Author Archives: maz iqbal
“We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”
Talk abounds, advice abounds: the road to organisational nirvana is laid out by many a guru, professor and consultant. Talk about big data, customer analytics and customer insight. Talk about marketing effectiveness and marketing automation. Talk about sales effectiveness and sales force automation. Talk about great customer service. Talk about CRM. And talk about Customer Experience. Yet, little really changes: I see managers grappling with the same challenges that they were grappling with in 1999 when it comes to marketing, sale, service, and CRM.
Given the abundance in talk why is it that so little changes when it comes to organisational behaviour and organisational effectiveness? Let’s take a look at this question from the position of being on the court (in the organisation) rather than in the stands as a journalist/reporter (which is how many gurus, professors and consultants show up for me).
Working with a number of people grappling with the challenge of improving the sales process, improving customer service, enabling CRM and improving the Customer Experience across the entire customer journey one manager exclaimed “We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”. What led to this statement? Days of grappling with the challenge; coming face to face with the many and interlinked factors – culture, people, process, systems, data, metric, business priorities – in the way of making any significant changes-improvements.
If you and I had been on the court grappling with the challenges that this manager was grappling with then I say that it is highly likely, almost certain, that we would have arrived at the same place: this is too much to take on, let’s focus on what is doable in the short-term.
A history of short-term local fixes leaves room only for short-term local fixes
Given how everything is interlinked to everything (the systems nature of organisations) and the desire of Tops for ‘instant solutions’ to specific problems, Middles get busy on the short-term fixes and the quick wins. What is missed is that today there is only room for short-term fixes and quick wins because previously management took the route of the short-term fix instead of doing that which was necessary for generating longer term effectiveness.
Every time we intervene in the organisation we make a choice. What choice? The choice to leading the organisation to higher performance or generating a drift to low performance. In fixing the pressing local-functional problem, focusing on the short-term, and going after quick wins, the Tops and Middles are generating a drift to low performance. How/why? Let’s listen to a noted systems thinker, Donella H. Meadows.
“Some systems not only resist policy and stay in a normal bad state, they keep getting worse. One name for this archetype is “drift to low performance”. Examples include falling market share in a business, eroding quality of service in a hospital, continuously dirtier rivers or air ….. state of …… schools…..”
How does this drift to low performance occur?
“The actor in the feedback look (… government, business, hospital….), has …. a performance goal or desired system state that is compared to the actual state. If there is a discrepancy, action is taken……
But in this system, there is a distinction between the actual system state and the perceived state. The actor tends to believe the bad news more than the good news. As actual performance varies, the best results are dismissed as aberrations, the worst results stay in the memory. The actor thinks things are worse than they really are.
And to complete this tragic archetype, the desired state of the system is influenced by the perceived state. Standards aren’t absolute. When perceived performance slips, the goal is allowed to slip. ”Well, that’s about all you can expect.” ……. “Well, look around, everybody else is having trouble too.”
The lower the perceived system state, the lower the desired state. The lower the desired state, the less discrepancy, and the less corrective action is taken. The less corrective action, the lower the system state. If this loop is allowed to run unchecked, it can lead to continuous degradation in the system’s performance.
Another name for this system is “eroding goals”. It is also called the “boiled frog syndrome”……. Drift to low performance is a gradual process. If the system is plunged quickly. there would be an agitated corrective process. But if it drifts down slowly enough to erase the memory of (or belief in) how much better things used to be, everyone is lulled not lower and lower expectations, lower effort, lower performance.”
Here I ask you to be present to what the manager said after grappling with the challenge: “We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term.” Do you see, how it is that if one takes this reasonable approach the organisation almost never gets around to creating-putting in place the ‘perfect solution’? How/why? Because it is never the right team to make difficult decisions, create-accept short-term pain in order to generate longer term effectiveness!
What are the antidotes to eroding goals and the drift to low performance?
In her book, Thinking In Systems, Donnella H. Meadows points out that there are two antidotes:
“One is to keep standard absolute, regardless of performance. Another is to make goals sensitive to the best performances of the past, instead of the worst..….. if one takes the best results as standard, and the worst results as a temporary setback, then the same system structure can pull the system up to better and better performance.
This reminds me of my father. When I was young my father insisted that a) I finish whatever I started no matter what; b) do the best that I was capable of doing; c) strive to do better than I did the last time; d) set my sights on the best performer in the class; and e) take the short-term pain in order to generate the longer term gain.
Let’s leave aside the theoretical aspects and arguments related to the suitability of using NPS. Instead, let’s consider the implications of using NPS as a performance management tool rather than simply as an indicator which tells us who well we are doing, as an organisation, in building meaningful relationships with customers.
Every human activity produces both things that we want – “goods” – and things we don’t want – “bads”.
- Garrett Hardin, Filters Against Folly
It occurs to me that when we use NPS as a performance management tool we act on the people in the organisation, we act on customers, we alter the balance of power between the multiple parties. And we inject high does of fear and greed into the rich tapestry of human interactions.
