A skeptical look at 2012 and best practices

Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. [Miguel de Unamuno, “Essays and Soliloquies,” 1924]

What shows up for me when I reflect back on 2012?  It occurs to me that most of what is written on all things business – including customer – is driven by the need of people and organisations to sell something: a product, a service, a solution, themselves.   Put differently, it is marketing.  The job of marketing is not ‘truth’ nor ‘usefulness’.  No, the job of marketing is to bypass the mind and pull the heart strings so as to move the human being to act in accordance with the wishes of the marketer.  And as such that which is written – including every post that I write – should be questioned.  More accurately, it should be tested to determine if it is science or merely philosophy masquerading as science.

I say that the area that needs the most urgent and critical examination into that which is merely philosophy masquerading as science is  in the areas of customer theory (CRM, Customer Experience, loyalty) and best practices.   

Why go to the trouble to question, research, investigate and test stuff out for ourselves?  Because there is a world of difference between genuinely useful theory (‘good theory’ the term used by Clayton Christensen) and that which masquerades as useful theory.  What do I mean?  I’ll let Clayton Christensen speak on the matter:

“Consider, for example, the history of mankind’s attempts to fly.  Early researchers observed strong correlations between being able to fly and having feathers and wings.  Stories of men attempting to fly by strapping on wings date back hundreds of years.  They were replicating what they believed allowed birds to soar: wings and feathers. 

Possessing these attributes had a high correlation ….. with the ability to fly, but when humans attempted to follow what they believed were “best practices” of the most successful fliers by strapping on wings, then jumping off cathedrals and flapping hard … they failed.  The mistake was that although feathers and wings were correlated with flying, the would-be-aviators did not understand the fundamental causal mechanism … that enabled certain creatures to fly.  

The real breakthrough in human flight did not come from crafting better wings or using more feathers.  It was brought about by Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernouelli and his book Hydrodynamica, a study of fluid mechanics…. he outlined …. a theory that, when applied to flight, explained the concept of lift.  We had gone from correlation (wings and feathers) to causality (lift).  Modern flight can be traced directly back to the development and adoption of this theory.”

I say that most of what is pushed as “best practice” in business – including the areas of CRM, CXP, customer loyalty – is merely anecdote and correlation.  And putting in place these ‘best practices’ and expecting to win the game of business is about as sane as strapping on feathers and wings and expecting to fly! I say that you should adopt/live the best practice of deeply questioning best practices.

If you disagree with me then please share your perspective.  I am particularly interested in anyone who thinks they have found the equivalent of lift (causal mechanism) for business success, for engendering customer loyalty.  Please know that I am open to being proved wrong, to be shown the error of my ways – and I mean that genuinely.  Or as Clayton Christensen puts it:

“But even the breakthrough understanding of the cause of flight still wasn’t enough to make flight perfectly reliable.  When an airplane crashed, researchers then had to ask, “What was it about the circumstances of that particular attempt to fly that led to failure? Wind? Fog? The angle of the aircraft?” Researchers could then define what rules pilots needed to follow in order to succeed in each different circumstance.  That’s a hallmark of good theory: it dispenses its advice in “if-then” statements.”

And finally, I recommend Clayton’s book How Will You Measure Your Life.  It is a great read. And if embraced it will make a contribution to your life, your business.

Thank You and Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year

Hello to each and every one

It is Christmas time.  It is the time of the year that I take a good look at my life including getting present to all those who have contributed to my life. I am clear that you have contributed to my life in 2012.

I say thank you to each and every person who is subscribing to this blog.  You matter, you make a difference to me and my life.  I am clear that I am called forth to write and keep putting my authentic voice into the world only because your provide a listening for this voice of mine.  Without your listening there would be no value in my speaking/writing.

I thank each and every person who has provided me with encouragement whether by commenting on this blog, my reaching out to me via email and/or by retweeting on Twitter.  In particular, I thank Adrian Swinscoe, James Lawther, Kristin Zhivago, Colin Taylor, Annette Franz Gleneicki, Mary Bartels-Cook, Richard Sheahan and Richard Shapiro. 

