Trust is the New Black: Insights from Craig Newmark of Craigslist

Craig NewmarkCraig Newmark, founder and Chief Customer Service officer of Craigslist, spoke last week at the Harvard Business School Club of New York, a talk he titled “Trust is the New Black.” Can I borrow that phrase, Craig? With attribution, of course.

I had not heard Craig speak before. Readers of this blog will find themselves nodding at many of his comments, and I for one found his thinking on several issues to be insightful and provocative.

Since I am not a professional reporter and did not record his talk nor take detailed notes, let me state that these are my impressions: while I’m trying to make my comments correspond to the reality of what he said, any disconnects are entirely my fault.

Unlike many speakers in the HBSCNY series, Craig allowed his comments to be on the record; he also gave out his email, Facebook and Twitter addresses freely. Not really surprising for someone who describes his primary job as being customer service. As he put it, “I haven’t done customer service for—oh, about an hour now.”

In the same vein, he suggests, “customer service, if done in good faith, is a form of public service.” That takes “doing well by doing good” to a whole ‘nother level. (I see some parallels with Buddhist Capitalism).

Craig Newmark on Leading and Managing: Competition, Metrics, Timeframe

Craig stated in definitive terms a couple of themes that readers of this blog will resonate with—the need for long-term thinking, and the focus more on commerce, and less on competition.

Someone asked about what he focused on: “I’m focused on the next 20 years, with an eye to the next 200. And I’m not kidding.” He isn’t, either. He’s very conscious of changing society, e.g. his recent involvement in veterans’ affairs.

In response to the question, “Who among your competitors most causes you to lose sleep?” Craig answered, “I don’t really lose sleep over competition at all. My focus is much more on customer-related issues—spam and scam, service.” My translation: Take care of your customers, and your competition issues will take care of themselves. (It also brings to mind an old Jerry Garcia quote: “The Grateful Dead don’t strive to be the best at what we do, but the only ones who do what we do.”)

On analytics: “We get lots of anecdotal feedback, and rely on intuitive skills. Whenever I’m in New York, I love popping in on realtors. We’re not so big on formal analytics.” I can’t read Craig’s mind, but I suspect he’s also got a healthy suspicion about the dangers of OD’ing on analytics.

Craig Newmark on Trust

Craig uses the designation “curators” to describe the job of editors; that was new to me, and I like it. “The news curators have a particularly big role to play in restoring trust in the media.”

Craigslist puts a lot of effort into combating fraud. One person asked whether it was a losing battle, with fraud increasing. Here’s what Craig said: “You can’t make the world 100% safe, trust doesn’t come without risk. But in my experience [and he has a lot, I might add–CHG] the vast majority of people are trustworthy; maybe 1% of people have bad intentions. Just use commonsense.”

Asked about ways to improve trust going forward, Craig talked about establishing different levels on the scale between anonymity and certifiable identity. For a small transaction, maybe we don’t need to know much. For larger transactions, we need to have higher levels of verified identity.

Fair enough, but I actually found his answer to an earlier question to be even more relevant. “I’m not interested in politics, my focus is governance,” he said. “And we’ve got some great examples of governance right here in the US; they’re called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you focus on asking how to work with those forms of governance, you can frame political issues in a far more productive way.” I’m guessing that Craig sees that focusing on issues of governance at the corporate level is similarly a way to resolve issues of competition, politics and social relevance, not to mention customer service.

My words now, not his: I think what he’s doing is running an organization which is at once purely capitalist and at the same time, always striving for integration into a broader context of social responsibility. Remember: “the dedication to true customer service through a for-profit enterprise is a form of public service.”

Capitalism and social responsibility are not incompatible: Craig Newmark is one of those rare leaders who sees that, done right, they are in fact inextricably linked, and for the benefit of both.

Do You Trust the Tech Support Folks?

What is it about tech support?

We want to trust that they will solve our problem. But wanting isn’t getting.

I had lots of time-on-hold to think about this recently – that is – what bolsters trust and what detracts from it? Here are my recent experiences.

1. My computer died in my sleep. It was under warranty. I called the tech support line. When I tested the computer with the agent on the line, the video card ignited in flames!

The agent stayed calm and made sure I was safe, genuinely caring about me and my home. Then he cared about my hard drive – assuring me that it was likely to be safe as well.

