Klassic Books: an excellent example of how not to write an email requesting help

You might have guessed this and if you have not then I can tell you that I am a prolific reader.  As such I tend to buy more than my fair share books and most of the time I am good at leaving reviews for booksellers.  My thinking: put something into the game, help people out (buyers) and reward good behaviour by booksellers.   It just so happens that I have been particularly busy this month and so have not kept up to date with that which needs to be done including writing reviews. Most of the time when I get a reminder I act on it.  Then I got this reminder – asking for feedback – and it instantly it got my back up.  Why?

How did this email land for me?

Here is the email that I received from Klassic Books – please note that I have highlighted certain parts of the email (the original email was not highlighted):

“Dear Mazafer Iqbal,

As informed to you earlier,  your order number 202-3674826-8273966 for book titled ” I am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj”  placed with KLASSIC Books at Amazon.co.uk has already been delivered to you.

We once again request you to leave your valued feedback on this purchase. To leave feedback, go to http://www.amazon.co.uk/feedback  and sign in with your e-mail address and password. When you find this order, click the ”Leave feedback” button.

As we are a new seller, a positive feedback from you shall help us become a valued seller on Amazon.co.uk

We look forward to another  opportunitity to serve you again.

Klassic Books”

So let’s just take a closer look.  I buy a book from Klassic Books via Amazon and as such I enter into a contract: I pay for the book and Klassic Books agrees to send me the book I ordered and that book has to confirm to the listing (new, used etc).  That contract was fulfilled when I received the book within the agreed timescale and the book was in perfect condition.  I am not obliged to do any more.

Leaving a review for this seller or any other seller is a DISCRETIONARY effort on my part. Does the writer of this email from Klassic Books get that?  Does he/she have any understanding of human beings as human beings?  I don’t think so – the email has ‘ruined’ a good experience and left a sour taste in my mouth such that I have no intention of buying anything from this seller.  Why?  Because there email, lands in my world, as both a telling off (for not responding to their first email) and an order to leave a review this time!  Also, it is all about Klassic Books – not about me, not about a worthy cause/mission, not about creating or contributing to a ‘better world’.  Finally, it lacks any sign of that human touch.  And the word “opportunity” is misspelt – a sin that is all too common (include me in here) when it comes to email.

The lesson

If you want a customer to help you out then take time to craft the communication such that it lands positively in the customers world.  Whatever you do, do not make it sound like you are giving orders and/or telling the customer off.  None of us likes to be ordered around and told off.  Why?  We intrinsically value autonomy – being ordered around violates that need/drive for autonomy.  The telling off violates our sense of self worth, self-esteem, dignity – it puts us back into the classroom being told off and feeling humiliated, in front of the class, by an oversized ego called Teacher.  We didn’t like it then and we don’t like it now.  Incidentally, this is why most performance reviews, over the longer term, destroy relationships, intrinsic motivation and performance.

Some questions worth pondering?

How much of your communication lands in your customer’s world as:

  • you talking about your self and your needs (like the Klassic Books email)?
  • you selling stuff that is simply irrelevant to the customer’s situation and needs?
  • to hard to read due to the design (layout, text, fonts….) and so is not read?
  • incomprehensible because you use complex words and industry jargon that leaves your customers confused?
  • snake oil as your claims seem overblown / far fetched / too good to be true?
  • incomplete – not providing all the information that the customer needs to make a decision, to move forward?

Finally, how much of your communication ruins the customer experience and thus incentives your customers to stop doing business with you?

Global: what does the Voice of the Insurance Customer tell us about customer needs and behaviour?

Ernst & Young have issued a report titled “Voice of the Customer, Time for Insurers to Rethink Their Relationships 2012”.  This report is based on a survey of 27,000 customers across 7 regions and covering 23 countries.  Here is the global summary:  EY-Global-Report-Global-Consumer-Insurance-Survey-2012.    I found this report, along with the webcast I attended, interesting and as such I wish to share with you the aspects that caught my attention.

What’s new?  Consumer behaviour and expectations are changing rapidly

This is how the EY report puts it:  “Customer behavior is changing rapidly. Technology, and in particular the growth of online and social media, is driving a fundamental shift  in customer expectations in terms of how products are marketed, priced, sold and serviced, and how companies are perceived. Pure internet businesses have set new standards for customer-centricity and engagement that raise the performance bar for players in every retail business sector.”

What is the key challenge for insurers?

There is a fundamental, structural, chasm between customers and insurance companies.  Insurers are product and/or intermediary centric models.  Buyers of insurance are looking for insurance companies to be customer-centred. The key challenge for insurers is to make the transition to a customer-centric mindset, business model and operating design.  This is a big ask because insurers in the mature economies (e.g. USA and Europe) as they have ‘extensive legacy operations’.  For example, just changing the IT platform (all the IT systems including all the associated databases) to enable a customer-centred operating mode is a huge challenge.  Another challenge is gluing up the channels so as to enable the insurance buyer/customer to interact seamlessly with the insurer using channels of his/her choice – including switching channels in the midst of doing a job e.g. researching and buying.

What does the global survey tell us about the needs of insurance buyers / customers?

