In Customer Experience, Accidents Happen in the Intersections

November 12, 2020 | Written by Jake Sorofman

This article originally appeared in CMSWire.

As consumers, we’re all painfully aware of what a bad customer experience looks like. For me, it’s when the customer service rep asks for the exact same information that I provided to the interactive voice response system and/or shared with the two other reps on the escalation path. It can feel like the right hand doesn’t know — or, frankly, doesn’t care — what the left hand is doing, and it makes me (and I suspect you, too) far less enchanted by that particular company.

The same thing happens in the world of B2B.

Once a deal closes, much of the goodwill and momentum generated in the sales cycle is lost with the post-sales hand-off. As new stakeholders enter the picture, it becomes a jump ball or, worse, a dropped ball. For the newly minted customer, the dissonance from the rabid attentiveness they experienced in the sales cycle can be deafening, and they’re left to wonder whether they’ve made a big mistake.

It’s no way to begin a relationship.

The truth is that in every customer experience, both B2B and B2C, the accidents happen in the intersections. It’s the hand-off from one person, team or department to the next that often reveals the internal madness of how a company works. And it’s rarely a good look.

The Frontstage and Backstage of Customer Experience

The problem lies in a lack of coordination between the frontstage and the backstage. These terms come from the world of sociology where the late social scientist Erving Goffman used this theater metaphor to explain the complicated dynamics of social interaction. Here, the frontstage refers to human behavior when someone consciously knows that others are watching — which stands in naked contrast to backstage behaviors which are, well, quite the opposite.

The metaphor also applies to business. The frontstage is the experience that you proudly orchestrate for your customers. It’s the theater of the experience itself — rehearsed, choreographed and set in motion like some sort of dream, where the customer is left only to marvel at the magic of it all. The backstage is what happens behind the curtain: the ropes, the pulleys, the counterweights and the catwalks. The internal madness of how a company works.

The Necessary Devil of Complexity

Complexity is sometimes seen as a negative, but it’s usually nothing more than the necessary condition of scale. As companies grow, functions have to become more narrow and specialized, which creates silos that must be bridged with workflow and business processes. Too often, the bridging leaves a lot to be desired, making work tedious and cumbersome for employees and the resulting experience much the same for customers. In fact, since the employee experience correlates directly with the customer experience (for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has worked in a tedious job), the goal should be to embrace the Einstein principle: Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.

The point isn’t to eliminate complexity entirely but to hide it from view. Much like the backstage of a theater will always remain a labyrinth of control lines and devices in order to run the show, so too will the typical enterprise. The trick in both situations is one of sleight of hand, creating a convincing illusion that the complexity has disappeared.

Know Your Roles (Customer Experience Theater)

In a theatrical production, every player has to practically burn their role into their brain. They know every line, every gesture, every entrance and exit with practiced precision. But while there’s a certain art applied to every player’s creative interpretation, they have a script, stage directions, a director and a whole cast of characters to contend with. The best production doesn’t come from the brilliance of individual players but from the collective brilliance of the troupe.

The same is true in customer experience. Know your roles cold, and be equally sure you know the other roles around you. The most brilliant soliloquy that’s delivered out of step with the program means nothing more to the audience than the jarring error it most certainly is. The best player is situationally aware, ensuring that they deliver a series of well-executed moments that are both rehearsed and choreographed to contribute to a more broadly brilliant production.

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