An Unconventional Take on Customer-Centric Business

Some folks are generous. Some of these generous folks think of me as thought leader in the Customer space. As a result when other folks are doing research in customer-centricity, customer strategy, customer experience they are told to reach out and ask me questions.  Such questioning took place recently on the subject matter of customer-centricity.

What is Customer-Centricity? And How Does An Organisation Become Customer-Centric?

The questioner wanted to pick my brains on the following:

  • Definition: what is customer-centricity?
  • Obstacles: what stands in the way of an organisation being customer-centric; and
  • Route-Map: what path an organisation need to take and traverse in order to become customer-centric.

It occurred to me that what the questioner was looking for was a template. Better still a mould. A mould in which you pour in an organisation and out comes a customer-centric organisation.  Or a template, if applied precisely, to an organisation, any organisation, out comes a customer-centric organisation.

Let’s imagine that a customer-centricity wizard conjured up such a template / mould.  Surely, this template would be sold to any and all with the desire and means to purchase it.  What would be the result using this template?  Does it take that much imagination to see that each and every organisation would end up the same. Exactly the same: each would have the exact same understanding of what it is to be customer-centric: channels, processes, practices, structures…. And if this is the case then what would differentiate one of these organisations from another?

I can see the lure of ready made answers to complex challenges, opportunities, and problems.  With ready made answers and templates one does not need to think. One does not need to investigate matters including generating original meaningful insight into customers. Or the lives of employees, and that which is occurring at the coal face where the organisation and the customer meet. One does not have to put oneself in a vulnerable position of trying stuff out and accepting / embracing failure: the situation not turning out as you had hoped / planned. One does not need to be patient and iterate one’s way to customer-centricity.  And of course when one arrives at customer-centricity then one can put one’s feet up, sink into habit, and live on automatic pilot.  Yes, I get the lure.  I can see the lure of instant get rich schemes. Or no effort instant weight loss regimes.  And what do they have in common: they all disappoint. Now compare that with the folks who are serious about dealing with their alcohol addiction and show up at Alcoholics Anonymous.

Might Customer-Centricity Come In Flavours? And Be Context Sensitive?

Consider this. In the world of Apple, customer-centricity means inventing products that folks want to own because they show up as so desirable (so cool), useful (they enrich the lives of customers in some manner), and because they are so intuitive (easy) to use. In the world of Zappos, customer-centricity means providing the world’s best customer service – where it is perfectly ok for a Zappos employee to spend hours on a phone with a customer.  In the world of Amazon, customer-centricity means making it so easy for customers to buy a range of goods from Amazon at a ‘value for money’ price, and receive the goods the next day or so – no travel, no hassle.  In the world of John Lewis, customer-centricity means providing great products and calling forth great service from the folks that work in the business by ensuring that these folks share in the success of the business.

If you get what I am getting at, then you will get my advice. What advice?  Do not look for definitions of customer-centricity. Do not look for a template / mould / recipe to turn your organisation into a customer-centric organisation. Instead, live the question!     Grapple with the question!

What Is The Question And Challenge That Lies At The Heart of Customer-Centricity?

This question: In which way/s do we wish to simplify-enrich the lives of the customers we have chosen to do business with?  

To answer this question well it is necessary to understand the lives (as lived, experienced) of your chosen customers.  Generating this kind of understanding – rich understanding – is a challenge.  Why? This understanding can only come about if you get close to your customers. How close?  You have to enter their lives: to experience the world as they experience the world.  Whilst this sound challenging it may not necessarily be as challenging as it sounds provided you are in touch with your own experience of living – your own humanity. Apple’s enter into smartphones had a lot to do with Job’s frustration with using the mobile phones on the market. Zappos way of doing business is a manifestation of who Tony Hsieh is as a human being: how he feels about people and relationships between people, how he wishes to be treated by folks.

Summing up

I say that to show up as customer-centric you have to give up looking for ready-made answers and grapple with the question. The only question that matters when you are considering customer-centricity is this one: for our chosen base of customers, what do we need to do to simplify-enrich the lives of our customers, and are we doing that which is necessary?  Imagine what becomes possible if all the folks in your leadership are living this question. Imagine what becomes possible if all of the Tops and Middles are living this question. Now imagine if all the folks in your organisation are living this question.