This is how we end up generating the “bads” – the dark side of using NPS as a performance management tool. Let’s get specify and look at the dark side. What shows up?
- Customer facing employees (sales, service) and their managers game the system to generate high NPS scores;
Some customers are either ‘bribed’ and-or ‘pressured’ to give high scores;
Some customers, especially the more powerful ones in B2B, exercise their new-found power to extract concessions – free ‘products’, more discounts, credits, special treatment – from the sales reps and account managers; and
Some sales reps and account managers ‘give away’ more than they need to’ in order to play safe and assure high NPS scores. This ‘giving away’ tends to be in the region of services which do not directly impact on the revenue figures and commission cheque of the sale rep.
I leave you to decide whether the “goods” generated by using NPS as a performance management tool outweigh the “bads” that I have shared with you. I do assure you that points 3 and 4 above are not just theoretical – this behaviour is occurring.
Next time you are planning an intervention in the rich web of human relationships get together a diverse group of people, including those who are likely to be impacted, and explore this question: what is likely to happen – today and over the course of time – after we make this intervention?
I get a letter
I got a letter through the post informing me that I was due for an eye test. Given that it has been several years since I had my eyes tested I welcomed the colourful reminder from Boots. I noticed that I could book an appointment online or by calling. At that moment I did not have a laptop handy so I chose to call. My call was picked up almost immediately and a helpful chap booked an appointment for me at the local Boots (Opticians) store.
How am I feeling? Happy. What kind of impression do I have of Boots? This is an organisation that has its act together: it has sent me a useful reminder, it has offered me several options, it has made it easy for me to book an appointment, and the fellow on the phone exuded human warmth.
I turn up at the store for an eye test
Several days later I turned up at the local Boots Opticians store. The store looks spacious and clean – I notice the whiteness of the store and I wonder if Boots is ‘stealing’ from the Apple retail stores. Walking up to the woman at the counter, I smile, I give my name and let her know I am there for an eye test. This is an opportunity for her to show up as a human being. She declines. In her best robotic voice, she tells me to take a seat.
Looking around the various stands housing the spectacles, I notice four seats in line. Two seats are occupied, two are free. As I approach the seats I notice that one of the seats is dirty – obviously dirty. The dirtiness of seat clashes with the sparkling whiteness of the store. And I notice that the seats (for customers) look crammed in comparison with the spaciousness of the rest of the store.
What does this tell me? It tells me that the star of the show at Boots Opticians is the product: the range of spectacles. How am I left feeling? Disappointed. Unwanted. What am I thinking? I wonder what the rest of the experience is going to be like.
The eye test happens
Shortly, and on time, a professional looking man comes out from the ‘back’ of the store, calls my name, and asks me to follow him. He shows me into a ‘tiny area’ which houses three machines. At one of the machines, a member of staff is testing a customer. I am handed over to a young woman. She proceeds to conduct an eye test. Whilst another member of staff takes my glasses to get those tested.
What am I thinking? I am asking myself how it is that there is so much space in the front for the spectacles and so little space at the back for conducting eye tests on customers. And I am asking myself if a lack of ‘human warmth’ goes with the opticians and/or the Boots brand. I am clear that for the staff, I show up as a ‘widget’ to be processed and not as a ‘flesh and blood’ human being.
Thankfully, the eye test does not take that long and the professional looking man is back. He asks me to follow him and walks me to a room that occurs as positively spacious-luxurious. Over the course of the next 10 – 20 minutes he proceeds to test my vision by inserting different lenses into the spectacles he has placed on my nose. His manner is professional. He shows up as knowing what he is doing.
At the end of the testing he tells me that my short-sightedness is slightly worse. And that I have started to become long-sighted too. He tells me that I can either have two pairs of spectacles – one for short sightedness and one for reading. Or I can go for one pair of spectacles that will cater for both needs. He suggests that I go for the single bifocal pair of spectacles. He then hands me over to another member of staff.
I walk out without buying spectacles
The new member of staff, a good looking lady with a smile, is keen to take me to the front of the store to pick spectacles. I decline. Instead I ask for my prescription, receive the prescription, make my way to the robotic lady on the counter, pay and leave.
Why did I not buy? I did not buy because I did not feel valued. I did not buy because it did not occur to me that I was consulted on my needs. I did not buy because it occurred to me that the focus of the staff in the store was to sell me spectacles. I did not buy because the people in the store and the experience lacked any semblance of humanity. Put plainly, I was looking for an ‘I-Thou’ relationship and what I got was an ‘I-It’ relationship – I was the ‘It’.
I look forward to the day, that an ‘Amazon’ like competitor puts the likes of Boots Opticians out of business.
Investments in CRM (including database marketing) are not likely to yield the desired results if the customer experience sucks! To generate ROI from CRM investments you have to pay attention to the customer experience.