How To Solve The Insoluble Problem Of Employee Engagement and Customer Loyalty?

It occurs to me that when the same ‘problem’ keeps coming up then it worth taking a deeper look at the ‘the way of showing up and travelling’ (some call this mindset  or worldview) that generates the methods-techniques-tools for addressing the problem.  So in this conversation I wish to grapple with the persistent problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’. Let’s start by listening to one of my favourite stories (of wisdom):

Dividing Camels

There was once a Sufi who wanted to make sure his disciples would, after his death, find the right teacher of the Way for them. He, therefore …. left his disciples seventeen camels with this order: ‘You will divide the camels among the three of you in the following proportions: the oldest shall have half, the middle in age one third, and the youngest shall have one ninth.’

… the disciples were at first amazed at such an inefficient disposition of their Master’s assets. Some said, ‘Let us own the camels communally,’ others sought advice and then said, ‘We have been told to make the nearest possible division,’ others were told by a judge to sell the camels and divide the money; and yet others held that the will was null and void because its provisions could not be executed.

Then the fell to thinking that there might be some hidden wisdom to the Master’s bequest, so they made enquiries as to who could solve insoluble problems.

Everyone they tried failed, until they arrived at the door of … Hazrat Ali. He said: ‘This is your solution. I will add one camel to the number. Out of the eighteen camels you will give half – nine camels – to the oldest disciple. The second shall have a third of the total, which is six camels. The last disciple may have one-ninth, which is two camels. That makes seventeen. One, my camel, is left over to be returned to me.’

This is how the disciples found the teacher for them.

– Idries Shah, Thinkers Of The East

Have you watched The Matrix? It is movie that can be listened to at so many levels. I find the same to be the case for this story. For the sake of this conversation, let me highlight this:

1. The conventional ‘leaders’ had supplied conventional advice which was ok for conventional matters. But not for this unusual one;

2. It is what Hazrat Ali put into the game at hand (‘one camel’) that ended up solving the insoluble problem facing the disciples; and

3. The ‘one camel’ does not refer to a physical camel. The ‘one camel’ refers to wisdom, compassion, love, humanity – the essentials of human existence and authentic community. There can never be a human being only human beings; to be human is to be social.

What relevance does this have to the world of business and the two problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’? I say everything. Take a deep look at the methods-tools-techniques used to address these challenges. What do you notice? I notice that the ‘way of showing up and travelling’ (mindset/worldview if you prefer cognitivist rather than existential terms) is extractive: extracting more creativity, time, and effort from the employees and extracting more revenue and profits from customers? Where is the engagement, by the leaders/managers, in the lives (and existential projects) of the employees?  What loyalty is there to the customer?  Here I am pointing at practices and actions that ensure that the company is loyal to customers – not just words.

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit by Robin P.

What ‘way of showing up and travelling’ in organisational life calls forth the kind of employee engagement that most organisations can only dream of?  I share with the following story as shared by Robin P of Zappos. I invite you to pay attention to that which I have put into bold:

My husband passed away under tragic circumstances …. I couldn’t being to think of what was going to happen for our children, our family, or for me.

When I first heard the news, I was numb, but I needed to make a call. Strangely enough, the call wasn’t to an immediate family member. It was to my employer, Zappos.com. That one action made me realize the strong connection I felt with my co-workers and the Zappos culture…

When my senior manager received by hysterical call, she showed great compassion and gave me sound advice to calm me. She assured me that I shouldn’t be concerned with anything else but to take care of myself and my family, and that – day or night – I should call if I needed anything. After that she gave me every single one of her phone numbers, I knew she meant it.

As much as Zappos meant to me before, the things they did after my husband passed amazed and humbled me. I was reassured that I shouldn’t feel pressure to return to work as soon as possible. They even volunteered to cater the reception for my husband’s service….