I also say that you have to live this question every day. Why?  Because life is not life but living – which is to say it is a process. Process is flow. Which is to say that all is change. What constituted customer-centricity last month may not constitute customer-centricity today.  Which is to say that customer-centricity is not a thing. Nor a destination.  It is perception: how your customers perceive you. It is also context sensitive.  Think Tesco.  Once Tesco was considered the poster child for customer-centric business: the exemplar.  The context changed with the financial crisis, the recession, and the UK’s austerity regime.  The folks at Tesco did not change their ways.  Yet folks at Waitress who served upmarket affluent customers did notice the change of context. And in so doing they made a number of changes including the introduction of the value range.

I invite you to consider that none of the existing methods, tools, techniques, formulas, recipes, templates will help you in the challenge and opportunity of customer-centricity. The opposite may be the case. Why so?  The nature of our educational process is such that we are addicted to forcing the world to fit our moulds (theories, approaches, methods, tools, techniques).  That is how education makes us stupid.  Yet, the process of living requires us to show up with a sensitivity to that which is occurring and respond to this intelligently. This means coming up with original ways.  Consider that the folks at Zappos went against conventional advice. Consider that Steve Jobs also did the same. Do you remember what folks said about Apple’s move into smartphones, or the format of their stores?  Consider that The John Lewis Partnership is one of the few large organisation that is employee owned (through a trust).  Again, going against conventional practice.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  If you disagree with that which I have shared then I ask you to share your thoughts by commenting.

Cultivating Goodwill Involves More Than Reducing Customer Effort

Is the access to building meaningful relationships with customers merely a matter of improving the customer’s experience of your organisation by making it easy for the customer to do business with you?

The temptation to orient oneself this way and thus the pull of approaching the matter of customer loyalty as an engineer / economist is strong.  With the engineering approach the focus is on: improving access say through digital channels; making it easer for the customer to self-serve; putting in more interaction channels; tweaking and automating business processes; standardising way customer scenarios are handled…. As an economist the focus is on generating / extracting value from the customer and all decisions are about ROI – I give if and only if I am guaranteed to get back more than I gave.

What the engineer and the economist both lack is humanity.  In the worlds of the engineers and economists there is no room for that which lies at the core of human. What am I talking about? Think about a genuine smile. Or an authentic warm greeting. Or generosity. Or the act of touching one another even if it is a hand that touches you lightly either through a handshake or a light tap on your shoulder as an expression of thanks / gratitude ….

What is it that I am getting at here?  Allow me to explicate it by relating a recent true story.

I was working in my study. My wife came in and grabbed hold of file from one the shelves. Then left. A little while later she returned to put the file back on the shelf. In the process she dropped an A4 lever arch file (full) on to the desk. The file landed on my right hand and the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. Both my right hand and the MacBook Pro were damaged.

Noticing that I was more upset at the broken MacBook keys, my wife took it upon herself to get the keys replaced. I forewarned her it would cost her to get the repairs done: the MacBook was outside the warranty period, and in any case the damaged was a result of our actions.  I also pointed out that she should not expect the repair to be cheap; Apple is not in the cheap marketplace.

A few days later she popped into an Apple store to find out what it would take to get the keys replaced. The folks at Apple were friendly and directed her to go online and book a time to get the work done. They also told her the work could be done in the store and in about an hour. So later that day my wife booked an appointment with Apple for when she was next going to be in town.

On the appointed day-time, my wife handed over the MacBook Pro for repair. And hour later, as promised, the MacBook Pro was like new. My wife thanked the helpful Apple employee / engineer and asked: “How much do I owe you?” The answer was that there was nothing to pay, the work had been done free of charge. My wife walked out of that store delighted.  When she came home she told me the story. And then went on to tell me how unusual it is to experience that kind of generosity. She ended up by saying Apple products are not cheap and they are worth every penny.  I find myself in agreement.  So that is my wife’s experience of Apple.

What is my experience? I am also delighted with Apple. Why? Because the folks at Apple treated my wife well. My wife knows nothing about technology. If the folks at Apple had told her the cost was £150 or so, she would have paid that. She was determined to restore my MacBook Pro to its pristine condition; I look after my stuff.  My wife is someone that really matters to me. As such Apple’s generous treatment of my wife occurs (to me) as Apple’s generous treatment of me. And importantly, vindication of my decision to do business with Apple. Paying a premium for Apple products occurs as a good decision. A smart decision. Even a wise decision.