Then he addressed the issue – and decided to replace my computer, rather than just the parts. He described the exchange process, and said it could take one to three weeks, but might come even sooner. It arrived in 3 business days.

2. My PDA Calendar was deleting my entries. I called my cellular carrier. I slogged through one automated system and two phone agents–repeating my identification and other security data, in addition to my issue each time. Most of the conversation was scripted apologies about my woes, repetition of what I just said, and thanks for using their service and calling them. Having exhausted the service available, the last agent rightly granted me access to the manufacturer.

At that point, my experience changed. The first person asked about my problem and for my phone number in case we disconnected. Then I was transferred to a person that already had that information on the screen and who didn’t ask me to repeat either my identification information or my issue. He assured me he would stay with me until we resolved the problem – which is what I really wanted – instead of a disingenuous apology. We agreed to break at one point, at my request. He kept his word and called me back right on time, using the number that was logged earlier. And we resolved my problem.

Net net: for my computer problem, I trusted my phone agent, and through him, his company, and will buy from them again. I trust my PDA manufacturer, and will buy another when I’m ready. I’m not so sure about trusting my cellphone service carrier, and may change next time around.

What engendered trust:

• Skipping the unnecessary script and focusing on the problem
• Genuinely caring about me, wanting to help and reassuring me every step of the way
• Being transparent about process
• Keeping promises, showing reliability
• An agent recognizing that he can’t help, and referring me to one who can, as quickly as possible.

What detracted from trust:

• Canned apologies, fake empathy, and useless thank-yous designed to meet some behaviorally observable criteria judged by “management” to serve as a proxy for genuine trustworthiness;
• Asking me for the same information over and over and over…making me doubt either their intent or their competence, or both;
• Multiple transfers without results.

That’s just me. What makes you trust tech or customer service — and what makes you cringe and wonder whether anyone really cares?

Using Trust-based Selling in Banking: St. Meyer and Hubbard

Two years ago, I got a call from Jack Hubbard of a firm named St. Meyer & Hubbard . They did sales training for bankers, or so I understood, and were developing a "Trusted Advisor Prospecting System."  I was initially skeptical.  I viewed Trust-based Selling as more suited for B2B clients, and largely for later-stages in the sales process.

They showed me otherwise. 

We spoke a few times by phone, and exchanged some writings. I was quickly impressed with their unusual combination of vision-and-values perspective and down-and-dirty detailed, tactical programs.  They were teaching clients to apply trust principles at earlier stages and more retail-focused levels than I had appreciated was possible.

Jack and his partner Bob St. Meyer and their team have now written their own book—Conversations with Prospects—which I can enthusiastically recommend.

Recently I got to see them in action at an annual conference they put on for bank CXOs, mostly existing clients. And I don’t know when I’ve seen such a uniformly positive, enthusiastic and solidly appreciative set of clients.

Until a week ago, I had never personally met Jack or Bob—yet I felt like I was catching up with old friends even before meeting up in the hotel lobby. At dinner, they were Midwest-friendly, but also New York direct and to-the-point.

They clearly know banking. And here they were putting on a conference for their clients about their own subject matter—selling. But they always steered the conversation around to the others at the table. They never mentioned selling their own services. Which of course sold me even more.

In other words, they walk the trust talk.

Jack, for example, sends out over 500 emails a week of the “you might enjoy this article” variety. He doesn’t use a tracking system to follow each one up; he’s not looking to connect each of his actions to a client profitability analysis, nor does he constantly examine his behaviors to determine his sales efficiency. He just focuses on his clients, both those with whom he has signed contracts and those who have yet to do so.

Here are a few excerpts from “Conversations with Prospects.”

One thing all prospects want is the same thing any of us want in our most valuable personal relationships. They want to be visible. They need a bank, but they want a banker—someone who knows who they are, what they do, and what are their challenges and opportunities.

Bankers often try too hard to prospect using techniques that are all about the bank, relying on persuasion instead of conversation. Unless the banker gets lucky and hits the prospect at a moment of desperation or unfulfilled need, the prospect invariably pushes back with any number of brush offs, but most often the shut-down line is: “I’m happy with my present bank.”

