Monthly Archives: May 2013

What Made The Apple Store Experience a Memorable One?

It was early on a Saturday morning when my daughter and I turned up at the Apple store in Reading. What grabbed my attention? The store showed up as clean, bright, open, uncluttered, and spacious. I also noticed that there were many customers there.  Amongst each group of customers there was an Apple employee demonstrating the product and answering questions. I did not notice any customers walking around looking for an Apple employee to help them, serve them.

Whilst I was taking this in, a matter of seconds, Andy approached us to see what we needed.  I shared the reason I was in the store, “My daughters iPod will not charge”, and handed over the iPod to Andy. Then we followed Andy to the side of the store. He found an iPod station and proceeded to mount the ‘faulty iPod’ on the stand. Then I heard that familiar sound when the iPod starts charging. I was delighted to find that this was the case , and said “It must be the cable then!”.

Andy went to get a new cable and within a minute he was back.  He tried out both cables and determined that the existing cable was faulty. In his gentle and non-critical way he explained that the cables did not take too well to twisting: it was the twisting of the cable that had damaged it.  Then he showed my daughter how to take care of the new cable.

I was expecting and ready to pay for the new cable. I did not have to. Andy took the old cable and gave us the new cable free of charge.  We thanked Andy and left.  As I walked away, I asked myself what had made this experience a memorable one.  Here is my answer:

1. It was easy to find/get to the Apple store.

2. I felt comfortable being there.  The store showed up as clean, bright, open, uncluttered, and spacious.

3. I did not have to find someone to help us or to wait around for someone to become free. There were plenty of Apple staff members in the store and Andy approached us as soon as ‘we came through the front door’.

4. I felt trusted. Andy, who helped us, did not ask to see a proof of purchase even though I had it on me and offered to show it to him – I felt trusted.

5. Apple did the job that ‘we hired Apple to do’. Andy figured out what was wrong and solved the problem that had brought us into the store.

6. Education without any blame or criticism. Andy showed my daughter where the cable was weak and liable to get damaged. Then he showed her how to use it so that it did not get damaged.  There was no hint of blame or criticism and this was well received by my daughter.

7. The free cable showed up for as a gift. I am clear that Apple could have charged for the cable and I appreciate that Andy did not charge us. My daughter appreciated it as well!

8. It only took five minutes.  From the moment we arrived in the store to the moment we left with our problem solved, the job done, it only took five minutes.

Why does this matter?  It matters because my daughter walked out of the Apple store delighted.  Which means that she has positive affinity towards the Apple brand – not just the Apple products.  And in turn that means she is that much more likely to buy more Apple products or ask me to buy them for her!  She is only 12 years old. What is her potential lifetime value to Apple?

Who and What is the Biggest Obstacle to Making the Transition to Becoming a “Customer Company”?

Are the Tops are the biggest obstacle to your organisation becoming a “Customer Company”?

Some of you have questioned my emphasis on the Tops and their critical importance to any successful shift towards your organisation becoming a “Customer Company”.  Some of you have asked me why it is that I have focussed on the Tops and not the Middles and the Bottoms.  The answer is twofold.

First, there is the fact that every system has certain points that have much higher leverage than others. Isn’t that  what we are looking for when we map the customer journey, assess the customer experience, and look for the “moments of truth” – the interactions that really matter and leave customers happy or unhappy, promoters or detractors?  Ask yourself who you would approach and seek to convince/persuade if you wanted to trigger major organisational change.  Would you approach the sales rep or the call-centre agent or would you approach one or more people in the C-suite?

Second, there is my 20+ years of experience at the coal-face of organisational change and business performance improvement in its many disguises.  Yes, the Middles and Bottoms have some capacity to resist/impede change initiated by the Tops. What is missed is that they rarely have the capacity to initiate major organisational change nor to bring it to an end abruptly.  This capacity, this power, lies with the Tops.

Never underestimate the Tops addiction to control and the fear of losing it!

Allow me to share a real life example with you.  This example is provided by Judith E. Glaser in her book Creating We. In this book she shares the story of  a weight loss company and its shift toward customer-centricity.  Here is an abridged version of her story:

Major change – or transformation – usually involves a huge shift in power that takes place across a company. In the 1990s, a weight-loss company was experiencing customer defection at a high rate….