There was always someone there to listen, offer consoling words, sit with me as I released my tears, or just give a hug. Co-workers and managers alike allowed me time to heal and gave me strength I needed to continue as a contributing and functioning member of the team.

the most important contributions from my extended family at Zappos were support and friendship. Zappos was my refuge and healing place that gave me everything I needed to continue on with my life.

– Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh

What do you notice here? Are the folks at Zappos applying a particular set of techniques-tools dreamt up by social scientists, consultants, or recommended by HR? Or is it that the folks in Zappos, including her manager, putting their humanity into action: demonstrating care/concern for a human being in distress?  Do you/i/we need some kind of special training to do this?  Or is it merely a matter of creating an environment where we can put into play that which we know as well as we know how to breathe? Finally, I invite you to notice that domain of ‘care/concern’ for our fellow human beings (customers, employees…) involves action (doing stuff that makes a difference) not merely smooth talk.

Summing Up

It occurs to the that the worst thing that has happened to the world of business is the language of relationship: customer relationships, customer engagement, employee engagement, social.. Why? It masks the reality of the business world and organisational life. What reality? Business and organisational worlds are transactional. There is no genuine care for customers as human beings. There is no genuine care for employees as human beings. There is no genuine care for suppliers/partners as human beings. My lived experience (25+ years) is that those who occupy management and leadership positions are not in touch with their humanity. I doubt that most genuinely care even for themselves as human beings rather than human doings, human ‘achieve-ings’.

I invite you to listen to the following profound words:

To become a leader, first you must become a human being.

– Peter Senge

It occurs to me that all Customer and Employee efforts, like the advice-solutions offered by the conventional leaders to the disciples, are likely to fall short until the advice of Peter Senge is heeded. When it is heeded, and lived, like it is by Tony Hsieh (the CEO of Zappos) then the Tops and Middles will be able to call forth the best from the folks in the business to create meaningful-strong-loyal relationships with customers. With the folks working in the business and directly/indirectly serving customers. And suppliers/partners.

I thank you for listening and invite you to put your humanity into the game of living no matter where this living occurs: with customers, in the workplace, at home….

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published on CustomerThink.com last month.

CX 2015: Where Does The UK Stand In Relation To The USA?

Some folks at Nunwood (CX research and consulting company) have been kind enough to email over their latest report: Have A Nicer Day, Learning From the USA’s Customer Experience Leaders.  I found it to make interesting reading. In this conversation, I wish to focus on where the UK stands in relation to the USA – as set out in this report. Let’s begin with a quote that kind of sums the report up:

On average, US enjoy significantly better experiences than their UK counterparts. This is more consistent across the sectors….

Let’s look into why this is the case.

CX: What Are The Big Difference Between The USA And The UK?

At the last UK survey conducted and published in Q4, 2014 the average CX score was 7.25 (out of 10). The USA score as at Q1 2015 stands at 7.6. This looks like such a small difference: only 5%.  What do the authors of the Nunwood report say?

– Every US sector with the exception of telecoms, outperforms its UK counterpart.…Sectors that are weak in the UK, notably utilities and logistics, are significantly stronger in the USA, despite challenging geographic and environmental circumstances.

– The top 6 US brands (USAA, Publix, Amazon.com, Chick-fil-A, Disney Parks, Edward Jones) are stronger performers than the UK’s number one brand (First Direct).

– With the UK’s CX currently improving by less than 1% per annum, the current trend puts the USA five years ahead of the UK.

CX: What Accounts For This Difference?

What factors, taken together, account for the difference between the quality of CX in the USA and that provided by the UK?  Here is my take on the matter based on the Nunwood report.

1. CEOs and Culture That Places The Customer At The Heart Of All Decisions

This is how the authors of the report put it (bolding mine):

Few UK companies have a culture where the customer is at the heart of all decisions, few make strenuous efforts to ‘bring the customer into the organisation’ to improve collective understanding of the customers needs and wants. Fewer still have behavioural standards engrained across the organisation that drive behaviours to continuously improve the value created for customers.  