Whilst the majority of customers are satisfied/highly satisfied there is a sizeable minority of buyers who are not confident the product is right for them. Why?  The information that these buyers need (and the way that they need it presented) is missing.

They want to be able to trust insurance providers and build long term relationships.  Specifically, they want to be confident that the products that insurers are selling are right for them (the buyers) and meet their needs.  In other words, they want to be certain that what they think they are buying is what they are buying – no misleading words, no hidden catches and exclusions…

Insurance buyers are looking for a transparent and simple products along with a simple, transparent and convenient buying process.  Notice that the buyer wants insurers to make it easier for them to understand the products on offer, to pick the right one and then easily buy using the channels that are most convenient including switching between channels (e.g. web and call-centre or vice versa).

Customers are looking for value to be clearly demonstrated, reflecting a balance of price, product features and service tailored to their needs.  The more competitive the market the more important it becomes for insurers to demonstrate the value that they are providing other than price.  In other words answer the question “Why should I buy from you and not your competitor who has as similar product at a similar price?”

Customers expect the insurance provider to deliver against the buyers expectations of the product and of customer service.  In other words the ownership phase and associated customer experience matters to customers even if it does not rank that high for many insurers.

How well are insurers doing against these needs and expectations?  According to EY: “The survey shows that the customers’ perceptions are that the industry is failing to deliver this in some key areas.”

Are there any big differences between life and non-life insurance from a buyer / customer perspective?

I noted two big differences, in the word of EY:

“Non-life insurance lends itself more to internet purchase than life and pensions, given the higher customer familiarity and comparability of the products. In all countries we found a growing trend to use the internet to research non-life products, although levels of actual purchase vary considerably between countries.”

“In non-life insurance, price is often the main measure of value since products are more comparable and frequency of purchase drives greater customer familiarity. But in some territories, brand and reputation are more important criteria.  In highly competitive markets characterized by price transparency, there is a tendency for prices to converge. This leads to non-price factors such as brand becoming more important selection criteria as customers search for a way to differentiate between providers.”

What does EY recommend for non-life insurance?

EY advises insurers to focus on convenience and value by:

Providing a seamless customer experience by integrating online and offline channels. Thus allowing the insurance buyer / customer to  use whichever channel works for her at a particular point in time and be able to swap channels and continue where she left off, seamlessly, in the previous channel.  Notice this means integration such that any and all customer related data is shared across channels – a single view of the customer that is in operation in real-time.

Making it easy (simple, convenient) for insurance buyers to buy and for customers to renew – across whichever channel/s they choose to use. For my part I do not believe that EY go far enough.  It is also important for insurers to demonstrate value of choosing / sticking with the insurance providers.

Making the customer feel valued after he has purchased and before the renewal comes up. This has to do with useful communications from the insurer to the customer during the ownership phase AND a service culture that ensures that the customer’s experience of interacting with the insurers matches his/her expectations.  Incidentally, the research shows that a poor claims experience drives churn but a positive one does not drive loyalty – customers expect to be treated well during the ownership phase.

Segmenting the customer base and understanding the needs, behaviours and profitability of each segment. This will allow you, the insurer, to manage the risk and improve retention in a profitable manner.

Developing and manage insurance brand(s) so that the value proposition and key messages are clear and communicated effectively in/across the digital world.

What does EY recommend for life and pensions insurance?

EY advises a focus on improving customer trust and confidence by:

Putting the customer at the centre of the business model: offering the right product, at the right time, to the right customer and following through with service that matches the customers expectations and responds to his/her needs – needs change.  Clearly this means building and exploiting a customer insight capability.

Working with intermediary channels AND building a direct relationship with buyers / customers so as to generate insight, anticipate and meet their needs. The key challenge with the intermediary is to drive the right behaviour – behaviour that creates value for customers and enables longer term relationships.

Putting together a suite of simple (to understand) and transparent products that meet the needs of customers.   The idea is to enable the customers to buy easily – with confidence.

Making it easy for buyers / customers to access relevant (and easy to understand) information and products online – supported by offline personal interactions where necessary.

Building trust by crafting and delivering a great customer experience across touchpoints, across the customer journey.

Rewarding customer loyalty with incentives that recognise the worth (LTV) of the customer’s purchasing behaviour and loyalty.

Improving customer retention by doing a better job of getting at and dealing with the underlying drivers of churn.

Final Words

I will be doing a follow up post which dives specifically into the findings for Europe.  I have a vested interest in this as I believe that would be of service to a group of people that are near and dear to me.

I wonder if all categories of non-life insurance show the same customer needs and behaviour.  Might there be a category or two that is a mix of life and non-life needs?

Dear Mr Bezos, is it ok for an Amazon ’employee’ to insult me in my home in front of my son?

Dear Mr Bezos,

You are quoted as saying that you are committed to making Amazon the earth’s most customer-centric company.  I believe you and up till recently I was both an advocate and a loyal customer.  Through my blog I have only talked about Amazon in favourable terms and wherever the opportunity has arisen I have sung the praises of your organisation.  Recently I shared what I found and highlighted a business opportunity for your Kindle team.  I have been a customer for many years and as a customer I have bought the following from AmazonUK: books, DVDs, computers, monitors, networking equipment and televisions.  One Christmas your organisation even wrote to me to thank me for being such a valuable customer. I really appreciated that – being acknowledged.

