“Intentionalizing” Customer Service

I was listening to NPR in the car while driving the kids to school (part of my contribution to their culture, don’t say I am not a good parent) and there was a discussion about Charter Schools versus Public Schools.

I just happen to hear an interview with Andrew Rotherham, an educational analyst, talking about why Charter Schools were superior to Public Schools in their delivery.  He said something that was very, very interesting — and it got me thinking.  He said, and I am quoting him,

The best schools — whether they’re charter schools, public schools or private schools — are intentional about everything they do, says educational analyst Andrew Rotherham.

“They are intentional about who is in the building, who is teaching, how they use data, what’s happening for students, the support for students, the curriculum, how progress is assessed,” he says. “Everything is intentional and nothing is left to chance.”

I was awestruck for second.

That was a pretty darn good point.  It was not that the schools were different: they both did the same (educated children), and using the same core processes, materials, and guidelines.  What set Charter Schools apart was their approach to the student.  They didn’t just assumed the student will be there no matter what (Charter Schools recruit students to register, they don’t just “get them” by zoning like public schools do); they knew they had to deliver above their “competition” to get the students to come.

Being intentional, making sure that everything that was there had to be there to deliver a superb experience, was part of their relationship strategy.

I want to close with another quote (you can read the short article here for context)

But I think more than anything else that I’d like to see replicated is that ethos of possibility and thinking differently about what’s possible for kids who have been failed by public schools for a very long time

Wouldn’t it be very, very interesting, to see “intentionality” applied to Customer Service?

4 Replies to ““Intentionalizing” Customer Service”

  1. Well said.

    I don’t have much to add other than that I think people sometimes have a negative attitude whenever the word “data” appears. On a large scale level data can be confusing and hard to use (esp. if you’re bad at math like me) but in a smaller and very engaged community (e.g. that of a charter school) it can make a difference in your day to day operations. And it’s a point that any business should take to heart. If you don’t know why you’re doing something than you are missing out on all sorts of effects to your profits and social capital.


  2. Well said. Having developed both service learning projects with schools and customer service touch points for automotive dealers, I have found that each discipline often begins from the wrong focus point. Rather than focus on adjusting scores, each one must place the highest value on individual expierence. Every project and/or touch point must be guided by intentional experience.

    Just my observation!



  3. Great points, akin to “mindfulness”. Also akin to “any fairly decent general management principles”. What harm, but my partner and I were talking about the difference between “grind schools” and “public school” just this evening. She is convinced that there is little “value add” delivered by the grind schools, yet the results from the grind schools are higher. Thus in “outcome terms” (raw, un-processed terms), grind schools produce higher levels of progression to third level education. Without getting into causation, I was arguing that “putting yourself in the way of the right metric” was a “good move”. I was of course being provocative (see every single thing that Scott says about Voice of Customer feedback for instance). But I’ll put it out there: Do you guide by outcomes or do you hunt (endlessly) for causations?


  4. Hi Esteban

    I wonder… whether Andrew Rotherham, Joe, Michael and Paul are all missing a critical service design principle. Let me explain.

    ‘Intentional design’ is a fantastic thing, especially when the established alternative is a traditional design that for one reason or another, is no longer fit for purpose. But that is missing an essential service design principle. Service should be primarily designed for those who are receiving it, customers, NOT for those that are delivering it. That means a service should be seen as an ENABLING PLATFORM that allows customers to get out of it whatever they want (within the obvious limits of the service). Fortunately, most customers want the same pretty much the same things from most services. These core needs are relatively easy to identify (if you ask, listen to and observe) customers and to intentionally design into the service.

    But some of the things customers want only emerge DURING the process of getting it. They are not known in advance. That means it is hard to intentionally design them into the service. At least it is if the service is to cater to anything other than the core needs of the customer. To get a service as an enabling platform catering for emerging needs to work, you need highly skilled service staff who know what the enabling platform can do, where they need to apply discretion in bending the rules and how to do this without making a mess of the core service.

    When Andrew Rotherham say, “everything is intentional and nothing is left to chance”, he is saying that the service designer has already decided what customers will get from the service. And that is that. But as we have seen, this approach will only take you as far as a rigid core service. It might be better than the traditional alternative, but it is still probably miles away from what customers really want. Intentional design is important, but it is not as important as those who have to use, and abuse it, to achieve the best possible outcomes.

    Back to the drawing board.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator

    PS. My youngest son is at a private school rather than a state school. He is there because the quality of education he will get is vastly superior to that offered by the state system. International PISA studies support this. Some of this is down to the intentional design of the school and its curriculum, but much more is down to the individual support he gets from all of his teachers, often long after the school has closed for the day.


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