in the post itself:

    I believe the buttons and campaign and the numbers were (are) completely irrelevant.

    I don't believe I am such a poor judge of human interactions that I mistook the open and welcoming greetings in the hall, and would not have recognized the artificially induced smarminess that turns up when employees are forced to respond only to a campaign. That's why, at the end of the second paragraph, I said of my fear of the "flair" syndrome that "I was completely wrong."

    I do not know anything about the buttons or the reason for them except that every single employee I met, from the front desk to a maintenance worker I happened to ride the elevator with, was genuine, warm, and seemed determined to do a good job.

  5. Thanks Roy. I appreciate your patience with my misunderstanding.