I thank Bob Thompson at CustomerThink for reaching out to me back in March 2011.  For providing encouragement when it was welcome. And for being a great ‘sparring partner’ in 2012.  It was great meeting you face to face this year Bob.  And I thank Neil Davey at MyCustomer.com.  It was great to meet you face to face as well Neil.

I thank Kevin Smith and Nick Davey for sticking with me pretty much since the beginning of this blog – you are the first two people to subscribe to this blog.  And you have stuck with me for 2 years and 2 months!

I thank Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino for being the person that helped me to set this blog up back in the summer of 2010. Whilst we have not been in touch, I carry you in my heart and wish you the very best.

If I should have mentioned you and have not mentioned you then please forgive me.  And do know that I am truly grateful to each and every person who has taken an interest in The Customer Blog and/or me.  I am clear that you and I exist in this world together.

I wish each and every one of you a great Christmas and the very best for the New Year.

And finally, I ask that you get present to the fact that you matter: how you show up in the world does make a difference

At your service and with my love

Maz

“I matter, you matter, he matters, she matters, they matter, we matter.  Let’s live ‘extraordinary’ lives and co-create a ‘world that works, none excluded'”

What does it take to generate/deliver great service?

It is Christmas time and I want to give you, my fellow human beings and the readers of The Customer Blog, a gift.  What kind of gift?  The kind of gift, which if embraced, will give you access to great relationships – with your family, with your friends, within your community, at work, with your customers…

The gift of ‘service': is this the greatest gift that you can give?

It is Christmas time and what I notice is that it is a time of concern – a concern with gift-giving.  And this year as I think about gift giving I am immediately taken to Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I am confronted with this question: what is the greatest gift one human being can give to another?  It occurs to me it is ‘service’.  What?   When I speak ‘service’ I am pointing at the kind of service being pointed at in the following quote:

“My notion about service is that service is actually that kind of relationship in which you have a commitment to the person. What I mean, in fact, is that for me what service is about is being committed to the other being. To who the other person is.

To the degree that you are, in fact, committed to the other person, you are only as valuable as you can deal with the other person’s stuff, their evidence, their manifestation, and that’s what’s service is about. Service is about knowing who the other person is and being able to tolerate giving space to their garbage. What most people do is is to give space to people’s quality and deal with their garbage. Actually, you should do it the other way around. Deal with who they are and give space to their garbage.

Keep interacting with them as if they were God. And every time you get garbage from them, give space to garbage and go back and interact with them as if they were God.”  Werner Erhard

Which business brands provide this kind of service?

In the business world there is one brand in particular that gets the kind of service that Werner Erhard is pointing at and illuminating.  Can you guess who it is?  It’s Zappos.  Which is why I am not at all surprised to read that Zappos Set An Insane Record For The Longest Customer Service Phone Call Ever.  How long did this phone call take?  9 hours and 37 minutes!  Here is what, in particular, caught my attention:

On July 16th I received a call from Lisa about 2 hrs. into my shift. We talked for 9 hours, 37 min. I took one bathroom break about two hours in. Kara Levy [another team member] took care of me by bringing me food and drinks. We talked about life, movies and favorite foods.”   Shaea Labus, the Zappos Customer  Loyalty Team member:

“Sometimes people just need to call and talk,” she [Shaea] said. “We don’t judge, we just want to help.”

What does it take to generate/deliver great service and make a difference?

The question that calls to me and asks for an answer is this one: what does it take to generate/deliver great service – the kind Werner is pointing at and which is being delivered by Zappos?  What is your answer?  Is it technology – the latest state of the art CRM/customer service system?  Is it CX blueprint that sets out the ‘process/script’ that the Customer Loyalty Team Members have to follow?  Is it the KPIs that Zappos’s management team have set?  Is it perhaps the people – the special people that Zappos employs?  Is it the pay/rewards that Zappos gives to its employees?

Let’s listen to a master of the human condition, one who strips away our rationalizations. What does this master have to say on the matter of service, of making a difference?

