System Failure: When Narrative and Execution Fail to Align

Narrative and execution fail to align

Customer experience surveys tell you nothing about how you truly did. People often want to do the right thing. But your system is bankrupt, forcing binary, or no choices. Leaving customers in limbo.

Fix your systems, or they'll keep chipping away at your carefully-crafted, expensive narrative.


The problem is often designed right into the system

If there ever was an example of the market (and economics) dominating human life, it is that of a company—Apple—promising a replacement for a phone (under warranty with Apple Care) in 3-4 days.

The company didn't provide an update after 14 days and two chats with support to inquire. My phone is dead. And so is my good will towards Apple.

As I said more than a decade ago, Apple is as open as a Soviet Gulag, And is now acting as if customers had no other option than to accept whatever they're offered. Could it be because it's true?

What happened at the Apple store 14 days ago was efficient. A genius bar associate diagnosed my phone. I explained I had exhausted every possible option before making the appointment. Including getting the phone battery diagnosed. There's no problem, had said the system.

When my experience of losing charge without using the device became consistent over three days, I made the appointment at the store. It should be obvious, but nobody wants to waste half a day doing something they could be avoiding. Toggling between two customers, the associate observed the leaking battery problem and ordered a replacement under my Apple Care program.

The replacement phone “should be here in 3-4 days.” Then nothing. Seven days in, I inquired with online support. No update. Ten days in, I again inquired with online support. No update. I had to move appointments, change my schedule, and switch to Skype, Zoom, Team, etc. all my calls.

Am I happy with my Apple experience?

No, I am not happy.

But every single person I worked with did all they could to help.

However, every single time I check my Apple account to view the status for my open ticket, I have to start over. There is no open ticket. My account only shows the devices. That's likely a company view. In my last support chat, they sent me a special link where it said “no update.”

There's also no trigger in the system to tell Apple: Hey, it's been X days. Check in if this customer needs a loaner. Let me ask you: What's the acceptable number of days someone should go without a phone?

Every time I had an interaction with a person, Apple sent me a survey. Aside from the little box at the end, there is little room for separating the person from the system in my feedback. Did the transaction take place? Yes. But the system still owes me a satisfactory answer and resolution.


This is a pervasive problem

If your dentist is awesome, but her scheduling system keeps you from making an appointment, whose fault is that? What kind of experience would this be for someone new who didn't know to text the dentist directly?

If the telecom technician is prompt and works fast, but your internet provider's connection keeps hick-upping and blacking out, who do you blame? It's easy for frustration to boil over and spill on the wrong person, even when you call customer support.

Companies use Net Promoter Score to learn how they did. But the question “How likely would you be to recommend this provider to a friend or colleague?” Attempts to simplify a transaction that conflates systems with people. And people tend to lose. Because the system is corrupt.

Apple is another example of economics dominating human behavior. I'm (mostly) happy with Apple products. But the logic of markets, taken alone, narrows your perspective to dogma. And you end up overlooking important feedback loops on experience where it counts.

Management professor and author Henry Mintzberg has been at it for a long time. I haven't found any theories that have the clarity of his simple message: You cannot balance a society on one single leg.

Mintzberg suggests that a healthy society sustains balance across its three sectors:

  • respected governments in the public sector
  • responsible businesses in the private sector, and
  • robust communities in what should be called the plural sector.

If you take a look at the central concept in social sciences, you find that political science's is power, economics is markets, and anthropology's is culture. Culture matters more than markets. Because we all live in the plural sector, whether we work for government or private enterprise. 

Rebalancing Society makes the argument that the plural sector alone has the inclination and the independence to challenge unacceptable practices and develop better ones. That means me and you.

Just asking if I would recommend conflates product and service, too. Apple knows that. What if your survey asked me to describe what happened in the story I'm telling my friend as I explain why I've had no phone for 10 days?

There's no sense of community in economics. And without that, we keep cutting costs for the company. But increasing individual and social costs. So we need to put community back. I'm not talking about using forums and troubleshooting boards.

I'm talking about “thinking different.” Take better feedback about the system that creates these diminishing returns for customers and employees. Then fix the system problems.

Until you do that, all the marketing on the front end just papers over the experience on the back end.


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