Monthly Archives: January 2012
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:
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!
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.
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.
“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?
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?