So why am I writing to you?  Because I want to introduce you to the Amazon ’employee’ that has single handedly turned me from being happy with Amazon to being disgusted with Amazon.  Here is a photograph of him:

You might be wondering what happend that made such an impact on me?  Allow me to share that with you:

  • This delivery driver turned up at my home at 08:45 on Thursday 23rd Feb 2012 to pick up a faulty television and return it to Amazon and refused to take it claiming it was too big;
  • He entered my home for the second time (after leaving the first time without taking the TV) and told my son “You must be embarrassed and ashamed of your dad.  I know that if he was my dad then I would be embarrased and ashamed of him!”
  • What was my crime?  Asking him to do his job – to pick up and take back the TV he had come to pick up!

How did it come to this?  Allow me to share my experience with you and you can then determine whether you, Amazon, have lived up to your commitment to being customer-centric.

Tuesday 21st Feb 2012

On the afternoon of Tuesday 21st Feb, a helpful, smiling, humane delivery driver drops off the 42″ TV that I purchased from AmazonUK.  I help him bring the TV in as it is too big for him to lift by himself.

In the evening, my children were pestering me to set the TV up.  So I spent between 1 -2 hours disconnecting what is there and setting up the new TV and then disconnecting it.  It looked like I was  makig good progress setting the new TV up then I hit the following and could not complete the set-up process.  In fact the TV is useless – see the picture below:

We were all disappointed.  Yet, I am an adult and was at that time a loyal Amazon customer so I simply said to myself it happens and got busy disconnecting the TV and then repacking it.

Then I headed onto the AmazonUK site and arranged for this faulty TV to be picked by Amazon (via Yodel – one of your delivery partners in the UK) on Thursday 23rd Feb.  I really appreciate the thought that has gone into the design of your website and how it easy it was for me to arrange the pick up and to printout the return label:

Then I got busy sealing up the TV package so that it would be safe and secure on its journey back to Amazon.

Thursday 23rd Feb 08:45

At 08:50, I am in the kitchen and notice a delivery van on my drive and soon thereafter the doorbell rings.  I open the door to find the delivery driver at my door with paperwork ready in his hand.  I sign the paperwork and then invite him into my home so that he can pick up the TV and take it back.  I tell him that it is too big for him to carry into his van and so I will help him.  When he gets into my hallway and sees the package he refuses to take it.

What reason did he give for refusing to take it back?  He said that “It’s too big”.

I calmly told him that he had come to pick up this package as arranged.  His van was more than big enough for this package to fit into it and that I would help him to load it into the van.  I told him not to worry because it was not heavy and in any case there were ‘handles’ that we could use to carry it.  He simply repeated “It’s too big!” and refused to take it.  At this stage, I pointed out that a pick up had been arranged for that day.  He had come to do the pick up.  The package was ready.  And he was refusing to take it back.  Why?  “I don’t get it”.

This is when your Amazon brand ambassador really came into his own.  He told me that he really cared about his customers. That he is known for his caring attitude and that is why he turns up before 9am – to help his customers out.  So I jumped on this and told him “Great, then you can help me out now by taking this TV back!”.   He was not to be put off so easily.  His response?  “No, I am not taking it and I do not have to take it.  I am only supposed to pick it up between 9am and 5pm.  So I am leaving and I will come back sometime between 9 and 5.”

I simply could not believe what was happening. As he turned to leave my home and make for his van I uttered in disblief and anger “What the fuck is going on here?  You are really leaving!”  Now your brand ambassador really came alive and accussed me of swearing at him.  I told him that I had not sworn at him.  Well, this ’employee’ of yours was not having any of it.  He told me that he was leaving and was going to phone his manager to say that he was leaving because I had sworn at him.

When he got to his van.  I stepped out of my home and took a picture of him in his van and told him that I would make him famous. Well he left and I got busy getting ready to go to the office.  I was still shocked by what happened:  my mind could not make sense of what had happened.  Why would someone turn up to pick up a parcel and then not take it? How could someone claim to be great with customers and yet be so unhelpful, so indifferent?

Thursday 23rd Feb 08:52

This wonderfully helpful ’employee’ of yours rang my doorbell some minutes later.  He told me that he had talked to his manager and had come back to pick the TV up.  Then he told me that he had only left because I had sworn at him.  I replied “I welcomed you into my home.  I offered to help you take the package and load it onto your van.  You refused to take it.  When I insisted you take it you told me that you did not have to take it because you had arrived early before 9.  When I pleaded with you to take it as you were here you refused.  And when you left I simpled said “What the fuck?”, I did not swear at you.”

To my amazement your ’employee’ out did himself.  He told me that I had sworn at him and then he told me off for taking a picture of his van!  His words? “You know that the van is trademarked. You are not allowed to take a photo of it!”  I could not believe my ears.  Just then my 16 year old son came into the hallway and that is when your ’employee’ insulted me, in my home, in front of my face.  He looked at my son and said “You must be embarrassed and ashamed of your dad.  I know if he was my dad I would be ashamed and embarrassed.”  That was the straw that broke the camels back.  Furious, I told him to take the TV and get out of my house.  As he was struggling with the TV, I helped him get it out of my house and as soon as he was out of my house I slammed the door shut.  I heard him say “You’re not going to help me put this in the van?”  I replied “You’ve got to be joking”.   In the end my son helped him to load it into the van simply because he knew I wanted this ’employee’ of yours gone from my house, my drive.