At the heart of the difference lies a fundamental belief that what is good for the customer is good for the business. As some £166n fines and provisions across UK banking shows, that is not always the case in Britain.

 2. Customer Driven Innovation Is A Way Of Life In CX Leaders

Let’s listen to the authors (bolding mine):

The top 10 get so close to their customers that customer driven innovation is a way of life, not an aspiration. These brands follow the Steve Jobs edict that firms should “get closer than ever to their customers. So close that you tell them what they need before they realise it themselves.” For the US leaders, technology does not define the customer experience, rather the customer’s needs define the technology.

3. Effective Use Of Technology To Deliver Omnichannel Experiences

How do the authors see/express this?

SMACIT. It stands for social, mobile, analytics, cloud, and internet of things…. For leading US companies, success is not merely mastering these fast moving technologies in isolation, but rather integrating them – often with offline components – around gaps in the customer experience. 

In the UK, ‘digital’ is more often a way of reducing costs to serve, making life easier for the company. Increasing it’s a department or a directorate, By contrast, in the USA, digital is one of range of tools for solving customer problems. The message from the USA is use these technologies as mechanisms to deliver against customer needs.

4. USA Is Back To Doing What It Does Best: Service

Let’s listen to the authors once again:

In the 70s and 80s, .. British holidaymakers were bowled over by the high quality of service delivered by US employees…. in the 90’s and 00’s … US service seemed no better, and often worse, than service at home. The ‘have a nice day’ culture was no longer associated with caring employees but with faked smiles…..

tough economic times have a way of returning companies to fundamental business principles – and one of the most basis is customer service.…. All indicators now show that that not only has the US rediscovered its service ethic….

CX: Summing Up The Difference Between The USA And The UK

If we look behind all of this can we discern a ‘structure’ – a way of being and doing – that gives rise to the USA being some five years ahead of the UK in terms of customer experience?  I think we can. It occurs to me that the authors have identified and expressed it in these words:

Customer experience management in the US is a more mature discipline, with every successful organisation focusing its marketing, operations, leadership, HR and systems investments on these goals. There is greater innate understanding and coherency than in the UK, with customer experience defining the change agenda for many firms, rather than simply being a part of it. 

Put differently. It would appear that folks working within the US CX leaders show up and operate from the context of ‘unity of purpose’ – the unity of purpose being creating superior value for customers. And all change that occurs in these organisations arises from and supports this unity of purpose. Whereas CX in the UK, for the most part, is another item on the management/change agenda.

Enough for today. Next time, lets dive a little deeper into the Nunwood report and see what we can learn from the US CX leaders. Until then I wish you the very best and thank your for listening.  Oh, and my thanks for the folks at Nunwood for emailing me their latest report.

 

What’s The Difference Between UX and CX At An Experiential Level?

Is there a difference between UX and CX? Yes. What is the difference between UX and CX? Allow me to answer this question by sharing my experience in dealing with a web hosting company.

The User Experience? Great!

I came across a web hosting company which appealed to me. Let’s call this company: NewWebHostCo. What appealed to me? The look+feel of the website: easy and appealing to my eyes. The navigation: well thought out and signposted. The content: written in plain English and as such is easy to understand – especially for non-technical folks like me.

So I chose to do business with NewWebHostCo. First, I searched for and then purchased a domain. I followed the instructions, paid through my credit card.  Second, I undertook a second transaction: transfer of an existing domain (from 123Reg) to NewWebHostCo, and the purchase of web hosting plan. Again the process of selecting and paying for that which I wanted was easy and quick. Shortly after each transaction, I got emails from NewWebHostCo confirming the purchases I had made.

At this point I was delighted. Clearly, someone had given considerable thought to the design of the NewWebHostCo website: my user experience was excellent in comparison to other web hosting sites which are busy and often confusing to me. So I was looking forward to being up and running (quickly-easily) with NewWebHostCo; I felt reassured by the promise of a 45 day no quibble refund and the promise of great support-service to customer queries.

