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Keynote Presentation To The International Customer Service Association

  • Keynote Presentation To The International Customer Service Association

    I recently enjoyed the privilege of presenting a keynote address at the 2010 International Customer Service Association (ICSA) conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

    I’d like to share two observations; one about ICSA and a second about a central theme of my keynote remarks.

    ICSA – A Cut Above

    The motif of ICSA’s three-day event was The Power Of Service. My fellow keynote presenters, and those leading the various breakout sessions, offered compelling perspectives on how to leverage the power of service. Bill Gessert – ICSA’s President – did an extraordinary job of pulling together the best and brightest from across the marketplace and delivering a first class conference experience. You can learn more about the conference and ICSA by visiting

    Language & Metrics: A Portal For Viewing Corporate Customer Care Missteps

    My keynote remarks were grounded in three emerging truisms about the power of service:

    1. The power of service is a double-edged sword. Good service yields increased customer loyalty and positive word of mouth in the marketplace. Bad service results in the opposite. This relationship is so strong that it’s as close as we may ever get to a universal law of customer behavior.
    2. While today’s customers may have unparalleled power to buy what, when, and how they like, they have considerably less power when it comes to getting problems resolved. Despite the fact that corporations have spent billions over the past 30 years on sundry initiatives to improve this aspect of customer care, complainant satisfaction has decreased markedly over that same period.
    3. One needn’t look further than the lexicon of customer care – the words and metrics of customer care – to unravel this enigma. Words and metrics have meaning; the marketplace vocabulary and measures of customer care, at once, reflect and shape the dynamics of complainant satisfaction.

    Most of my keynote presentation concentrated mainly on this last point about language and metrics as a portal for viewing corporate customer care phenomena (including an examination of the generational decline in the relevance and affection for the philosophy that “the customer is always right”).

    For the purposes of this blog, however, I’d like to focus on the language and measures related to the key driver of complainant satisfaction: “getting what you want.” No factor has as much impact on complainant satisfaction as “getting what you want.”

    As my colleague Marc Grainer reported in his most recent blog entry, our National Customer Rage survey suggests two misperceptions about “getting what you want.” (see Why the Customer Care Revolution Failed SO FAR, A Roadmap to Ultimate Victory Part 2).

    Most customers don’t get what they want. And, most customers aren’t looking for unreasonable solutions; they more than likely want simple, non-monetary solutions (in the forms of a reassurance, an explanation, an opportunity to vent, an apology, or a thank you for their business). Said another way, dignity and “psychological currency” are often as or more important than cash.

    These empirical facts nicely describe what customers want and get when they complain, but fall well short of explaining why customers are unlikely to get what they want. Why is it that so many complainants get “nothing?” Why do such a large percentage of complainants feel as though they haven’t received reassurance, explanations, a chance to vent, apologies, or a thanks for their business?

    To my mind, there are two explanations.

    First, most companies simply don’t measure the dispositions “want” and “got.” They measure many elements of the customer care experience; what complainants wanted and received are frequently not two of them. And if you believe the adage, “what gets measured, gets managed,” then a failure to measure these outcomes is at least half of the issue here.

    Second, I think that the language of front line customer care exchanges – both in terms of utterances of commission and omission – may be at the heart of empty customer care experiences. The words used, misused, or not used in these “moments of truth” may indeed arbitrate whether customers believe that they’re getting “something” or “nothing.”

    My next blog will illustrate and draw out this point about the language of front line customer care exchanges.

    In the meantime, if you’d like to download my keynote slides from the ICSA 2010 conference (PDF, 1MB), please do so.

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