This past weekend I made a wooden box during a woodworking class taught by my brother, Paul Sellers. I learned several important lessons:
- I didn’t know as much about wood as I thought
- Sharp tools are needed to avoid injury
- Competence and excellence in working wood come with practice and experience
- 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…
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.
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.