A couple of weeks back, I went to a theme park that I love. It’s not just a local theme park that I visited frequently as a kid, but it’s also where I started the marketing portion of my career. Marketing has been one of the three pillars of my professional identity, along with business and technology. In other words, my heart has that warm feeling when I think of this place.
But waiting unnecessarily to access the park in a row of completely blocked main gate queues, I realized something. Your customers are waiting on you, and that’s not a good thing.
Waiting at a theme park isn’t anything new or remarkable. Long lines have plagued entertainment operations for… well, forever, as far as I know. The trouble isn’t the obvious limitations of physical systems to handle a demanding population, but rather that the delays clearly stem from operational ineptitude.
At a theme park, you can see both badly designed systems and poor systems execution very clearly. Those not trained in the discipline of business may not be able to discern which is which, but nonetheless, the problems are observable by everyone. Applying the same type of insight and observation to our own businesses is difficult and not always as obvious. When customers have difficulty accessing you, it likely doesn’t literally generate a stalled line outside your front door, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have inefficiencies in your systems and execution.
In business, we often feel like nobody understands us or our products. Again, the transparency at a theme park is high. When a problem is experienced with your ticket or pass, there’s a clear difference between a main gate attendant executing a fault tolerant system as opposed to having to triage anything beyond normative.
“Welcome! I hope you have a lot of fun today, but first we’ll need to talk Ms. Smith who will help us update the expiration date on your pass.”
“Welcome! How are you today? Oh, wait… hold on. Let me check something. Is this the right pass? Oh man, your pass is expired, you need to go renew it.”
As the former example illustrates, a system can be developed that kindly removes the guest from the entry queue and addresses the problem in a manner that’s respectful to this customer, and the other customers who are patiently waiting. A lapse in payment, an expired pass, the wrong ticket type… these are minor obstacles if your system and employee training reinforces the idea that the customer is a welcomed part of the process, and things happen from time to time.
The latter example turns the customer into an embodied problem merely blocking the system. The system only assumes a nominal, or normative, state and has no recourse for exceptions or deviations. Other customers suffer as they’re made to wait on a resolution, and they sometimes rejoice if the “problematic” customer is booted from the queue without any resolution or assistance. “Good riddance you problematic asshole. Get your shit together.” Opposition exists between your organization and its customers, and friction is created between customers and independent agents vying for your resources rather than communally sharing an experience.
Ask yourself, is this how you want your business to be? Competitive and confrontational?
- Do I ever feel as if the client or customer is a burden or creates inconvenience?
- Do I often expect the client or customer to take on the full burden of solving shared issues?
- Do I wish clients or customers could just “get it together” and stop inflicting my business with nonsense?
Chances are, you somewhat agreed to more of the above list than you’d like to admit. Face it, we’ve all had days where the external world is the actual problem. Crowds like the one in the hero image for this post don’t represent a problem of “too many people showed up unexpectedly” to a theme park, but rather “we didn’t adequately predict customer wants and needs.” Likewise for me as a teacher, constant last-minute requests for extension on that one bothersome assignment typically indicate that I’ve skewed the assignment parameters in some way and caught students off guard.
As a final thought, let me say that I’m not advocating that you internalize all issues. My actual purpose is to assert that you customers aren’t as distant and “hard to capture” as you’re probably thinking. They’re out there… in the world… wanting your product, wanting your service, and wanting to build a community around common interests with you and your company, and even other customers. They’re literally waiting on you to create the experience they crave.
Start building the new systems, test them, let them fail to identify non-nominal states, and rapidly advance the prototype to address various states.
Go do it. Your customers are waiting on you.