Bankers will introduce themselves to prospects by saying things such as, “I’d like to come out and introduce myself because I think I can save you some money.” Or, “I’d like to discuss our cash management offerings.” Who really needs to spend time listening to another banker peddling the same products as the rest of the pack? We see a lot of sales letters that are just as bad, talking about the sales person and company, but not the potential customer and their issues.

Needs are not products. Bankers that discover, create, and exceed the need will always have business. When the push to sell products overrides the best interests of the client there is little discussion about managing anything.

When sales people are measured solely on the basis of production, the client is the ultimate loser.
In trust-based selling, the sales person stops trying to be interesting and learns to be interested. Banks that understand this work hard to focus on and understand the buying cycle of their prospects and clients. When banks match their sales cycle to the customer’s buying cycle, it’s a trust connection and they are well on their way to a sale.


Bizarro Customer Service: The Anti Nordstrom

Ever run across customer service that was just so perfectly, precisely, exactly—wrong? Like Bizarro Superman, or the Seinfeld episode it inspired, a world of 180-degree opposites? My friend Jim entered Bizarro-land this week.

Jim’s an aw-shucks, dumb-like-a-fox Texan: MIT degree, world traveled, he’s currently building a truly special house in a gorgeous location. And when I say “building,” I mean he operated the earth moving equipment and cut the special trees for the special timber-based patio roof himself.

Back home this week, he visited two stores seeking some special pieces of hardware. The first place—Pierce Hardware in Fort Worth—treated him beautifully. It’s not in stock, but let’s go through some catalogs. You need an in-between size? We’ll work with the manufacturer to get something custom. And so on. Jim bought some things, and may buy more.

Then he visited Company B, a national franchise chain I won’t name. When they found out he wasn’t from the area, the salesperson seemed to him to lose interest. When Jim asked if he could take a very fancy brochure home, the salesperson said she had to ask permission from the Vice President of the franchisee.

So far—no Bizarro, just weak customer service.

Then Jim emailed me, describing the “Tale of Two Stores,” about the contrast between the true customer focused experience he had at one store, and the feeling of being shunted aside because he didn’t live within Company B’s franchise area.

And he cc’d the Vice President at Company B.

Now it gets juicy. Following are excerpts from the email Jim received back from the VP at Company B:

"I am aghast at this completely inaccurate account of your interaction with me and my staff at my showroom.

"As you are well aware, you have completely misrepresented our conversation… I am not sure what you [sic] motivation is for coming into a business and communicating a false recount of your experience.

"What would be of value to you and those few people who may read your email is to do 10 minutes of research on the company that you will be writing about before you attempt to blog about customer service / salesmanship.

"You did not do this so I am going to take a few more mintutes [sic] out of my extremely busy day to educate you on our company…

"… The space you walked into was a showroom for a high-end custom product. Again, listening to what the staff is tellling [sic]you and having a little background on exactly what the business you are critiquing does would have helped you communicate responsibily.[sic]

"In regards to the brochure that our Showroom Liason [sic] so generously handed you is exclusively for our clients that schedule in-home consultations with us and for our trade partners, not designed to hand out to someone walking off the street into our showroom. However, even though you were misleading our employee she gave you the benefit of the doubt and gave it to you in the name of superior customer service, which is our passion at XYZ. Again, if you had done even 10 mintes [sic] of research you would have know that we are a national brand with an unsurpassed reputation for exceptional service.

But the irony’s not over yet. She concludes with:

That brochure costs $12.00 so it is my expectation that you will do the right thing and return it.
FYI – I am cc-ing our corporate office and attorney on this email.


To recap: here’s Company B’s response to a customer complaint:

  • You’re a liar
  • I can’t imagine your motives for lying
  • Nobody reads your stupid blog
  • You should research us so we don’t have to waste time selling to you
  • I’ll waste 10 more minutes of my valuable time on you
  • You clearly don’t understand our business model, because—
  • If you did, you would have stopped at the trailer park instead of at our high class joint
  • Gimme back my brochure—after all, it’s only right, it wasn’t meant for you
  • I’ll sic my lawyer on you
  • And I’m sure my franchisor thinks this is a dandy way to handle customer relations!

Hopefully her attorney has by now informed her that (s)he has a fool for a client. And if counsel doesn’t have a gut feel for good customer relations or PR, I suspect the corporate office does. Because XYZ does in fact have a fine and well-deserved reputation and great products, and didn’t get there by boneheaded Bizarro antics like this.

