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The Santa Trap - the perils of outsourcing customer experience (especially at Christmas)

“'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.”

An idyllic view of Christmas and one that, were it left entirely to Mr Claus, would be a universal experience - because only Santa makes a list, checks it twice and knows when we’ve been naughty or nice. And Papa Noel alone knows when we are sleeping, knows when we’re awake and knows if we’ve been bad or good. Moreover, unlike us mere mortals, the big fat man with a long white beard has an army of elves and a troupe of super-powered reindeer to help him, in the course of a single night, deliver gifts to 1.6 billion children, visit 5,556 homes a second and eat 150 billion calories in milk/sherry and mince pies. The truth is that even Saint Nick finds those targets a bit daunting; so he outsources some of his operations to unsuspecting parents. And this is where things can start to get messy... for four very simple reasons:

Lack of brand engagement – Nobody does Christmas quite like Santa Claus. He is the embodiment of the brand (a bit like the other bearded wonder at Virgin) and it’s difficult for stand-ins to understand their role and fulfil it to the same extent as the man who invented the product. Doubly so when, as parents, we have to represent other brands as well. For every ‘Hohoho’ we also have to play the role of the invisible yet strangely mercenary tooth fairy or the sweet-toothed Easter Bunny. Sometimes these roles (and other responsibilities) overlap and threaten our ability to deliver the integrity of the single brand.

Failure to map out the project – Santa’s SLA’s are clear – “Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.…He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings.” The overall aim is clear but a lot of detail is missing: how big should the stockings be; how many presents to each stocking; what price-point for each gift; what overall value per stocking; what refreshments does Santa expect; when does the stocking need to be filled? He knows exactly what to do but for his outsourced operatives there are many knowledge gaps that can sabotage service quality.

No measurement equals no management – When Santa throws a ‘sicky’ on Christmas Eve the world knows about it and the world judges. For parents who fail to deliver there is not the same level of scrutiny. Children can be fobbed off with all manner of excuses, distractions or bribes; and by the time the kids get to benchmark their parents’ performance against a peer group (the school playground, twelve days later) it’s all over for another year. Nor is it likely that Santa will run an audit – he’s taking a well-earned rest. So the outsourced performance remains unmeasured and unmanaged.

Outsourcing isn’t always the cheaper path – Most outsourced customer experience operations are driven by a desire to cut costs but, left to their own devices, parents will always over-spend on the stocking filler. Driven by guilt, ‘last-minuteism’, a need to keep up with the Joneses or plain old-fashioned love we pile the presents into the pillow-case and end up spending far more than we had intended. Had we left it to St Nick it would all have been so much more simple and less costly because he is a past master at great customer experience. Here’s why:

  • He prepares year round. He is single-minded about delivering a world-class customer service
  • He has an expert back-up team and a great CRM system that profiles every one of his customers and identifies them by name
  • His brand presentation is consistent (“His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!)
  • And lastly his service delivery is unique, differentiated and leaves his customers feeling better for the experience – “He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself”.

Let me sign off with the words of the great man himself... “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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