If you’ve ever worked with Brutal Pixie, you know that we are mad on customer experience. It’s entirely because I’m a little bit obsessed by it. Today I’m going to tell you why, and then, as promised last week, I’m going to give you a bit of an insight into what it means for the next few Pixie years.
Here’s why I’m obsessed by customer service
My obsession with customer service started long before I even knew I had one. I remember that my very first paid job - which was pulling fuel at a petrol station - made customer service paramount. My training was not just to make the place run efficiently, but to do so while also making everyone happy.
I had ad hoc training after that. In a hardware shop, where I learned how to make customers feel valuable even when they made ridiculous and laughable mistakes. In a Red Cross shop, where I learned the impact of environment on purchasing. In a clothing shop in a tourist town, where I learned the value of both good questions (for tourists) and a good memory (for locals). In journalism, where I learned interrogation and negotiation. And in a call centre, where it all came together with lessons about the nature of product and the ritual in people’s lives.
This was all back when customer experience was a load of wank, and your job, my job, everyone’s job, was to turn customers into loyal customers.
The very best managers I ever had, the very best trainers, taught me not just how to serve customers. They taught me how to listen, how to engage, how to solve problems by myself, how to make damned sure that I took every opportunity to make someone’s day brighter - even if they were calling in the darkest fit of rage imaginable, and would have preferred to flay me and my family.
Add a splash of continuous improvement narrative all through my teenage years thanks to my dad, and an intense dislike (as a consumer) of sub-par, reactive, brainless service, and here we are.
The customer experience of people interacting with the web industry is pretty rough.
It was clear to me very quickly after launching Brutal Pixie that the attention people pay to customers in digital agencies is (on average) poor. It was when we began, and it still is.
It’s SEO companies sending the same emails every month and only changing a few numbers. It’s people who can’t be reached. It’s digital advertisers who take loads of money and spout a bunch of jargon words and eat all your money. It’s marketers who walk in and ‘apply’ a method without asking any questions. It’s web developers who promise the world and never deliver - because they can’t.
I know this because we have a disproportionate number of customers who have been burned. The number of people who come to us bitching about all the other agencies they’ve ever worked with is astonishing. They’re agencies all over the country, of all kinds. Typically, we get them when they’re jaded, sour, burned, disappointed, sore, and at the end of their budgetary allowance.
Our customers regularly tell us how we’re the only agency they’ve ever worked with that gives a shit about their product and/or service.
And if that isn’t a damning reflection of an industry, I don’t know what is.
I designed the customer service processes at Brutal Pixie in such a way that our customers are inside the work every single week. They know exactly what’s going on, when things are done, how it’s going, and what’s coming next. They have the opportunity to shape the work. It stops them emailing us.
The reason it works is because it was built on an understanding of the psychology of spending, fear, and value; the laws of simplicity; and human behaviours.
More recently, I’ve been paying attention to the onboarding sequences, so that they deliver the same warm, happy feelings that the service delivery does. In its current iteration it’s almost right. How do I know? Because people started mentioning it, and then asking if we can help them do it too.
Who’s in charge of your customer experience?
You know, the number of people I know who are CX experts, or CX designers, and they’ve never worked in the hard, cold face of obsessive customer service, is huge. I’m baffled about how they even understand what it means.
I have a strong attitude that the best place to learn the fundamentals of customer service is at the coalface of a luxury product. By ‘luxury’, you understand me to mean ‘not essential to life’. My training was in newspapers. I had the kind of training that taught me how non-essential products become the centre of rituals in people’s lives; that it’s the disruption of the ritual that causes them to freak out. I’ve dealt with suicide threats, violence threats, customers stalking suppliers. I’ve dealt with the serially angry person, the crying person, the person who feels that they’ve been abandoned and left alone, the person who feels that nobody cares and that this is the end. of. everything. Seriously, if you can negotiate with people like that and get results, then you can do anything.
The challenge is moving from the coalface and into design. When you’re in front of customers all the time, it’s easy to understand them. But if you’re in the back-end somewhere, you never deal with customers much, and you’re designing customer service (XP), how the fuck do you do it? Yeah you can run studies but it is never the same thing. You have to experience it in order to know how to solve it.
The experience gets you inside the minds of others, shows you the problems, forces you to think on your feet, makes the gaps and issues obvious.
Which is why I love hearing about companies that force every single person to spend time on the front-line, including the senior executive.
How the Pixie’s customer service will change over the next four years.
While our customer service processes are pretty good right now, they could be better. I have a personal mission to make Brutal Pixie’s customer experience the best in the market.
It’s so important I’m going to repeat that, and emphasise it in bold. Brutal Pixie’s customer experience will be the best in the market.
Making a commitment like this isn’t an idle matter. It means intense scrutiny over every component of the moments in our customers’ interactions with us. Which ones are proactive? Which reactive? What questions do we get that we should never get? Which ones do we answer more than twice? Where is the process not transparent? How available are we?
The challenge is not to overdo it. And not to disregard it in favour of something else, like meeting new people.
For the past four years we have been the kings of over-servicing, going above and beyond to the point where we were doing way more than we ought to have been, and not being paid for it.
Great service is a balancing act. Once you have a luxurious service in place, it doesn’t matter if you don’t over-service, because people don’t notice. If everything is buttery smooth, velvety soft, and happens just at the perfect time, then a service feels like magic.
We’re pixies. Magic is in our blood.
In 2019, my drive for developing the service aspects of Brutal Pixie even further will be augmented by compressed working hours, in just four days per week. This is my cue to plug my Patreon account - which, in the first week of January will be 1 year old. Everyone who is a patron on 7 January 2019 will be given visibility over the positive changes that taking a day out every week can have on your business; existing patrons who upgrade will get some cool stuff, too. But you can sign up and learn more about that here.
Outstanding service doesn’t mean being on 24/7. It means designing the experience from end to end, and making sure that how people describe you is intentional. It takes a bit of effort to get from intentional design to consistent provision, but it’s possible.
Actually, it’s more than possible. In society as it stands, it might be the only thing that makes you a success.