This is the third instalment of my experience with Virgin Media and so it might not make sense without the back story; if you’re interested in that you can read Virgin Media – the best and the worst, which details what happened over the Christmas break with my lack of broadband and the response from the @virginmedia twitter team, and you can also read my attempts to make sense of my response to that in Service recovery Virgin Media style.
This post serves two purposes, to update on the response from Virgin Media (in case anyone out there is interested) and to pick up on the really useful comments and insights that the service recovery post led to – thank you to everyone who discussed it with me on the blog and on twitter, your reflections were really useful.
Since the most recent post I’ve had a visit from a Principal Technician, Mark, who phoned in advance to arrange a convenient time, who called to let me know when he was running late and who was incredibly pleasant and (as far as I could tell) knowledgeable when he got here. He has reassured me that if we have any further problems it is due to the network and not our equipment and most importantly he left me his contact details so I could get in touch direct with him if we had any future concerns. At this point in time we’ve had continual broadband, no problems and great customer service. So I feel quite satisfied but a few comments on my last post have got me questioning whether my expectations are too low?
I do think though it is a sign that we see these kind of responses as “awesome, great or impressive”.. I think we have grown to bad Customer Service and our expectations are pretty low…[comment from @wimrampen]
I suppose I agree with Wim, my benchmark for customer service is evidently extremely low. My benchmark is born of my experience though. For example, on Friday evening I spent over an hour on the phone to Orange trying to register a sim card. After 62 minutes of a recorded message telling me my call would be answered shortly, I decided to give up and get on with my weekend and sort it when I return to work on Monday. That is the environment within which I was pleased with the personal touch from the Virgin Media twitter team. On the same post @MartijnLinssen shared his experience with Telfort, his former ISP, he quite rightly observed that seemingly Virgin Media had made the better investment in how they sought to resolve my difficulties.
Wim also warns of relying on myths, something so very true to my own approach, see this post about the need to rely on evidence in the design of services. Wim clarifies:
There is little argument about the Service Paradox, but it should also be clear that this will only work as long as it remain incidents. It is not recommended to implement a service recovery strategy as means to increase Customer loyalty.
I feel the need to take responsibility at this stage for possibly mis-representing Fabian Segelström and Jeff Howard’s post, eek. If that was the case I’m sorry. They in no way imply that Service Recovery opportunities should be created or exploited, more that their resolution leads by lucky coincidence to improved satisfaction over all. In an attempt to right this wrong misrepresentation, and in trying to understand more, I came across a journal paper, Why service recovery fails: tensions among customer, employee, and process perspectives. The findings of this literature review support my earlier hunch that this wasn’t about employee incompetence but more about a dissonance between the people working within a system and the different elements of it:
Findings – It is argued that service recovery often fails due to the unresolved tensions found between the conflicting perspectives of customer recovery, process recovery, and employee recovery. Therefore, successful service recovery requires the integration of these different perspectives. This is summarized in the following definition: “Service recovery are the integrative actions a company takes to re-establish customer satisfaction and loyalty after a service failure (customer recovery), to ensure that failure incidents encourage learning and process improvement (process recovery) and to train and reward employees for this purpose (employee recovery).”
So there you have it, it seems that Virgin Media responded well in terms of my customer recovery and I get the impression that there is some internal dialogue that should lead to process and employee recovery. I only hope so. This was also picked up in the comment left by Guy Letts, his experience was similar:
Clearly there are many individuals there who are competent and who care deeply. Actually that’s usually the case with the individuals – as you rightly point out. I used to run a large support operation and we recruited to a high standard, as many do. It’s the empowerment, the systems and the policies that are often sub-standard – and that’s down to top level leadership not just investment.
As Guy points out, the responsibility lies with top level leadership, so I hope that those who hold that role within Virgin are listening. If they are and they’d like to share that with us, and/or they’d like to discuss any of this further, I’d love to hear from them.
This year I’ve been working on keeping a work-life balance so haven’t been working this weekend, instead I’ve been blogging, tweeting, cooking and generally chilling out. Part of that chill out has involved catching up on television that I recorded months ago, including The Big School Lottery, a BBC documentary in three parts about Birmingham Education Authority – the largest in Europe – following a number of families as 30,000 Birmingham secondary school places are allocated.
I found this programme equally fascinating and depressing, while also reminding me of some of my own experiences of school. The most striking thing is sort of obvious – it was how much the children were influenced by their parent’s. Saffiyah, had been tutored by her father for the year running up to her sitting her 11+, she was keen to go to a grammar school but very balanced about the whole situation:
Any of the schools I would have got in to would have offered me something but I think Camp Hill offered me that little bit extra.
Mohsin’s parents had moved to the UK from India seven years before and he had a lot of hopes and expectation riding on him. In the second episode he found out that he had been accepted into his fourth choice of school. His parents struggled to hide their disappointment, despite the fact that he had gained a place at a grammar school, his dad was immediately pointing out that there’s room for improvement. On the first day of his secondary education a teacher tells them if they try their best no-one will complain, at a grammar school I somehow doubt things are that simple. That said his Dad’s ethos was one that I’m sure will see his child go far – he was quick to point out that success doesn’t grow on trees and it can’t be bought in the supermarket, it needs to be worked at, slowly and surely. Mohsin’s father, at the end of his first day points out that hard work always pays out in abundance, while I admire the work ethic, I’m not sure life is that simple. Mohsin offers the following reflection:
The pressure is a good and a bad thing; its good in a way because it will help me in life, and its bad in a way because it’ll be tiring and I’ll be stressed out a lot.
