“Make it work.” I love this phrase. It brings to mind those hard-nosed, over-working small business...
Like many people, I can appreciate a good magic trick. When I was growing up television specials featuring performers such as David Copperfield, Doug Henning, as well as Penn and Teller were regular events. And in New York City you can actually walk down the street and run across street performers doing some pretty cool things.
Part of how a trick works is that its mechanics are hidden from the audience. Whether its card tricks or displays of disappearing damsels, part of the fun (and what makes the magic, magic) is attempting to answer the question,
Most magicians, understandably, don't tell you how they performed their tricks. Part of it is personal--a unique trick helps to differentiate one performer from another. Part of that reasoning is financial. If you reveal too much the audience loses interest and they stop paying to see you perform. David Copperfield, aside from being a talented illusionist, was also a wealthy one. He had a vested interest in making sure no one could decipher his tricks, going so far as to sue author Herbert L. Becker to prevent him from publishing a book in which he reveals magicians' tricks, including his own.
Aside from the above, huge part of why magician's don't reveal their tricks is that it ruins the trick. For all that the audience may want to know, there's a part of them that doesn't. Magic lies in the audience's willing suspension of disbelief. We know that people can't pull coins out of our ears, or that pretty ladies can't be sawed in half and still live, or that the Statue of Liberty really disappeared. But we're still delighted by the trick. Very few people (Penn and Teller and Ricky Jay are two that come to mind for me) can be transparent as well as entertaining.
In the customer service world a lot has changed. Yet satisfying consumer demand hasn't, it's only increased. Consumers have a variety of different ways to gather information about a brand. And company's feel pressured to reveal as much about themselves as reasonable, lest others do it for them. "Engagement" is the mantra of today. Having a presence online (whether to provide information, interact with others, or to allow customers to shop) is an important and ever growing part of a company's strategy. Rating systems, customer review sites, blogs that are for or against a certain brand make it seem that, in essence, customers are less willing to suspend their disbelief. With the amount of information produced and disseminated online it's increasingly difficult for an organization to provide a magical experience.
As a Consultant, I'm not providing customer service in the same fashion as a Barista at Starbucks. I do however attempt to utilize my knowledge, skills and abilities in a similar fashion for the clients I work with. They have demands of me that I attempt to meet, and I endeavor do so in a fashion that goes above and beyond simply performing a transaction. I also work with organizations whose focus is to provide services to a particular audience. So part of my mission is supporting the client's attempt at delivering a magical experience.
What can organizations and consultants do to ensure great customer service experiences? Here are a few suggestions:
- Understand and focus on your strengths. Some magicians can perform a variety of different tricks. Generally speaking, many tend to focus on a particular form of magic. Some are illusionists, others are great at slight-of-hand, and still others are excellent escape artists. Understanding what your organization's position of strength is with regards to your target market will allow you to focus resources on building it.
- Get the mechanics right. Magicians practice their tricks repeatedly until they become second nature. And feedback regarding if it was successful is pretty clear--people either like it or they don't.
There used to be a hangout spot, a deli, in New York. And in the back room, all of the top magicians would come and meet, and every young magician would go and try to learn something. I met a magician there... and he showed me an incredible card move, and as he was about to leave, I stopped him and said, "Please show me how to do this." He was like, "Kid, don't waste your time—you'll never get this." But before he left, he showed me how to do it, and for the next six months—every day—I practiced it.
Kalush, who's one of my best friends now, taught me that even when it feels like you're not going to succeed and everything is crumbling apart: keep going. David Blaine, Magician
Organizations and its members need to take this to heart. Get the mechanics (of resolving customer complaints, of managing orders, or whatever customer related process you're responsible for) right. Only then do you incorporate the magic.
- Understand your audience and focus on their needs. Some people want to be treated special. They want you to know their name and how they like their coffee. Others just want fast, efficient service, particularly when returning or exchanging an item. This requires that an employee be able to quickly and successfully interpret and respond to a customer's needs. It's that understanding that makes or breaks the experience.
That deficiency is part of the reason why many people hate dealing with call center representatives. Many reps are trained to work from a script and may have little flexibility in deviating from it. Lack of flexibility can make it difficult to satisfy the customer, especially if presented with an unusual situation. This is part of the reason that Zappos get high marks for their customer service. Their representatives don't use scripts. In addition, they're empowered to resolve most customer issues
- Give them something worthwhile. Magical customer service goes beyond the transaction. Delighting your customers isn't a simple equation (efficient service + being nice = magical customer service). If you are a hack no amount of effort can make the audience (or customer) love you. 'Nuff said.
Ignorance isn't just bliss, sometimes it's magical. However, in an increasingly transparent world, customers and clients are less ignorant. Be prepared to deliver on these changing expectations by understanding your organization's strengths, getting the basics right, understanding your customer's needs, and being able to give them something worthwhile. Then you should be able to consistently create memorable magic.