In praise of unreasonable

inspiration-mars-spacecraftCustomers aren’t reasonable – and our customer strategies shouldn’t be either.

Dennis Tito (the man who paid $20m as the first tourist in space) has announced he wants to send a flight to Mars by 2018.  He doesn’t yet have the money, the spaceship or the crew. But if he succeeds, he hopes to inspire the World into thinking differently about our place in the Universe.

Is it realistic? Probably not – but I wouldn’t bet against him succeeding, and I would love it if he did.

If you work in a city, look around.  See the tall buildings, the shops, the underpasses? Each was once a dream.  Each began only when someone said, “What if we….?”

And each became real only when this someone ignored the toxic voices which said, “Yes, but….” or “With the greatest respect…”  or (the most lethal of all, because it sounds so very sensible) “Let’s be realistic…”

But ignore them they did. And, instead, they built the bridges, and the skyscrapers, and the health service, and Apple and Facebook and all the other, unrealistic, unreasonable things that define the twenty-first century.

No, let’s not be realistic.

Lets be unreasonable instead.

Customers are unreasonable.

If they want a product, they don’t care about our immensely complicated supply chain. They want it – now.

If they have a problem, they don’t want  it fixed within “..the contractual response time” as per the Service Level Agreement (SLA).  They want it fixed – now.

(More importantly, they don’t want it fixed, they want it never to have happened in the first place).

And they don’t care that our lines are very busy and that their call is “very important” to us. They want to talk to someone – now.

They want it perfect, they want it cheap, they want it easy and they want it – now.

…And if we can’t do these things, they’ll find someone who can.

Are these expectations reasonable? Not a chance.

But do customers care? No.

 “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

– George Bernard ShawMaxims for Revolutionists 

So let’s not have reasonable standards for customer strategy and service.  Lets aspire to the unreasonable.

How about an unreasonable customer cycle time? Cycle time – the time the customer experiences when we do anything which affects them: from when the customer first becomes aware of us, through to when we supply our products, from their paying us or our providing customer service.

Why not aim to have a cycle time of zero? 

Why zero? Why not? Wouldn’t it be fantastic?

Customers get everything they want, straightaway.  Our costs plummet because our supply chain is instant.  Our service is better because we can respond immediately. Our people are happier because fewer things get between them and giving the customer what they want. And our competitors are left in the dust.

Is this reasonable? God knows.

Is it desirable? Hell, yes.

Is it attainable? We’ll never know unless we try.

Because it is only by aiming for the unreasonable that breakthroughs happen. It is only by being unrealistic that we genuinely force innovation and creativity. And it is in this space – the “are you mad…?” space – that you can inspire greatness.

So let’s not be at home to Mr Reasonable.

Let’s shoot for Mars.

Let’s be great.

Marco Polo’s compass

compassA compass, more than a map, will help your customer strategy to succeed.

The 13th Century explorer, Marco Polo, faced many obstacles on his way from Venice to Kublai Khan‘s court in China. His maps were rudimentary and on many occasions he found himself literally in uncharted territory. So how did he know the paths he should take? How did he know he was taking the right course?

He had a compass.

His compass told him which way was East, so that no matter which obstacles he faced, he knew the direction to go.

A good customer strategy is like Marco Polo’s compass. If we set it well, then everyone in the organisation knows which way to go.  So if we need to do something different for a customer or overcome a customer problem we haven’t seen before, we know what kinds of solutions we should consider. If we understand the customer strategy, we know that when they meet these new problems, our solutions will be the right decisions for the customer – and for the business.

Let’s say, for example, that our organisation sets a strategic goal. We want to move more customer service enquiries from the phone to online, reducing costs, increasing ability to scale and – crucially – reducing customer time to resolve. We create detailed plans to deliver this strategy. These plans are costed, scheduled and resourced as perfectly as possible. Then, in line with conventional best practice, we give the plan to a carefully selected cross-functional team to implement.

And within two months the plan is hopelessly off course. Why? Because everyday customer service gets in the way.  Everyday customer service is about handling the new, the unplanned, and the exceptional things that get between a customer and what they want to do.

Our service agents handle such issues by going the extra mile for customers with workarounds and informal fixes which ourcustomers need.  But if our agents aren’t guided – or enabled – to do so by helping customers to go online, then we will help their customers without thinking online. And our great online vision comes to naught.

Our strategic plans – our maps – don’t determine the success of our customer strategy. They help, sure, but unless we know how make decisions for the customer in the direction we have set – unless we have a compass – our plans will fail.

We may set a strategy for the future; but it only counts in the ways it makes a difference to our decisions today.

So if your customer strategy is falling short of its goals, can I suggest this? Look at the decisions that affect customer service: the choices your agents make and how they are empowered; the people you recruit and the metrics to which you pay attention.  If the choices you make about these things today are not guided by the future you want for your customers, then you are already off course.

Reset your compass.

You found us…

Dread Pirate Roberts…what took you so long?

Seriously, thanks for dropping by.

Mike and the Customer is about stimulating fresh thinking about the customer. Many people offer advice and good practice on customer service, customer experience or customer strategy – and when I come across it, I’ll mention it here.

Everybody’s favourite screenwriter, William Goldman, said about Hollywood that “nobody knows anything”.  In the realm of the customer, this is often true, with one proviso: while everyone has some notion of what needs to be done to make things better, very few people know how to do so.

At Mike and the CustomeI hope to help redress this.  My goal is to offer you things that are practical; things you can use to make things better for your customers.  The how, if you like.

Sometimes, however, the path to how is rocky. Sometimes we need a Dread Pirate Roberts to poke us severely to change our thinking before we can see fresh ways to do things.  So, sometimes, I may put something up to provoke an argument and stimulate new thinking. If I do, forgive me – and let me know how what I am saying is wrong and what I should do to correct it.  If you play nice, who knows? We both might learn to do things better.

Whatever happens, I hope you find what you find at Mike and the Customer useful and enjoyable. I love making a difference for customers, and I love helping people to do so for theirs.

Let me know what you think