What flavour of customer-centricity are you practicising?

Customer-Centricity: we are great at lying to ourselves

If there is one facet of ‘customer-centricity’ and the ‘outside in’ approach that I find striking it is this:  almost no-one who talks about this actually goes entices and enters into conversations with customers on what constitutes ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘outside in’ approach to doing business with customers.   Put differently which are the companies that have entered into ‘conversations for customer-centricity’ with their customers?  With all the noise around social media, user generated content including recommendations/ratings/feedback and collaborative platforms I notice only one way communications: from the company to the customer via some kind of survey or from the customer to the company via the call centre and social media.  Some habits persist: on and on and on.

There is a particularly interesting habit that human beings have: lying.  Must people are aware that they are pretty good at lying to others.  One has to be good to survive and prosper in families, organisations, institutions, communities and societies that function because we lie to one another.  What is overlooked is that we are masters at lie to ourselves: we are striding South whilst proclaiming that we are committed to heading North and then finding a whole host of excuses as to how it is not yet time to head North or that the quickest or only route to heading North is to first go South.  My experience suggests that the same is going on in organisations which are proclaiming their ‘love’ of the customer: customer focus, customer service, customer-centricity, customer experience, customer loyalty, customer obsession, customer responsiveness ……  Put bluntly, there are at least two flavours of customer-centricity: genuine customer-centricity (what I refer to as North in this post); and sham customer-centricity (what I refer to as South in this post).

A real world customer experience example

Lets make this real.  I was talking with James (he happens to drive a taxi) and he was sharing his story about difficult times with me.  If you haven’t noticed, there is a recession and James (and his family) really are feeling the effects.  Insurance premiums have been going up and up and up: over the last 2 – 3 years they have almost doubled.  James (and his family) need that insurance cover and yet James finds he cannot afford it.  So when he got is renewal letter (with a big insurance premium hike) James phoned the company and he was greeted by a helpful chap at the call-centre.   By asking him various questions the call-centre chap was able to move James to an insurance plan that was more in line with his needs (cut out the frills that James did not need) and thus take out the insurance premium hike.

Is James delighted?  Yes and no.  James is delighted that the chap on the phone was friendly and helped James to keep his insurance without any increases.  At the same time James is convinced that he has been ‘milked’ in the previous years.  “Why did they sell me a plan (two years ago) which provided benefits which they knew I was never going to need?”  What is James thinking?  He told me bluntly: “If they can find a suitable plan for me today by asking me some simple questions then why did the company not do the same two years ago when I joined them?  Why did they put me on a more expensive plan than I needed?  I don’t trust the company!”

In the real world we have messiness that does not appear in Customer theory and talk by ‘gurus’

So just recap, in James example of his relationship with his insurance provider what is so?  This is what I noticed:

  • James is positively delighted with his last interaction with his insurance provider – the helpful chap who helped him to keep is insurance premium to what it was last year;
  • James distrusts the insurance company – he is convinced that the company deceived him into taking out a more expensive insurance plan in order to fatten its coffers at his expense;
  • James is disappointed with the conduct of the insurance company yet has stayed on with the same company – he does not feel he has a choice.

Lets just take a look at that again and see what we can learn.  When I look at this I notice that life is messy.  You can have a customer who is delighted (in traditional customer satisfaction terms), distrustful & disappointed (not loyal in attitudinal terms, certainly not an advocate!) and yet loyal in behavioural terms – all at the same time.  I believe that this is kind of what I was pointing towards in one of my earlier posts.

A genuinely customer-centric organisation would have won James trust and advocacy by being genuinely customer-centric!

If James does not trust you to look after his best interests then he will not be loyal to you and he will not be an advocate.  How do you win him over?  By being genuinely customer-centric.  What does that involve?  It involves giving up the pretense to the outside world and lying to yourself.  It means recognising that behind the find words and the excuses you are simply exploiting the customer as best as you can.  And it means giving that up.

The access to customer loyalty and advocacy is simply HONESTY – being a honest broker. Do what you say and say what you do.  You might just want to read this short post by Seth Godin which gets to the heart of the matter.  Or you might want to revisit one of my posts on what it takes to cultivate trust:

Service Providers: why trust matters and what you can do to cultivate it (Part I)

Service Providers: why trust matters and what you can do to cultivate it (Part II)

Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012?  Start with ‘Integrity’

Where does HONESTY start?  With the people at the top.  I assert that the fundamental task of Tops who espouse customer-centricity is to be HONEST with their customers.  And if the Tops are not willing to do that then they should give up claiming their ‘love of the customer’.  Why?  James is not easily fooled – sooner or later ‘dishonesty’ shows up and occurs about as inviting as walking into a room full of elephant dung!

