Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Rituals and Incantations


When people have goals which are outside of their personal control, they often engage in rituals and incantations to restore a sense of control. Organisations turn these rituals and incantations into operating procedures, sales scripts and training programs. However, they are generally ineffective.

A ritual is a set of behaviours and an incantation is a script, both intended to lead to a result. For example, saying, “Would you like an apple pie with that?” does not, in itself, guarantee increased sales in a fast food outlet. A high performer changes what they do and say from one customer to the next, but with a ritual and incantation we pretend that the actions and words have magic in themselves, and the skill or creativity of the employee is irrelevant. The opposite is actually true.

I do a bit of mystery shopping in my spare time. I have to check that restaurant staff make me feel personally connected with by asking if I'm having a good day. Wow. I feel sooooo valued.



I have to check that the server is wearing their name badge, and that they make a personal recommendation for a dessert, and that they point out the customer survey on the back of the receipt with the prize draw.

There are two different things going on here. Standards are a good thing. If staff have name badges, wear them. All tables should be cleaned between customers. All tables should have clean menus.

The problem is that these standards are turned into rituals, and the result is that menus are only cleaned when they can no longer be unstuck from the table, and the server only recommends a wine when they think the customer is a mystery shopper. For anyone else, why should they care? If the customer wants wine, they'll ask for it. After all, I don't like being sold to, so why would anyone else like being sold to.

She's right. We don't like being sold to. And on the other hand, we have sales targets.


Sales results are not the measure of sales behaviour.

Sales results are the measure of customer service behaviour.

However, the connection is not a direct one. Making a customer happy does not increase sales revenue. In fact, it might well reduce profits, because making customers happy generally costs you something.

Staff and managers engage in rituals when they don't know what makes a customer buy, or they don't know what makes a computer start working again, or they don't know what makes the sun come up. In all cases, just sacrifice a goat and hope for the best. If it doesn't work, sacrifice another. Then try a cow. You can see how this gets out of hand.

"Oh, but we never do that in my company!"

Yes you do.

Your sales people don't really know why your customers buy from you, so when sales are slowing down, they do more of what they think is the reason. They buy more lunches. They go to more meetings. They deliver more presentations. Before you know it, they'll be claiming for goats on their expenses.

Let's take the common behaviour of 'upselling' that we see in retail and restaurants. You buy a nice new jumper. Do you want some socks too? No, just the jumper thank you. A shirt? No, just the jumper. Some new shoes? A coat? A hat? A scarf? PLEASE BUY SOMETHING FROM ME I BEG YOU. No thank you just the JUMPER WHICH IS THE ONE THING I CAME IN FOR WHICH IS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT AND NO I DON'T WANT A BAR OF CHOCOLATE FOR £1 EITHER.

Oh... wait... just £1? Oh, go on then.

We don't know why a customer, who came if for the thing they came in for, will be tempted to buy something else. Maybe they forgot that something else and you conveniently reminded them. Maybe they are a repressed shopaholic. Maybe it's your lucky day. That's the problem. You don't actually know. So if the customer says no, thank you, you have no choice but to escalate your ritual, to keep on throwing more and more options at them until they give in just to shut you up.

Alternatively, you could actually ask them.

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