Tuesday, November 03, 2015

A stitch in time...

A stitch in time, if you aren't familiar with the phrase, is not the most recent Dr Who episode. It is an ancient phrase which carries with it some ancient wisdom.
It means deal with the small problem now before it becomes a larger one: a small hole may require one stitch. Leave it and, as the idiom continues, you 'll end up with a hole requiring nine stitches (A Stitch In Time Saves Nine).

There is a lesson in this for those engaged in customer experience. If you can identify where customer's emotions are at their most intense in their journey and apply your efforts in real time at that point, you'll make the biggest difference. The effort required may be quite small - provided it is 'in time'.

This was evidenced to me last week in an experience with a leading online travel booking service. I'm not going to name them because even though I remained unsatisfied by the outcome I was impressed by the personal efforts of the CEO & President and hope he'll be taking on board the advice I am sharing now.

In May my wife booked our family a half-term break in Morocco. With less than 24 hours before our flight last week, the hotel sent us a confusing email which we took to mean they were shut and couldn't accommodate us. I informed the online booking service who we had used, who went off to find an alternative. But it didn't suit us. The long and short of it was I spent all day trying to find and book an alternative and sort transfers - all of which was last minute stress and actions no one wants and indeed most people expect all that stuff to be sorted by their agents with significant upgrading involved.

With an hour of the business day remaining I finally got booked and it took a series of emails into the evening (we were getting up at 1:30am) to confirm a transfer would be waiting for us when we landed the next morning.

I had asked The booking service to book and pay for the transfer. They told me they could not but if I kept a receipt they would meet the cost.

And so they are doing. But my level of stress when trying to get the transfers booked means that this 45 Euro 'apology' feels little more than a sop. Had they had the ability to book and pay for the transfer and simply tell me it was all sorted at the time I was in emotional flux, the impact could have been much more significant. That is, if they had done what I could do, what any human could do, but apparently not what this company's policies allowed, I think I would have felt much better.

In the cold light of day, after the emotional challenges, after the holiday, 45 euros just looks like money. It could have been a problem solved. It could have been the stitch that saved nine...

Being able to take real and meaningful action at the point of emotion is a critical part of the customer experience journey today. Too few businesses have enabled or trusted their Customer Service teams to think fast - to act like their CEO, to apply a stitch in time (one example is in my book The 10 Principles of Open Business)

The resulting costs in terms of additional customer support time, lost goodwill, damage to brand reputation and lost customers is worth considering by anyone at the helm.


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?