Leadership: does it start with ownership?

What constitutes leadership and makes a good leader?

Let me start by saying that I am no expert in ‘Leadership’.  Yes, I have read the theory – all kind of theory including ‘charisma’, ‘being decisive’, ‘situational leadership’, ‘leadership v management’, ‘servant leadership’ and so forth.  In my world most of it occurs as theory or put differently it occurs as ‘philosophers philosophising’.  I can think of ‘charismatic’ people who do not / did not make good leaders.  On the other hand I can think of humble souls with an indomitable will making a huge impact on the world like Gandhi.

Gerstner and Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

Reading (several years ago) Gerstner book ‘Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?’ I was struck by something which surfaced again for me this week.  Gerstner did not have to take the helm at IBM: seemed to be poisoned chalice and many of the natural candidates (and favourites) declined.  Everybody had written IBM off (a dinosaur) and so no person in his/her right mind wanted to take the risk.  Yet Gerstner was different – he eventually took that hot seat even though he had grave doubts about his ability to save that dinosaur and give it wings – make it into a powerful flying dragon.

One other aspect got my attention when it came to leadership.  There he was, Gerstner, doing his best to get to grips with the situation and he would ask the ‘leaders’, the VPs, the SVPs, the Country Managers to look into various aspects and get back to him.  Many did not get back to him.  When Gerstner met with them to ask for the answers to the questions he had set, many of them had no answer to the question.  Their answer was that they had handed the task over to one of their subordinates.  Gerstner got irritated because he expected these Tops to wrap their hands, minds, hearts around the ‘problem/task’ and get their ‘hands dirty’ doing the investigative work of searching / digging for the answers.

Perhaps the defining act of leadership is taking ownership

Which brings me to the question of this post.  Is the essential existential act that constitutes ‘leadership’ that of taking ownership?  Take ownership with your heart, your mind, your hands, your feet?

My experience is that ownership is necessary yet not sufficient pillar of being a leader.  A leader (and thus leadership) stands for a Possibility (a vision of the future) that inspires him/her to take 100% ownership for being a stand for that Possibility, for that future.  Yet it is more than that.  By standing for that Possibility, the Possibility gives powerful being (courage, boldness, risk taking…) to the leader.  Think of it as mutual relationship – like to sides of a coin.  The leader invents a Possibility (an invented future, in Gerstner’s case an IBM that survives and is stronger than ever, in Jobs case an Apple that goes back to its heart – making great products) that moves, touches and inspires him/her to the level of soul and that Possibility shapes the leaders being and doing right here and now – again and again for years.  Sometimes it takes many years to bring about that invented future.  Think about Gandhi how long did it take for him to get the British to leave and for the Indians to be free to rule themselves?  Think of Nelson Mandela, how many years did he spend in prison?  Sometimes you can live from your Possibility and generate your desired future in 15 months like Jean-Dominique Bauby did as set out here.

When I look around I do not notice Tops (people who are thought of and called leaders) being ‘leaders’.  In good times these Tops make sure that everyone knows that it is they who have come up with the vison, the strategy and shaped the organisation to deliver the great results.  And they insist on being handsomely rewarded – tens even hundreds of millions in compensation.  In ‘bad’ times what happens?  Just take a look at the News International phone hacking scandal: none of the Tops takes ownership.  Look at prisoner and torture abuse at Abu Ghraib: none of the Tops took ownership.  Look at the MPs expenses scandal in the UK?  None of the Tops took ownership.  Look at the financial crisis, the recession and the impact on millions of lives: none of the Tops took ownership – not the politicians, not the regulators, not the Csuite at the banks and associated insurance companies.

Now you might be wondering what has this got to do with the Customer.  Here is my question: which CEO has the level of commitment to customer-centricity, the customer experience, that Gerstner showed or Jobs showed or Mandela showed or Gandhi showed?  And if the CEO does not have that level of ownership then why should anyone else in the organisation care – care deeply – about the customer, the customer experience, the customer-centric organisation.

Final thought

Standing for a Possibility (a vision of the future) that is larger than yourself and your selfishness is a key pillar of leadership.  It is necessary and yet it is not sufficient.  I will tackle the other two pillars in another post – coming soon.