That’s why I’m resisting the temptation to name names here. Ms. Bizarro doesn’t represent this company. Heck, maybe she just had a bad day and normally represents the company very well. I once had a day like that myself. Maybe two…

Reputation matters. It is the result of massive accumulations of daily, truly customer-focused behaviors. Sometimes that’s enough to get you off the hook for even Bizarro behavior. Maybe once or twice. Not much more.

Customer Service Showdown: The Cable Company vs the DMV

The stories you are about to read are true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Wait a minute—there are no innocents! Let’s name names. It’s the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles vs. Comcast Cable.

And believe it or not, one of these is a wildly positive story about customer service. The other, of course, is not (lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, especially if that place is New Jersey).

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to guess which story is which.

First, the disaster story—courtesy of my friend Judy.

Judy called XYZ about a common transaction. “Sure,” they said, “here’s what you need to bring, and we’ll take care of you.”

She gets there: “What? Who told you that! You need to go back home and bring the other thing.”

She returns. “You can’t do this, your ex-husband’s name is on the records. We need a copy of the twelve-year old divorce decree, plus his signature on a form. We don’t have that form, but we’ll fax it to you.”

Days later. “Who told you we could fax that to you? We can only mail it.”

More days. “We need to confirm your social security number.” She gives it to them. “Sorry, we can’t match it; we don’t have records of your social security number.” “Then what were you going to match it to?!" Judy asks.  We have entered Kafka-land some time ago.

At last, Judy leaves with the desired outcome. It turns out to be wrong.

On returning yet again, it’s, “well, who in the hell gave you that? It’s obviously wrong. Hey lady stop screaming—no need to take out your personal problems on us!”

OK, that was—drumroll—the Cable Company!  Comcast of West Orange, Essex County, New Jersey.

And that means—yes, people, believe it or not—the raging success story is the New Jersey DMV. Lately renamed the  Motor Vehicle Commission

I visited the Morristown office recently to register a new (actually used) car and change my address. I walk in at noon. The parking lot is full. I dread what is about to happen to my afternoon. 

But no; the lines are short—very short—and moving. I’m aggressively approached by someone who looks me in the eye. “Waddya here for, how can we help yez?”

“I want to register a car, and do a change of address,” I say. No hesitation. “Great, come on over here, let’s kill ‘em both off at once,” she says.

And she proceeds to do just that. She gave me practical advice: “If you don’t mind camping on a phone to Trenton for 10 minutes, it’ll save you a whole lot of time later—I’ll get you a chair. Meanwhile, I can download this part and fill it in for you.”

An elderly woman came in with an oxygen tube and a walker. An employee briskly walked her to the ladies room, then on her return, firmly asked someone else to move down to the next chair to make room.

A man with an accent said he was foreign born but naturalized years ago, and was worried sick about getting some documentation. An employee talked to him intently for 5 minutes; he ended up saying, “Oh, thank you so much, I am so relieved to find someone to help me with this, thank you.”

A woman next to me said, “I can’t believe how much better this place is than the department store I was just in.”

I sought out the office head before leaving to congratulate him on how different this office felt than others, and how much better than it used to be. “Yeah, we’ve got a pretty good team here,” he said, waving at his staff of eight or so.

Now, here’s the punch line. Which office do you think has bulletproof glass in front of the service windows?

Answer: the one who needs it.

Trust Is the New Leadership In A Flat World

Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat is an absurdly great best-seller.

It was a best-seller when printed in 2005, and as of today it’s still ranked #112 on Amazon. That’s a lotta bananas.

I don’t recall if Friedman ever defines “flat”—but it is an apt adjective.

“Flat” conveys the sense of “level playing field,” as in markets opening up to competitors from everywhere. It suggests a levelling of wages and prices, for the same reason. And it certainly conveys the feeling of lots and lots of interaction between buyers and sellers.

But enough about Friedman. Here’s what “flat” says to me.

Business used to be about stable, vertically organized, fire-walled, corporate entities—which competed against each other. That was business.

Not any more.

In the “flat” world, we don’t have corporations—we have supply chains. The vast majority of the auto industry’s costs are purchased costs. I’m told that when Tata set out to design a sub-$2500 car, they didn’t call a company meeting—they called a supply chain meeting.