I say to you that the path of customer effort reduction / minimisation will lead you to the customer’s heart. Yet it is your generosity towards your customers that will open up the customer’s heart and allow you place in that heart.  When you/your organisation make life easier for me, I experience an ease of doing business with you. When the folks in your organisation treat me with friendliness-kindness-generosity I experience cared for, even loved.  And that makes all the difference. Let me say that again: there is world of difference between the experience of ease and the experience of being cared for / loved.

When it comes to your work on customer experience and/or customer loyalty you can settle for cultivating the experience of ease or the experience of gratitude / love.  Your choice.  In making that choice I invite you to consider that when my wife recounts her Apple experience, the ease of doing business lies in the background of her story. The friendliness / helpfulness of the folks in the Apple store lies in the foreground. And right in the centre of the foreground is the generosity.

Leadership Involves Mastery of Initiative Conversations

Effective Leaders Excel At Initiative Conversations

I say that a leader is s/he who brings about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. I also say that human beings are beings who live in-through language. This leads me to conclude that a leader is s/he who is a master of using language to bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. This begs the question, what kind of language? To bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway a leader has to take the initiative and effect change in the present. This means that a leader has to excel in the art of Initiative Conversations.

An Enquiry Into Initiative Conversations

At this point you are likely to want me to define an ‘Initiative Conversation’. Here’s the definition:

An Initiative Conversation is a proposal to create a new future, with the intention of making the future a reality. What makes an Initiative Conversation unique is not that it is a way of talking about starting something. It actually does start something.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

I am aware of the limitation of definitions, so allow me to bring this definition to life by giving you an example of an Initiative Conversation:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. Let it be clear … that I am asking Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgement it would be better not to go at all.

President John R. Kennedy speaking to joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961

What Makes Initiative Conversations Necessary?

In my conversations with my children I often say “The being of man, your being, my being, is not the being of this table right in front of us!” What do I mean by that? Allow me to shed light on that by sharing the following with you (bolding mine):

The twig has no relationship to it’s future, drifting passively in the wind.

People are not twigs: we can create a future by design. We have desires or intentions, goals or plans, and can have an active relationship to the future….. When we become active and intentional about our future, we can deliberately choose to make something happen… The desire for something better is characteristic of human beings. 

To make your goals a reality, begin by having Initiative Conversations: announce the future you want to achieve, and invite other people to join you in making it happen

Initiative Conversations are proposals that share an idea for an attractive and worthwhile future, and show people the possibility and the value in fulfilling it…. In many cases, the Initiative Conversation goes beyond informing people, and begins to engage them and excite them about being part of making something happen….

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How can you tell whether you have held an effective Initiative Conversation or not? Simple. An effective Initiative Conversation does more than inform or provide direction. An effective Initiative Conversation moves the people taking part in that conversation! The people are moved as in excited by the new future and being so excited they are moved to enter into the ‘arena’ where work has to happen to bring about the new future. At a very human level, you/i feel it: there is a certain energy, a certain buzz.

What Are The Constituents of An Initiative Conversation?

1. What-When-Why

The following three elements make up the heart of an Initiative Conversation:

1. What is to be accomplished (the desired outcome);
2. When (date-time) are we committed to accomplish the desired outcome; and
3. Why does it matter that we generated the desired outcome by such a date-time?

Regarding these elements I share the following advice with you:

What
The What element …. needs to be brief and compelling to attract the intended audience.

When
Every goal needs a timeline – that is what makes the new future a specific event instead of an abstract idea.

Why
The value of an initiative needs to be spelled out clearly for everyone, especially when it requires financial or material resources, or causes people inconvenience or extra work. Why is a value statement that provides the context for the change and allows people to choose to spend their time, money, and effort to reach the goal.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

2. Who-Where-How

Let’s imagine that you have thought through your What-When-Why. Are you now in a position to out into the world and hold Initiative Conversations? No. You need to think through the Who-Where-How:

Before taking your initiative on the road, consider Who needs to hear the message, Where the resources are, and How the work might get done.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How much work do you need to do in this domain? Do you need to have fully fleshed out stakeholder management plan? Do you need a fully fleshed out business case and inventory of resources required? Do you need a detailed MS Project Plan running into hundreds, even thousands of tasks, that will send just about everybody to sleep? No. Just need to do enough to show that you have thought through what it will take to bring about the desired future:

Who Needs to Participate?

