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Has customer experience killed customer service?

“Customer experience is the impression your customers have of your brand as a whole throughout all aspects of the buyer’s journey. It results in their view of your brand and impacts factors related to your bottom line including revenue.”  That’s the definition given by Hubspot, one of a multitude of companies trying to become part of the “software stack” companies are trying to leverage to attract and retain customers in this hyper-competitive world.

The phrase “customer experience” is found everywhere these days. It’s the holy grail of the new digital enterprise. You can find no end of reports or studies showing how important customer experience is, how maintaining a customer is so much more cost effective than replacing one and how essential it is to compete in the new digital corporate world.

So why do so many companies suck at actually creating a pleasant customer experience?

Firs, many have drunk the Kool-Aid – mistakenly thinking that some magic software solution would be able to magically create this great experience. They’ve missed the key point.

Customer experience is not created by software. It is not created by process. Customer experience is a product of company culture and effective leadership.

A case in point from my recent experience. For decades, I had an insurance broker who handled all of my insurance – house, car and anything else I needed. On the odd occasion where I had to interact with the insurance company they handled it all. When we had a question or on the few occasions in thirty years where we had an incident, they always knew what to do.

Every year they sent me a renewal. They asked questions to see whether my coverage needed updating. I was always certain that they had got me the best value and that I was protected. I had what insurance should bring you – security.

They never once said, “have a nice day” or any of those catchy phrases. They always called you back.

They were bought by a larger insurance broker called Excelsior or one of those many names that are somehow going to make us feel energized. Now, when you call, people ask you how they can make this the best call of your day or something syrupy like that.

But if you need them to do anything, they patiently explain to you that they are not the insurance company. Their job is to bill you, not serve you. They take no responsibility for the insurance company they have recommended.

As a case in point. I had deer leap out at our car last fall. After 50 years of driving northern roads without mishap, my number got called. Fortunately, I’ve been driving these roads for years and we managed to slow enough so the impact was slight and no-one was injured. The air bag didn’t deploy. Everyone was safe.

We had the car towed to our dealership. Their first question was, “is everyone alright?” There was no issue. We live in a small town an hour away from the dealer, but they knew where to send the car for repairs.

We called the broker who referred us to the insurance company – Intact. That’s when the nightmares started. The dealership offered to have the car towed to a body shop. Oh, no, said our insurance company. We’ll do that.

Two weeks later when the car had not moved, I called the broker asking them to get the insurance company moving on this. Not their job, I was told. When I insisted, they did place a call. They never followed up to see if anything happened. Again – not their job.

Still nothing happened. After my constant harassment I got a promise that that the car would be taken to the body short in two hours. I was on the phone when the “customer service” person at the insurance company was contacting the towing company.

Still nothing happened. Calls to the broker yielded nothing. I asked to speak with the manager of brokerage. She wasn’t in. I’d get a call back. No call happened.

It was the same with the insurance company. Time after time I would call, promises were made and nothing would happen. Weeks went by.

At the same time, we have been in a period where supply chains, engineered to be more profitable by having zero inventory – broke down. Would faster action have been better? We may never know.

All I know is that I went four months waiting to get my car back. And every time I phoned the body shop to find out that they were waiting for approvals or something to come back on the claim, I’d call the insurance company and get promises made that were not kept.

I confess that I lost it. I demanded to speak to a manager. The first time I was promised a manager would call me back – within two business days. The call never happened. The next time when I called and refused to get off the line until I spoke to someone they finally cut the call.

On one call, I was assured by some confident young person that they “had escalated the problem.” I asked if they’d spoken to anyone or just sent off an email. The answer came back, “I escalated it.”

I found that fascinating. After multiple attempts, it because clear that I was only going to get obfuscation. This person would not admit that they hadn’t actually talked to anyone when they put me on hold to consult or escalate.

That’s when it hit me. We’ve lost personal contact. Companies like Intact are overwhelmed and don’t have real people managing – they have “policies” and “escalations.” So even if a customer has been waiting four months, there is no sense of urgency or empathy. Policies and claims systems have no empathy.

