Monthly Archives: December 2012

Working with Wood: Just like Customer Experience

This past weekend I made a wooden box during a woodworking class taught by my brother, Paul Sellers. I learned several important lessons:

  1. I didn’t know as much about wood as I thought
  2. Sharp tools are needed to avoid injury
  3. Competence and excellence in working wood come with practice and experience
  4. A wrong step can be corrected, but not if you go too far

Bear with me as I tell you what the connection is to customer experience…

Part-ready box

Picture 1 – sides jointed together, top and base shaped

Many companies fail their customers by breaking engagement up by process, and then failing to join up the processes. “Life is like wood”, my brother told the class, “because it has knots in it.” Knots are hard to avoid, hard to work with, but can add beauty to a finished piece. I took the pieces of wood that made up the box and carefully cut joints that fit together, then planed them to make them flat and smooth (see picture 1), and then assembled by gluing the sides and base and hinging the lid (see picture 2). This all took time and, whereas we can mass produce products cheaply and easily, this is like the customer experience which is unique and defies the production line approach.

Knowledge of wood’s characteristics and propensities is key to being successful because each piece acts differently as it’s worked. So too the customer experience. Knowing your customer, his expectations, environment and needs helps us define the right approach to take. Measure twice and cut once – being too quick and too coarse results in starting over again, which is costly.

Craftsmen the world over know the value of using sharp tools. Less effort is needed to cut with a sharp knife. The cut is finer and more easily placed. There is less waste. Cutting with a dull knife requires a lot of force. Using extra force achieves the cut but diminishes control. Extra effort, additional force and diminished control lead to accidents and a visit to the accident and emergency department at your local hospital. Result – out of action for a while and a badly finished job. The same applies to the customer experience – using appropriate, sharp tools results in a quicker, cleaner, more successful outcome = happier customer.

Skills don’t come overnight. Reading a piece of wood is as important as marking it clearly and cutting and shaping it with precision. The skills required to run customer service departments differ from the skills necessary to create an engaging customer experience but there remains a connection. The ease with with a craftsman can cut a dovetail joint (see the box corners) aren’t from reading a book or setting up a machine but from having done it many times before, carefully marking, paring, cutting, and shaping until things fit tightly and perfectly together. Every customer touch-point is an action in creating the right customer experience.

Completed box

Picture 2 – completed box

Finally, you can correct a bad cut or misalignment more easily if you act early enough. Re-position the saw before the deviation from the guideline gets too big. More finely chisel, shaving off one-thousandth of an inch as you get closer to completing the joint, rather than taking off an eighth with every cut. Plane with the grain rather than against it. In companies, retention departments are needed only because there was not enough early action.

It took me almost two days to make my box. Paul, can make one in less than 45 minutes. He’s had a lot of practice, uses sharp tools, and has an eye that enables him to quickly and cleanly create a unique item that will be valued for years to come.

Show Me You Care…I’ll Heal Faster

As I drove in my car the other day I heard a story about the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) that made me wonder about the state of the world. Two senior nurses, and by senior I mean really senior – at the very top, are kicking off an initiative to introduce compassionate care into today’s health service. Nursing is often referred to as the “caring profession”. So why, if not to heal the sick and make people feel well, do people become nurses? Perhaps because it’s a job, and brings in money? I don’t think the answer is quite as simple as this, but there is an underlying problem that affects all professions, not just the “caring” one, and is an indictment of the society we live in.

These are pretty ungrateful times. Trust, confidence, hope have become tainted by inappropriate litigious, performance and cost constraint behaviours. The NHS in the UK, just like teaching, policing and other public sector roles, and private sector ones too, suffers from a breakdown in common courtesy and caring.

I see a triangle between employee, customer (patient, user etc) and the company. Communication is key, of course, but also courtesy (which costs nothing) and care (which costs a little).

Let’s go back to the NHS. Imagine a huge organisation where well people are the product, hospitals are the factory, and nurses are some of the factory workers. Unwell people are fed in at one end and, in theory, healed people come out of the other. But there’s a twist. Simply pushing everyone along the production line doesn’t produce perfect results because everyone is individual. Some of their needs are locked away inside of them and not written down on the patient’s record. So a nurse plays a vital role in the well-being of the patient, not just by administering the drugs and performing other duties, but by caring for the patient. Not just following procedure but by adding a personal element, going the extra step.

Now, say you are a nurse and prepared to care more, but two other elements come into play. The patient is rude and demanding, and your boss expects that you walk faster between tasks, follow the procedure, don’t challenge the way things are done, and move on to the next task. There’s not much incentive to care, is there?

We can apply this to every single aspect of life. I spoke to my neighbour recently who is in the police force. As we talked we got onto the subject of courtesy and the way that the public treats policemen and women, which can be pretty appalling. I pointed out that police can come across as forceful (which may be a necessary attribute) and belligerent, and that this doesn’t get any conversation off to a good start. We agreed that communication, courtesy and caring works both ways.

The industrial revolution gave us low cost, mass produced products available to the wider population. Technology has enabled us to communicate more quickly and to operate more efficiently. Analytics means we can understand more about what is going on so that change can be effected. But people are not machines without feelings, needs and wants. The state (or corporation) cannot provide everything. We need to maintain a healthy human element.

I applaud bringing compassionate care back into nursing but am saddened that this is necessary. The same applies to every role, even customer service delivered from contact centres. If people are encouraged to care. If customers didn’t feel the need to bully their way to get attention. If managers lead by example and not just by numbers. People, problems, things would be better very soon and, I think, the cost of everything would come down.

Has anyone created a formula that looks at the how the cost of providing a service is affected by clear communication, caring properly, and being courteous?