The old job of leaders and managers—to organize (largely hierarchical) efforts within the walls of the Good Ole Corporation—is disappearing.

The new job is being done by supply chain managers, customer relationship managers, key account sales managers, and field engineers.

And that new job is not about directing people over whom you have control—it is about influencing those over whom you have absolutely no control whatsoever.

Trust is the new leadership.

It’s no longer about how you measure, motivate and inspire those beneath you or with the same W-2 form as you. It’s about how you connect with, help, and serve those with whom you interact in the Great Outside World.

Trust is the new leadership.

It’s no longer about how you help those who depend on you. It’s about how you help those on whom you depend.

And there’s the rub. Our old leadership models were internal; it was OK to help your people—after all, you all worked for Good Ole Corp.

But in old-think strategy, the customer and the supplier are your competitors too (think Five Forces model). Don’t share your cost information; contract for everything; you get what you bargain for; check with the lawyers.

In a flat world, old-think strategy runs smack up against new-think leadership.

In a flat world, you actually have to trust your supply chain. Your supply chain is your friend, not your enemy.

It’s no mistake Davos this year was all about collaboration. Collaboration is the new competition.

And trust is the new leadership.

Like old “internal” leadership, it comes with a paradox. If you focus on serving others, you will be served yourself. But if you set out to serve yourself by the “means” of serving others, you will be found out.

Conversations with a Spambot

You know about spam. Though unless you write a blog, you may not know that spam also affects blogs.]

Automated “spambots” search out blogs for key names, then enter a “comment.”

Some bloggers don’t allow comments, in part because of the hassle of constantly cleaning out their comment lists. I eliminated one entire posting called “seductive statistics,” because the title was attracting on average two fake postings a day, day in and day out. It takes time to clean the stables.

Last June I posted a piece called Trust, Politics and US Healthcare Policy. Probably because of the word “healthcare,” it occasionally attracts spam. As it did yesterday.

Every once in a while, this stuff just pisses me off. This time, I clicked on the spammer’s link, and found a “click here for online customer service.”

So I did.

Here’s the resultant dialogue. Hang on for the punch line.

You are now speaking with Daphne of Customer Service.

Charles Green: Why do you use spambot advertising?

Charles Green: You’re filling up my blog comments page.

Daphne: Hello, this is Daphne of Online Customer Care. How may I assist you?

Charles Green: It is annoying, time consuming, and very tasteless

Charles Green: Whoever there makes the decision to send spam to people’s blogs should be made aware of what a boorish, tasteless form of business they are engaging in

Charles Green: Daphne, please pass on the message

Charles Green: Just so you know what I’m talking about, I publish a serious blog about business. One of my postings was about "Trust, Politics and US Healthcare Policy." And what do I get as a comment? A spambot advertisement from you people. Daphne do you feel good personally working for people who decide to use such slimeball tactics? I can’t imagine you do.

Charles Green: Do you like getting robo-calls at dinnertime from mortgage companies? That’s exactly what you folks are doing to me.

Daphne: We are a legitimate company and we operate in compliance with existing federal laws, all medicines provided are obtained from legitimate pharmaceutical wholesalers, or in some cases directly from the US manufacturer. Rest assured our company is committed to meeting and exceeding all government regulations covering this online health care provision.

Charles Green: Daphne don’t give me that "comply with government regulations" crap. That just says what you do hasn’t been made illegal. That doesn’t mean it isn’t disgusting, vile and will eventually be made illegal if enough scumbuckets like your company don’t behave like responsible marketers.

Daphne: Charles, I do apologize for this inconvenience. We are customer support here and we only handle customer related issues.

Charles Green: Daphne, it’s not personal. I know it’s not you doing it, and you have no need to apologize. But please know what it’s doing to your reputation, and pass it on.

Daphne: Charles, we are customer support team for many online companies. Please be so kind and be more specific in order for us to be able to assist you.

Charles Green: Are you kidding? is the one I’m responding to. They send out spambots to legitimate blogs like mine, doing the equivalent of junk mail and email spam. It’s disgusting. That’s what I’m complaining about. Pass it on please to those folks.

Daphne: Charles, You want to be unsubscribed right? May I have your email address, please?

