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Don't Just Mind the Gap; Bridge It!
A popular Customer Experience phrase of late has been “Mind the gaps.” Most times by “gaps” it’s meant the valleys in between the peak experiences. Your company may excel at phone support, for example, but fall short in the quality or timeliness of email responses. This inconsistency is considered a gap, particularly because once a customer becomes accustomed to your delightful service in one area, the less stellar component stands out even more prominently in the other.
I have come to interpret the phrase in alternate way – to be mindful of the gaps that exist between discrete departments or processes. It seems so much attention is paid to providing excellent experiences by a particular team or by way of a particular touchpoint, yet little consideration is given to continuity and quality in the spaces in between.
Case in point: My husband and I recently learned the hard way that just because our credit union has a complete line of insurance and financial services “all under one roof,” as they advertise, that doesn’t mean anyone under that roof actually talks to each other. Our family recently took advantage of two promotions there. The first was to switch over our home and auto insurance to their onsite broker affiliate. The second was to refinance our car loan. Each experience was smooth enough when considered on a stand-alone basis; however, once coordination was required between the parties, clear gaps presented themselves. All told, we narrowly avoided having expensive collateral protection insurance secured on our behalf and billed to us, despite the fact our auto was insured all along. WITH THEIR BROKER. INSIDE THEIR BUILDING. The happy ending is the phenomenal response received from the institution’s management who not only righted the situation within one day, but also surprised us with a written apology in the mailbox the very next morning.
A variant of this problem can exist within large corporations that tend to operate according to a “matrix” whereby the folks who work beside each other daily are unlikely to even know each other’s managers because they reside in other parts of the organization. Despite best intentions to optimize operations via standardization and centralization, this can result in a pronounced silo effect due to increased separation among departments that may otherwise have reported into a localized leadership team. When each team operates as an island with its own government and laws, so to speak, goals and incentives can become out of synch and potentially contradictory. Add to that weak handoffs when the customer moves through its journey from interacting with one group to another, and the overall experience is bound to suffer.
Consider a Sales Department incented to close the deal and move on quickly. They may be out of the picture so fast that subsequent customer-facing contacts working to set up the new account, perform training, and so forth, are provided little information about the sale. Not knowing what they don’t know, as they say, the onboarding resources may find themselves asking questions that have already been asked and answered, or offering ancillary service options that have already been considered and declined. Few things are more irritating to customers than unnecessarily repeating themselves because it appears the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. (Just reflect on the last time you were transferred around a phone tree seeking assistance from wrong department after wrong department with none of your backstory traveling with you!)
In a fledgling Customer Experience Program, it may be enough to challenge each business area to look inside itself for improvement opportunities. But as your effort evolves and matures, to get to the next level it’s essential to also address the gaps that are the transitions between departments and processes. As I’ve learned wearing both my personal and professional hats, it’s in these very handoffs where breakdowns frequently occur.
~ Jen Maldonado