We live in the country. Not having my own car is a real inconvenience. Still, my wife and I managed on sharing her car until I finally had to go out of town and couldn’t leave her with no car. When I went back to the insurance company to get them to cover the rental car, I was informed by another of these “customer service” associates that I would be cut down from my twenty days of rental coverage to five days, because “I hadn’t gone to an approved body shop.” Not only had that not been mentioned at all, but I had my car towed free of charge to the insurance company to my nearest dealership, because I have a road assistance plan with towing included.

When I pointed out that I was being penalized for saving the insurance company money, I was back in the Franz Kafka novel that is my insurance company. But after simply refusing to accept this, miraculously and magnanimously, this young cannon fodder customer service person found somehow that he could extend this to 10 days. I was supposed to be grateful that they’d only stolen half of my actual entitlement instead of seventy-five percent of it.

So I’ve been railing about this and if you are still reading, you may ask – what is my point? There is no way that companies can still offer personal service. This is just an unfortunate byproduct of our digital corporate environment. In the name of efficiency we have automated and streamlined our policies and we have to just accept it.

Customer experience is good web design, a chat bot and better designs for our bills. It’s the cheerful, “have a nice day” even when we are being shafted. We have to accept that as a part of the modern era.

But we don’t.

How do I know? I had to deal with another large company – Enterprise. That’s where I went to rent a car for my out of town trip. Again, it’s an hour away in a small town called Lindsay, Ontario. And I needed to make sure that the car was going to be there so I could get my wife to drive me, pick up the car and still make it to my flight in Toronto. My tickets were not refundable.

From my insurance company, I got promises that everything would be alright. But I’d heard that before. They were upset that I’d called to reserve a car in advance – because I couldn’t afford to not have one guaranteed. That caused some problems.

At least it caused problems for the insurance company. Not for the cheerful young lady who answered the phone at Enterprise. “No problem, I’ll handle it,” was her response.

Then an hour later, she called back just to tell me that everything was okay – they had the car and it would be paid for. She explained everything needed. I told her I was on a tight deadline and that I needed to be at their office as soon as it opened and out quickly. “No problem,” she said.

True to her word, the office was open ten minutes early and my car was out front, warmed up and ready to go.

When I picked up my rental, far from having to demand to see a manager (which I was not planning on because everything was going smoothly) the manager came out and greeted me. No phoney “how can I make this the best day” BS – just a cheerful hello as he asked if the car was okay with me.

True to their word, I was in and out in minutes. I learned later, that the start of the week was one of their busiest times, but nobody appeared to be in a panic. You can be efficient and still be a real human being. Go figure.

These are two large companies. Both are trying to be profitable in a very competitive marketplace. One can have the time, despite how busy they are, to make sure not only that they keep their promises, but that they let you know what’s happening so you don’t worry. That one has empathy.

The other has found their efficiency by preventing you from ever breaking their tightly controlled process. If the process doesn’t work for you, tough luck. Rules are rules. If they fail to help you, they’ve done what they were supposed to do. Nothing more.

They don’t exactly lie but they are carefully trained to obfuscate. Yes, they can give you 10 days of something and they know that, but if you’ll be a good little customer and take half of what they could do, it’s a bonus. They don’t talk to anyone in authority, they “escalate” and “follow process.” But they won’t admit it. And after a call where you are absolutely unhappy, they’ll dig in the knife further by telling you to “have a nice day.”

What’s the difference? Culture. Empowerment, empathy and going that little extra. All those “old fashioned” things that really make for “customer experience.”

It has to be better for company morale as well. As I said, the folks at the rental place were clearly busy. But they found time for me. I suspected that at one point, the lady who was helping me was cutting into her own lunch time to help me, but she clearly enjoyed helping me. That’s as opposed to what must be the soul destroying experience of having upset and frantic customers losing it when your process is to treat them like they don’t matter.

As I said to my wife as she talked me down, hoping I wouldn’t have an aneurism – “if anyone at Intact had just said, ‘sir, I appreciate your frustration and I’ll find a way to help you,” I would have at least been acknowledged. I’ve been in business for more than forty years and I know that things can go wrong. I’m one of the owners of our company and I will talk to any dissatisfied customer anytime. Many are surprised when I call them directly to follow up. I want that to be our culture.

We try. We aren’t always perfect. But we take responsibility. And we care. Not just because it’s good business. We are in business to serve our customers. And as I always say, “if someone has placed their faith in us to deliver, we owe it to them to move heaven and earth to keep our promises.”

