Beware the Customer Experience Coma

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

Summer is a time when we are blessed with the opportunity to “unplug” and take a break – aka a vacation! (Please be sure to use this renewal tool.) Americans have less vacation time than many other countries and we still don’t even use the time we have! Our professional intellects will improve by taking that vacation time; we will deliver more value, not less. One day this summer I was lounging at Squam Lake with my husband David – doing nothing, then resting from doing nothing. I said to him, “Gee, I feel like I’m in a vacation coma.” Then I thought that perhaps this is the issue facing some companies in managing their relationships with customers. They have slipped into a Customer Experience Coma!

One definition for the word coma is “deep unconsciousness.” This seems to be the state to which some Customer Care organizations have evolved. How this happens is a curious combination of submission, negligence, and just-plain burnout from the battles and demands Customer Care professionals often face routinely.

Is your organization going through a Customer Experience Coma? Here are some sure tip off’s. Everyone is going through the motions but nothing is really improving. Management is involved in tons of “initiatives,” yet discussion of the Customer Experience seems to take a back seat if it exists at all. Participating in budget discussions (battles really), assigning blame for current conditions, and fighting organizational silos for mutual cooperation suck energy away from true focus on the customer. Quality programs may continue to yield information, but true connections are not being made. Retention may even be high, yet morale is flat. Information from Marketing is last minute or nonexistent. Appropriate training time to respond to new products and services is collapsed, like a malfunctioning lung. Technical infrastructure continues to cause ongoing issues for customers and staff, and metric manipulation to make stats “look good” is such a common practice that nobody even notices anymore.  In a comatose environment, these conditions are part of a deep unconsciousness that looks a lot like acceptance, but puts the Customer Experience at risk. Leaders continue to deal with the same issues repeatedly. I wonder too if customers aren’t sharing the comatose state with tolerance for such conditions. If they are, they may not for long.

There may be hope, after all. In June of 2007, a Polish man woke up from 19 years in a coma. So it is possible to “snap out of it.” How? Take a break and take a long, hard look around … Is your organization slipping into a Customer Experience Coma?

Shake it up, do something different, and ask new questions. Take a couple of days off so that when you return your professional intellect will be renewed and a heightened sensitivity will allow you to diagnose the situation and prescribe some new recovery tools. This could involve doing something as radical as moving people around, changing team configurations, or something as simple as checking your staff’s available vacation days and reminding them to get it scheduled.

Maybe it would be a good time to update the Quality program or start to talk everyday about the Customer Experience to someone. You might mention customers at staff meetings, track what customers are saying, and play quality recordings for those that do not traditionally listen to the voice of the customer. You might set up a visitor’s cube and invite anyone in the company to come by and plug in. Make it easy and fun. Wrap a conference room in paper and plot out a chosen process; ask for funny comments about the current practice instead of citing only its ineffectiveness.

Have some fun. Use all your vacation time this year to renew and take a fresh look. Experience the joy of pumping up your professional intellect and averting or awakening from a Customer Experience Coma!

My Best,