Everything in life isn’t pleasant. Whether that’s when you don’t feel well, not being able to pay your bills, or getting a traffic ticket, these are not exactly things that end up on anyone’s top ten list of great moments in their life. But just because the experience itself is unpleasant, it doesn’t mean that experiencing it has to be.

I just delivered a key-note speech in Bogota, Columbia. After my speech a guy from the financial services industry told me he was in ‘collections’. He went on to ask me how they could be expected to deliver a great Customer Experience when he was trying to get money they are owed from customers? In our work with clients I have come across this on many occasions.

How Necessary Unpleasant Experience’s Can Be Positive

Many of our clients will say to us, “it’s clear that this part of the Customer Experience is going to be poor as we need to [necessary unpleasant experience here], so lets not spend our time improving the customer experience there.”

I understand exactly why our clients say this. Who could argue that any of these examples I gave is pleasant? But like I said before, even though each of these examples of what the situation can be is unpleasant, the experience of them doesn’t have to be.

For example, when we did work with Memorial Hermann Hospital System in Houston they asked us to redesign their cancer treatment experience.

Now having cancer is clearly very bad. Therefore our clients thought the experience would naturally be bad as a result. I would even go so far as to say they used it as the excuse for it being bad up to the point that we were brought in to fix it. Our work showed that while yes, having cancer is bad for patients, patients differentiated between having cancer and the way that they were treated when they had cancer.

The Difference between the What and the How

So there is a big difference between the “What”, which in this case was having cancer, and the “How”, which is the cancer treatment they received. Knowing this, we redesigned this experience for their cancer center by imbedding a culture of understanding and care that resulted in patient satisfaction improvements by 20% on average, ranking the system is the 92nd percentile of high performing hospitals. For more details on how we changed this experience for the patients you can see the webinar or read our full case study here.

The same happened with a credit card company with that we helped redesign their customer experience. In this example, the company had very bad scores on the part of the customer journey when their customer’s had financial problems. Here is another example where the “What”, financial problems, is inherently bad so the company assumed nothing could be done to improve the experience moment. And again we discovered people differentiated between having financial problems and the “How”, which in this case is the way they are treated when they have financial problems.

Consider this short video about a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Elton Simmons again highlights the difference between a bad “What” and a good “How”. Despite the fact that he writes people traffic tickets all day, he has a zero complaint record in his personnel file. 

Clearly, getting a ticket is a not fun “What.” But as Officer Simmons figured out, by treating people with behavior that conveyed respect and understanding instead of judgment and guilt, he is able to make the “How” of getting a ticket a pleasant experience.

Few of us can imagine a time when getting chemotherapy would be a positive experience. Nor would we think that managing financial problems with a creditor would be like a day on the beach. And certainly, none of us expects to smile and laugh when we get a ticket. But if you can separate the “What” from the “How”, you can do exactly that for any moment in your experience as disagreeable as these – no matter how distasteful a moment it may be.

So consider your own customer experience and areas that you think are so unpleasant that there is no way to make them positive. Knowing that your customers can separate the “what” from the “how” when it comes to unpleasant necessary experience, are you just making excuses for a bad experience?

Are You Making Excuses for a Bad Customer Experience?

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world.  He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

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