Identify all the different individuals and groups you believe will be needed to accomplish the initiative. Who could do the work? Who could provide the resources? Who will receive the benefits? Who needs to authorise, approve, or regulate some aspect of the initiative? This is your first guess, which you will probably continue to revise as you go forward….

Where Will The Resources Come From? 

The process of taking an idea through an implementation process to its fulfilment requires resources….. consider what resources are likely to be required and where they might come from. Where could you get the money, the people, and the tools?

How Might The Work Get Done?

Even though you do not need a fully detailed work plan at the initiative stage, it is helpful to think through what might be involved in accomplishing what you are proposing…. The objective is to begin sketching out what you think will be required… suggestive rather than definitive. The prime benefit of doing this task now is that it lets you see where you need input and ideas from others …..

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

3. Hold The Initiative Conversations And Keep Holding Them

When you have both the What-When-Why and the Who-Where-How then you are in a good place to hold Initiative Conversations through a variety of communication methods. When you hold these Initiative Conversations I counsel you to heed these wise words (bolding mine):

The important thing is to include everyone who might have a direct or an indirect contribution to make to the fulfilment of the vision. You want to give people an opportunity to learn about the initiative and think about how their own activities and environment will change. Your goal for Initiative Conversations is to get people talking….

You will probably say this same initiative statement (What-When-Why) many times. One important job for the leader is to keep the big-picture goals alive for people by repeating them as the initiative progresses towards completion. Initiative Conversations tend to have short lives. Even when things are going well, people get caught up in their local details, and the big picture fades from view, so they need frequent reminders about the purpose of their labors.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

What Does This Have To Do With Customer Experience Transformation?

I invite you to consider that most organisations doing Customer stuff (CX, CRM) fail because the folks in leadership positions fail to plan for and hold effective Initiative Conversations. These ‘leaders’ fail to move the folks through communicating a compelling-energizing-uplifting What-When-Why.

I also find that many ‘leaders’ fail to do a good enough job of the Who-Where-How. Consider the Who. Is it not the case that when it comes to organisational change only the favoured circle are included, really included, in the Initiative Conversations; most of the folks who will do the work and whose lives will change (usually dramatically) are treated as pawns to be moved around the organisational chess board.  Consider the questions of resources (Where) by using an airline analogy. In the airline business one does not have folks flying planes with say 90 units of fuel if 100 are needed to get to the destination. In organisational worlds that I have witnessed, I have found it is common for those charged with implementation to be given only 80 units when 100 are needed, and then for these folks to be punished when they ‘resist change’ or do not bring about the desired outcomes. Consider the How: how often is it that folks that dream up visions, develop strategies, and mandate change do not adequately grapple with  how the work of change will occur  thus storing up trouble during the implementation phase.

And Finally

I thank you for your listening to my speaking. I look forward to listening to your speaking if you choose to speak by commenting.  I wish you a great day and ask that you cause this weekend to be a great weekend for you and all whom you touch. Why not hold Initiative Conversations about what really matters to you, with the folks that matter?  Initiative Conversations are just as relevant in the personal domain as they are in the business/organisational domain.

Please note an earlier slightly modified version of this conversation was published in May 2015 at CustomerThink.com as part of the  monthly Human-Centred Leadership column.

Are There Are Any Flaws In Today’s Hot Theories on Leadership?

What does it take to cultivate strong relationships with the folks that you find yourself leading or managing?

As I listen to the folks in HR, and those that talk leadership, it occurs to me that a specific style/approach is being advocated: be nice to folks, listen to them, don’t lose your calm, delegate/share power, make them feel they matter…  If this is the case then how is it that Steve Jobs is held up as one of the most effective business leaders of all time? Steve Jobs, at least what I know of him, was not the exemplar of this approach.