“All it takes to make a difference is the courage to stop proving I was right in being unable to make a difference… to stop assigning cause for my inability to the circumstances outside of myself …… and to see that the fear of being a failure is a lot less important than the unique opportunity I have to make a difference.” Werner Erhard

Summing up

Zappos generates/delivers great service because the Tops (starting with Tony Hsieh) are committed to delivering great service.  Great service is not something that they do.  No, great service is who they are in the world.  Did you get that?  The folks at Zappos ARE great service; their being – how they show up for themselves, each other, customers, the world at large – is great service!  Put differently, for the Zappos folks great service is not a question of doing it is a question of existence.  And, yes, existence does require a viable ‘business model’.  That is something that the folks at Zappos figured out after they formulated their commitment to being the brand  that is synonymous with great service.  And they kept tinkering and tweaking to get the business model right.

What does it take for you and me to make a difference in our showing up in the world – to our family, our friends, our community, our fellow employees, our customers?  A reconceptualization of ‘service’ along the lines set out by Werner Erhard AND the courage to stop proving that you/I are unable to make a difference. Put more simply and bluntly: you and I need to stop playing small!  Look around you and you will find that many businesses generate poor/indifferent service because the people in them – starting with the Tops – play small.

Do you really need to produce a customer experience blueprint?

As a result of that which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School I have done some reflecting – on how the staff ‘showed up’ in the world, on my experience in management, and on customer experience.  In this post I wish to follow up on one or more of the themes I touched upon in the last post.

Reflections on Sandy Hook Elementary School

This is the question that keeps coming to the centre stage of my awareness: how is that the Sandy Hook staff did right?  What I notice is that an event occurred and each of the members of staff acted/reacted without central intervention.  Put differently, there was no boss in place to hand out orders and insist that the staff follow them. And as far as I can see their was no prescribed process to follow.

Is there any value in creating a blueprint for the process that needs to be followed by staff in the case of a gunmen turning up at the school?  And if such a process blueprint was produced would it advise the janitor to run around the school corridors letting people know that a gunmen was on the loose?  What would this process have advised the principal to do? What would it prescribed for the educational psychologist?  Would it have stated that the teachers had to shield the children in their care by using their bodies and putting their lives at risk?  Would a ‘blueprint’ dictating what the staff had to do (in the case of a gunman showing up) been useful or a hindrance to the Sandy Hook staff?  I say it would have been a hindrance – it would have stopped the staff doing what human beings are great at doing generating the right response to the unforeseen.

Some people have mentioned training.  That the staff had been trained in how to respond to such an event.  Really, the training trained the principal and the educational psychologist to master their fear – to leave safety and head towards the gunman?  And, the training trained the school janitor to master his fear and risk his life running along the school corridors as opposed to sneak off into a safe place?  I have seen people reluctant to get a move on and leave the building when the fire alarm goes off – contrary to the training they have received.  No, I do not buy that the training was the key factor in the way that the staff ‘showed up’ – did right and saved lives even to the cost of their lives.

Reflections on my corporate recovery days

I was 26 years old and I had never managed a business of any kind though I had led/managed teams doing audits of large companies.  It had been just two weeks that I had joined Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division and as yet I had received no training to outfit me for the job.  I did not even know what my job involved in concrete terms.  Yet, I got a call at 14:00 telling me that I had to be in Leeds at 20:00 to be briefed on my role in a big receivership (Chapter 11).  I turned up at Leeds along with lots of other people and we were briefed for two hours.   The next day, early in the morning, I made my way to Morecombe – on the other side of England.

At 9:00 am I turned up at the Paul Dixon motor dealership in Morecombe.  And I was nervous!  Why?  How was I going to manage this dealership when I knew nothing about motor dealerships? How was the General Manager of this dealership going to react?  How are the rest of the staff going to react?  What do I need to do to keep the staff onside and improve the performance of the dealership?

Out of necessity I decided the best approach was to act as if I was confident about myself, about them and about our ability to improve the performance of that dealership.  Operating from this context I approached the General Manager of the dealership and explained the situation. He offered to vacate his office and I declined the offer telling him that he and I had to work as a team to turn round the dealership.  He relaxed – he got that I was being genuine.  And once relaxed we spent on hour or so developing a game plan on how we could work together effectively including how to break the ‘bad news’ to the staff.