The Customer Experience? Poor!

The next day I logged into my account at the NewWebHostCo website. I was surprised and disappointed to find that the domain name that I had purchased was not on my account. I did a web search for this domain name only to find that it was still available for purchase. I found myself puzzled. Previously, this had been such a straight forward matter: select domain, pay, wait several hours, domain is ready for use. Not with this web hosting company.

Later that day, I got an automated email from NewWebHostCo informing me that the transfer of the existing domain had failed. I was surprised as I had carefully read the instructions provided by 123Reg and thus unlocked the domain and made it ready for transfer to NewWebHostCo. And I provided the details that NewWebHostCo’s online wizard had requested. Nonetheless, I double checked everything and went through the transfer wizard a second time. Same result: I got another email telling me that the transfer had failed.

So I reached for support. Only to find that all support requests have to be made via email. So I filled in the requisite form setting out the issues that I was facing. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Days went by and I received no response: no acknowledgement that anyone had received my email, nor any idea of when any action was going to be taken.

Back to the NewWebHostCo website and the support section. Once again I filled in the email support form. This time I took the company up on its offer to ring customers back. I reiterated the issues. I set-out my disappointment. And I asked to be rung back on my mobile.

The day after this email, I got an email response telling me that I had not provided all the required details for the domain name purchase. And asking me for the details of the second transaction – the domain name transfer and hosting package – so that the transaction could be annulled.  I did not find myself impressed.

So What?

My experience suggests that time-effort-money spent on UX is ultimately wasted unless the UX is one component of a great CX: the end-to-end experience of the customer.  How have I come to this conclusion? I cancelled my transactions with NewWebHostCo. And have chosen to keep doing with my existing web hosting provider (123Reg).

Another thought strikes me. I notice that folks in organisational worlds are besotted by technology. Which is to say that I find folks putting their faith in technology not human beings and the kind of service that can only be provided by human beings.  That strikes me as mistake: Technology fail! When technology fails the right kind of human service (responsive, considerate) can take care of the breakdown and build a stronger relationship with the customer. Lack of human service, on the other hand, shows the lack of care-consideration for the customer.

Why have I not named and shamed NewWebHostCo? Because the tone of the email that I received by the human being who finally did respond to my email request for help. The tone was human: apologetic and helpful. For me, humanity calls forth humanity. Is this something that folks that wield power in organisational worlds have forgotten? Or are they simply blind to the value of humanity?

Customer Experience: A Tale Of Two Service Providers – One Public, One Private

The Technology Exists to Transform the Customer Experience

In his latest post Don Peppers shares his experience of attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Given my recent experiences as a customer, the following words particularly resonate with me (bolding mine):

“At virtually every booth, at every significant exhibit, the message was about how to use each of these new technologies or product offerings to deliver a better customer experience. To interact faster or more efficiently with customers. To provide what customers need in a more effective manner. To deliver better, more reliable service, less expensively and more flexibly.

And this didn’t seem out of place to me at all, because the customer-experience revolution is being powered by technological change. It’s always been a good thing for businesses to be customer-oriented, but it’s only within the last twenty years or so that technology has made it economically possible to be customer-centric, at scale.”

I want to pick up this theme and illustrate it through two of my recent experiences. One with a public sector organisation (The Passport Office, UK) and Churchill (car, home, travel, life insurer).  Which one is making effective use of technology to transform the customer experience?

What Kind of A Customer Experience Does The Passport Office Enable-Deliver?

1. My Experience Fifteen Years Ago

The last time I put in an application to renew my passport was fifteen years ago: 1990.  I remember it being a painful process.  First, I made my way to the local Post Office branch. Then queue up for some 10 minutes, finally only to be told that the branch had run out of passport renewal forms. This meant getting into my car and travelling to the main Post Office branch in the town centre. This required a ten minute journey, the hassle of finding a car park, paying car park charges. Waiting even longer – something like 20 minutes – to get hold of the requisite form. Whilst I was in town, I took the opportunity to get passport photos made.

