Customer Service


Customer Experience and the Magna Carta

Last week I was doing some research for a speech, and I remembered something from a weekend stint at a cooking school that I decided to run down. I was trying to make a point about customer experience when it occurred to me that the idea has ancient roots.

Hospitality law is a body of law that deals with the hotel and restaurant industry, and the beginnings of this large body of law can be traced to the Magna Carta. As you might recall from high school civics, the Magna Carta or Great Charter is the first example of constitutional government and the starting point for common law in the English-speaking world.

The charter was written in the 13th century and delivered to the English King John in 1215 at the point of a sword to redress certain grievances nobles had with the king’s arbitrary rule. At any rate, the document also dealt with some more pedestrian issues of law; specifically, the idea that innkeepers were sometimes conspiring with highwaymen or bandits to rob travelers. The Magna Carta, therefore, imposed strict liability on the innkeeper when a guest’s property was stolen during his stay.

Ordinary Care

As the law has evolved, this doctrine has survived and affects the rights of hotel guests relating to premises liability, property theft and personal injury. In some countries, there are also stipulations about purity of beer and wine, food wholesomeness and more.

Common law describes the care owed to hotel guests as “ordinary care” — another way to say the basic minimum that any traveler has a right to expect. In effect, ordinary care is the guarantor of the customer experience in hotels to this day. I have always thought of the more general idea of customer experience in CRM in the same way: ordinary care. My point is that no hotel competes today on ordinary care. No one advertises a property as a place where you won’t get robbed or where the food is wholesome and the sheets are clean.

So why do we make such a big deal about the customer experience in other areas? I suspect there are two reasons: first, because it’s easy; and second, because it might be part of human nature. I think it’s easy because anyone can make a stab at delivering a good customer experience — after all, we are all customers at some point and we know how we want to be treated. So extending our ideas to customers is not very difficult. It is also easy because any oversights we make in our initial estimates can be dealt with quickly — there is a very short feedback loop in the customer experience.

Social Tools

More importantly, though, any other approach to innovating around the customer requires more sophisticated feedback, and that feedback has always been hard and expensive to get. If you want to know what your customers think, you have to ask, and the asking process, complete with surveys and focus groups, just to name a couple of mechanisms, has always been time-consuming and expensive. Consequently, we rely on the customer experience.

Modern social media tools change that equation, but here’s the rub: If we go right to blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other tools that let us elaborate before listening, we won’t get very far — that’s what communities are for, but when was the last time we talked about communities as social media or social tools?

The discussion today is about how to incorporate social media into our businesses, and that’s good. However, too often it seems to me that we fly over the information gathering and go straight to getting a message out. We don’t do anyone any favors when we take this approach, and we run the risk of becoming irrelevant to our customers and debasing the tools. We can do better.

Being Understood

Old habits die hard, and there’s nothing older than customer experience as an indicator of vendor success in dealing with customers. However, we’re now embarked on an era when we can know a great deal more, a time when we can infer far-reaching information about customers and what they want. If we use social media and communities right, we can know not only if the last encounter was good but how to plan the next.

In my book, that’s the power of social media in CRM, and it is driven not by the tools we use to communicate but those we use to listen. One of my favorite ideas in this vein is Stephen Covey’s Habit 5 from The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.


Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].

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