Expect the Unexpected!

Having recently returned from an extended trip around parts of South America, looking back I can safely say I experienced a world very different from the one I’ve known living in the UK. From the stunning scenery of Patagonia to the steaks of Buenos Aires, nearly every part of the trip was a new experience for me in some way. Yet, it also had its challenges and, on returning to work, I felt I could take some valuable customer experience management lessons from the trip.

One of the better pieces of advice I received was from an English tour guide in Buenos Aires; his words were: “The biggest mistake you can make in South America is to say the phrase, ’You would expect…’” I found this statement to ring true countless times, no more so than at the Sao Paulo bus station on the Easter holiday weekend. While many had undoubtedly booked in advance online or at the station, thousands had left it to the same day and were waiting hours in lines hundreds of feet long for their tickets. For me it was absurd to wait, but for locals it was normal.

This led me to the simple conclusion that we cannot predict or expect anything in life by simply thinking about what I and you would do. This can be applied both on a personal level and a corporate one. Just because you think your customers will like something or react positively to it, doesn’t necessarily mean that they actually will!

And this is exactly the reason why Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs exist and have become so important in recent years. We live in a world where true innovation in consumer goods is rare (you only have to look at the iPhone releases in the last five years). The famous “If I’d asked customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse” quote by Henry Ford does indeed still ring true; yet, VoC programs focus on the art of the possible, instead of discovering the “next big thing.” They refine and help evolve the business to become more streamlined and efficient, while creative teams worry about how to come up with the next big innovation (which the VoC program can later gauge the customer reaction).

Simply put, VoC programs cannot survive and shouldn’t exist unless they “expect the unexpected,” in order to uncover what has been previously missed and to highlight areas in which the business can improve.  A customer recently asked us: “Show us something we didn’t know.” This encapsulates our biggest reason to exist and the highest value we can offer our customers.

I want to finish this post with a little story about a customer in the retail banking sector. The bank was aiming to offer a high level of service to all customers, which tied in well with the culture of the brand. The problem was, when they dived into the data, they uncovered that they were over-servicing their low-value customers, and under-servicing their high-value ones. They had expected all customers to appreciate a consistently good level of service, yet had disappointed some and delighted others. Over the next several months, they began to redefine the experience their customers were given based on their segment, and scores began to rise significantly.

In short, the lesson here is: expect the unexpected.

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