We can ignore anomalies, breakdowns/holes in our existing take on reality, or look into them, explore and learn. Today, lets take this breakdown to see what it might conceal. As it happens this was a matter that I was grappling with whilst I found myself incapacitated for 4-5 weeks. I’d like to share with you what showed up for me. I invite you to listen to the words of Douglas McGregor as spoken in his book The Human Side of Enterprise (bolding mine):

Many subtle behavioral manifestations of managerial attitude create what is often referred to as the psychological “climate” of the relationship. During childhood ….. each of us acquired a high level of skill in perceiving aspects of parental behavior which told us whether everything was “all right with the relationship. Even very small children are amazingly sensitive to quite unconscious manifestations of parental attitudes of acceptance or rejection...

Granted that the subordinate’s dependency is far less in the employment relationship, it remains materially true that his ability to achieve his goals is materially affected by the attitudes of his superiors….. The climate is more significant than the type of leadership or personal “style” of the superior. The boss can be autocratic or democratic, warm and outgoing or remote and introverted, easy or tough, but these personal characteristics are of less significance then the deeper attitudes to which his subordinates respond. 

What Do You Get When You Swear At, Drive, Discipline, Dictate At Those You Lead?

Let’s continue this conversation by listening to Douglas McGregor share an anomaly that he encountered at a manufacturing company (bolding mine):

The mechanical superintendent in a small manufacturing company was the prototype of the “bull in the woods” manager. He swore at his men, drove them, disciplined them, behaved superficially like a Napoleon. He was the despair of the staff group who were carrying on a program of supervisory training in human relations. Yet, oddly, his subordinates appeared to have high regard to him. They said, “Oh is bark is worse than his bite.” Morale and productivity in his department were both high.

Let’s stop here for a moment and reflect. Here we have a real life example that goes against the conventional wisdom of human-relations – at least the wisdom advocated by leadership gurus, and HR advisors/practitioners. What is going on? How is it that someone who swears, drives, acts like Napoleon calls forth high regard, morale and productivity from the very folks he is swearing at, driving and disciplining? I say we are back to Steve Jobs and the question that I posed at the start of this conversation.

Is Effective Leadership Limited to Creating a Deep and Satisfying Emotional Certainty of Free Treatment?

I invite you to listen some more to the words of Douglas McGregor (bolding mine):

Probing revealed some significant facts. He was known as a “square shooter” who dealt with his men with scrupulous fairness. Despite his superficial toughness he was sincerely and warmly interested in his subordinatesWhen they were in trouble – whether it was a simple matter of a few dollars to tide a man over until payday, or a family crisis – he helped out in matter-of-fact way that left no uncomfortable feeling of being patronised.

Most important of all, he was known to be ready to go to bat for his men on any occasion when he felt they had not been accorded a fair break by higher management. The men spoke with awe of two occasions during a ten-year period when he had stormed into the office of the big boss to demand that a decision be altered because it was unfair to “his boys.” When he was refused in one of these instances, he resigned on the spot, put on his hat, and left. His superior actually followed him out to the gate and capitulated.

Douglas McGregor concludes his take on this superintendent and his leadership/management style with the following words of wisdom:

His managerial attitude cuts across authoritarianism, permissiveness, paternalism, firmness and fairness, and all the other “styles” of management to create a deep and satisfying emotional certainty of fair treatment.

It occurs to me that Douglas McGregor’s take on leadership/management accounts may just account for the success of Steve Jobs as a leader/manager. From what I have read, Steve Jobs surrounded himself with A players: those that showed up as A’s were treated as As, those who did not were pushed out.

I Find Myself Disagreeing With Douglas McGregor. Why?

How is it that I find myself left uncomfortable and in disagreement with Douglas McGregor? I say that the ground upon which the exercise of human-centred leadership occurs is ‘care': genuine care for the wellbeing of one’s ‘boys and girls’. Care is more than fair treatment. And is illustrated by this superintendent in two ways. First, when “his boys” were in troubles he helped out “in a matter of fact way that left no uncomfortable feelings”. Fair treatment in the workplace does not require one to lend money to the folks you are leading or help them out with family crises. Second, he resigned. Fair treatment would require that the superintendent go to bat for his boys – to make the case. It does not require one to resign. So how does this resignation show ‘care’? It occurs to me that it shows the other (usually hidden side) of care: care for one’s stand in relationship to what will and will not stand for. In his case, the Superintendent was not willing to stand for anything less than fair treatment for “his boys”. I bet that “his boys” were proud to be called “his boys”.

