It’s a wise and oft saying in the customer experience world that we should “put ourselves in our customers’ shoes”. One way of doing this, or at least getting close to it, is to serve our customers. A good question to ask of us in the field of customer experience is “when did we last serve a customer?”. And, of equal relevance, when did the boss of our company last serve a customer?
We have no doubt that it was probably many moons ago. Serving customers can be a daunting task. Customers can be demanding, ungrateful, and generally tiresome. Equally, they can be rewarding, grateful, and most importantly revealing. Speaking to customers must surely be one of the best ways for managers in any company to understand their needs. After all, isn’t a definition of marketing “the continuous delivery of satisfaction to customers in order to make a profit”?
Trainee managers at Marks & Spencer have to do a stint on the shop floor before they can begin climbing the greasy pole. DoorDash, the food delivery company, requires all its managers to spend some time dropping off orders. John Zimmer, the co-founder and president of Lyft, has a New Year’s Eve tradition of driving for the ride-hailing app.
Some would argue that this is an expensive use of high salaried managers’ time. However, as Jennifer McFadden, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at Yale School of Management says, “anything you can do to get close to your customer in any way shape or form is great.”
Getting close to the customer in this way is known in the trade as “eating our own dog food”. Interestingly, this means of training managers by getting them to work the tills is a reinvention. Serving customers is usually the bottom of the staff hierarchy. It is the equivalent of the Bobby walking the beat. There is no better way to learn the trade. Not only will it teach the tricks that some customer service people get up to as they try and short circuit tedious parts of the job, it builds respect among all staff that you are capable of doing the hard yards. Understanding the detail helps making better decisions and having those decisions acted upon.