Is Customer Experience just fluff?
Is all this talk of customer service, customer-centricity and customer experience merely fluff? That is the question that someone put to me recently. Allow me to answer that question from a practical perspective – lived experience at the coal face.
Imagine you are in this situation
Imagine that you review your Top 10 accounts and find that one of these accounts has been one of your longest customers. And this customer makes up a significant portion of your revenues and profits. You are grateful for the contribution that this customer makes to your business. And you have a problem to deal with and a decision to make.
Looking into this customer it occurs to you that if you can persuade this customer to move from their existing solution to one of your latest solutions you can cut the customer’s monthly bill by half. The cost of doing this is obvious: substantial loss in revenue and profitability. The benefit? There is no obvious benefit. So the question is what to do? Should you leave the situation as it is and hope for the best? Or do you choose to contact the customer and spell out how the customer can save money?
Being unsure about what to do you consult with your customer strategy consultant. Together you look more deeply at the situation and you come up with following:
1. The customer got a significant saving when the customer switched to your business many years ago. Since then the market has changed mainly through new technology that has made available lower cost solutions.
2. The customer has not complained nor asked you to come in and give advice on how to save costs or help decide which solution best meets the customer’s needs.
3. The customer is ‘out of contract’ and has been for sometime now. You are not sure that the customer even knows that this is the case.
4. Another supplier could approach this customer and offer to cut the customer’s costs by half. If that were to happen then you might lose this customer. Or you might have to re-bid for the business to keep it.
5. Right now your business needs as much revenue and profit as it can produce. And talking to this customer and offering a solution that cuts billings by 50% does not show up as smart. You are not sure the Finance Director will support such a move.
What choice would you make?
Given this information, what is the smart thing to do? What is the right thing to do? What would you do if you were the CEO of this business?
Are you tempted to continue just as you are? Are you tempted to let things be? Are you tempted to take the least risky route? Are you tempted to do that which shows up as being the least hassle, and the most comfortable course of action?
Would you say to yourself something like “Now is not a good time to make revenue and profit sacrifices. Besides the customer is responsible for looking after his own interest and finding the best solution for his needs. In any case the customer has not made any complaints or asked for any price reductions which means that the customer is happy. It’s best to leave things as they are. I am sure that we can match the offer any other supplier makes. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”?
Context-structure drives behaviour: why there is plenty of talk and little real action
Now you know how it is that there is so much talk about customer-centricity, customer relationships, customer experience, customer service, and customer obsession and so little real-effective action. Now you know what Robert Fritz is pointing at when he says “Structure drives behaviour”. Put differently, we are always embedded in a specific context-situation and this context-situation has powerful impact on the choices we make. To go against the prevailing context-situation requires profound courage especially when you have taken over and are running a sound established business. You do not want to be the one that fails and is ridiculed, the one that loses his reputation, his status.
Please note that rather than blame people – Tops, Middles, Bottoms – it is more ‘profitable’ to look at the context-situation that is shaping the behaviour of Tops, Middles, and Bottoms. And it is true that Tops have more leverage over influencing-shaping changes, even transforming, the context-situation and thus enabling breakthroughs in performance.
The critical importance of courage: daring to be different, to take the road less travelled
Some do put courage into the game of business and life. They are the ones, if successful, build great companies. Look behind the scenes of customer experience exemplars (John Lewis, USAA, Amazon, Zappos, Apple, Zane’s Cycles) and you will find one or more people that went against the taken for granted rules of the game.