That’s a paraphrase of many quotes – but whichever famous quote peddler you choose, it is surely a mantra of sorts for successful service management. To me it neatly addresses two key points:
- It is no good meeting all the metrics that you set for yourself if that only makes your performance look good to you – it’s the customers’ opinion that matters because they are the ones providing the money to make it happen – and they may well stop doing that if they aren’t impressed
- What people perceive is based upon their situation and knowledge as well as your facts.
I had some first-hand instruction on this recently that helped my understanding. Both were a little funny at the time but maybe with some serious messages.
Firstly two different perceptions of what must have looked very similar situations to a detached observer – driving last year down a fast dual-carriageway road. Both times I was on my way to my father.
- First time an ordinary sunny day. I am driving at ‘about’ the speed limit of 70 miles per hour – and a car comes hurtling up behind me and sits a few metres behind me with the driver clearly impatient that I am holding him up. I ventured an opinion as to his personality – considering him less than sensible, some pushy-salesman type, and certainly not deserving of my moving quickly out of his way
- Two months later I am driving down the same road – only this time I have been summoned to my father’s hospital bedside by medical staff with the line ‘I think you should get here as soon as you can’. Now I am doing a lot more than 70mph, and find myself slowing down to 75 and hanging on other cars’ back bumpers amazed at why people can’t simply get out of the way – surely they can see I have to go quicker than that.
So – good guy or bad guy? Depends on what you know, and that depends on what you are and what has happened somewhere else.
The other one, I feel the need to share all hinges around those daily gifts we get form our dogs. Each day I take our dog for a walk in the field behind the house. The field is just the other side of the fence and hedge around the back garden, but to get there you have to go out the front, down the road through the alley and back – about 300 metres or so. Now dogs, being dogs, use the daily walk for relieving themselves and people, being only people, are left to pick it up in plastic bags and carry it. But since our walk takes us back down the other side of that garden fence, rather than carry the little bags round the field, I toss them over the fence and into our garden, to pick up and dispose of when I get back. So, I am doing this when I realise I am being watched, by another man out walking his dog. Thinking about it afterwards he just sees someone flinging doggy doo over a fence into someone’s garden. He did not speak, but did manage a look that clearly had me well below pond-scum in any kind of social acceptability league table.
OK, so some examples of skewed judgement based on incomplete knowledge, we all have lots of them – and please feel free to send in any good ones that have happened to you.
Very few of these matter in everyday life – we shrug and move on and usually never see the misunderstanding or misunderstood person again. But when it matters we need to establish communication to get some idea of the events that drive perceptions of those who we will interact with long term. This is why we know things about those we live with and care about – their favourite colours, the foods they like and dislike, which football teams they support and lots more. That is worth doing because these people matter to us, and because this makes both their life and ours more pleasant.
So apply this to work, how much more
pleasant – and easier – will your life be if your customers are happy with you,
if they understand what you are doing and you understand what they care about.
That simple idea is at the core of a lot of my work these days – in the
simulation games and the presentation at events. It certainly underpins the
talks I am slated to do at IBM’s Pulse and itSMF
If I go back to the first set of two bullets I wrote at the start of this piece, they are trying to say that you need to know how your customers – and maybe other stakeholders – are feeling today. This will drive how you address things. So customer perceptions influence prioritisation – standard best practice stuff. What I was trying to point out in my driving example was that those perceptions and attitudes are anything but fixed. Just because you know what mattered yesterday, doesn’t mean you know what will matter today or tomorrow. There are clues and signs you can look for – find out what things affect your customers attitude and monitor those yourself. Again that is something we can do fine at home – we are aware of some of the influences that change attitudes and perceptions on our loved ones – be that exams the next day, football on the TV tonight, or a fight with a friend.
Maybe what we need is more formalised gossip at work – because it is often the conversations that don't seem to be about work that tell us most about how our customers will react – and more importantly how they want us to react. One thing the 21st century has brought us – big time – is new ways to gossip, or should that be freely and rapidly exchange more information than we ever dreamed was possible. So, maybe this is just one more business benefit of social media, one that delivers its success by not being so obvious?
Actually, I don't care how you gather more understanding of your customers concerns and perception influencers use every means you can. You could do worse than simply going to visit them, talking and listening. Set yourself a target perhaps – name one thing that would change your customer’s priorities, and then ask them if you are right.
 = ‘divided highway’ in American.