I ‘managed’ that dealership for several months.  I built great relationships with the staff despite their initial concerns.  And we did a great job of running the dealership – keeping it going and improving performance.  How?  I was clear on the outcomes we had to generate as a team and I made it my job to communicate those regularly.  And I was clear that we had to have a team spirit and I cultivated that by creating the context in which the 20+ staff worked together to come up with a game plan for generating the outcomes.  Then I left the people to work out how best to do their jobs and make the required contribution.

Actually, I did not just leave them to it.  I did hold weekly sessions where we reconvened and honestly shared what was and was not working.  And then we revised the play.  After two weeks I did have a straight conversation with one person and spelled out the implications for him of not honouring his word and letting the team down.  After that he behaved differently – he did what he promised as opposed to just promising. This experience was and has been the foundation of my management style to this day.

Reflections on Customer Experience – do you really need a CX blueprint?

It is fashionable for gurus and consultants to say the organisations need to put together detailed customer experience blueprints which clearly state the customer experience the organisations wishes to deliver and how exactly that will be delivered.  I ask, is this blueprint really necessary?  Put differently, is it possible to generate a great customer experience without such a detailed blueprint?  Let’s consider this through an example.

Imagine that we are dealing with the customer experience in a retail store.  Is it really necessary to produce a customer experience blueprint which sets out how specifically the customer is to be treated whilst she is in the store?  Is it necessary to spell out if and how the customer is greeted?  What to say to the customer as she leaves the store? And how the staff are to behave in between?

I say that a customer experience blueprint is not necessary.  I say that generating such a blueprint and insisting that your staff follow that script can be counterproductive.  Why?  Because it kills the human spirit, it kills spontaneity, it kills authenticity.  Put differently, making people do stuff that they do not want to do kills the magic that shows up when one person genuinely want to be of service to another.  And as human beings we notice when that magic is present and when it is absent – that is to say we pick up when someone is following a script / going through the motions.  Let me give you a personal example.

At an educational seminar I was told by my manager to stand at the door and greet the ‘guests’ as they arrived.  I did not want to do it yet I had to comply.  So I stood by the door and went through the motions of greeting the ‘guests’ and I am clear that a genuine greeting was absent.  And I am clear that the guests picked up on this: they faces did not lighten up, they did not smile, they did not engage in even a brief conversation. No, the interaction was superficial one – from both perspectives.

At another educational seminar I chose to greet the guests with the self generated mission of ‘being great with the guests and easing them into the seminar’.  In that instance, I was genuinely present, I had a sense of mission/purpose, I greeted each guest by tailoring my enthusiasm/tone with the way that the guest looked.  And I made myself useful by asking if they had any questions and then answering them.  I soon figured out a key question that was on many minds – in which direction should I head to get to the seminar – and I answered this question without being asked.  At the end of this session I had tired feet and a glad heart – I was delighted with myself as I had made a difference, I had enjoyed interacting with the guests and I had learnt some stuff about people/human behaviour.  And part of my job was noticing the impact that I had made on ‘my guests’ – the smiles I had engendered, the ‘thank you’s that I had received, the laughter that I had created.

Summing up

If you want to generate a great customer experience then learn from Sandy Hook.  Get that people can do the right thing without top down control whether in the form of a boss or a blueprint that they have to follow.

I say go further and get that the very act of top down control can and does kill the human spirit – the spirit that makes the difference between a great customer experience, a well functioning organisation and simply an average one. Which is my way of saying that top down systems of control are counter productive in situations where human authenticity, flexibility/adaptivity, and ingenuity are required.  And that is exactly what is often required when you and your customers interact!

I say listen to the wisdom of John Timpson.  What is this wisdom?  It starts with recruiting the right people and involves the following principles and practices:

  1. All colleagues have the freedom to do their jobs they way they choose;
  2. Every boss’s job it to help his or her team;
  3. No KPI’s, no boxes to tick;
  4. Bosses don’t issue orders;
  5. Head Office is a helpline – it does not run the day to day business.

If you want to learn more about John Timpson and how he has generated an organisational context that calls forth the best from his staff and in the process generates happy customers and a successful business then read the following post, Timpson – shifting/transforming the culture through language and practices.