Once I had the paperwork and photos, I returned home. After I had completed the paperwork, I had to write a long declaration in tiny writing on the back of several photos (of me). Then I phoned my doctor’s surgery requesting my doctor to sign two of these photos to declare that they represented my likeness. I was told that the doctor would charge a fee of £40. So the next day I took the fee and the photos and left them with the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery. I was told that the photos would be available for collection in two days.

A week or so, I remembered the photos so I made my way back to the doctor’s surgery to pick up the photos. As the surgery was busy I had to wait something like five minutes to ask for the photos only to find that they had not been signed!  After another couple of days I got hold of the signed photos. Then I put all the material together, took it to the Post Office and sent it away ‘special delivery’. About four weeks later, I received my new passport.

2. My Experience This Time Around

I had been aware for months that my passport would run out in Feb2015. I also knew I needed a passport to travel – for work, with the family on holidays  . Yet, I could not get myself to start the renewal process – except for getting the passport photos made. Why?  The memory of the previous experience was fresh in my mind. I was totally convinced that it was going to be a long drawn out effort (hassle) to get my new passport.

One day I decided to take on the challenge. This time I did not go to the local Post Office branch. I opened up my laptop and typed “UK passport renewal online” into Google. To my delight, I shortly found myself on the http://www.gov.uk website presented with easy to understand wizard/directions. By following the online process, within four minutes I had filled in the requisite screens, selected various options, paid the fee through credit card, and printed out the requisite paperwork.

I checked over the paperwork. Then I attached two passport photos – this time I was not required to get the photos attested by my doctor. I added in my expired passport, sealed everything up in an envelope, and walked to the local Post Office branch. At the branch, I paid the requisite fee for ‘special delivery’. I experience ease and marvelled at how easy it had been this time around.

Just a week into the process, I got an automated message from The Passport Office telling me something like “Your passport is being printed right now. And will be with you in a couple of days.” I found myself surprised and delighted. Why?  The Passport Office had used technology to make the application process easy and quick. Now The Passport Office was using technology to keep me up to date with progress – just at the right moment, the moment my passport was being printed. Wow!  How clued in, how customer-centric, is The Passport Office.

The Passport Office went on to keep its promise. I received my new passport within the promised two days. It had taken a total of 8 working days to get a new passport office issued. And the most effort had involved going into the town centre and getting the photos taken.  A total contrast with fifteen years ago.

Now that is how to make good use of technology to get the customer from where he finds himself (current situation) to where he wishes to be (desired outcome) easily, quickly, intelligently. And cut out unnecessary costs – for both the customer and The Passport Office.  So I acknowledge and thank the folks that have thought things through and transformed the process of renewing a British passport through the smart use of digital technologies.  Great work! It is the kind of work that I’d be proud to do myself as a digital strategist and CX designer.

What Kind of a Customer Experience Does Churchill Deliver?

Recently, I had to contact Churchill to ask how many years of no claims my wife has. So I phoned Churchill and after a couple of minutes I found myself talking to a helpful call-centre agent. She gave me the answer.  Then I told her that I needed that in writing. She told me to wait whilst she triggered the necessary paperwork, and assured me that the no claims certificate would be with me in five days.

The no claims certificate did not arrive as promised. And my wife started pestering me as her car insurer was pestering her to provide it – else her insurance policy would be cancelled.

So I rang Churchill again. Another helpful call-centre agent took my call. I explained the situation and the importance of getting the no claims certificate asap. I requested that she email it to me. She told me that she was not in a position to do that. She did not have access to email. All she could do was request (in her system) for the certificate to be printed and mailed to me. That is not the answer I was looking for.   The end result was that I had to be patient and wait to receive the certificate in the post.

