27 August 2010

Cassandra's Dilemma

I had a visit from Cassandra my 20 year old daughter this week. She and some friends stopped by our house during their journey from New York to Asheville. They were in New York to visit friends and perform. Her friends are street musicians and Cassie is a costume designer who also performs as a living statue. If you aren't familiar with living statues as performance art, go to Flickr and enter "human statue" in the search box. Some of the performers, including Cassie I might add, are very creative in their presentations.

Many folks are content to watch human statues for a bit and move on. Occasionally, people do take photographs. As part of her performance, Cassie requests donations from folks who want to take photographs. She even has a small sign explaining this.

While she was visiting, Cassie told us about her experiences performing in New York and some of its subway stations. She regaled us with stories of people's various reactions to her performances. After several stories, she paused and said that she wanted advice about something that happened during one of her performances. It seems that a passerby saw her and wanted to take a photograph. Upon photographing her image, the passerby dropped a dollar and a note into Cassie's collection box. The note said, "I feel cheated. I paid $1 for roughly a minute. My job requires that I work 7.5 minutes to earn $1. Here is my address so that you can send me a refund of 95 cents." Cassie showed me the note written on a small yellow piece of sticky paper, and yes, an address was there.

Cassie's dilemma was, although she was deeply offended, that she wanted to respond to this person about the realities of her work without sounding hostile or condescending. Needless to say, I was very proud of her mature approach to the matter, but also unsure about how I could help her with this.

Her father told her a story about living in San Francisco and walking back to work from lunch one day when a man approached him and said, "I want you to give me a million bucks!" My husband stopped suddenly and asked the man to repeat what he said as he couldn't believe what he heard. The man repeated his demand and added, "Well, if I had just asked you for a couple of bucks, you would have ignored me!" My husband started laughing while agreeing with the truth of the man's statement. Then he reached into his wallet, gave the man $2, and said, "You made me laugh and that is valuable. I don't get to laugh often enough. Laughter is definitely worth $2!"

As a business process professional and manager of a consulting organization, I am constantly talking to our administrative and consulting staff, as well as clients, about good customer experiences. Without customers, or in Cassie's situation - an audience, we have no work and no revenue. As a business it is vitally important that your customers find it easy to work with your organization. A smart business person designs sales, delivery, and collections processes with that goal. Yet, every now and then, a customer comes along for whom those processes either don't work or aren't perceived as valuable. What then?

I suggested to Cassie that she write a short letter describing her creative process and the activities that comprise it. This approach came from the my own encounters with clients who didn't always understand what was actually involved when attempting to improve a business process so that it was more customer focussed.

Sometimes a description, or education, is necessary. Often an explanation resolves the issue. Occasionally, clarification falls on deaf ears.

My next suggestion was that she refund the 95 cents and think about how this encounter might be avoided. I also asked her to think about whether or not her negative experience with the passerby was significant enough to move her toward changing how she delivers her performances or requests donations.

Why? Her unhappy customer already told her how the situation could be resolved satisfactorily. When a discontented customer/client indicates what it will take to rectify an unsatisfactory interaction, a smart businessperson does what the customer wants. In addition, the entire interaction needs review as a lesson learned to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the business model, its associated processes, and accompanying business rules.

I knew a managerial accounting professor who used to tell his students at the start of each semester, "Cash is god!" My view is, "Customers are Titans!"