Leadership and CX: Is the human spirit the difference that truly makes the difference?

“I’m thinking, as a 6-year-old, 7-year-old, what are their thoughts?” she said. “So I said to them, ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much and that it is going to be okay.’ Because I thought it was the last thing they were ever going to hear.” Caitlin Roig, a 29-year-old teacher, Sandy Hook Elementary School

As I write this I have tears on my cheeks – of sorrow and of gratitude.  I am reminded that I am father to three children. I am reminded the awesome contribution many teachers made to my life.  I can remember the care that  was bestowed upon me during those early years when care/love is particularly important.  And I know that I am in a position to write this only because my fellow human beings saved my life twice.  The first time was when I was 7 years old and went into a coma as a result of an automobile accident.  The second time was when an unusually kind, alert and ‘can do’ doctor told me to get into his BMW and raced me to the emergency room at the local hospital where the right people were ready to sedate me and operate on me.  I owe my life – as it is and as it is not – in large measure to my fellow human beings.

What has this to do with leadership, organisational effectiveness, and customer experience?  A good question and let me address it.  I have done process design and business re-engineering.  I have done cost-cutting and organisational re-structuring.  I have done the metrics side of things.  I have done technology selection and implementation. I have done recruitment, induction, job design…  I have done and still do strategy.  None of these show up either on their own or in combination as the true source of organisational success.

My stance on leadership, organisational effectiveness, employee engagement and service was shaped in my days in corporate recovery.  The days when I would turn up unannounced (either individually or part of a team) and be responsible for running a business that had gone into receivership or administration (for those of you in the USA think Chapter 11).  The challenge was to call forth the best of the people in the organisation whose future looked bleak.  And that happened in every one of the organisations.  There was something that showed up brightly which I have found to be missing in ‘normal’ organisations.  And which does not reside in strategy, in technology, in metrics, in processes, in people/culture.  What is this difference?

As I read about what occurred at Sandy Hook and in particular the courage, the heroism, the sacrifice made by the principal and the teachers I am face to face with that which I noticed in my corporate recovery days: the power of the human spirit to transcend the most difficult of circumstances.

I am clear that the difference that makes the difference is the human spirit.  When the ultimate crazy request was made – to risk their lives to save the lives of their ‘customers’, the young children in their care – the teachers (and the janitor) at Sandy Hook did not fail their customers!  What was it that enabled the staff to rise up and meet that challenge?  Was it strategy? Was it policy? Was it process?  Was it KPIs? Was it money/rewards/promotion? Was it technology? No, it was the human spirit coming to life in those teachers when it was summoned.

And that is the central issue for me.  Our organisations – private and public – do not make space, do not call forth the best of us: our human spirit.  On the contrary, our organisations, indeed our society, does the reverse it shuts out and/or suppresses the human spirit.  We do this by our obsession with the the technology of strategy, of process, of metrics and measurement, of people practices, and of IT.

How to end this post?  It occurs to me that I am a stand for the human spirit in business, in organisations, in life itself.  And that pretty much is the underlying thread in what I write here on The Customer Blog (and on my second blog Possibility, Transformation & Leadership).  And how I aspire to show up in the world.

No, I wish to end this post with a dedication to the principal of Sandy Hook – Dawn Hochsprung – who showed what real leadership is.  And to Victoria Soto who gave her life to save the children in her care. And the humanity of Caitlin Roig who thinking that the end was about to come told the children that she loved them all very much.  Why?  She wanted them, her ‘customers’, to experience love, being loved.

I cannot resist this, the urge is too strong.  To all those who talk social and confuse it with social media and the self oriented marketing, selling, chit-chat and vanity that takes place there,  I say that the true meaning of social is the social that showed up through the actions of the principal and teachers at Sandy Hook.  I say true social is the social as expressed by Caitlin Roig: “‘I need you to know that I love you all very much and that it is going to be okay.’ Because I thought it was the last thing they were ever going to hear.”

I am proud to be member of the human race.  And I say I will continue to be a stand for the magnificence of the human spirit in all walks of life. I have a question for you: what would show up if you treated your customers with the kind of care/love that the Sandy Hook teachers did for the ‘customers’ in their care?