Thursday 23rd Feb 09:30

I am at work and my mobile phone rings, my wife is on the phone and she tells me that there is someone that wants to speak to me.  To my amazement, it is the marvellous ’employee’ of yours – he is in my home, with my wife, talking to me, using my home phone!  This after I had told him to leave my home and never come back.

Frankly, I am in total shock, frozen, wondering what the hell he is doing in my home, so I don’t hang up.  He starts talking.  First he says he is sorry.  I think “Ok, we are getting somewhere at last.”  Immediately after that he blames me again.  He tells me that I was being unreasonable, demanding and that I swore at him and that is why he did what he did.  I tell him what I had told him earlier.  I did not swear at you, I remember exactly what I said and what I said was “What the fuck?  You’re leaving!”  And that was only after I had welcomed you into my home and offered to help you load the TV into the van and you had refused to take it no matter what I said.”   This ’employee’ of yours was having none of this.  He went straight back to telling me off and pinning the whole situation on me again!  So I hung up on him, I had had enough for that day.  Then I rang my wife on her mobile and told her to get him out of the house and that if he refused to go then she was to call the Police.

Mr Bezos, that brings me to the end of my story and back to my question.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on my experience.  Please do not tell me that this chap is not an Amazon employee, that he works for Yodel (one of your logistics partners in the UK) or one of Yodel’s subcontractors.  I know that.  I also know that I placed an order with Amazon and I  hold Amazon responsible for its value chain including its logistics partners.  This chap may not be your employee and yet he repesents your brand when he comes to my home to drop off something that I bought from Amazon or to pick it up and return it to Amazon because it is faulty.

As for me I do not know whether I will or will not continue to be a customer.  I do know that I will NEVER buy any item from Amazon that cannot be shoved through my letterbox.  I have no desire to have a repeat helping of the most frustrating-perplexing-humiliating customer experience of my life.

I look forward to hearing from you once you have looked into the matter.

Kind regards

Maz Iqbal

Everything I have learned about business, customer-centricity, customer experience and life

Whenever I struggled with a Physics problem my professor (a wise man) instructed me to go back to the fundamentals: the fundamental principles of Physics.  This post is written in that spirit.

A little about the value and limits of frameworks

So you want to lead your organisation to competitive success.  Great.  Without a framework – a point of view that you CREATE and IMPOSE on the messiness of reality – how are you going to get there?

Here is the framework that I use based on everything I have learned about business and customer-centricty – looking through the lens of the strategist rather than an expert in operational effectiveness/efficiency.  Before you read what I write, I am compelled to point out that everything that I share with you is NOT the truth.  It can NEVER be the TRUTH.  Why?  When you dive into it, really dive into depths, you will see for yourself that ultimately life is a mystery.

Frameworks are simply models.  Models are not an accurate depiction/representation of reality (what is so).  Models are useful because they simplify reality and thus allow us to act on it.  Frameworks are filters – they filter out that which is unnecessary.  The issue is that we can never know what is unnecessary.  The hidden manifests that which is visible.  If that is too esoteric, too zen for you then think about the fundamental finding of chaos theory: a infinitesimal change somewhere in the system (far far away in space-time) can have catastrophic impact over here now.  The popular version for this is the “butterfly flapping its wings in South America yesterday can change the weather over here in the USA/Europe today”. OK, with the context set let me share with you that which I promised to share with you.

This is everything that I have learned about business, customer-centricity and customer experience – as a strategist

–  He who does the best job of creating AND communicating the most value for the customer (through the customer’s eyes) wins;

–  A distinctive Value Proposition (that speaks to the target market) is at the heart of creating value for the customer – notice I used the term DISTINCTIVE, not better and not simply different;

–  That distinctive Value Proposition allows you to offer and get away with a ‘not so great customer experience’.  Yes it does!  Think about IKEA.  Think about Ryanair/Easyjet.  Think about early adopters of any new technology who put up with all kinds of ‘hassle’ simply to access and benefit from the Value Proposition.

–  If you do NOT have a distinctive Value Proposition you can focus on excelling at the Customer Experience and that excellence can become your Value Proposition.

–  Even if you have a distinctive Value Proposition you must continually improve the Customer Experience such that it AMPLIFIES your Value Proposition.

–  A distinctive Value Proposition and the appropriate Customer Experience – both pinned by the Value Chain and a continuous improvement culture – will allow you to dominate your industry and make bumper profits.

To create and deliver that Value Proposition and the associated Customer Experience you have to get your hands dirty designing, monitoring, changing, tuning the Value Chain – what you do not do (e.g. Zappos does not outsource Customer Service) matters as much as what you do. 

Create a context where you and your people are open to generating and using insights (wherever they arise) to improve your Value Chain, the Customer Experience – think twice before you make any significant change to the Value Proposition. 

