I recently ordered some items from a web site that I’d used before. The checkout price was $30, which I paid with a credit card and then forgot about it and got on with life while waiting for the items to arrive. A few days later I was checking my credit card statement, and there was the transaction, but at $31.85! Of course $1.85 isn’t worth too much effort, but it wasn’t the money, it was the principle. So I went back to the website and submitted a ticket pointing out the error. Within 30 minutes, I had a profuse apology and compensation with $10 worth of freebies - nice!
Truth is, I made lots of purchases lately, but all of the other purchases were below my attention threshold in terms of service. I clicked to place the order, and then I clicked to make the payment. That payment left my account as expected, and the goods came to my door, also just as expected. They were perfectly ordinary, everyday purchases. I might talk to my friends about what I had bought, the good (or not-so-good) price I paid and so on, but I wouldn’t mention the service quality.
When you think about it logically, that is what good service should be – all but invisible, delivering what you expect without fuss or incident. So, why was the one transaction that went wrong the one I ended up most impressed with? Certainly it has a lot more to do with human psychology than service performance, but still very relevant to anyone working in the IT service management (ITSM) sphere.
As you can imagine, I was thoroughly delighted and impressed by the speedy, polite customer service of the company that accidentally overcharged me. I was happy to get some extra products for free and enjoyed telling my friends what great service this company offers.
But here’s the conflict then. The companies that got it properly right, I didn’t praise and publicize. The one that got it wrong, but corrected it nicely, is the one I felt most pleased with. So is the message here not to be too good? Should we strive for minor glitches and good fix rates, or should we aim at delivering what we’re supposed to?
Of course, for some services, in some situations, you’d feel that ‘getting it right’ without fuss or visibility is essential. Think of open heart surgery or flying a plane. And yet, even then, one of the great recent heroes is the pilot that landed the crippled plane on the Hudson River. I also recall a conference with three great motivational speakers – all of whom had failed to do what they set out to do but were impressing folks with how they had dealt with the failure.
In fact, if you look at the way many ITSM teams operate, they do still give more emphasis to fixing failure than preventing unplanned occurrences. Ask someone to talk about what ITSM covers and many will still start with the service desk, incidents, and fixing faults. Is this a failure of ITSM culture? Instead of having things fail and then fixing them quickly, shouldn’t they focus on actually delivering without any mistakes, making life as easy as possible for the customers? Too often, correcting failures drives customer appreciation more than just seamlessly providing services or goods without any mistakes.
If we’re too perfect, will we be so unappreciated that we find we’re no longer seen as valuable and be punished for our success: de-funded, outsourced or passed over for promotion?
Perhaps one key to solving this conundrum is by education: making customers and staff realize what true success should look like. We all need great fire-fighters available should the fire break out. But we don’t really want to see them in action. What we want is smooth and effortless service. Perhaps I’ll go back and check on all the other suppliers who did deliver and start telling my friends how good they are!
Where do you stand in this conflict? Do you worry more about fixing errors than keeping them away? Do you put effort into making your staff see that their prime job is service delivery, not service repair? Or are you pragmatic enough to let things break a bit, to show how well you can fix things? Maybe you’re even tempted sometimes to break them, engineering a situation to showcase your fault-fixing prowess? No, of course you wouldn’t :).