We don’t do it with our systems, but we have IT systems. We don’t do it with our policies, but we have clear and effective policies. We do it with our culture. Our management is not afraid to engage with our customers. We aren’t insulated.

Of course, you might argue, we aren’t as big as an Intact or Enterprise. That’s fair enough. Although worked for the CEO of a billion dollar company and my cell phone rang in the middle of a meeting with him. I apologized for not killing the ringer. He looked at me and said, “answer it. It might be a customer.” That was just one of many lessons I learned and hopefully try to pass on in our culture, not by having a policy, but by my own actions.

And what does it matter? Even you are in an industry where service is lousy form all your competitors, you create an opening for a real competitor. Because in business it’s all about your reputation.

I was once told that if someone has a great experience they might tell one or two people. If they have a terrible experience they will tell 7 or more people.

I’m not normally one to ‘dox’ a company. I rarely do it. But I will tell anyone that listens, not to deal with Intact. Equally, I will tell anyone that will listen to rent from Enterprise in Lindsay.

How about you?

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A line that we call decency

I drew a line,

Called decency,

To set the limits of what I’d accept to be said to me…


If truth be told,

If words be true,

I drew that line when I heard

What was said to you…


And I know that some friends might say

That I’ve become that awful thing we call

“Politically Correct”

You can be sure that’s not the truth

I’ve just discovered there are some things

I must reject..

I’m not afraid to curse or swear,

To tell a joke, or making fun

If it’s all done

With love or just respect…

But then again, I’m not the one

That put myself up as someone

You might elect…


I drew a line,

So you would know that

You weren’t alone

No matter what,  there was always

You and me…


I drew a line


I’m not the first

To draw that line, the line that we call



So lets not build a wall, let’s draw a line

A line that we’ll call sanity..

It’s a  line that no one should cross,

Because when they do, they have lost…



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Sad to be here…

I can’t believe it’s been a year.   I started this blog years ago and it has evolved over that time.  I’ve kept it up over the years as a place where I’d “live out loud”.    I never restricted it.  I would mix the intensely professional with the intensely personal.  I would be fearlessly me.

Writing has given me that in my life.  It has given me the ability to be intensely, honestly me.  From the crass and often just “in poor taste” comedy of my early life to the wistful songs of my later years, I’ve channeled my experience into my writing.

But writing is not just a creative outlet.  Writing is how I understand things.  It’s how I make sense of everything.  It’s how I learn and absorb.

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They killed Neo – the Matrix resumes

Hackers for right, we are one down.(from a tweet by Tim Berners-Lee father of the World Wide Web)


His eyes haunt me.  From those pictures that adorn the articles that pay tribute to this astonishing young man, he stares out at you.   Depending on the shot, he is alternately mysterious, thoughtful, intense and occasionally mischievous.

His accomplishments daunt me.  At 14 he was co-creator of RSS, the syndication process is at the core of internet publishing.   He co-founded Reddit the social news web-site which, love it or hate it, is one of the most active forums of real discussion on the internet.

His passion for freedom inspires me.  He was a co-founder of Demand Progress, a group which fights for Internet freedom.

His death diminishes us all.   Continue reading

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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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2010 in review

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In the midst of the buzz on Google’s Buzz, this little thing appeared on my horizon. It’s called Amplify and it seem a bit like a highbrow version twitter (so far). It’s a site where you can post slightly longer posts (500 characters) and it seems the right length for thoughtful but brief comments.

It has the follower/followed paradigm and I’m still trying to figure out what else is there.


My gut tells me it’s worth a look — and I’ve read a couple of posts on it that are, for the first time in a long time – worth reading in the entirety. I haven’t seen anything with this much promise since Aardvark and Nutshell Mail (both of which went from neat toys to mainstays of my social media management strategy).

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Social Media for Consultants

On January 13th, 2010 Andrew Jenkins and I hosted a two person panel n Social Media for Consultants.   It was done for the Strategy Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Association of Management Consultants (CMC Canada).

I thought the best way to respond to everyone was to blog about the meeting, the questions and the links.

Above the fold (for those who appreciate the metaphor) – I’ll mention our invite to all of you.  We had such a good response to this that Andrew and I have agreed to host two online versions of the follow up sessions.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

Session 1 will be for “beginners” and be true primer on how to get started.

