Quick, name the last time you dealt with a big company and had a great experience.
For most of us, it’s hard to think of a time when that happened.
Now, think of a neighborhood business or a shop or a small business and remember the last time you had a really great experience. That’s not hard at all – it’s something that they do every day.
Small companies care about customers because they have to care. Any one customer interaction can make the difference between finding a lifetime advocate and disappointing someone who tried out your product or service and found it wanting.
One of the biggest challenges for any big company is to seem more human. The other day when I went into the AT&T store on 4th avenue in Seattle, I was ready to have an awful experience. And I was pleasantly surprised. Both Caleb and Martin were patient, pleasant, competent, did more than asked, and solved a set of complex problems in under an hour.
Why doesn’t this usually happen?
- It’s difficult to script – many of the non-standard issues that happen in customer service are edge cases – and you must rely on the best judgement of your people
- You can’t teach empathy easily – companies focus on tools and processes which are necessary and not always sufficient for a good customer outcome
- My interaction happened in person – some interactions are more high bandwidth than others (think text message vs in-store experience)
What should big companies do to solve this problem?
Kaizen, or “good change”, is a great tool to find the next biggest problem you can solve. Used in a business sense, Kaizen is a philosophy of improvement that enables change in very small increments.
People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. – Dale Carnegie
Enabling line workers to contribute changes with Kaizen helps the individual customer and the larger group of all customers.
What should small companies do to avoid becoming complacent?
Whenever you hear a complaint from a customer or identify a win, add it to a list where you can better count how often it happens. The most recent customer complaint may be a brilliant example of a long-standing problem, or it may be a single customer’s opinion.