Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Naomi Karten on Customer Satisfaction at Boston-SPIN / ASQ Boston

Naomi Karten delivered a delightful presentation titled "Tales of Whoa and the Psychology of Customer Satisfaction" at the joint meeting of the Boston-SPIN and ASQ in Waltham on March 20. Before the presentation, I asked Naomi if the title was intended as a play on the words "woe" and "whoa".

From the Miriam-Webster online dictionary;
Main Entry: whoa Pronunciation: \, , hwô\
Function: verb imperative - Etymology: Middle English whoo, who Date: 15th century
1 — a command (as to a draft animal) to stand still 2
: cease or slow a course of action or a line of thought : pause to consider or reconsider — often used to express a strong reaction (as alarm or astonishment)

Main Entry: woe Pronunciation: \\
Function: interjection - Etymology: Middle English wa, wo, from Old English ; akin to Old Norse vei, interjection, woe, Latin vae Date: before 12th century — used to express grief, regret, or distress

Naomi intentionally substituted "whoa" for "woe" in the common expression. "Tales of woe" -- which is the wording that most people have heard before. Woe refers to the challenges people face in working with customers both in and outside of the software world. The definition of "whoa" -- pause to consider or reconsider -- is what we often need to do to identify ways to work with customers more effectively.

Her presentation provided a few simple and inexpensive steps to improve customer Satisfaction. Naomi admits that most of her advice is a simple statement of what should be obvious. Unfortunately many people ignore the basic principles of human interaction creating unnecessary friction in working relationships. Naomi's "Likability Lesson" focused on three ways to become more likable. 1. Listen - All people (including customers) really want to be listened to. 2. Be friendly - Smiling and taking time to build relationships smooths the road to success. 3. Lightheartedness - Nothing builds relationships like humor.

Naomi emphasized three key customer grievances that create perceptions of poor service.

1. Not being kept informed on matters of importance. No one likes to be kept waiting for answers.
2. Being made to endure excessive unexplained waiting.
3. Dishonesty: Having important information deliberately distorted or withheld. No-one likes doing business with someone they feel isn't being honest with them.

Naomi's advice on the delivery of bad news to customers is: "Don't delay." Naomi observed that most customers will understand when things didn't go exactly as planned; however, we need to acknowledge our responsibility to inform customers of issues or problems in a timely way, so they will have time to react and account for the bad news.

On the psychology of customer satisfaction and economics, Naomi provided the following insight:

While breaking a promise is bad, exceeding a promise is often not worth the effort. Nicolas Epley

This relates to setting and managing expectations. No one likes the disappointment of a missed promise, but in business, it often doesn't pay to go beyond expectations. Customers tend to adapt their expectations so the unexpected higher level of performance becomes the new standard expectation which can increase costs.

Naomi recommends making the following assumptions to avoid customer dissatisfaction :

1. People will interpret what you say differently than you intended.
2. People mean something different than you think they mean.

One of the things I liked best about Naomi's presentation was after each major point, she came back to the question, "What does this mean for you?" At which point, she passed along stories and anecdotes illustrating how to apply the concept in real world situations. For the assumptions listed above, "What this means for you," is that you should take time to confirm that customers understand what you said, and that you understand what you thought you heard.

Naomi recommended a couple of references for further reading:

A Mind of its Own by Cordelia Fine
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander

At the end of the evening, one of the regular SPIN attendees commented to me that this was the best SPIN presentation so far this season. I have to agree.

I'm here to serve,

"Whoa Nellie" Photo above by jahdakine via flickr under a Creative Commons License

1 comment:

insomnia#3 said...


I am Giannis Kitrilakis 45 years old from Athens Greece . I find your blog very intresting ... I am officer in the Hellenic NAVY (my rank is Commander).I have served for 14 years the fleet in sevel types of warships ,mostly in frigates and submarines.

I stopped over here just to say hello be happy you and your family ...

Best regards Giannis

( and sorry for my poor english level