Skeptical musings on ‘treating different customers differently’ and the expertise of business gurus

You may know that I value skepticism in the sense of questioning the taken for granted.  In this post I question the  central tenet of the customer business.  And I question the insight and expertise of customer gurus and management consultants. Let’s start with the central tenet.

What is the right basis for treating different customers differently?

If there is a central tenet of the whole customer business (CRM, CXM, customer retention & loyalty) then it is this: treat different customers differently.  How does that work in practice?  There are two options: you can treat different customers differently based on their needs or based on their financial value.  Which should take priority?

Imagine that you are in pain doubled up in the waiting room of a hospital emergency room. It is late at night during the new year holidays and there is a shortage of doctors.  So there are some ten people there with you in the waiting room – each of whom is keen to get seen to quickly.  What basis should be used to decide who gets access to the scarce/valuable ‘resource’ (the doctor) next?  Should the basis be first come first served?  Should it be the person who is in most need of urgent attention because his/her life is at risk?  Should it be the person who is willing to pay the highest price – the one that represents the most financial value?  What do you say?

What would the ‘customer guru’ say if he was to act consistently with his business philosophy?  He would say that if the hospital is a business then the people in the waiting room should be divided up (segmented) first by their financial value (to the hospital) and then by their medical needs.  Which means that the person who is going to make the most money for the hospital and who is most in need of urgent attention should be the next one to get to see the doctor.

What actually happened?  I was that person in the waiting room doubled up with pain.  And the lady next to me was in a lot of pain as well.  We were talking and complaining about the shortage of doctors, how slow the process was, how long we had been waiting – over an hour. We both hoped that we would get seen to quickly – ideally next.  Then a mother came in with a young child who was clearly in a lot of pain.   What was our reaction?  Both of us were adamant that the young child had to be seen next and seen immediately; we forgot our pain, we no longer thought about ourselves, our humanity reached out to that young child who was suffering so much!  And I noticed that all the other adults in the waiting room forgot themselves and collectively we gave one big sigh of relief when that young child was taken to see the doctor after a couple of minutes. Clearly, the hospital got this because they were seeing us on the basis of our need – how serious our condition was.  And that  is what allowed us all to bear our pain and go with the system: the system occurred as fair, as just – as one that does justice to human dignity.

I hope that you get what I am getting at here.  If you do not then let me spell it out for you.  What the ‘customer gurus’ espouse contradicts certain ingrained values that go with being human.  Most of us have a sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ including that which contributes to our human dignity and that which takes away from our human dignity.  Visibly treating different customer differently is a minefield because it brings out into the open the question of human dignity.  It occurs to me that only people who are not called to by these values are economists, MBAs, business gurus and management consultants.

Why you should be skeptical about business gurus and management consultants

First and foremost, I say, you should be skeptical of any business guru and every management consultant.  Why?  Because business gurus and management consultancies are in the business of passing of philosophy as science, as scientific management, as truth, even if they are not aware that this is what they are doing.  Put differently, when you take a thorough skeptical look then you find that the business gurus and management consultancies are like the king who was not wearing any clothes – it just took a child to see it and call it.

At his point, I wish to introduce you to Colin Shaw because has written a post that has generated high emotion.  Colin is the CEO of Beyond Philosophy – a customer experience consultancy which  makes a big point about the importance of tapping into the irrational side of customers and says it has a scientific proven method for doing so.  On LinkedIn Colin describes himself as “Author 4 Customer Experience books | Consultant | Customer Retention & Customer Loyalty | Keynote Speaker” 

His latest post hasn’t got the kind of reaction (comments) that he was expecting. I think it is fair to say he shows up as being totally surprised by the reaction as expressed through numerous comments many of which are not supportive of him and his point of view.  Which occurs to me as interesting given that the heart of  all things customer is a good grasp of the human condition.  Colin starts off his latest post (Missed opportunities to identify high value Customers – Virgin Atlantic Case Study)  with the following:

“I fly a lot. I have Diamond status on the Delta airlines loyalty scheme, the highest you can get. I really fly a lot! On my briefcase and all my bags I have the Delta Diamond tags. This is like wearing a beacon that says ‘this guy flies a lot’!