Session 2 will be for intermediate to senior practitioners and focus on how to get above the crowd.

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS – or anything else here, by leaving a comment!    And please, would you go to this site and fill in a very quick survey?  I promise I’ll send you the results if you do. Click here to take survey

We also recommend to all of you that you may want to keep up with us on our online internet radio show ( either live or in the podcast version.  That show is every Monday night at 8:00 pm ET.  Now for those who would like the notes from the session, here they are

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Crowdsourcing – Contests for Content

Blogs are interesting creatures.   When they start out, it’s often with great enthusiasm.  You have lots of ideas to share –  vision, direction, purpose!

The first articles come easily.  They flow.  You are inspired.

Then comes disappointment in one of two forms.  Sometimes, you have no audience.  Even with great promotion, that initial blip of interests fades.  You look at your visits and hope that the one visit today wasn’t you.

Or it can be successful in getting an initial audience — that audience might even grow.  But sooner or later, after a hard day at work or on what could be that lazy Saturday morning, you drag your sorry butt to the computer and you just don’t feel like it.  Excitement becomes unpaid work.  You now understand what columnists who do weekly columns do with the rest of their week.  And you gain a new respect for anyone who publishes daily.  Your content dwindles and the audience drops off.

To paraphrase the poet T. S. Eliot – this is the the way most blogging ends, “not with a bang, but a whimper.”   Sounds kind of sad, doesn’t it?

Maybe one of the reasons why this happens so frequently is that blogs are often lone wolf enterprises. It’s a single person with a single vision in a world and a medium that facilitates and rewards collaboration.   I produce an online radio show, Game Changing – which is actually a blog and podcast every week.  How do I manage that with my schedule?  I’m not sure.  We’re actually going to launch a second show.  I could not do this without the collaboration of my co-hosts.  It’s an interesting irony.   The internet gives the lone wolf an easy way to launch, but in all too many cases the lone wolf may get all the credit, but the collaborator gets success.  It’s an interesting variation on the “give it away and grow rich” philosophy which powers so much of the internet.  If you get it, you can prosper.  If you don’t – the odds of your success are lessened.

Sure there’s someone out there who bucks this trend, but if you really check that one person that you see probably has staff and resources.

And it is easy to find collaborators if you have money, time and resources.  What do you do if you have no budget?  Andrew Ballenthin has been seeking that answer for some time.  He built his Community Marketing Blog on the principle that he was going to find out if you could build a successful blog with no cash investment.  In doing this, he’s come up with some really interesting and creative solutions.  One of these is the Blog Off contest.

When Andrew Ballenthin did his initial Blog Off contest on his Community Marketing Blog he not only generated interest, he inherited a number of new writers who continue to add exciting content to his site. But he wasn’t the only one to benefit. The participants loved it and during and after the initial contest, the group stuck together and has started to form their own community around the blog. This year the contest is bigger, the prizes were valued into the tens of thousands of dollars and a much larger group of contestants participated.

In the spirit of crowdsourcing, our own radio show/podcast Game Changing is pleased to bring in the winners of Blog Off II – three astounding bloggers: Sean Nelson, Sam Diener and Tim Ruffner Want to make YOUR blog a winner? Come on and get some tips from these winners. We’ll also explore the contest and find out about the experience of crowdsourcing from the crowd’s eye viewpoint.

Change the game!

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Rejoice – I didn’t send you a Christmas Letter. Instead I give you a sign!

Last year I posted a note to my personal blog.  It was a bit of satire – a take off on the Christmas letters we had received.   It was silly and tongue in cheek, and it was probably the most popular blog I had written.

This year I thought I’d be a little more serious.  This has been a year where bad news has flourished – the economy, the environment — and at this time of year, once again fear seizes many and airports around the world go into security alert.  It would be tempting to succumb to the barrage.  It would be tempting to think that this was all happening to us, from forces greater that us — beyond our control.

I have to confess that I’ve skirted with that kind of thinking.  We’ve all had our share of tragedy in the past year.  Some of it is, quite rightly, out of our control.  But this year, I saw something that lifted my spirits and made me think.  It was a picture of a man, I’ve no idea who he is, who wore a simple sign that said, “I don’t believe in the recession.”

Futile?  Perhaps.   But I loved his defiance.  Continue reading

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