Client Service vs. Client Servility

Most client-serving organizations I know make a pretty big deal about client service. Consulting, law, HR, IT, accounting, and salespeople in complex businesses—client service is right at the top of their list of virtues. And rightly so.

But—sometimes, things can get a little twisted.

What do you make of:

o The administrative assistant who delivers the Officer’s laundered shirts to him at the airport at 9PM. Regularly.

o The project manager who hauls the whole team in on Sunday to re-work the slide deck. Regularly.

o The senior officer who drops in on the staff meeting to “show the flag” but leaves early because “when the client calls, you know…” Regularly.

o The salesperson who cuts price at the drop of the hat when the client demands.  Regularly.

o The VP who cancels the cleanup position on the third round interview because “I had no choice, the client changed the date.” Regularly.

o The manager who joins the training session late and slips out to take calls between blackberry-checking time, because “we’re in the middle of a really tough time for the client—they need me.”  Regularly.

o (The presidential candidate who, in mid-speech, stops to take a phone call from his wife on his cellphone from the podium. More than once.)

The key word is, of course, regularly.  Any one of those examples can be held up as a case of client heroism.  If, that is, it’s an isolated event. IF it’s endemic—then that’s not client service, that’s client servitude.

Client service is not client servitude. Great client service is doing things above and beyond the norm; being willing and able to behave in unusual ways when faced with unusual situations; and doing them selflessly, for the sake of the client.

Being servile is quite another thing. It means seeking out options to give faux service.  Terms related to servile include sycophant, brown-noser, suck-up, boot-licker, ass kisser, obsequious, and toady.

We suspect those who are servile of dishonesty—of speaking falsely in an attempt at self-aggrandizement. Their motives are suspect; which means their credibility is at risk as well.

Ironically, their servility costs them in terms of respect from the very people they are most trying to impress.  Above all, we don’t trust such people.

If we’re honest—no, I’ll just speak for me here—if I’m honest about it, there’s always a tiny touch of servility lurking around the edges of most client service I perform.  It’s hard to be unaware of the value of being perceived as client-serving.

The trick is to not be overcome by a need for recognition. To do the next right thing, yet to be detached from the outcome; particularly whatever benefit clearly might accrue to me from doing the right thing.

This is the heart of it, I think.  Client service is doing good for the client.  Period.  We are not surprised when we get credit for doing it.  But expecting good from doing it is Station 1 on the slippery slope; the End-Station is doing client service  in order to get credit for doing it.

That way lies client servility.

Most clients don’t want servants at their beck and call—they want equal partners at the table who can make a plan and stick to it; who have enough respect for themselves and their own firm that they will, on occasion, push back; who take the partnership seriously enough that they will keep their own team healthy enough to deliver in the long run, rather than burn it out in a never-ending series of  faux client crises. 

And if you really think you have one of those rare clients who wants servants—then put your money where your mouth is.  Give that client to a competitor.

We’ve Got the Hamburgers: a Customer Service Classic

I had a delightful dinner the other night at the home of a client in the Netherlands. It was his birthday, and at the dinner table was a mix of family friends and co-workers—all interesting, in part because all were very well-world-travelled.

One told me the following (possibly apocryphal) story.

When McDonald’s was first entering the market in Moscow, it placed a great deal of training emphasis on the elements of customer service. Fast, friendly, courteous, prompt—these were the principles McDonalds wanted its employees to embody in their relations with patrons.

An employee approached the trainer one day early in the process, with an offer to help. “Listen,” he said, “you seem like a nice person and I’d hate for you to appear foolish in front of the group, so let me explain something to you.”

The trainer was all ears, concerned that he had nearly made a faux pas, and grateful for the help.

“You see,” explained the employee, “we’ve got the hamburgers. The customers don’t. They want them—we’ve got them. They have no choice. They’ve got to go through us. And you don’t want them getting ideas about who holds the power here. Just remember—we’ve got the hamburgers. Now do you understand?”

Of course, it’s tempting to chuckle and say, how quaint, or can you believe the culture in Russia, or how dumb was that guy. Tempting, but wrong.

Because “we’ve got the burgers” syndrome lives on elsewhere.

• While looking at a car at a Saab dealership a few years ago, I asked to test-drive a model. “I really can’t do that now, I’m on break in 10 minutes and tomorrow’s my day off. Could you come back Friday?” Our burgers, our timetable.

