There are a thousand reasons to be happy you don’t work for Volkswagen just now. One of them is getting to avoid being part of the orchestra accompanying its Dance Apologetic over the emissions software thing.
And boy are they dancing in Wolfsburg this week. Customers are about to get gift cards and a big fat sorry letter. Regulators can expect the Swan Lake of apologies as the company trots from market to market chucking rogue engineers into the volcano. Shareholders will be looking for a matinee performance over the stock price that went off a cliff in mid-September. Such fun.
VW isn’t the only one apologizing lately. Ozzy Osbourne has apologized (again) for peeing on the Alamo 30 years ago and Takata finally coughed up an apology last quarter for its shrapnel-propelling airbags. It would seem only Quentin Tarantino is refusing to apologize (though Next Draft’s Dave Pell says not apologizing is the new apology, which is intriguing).
If you’re feeling the need to apologize for something (Christmas, is just a few weeks away, after all), Harvard Business Review published a good piece in September to help you figure out whether to apologize, how to do it and how to tell if what you’re about to do is going to have any benefit at all. I can also recommend this article from Inc. Magazine for great tips on getting your Sorry Dance right.
Done properly, these large, public apologies are well and good and tick the right boxes on the PR ledger: find a sacrificial executive, spray blame on a few anonymous non-conformists, fling some money at the injured, unleash some lawyers at the whiny and pray someone else does something much worse to nudge you off the front page, and you can probably ride it out. We train for this stuff.
Today I want to talk not about the Bolshoi-level dancing we do on the public stage, but about the ongoing, simultaneous micro mea culpas that are happening right now in your organization. Your front line people don’t get to put on a suit and be sorry for polluting the Gulf of Mexico; they get to put on a headset and do a more delicate pas de deux with your customers.
They are the ones who get to apologize for late flights, lost parcels, dropped calls, missing packages, broken merchandise, stuff that doesn’t work, systems that don’t speak to one another, bills that aren’t accurate, zippers that don’t zip, batteries that don’t charge and things that are just disappointing and sad. They do these one-on-one, often face-to-face, countless times each day.
Which raises two questions: Has anyone taught them how, and what are we doing with the data?
People like me scurry about the C-Suite teaching Corporate Overlords how to furrow their brows, soften their eyes and ooze concern while quietly managing a tight talk track and measuring the heck out of media impressions, market sentiment and brand impact. But who is teaching the retail people, CSRs, delivery guys and installers how to apologize and mean it? You have scripts for upsells, cross-sells, saves and cancellations. You probably have some basic training about empathy and tone of voice, but I will bet you haven’t got a nice talk track around why it’s taking forever for the customer record to load, or why the customer’s problem keeps recurring or why they need to provide their account number, mailing address and blood type each time their call is transferred to another rep.
What’s even more interesting is the tracking. Do you have any sort of accurate measure on what’s causing these little dances? When your reps close a ticket, process a return, cancel an account, offer a discount or just burst into tears, how do you track the reason?
In my experience, there’s a little drop down list with things like “incomplete shipment,” “billing error”, “dissatisfied with product” or “resolved” to choose from. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a system with a little tick box to record whether or not an apology has been uttered.
But hang around the lunchroom or smoking area and you’ll soon hear the patterns start to emerge. You’ll hear talk about the product that “never” works with Android, the warehouse that “always” mucks up the orders, and the location that “regularly” runs out of some necessary item.
Your front-line knows this stuff, but I’ll bet your inventory, operations, finance, logistics, marketing and product management people don’t, which is why your front line is wasting so much time and talent in the Dance Apologetic.
Happily, the information is right there. It’s in the data you pull from your ERP, but it’s also all the call recordings, customer surveys, NPS scores and employee surveys. In case you missed it, this is Big Data. Also in case you missed it, there are now Big Data tools that let us aggregate this stuff and predict where and why the Dance will take place and whether we’re any damn good at it. Now I know these are new, expensive toys but I’m willing to bet they cost less than fixing one really good public face plant, and I promise they’ll see a lot more use and deliver a lot more value.
Marketers are pretty good these days with Big Data tools that help us corner our next customer or figure out our next growth market. Time to turn them loose on the customer experience.
Interesting Things I Found This Week
Tim Washer never gets old (I mean, I’m sure he ages, but his comedy is timeless) and neither does the work he did for Cisco. Here is one of the best B2B product launch videos ever. Seriously.
For most of us, the workday is like a theme park ride that starts with anxiety, rockets upside down and backwards through boredom and deposits us at the end of the day just back where we started. If this is harshing your productivity, check out this link for tips on finding a place in the middle where you can get stuff done.
BizMarketer is Elizabeth Williams
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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