What is your lived experience of leadership?  Please do not share the theory: you can take my word on it when I write that I have read it all!  I am looking forward to you sharing your experience of leadership and learning from your sharing.  So please do share.

Want my loyalty? Then answer this one question

“I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.” Jean-Dominique Bauby

My fascination is us – human beings and the human condition.  As such when an opportunity comes to access us and our human condition from novel perspectives then I tend to take it.  Jean-Dominique Bauby  (“JDB”) provides a fascinating access to us and our human condition. Allow me to tell you a little about JDB in the words of the Independent newspaper:

“Jean-Dominique Bauby. He worked for journals like the Quotidien de Paris and Paris Match and for four years until December 1995 was the very successful chief editor of Elle. Then the unthinkable happened. A cardiovascular accident paralysed him and sent him into a deep coma, from which he emerged 20 days later in the Hopital Maritime at Berck, on the north-east coast of France, his brain intact, but able only to blink his left eyelid. He was diagnosed as suffering from the rare disease called “Locked-in Syndrome”, unable to breathe, swallow or eat without assistance.”

JDB’s mind (the butterfly) was locked into a body that was inert (the diving bell) so whilst all his senses worked he could only move his left eyelid.  Before departing from this world JDB dictated a book that captures his thoughts, feelings and experiences as “The Diving Bell And The Butterfly” and on of the aspects of his human condition that he highlights is the human need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as our need to breathe. Put differently by virtue of being human we have a need: a need to look up to people and organisations, to feel strongly about who they are / what they stand for, embody in terms of values and what they are up to in life in terms of purpose / mission.  These people connect us with the highest aspects of our humanity: they remind us of what we are capable of, what we can be – the higher Self.

Which brings me to the question of customer loyalty.  You want my loyalty, you want my advocacy. OK, I get that and I have something for you to think about and provide a compelling and simple answer to:

I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.  What is it that you stand for, that you are doing and that you are up for creating in the world that enables me to feel strongly about you, to admire you, to love you?

What is you answer?  I should point out that “being the best, the largest, the most powerful, the most global…company in the universe does not do it for me.  Nor does increasing the share price my 100x and making your shareholders deliriously happy and filthy rich do it for me.

Again, my question: What is it that you stand for, that you are doing and that you are up for creating in the world that enables me to feel strongly about you, to admire you, to love you? 

Stunning silence!


Reflections on customer loyalty and customer satisfaction: not the usual perspective

So much talk, so much confusion – round and round we go

Round and round we keep going writing about, talking about, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.  Some say that the route to customer loyalty is customer satisfaction and others say that the abode of customer satisfaction does not lead to mountain of customer loyalty.  Everyone has an opinion and if you look deeply that opinion, the point of view, the white paper is totally in line with what that person is selling. So let’s start there.

I am not selling you anything.  I am not even interested in convincing you of anything. And I don’t want to teach you anything.  Why?  Because the purpose of this blog is simply this: a vehicle for me to get present to my point of view on all things customer and to share that point of view with anyone who wishes to access it.  Also, I am open to entering into conversation (and friendship) with you on what I write and which speaks to you. So now that I have shared the context of all of my writing let’s explore the topics of customer loyalty and customer satisfaction.  Before I address the customer dimension I simply wish to explore loyalty and satisfaction in terms of my experience.

Are customer loyalty and customer satisfaction two distinct phenomena?

When I look into my living and get present to my experience I notice the following:

  • Loyalty has been present (to specific people) even when I have been highly dissatisfied with these people;
  • I have been satisfied (with people and institutions) without being loyal.

This leads me to suspect that loyalty and satisfaction are two different phenomena (and domains of experience) and that the access to each is likely to be different.  You might be wondering what the heck I mean?  To use an analogy and speak in blunt terms, the access to my wife’s love (of, for me) is through the route of being present, being patient, being interested in her, listening to what she wishes to say without judgement, providing the helping hand as and when she needs especially when she does not ask for it.  Now compare that with sex: the access to sex with a prostitute is the right amount of money.  If I was to confuse the two then I would be setting myself up for a lot of trouble.  It occurs to me that this is exactly what we, the business folks, are doing when it comes to customer loyalty and customer satisfaction.

Loyalty – how/when/where does it show up in our experience?

