The Road – to superior service?

I saw the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road at the weekend. It’s a marvellous film and as an adaptation it’s difficult to fault, but one aspect struck me as, well, intriguing.In the book McCarthy heightens the reader’s sense of dislocation by creating a world which is recognisably our own but from which most aspects of humanity have been removed. We never find out the names of the two key characters, or any of the places they pass through and, as far as I can recall, there are no references to product names.

In a film this is harder to avoid and perhaps unfortunately it falls prey to a bit of product placement. Since this website has nothing to gain by mentioning a well-known brand of carbonated drink we won’t dwell too much on the significance of a bright red can in a blasted and grey cityscape but it’s interesting that this is one of the few brands to make an appearance in a film which otherwise replicates the alienating lack of context present in the novel.

Presenting your product as a rare moment of joy in a bleak and unremittingly harsh environment might seem like a great piece of placement but it struck me that it’s analogous to organisations that claim to be number 1 for customer service in their particular sector, when their sector – telecoms, utilities, financial services for example – doesn’t always enjoy the best reputation for service.

Similarly the current, almost Road-like weather that we are experiencing in the UK at the moment provides organisations with an opportunity to provide exceptional or outstanding customer experiences. Customers’ expectations will most likely be lower so just keeping the usual level of service in difficult circumstances might appear exceptional.

My insurance company took the opportunity at the weekend to lower my expectations by e-mailing me to say that

‘Due to the current adverse weather conditions we are experiencing a much higher than normal call volume. If you have been trying to contact us recently, you may have experienced a delay in your call being answered for which we apologise.’

Well, I guess I’m lucky that I’m not in a situation that requires me to call them but wouldn’t it be better for customers that do have to call them if they were able to compensate for the increased demand with an increase in staff?

I’m left with the impression that whilst the company in question shows an admirable honesty in admitting that it might be providing a less-than-expected service level it’s not taking the opportunity to be the service equivalent of that comforting and nostalgic can of cola in the middle of a stressful world.