Note: this conversation is a modified version of the conversation published earlier at CustomerThink.com

What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.

Competency: The Untapped Lever For Improving the Customer Experience And Cultivating Loyalty?

It took me over nine months to get my eldest son to consult Sandra about his shoulder/back pain. It took only one consultation for him to book another four sessions with Sandra. Why? Because Sandra is excellent at what she does.

How does Sandra demonstrate her excellence? In her greeting. In how quickly-easily she spots what the underlying causes are. In how effortlessly she causes the necessary adjustments. In how keen and effective she is to communicate with, inform, and educate the folks that go and see her.  In short Sandra is competent in that which matters.

What are the sources of her competence? This is what I have distinguished. One, she has been doing what she has been doing for forty years. In her early years. Two, she is really into her chosen field and so keeps up to date with the latest research. Three, she is open to learning  – including learning from the folks who are her clients.

I say competency matters. I say that competency can provide powerful access to improving the customer’s experience of you and your organisation, and cultivating meaningful-enduring relationships. And I say that competency is neglected. Why? It occurs to me that the assumption is that folks / processes / technology are competent. Is this assumption valid?

Allow me to give you examples of incompetency that I have come across myself:

Many if not most marketers are incompetent. Some are not adequately skilled in the creative side. Many are not skilled in the data/analytical/digital side of marketing….

Most sales folks are not competent in the craft of selling.  Some lack commercial acumen. Others lack an adequate grasp of their customer’s industry/business. Some lack a through grapes of the product/solution that they are selling. Others lack the ability to focus on the clients/deals that matter. Some suffer from all of these handicaps.

Most of the folks that I have found to be in retail stores are incompetent. Some are not skilled in greeting / welcoming customers. Others simply do not have the requisite product knowledge to answer the customers’ questions. Some cannot work the technology that they need to be able to work quickly-easily to serve customers promptly….

Most of the folks in call-centres are incompetent. Some simply do not have the requisite listening and speaking skills. Others do not have the knowledge-understanding to provide the right answers to customer queries. Some are not adept at working the range of systems that they need to interact with to deal with customer queries. Others lack a sound understanding of the company’s processes.

Most managers are incompetent. Some are incompetent in the task dimension. Most are incompetent when it comes to working effectively with people and calling forth the best from their people.

Many of the IT folks are incompetent. Some do not understand the technologies that they are dealing with. Far more and most are unskilled in dealing effectively with human beings or simply bearing in mind that they IT systems must serve the needs of people if these systems are going to be adopted and used effectively….

Most business processes are incompetent – they are not fit for purpose.  Some are simply out of date. Many are too restrictive – they do not allow folks to respond flexibly to the demands of the situation.  So the folks who find themselves amidst these processes have to find creative ways around these processes. Or stick to the script and leave customers with the experience of dealing with robots.  That is is the biggest incompetency of business process fixation: turning resourceful, creative, flexible beings (human beings) into mindless morons.

Most IT systems are incompetent. Some are simply not useful – they do not help the folks to get the job done better, quicker, easier. Others are not usable – they take to long to learn, finding one’s way around the system is not intuitive, they are not accessible when they need to be accessible, or they are not adequately responsive… Most are simply not for human beings with soul. And of course often there are simply too many of these systems and these systems do not talk to one another – thus creating extra work for the human beings.

I say that when you choose to really look at the world of business through the lens of competency you may just be amazed on how incompetency is ubiquitous. I say that the organisational world is wide open for those who wish to make a name for themselves (and/or their organisations) by rising above the general level of incompetency and committing to excellence.  I say that one critical role of effective leaders is to set and live high standards – standards which define competence as being no less than excellence as defined by the ‘customer’ of the product, the process, the system…

Does Customer Experience Leadership Require Straight Communication And Fair Business Practices?

Are UK Supermarkets Conning Customers?

According to the press, the consumer watchdog Which? has been investigating the UK’s dominant supermarket chains for the last seven years. Based on the ‘findings’  Which? put forth a super-complaint against the supermarkets. A super-compliant is not something that is done lightly. So what is the basis of this super-complaint?

