Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Doin' the Do Lectures!

I'm just back from the Do Lectures in Wales and if you haven't heard of'em or looked at their website, then shame on you! And shame on me for not tellin' you. And fook all of us for bein' such stupid gits here in America and turnin' our collective backs on this marvelous gatherin' over in Wales, where the people talk with such wonderful accents, tell fantastic stories, share the most amazin' attitude toward changin' the world, love their music, their locally farmed food, their brilliant cider and lovely whiskey, and generally speakin' live close to the land, pay strict attention to what actually matters, and roll up their fookin' sleeves and do real work to get real things done.
It's the gatherin' you always wanted to go to, mate. It's in Wales, for one thing, which is off in a corner of the world and you don't go there if you don't do it on purpose.
The people are warm, the land is green, the sky goes from blue to gray and the sunshine is as apt to be wet as it is dry.
The humor is warm, the food is delicious, and there's absolutely no pretense. No name tags, no cocktail-party behavior of people standin' there, talkin' with you but cranin' their necks to see if there's somebody more important nearby. No celebrity-seekin'.
It all takes place in a tent that holds maybe 100 people at the most, and most of the people who come pay to live four-to-a-tent, shower in communal showers, get up at 5:30 in the mornin' to go canoeing on the river or to take part in some early mornin' yoga.
It's the perfect answer to all the American conferences that try to out-do each other in size and glam and self-promotion.
Here the talk is about people tryin' things to see if they can make a difference.
Grow It Yourself--to get folks to form small clubs to grow their own veggies.
A local farmer in Wales who's gone all solar, takin' his operation off the grid.
People who love bikin' over drivin' cars, people who are passionate about fixin' education, people who want to tell other people that it's ok not to be famous as long as you're doin' what it is that is right for you to be doin'.
And great humor, the kind of humor that the Irish, the Scottish, the Welsh, the English are so good at.
One speaker starts his talk sayin', "I do love all the self-deprecatin' humor, but I me-self am not so good at it."
There's a lot of anger and resentment at the current government in the UK, and almost as much at the US for it's over-reaching worship of the almighty dollar and it's exaggerated form of capitalism that's runnin' amuck.
But the real spirit is energetic and positive.
The world is a big place.
The problems are everywhere.
Pick something and go to work on it.
Start small and grow it from there.
And laugh and sing and have a pint while you're at it.
It's a beautiful thing, the Do Lectures.
So don't be a stupid git. Check it out on the web.
And then get busy doin' whatever it is that you've always wanted to do to make the world a better place.
Just Do Lecture it!
And stop fookin' around!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Absolutely Positively Apologetic!

Yesterday morning, the call came to my daughter.
It was a very gracious woman calling from FedEx in Texas.
She was genuinely sorry about the service failure. FedEx had called the shipper in North Carolina and refunded the shipping cost.
She sounded genuinely thoughtful and truly helpful.
So, hat's off to FedEx for doing the right thing.

That said, the whole episode, with its emotional ups and downs, feelings of helplessness in the face of a system that didn't seem capable of responding in a timely and effective fashion, took me back to the notion of service recovery.
I remember reading Chris Hart's article on service guarantees years ago when I was at HBR, and being impressed with how much sense it made: Everybody makes mistakes; the question is, what do you do about them when they happen? Hart argued that the more a company issues service guarantees against failure, the more likely it is to design a system that won't fail--and to design in recovery systems to deal with the times when something does go wrong.
It was the kind of management article that appealed to me as a manager and as a consumer--and the message has stuck with me for a long time.

But this last FedEx experience made me think a little deeper.
It isn't enough to think about having guarantees and recovery systems. You have to design them into your way of doing business.
For instance: one of the applied lessons from the FedEx experience with my daughter's missing shipment was this: Most companies design their systems to run one direction only--from front to back. But if you want to create the capacity for real service recovery, you need to design a system that it will also run from back to front--you need to be, in effect, to play the tape in reverse, so you can find what went wrong quickly and accurately, so you can then intervene to fix it.

The same thing could be said about the idea of a Customer Advocate Team.
The name sounds great. What customer wouldn't want an internal advocate when things go wrong?
But the real operational question is, what power and what authority does the Customer Advocate Team have?
Can they actually function as advocates for the customer? Or are they limited to sounding and acting like apologists for the company?
If the only authority the team has is to explain to an unhappy customer what the company's policies are, then they don't qualify as advocates. (It was the always spot-on Seth Godin who pointed out some time ago that falling back on the answer that "that is our policy" is about the lamest answer a company can give a customer; in that case, the customer is entitled to say, "I have policies, too, and one of mine is not to pay companies whose policies are idiotic!")
So if you have a company, and you want to set up a team whose members are customer advocates, what real authority do you give them?
Can they unilaterally intercede on the customer's behalf?
Refund money on the spot?
Get a supervisor to over-ride a bad decision or an ineffective business activity?
Dispatch someone to find a missing item, track down a lost package, investigate a messed up situation--in real time?

