Right before Christmas, my wife Jana had surgery. The hospital called a few days prior to the surgery to get her details, thus shortening the admissions process. At the hospital, she was greeted promptly and politely, then was processed through with minimum hassle. The nurses were great. They brought her warm blankets and repeatedly asked if she needed anything. The anesthesiologist stopped by and thoroughly explained the plan, as did the surgeon. They took care to introduce themselves and asked both of us if we had questions. Everything seemed perfect as they took her away to surgery. The nurses reassured me and walked me to the waiting room where I was greeted by a sweet volunteer lady who offered me a surprisingly good cup of coffee and a warm smile.
I sat, experiencing a strange role reversal with my wife. This was the first surgery of her life, whereas I lost track of mine at about the twentieth procedure. I thought about how impressed I was that the hospital staff had done everything right at each interface with not only the "patient as customer" but also the "spouse as customer." These people had thought through every process and taught everyone to say and do the right things. I tried not to think about work, but I couldn't help musing on how much builders could learn from these medical folks.
Before I knew it, the surgeon took me aside and explained that the surgery had gone surprisingly well. He found less damage than he expected and it didn't take him long to "clean things up." Jana could begin physical therapy right away. He asked if I had any questions, then gave me his personal cellular number and insisted that I call should I have any concerns whatsoever.
A nurse met me at the door with a big grin and led me back to my wife who was just coming out of her anesthesia fog. As I was chatting with the recovery nurse, I caught a strange look of confusion on my wife's face. Slowly, Jana's head rose from the pillow and she seemed to focus in on her knee. Her confusion gradually morphed into a serious frown and then her head dropped suddenly back onto the bed. The nurse and I both strained to hear as Jana whispered something nearly inaudible, but what I thought I heard was "Wrong knee!" I felt a rush of complete shock. How could they do this? Suddenly, all the wonderful things the hospital employees did no longer mattered. Pre-admission calls? Who cares? Friendly staff? The hell with that! Coffee? Screw the coffee! I fumbled in my pocket to pull out my cell phone and the surgeon's card. I was ready to dial him up. "'Surprisingly easy,' he said. Yeah, right! Just wait till I get my hands on him and I'll show how surprisingly easy it is to rip off his head!"
Then I looked over and noticed that the nurse was smiling, my wife was smiling and clearly everything was fine. When I asked later what she had said, she didn't even recall, but it was decidedly not, "wrong knee." But, did you feel my pain? I sincerely hope so, because there are hundreds of homebuyers feeling this sort of pain every day in America. They are in pain because of a growing incongruity that is fueled by what I call the "Touchpoint Movement," which all too often leads builders right into the "Touchpoint Trap."
Touchpoints, commonly defined as any direct employee interface with the customer, have become the latest topic for builders who have grabbed a seat at the customer delight cafe. There are a lot of folks from both inside and outside the industry pushing approaches to identify and then train your people to improve the key touchpoints with homebuyers. The goal is to make things better by bringing all customer contact workers to a higher level of professionalism in the way they talk and act. Now throw in some glitz and glamour, such as monogrammed towels, a catered dinner on closing day or popping a nice bottle of bubbly after the final walk-though, and the customer delight dragon shall be slain! Homeowners will sing your praises across the land, J.D. Power scores will soar and referrals will pour in faster than you can build. Well, maybe.
In the case of the hospital, they did get everything right and although my wife's outcome was fine, we have all read the horror stories where the wrong body part was "worked on" or even amputated.
A good dose of training in how to smile, talk nice and deal with homebuyers in their many moods can help overcome minor glitches in builder performance. For the kind of repeated problems and major issues that so many of our homeowners experience with small and large builders alike — if this training is all you do — just forget about it! Not only does it not work, it makes things worse.
What is more aggravating than having your steak at a restaurant cooked wrong — for the second time — then having the floor manager drop by, fawning all over you with a big grin and saying "So are we enjoying our meal tonight folks?" This person may be well trained and know all the right things to say, but if the support systems and activities that live behind the customer interface are not up to speed, then you have wasted your time and money.
Touchpoints training? Don't bother, unless you are ready to understand that everyone in the organization must be on board, every day. Every system, every process, every strategy must be designed and tuned toward the goal of profitable achievement of customer delight. If you only train those with direct customer interface, you will never solve the puzzle. Without highly effective internal systems and processes, you are just spinning your wheels.
If you keep your focus only those who talk to customers every day, those handling the obvious touchpoints, you will wake up one morning and realize you operated on the wrong body part or more likely, you only treated the symptoms and never got to the root of the problem.
Bob Evans, the sausage magnate, put it simply when he said, "We do it right, or we don't do it!" You say you have already fallen into the Touchpoint Trap and banged up your knees? Find yourself a good surgical team, get personally involved in the process and watch them like a hawk. You can't afford any more mistakes!
|Scott Sedam is President of TrueNorth Development, a nation-wide consulting & training firm focused on quality, process improvement and organizational development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.