My question is, “When I fly with other airlines, do they ignore this display that says I am a high value Customer and could be one of your best customers?” It seems that my badge has the cloak of invisibility as everyone ignores it. Why?

Back in my past career, when I used to run call centers, I remember saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if we knew how much potential revenue the caller could spend with us”. The reality was if I knew someone could spend $1m dollars I would treat them differently to someone that could only spend $10. Airlines seem to ignore this in the choices they make when designing their Customer Experience. This is a lost opportunity. 

Let me give you five examples from a recent experience with Virgin Atlantic on how they are missing these opportunities:”

What kind of reception did this post receive?  An emotional one!  A human one, that discloses reality as experienced by the ordinary airline customers: the lived experience rather than theory. Allow me to share some of the comments that showed up as particularly interesting:

1. “Welcome to the real world Mr. Shaw!”

2. “is this dude serious?”

3. “Colin…here is part of the issue that people are having with your rant. I also fly quite a bit, but simply not enough to get this kind of status. When I go to the airport, I have to wait in a security line while people with “status” have their own priority line, and the airport decides that having the two lines converge on the same TSA agent is a good idea. This means that people without status feel that they are being held up because you have your fancy Delta tags. Then the boarding begins and they do the same thing…..put lines converging on a door where people with status move to the front and cause others to wait. Then there is me – a frequent flier who is in the airport enough to hate travel, and not enough flights to get the airlines to recognize how unpleasant it is to travel…..A significant part of that unpleasantness is the fact that I have to be put aside by a wave of people like yourself who have that level of status. Think about every other industry where status matters. Credit cards offer status to high value customers, but recipients of the cards do not inconvenience other card holders when they make a purchase, so no resentment exists. The backlash you are feeling is from people who have to witness and be inconvenienced by what we all know you deserve. Virgin should take care of you, but not at the expense of other travelers.

4. “Wait, it gets better. So now (in your clarification) you’re saying that Virgin could buy your loyalty back by putting you in a shorter check-in queue, and giving you a $48 rebate on your excess baggage, and accepting responsibility because you had lost your headphones? So, not only are you arrogant and self-important, you have no brand loyalty – Delta should value their relationship with you so highly that they treat you like a king, but you value YOUR relationship with Delta so little that after years of good service, upgrades, priority check-in, etc. you’d defect to Virgin for $48 and a check-in queue that is 3 minutes shorter. In other words, for you brand loyalty is a one-way street. As one of the previous comments asked, who exactly do you consult for? I bet they’d be interested to know your new views on asymmetric brand loyalty, and on exactly what can be bought for $48 and 3 minutes…… Then, in your next follow-up, you suggest that you should be treated better than other economy class passengers because you travel more often! So now you’re expecting Club Class treatment while flying economy! Amazing! I drive far more than average, should I have a booklet of “get off with speeding fines” vouchers, or my own special lane as a reward for being a frequent driver? With each post your position sounds more and more ridiculous. Please, stop digging, it’s becoming embarrassing.

5.  “Over 700 million a year fly a year. What makes you any different? Are you military flying back and forth from deployments? No I didn’t think so. Those are the only people that deserve to be treated like royalty when flying. Though I’m sure you’ve given up your first class seat multiple times for a military member haven’t you. No, I didn’t think so. Should people that ride the bus to work on a daily basis be treated better than a person who only rides it occasionally? Did you once think why they have to limit carry on size? Maybe they have calculated the capacity of the overhead storage and this allows all customers to be able to store the same amount of carry on luggage. Its ok cause you fly so much everyone else should have to suffer so you can carry your oversize bags. I bet that $48 dollars will make you think twice before trying to carry on a small suit case next time. Then again if your so high value, I’m sure $48 is pennies to you People try to do this all the time, carry on large bags to avoid waiting at the luggage belts. I fly with Virgin anytime I fly home to the UK with no complaints. Then again I don’t expect to have my A#$ kissed everytime I fly. If thats what your looking for, maybe you should be looking at different services. 2 christmas ago I got stuck in London due to blizzard that hit the east coast of the U.S. While other airlines had their customers sleeping on air port floors, Virgin paid in advance for hotel for 3 nights and even paid 75% of my expenses. Its funny you pick Virgin to bash on when customer service is so terrible and a lot worse in so many other services. Have you tried to call your cable recently or tried making a large purchase at Best Buy during the holiday season? Try bashing them for not bowing down before you go after airlines.”

