Generating understanding. Narrative, complexity and communications - changing organisations by understanding them. Understanding cultures and spaces. Revealing emergent patterns in large volumes of qualitative data. Spotting the outliers and weak signals of impending changes.
I've recently come across two outstanding examples of customer service - in many ways elements that should be simple business-as-usual, but because of the rarity of such common sense practices they stand out in my mind. And, as direct results of those processes, the companies in question have won substantial new business from me.
(These are particularly notable in the wake of two spectacularly bad pieces of customer service - step forward MESH Computers and SEAT cars.)
The first example is my mobile phone provider, 3. Early in the last contract, there were problems with 3 - billing and technical problems that made me re-think the decision to switch to them. They resolved the technical issues quickly - "here's a new, more up-to-date phone that'll work better. No charge." - which left the billing problems.
We'd come in on a special tariff that was difficult to implement in their billing systems. No-one was debating the tariff or trying to move us, but for two months, we were over-charged. Then, on the next customer services call, the agent made this response: "It's difficult to see that this hiccup won't repeat later and I don't want that. Can I make this suggestion? We put you, for billing purposes only, on tariff XXX, which would mean £X over the course of the contract. But our agreed tariff would mean only £Y over the course of the contract, so we'll credit you the difference into your account immediately, so that a) you only pay the agreed amount of the contract and b) no more billing problems and customer service calls. There is a c) you don't have to pay us anything until that credit is used up - so nothing to pay at all for another X months..."
I'm impressed. A system that genuinely puts the customer first is a rarity. As are people trained to think round the system and the problem to come up with a solution. And managers willing to let processes be circumvented openly.
Needless to say, when it came time for renewal I did. And subsequently gone for their mobile broadband too.
The second example is an easy one, but still significant. After fighting for almost 10 months with MESH Computers to get a functional Windows PC, I looked again at Apple. Yes, the products look well-designed. Yes, there are people who are utter evangelists for the company. Yes, they say they can do most things.
But how do I get convinced to a point where I'm ready to throw out a decade of investment in Windows kit, software, habits, etc.
The website's good and checking through I discover that there's an AppleStore half an hour from here and that I can book a one-hour business consultation to talk things through with them. Not bad.
Before the session, I get a friendly phone call - what am I looking at? What are my concerns? I talk through my main ones - the stuff that I do on my systems that's slightly quirky but helps keep me running. Programmes like Easy2Sync for Outlook. Come the meeting, Steve's got answers ready, along with healthy advice ("You don't need the top of the range laptop, just go with this model.")
I'm pretty much sold - the products are good and I'm impressed with the service I'm getting. (With the constant proviso that this is pre-sale, and things often change afterwards...)
And then comes ProCare. Apple's top of the line service offering - drop the machine in and we'll sort it at the Genius Bar. (Given that MESH's helpline and seven booked engineer call-outs haven't fixed the current PC, I like this.) And, let us have your current PC and we'll transfer everything across for you...
And the "let us have the machine for 24 hours once a year and we'll give it the once over, tune it up, etc" is just a dream come true.
You mean you'll give me the product, help me with training (Apple's One-to-One), easy service (which may turn out to be more run-of-the-mill disappointment like others, but nothing about Apple has disappointed so far) and then once a year you'll take it off me and repair everything I've tweaked or uninstalled by accident.
I'm shifting to Mac.
For me these two companies have one thing in common - they genuinely see the customer and have chosen to understand the customer from the customer's own perspective. They've then amended their processes and offerings to make life simpler for the customer.