Has anything substantial changed in regards to customer’s post sales interaction with insurance companies?  I am tempted to say, little – at best.  Fifteen years ago, I called up insurers to get my post sales needs met. I did the same this year. Fifteen years ago I had to wait for five to ten days to get paperwork in the mail. This time, 2015, it is the same.

Why has Churchill not made effective use of digital technologies – to make things easier, to minimise the cycle time, to cut out unnecessary costs, to deliver a customer experience that leaves their customers grateful that they are doing business with Churchill?

The technology exists to create a online self-service portal. The technology exists to allow customers to make requests through this portal. The technology exists to take these requests and convert them to cases for call-centre agents to review-execute. The technology exists to cut-out call-centre agents out of simple processes and get simple requests actioned by the system itself. The technology exists, to create documents and send them out through email. The technology exists to keep customers informed – to track the progress of their requests…. Is Churchill using any of this technology?  No!  Why not?

Summing Up: Why The Customer Experience Sucks Most Of The Time For Most Organisations

I will allow Don Peppers (who, along with Martha Rogers, deserve the label thought leader) to sum up the situation at hand:

The technology part gets faster-better-cheaper every year, but this just throws into stark relief how difficult it really is, as a business, to take the customer’s point of view, and to organize yourself to deliver a superior customer experience, across the firm. The vast majority of companies have a great deal of difficulty with this task, even with all the digital technology now available.”

Why do the vast majority of companies have such great difficulty?  Don sums this up, beautifully:

“At its core, for a firm to improve its customer experience it must minimize the friction in the experience. It has to remove obstacles, eliminate problems, and streamline processes. But the overwhelming majority of companies just aren’t organized to do this. Instead, as a first priority, companies organize themselves to minimize the friction in their production process.” 

Of course this begs the question: Why aren’t the Tops who run these companies reorganising the way their companies work?  It occurs to me that if the caterpillar had the kind of intelligence that we have it is highly likely that s/he would think the idea of ‘butterfly’ was a great one. And when it came to taking action – to going through the transformation process – the caterpillar would choose to stay as a caterpillar. And take the easier route of adding one or more colours to its caterpillar body. Our gift of foresight-imagination is both a blessing and a curse.

I thank you for your listening. For my part, I am delighted to be in a position where I can share my speaking with you.  I look forward to listening to that which you share.

 

Timpson: Business Success Through Humanistic Leadership

Allow me to introduce you to a little know business gem: Timpson. It is a family business operating 1000+ stores, annual turnover in the region of £200m, and annual profits of £10m+. Today, this organisation (and its leadership) is on my mind again. Why? Because of what I saw and read on LinkedIn.

This is the photo that captured my attention:

Timpson Free Outfit Cleaning

The last time I looked there were 240+ likes. Here are some of the comments that caught my attention:

  1. “Leadership at its best”;
  2. “Hats off to CEO James Timpson”;
  3. “Very thoughtful and caring”;
  4. “Pay it forward”;
  5. “Brilliant. More selfless acts needed”;
  6. “If another company did this it would probably seem like a publicity stunt, but Timson’s record speaks for itself..”; and
  7. “How many Advocates and how much good feeling does that create for Timpsons who are already an exceptionally socially responsible company…Great win win!”

Why did these comments catch my attention? Because these comments provider a pointer towards the following:

  1. The shape-look-feel-character of humanistic leadership: authentic as opposed to faking it in order to manipulate others (publicity stunt); thoughtful and caring as opposed to thoughtlessness and indifference to our shared humanity – where humanity is hidden under the labels of customer, employee, supplier; and selflessness leading to paying it forward as recognition of one’s good fortune and shared humanity as opposed to unlimited greed dressed up in fine sounding words like maximising revenues and profits.
  2. The impact human-centred leaders make on us: we tend to think of this kind of leadership as “leadership at its best”; and those who exercise this kind of leadership call forth respect – when we are authentic we take our hats off only to those whom we genuinely admire, esteem, respect in terms of their virtues and/or skills.

