Posts Tagged ‘expectation’

Life after Bobby: Month 1

December 13, 2012 3 comments

It’s four weeks since Dad died. Four of the longest, and simultaneously fastest weeks of my life.

I’ve blogged a few times and am very conscious that I don’t want to turn into someone who just blogs about death and dying and loss…. and yet that’s sort of what I start typing when faced with a keyboard. I could have blogged about so much this evening, leaving work, holiday, Christmas markets, hope, life, job searching…the list goes on and yet I start typing about Dad (again). I’m not sure if it’s a natural reaction to keeping his memory real and alive, whether it’s just a habit that added purpose and meaning to his illness that I’m trying to transfer now, or whether it’s just the easiest thing to blog about…verbal emotional blog diarrhoea doesnt take too much thought (although I do *always* have to check how you spell diarrhoea).

It feels like there are so many words, words of thanks and acknowledgement, words of memory, words that need writing/typing/capturing, yet despite having so many words I can’t really describe how it feels. We knew that Dad was dying for a number of years, of course you know that you won’t really be prepared for it, but in some ways you are. I had imagined what life would be like without Dad, I had thought about speaking at Dad’s funeral – not planned it but mused a little about things and hoped I’d pluck up the courage to ask him if I could do so, is amazing where your mind goes when you’re sat in hospital waiting rooms and we spent a hell of a lot of time waiting.

I’m still pretty exhausted and I guess I feel relieved but I don’t really feel happy. In some ways it was a relief when Dad died, physically having barely slept properly for the fortnight that preceded it, and emotionally feeling that there would now be some certainty. Despite visiting numerous Christmas markets in five different cities in the last week, I still don’t feel at all christmassy.

Kate Granger wrote an excellent blogpost today about her emotions knowing that she is terminally ill; she had just got the news that her cancer was stable and she says this:

So you’d think I would have been over the moon. Not so. In fact I was on the verge of bursting into tears for a few days and remain a little on the emotionally labile side even now. I feel completely irrational about feeling this way. I should be happy. But in my mind everything was getting worse and there was a path to follow even though that path was not going to pleasant. Instead I am left hanging in limbo, a state I have existed in for months. It feels a little as though the rollercoaster has broken down with me left hanging upside down. How much longer is my reprieve going to be?

In April I wrote a blog post The cancer rollercoaster: living with the unkown when I returned from a week away to find Dad had been admitted to hospital as an emergency:

It’s been quite an immersion, not that I ever really escaped it on my week away, but it’s a real reality check as I sit on their sofa banging the keys trying to make sense of it, or share the lack of sense in it with you (assuming as the eternal optimist I am that someone has read this far), and think about how all encompassing living with not knowing is. There are so many unknowns and so little certainty, the immediate reflection is that it can feel overwhelming at times. It’s like a constant faulty rollercoaster ride that you can’t get off, occasionally it slows, in fact sometimes it stops just long enough for you to feel rational/balanced/normal again then it’s like it flies off again, throwing any sense of equilibrium out the side of the ride with you.

Kate talks about her approach to dealing with the uncertainty being to try and restore normality and return to work. I read her post nodding along, painfully aware that I have no normality to return to. My last working day was two weeks after Dad died, so that option is no longer there for me. In fact I think the uncertainty and lack of structure around my future is almost certainly contributing to my sense of disorientation. It’s not that I’m not grateful, in some ways I’m hugely relieved that I don’t have to return to work and try to get on with normality, after all I’m confident normal will never be the same now Dad has gone; I’m really very lucky to be able to start afresh in life. I’m enjoying the first holiday in five years without any concerns for what I’ll find when I get home which is really quite novel.

I do feel in a way that I’m off the fairground ride. Perhaps I’m just in that dizzy, head spinny, not quite reorientated state, still a little wobbly having just got off a ride I was stuck on for five years – everything is a little blurry, a little out of focus, a little soft around the edges. All of that said I wouldn’t have missed out on that ride at all.


Service recovery: customer, process and employee

January 9, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

The Big School Lottery

January 9, 2011 3 comments

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.

Service recovery Virgin Media style

January 6, 2011 7 comments

Last night I blogged about my experience of Virgin Media over the Christmas break, you can read the full story here, but in a nutshell my broadband connection kept failing, the information I was given was incomplete and/or incorrect and I was bloody frustrated at missing the online shopping opportunities presented by the Christmas sales! I was also very pleasantly surprised at the brilliant customer service I got from the staff on the Virgin Media twitter team.