Communication (listening, talking, discussing, imagining, sharing, debating) matters profoundly so communicate, communicate, communicate – if a tree falls down in the forest and there is no-one to record and share that falling then that tree did not fall, in fact it never existed!

One day a butterfly will flap its wings, change the ‘environment and the rules of the game’ rendering your Value Proposition irrelevant.  When that happens your customer-centricity, your Customer Experience – no matter how great – will not save you.   If you are ‘lucky’ you may end up reinventing yourself – like Apple, like IBM, like Starbucks did.  The more likely scenario is that you will die a slow death like Kodak.  No need to despair, the game goes on, just the player/s at the centre of the stage change.  Comfort yourself, know that we are all like guests in hotel rooms – temporary occupants in the game of business and life, the game goes on with and without us.  Ultimately it is all about the game itself – we come on the stage, play our part and then leave.  That applies to all of us – no exceptions.  That is our shared humanity.

Final Words

I thank you for listening, it is your listening that makes my speaking possible.  I wish you the very best in the game of business and in the game of life.  It’s just a game – don’t take yourself so damn seriously AND play the game full out.  Do not be like the old lady who died ‘clutching’ a note that read:

Never fulfilled my potential

NEVER fulfilled my potential

Make your life count, make your role count, make your team count, make your organisation count.  Make an awesome contribution – at least play the game of making an awesome contribution full out.  It is when you are standing in the clearing called ‘up for / committed to making an awesome contribution’ that you are most likely to come up with the Value Proposition (that makes a contribution to the lives of our fellow human beings) and the associated organisation that creates and delivers that Value Proposition.

Customer Experience tale: how humanity and inhumanity shows up and the impact it makes

Whilst some of you loved my last post,  some of you found it a little too philosophical.  “Look Maz, we live in the real world.  How does what you say apply to us in the hard world of business?  OK, this post is for you.  I will share with you how humanity and inhumanity shows up in the world of the customer and the impact that it has.  Allow me to share my story with you.

I need to go and see my Dentist

Some days ago I started to experience toothache whilst eating.  I meant to do something and when the pain became painful enough I did do something. I rang my dentist only to find the line engaged so I opted for the ‘ringback’ option.  To my surprise and delight within two minutes of hanging up I was on the line to the receptionist.  We talked and she booked me in for Wednesday morning 8:45am.  At the end of this encounter I was left feeling that the Receptionist got me as a human being in pain who needed help and she played her part in helping me solve my problem.  On Wednesday morning I turned up at the Dentists.  The Receptionist greeted me warmly, told me to wait upstairs and showed me where the stairs were.  Excellent, I am now in the waiting room – all by myself.  Then I wait for around fifteen minutes for the Dentist to see me.  This waiting could have shown up in my world as a pain and it did not as I was busy on my smartphone doing email.

My “I-Thou” encounter with the dentist: my dentist oozes humanity!

Before I knew it I was with the Dentist.  He greeted me with a warm voice and smile and mentioned that it had been a while since we last met, “two and half years to be exact”. I told him my issue, he listened and said “That is the issue you came in with last time and I put a filling in there.  Let’s take a look.”

He started looking: he prodded here, he prodded there.  Then he told me that he could not see any issues with any of my fillings.  “I wonder if it is do with the fact that you have sensitive teeth?”  I replied that I did not think so.  He suggested that we do a test and see if he could recreate the pain I had been feeling on previous days.  So he blew a jet of air on the side of my gums and sure enough I felt pain but not the kind of pain I had been experiencing and that is what I told him.  His response? “OK, there might be something there that I am not seeing so let’s do some x-rays!”  So he did the x-rays.

Looking at the x-rays my Dentist showed me how there was no difference between the state of my teeth since my last visit.  He could not see any issues.  Nonetheless, I told him that I had experienced pain. Did he ignore me?  No.  He suggested that it was possible that I had a crack and that was the cause of my pain.  He went on to tell me that he could not see it and the x-rays would not show it.  So he recommended that I use the teeth on my right hand side more than I had been using them (I had been using the left side because that side was not in pain) and if there was a crack then that would show up quicker.

He gave me advice on how to brush my teeth and he gave me some toothpaste for my sensitive teeth.  Why did he show me how to brush my teeth?  Because he noticed that I had been overbrushing my teeth and he knows I have sensitive teeth.  He showed me a way to brush my teeth that would work better for me.  Why did he give me the toothpaste?  So that I could smear it on the sides of my teeth /gums so as to provide some pain relief and protection against pain.

As I was getting ready to leave he recommended that I see the Hygenist.  I noticed that I was hesitant and he looked at his records.  “I see that you don’t like visiting the Hygenist.  Why is that?  What’s the reason for that?”  So I told him that it occurred to me that all the Hygenist was doing was making my teeth look white and pretty.  And that I had little time for vanity – I simply had not been brought up that way.  I ended by saying that I was open to being persuaded if I had got things wrong.  So he told me.  He spent about five minutes explaining the benefits to me – healthy teeth and gums – of seeing the Hygenist once a year, starting there and then.  I found his education persuasive and I agreed to see the Hygenist. [ Now here is the interesting thing: during our conversation on the merits of using a Hygenist I was fully engaged in the conversation.  The Dentist did not have to use gimmicks or tempt me with prize competitions or entice me with an online game…  He simply invited me to enter into a conversation that mattered to me – my teeth, my health.  And by doing so he had my full attention and participation.]

