“A very good morning ladies and gentlemen. I’m happy to announce that we have safely reached our destination, The Hague. All that’s left for me to do is to wish you all a fulfilling and productive day! From here on, you’re on your own.”

Everyone around me on the train had a grin on their face when they heard this announcement from the train driver at eight in the morning. The grin was sheepish, yes, but they noticed it. Even if only a little, it changed their day for the better. And this was just from the people I could see in my compartment, multiply that by twenty and you get an idea of the power a train driver has every morning. This is the asymmetry of the story. The train driver might feel he is repeating himself over and over, but everyday has a new morning. We’re all experts in picking up emotions and tone of voice in other people’s speech, so we notice his disdain and uninterestedness and let it affect us. It might also be the first time we hear the announcement. It might be the first time on a train ever.

Years ago I worked in an Apple store. It was around the time the first iPhone came out. We didn’t have any in stock yet, but people came by the dozen everyday to ask whether we had. At some point one of my colleagues said: “Why do they keep asking about that iPhone? I’ve told them a million times we don’t have it yet. Wouldn’t they know it by now?” Of course, the outside world is not one all-knowing organism. For every customer coming in to the store it’s a new story. For you it’s an old story. That means you’ll often be repeating yourself, but it also means you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to surprise your customer. So here are four things you need to keep in mind.

  • Leverage: The decision you make may be small, even it’s impact for an individual may be small, but it can influence lots and lots of people.

  • Feedback: Your feedback-loop may be removed from the the actual customer experience, so you’ll never see how your decision influences the experience a customer has. If you use and experience your own product or service, you’ll see how it works for you. But you also need to learn how others use and experience your service and whether it’s broken for them.

  • Responsibility: Who is responsible for customer interaction? The person who sets up the process and service? Or the cleaner who notices where things go wrong? What is the job you’re paying people to do? Who do they report to?

  • Everything is a service: you can no longer get away by saying that you’re responsible for your product until it leaves the factory. Everything that takes place afterwards is associated with your product. The way it is displayed in the store, the online reviews, the way it is used in combination with other products. Your always selling a service, not just a product.

Story asymmetry is often a cause for a broken interaction, but most of the time no one in the process realises its impact. The store clerk who sticks the price tag over a product description probably fails to understand this causes some people to walk out of the store. The mumbling train driver making an incomprehensible announcement at the stop for the airport, fails to see the tourist who will miss his flight. At the same time these are the people that have leverage. This is where one person can make a small (positive) impact on many lives. All you need though, is to realise you can make that impact.