As far as I can see people are loyal to people, institutions, religions (and other ideologies, and even products.  Furthermore, it occurs to be that most of us are thrown into the state of being loyal without actually choosing to be loyal – there are exceptions.  Most of us find ourselves being loyal to:

  • Our family members and our ‘tribe’ (community, race, nation…) – we are indoctrinated that way and when we are not being loyal then we feel some element of guilt;
  • The same applies when it comes to those born into religious families and communities – not only do we tend to be loyal to the religion itself but also the institution/s that represent that religion.  Take a moment to think about how the abuse by members of the Irish Catholic church went on for many decades even though evidence suggests politicians knew, policeman knew, priest knew and the Vatican knew.
  • Political parties: children born into families where the parents vote Conservative, inevitably end up doing the same irrespective of the policies being put forward, the same is true for Labour, Republican, Democrat etc
  • Specific products simply because we grew up with them: some people grow up drinking Coke and Coke is all they will drink; my mother always used and continues to use Lurpak butter no matter what.

From the above I assert that loyalty is related to identity and vice versa.  More specifically, I assert that loyalty and identity are two sides of the same coin or you can think of them as the yin and the yang.  If I strongly identify with family, religion, political party, product then they came part of me.  When I am being loyal to these people, institutions, ideologies and products then I am being loyal to me as my identity.  Why did I write it that way?  Because as and when we change our identities in a significant manner our loyalty also changes.

What has that got to do with customer loyalty?  Everything.  Apple fans are Apple fans because Apple is such a strong part of their identity.  Starbucks loyalists are loyalists because Starbucks is part of their identity not Costa Coffee (competitor in the UK).  Burberry is doing fantastically well because Burberry is core part of the identity of the affluent.  So the challenge for companies is to get people to incorporate their brands into their identities.  And that does not happen simply if you build a product that is a little better than the competition or provide service that is slightly better than the competition.  The core challenge is to stand for something that presses the emotional buttons that are already present in human beings.  I have given you a clue about some of the buttons and there are plenty more (which I might just write about in another post).

The other point that I wish to make with regards to loyalty is that the real test of loyalty is when I am presented with a choice (just as good or better than my existing choice) and I can take it at no cost to me.  Imagine that I am a married businessman often away on business and I am presented with a no-cost, no-risk, opportunity for sex with a woman that I find attractive.  I am tempted, really I am tempted – it occurs to me that it would be a great experience at no cost/risk to me.  If and only if I decline that opportunity am I loyal to my wife.  In this case (one of no cost/no risk) my loyalty arises out of my declaration of loyalty to my wife.  In the same as our loyalty to our country arises out of our oath of allegiance and to betray our country is termed treason.

Lets press on.  Once I am operating out of the context of loyalty I can dissatisfied with you and yet continue to be loyal to you.  Lets make that real.  I am loyal to my brother and yet there are many aspects of my experience with my brother that I am dissatisfied with: when we meet each other we are as likely to ignore each other or to trade unkind words.  Yet when it matters we are there for each other – this is not talk, it is what is so because it has happened several times and will happen again.  Or think about the Irish Catholic Church.  Why did the politicians, the policeman, the priests do anything?  I suspect they were highly dissatisfied at what was going on yet they did not break ranks with the Church.  Why?  Out of their sense of loyalty?

Satisfaction: it can lead to repeat behaviour and not necessarily loyalty

Let’s go back to the analogy I used earlier.  I visit a prostitute and when I came out of her chambers you ask me to complete a survey and I give her a score of 8,9 or even 10.  Does that mean I am loyal to this prostitute?  Not necessarily!  I might turn up next week and see a new member of the brothel that is younger, more seductive, more/different in one or more ways that get my attention.  And I switch.  You are confused: why did you switch?  And you are perfectly ok with switching yet you scored 10 in the last customer satisfaction survey!  I switched because I did not incorporate the first prostitute into my identity.  Now if I had then it is not likely that I would have switched and if I did switch then I would have felt some element of guilt, of remorse.

Here is my assertion:  improving the customer experience (the product, the service across the customer journey) is most definitely likely to improve satisfaction.  It will make your customer happier and a happier customer is that much more likely to return and come back to you.  Yet, that absolutely does not mean that the customer is loyal to you despite giving you a 10/10.  I know because I scored my osteopath 10/10 and yet ended up going elsewhere because it was more convenient to me.  If you look into your experience you will see this for yourself – you are human just like me.


customer loyalty and customer satisfaction are two distinct phenomena.  The access to each is different. If you do not get this then you are in for interesting times.  Most of the people I read and listen to are doing a good job of not getting it or pretending that they do not get it.  I wonder if in 10 years some of us will look back and ask how come customer loyalty did not improve despite all of our investment in social media, customer experience, CRM and product development.

