Janus, Zeus and improving customer experience

In Roman mythology, Janus – the god of beginnings and endings – had two faces.  One faced forwards, the other backwards.  Janus could easily be the god of Customer Experience.

Customer Experience people are, after all, a bit like him.  They face the customer and their own organisation simultaneously.  I’m going to suggest, though, that it’s time to forsake Janus and worship Zeus instead.


Because Homer called Zeus “the god of strangers.”  And that’s precisely what customer experience people need to be – strangers.

Everyone talks about being ‘customer facing’ or ‘customer centric’.  It sounds fair enough, but it fails to take perspective into account.  If you’re facing the customer, that means you’re standing inside your organisation, looking out.  Your perspective will always be that of an insider.  To transform customer experience, you need to be outside, looking in with the perspective of the customer – because it’s only then that you spot the real problems, the real touchpoint failures, the real communication gulfs.

I had two letters this morning, one from First Direct, the other from Virgin Money.  They illustrated perfectly why Zeus beats Janus every day of the week.

Both letters did nearly everything good, Janus-worshipping customer comms is supposed to.  Both were – pretty much – in plain English.  Both signposted where I could find more information.  Both were signed by a named contact.  You get the idea.  But one reinforced my relationship with the organisation that sent it.  The other nearly had me reaching for the phone to cancel.

First Direct wrote about a credit card I’d almost forgotten I had, with a few pounds still owing on it.  I’d set up my account just to make the minimum repayments. They suggested I could be paying more interest this way and that I should think about upping my direct debit.  Fantastic.  They’ll make a few quid less on interest, but will I be telling everyone I know how great they are?  You bet.  Up goes their NPS.

Virgin Money wrote too, telling me about some new terms and conditions.  There was a slightly weaselly letter and an 8-page booklet of Ts and Cs, all set in 8pt font.  Yes, it was in plainish English – but that didn’t matter.  The whole thing was incomprehensible in a practical sense.  Yes, there were changes to Ts and Cs, but what were they?  Which ones had changed?  How would they affect me?  Were things worse than before or better?  No-one had sat on the outside of the process – been a stranger – and thought about how the customer would understand the pack.

I tweeted about it and got a reply.  Virgin said “we can make a copy available in an alternative format if you’d prefer” thus showing they’d completely missed the point. They were inside, facing out, worshipping Janus.

It’s only when you stand outside your organisation, in the place of the customer, that you can get any sense of how to communicate effectively.  You need to be a stranger.  Most customer experience people think they do it.  But when was the last time you sat down and wrote a list of all the unspoken questions your customer is likely to have, and answered them?  When was the last time you trialled a piece of customer-facing communication on someone who’d never seen it before?  When was the last time you meaningfully sought out and listened to a customer’s views on your communication.

Being an outsider takes guts.  It’ll often put you at variance with your organisation.  But, when you do, it’ll transform the way you communicate with your customers.  And that, in turn, transforms your business.

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