  3. The benefits that tend to show up as result of exercising humanistic leadership: the good feelingthat this kind of leadership calls forth in just about everyone except sociopaths and those professionally trained as economists and MBAs; and the advocacy-loyalty that is automatically brought into play as a result of evoking this good feeling.

I am clear that we (those of us living in the UK and USA) live in transactional, individualistic, non-humanistic, competitive cultures. So those of us, who are ‘smart’, are likely to be tempted to fake humanistic leadership to get the benefits (respect, status, increased profits, wealth) without paying the necessary ‘price’. So here’s the paradox. The exercise of humanistic leadership does generate advocacy, loyalty, revenues, and higher profits. However, this is not the case when humanistic leadership is exercised for the sake of harvesting these benefits. Why? Because, one can only fake it so long before true intentions leak out and are detected by those who are being manipulated.

Is Timpson faking it? Is this offer of free outfit cleaning for the unemployed merely a publicity stunt? This is what Justin Parkinson of the BBC says on this blogpost:

The problem is that getting suits dry cleaned usually costs in the vicinity of £10, which can be prohibitive for unemployed people looking to return to work.

The offer, in place since 1 January, has been taken up by hundreds of people, Timpson chief executive James Timpson says. “When people are going for interview it’s important to look and feel smart and getting their suit dry cleaned is part of that,” he adds. “It makes people more confident and gives them that 2% extra chance of getting a job. We just thought it was a really good idea.”

In my experience, one of the core challenges of taking a humanistic approach to doing business (including the exercise of human-centred leadership) is that we have a dim view of human nature. Our actions show that we are convinced that if we appear ‘soft’ then we will be taken. So how has this offer turned out for Timpson? Here is more from that BBC blog:

“We just trust customers,” says Timpson. “We had one lady who came in with a cocktail dress and we told her to hold on. But that’s the only instance of a customer taking advantage.”

What is going on here? How to make sense of this? It occurs to me that somewhere deep down in us, our human decency is intact. Put differently, for most of us, there is something deep in our being that makes us think twice and usually prevents us from taking advantage of those who show concern for us, our fellow human beings, and our shared humanity. Where we transgress and do take advantage of the kindness of others, guilt comes into play. That is the price we pay for not honouring the best of our humanity.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with Customer. I say take a look at what has been done in the name of customer service. Take a look at CRM. Take a look at customer loyalty programmes. Take a look at Customer Experience. Take a look at all that has happened and all the money-effort that has been expended in the name of the Customer. Now ask yourself how it is that despite all of this customer loyalty and employee engagement are stagnant – at best. There is your answer: humanistic leadership (and management practices) are the access to calling forth the good feeling that in turn leads to engagement-loyalty-advocacy: from your people, from your suppliers/partners, and from your customers.

If you are interested in learning more about Timpson then check out this piece that I wrote some time ago as it continues to be relevant and instructive: Timpson: Shifting-Transforming Culture Through Language and Practices.

Note: At the invitation of Bob Thompson, I write the Human-Centred Leadership column on CustomerThink.com. This conversation was published there last month.

You may have noticed I have not been conversing much recently here on this Blog. I have been dealing with back pain for the last six weeks. This has limited by ability to do that which it takes to create-share conversations. I hope to back in action soon.  If you missed me then I thank you for your patience. If you didn’t, excellent: now you know that you are wasting your time-life listening to me, please go and do something that lights you up!

Customer Experience Lessons From Amazon UK’s Failures

It is my experience that for the most part and on the whole Amazon UK delivers. It makes it easy for me to find stuff, order it and pay for it. It keeps me informed about when the item/s are going to be delivered. And when they are delivered. Finally, Amazon makes it easy for me to deal with matters that have not worked out as I expected them to.

Against the background that I have painted, I have found myself somewhat disappointed with Amazon as a result of three customer experience failures. I want to share these failures (breakdowns) with you. Why?  It is the breakdowns, in the habitual, that provide me with access to getting present to that which I take for granted, to see matters with a fresh eye, and usually these breakdowns provide an opening for breakthroughs.