Customer Experience: how are ‘robots’ going to cultivate feelings that generate memorable customer experiences?

So much talk about Customer Experience – seems like everyone gets the importance of Customer Experience and many businesses are busy designing, improving, orchestrating experiences that reflect the brand, make an impact on the customer and generate customer loyalty.

What constitutes a Customer Experience?  In my experience a ‘customer experience’ is an integrated combination of physical sensations, thoughts and feelings.  Again, tapping into my lived experience it occurs to me that the customer experiences that I have access to right now are the ones that have a strong emotion (my emotion) associated with them.  Put differently, if an interaction with an organisation left me with a strong feeling – surprise, delight, happiness, disappointment, frustration, anger, boredom..- then I can access it because it stands out in my memory bank.   From that I’d argue that feelings are the key lever to work on when it comes to being a master of Customer Experience.

Now walk into the business world – especially the world of big business – and you will encounter a desert: a landscape where feelings are absent.  There is no agreement for feelings to be present in this landscape.  Where feelings do flower the flowers are sprayed with such criticism that the flowers wither almost instantly.  And if the plant/s insist on producing these flowers one too many times then the plants are uprooted and tossed out.  The only plants that survive and prosper in this landscape are the ones that delight in their ability not to have feelings.  Some of the younger plants do have feelings and start out by keeping them hidden in the darkness where no-one can see them.  As these plants get used to playing this game – it becomes second nature – they also lose sight of their feelings.  One day these plants wake up and find that no feelings are present and because they have lost their capacity to feel they do not feel anything about not having any feelings.  Some of the plants actually take delight in not having any feelings: how great to be totally rational.  The paradox of it is a wonder to me:  such a strong feeling about being a plant that does not have feelings!

Which brings me to my central question: how are a bunch of people who long ago lost connection to their feelings and gave up expressing and sharing feelings (at least in the workplace) going to orchestrate stuff so as to cultivate strong feelings in customers and the people on the front line who are serving these customers?  And how are they going to design products that evoke feelings of wonder, delight, affection and love?  Or design processes / introduce technology that creates feelings of being validated, treated as a worthwhile human being, a part of the community, someone that matters….?  If you have the answer then please comment and share your perspective.

A final word:  or me the beauty of plants occurs in their flowering – the variety of colours, shapes, sizes – what a joy to behold and to experience.  What about you?

A brief (personal) point of view on the state of customer-centricity

Is it possible for a man/woman to have a lot of wealth and do lots of stuff that generates wealth and yet for that man/woman to be ‘not wealthy’?  If you read that without pausing for thought you might say “That is nonsense, he’s gone nuts!”  I am not going to argue the point with you.  I simply ask you read that again.  Now I pose a related question: is it possible for a man/woman to have no wealth and yet be wealthy?  Before you answer “No!” I ask you think about the tales travellers tell about the remarkable hospitality and generosity of the poor – who happily share the little that they have.

Now I am ready to share my observation on customer-centricity with you.  As I look at the world of business and especially all things Customer I am stuck by the following:  just about everyone wants the fruits of customer-centricity (higher revenues, higher profits, higher profit margins) and plenty of organisations are doing lots of Customer stuff (customer insight, customer engagement, customer experience, CRM, customer strategy, customer marketing…) yet remarkably few are actually BEING customer-centric at the level of the organisation.

Does that matter?  Yes it matters a huge amount.  In zen there is the concept of “effortless effort” or “actionless action”:  being customer-centric (starting with the Tops) is the source of this “effortless effort”.  Does this strike you as a bit abstract.  Think about it this way: when you genuinely care that caring effortless expresses itself in the most appropriate way in the circumstances at hand.  On the other hand if you do not care then you have to go to a lot of effort to learn techniques to come over as being caring and hope that the other person does not notice.  The issue is that this tends to wear you out (pretense takes its toll).  Also the mask tends to fall off when you are under pressure.  Finally, the persons on the other end aren’t always taken in by the techniques – there is certain quality that comes across with genuine caring.