Customers were defecting from their programs and, worse than that, they were telling other potential customers that the company was awful…… The company was getting a bad reputation for high cost/low value…..

The company leaders didn’t believe how serious the situation was. They felt that Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig were no match for their billion dollar powerhouse. But they were wrong and the feedback proved it.

……. we did extensive customer research, as well as franchise research among their 4,500 sales consultants, and discovered that the hard-sell style did indeed cause customers to rebel at some point and to spread the word that the company was insensitive, pushy and only out for money.

….. we engaged hundreds of internal consultants and totally revamped the sales approach, and, most of all, its relationship to its customer.  The company changed its value proposition ……. we created a sales-training process to teach everyone how to be sensitive to customers, to talk and partner with them……. the program was called “Partnership Selling”….

Customers loved the new approach, and sales consultants did, too. Interestingly, however, the new approach created great problems for the leadership team. 

The previous hard-sell approach…… enabled the company to track each sales consultant’s every move. Each was trained to memorize a sales script and not divert from it….. This highly structured, predictable, customer insensitive approach enabled them as a company to track what everyone did and said down to the last word, giving the company control of every customer interaction. They rewarded sales consultants for getting the pitch perfect…….

The new customer-focused process reduced the control of the corporate headquarters and increased control for the sales consultants to manage the “customer experience”.  Corporate went along with the new approach for a short while, maybe six months, then retracted the whole value proposition, for fear they were losing control.  Corporate were unable to ensure that everyone followed the same process. They therefore were unable to reward the best sales consultants for following the script…… Their focus was totally internal and control-based. 

…. during this time, the former president returned to run the company. He favoured the canned controlled interaction with customers and reinstated the old approach to selling. The hard sell returned and the customers left……

During the process, they were hell-bent on reinforcing their own way of doing business, dominating the customer and the sales organisation, and being in total control. After they went out of business, a few of the executives realised they had authored their own demise.

They executives were at the edge of new insights. They were taking the coaching and doing well. Then their insecurities kicked in, the fear of losing control returned, and they went back to square one.  They could not leave their Comfort Zone of doing things the way they’d always been done.  The only WE they could see was the familiar WE of their fellow senior executives, not the inclusive WE of the enterprise as a whole, and certainly not the WE of the customers.

When organisations are faced with change, fear often causes them freeze and hold on to the current way of doing things, even if its not working…..

Unhealthy cells stop taking nourishment from outside, stop taking feedback, and defend their position; and the president responded the same way. He stopped listening to the marketplace, to the customer, and defended his point of view; he was not open to feedback or to new ways of thinking. People had to please the boss, and they did.

 

How Well Are You Positioned to Make The Shift to Being a “Customer Company”? Answer these 10 Questions to Find Out

It takes something to run a marathon.  It takes something to orient your organisation around the customer.  It takes something to be a “Customer Company”.  And it takes a lot more than technology or changing some processes here an there.

What does it takes to be a “Customer Company”?  It takes passion.  It takes steadfast commitment. This passion and commitment has to reside in the hearts of your senior management (“Tops”). And this passion and commitment has to be visible and experienced throughout your organisation.

Why does it take this level of passion and commitment from your Tops?  Because an authentic shift toward customer-centricity requires changes at multiple levels: priorities, policies, practices, processes, people, and platforms. This kind and scale of change only occurs when there is genuine passion, commitment and leadership from the people at the very top of your organisation.

How can you work out if the Tops in your organisation have this kind of passion and commitment to creating a “Customer Company”?  There are dreams. There are intentions. There are fine sounding words. And then there is how people show up in the world: their being and their doing. Which is my way of saying that you should pay attention to how people show up in the world, not what they say.  With that in mind, I propose that you ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do the Tops know how many customers we have gained over the last month, how many we have lost, and the impact on our business?

2. How much time and effort did the Tops expend last month serving our existing customers – in the stores, in the call-centres etc?

3. What actions have the Tops taken, over the last month, to walk in the shoes of our customers? Have they bought one of our products? Have they attempted to assemble-use our product? Have they called customer services to return a product? Have they read our marketing literature etc?

4. When was the last time the Tops called our customers to thank them and learn what enticed them to choose us over our competitors?

