Nature vs Nurture and the Art of Customer Service and Product Innovation

I’ve been silent for the last week because in my spare time rather than blogging, I’ve been banging my head against the Windows logo. Short version of the story… I started getting a Windows error (svchost for you geeks), which I was able to diagnose as an Auto Update issue. After some amount of playing around, I found a Knowledge Base article stating there was a hot fix, but it was only available from Microsoft support. They had an option for online chat support for $35, saying it would be faster than the email run around. I’m an optimist and went for it. The chat went about as you would expect… back and forth that wasn’t focused on my problem, but rather about them filling in their customer database. Then, the remarkable piece happened, the support agent came back to say, and I quote:

“That hot fix isn’t available any more. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

 Many responses came to my mind, as you can imagine, but the most important and immediate one:

“Oh, hmmmm, that’s too bad… well, in that case, maybe, at least, TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEM I JUST PAID YOU TO AT LEAST TRY TO FIX?!”

However, being more patient, I said, “Any other ideas?” After 30 more minutes (really), the chat hung up and I heard no more. Sigh.

Alas, I will fix my own problem, but it reminded me of an on-going discussion that I had with Scott Cook when I was at Intuit. The short title, “Can you train people to understand customers?” While some people are naturally good at seeing the hard to see, or being empathetic, I believe that people can be trained — or nurtured — to see. Continuing my optimistic tendencies, my top tips for nurturing listening, understanding, seeing and/or empathy… that fit for both customer service and product innovation:

  1. Slow down. The biggest limiter I’ve seen is jumping to conclusions. Take the time to pattern match at a more detailed level to get the true picture, not the general one that “everyone can see”.
  2. Work at disproving your theories. When you have a theory, many things you see will fit it because our minds work that way. If you actively work to find the holes, you’ll typically do a better job at proving them.
  3. Be there. For customer service, take the time to understand the full situation… not just what the customer is saying now. If you are in innovation, actually go and sit with your customers. I always say, “See around the problem.”
  4. Relive your time with customers. Reviewing what you think you’ve learned is important. What surprised you in the case or the visit? Surprises provide the biggest opportunities. (Caution: Surprises aren’t all good, but the ones there are… really are.)
  5. Go for the fun. While the obvious might make us feel like we solved a problem quickly, it usually isn’t fun. Let customers teach you… rather than you teaching them. This opens your mind and makes you think differently.

Do you think my MS rep would have benefited from these tips? I do. What are your experiences on nature vs nurture, and product innovation or customer service?

OK, I’ve already ordered this shirt. I’ll be wearing it often… 

T-shirts are user friendly
         (PCs are not)

P.S. Yes, I almost put “Computers are not”, but well, you know I tip my hat to Apple with that adjustment.

5 thoughts on “Nature vs Nurture and the Art of Customer Service and Product Innovation

  1. Tech support I’ve gotten from Apple has definitely been the best, on average (yes, I just averaged all the tech support I’ve ever gotten just now in my head based on a 10-point scale), that I’ve ever gotten. Come to think of it though, the support I got from Ameritech (now SBC) for my DSL connection was pretty good too.

    Tech support is such a strange service commodity… if it were MY tech support service and I were in the chat room with you, I would have told you that the hotfix was no longer available first, and, assuming that there’s nothing else I could have done to help you, refunded your $35.

  2. Reminds me of the my Seven Steps I came up with during our self-help project. I was recently asked about the steps again. I’ll post them here, although without the customer stories and examples:

    Matt’s 7 Steps to a Good Support Experience

    1. Believe the customer has an issue.
    2. Understand the issue.
    3. Duplicate the issue. If you can’t, go back to step 1. Various ways of duplication, including watching the customer. This step has sub steps, although I didn’t write them down. Getting someone else to help you duplicate the issue.
    4. Discover how to resolve the issue, and tell the customer how to resolve it.
    5. If it can’t be resolved, figure out a workaround.
    6. If you can’t work around it, think about other applications.
    7. If you didn’t resolve it, admit to them you don’t think that it can be done and that you’ll submit it [to someone smarter than you].

    Submit it might be let someone else resolve, might be a bug fix, might be a new feature request. Just don’t let it fall through the cracks.

    Your rep jumped from 1 or 2 to 7, skipping everything else in between.

  3. Joe, Thanks for your note giving your experience… and particularly for that mental averaging job you did! 😀

    Matt, Thanks for posting those points. I had thought of them, but didn’t have a copy. To everyone else reading them, these are a GREAT list that was developed during a support project that the Innovation Lab at Intuit did. Terrific customer learnings, as always from this team!

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