Then it was time to leave.  I looked him in the face, smiled, shook his hand and thanked him for being great with me.  He smiled and wished me well.  “What a great experience?  He really cares about me!  He listened to my concerns.  He did more than that he educated me in an amazingly friendly, non-condescending way!”

I encounter that helpful Receptionist again!

I take the paperwork (that my dentist has given me) and head downstairs to the Receptionist.  She smiles and asks me if I want to book in an appointment with the Hygenistt. “Yes”, I say.  “When?” she asks. “Can you do this Friday?”.  “No, the Hygenist does not work on Fridays.”  I look disappointed and say “Oh”.  The Receptionist, seeing and hearing my disappointment, says “How about today, right now?  She is free for the next half an hours!”  I agree and she shows me into ‘Hygenist’s office’.

Hygenist: an excellent model of inhumanity, of the “I-It” encounter

The Hygenist does not greet me.  She does not smile.  She does not use my name.  I notice that she has not noticed me – not as a human being, not as the dentist did only some 20 minutes ago. She tells me to sit down in the chair.  I sit, she reclines the chair and gets busy working on my teeth.  Have you been to see a Hygenist?  If you have you will know that it is not the most pleasant of experiences.  She prods here, she scrapes there, she pokes here, there and everywhere.  In the process of poking around, vigorously, she pokes one of my upper teeth on the right hand side.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  When she stops doing that momentarily I raise my hand, move my head forward and empty the contents of my mouth – mainly blood into the little sink next to me.

I tell her. I say “That was incredibly painful.  It is the most pain I have experienced for a long time!”.  And move back into the position.   “I am sorry.  That can happen sometimes.  Do you want me to stop? Or I can carry on?  I promise to be careful so that I do not touch that tooth there again.  What do you think?”  That is what I am expecting her to say.  That is what I would say in that situation and mean it.  And that is what my dentist would say and meant it.  What does the Hygenist do?

In my world it occurs that she has ignored me! How? Why? Because she does not say a word.  She gets straight back to work and guess where she goes back to work?  The exact spot that had caused me that pain!  So there I am again: excruciating pain – though less than the last time.   I am captive, I cannot do anything whilst she is doing what she is doing.  And shortly after that it is all finished.  I am grateful that my torment is finished.  There must be some humanity there I say to myself.  So I say “It must take great skill to be able to do what you do in such a small space!”  In a flat, cold, voice she says “Yes, it does.”  The way that is said I tell myself “This person is not a people person.  She is not interested in conversation.  She is here to do a job and that is it.  Everything else is simply ‘waste’.  Clearly she has been to the six sigma school of business: do the job as effectively and efficiently as possible and when that is finished get on to the next job.” I am convinced that in her world I do not show up as human being.  I bet that to her I occur as a product that has to be processed.  This is not that much of a surprise – one of my best friends is a doctor and I remember him telling me (a long time ago)  that after a little while human beings simply show up as ‘pieces of meat’ to be processed and sent on their way.

I thank the Hygenist.  She does not look at me.  She does not smile.  She does not wish me a good day. She does not offer any advice.  I walk out of that room and make a promise to myself.  I will NEVER go and see that Hygenist again – no matter what!

How does inhumanity show up?  Inhumanity is simply indifference to the humanity of our fellow human beings.  We get on with the ‘task at hand’ and completely ignore the person in front of us. We do not acknowledge, we do not validate, we simply ignore the other as a human being.  The leave us experiencing that they have been experienced as objects – not as fellow travellers on the path called life.

What does it take to put humanity into the game?  When I mentioned the excruciating pain a humane person would have:

a) acknowledged that I was in pain – “So when I was cleaning your top teeth you felt a tremendous amount of pain.  On a scale of 1 – 10 how painful is it?”;

b) validated me – “10! That is amazingly painful.  I don’t know how you managed to keep so calm, so still.  If I was in that much pain I would not have been able to do what you just did.”;

c) worked with me to address my pain – “I have only a little bit more work to do on your teeth.  Are you up for that today?  I promise, I will stay clear of that tooth that is causing you so much pain?”

d) left me feeling as one human being interacting with a fellow human being who gets me and who cares about me. 

Final words

You might me tempted to dismiss the example that I have shared with you here – you might label it “extreme” or an “exception”.  If you are serious about cultivating that personal emotional connection with your customers then I counsel you to recognise that inhumanity (the “I-It” mode of encounter) is pervasive – it is the default condition.  And you have an opportunity to differentiate yourself simply by moving from “inhumanity” as the default to “humanity” as the default.  As I said in my previous post, Zappos and Rackspace have become extremely successful businesses in competitive industries simply by the amount of humanity (genuine caring for customers as fellow human beings) that they put into the game every day.

Customer Experience: are you sitting at the right table?

The politics of experience: burn this quote into your heart/mind

“We cannot be deceived.  Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  We are not self contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  Each of us is the other to the other.  Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.”  RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

I will come back to this quote later in this post, right now just burn it into your heart/mind.

What is the most important decision you make?