5. When was the last time the Tops rang up customers who have chosen to stop doing business with us to find out what caused them to leave us?  And what it will take to win them back?

6. When was the last time that the Tops met with a cross-section of our frontline people, individually and/or collectively, to get access to their experience and their thoughts on what is and is not working for them, for our customers? Is this type of meeting a regular event or a one-off?

7. Have the Tops ever been undercover to experience the reality of being on the frontline?

8. Do the Tops know how many of our frontline employees have left us, why, and the impact of this turnover on our customers, and our business?

9. How much time do the Tops devote per week, per month, per quarter on discussing what they have learned/experienced by talking with our customers, and our frontline employees?

10. What changes are the Tops making in terms of priorities, policies, practices, processes, people and platforms?

Can Insight into the Human Condition Help Us With Leadership, Employee Engagement, and Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that “outside in” is being approached with an “inside-out” way of being in the world.  And the people that are doing this are blind to it.  What do I mean by that?  It is best to illustrate it through behaviour.  As such I urge you to read this post by Wim Rampen that points at the gulf between customer-centric rhetoric and company centred behaviour.

Why is it that so many are doing “outside-in” through an “inside-out” lens. And are blind to it?  Why is it that so many talk about employee engagement and collaboration and yet there is so little of it?  Why is it that we talk about social and yet social media used by business folks is anything but social? Why is it that we talk about service and yet so little service is experienced?  How is it that there is so much talk about relationship yet authentic relationship is so rare?

To get at the root, I say one needs to get present to the human condition.  It is the most obvious reality and yet the hardest for us to see, and be truthful about – to ourselves, and to others. Here, I call on the wisdom of David Foster Wallace.  A man who understood existence in a way that so few of us do and shared his profound insight in the following talk which is 23 minutes long.

Here are some nuggets from the speech:

1. “The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about..”

2. “The exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience.”

3. “Plus there is the matter of arrogance…. Blind certainty – a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up…”

4. “To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties because a huge percentage of stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, as it turns out, totally wrong and deluded…”

5. “Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence…….It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.”

6. “….it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.”

7. ““Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

8. “… How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.”

9. “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration…”

10. “But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us….”

11. “….. I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations.”

12. “Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.”

13. “But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer…”

14. “The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it.….You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…..Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

15. “If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.”

16. “Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.”

17. “Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

18.”On one level we all know this stuff already…… The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.”

19. “The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

20. “The really important kind of freedom is involves attention and awareness, and discipline, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them in a myriad petty little unsexy ways every day.”

Change Only Works When…..

The shift towards an authentic customer-centred orientation is a huge shift for just about every large organisation.  That means organisational change. At the heart of all effective organisational change lies effective communication.  Effective communication is radically different, I say distinct, from what passes for communication in the workplace.

If you are going to make the kind of organisational shifts that are necessary to cultivate customer relationships, call forth the best from your employees, and excel at the customer experience game, then I advise you to listen to the wise words of Danny Meyer, in his book Setting The Table:

Communication is at the root of all business strengths and weaknesses. When things go wrong and employees become upset ….. nine times out of ten the justifiable complaint is, “We need to communicate more effectively.” I admit that for many years, I didn’t really know what this meant……… I thought I was a pretty good communicator, but then it dawned on me: communicating has as much to do with the context as it does content. ……. Understanding who need to know what, when people need to know it, and why, and then presenting that information in an entirely comprehensible way is a sine qua non of great leadership…..

People who aren’t alerted in advance about a decision that will affect them may become angry and hurt. They’re confused, out of the loop; they feel as though they’ve been knocked off their lily pads.  When team members complain about poor communication, they’re essentially saying, “You did not give me advance warning or input about that decision you made. By the time I learned about it, the decision had already happened to me, and I was unprepared.” Team members will generally go with the flow and be willing to hop over ripples, as long as they know in advance that you are going to toss the rock, when you’ll be tossing it, how big it is, and – mostly – why you are choosing to toss it in the first place. The key is to anticipate the ripple effects of any decision before you implement it, gauging whom it will affect, and to what degree. Poor communication is generally not a matter of miscommunication. More often, it involves taking away people’s feelings of control. Change works only when people believe it is happening for them, not to them.  And there’s not much in between…..

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