• A customer at a discount clothing store was annoyed that the clerk kept talking with a co-worker while checking out—and making a few mistakes in the process. Transaction finished, the employee turned full attention to her conversation. The customer turned to leave, she said, “You know, a simple ‘thank you’ might have been nice.” Not turning to look, the clerk said, “It’s printed on the receipt.” You got your burger, you should be grateful.

• More subliminal, but no less real, is the implicit belief among consulting types that the client is buying knowledge and advice—and therefore is under a moral obligation to pay for any advice given, and to take it willingly. A client looking for the comfort of advance discussions is therefore trying to “get it for free,” and is ethically challenged if they don’t take the advice. How dare you challenge our burgers.

• When a corporate IT department is asked by a user for a capability like Skype, or instant messaging, they may get a lecture on why they don’t need Skype, or IM, but something else instead, and the real solution will take a while, cost more, and not do exactly what Skype or IM would do—but it’ll be great. You can’t handle the truth about our burgers.

“We’ve got the burgers” is not just a metaphor. It’s one symptom of a common disease—the disease of “it’s all about me.”

How about you? What’s your favorite "we’ve got the burgers" moment?

Soliciting Customer Service Feedback: Motives Matter

Ginger Conlon, over at The 1 to 1 Blog,  writes about an excellent midtown New York meal tainted by a flawed customer service feedback process.

When the check arrived it came with two comment cards, encouraging our feedback. [But] the only way to give your feedback was to give the card back to the server. I could walk up and hand it to the host; but perhaps I would like to have mailed it in? There was no address (or email address)…

… if I was to have given negative feedback (I didn’t, the food and service were terrific) and drop that card back in with the check, what’s to stop the server from tossing it in the trash? If this restaurant, or any other establishment, really wants feedback – good or bad – it should make it easy and comfortable to give it.

In this particular case, I think the comment card was really more of a way to get satisfied customers to opt in to the company’s email list.

Agreed, Ginger, and let me pile on.  Not only is this a bad service evaluation process; it also ruined your dining experience (badly enough that you’re blogging about it, and I’m amplifying it).  It made you think about:

a. a mildly uncomfortable and totally unnecessary interaction;
b. the possibilty of gaming the system
c. the (possibly nefarious) motives of the restaurant.

And the worst of these is the last.

Let’s go from bad to worse, to worst.

Bad:  when was the last time you filled out a paper service evaluation form at a hotel, airline, restaurant? Probably only when something went really wrong?  Data quality with such low and skewed participation rates is low.

Worse: such low participation rates cause cynicism in customers and employees alike. Bad data can’t support quality decisions.

But the worst—bad motives—can sound very much like good service improvement theory. The theory goes:

• Carefully measure what’s wrong
• Figure out the desired new behaviors
• Reward people on the basis of improved data.

This is management 101, right?  Tell people what you want, then reward them for doing it.  (It’s also Pavlov 101 and Skinner 101, but never mind…)

Unfortunately, when you put such weight on the rewards, you can ruin the motivation for good service. It becomes about money, not pride.

The really good waiters, servers, etc. know how to subordinate the goals to the process—they succeed in spite of, not because of, those following service improvement theory.

But its worst, this approach produces begging. “May I put you down as having received excellent customer service on this call?”  Try saying “no” next time and see what happens.

Here’s what happened with me.

CSR: May I say I provided excellent customer service for you today?
ME: No.
CSR: But—what did I do wrong?
ME: You didn’t do anything wrong, but you weren’t able to solve my problem.
CSR: (Sputtering) But, that wasn’t my fault; it’s the system.
ME: Whatever.  I still didn’t get my problem solved, so I didn’t receive “excellent customer service.”
CSR: But I tried.
ME: Thank you. But is this about your trying, or about my results?
CSR: But this could hurt my ratings and cost me!

This is a bad customer service feedback process, providing bad data.  It ruins the service as well.  And it creates cynicism about bad motives.

But when it turns decent employees into pathetic beggars—abjectly beseeching the very customers they are supposed to be serving—then the process has achieved something truly twisted and dehumanizing.

And all in the name of measurement and reward.

Hey Ginger—any reason not to provide the name of the restaurant?  It’ll be our little blow for improved service analysis.