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh is a great read.  It is littered with nuggets of gold if you have the ears to listen to what Tony writes.  One of the most valuable nuggets of gold is that it really matters what table you sit at.  If you study the work of Michael Porter you will find the same.  They are both talking about the same thing just using different languages.

What do I mean when I say that it really matters what table you sit it.  I am pointing out that one of the most important, if not the most important decisions, is what table to sit at. This is of no importance if your interest is operational effectiveness. If, on the other hand, you see yourself as a strategist (which is what I declare myself to be) then it is essential that you get to grips with this.  Let’s explore this through the eyes of Tony Hsieh and Michael Porter.

In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh writes:

“In a poker room in a casino, there are usually many different choices of tables.  Each table has different stakes, different players, and different dynamics that change as the players come and go, and as players get excited, upset or tired. 

I learned that the most important decision I could make was which table to sit at.  This included knowing when to change tables……. an experienced player can make ten times as much money sitting at a table with nine mediocre players who are tired and have a lot of chips compared with sitting at a table with nine really good players who are focussed and don’t have that many chips …..

In business, one of the most important decisions….. is what business to be in. It doesn’t matter how flawlessly a business is executed if it is the wrong business.…..”

What does Michael Porter – the man who invented the field of strategy – have to say?  He says that the source of superior performance can be attributed to the following two factors:

  • the structure of the industry in which which the game of business is being played and competition taking place; and
  • the company’s relative position within its industry.

If you look at financial returns then you will find that the returns of players (as a whole)  in the technology industry have been consistently at the top.  If however you look at players as a whole in the US airline industry then the financial returns have consistently towards the bottom of the league.  That is due to the structure of these industries.  Yet, even in the airline industry, Southwest Airlines has made super returns because of its relative position – which has come about because of its consistent and prolonged commitment to its strategy.

Customer Experience: which table to sit at?

So what are the tables (to sit at) in the fashionable restaurant called “Chez  Customer Experience”?   Lets take a look:

  • Social media – being pushed hard by the ‘social gurus’;
  • Mobile (smartphones and tablets) – becoming increasingly prominent and sexy;
  • Big data & analytics – being pushed hard by vendors who have spent a fortune on developing / buying the software;
  • Ecommerce and multi-channel integration – especially for offline retailers who face a blood bath;
  • Marketing automation – integrating marketing resource management (assets), analytics and campaign management;
  • Customer Services – cost reduction through automation, self-service, six sigma and outsourcing’; and
  • Content marketing – recognition that we live in a world that you have to earn attention by being useful.

Now if we go back to where we started, the question is this: which table/s should you sit at?  More specifically: if you want to lead / differentiate yourself / build that personal connection with your target customers then what table/s should you sit at?   Have you chosen your favourite/s?  OK, let’s move on and discuss a table that for the most part is empty – there are plenty of chairs available at this table.

The table of humanity: it is vacant and represents a great opportunity

When I look at and play in the domain of Customer Experience I am present to a cosmic joke being played out.  What am I saying?  I am saying that it strikes me that most of the players involved in the game of Customer Experience have little or no understanding of human beings as human beings.  They have little understanding of experience as experience and the role it plays in human living.  Please notice that I am not saying experience as theory, as talk, as writing about it!  I am being specific: experience as experience and the experience of interexperiencing which is the ground of human existence.

I grant that many Customer Experience (Gurus, Practitioners, Students)  might be great at process design, six sigma, implementing technology, mining data, capturing the VoC, customer journey mapping etc.  I do not grant that most of these people naturally like being with people, learning from/about people, being of service to people.  Furthermore, I assert that most business folks are blind to people as social beings who are always immersed in relationship and thus interexperiencing.  Which is why they do not see the table that matters the most when it comes to crafting a great experience and cultivating a person emotional connection with customers that shows up as customer loyalty.

To be 100% clear I am advocating that if you are serious about Customer Service / Customer Experience / Customer Loyalty / Customer-Centricity then you (and your entire organisation) play full out at the table called HUMANITY.  Why?  It is the most powerful differentiator there is.    I am going to share a profound quote with you from someone who spent a lifetime in intimate contact / conversation with people and as such gets human beings as human beings.  My question is do you have the ‘ears’ to listen/get what he is saying?  Back to the quote I started this post with:

“We cannot be deceived.  Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  We are not self contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  Each of us is the other to the other.  Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.”  RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

We live in an age where we have and continue to destroy the humanity of other men – our customers, our colleagues, our suppliers, our partners?  How do we do that?  Simple, in the game of business we treat people as objects that exist to create dollars; Martin Buber described this as the “I-it” orientation as opposed to the “I-Thou” orientation.

What is the key takeaway of this post?

 We live in an age where customers rave appreciate employees who appreciate customers – customers are fellow flesh and blood human beings.    That should tell you all that you need to know. Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out as I see it.  We experience ourselves living in an age of inhumanity.  Many people working in the Customer Experience field are increasing that inhumanity whether they realise it or not.  That means that more and more organisation show up in our worlds as being inhuman.  Which in turn means that the field is wide open to play at the table that matters and which is practically empty: the table called Humanity.  Don’t believe this then just take a look at Zappos – they are not simply selling, they are delivering happiness!  Or think of USAA, SouthWest Airlines or Rackspace.