A tiny bit of me dies inside when I hear eleven year olds talking about being stressed out.
Miles, struggled to fit in at primary school and things don’t get off to the best start at secondary school either. Placed in a secondary school three miles from his home, he leaves late on the first day and arrives after assembly had already started, not the best impression. When asked how he was feeling Miles replies:
The three things i’m most worried about are getting lost, getting lost and getting lost.
I can’t help but feel this is a metaphor for life for Miles. He is the most gorgeously enigmatic individual, he wants to be a fashion designer, but he doesn’t really understand why he struggles to make friends. His mum is great, very stoic, “some people are kind, some people aren’t, that’s just life”. She’s right of course but its heart wrenching to watch someone try to deal with that.
Harry attended the Blue Coat Prep School and his parents were clear if he didn’t get into one of his top two choices of grammar school that they’d educate him at an Independent School. Fresh back from his first day at said grammar school he is asked by the film maker what he imagines and hopes his life will be like. His answer:
Counting money, a huge amount (?), and sitting in a pool, that’s what everybody hopes their life would be. I don’t know, I’d probably settle for something like this, maybe….middle class, family with a few children, a dog and a nice house really.
Harry is obviously a bright child and a fabulously laid back one at that. He has the confidence of a child who has never had to go without, I’m not sure whether the very notion of ‘settling’ for a middle class lifestyle belies his ambition or just speaks to his experience to date and his family view of success. In contrast, across town, Jamiah’s mother asks him how his first day went and recounts:
Somebody got detention, somebody got in trouble three times and somebody got sent home…on the first day?
Jamiah’s mum had left school without qualifications and works in Tesco, whereas her brother and sister had both gone on to university, which had left her intent on Jamiah getting a better education than her. She realises that Jamiah needs pushing and makes him commit to keeping out of trouble. Hopefully Jamiah will achieve academically but himself and Harry certainly aren’t playing on a level playing field.
Me (a few years ago)
All of this got me thinking about my own life, the choices that myself and my parents have made and my experience of them. After a fantastic primary school education with very mixed ability classes and a Partial Hearing Unit (where I spent a lot of time hanging out with the kids with hearing problems) I chose to sit the 11+, mostly because my Gran, my Mum and my Auntie had all gone to the local grammar school and I guess I fancied a chance to carry on the tradition! There was certainly no pressure to do so, at the time everyone at our primary school sat the exam as a routine way of grading academic ability and deciding on a secondary school place. I remember being equally excited and nervous about my first day at grammar school and I’ve never forgotten the first assembly. The school hall was massive compared to my primary school, it was full of girls – an odd sight if you’ve never been in single sex education, and we were sat at the front; my head mistress walked onto the stage wearing a gown and mortar board (this was the first time I’d seen one) and after wishing us a good morning proceeded to the following statement:
Morning ladies and welcome….<lots of words that I don’t remember, followed by…> now remember girls you’re the crème de la crème, the top five per cent.
To this day that expression makes me shudder. I genuinely believe that it was well meaning, I think it was meant to instil a sense of pride and confidence. However, for me, it just drove home how elitist and separatist the school was; it wasn’t just the suggestion but the headteacher’s somewhat smug delivery of it. I felt so uncomfortable with the notion that passing an exam meant we were somehow superior to others. It did, and still does, fundamentally contradict my own personal values of appreciating someone for who they are, not for their academic performance. I returned home that day indignant and demanding to leave and go to a different school, my very level headed parents were having none of it – they certainly weren’t exactly comfortable with the sentiment but neither would they let me throw away the opportunity of a grammar school education. Eventually I persuaded them to let me leave school just before my sixteenth birthday to go to college to study for my A-Levels and I never looked back, a whistle stop tour of what I’ve done since then is here. The values of the grammar school system (and my particular experience of it) was what I struggled with and to this day I’m not sure given my time again I’d chose to go to that school.
So what of this life lottery and what can parents do within this inequitable system. I guess for me the most important ingredients to success have always been a belief in self, a strong set of personal values and the support of a loving and accepting family, accompanied by a strong work ethic. Without doubt I received a good education, but I also believe I have achieved a lot in spite of the system. Since leaving school, studying education and psychology has led me to become acutely aware of the impact of self-fulfilling prophecy and the role of (teacher/parent) expectation on achievement, you can read more in Rosenthal’s classic work on this. In a nutshell, children are inclined to achieve what is expected of them, so as a parent or a teacher our expectations carry more weight than we might appreciate; if you expect a child to fail then they are likely to fail, the plus side to this however is that if a teacher or parent has expectations that a child will achieve then they are more likely to do so. My parents always asked us to just do our best, the downside of this might be not knowing when to stop or accept good enough, but the plus side was an acceptance that has allowed us all to take risks and push boundaries. For that I am very grateful.