Take a good look at people like Chris Zane, Tony Hsieh, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs – you might find that their BEING is or was the ‘difference that makes/made the difference’.  When I read about the transformations that Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs brought about in their organisations I am struck by their BEING – as human beings, as professionals, as CEOs and as leaders.  They bought a certain quality to their organisations that set their organisations alight – to create and deliver stuff that enriched the lives of their customers.  People who did not want to play that game left.  The people who stayed were the people who were up for playing the game that these guys orchestrated: customer-centricity, excellence, customer experience…

Incidentally, BEING customer-centric at the ORGANISATIONAL level is the source of superior performance.  I stress the importance of the organisational component:  think how easy it is to snap a twig, not put a hundred twigs together (aligned) and snap them – hard isn’t it.   Yet even this is sometimes not enough – sometimes change comes along (economic, regulatory, new competitors) that so changes the playing field that the dominant players stumble.  Think of it as the fire that tears through the forest and gives life to the dormant seeds.  Even Apple will one day lose its crown just like Tesco is on its way to losing its halo of invulnerability and customer-centricity through data mining. If you have not heard of Tesco then it worth knowing that Tesco has been the dominant grocery retailer in the UK for many years.  Its success was put down to the loyalty card and the way that data was used for segmentation, customer marketing and product selections at Tesco stores.  This Christmas Tesco has stumbled signficantly.

Customer Experience: what you need to get to make a success of your CX initiatives

What Forrester has to say on CX in 2012

I have been reading  Forrester’s 2012 Customer Experience predictions.  Forrester is making three predictions: C-level execs will officially name customer experience as a top strategic priority; companies will focus on delivering unified customer experiences; and consultants of every shape and size will develop educational programs.  Does that sound great?  Well it could be great for CX professionals and for the army of consultants, service designers and training providers.

What I say about what Forrester says

I predict that the bulk of the money and effort spent on Customer Experience will be ‘wasted’.  What do I mean by ‘wasted’?  I mean that it will not generate the kind of customer advocacy and loyalty that the Tops are looking for.  Why is that?  Because many companies will fail to create the kind of value that customers are looking for.  Why is that?  Because the people in these organisations will go about Customer Experience in a way which has failure already built in.  Before I explain the trap and point towards the door that lets you escape from the trap I need to share a couple of concepts with you.

Distinguishing between context and content

Context shapes content (phenomena including thoughts, feelings, behaviours) and yet it is invisible to us most of the time.  We only tend to see the hidden context when things break down dramatically – think of the financial crisis (before, after).   One of the best visual illustrations of context and how it ‘shapes’ content is this advert aired by the Guardian newspaper. Did you watch this 30 second ad?  No, then please do watch it as it is central to the rest of this post.  I remember that this ad made a huge impact on me when I was growing up.  Why?  Because when I saw the skinhead I jumped to an unkind interpretation – most people did because at the time there was a certain kind of context around skinheads.  The beauty of the ad was that it destroyed that context and through deploying a radically different context the content of the ad (what the skinhead does) showed up, occurred, in a very different manner.

“Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying”  Emerson

A product company doing Customer Experience is still a product company.  A short term financials focussed company doing Customer Experience is still a short-term financial focussed company.  An internally riven company doing Customer Experience is still internally riven.  A company that does not genuinely care for nor connect with customers doing Customer Experience is still a company that does not genuinely care for nor connect with customers.  A value extractor doing Customer Experience is still a value extractor.

“The context is decisive” Werner Erhard

What does Werner Erhard mean when he says that “The context is decisive”?  One way (and it is only one way) of thinking about context is to think of it as ‘playing field’ rather like a soccer pitch (complete with all that goes with it including the goals, line markings etc), a rugby pitch, an ice hockey rink…..   By saying “The context is decisive” Werner is pointing us towards the fact that a soccer pitch calls ‘a game of soccer’ into being.  A rugby pitch calls ‘a game of rugby’ into being.  A chessboard calls a ‘game of chess into being’.  Yet he is saying more than that and to convey that I need to dive into a real life example so please bear with me.