If you are still not with me then I leave you with the following statement:

Service had become “a backoffice cost center, focused on reducing expenses and executing transactions.  We were effective and efficient… but we were missing an opportunity to establish bonds with [our customers] and build more meaningful relationships.”   Jim Bush, Executive, American Express

What he is saying is that American Express decided to put Humanity back into the game of service after the engineers drove it out with their relentless focus on effectiveness and efficiency.  Put differently, as a customer, as a fellow human being, effectiveness and efficiency only matter if you turn up in my world as caring – as humane.

Disagree with me?  Please share your views I am happy to listen and learn.

Do you know the difference between a good strategy and a bad strategy? (Part II – Fluff)

This post follows on and expands on the discussion started in the previous post:  Do you know the difference between a good strategy and a bad strategy? (Part I)

Why is the business world full of fluff?

Business managers are under pressure: the old formulas simply don’t deliver the desired results; and more and more stuff is changing at what seems to be an ever increasing pace – it is difficult to keep up and make sense of what is going on.

Business managers do not have the time or the aptitude or the desire to think ‘the situation at hand’ through by themselves.  Let’s face it original thinking is hard work – it is genuinely creative work. Take a good look and you will find the ability to think creatively has, long ago, been drained from most business manager (I am including Director in the label ‘manager’) and replaced with a full tank of ready-made frameworks and formulas?  School starts this process and business school completes it.

There are a whole bunch of people whose standing and livelihood is based on fluff.  They are experts at dressing up the ‘old and common’ so that it comes across as ‘new-insightful-innovative’ and selling this to business managers who are eager for the ‘latest silver bullet.  Furthermore fluff elevates one’s standing as one comes across as being more insightful, more learned, more intelligent than the rest of us.  If you want to get a great understanding of fluff then turn to academia and government – it if full of marvellous fluff.

What is fluff? 

Richard Rumelt (“RR”) writes:  “The hallmark of true expertise and insight is making a complex subject understandable.  A hallmark of mediocrity and bad strategy is unnecessary complexity – a flurry of fluff masking an absence of substance.”

How does he describe fluff?  His definition is:  “Fluff is a superficial statement of the obvious combined with a general sprinkling of buzzwords.  Fluff masquerades as expertise, thought and analysis.”

Examples of fluff?

In his book (Good Strategy, Bad Strategy) RR provides two excellent examples of fluff.

He shares a quote from a major retails banks internal strategy document: “Our fundamental strategy is one of customer-centric intermediation.”  RR points out that the word “intermediation” means that the bank accepts deposits from one bunch of people and then lends that money to another bunch of people.  That is to say it is bank!  You might me thinking, like I did, that the key phrase is “customer-centric”.  RR points out that “customer-centric” is the buzzword that happens to be in fashion right now.  He admits that “customer-centric” could mean that the bank has committed to offering depositors and borrowers better terms, better service, a better experience.  His review of the banks policies, products and practices shows no change from business as usual.  On that basis RR concludes that that the phrase “customer-centric intermediation” is pure fluff.  And on that basis one can rewrite that one sentence as: “Our fundamental strategy is being a bank.”

Here is another example of fluff:  “..an elastic execution environment of resources involving multiple stakeholders and providing a metered service at multiple granularities for a specified level of quality of service.”   Have you figured out what the author is talking about?  It is the definition of cloud computing within a recent EU report.  What is cloud computing?  It is computing where you get on with the tasks that you need to get on with and someone else takes care of the IT infrastructure (applications, servers…) that makes it possible to do your tasks.  And it just so happens that this infrastructure belongs to someone outside your company and you acccess it through the Internet.   That doesn’t sound that sexy right?

What has fluff got to do with the Customer field?

The short answer is, a lot!  Let’s start with “customer-centric”. I get that you have fallen madly, deeply, in love with the customer and so are committed to being “customer-centric”.  Now tell me what that means specifically in terms of:

  • The Value Proposition – target market segment, needs/wants addressed, price charged;
  • The Customer Experience that your customers can expect;
  • The Value Chain – how you configure your value chain and execute the activities within the Value Chain to deliver the Value Proposition and the Customer Experience;
  • The Customer Charter – which spells out exactly what you expect from the customer and what the customer can expect from you
  • Guarantees & Penalties – what specifically do you guarantee the customer and what penalties will you pay (to the customer) if you do not live up to your end of the bargain as set out in the Customer Charter.

Having difficult spelling that out?  Which is why I assert that “customer-centric” is 100% fluff for many if not most organisations who talk about being “customer-centric”.

If you think deeply enough about Customer Experience you will also find that in many cases, for many organisations, this is pure fluff.  Don’t know what I mean?  For the vast majority of organisations, Customer Experience = Customer Service.  Going further, most of what I have seen labelled “Customer Strategy” has been pure fluff.  Most “Customer Strategy” has been something like “we want to get more customers, keep more of our existing customers and do a better job of up-selling / x-selling to our existing customers.” Fantastic – that is about as useful as saying “the sun rises in the morning and falls in the afternoon” or that “Our fundamental strategy is being a bank”.   Other excellent examples of fluff include “Social Business” and “Big Data”.