I do appreciate FedEx calling my daughter to make things right--that was the right thing to do.
Even more, I think about all the ways companies and organizations make mistakes all the time (I just got back from a restaurant experience where they never wrote down the reservation that we'd called to make--and left us cooling our heels on a sofa for 30 minutes while a table opened up--with no offer of anything "on the house" to make up for their bad booking work. As Chris Hart sagely said years ago, mistakes are part of doing business; the question customers want to know is, what do you do next?)
And I've come to appreciate pushing deeper into this very serious issue: how do you design a system to be reversible; and how do you give real authority to your service recovery team so they can actually make a real difference?
Questions that ultimately spell the difference between good-enough customer service (barely good enough) or out-of-this-world customer service.
For me, I have to say, my biggest thanks to FedEx is for a real learning experience.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Absolutely Positively Unacceptable!

On Sunday, if everything goes the way it should, my daughter Amanda will graduate from the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
No thanks to FedEx.
No thanks to FedEx's delivery system.
No thanks to FedEx's service recovery system. (What service recovery system, you ask? Good question!)
No thanks to FedEx's customer advocate team. (What customer advocate team, you ask? Good question!)
Here's the story in a nutshell.
Amanda ordered two special prints from a firm in North Carolina. The prints cost more than $1,000. She needed them in LA on Wednesday to put up her thesis presentation so she could graduate.
The firm in North Carolina sent the prints FedEx for overnight delivery.
That's when things went wrong.
The prints were supposed to be in LA Wednesday afternoon. Absolutely positively overnight.
The tracking information on the FedEx web site said the package was delivered and signed for--by someone my daughter had never heard of.
She called FedEx Wednesday afternoon, having stayed up in a series of all-nighters, very upset. She needed those prints.
FedEx told her they would track the mis-delivered prints--within 48 hours!
You heard that right: FedEx can deliver a package overnight--but it takes two days to find out how they mis-delivered a package!
So I called FedEx around 9pm Wednesday night. They told me the same thing: 48 hours.
I asked for a supervisor.
She told me that FedEx's LA offices were closed; there was nobody for her to ask about the mis-delivered package until the morning.
At 8 am Thursday morning I called and asked for the Customer Advocate Team. I spoke with another FedEx woman--who said they would put someone on the case.
The driver who mis-delivered the package had already left to make his rounds. How would they get to him? Why hadn't they asked him when he reported to work in the morning? What had happened all night? What was the point of taking my call Wednesday night if nothing had happened by Thursday morning? When would we hear from them?
If we didn't hear soon, we'd have to call North Carolina and have another set of the prints made, have them shipped--and hope for the best in getting the thesis presentation up on the wall.
By 12 noon, there was no word from FedEx--but Amanda had found the prints.
They'd been delivered, for no apparent reason, to a storefront shop next door to Amanda's apartment building. Not the right address, not the right person--and no word from FedEx as to why the mis-delivery had happened or where they thought the package was.
So I called the Customer Advocate Team.
I told them their service recovery system was terrible. It didn't work. In an emergency, waiting 48 hours to find out what had happened to an overnight delivery was ridiculous.
I understand your point, the woman said, as if what I was looking for was understanding.
How did they expect to satisfy me as a customer if they hadn't been able to discover what had gone wrong? When did they think their service recovery system would actually uncover and rectify the problem?
I understand your point, the woman said. Understanding wasn't what I wanted.
I want a full credit for the shipping cost, I said. It was more than $250 for them not to deliver that package!
I can't do that, the woman said. The shipper in North Carolina has to request the refund.
But the shipper is getting paid by me, I said. The shipper in North Carolina has no incentive to waste time dealing with FedEx.
I understand your point, the woman said. But that's our policy.
Your policy? I asked. I thought you were the customer advocate. Why don't you call the shipper and facilitate giving the shipper credit for FedEx's mistake?
I can't do that, the woman said. I don't have that power.
So exactly how are you a customer advocate, I asked.
She didn't have an answer to that.
Other than that she understood my point.
So what we have here, my friends, is a company that actually doesn't have a service recovery system.
They can't run their system in reverse--they can't reverse engineer their delivery system when it goes wrong.
And they can't do it fast.
They can't do it absolutely positively.
And they can't fix the billing.
They have a customer advocate team that's a customer advocate team in name only.
They have no real authority, no real power to do anything. They don't even advocate.
They just "understand."
Next time: UPS.
Or maybe Fred Smith will send me a check for $250.
We'll see.

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