6. “”Try replacing the word airline with wife/husband/partner. I used to take her out to nice restaurants, go on romantic holidays, buy her presents. Then I left her for someone closer to work. The other week I thought I’d pop round to see her. With my new kids. Showed her pictures of us on holiday. And then (and this makes me really angry), she says she’s moved on!!”

7. “You seem to be a very important man. How disconnected from real life you must be…”

And finally

I say that if you want to excel at the game of Customer then cultivate the human. My experience is that to excel at the Customer game one has to have an intuitive feel for the human in the human being.  How do you do that?  By putting yourself into real, commonplace, human situations and being present to what shows up for you.  By reading the right kind of literature – that means avoiding business and management books!

I say be skeptical about any advice coming from Tops, business gurus, management consultants, MBAs and economists. Why? They are disconnected from real life – the real world experienced by most of humanity, most of your customers.  And, like all philosophers they fall so in love with their philosophy that he forget that it is just philosophy – at best a partial view of reality. I really do believe that Colin Shaw thinks that he is not doing philosophy and that is why he has called his business Beyond Philosophy.

Please note, I have only used Colin Shaw and Beyond Philosophy as an example to illustrate a point simply because this landed on my lap at the right time.  Recently, there was the much publicised demise of The Monitor Group a strategic consultancy established by the king of strategy (Michael Porter).  Which is my way of saying that I am talking about academics, consultants, gurus and not any one single person or organisation.

What do you say?

Service: “Wow, sometimes you make a crazy request, you get an awesome answer”

“At this very moment, I knew why Gandhi ever lived because with people like Jackie, mankind is worth saving after all…. Wow, sometimes you make a crazy request, you get an awesome answer.”  A delighted customer

There is a lot written about service and all kinds of tips, tricks and recipes are put forward for people/organisations which are looking for the latest silver bullet for improving customer service and/or the customer experience.  Usually the bullet consists of some kind of training for people, playing around with the KPIs,  rewarding the front line people differently, redesigning processes and making changes in technology. When I read this stuff I ask myself, why is it that so many of us are still trapped in the web spun by Frederick Taylor and Scientific Management?

You may have noticed that I don’t put forward recipes.  Why?  They just don’t work in the real world.  The same recipes have been pushed, in many different guises, for such a long time. And what is the state of customer service as experienced by customers?

I have a very different take on the service and why it is that service is so poor.  In this post I wrote “..what we see, how we see it, what we focus on, what we do and the results that show up cannot be ‘greater than’ the concept we live/act from.  I say that service sucks because our concept of service sucks. Put differently given the existing concept of service that holds us prisoner it is inevitable that service sucks.” I went to write:

Service is a gift that one human being bestows on a fellow human being.  The fundamental basis and the desired outcome of Service is human dignity itself: honouring our shared humanity – the best of our shared humanity as in when we move-touch-inspire and elevate one another. The kind of humanity that can move us to tears of joy.”

Today, I find myself in a position to illustrate what I am pointing at here by inviting you to watch two short videos where  one customer encounter a human being that clearly lives that which I am pointing at in my definition.  She is the kind of human being that my friend Richard Shapiro calls a Welcomer in his book The Welcomers Edge.  Who is this human being?  Her name is Jackie, she works in a Krispy Kreme store in Austin, Texas.  This is what the customer has to say regarding his encounter with Jackie:   “At this very moment, I knew why Gandhi ever lived because with people like Jackie, mankind is worth saving after all…. Wow, sometimes you make a crazy request, you get an awesome answer.”

Here are the two videos, the first is the video of the first encounter between the customer and Jackie where he makes a crazy request.  The second is a follow-up interview with Jackie where she shares how she relates to herself, her colleagues, her customers. Both of them are more instructive than a ton of books, a ton of theory.  Enjoy and learn!