Despite Which? repeatedly exposing misleading and confusing pricing tactics, and calling for voluntary change by the retailers, these dodgy offers remain on numerous supermarket shelves.”

– Richard Lloyd, Which?

How Are The UK’s Supermarkets Conning Customers?

As I understand it, Which? is asserting (based on the evidence it has collected) that the UK’s dominant supermarkets are misleading customers through dishonest communication. Through which mechanisms is this dishonest communication occurring? Through “dodgy multi-buys, shrinking products and baffling sales offers”: the supermarkets are communicating / promoting illusory savings and fooling shoppers into choosing products they might not have bought if they knew the full facts.

What is the purpose of this dishonest-misleading communication and customer facing practices?  As I understand the purpose is to keep existing customers and protect margins by conveying the illusion of a good deal – as opposed to providing a genuinely good deal.  Does Which? have any examples?  According to the Guardian:

Seasonal offers: higher prices only applied out of season, when consumers are less likely to buy the item. It found a Nestle Kit Kat Chunky Collection Giant Egg was advertised at £7.49 for 10 days in January this year at Ocado, then sold on offer at £5 for 51 days.

Was/now pricing: the use of a higher “was” price when the item has been available for longer at the lower price. Acacia honey and ginger hot cross buns at Waitrose were advertised at £1.50 for just 12 days this year before going on offer at “£1.12 was £1.50” for 26 days.

Multi-buys: prices are increased on multi-buy deals so that the saving is less than claimed. Asda increased the price of a Chicago Town Four Cheese Pizza two-pack from £1.50 to £2 last year and then offered a multi-buy deal at two for £3. A single pack went back to £1.50 when the “offer” ended.

Larger pack, better value: the price of individual items in the bigger pack are actually higher. Tesco sold four cans of Green Giant sweetcorn for £2 last year, but six cans were proportionately more expensive in its “special value” pack, priced at £3.56.

Are these crafty (the marketing folks will be saluting themselves for their ingenuity) yet dishonest business practices of any significance?  Given that some 40% of supermarket sales are driven by sales promotions of this kind, it occurs to me that the answer is likely to be yes.  Further, these are the practices that these chains are using to stave off the genuine price-value completion introduced in the supermarket sector by the likes of Aldi, and Lidl.

What Are The Customer Experience Implications?

At one level, it occurs to me that the key customer experience is rather simple: it is relatively easy to fool customers and keep fooling them over years through misleading communication, misleading pricing, and dishonest business practices.  As I look into this, I find myself concluding that most customers, most of the time, are trusting of the folks they do business with.  Why? Because in the absence of this trust, human lives become practically unlivable. The cost of being constantly vigilant is too high – those who can afford not to pay this cost choose not to pay it. These creates the space for businesses (supermarkets, utilities, banks…) to do that which they do do: take advantage of customers to extract ‘bad profits’.

What Is The Cost Of Addiction To These Dishonest Business Practices as Opposed To Focusing On Creating Genuine-Superior Value For Customers?

It occurs to me that the cost is paid over the longer term. Whilst the folks in your organisation are busy congratulating themselves on their ability to dupe your customers, or provide the bare minimum to keep customers,  there is someone out there busy doing the work of coming up with compelling value propositions. Think back to the american automotive industry and the rise/dominance of the Japanese automakers.  Think about Amazon and what it has done to retail.  Think about Apple and the impact it has made.  Think about First Direct ….. I say that the use of misleading communication and dishonest business practices is a form of subsidy to the least competitive players in an industry. From whom is the subsidy extracted? Customers.

Does an Organisation Get To Be And Keep Being A Customer Experience Leader Through Misleading Communication And Dishonest Business Practices?

Is USAA a CX leader because the folks in the business genuinely show up to do the best for their customers or because they have found slick ways of conning customers?  Is Apple a CX leader because the folks in the business create great products that resonate with customers or because it has found a slick way of conning customers – perhaps through advertising and the outward veneer of its products?

I am clear that sustainable CX leadership requires straight communication and fair business practices in the context of going full out to simplify-enrich the lives of the folks impacted by the business: employees, customers, suppliers / partners….

You are welcome to disagree. If you find yourself in disagreement then I invite you to share your perspective by commenting.  I am opening to learning that which I am not present to.