The Wall Street Journal has a daily column called “Best of the Web Today.” Its originator, James Taranto, created it as a bit of a light-hearted end-of-the-day quick-hit piece with a bit of political commentary thrown in as well. A recurring gag is to make little jokes about headlines published around the Web that, regardless of the actual story attached, sound funny or irreverent when read on their own. A meme he used a lot was to append a clever label to such headlines as, say, “Florida man critical after bout with runaway gator” pithily with: “Everyone’s a Critic”. When it comes to Customer experience, all of us CXers are, well…critics, no?
And if we’re doing it right, if we’re truly curious and hungry to learn about CX broadly, we’re actually looking for the good and the bad in our experiences with brands. Just like a food critic doesn’t want it known that the restaurant he or she is visiting is being evaluated, lest they go all out to deliver a spectacular meal just for the review, and just like a theater critic wants to (to the extent possible) see the performance through the eyes of his or her readers, we as CX professionals won’t learn much if we all treat each other better than the average Customer.
That has an upside and a downside. We as CX professionals can be the best Customers but also sometimes the worst.
For example, in our best moments as Customers we’re completely empathetic to frontline folks: whether it’s someone on the phone, a service delivery person, or a salesperson, we know these are often thankless front-line jobs. Paradoxically, we also know from our own experience that these are the folks who, in our own organizations, are the people who really get the work done. These are the ones we count on in our professional experiences, and we know how hard they work. They’re not all superstars, of course, and sometimes anybody has a bad day. But in the end, we’re patient with them when we encounter them as Customers ourselves because we know even when we’re aggravated by a brand that these folks are doing their best, sometimes under conditions that their employers should improve but choose not to. When we have a bad experience, we’re more prone to blame the organization, not the front-line worker.
Sometimes we’ll even engage them about their work. Often I’ll introduce myself as someone “in the CX field” and we’ll chat about their tools and their experiences. It’s good for me because I’m always curious about different insights and to learn about how different organizations support those who support us as Customers. And I think (maybe I’m just telling myself this) that sometimes agents appreciate someone showing that sort of concern and understanding. Even if they’re not feeling swamped with work or under-supported by their own organizations, it’s probably refreshing to hear someone who understands what their lives are like after spending all day being empathetic towards others themselves. Of course, they may be just wanting to rush me off the phone so as to keep down the AHT. Naturally, I’m sympathetic to that too.
But on the other hand, since we’re in the business of Customer experience, we can also be incredibly demanding. We know what bad service looks like, we know what poor support looks like. If you’re like me, you almost feel a sense of moral obligation to call it out when you see it (just peruse my blog or Twitter feed). As an independent consultant, I’m always looking for work (perhaps you can relate). But even when my dance card is full, I feel a bit of a responsibility to at least bring it to their attention. There was a Seinfeld episode where Jerry was fantasizing with another comedian about following through on the usually-idle threat they make to hecklers: “How’d you like it if I came to where you work and interrupted you?” I think in our line of work we have a similar temptation…it’d be great to reach out to a CEO and say, “hey friend. You’re failing terribly with your Customers. Let me help.” Not only would it be fulfilling…maybe you’d get some work!
Even if you’re not an independent, you likely can tell what’s wrong when you see it. Since you’re constantly working to improve your organization’s CX, you may even take offense that other brands aren’t similarly working on theirs. Why don’t they improve this? If I were in that company, I’d be mortified that this is how our Customers are being treated (or how poorly they empower their front-line employees to address their Customers’ needs). Who’s running the show over there? We should chat. On rare occasions, that righteousness may even get the better of you when you’re interacting with a brand. It’s not a ‘do-you-know-who-I-am’ instance, but more of a ‘look-I-know-what-you-think-you’re-getting-away-with’ sort of thing. Oftentimes, this actually leads back to the same sympathy we may express for the poor agent on the frontline who’s dealing not only with you as a CX professional who knows what’s (likely) gone wrong there, but also their other Customers who simply want their problems fixed and don’t care who receives their wrath.
In the end, this is (another) argument for bringing in CX people who are not in your specific industry or line of work. Customers are Customers in a sense because people are people. If your entire CX staff is made up of people with a background only in your industry (or, yikes, only with your company!), it’s easy to see your own interactions with your Customers blinded by your own biases. Astute, diverse, and curious CX professionals who’ve been around the block and approach every interaction with a brand as an opportunity to broaden their experiences as students of CX are ultimately going to be more valuable than those who know all the ins-and-outs of your industry. They’ll be the best (and worst) Customers, but they’ll be an excellent addition to your team.