My Latest on the Oracle CX Blog

This week I published “The Customer Conversation: What’s Changed, What Hasn’t” on the Oracle Customer Experience blog. I open the post by mentioning a framed letter in my home office – a century-old piece of correspondence on Standard Oil letterhead that I bought as a gift for my husband due to his fascination with all things Rockefeller and old Cleveland.

The letter so charmed me that it got me thinking about the thousands of pieces of correspondence we send and receive in any given week. Just saying “thanks” via text or email – something we do, ironically, pretty thoughtlessly nowadays – would have been a much more formal endeavor until relatively recently: putting a sheet of paper in the typewriter, pecking out the message, finding an envelope, getting a stamp, going to the post office or mail room. Nevertheless, people did this countless times, mostly because it was just what you did; but also because communicating with customers and partners means something.

There’s an old adage about people loving the sound of their own name, and I’ll conveniently extend this metaphor to say that people love being acknowledged, whether it’s to say thank you or to let them know they’re being heard or to confirm the receipt of goods or information. If you ever tried to communicate with an online vendor in the early days of e-commerce, you know that you might as well have thrown your email down a well (if such a thing were even possible, emails being somewhat less than three-dimensional), such was the efficacy of sending things to “”

Things are different now because we have technology to help us get those emails to the right person, or, better yet, to codify information in such a way that you never even have to send the email. Instead, you’ll find the answer yourself and be that much more satisfied with the vendor or service provider. In that scenario, perhaps I’ll someday add a framed email to my office wall.

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Volkswagen’s current mood = :(

Oh, Volkswagen.

I guess I shouldn’t feel disappointed in companies that disgrace themselves anymore, buuuuut. (This is all a lot easier to take if you believe that corporations really are people too, in which case discovering that they occasionally lie and disappoint you should not come as too much of a shock.)

Thus far – based on my rudimentary understanding of how these thing should go down from a PR standpoint – Volkswagen has been doing all the “right” things. We’ve seen the abject public apology, funds are set aside to handle the fallout, and of course the necessary sacrificial lamb has been offered up in the form of CEO Martin Winterkorn. I’m left wondering, however, what I always wonder when this kind of thing happens: Wouldn’t it just have been easier to do the right thing in the first place?

In skimming over the vast – and I mean vast – laundry list of consequences this could have for Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and oh I don’t know, Germany, as well as any number of car dealers, mechanics and resellers, what I’m still struggling to understand is why you would try to pull off such an amazingly bold deception. Was it too hard to make a low-emissions car? Was there a budget or a time crunch or some other arbitrary roadblock or deadline that could not, even in this seemingly exceptional circumstance, be navigated around? Or do you just not believe in your product?

It seems amazing that a company with the influence and resources of Volkswagen would find it necessary to fudge something, especially something so top-of-mind for so many consumers. Sure, there are plenty of people who don’t recycle and would happily sit in their driveways and rev a V12 all the livelong day, but Earth-friendliness is something upon which many companies hang their marketing hat these days. What you’ve essentially done is make people feel bad about what they bought. You’ve gone and caused 11 million and counting cases of buyer’s remorse and if you think the impact on the bottom line is depressing now, well.

I have to imagine this will also be at least a little bit bad for carmakers in general, because it only increases the distrust and anxiety many people feel when they buy a car. Or maybe the marketing team for Toyota is already in a conference room discussing how to make hay out Volkswagen’s terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day.

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Latest blog posts, where to find me online

Some things I learned after getting married and changing my name: Having a slightly weird, 5-letter (yet still curiously oft-mispronounced) surname is a real boon when you’re signing up for social media accounts, especially if you’re an early adopter. “Sarah Sphar” was a no-brainer on Twitter circa 2007; “Sarah Sheehan” in 2015 on the other hand…In any event, my new handle is both more lengthy and less straightforward than I’d like, but it’s my name and thankfully devoid of a string of impossible-to-remember numbers.

As for my site URL, I know it is possible to change these things, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. My guess is that in the not-too-distant future someone will figure out a way to handle this sort of thing in one fell swoop, or maybe in the not-too-distant future no one will change their names because it is just too annoying to change their Twitter handles and URLs.

Lately I’ve been blogging for work here; my latest is here. The subject of customer service is one that should interest everyone—yes, even you, whether you know it or not—because unless you are a very particular sort of off-the-grid hermit, you are experiencing customer service pretty much on the daily. In the drive-through at Starbucks, ordering dog food from Amazon (which reminds me…I need to order dog food from Amazon), getting your oil changed, having furniture delivered…you get the idea. These interactions can seem perfunctory and neutral, but that’s probably because you’re experiencing, on the average, pretty good service. I bet you can tell me right now, without too much deliberation, the last time you had exceptional service and the last time you had terrible service. These things tend to stand out because they are more rare than “good” service, and because they make us feel something.

Human interaction! Yes, even in a highly automated and convenience-obsessed society, we’re still seeking out rewarding experiences with other people, even if they are just making us a latte or installing our wireless internet. We still enjoy meaningful interactions with other humans. I could be wrong, I suppose, but I don’t think this is something that will go away anytime soon.

This is why customer service, and its intersection with technology, is interesting to me. Because eventually we should (theoretically, anyway) be able to engineer away a lot of what makes some customer service interactions—particularly those conducted over the phone or via email—so annoying: having to remember a lot of dates and account numbers, needing to repeat a story four or five or sixteen times, lost records, etc. Ideally, technology can work around those things and leave us with a couple of people who are more informed, less frustrated and much friendlier.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

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