Imagine centre-court at Wimbledon during the annual June championships.  The semi-finals are complete, there are only two players left in the tournament and it is the afternoon of the final – to decide who become champion.  On the day of the final there is a particular context (‘playing field’ ) that is in play – it both calls some stuff into being automatically AND at the same time this context rules out a whole bunch of stuff.  For example, given the context which gives rise to the final we can say:

  • The context calls the finalists to prepare thoroughly to be worth players on centre court and co-create a great match;
  • The spectators (sitting in the stands) have high expectations regarding the match they expect to see – they expect a thrilling battle between two masters of the game of Tennis, they expect twists and turn, they expect to be thoroughly engagement in an enthralling drama;
  • Amongst the spectators are members of royalty, heads of states, captains of commerce, celebrities of many kinds and past champions – the context has called them to be present another context (an ordinary tennis match) would not bring these people to be present and watch the match;
  • The umpire, the linesman and the ball boys and girls are carefully selected to ensure only the best end up on the court – anything less is simply not appropriate, it lacks Integrity as regards the context that is giving rise to the play;
  • The context rules out all kind of stuff like replacing one or both of the two remaining contestants. It excludes the possibility that there will not be a reserve umpire, reserve linesmen, reserve ball boys and ball girls.  It also excludes the possibility that all the equipment (needed for the match to take part in a way that works) will not be checked and probably double checked. It also rules out the possibility that the sports media elite will not turn up to record and make commentary on the final.  And so forth.

I hope that you now have a good enough grasp of context and content and in particular the relationship between context and content.  If you have not then allow me to make one last effort to convey what I wish to convey. Imagine that two men go to battle – they are on opposite sides and both are equally capable.  Yet one man is absolutely convinced that he is going into battle to safeguard the future of his wife, children, community – their lives, their future is at stake.  The other man is going to battle because he has been conscripted against his well and he is totally convinced that the other side is ‘good’ and his side is ‘bad’.  Do you get that these two men will behave differently as the contexts which give them being and shape their thoughts, feelings and actions are so radically different.   If you life was at stake on betting on the right man which man would you bet on?

Let’s back to my assertion that the bulk of CX efforts will fail because they will fall into a trap.  I also stated that I’d share the way out of the trap with you.

Making a success of your Customer Experience efforts: context is everything!

The trap is simple and even though I am going to share it with you most of the people who matter (in companies) will ignore what I have to say.  Which is kind of great for those of you who are in a place to get what I have to share and then act on it.  What is the trap?   The following from a recent post on Zappos points in the direction of the trap:

“One definite challenge is that we are still seen as a shoe retailer when in fact we sell much more than that! Our product catalog spans from clothing to footwear to house wares to beauty to accessories and even sporting goods! Perceptions are not easy to change overnight unless you’re willing to be bold. The one constant is that we are a service company that happens to sell __________ (fill in the blank). Our biggest efforts revolve around building likeability around our brand so that consumers turn to a brand that they trust, find reliable, and have an emotional connection with. That’s where service comes in!

Do you see the trap? The trap is to come from the context of ‘business as usual’ and do Customer Experience – that is to say that Customer Experience occurs as another technique for winning the game of ‘business as usual’.  If we use the analogy of a game of chess then Customer Experience is simply either a chess piece or it is a move or combination of moves in the game of chess.   If that is abstract then think of it this way.  Within the context of a desert pine trees do not grow no matter how much effort you make to grow pine trees. And even if they do grow they will be a feeble version of the real thing!

What is the way out of the trap?  Put in place the context that calls for Customer Experience, welcomes it and actively helps it to flower in abundance and yield the fruits.  Then whatever you do as regards Customer Experience will occur and take hold through effortless effort.  Look carefully and you will see that the context underpinning Zappos is “Delivering Happiness” and “The one constant is that we are a service company that happens to sell __________ (fill in the blank). Our biggest efforts revolve around building likeability around our brand so that consumers turn to a brand that they trust, find reliable, and have an emotional connection with. That’s where service comes in!”  How did Howard Schultz turn around Starbucks?  By changing the context from “breakneck growth no matter what it takes” to “the customer experience one cup at a time”.  Look at Amazon and the context is “the earth’s most customer-centric company”.  And if you turn towards Apple (and Steve Jobs) the context was a combination of “making a dent in the universe”, “humanizing technology” and the “customer experience”.

Summing it all up

If you want to make a success of your Customer Experience efforts then start with the context not the content.  If you have round hole (in a wooden board) then no matter which shapes you try the one that will fit with the least effort and with the best fit is a round block. You can try fitting the other shapes (squares, rectangles, triangles, star…)- it is likely to occur as hard work, the result will not look great and when the board is shaken hard enough the other shapes will fall out.  Ever wondered why organisational change does not last?  Now you have your answer.

What do you think?  Have I missed something?  Do you have a different experience (notice I did not say point of view)?