The short answer to that is that we are deeply biased. Despite all our good intentions about delivering superb customer service, we time and again end up seeing the situations from our own point of view. And using that point of view, we make assumptions about what we think the customer is experiencing. But unless we actually walk in their shoes, we have no clue what they are experiencing.
I see this time and again when I give workshops that introduce Service Design to groups of service providers. In order for them to really understand what this is about, I let them try it for real. So we pretend that they are a group of city tourism planners that need to improve the tourism experience in our city. In order to do that, I let them choose a persona situation and set up their hypothesis (or assumption) for this experience.
One team of three said that navigating the Copenhagen subway is very hard if you don’t speak Danish. Another team of three had the assumption that tourists easily pick the wrong kind of restaurants and end up in the tourist traps. And other groups pick other similar situations that they felt had some problems seen from a tourist point of view. So we sent them out for a 3-hourr field study. Armed with just their iPhones, we asked them to bring back proof in the form of pictures or recorded testimonials that confirmed their basic assumption (so that we could start working on ideas for improvements).
So what happened?
None of the teams could prove their assumption to be correct, none. What they thought a tourist experience was like (here in their own home city) was nowhere near what the tourists said they experienced.
So then I had to ask them: So how many of the assumptions that you have made about how your customer experience your service do you think are accurate?
Food for thought: How can we test our own assumptions about our own service product?
The same way as we did with the tourists. We get out of the office and we observe, document and collect lots of testimonials in the actual situations (not post-experience 6-page surveys, please). With that raw data, we can now start truly talking about what we need to do to improve our various touchpoints.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to do that ground work, your next best solution is to ask a group of students (Anthropologists or service designers) and have them do the real-time observations for you.
Map out the guest journey. Record your assumptions at the critical touch points: “Our breakfast is the best in town.” or “Our meeting facilities are perfect.”; “Guests think our coffee shop has the perfect selection.” Now ask the researchers to prove you right if they can.
Don’t forget: Assumption is the mother of all f… ups.
This blog post is part of a series of answers to frequent questions that I get around the concept of the Service Profit Chain. In future’s posts, we will continue to explore other key points. If you would like the full concept served up in one go, you will find Mike’s book “Best! No need to be cheap if…” HERE.