Today I’ve been very surprised and impressed at the response, which has included:

* The lovely Virgin Media twitter tweam sent me a thank you for my post and let me know it’d been passed on to other people to try help learn the lessons

* Alex posted a comment on my blog post acknowledging that it had been read and lessons would be learnt

* Two people who I follow on twitter who work for VM got in touch with me personally to apologise on behalf of their company – this was a really lovely touch, they had both offered to help out before and I was impressed with their pride and sense of disappointment that VM had delivered such a mixed service

* Then this afternoon I got a phonecall from the local Field Manager, he explained what had been done the last time a technician came out and that they’d checked the signal levels today and offered for a Principal Technician to come out and run a health check on the circuit (all sounds very New Years Health Kick to me) externally and internally to our property. Bob explained that the Principal Technicians have more sensitive equipment and should be able to rule out whether there are any ongoing, underlying faults on the system. This has been arranged for Saturday so I don’t have to take any further time off work and they are going to ring first thing on Sat and let me know roughly what time they’ll be here – to save me waiting in.

* Alongside all of those responses from Virgin Media, I also got quite a lot of chat and banter on twitter more generally. In amongst the general chat was a link to a post about the call centre script by @Martijn Linssen – couldn’t have put it better myself so I’ll not try, I’m sure you’ll recognise the problem; Guy Letts and Martjin have also been engaging in a fascinating conversation about ‘incompetence masquerading as innovation’, you can read more here on Martijn’s blog post Social Customer Service – Proving you failed?

Photo by Gene Hunt

All of this got me thinking about what is really going right and wrong here and I thought I’d offer my thoughts to help out the VM people trying to learn the lessons!

Is it about staff incompetence? I don’t think it’s that simple. I know that VM have something very right – the people I talk to who work for them, the people who evidently manage their twitter account, even to some extent the technicians we’ve dealt with – they’ve all shown an ownership of the Virgin Media brand and it is evident that they can give great customer service – within the constraints of the system in which they work. I’m not sure if this was clear enough in my earlier post – I’ve been very impressed with (most) of the individuals who I’ve dealt with about this matter – I just think that they could have done better if they were empowered to do so, if they weren’t following a script of options, if they weren’t limited by the equipment they had available; my sense is that this is a problem with the design of the service not necessarily just poor customer service.

Does Guy’s hypothesis stand? Is this incompetence masquerading as innovation? Again I don’t think so. The technology is new, the problems are old, but the response is something different. I feel that social media allows for a different type of response, my issue was that I didn’t have enough information and that I didn’t feel like my concern was understood – the twitter tweam were able to alleviate that, even though the underlying problem has yet to be guaranteed to be resolved. Problems will always occur, services will always break down but the response is what is different here. Add to that they really were taking on board what I was grumbling about – the suggestion that they would ring on Saturday with an estimated arrival time was brilliant, leaves me a little more in control of my weekend; if only that was routinely possible.

My sense is that Virgin Media have responded brilliantly….I consider that I’m lucky in that my grumble was picked up on twitter, if it had been my non-twittering mum experiencing the same problem I’m not sure she’d have got the same response or be as happy as I am, but then I guess less people would likely hear about it. A few months ago I blogged about a small problem I’d had with the awesome Pizza Cafe Newton and their brilliant response. Fabian Segelström read that post and later used it as an example of good service recovery. So what is service recovery I hear you ask? Rather than reinvent the wheel I’ve quoted from Fabian and Jeff Howard’s blog post about it:

…research has led to four major findings on how service failure and subsequent recovery affect customers’ loyalty towards a service company:

  1. Service failure has a negative effect on customer loyalty intentions.
  2. Failure resolution has a positive effect on loyalty intentions.
  3. Customer satisfaction with the recovery has a positive effect on loyalty intentions.
  4. Outstanding recovery results in loyalty intentions which are more favorable than they would be had no failure occurred.

Whereas the three first findings could be expected, the fourth is somewhat of a surprise and has become known as the service recovery paradox. The service recovery paradox means that a customer might be more satisfied with a company although they didn’t deliver on their first attempt than if they had delivered the service without errors, if the recovery action is perceived as very good.

Fabian points out that current estimates are that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to retain one; at this point in time I feel that Virgin Media have done all they can to resolve my problem – with the responses I’ve received today I feel like they 1) care and 2) might get to the bottom of it, so I guess at this point in time I am one of those rather random customers whose loyalty intentions might improve as a result of the failure I’ve experienced. For now at least. I think it’s about investment, illogical as it feels to put up with a deficient service, attempts at service recovery mean that I now feel like we’re in this together, it’s no longer my problem it’s *our* problem, in fact this feels like a joint investment between me and the best bits of Virgin Media.

Ultimately the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, if the problem continues and it can’t be found out why then I will have to look to move to another service provider, but at this moment in time my broadband is tickety boo and my loyalty to Virgin Media unquestioned. So again, thank you Virgin Media and thanks to Martijn, Guy and Wim for stretching my thinking on this one. Thanks also to Fabian and Jeff for doing the research leg work – nothing like some evidence informed thinking about the design of services.


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