Customer Experience Failure 1: The Product Does Not Meet My Expectations

I ordered a copy of Crime and Punishment from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I deliberately picked a Seller who displayed a copy of the book with a red cover and described it as “Used – Very Good”. What turned up?  A tatty copy: the book was worn/shabby and the cover was white not red.  What emotion was aroused in me? Disgust. I found myself not wanting to touch the book. I found myself wanting to throw the book in the bin.

What did I do? I logged into my Amazon account, found the appropriate order, and raised an issue (in writing) with the Seller – sharing my disappointment. Within an day or so the Seller reached out to me in a friendly-understanding manner. The Seller apologised. The Seller shared her disappointment with me. And the Seller refunded my money.

What are the lessons here?  I can think of several:

1. The product is most definitely a core constituent of the Customer Experience!  Put differently, it is foolish to exclude the product and product considerations from the Customer Experience bucket – which some ‘Customer Experience guru’s’ do.

2. You must deliver on the expectations that you set.  If you display a red cover then make sure that the book delivered has a red cover. If you describe the product as being used yet in a very good condition then make sure it is.  The description of the product is not just some marketing fluff; it is a promise that you are making to the customer and in making that promise you are setting the customer’s expectations!

3. If you mess up then be charming-gracious about dealing with the consequence of it. How? By owning up to the mess up AND most importantly the emotional impact of your mess up on that particular customer.  How do you work out what the emotional impact is? By listening to the customer and/or asking the customer.  Then making things right. In this case the Seller refunded the total cost of the book.

4. Use every interaction to build trust and goodwill. It matters that the Seller did not ask me to waste my time sending the tatty book back. If the Seller has asked or insisted that I send the book back then that would have left me feeling angry. Why? Not being trusted and having my valuable time wasted. By trusting me, I am left feeling nothing but goodwill towards the Seller. How do I explain this event to myself? Something along the line that even good folks f**k up from time to time.

Customer Experience Failure 2: I Have To Go To The Post Office Depot To Pick Up My Parcel

One day I got home to find a ‘ticket’ for me from the Post Office. It was notice telling me that I needed to go to the Post Office Depot to pick up my item. And that I needed to pay something like £2.00. Why? Because the Sender had not paid postage. So I made my way to the Post Office depot to collect my item. What did this cost me in addition to the £2.00? It cost me something like 45 minutes of my valuable time: drive there, queue-wait, collect-pay, and drive back home.  So I logged into my Amazon account and made a complaint to the Seller of this item – a book.

What did this Seller do, how did he respond?  I got an explanation, an excuse, for the failure to pay postage. Something like, all are items are franked, this should not have happened, don’t know how this has happened. And I was told that half the cost of the book would be refunded along with the £2.00 postage I had paid.  How did this leave me feeling? P****d off!  Why?  My central gripe – waste of 45 minutes of my life – was not acknowledged and addressed

What are the lessons here?

1. The customer cares about his/her experience not about your policies, processes or practices! So if you mess up then acknowledge the impact your mess up has had on the customer – as experienced by the customer.  I was looking for something like “You are busy. By not paying for postage we made you waste 45 minutes of your life including 20 minutes waiting in a queue which you hate to do. Really sorry about that.”

2. When you mess up then ask the customer what you need to do to make things right.  By not asking me the Seller did not involve me in resolving my complaint. By making a decision on my behalf I experienced the Seller treating me as an object not as a human being.  If the Seller had asked me what he needed to do to make things right, I might have told him that by asking me that question he had already made things right. Instead, I was left thinking-feeling “This is NOT good enough! It is not adequate compensation for wasting my time.”

Customer Experience Failure 3: Amazon UK Lies To Me!

I ordered a book directly from Amazon UK – not from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK.  I ordered that book either late on Friday or early on Saturday.  I was expecting to get the book in the following week – earliest Monday. To my surprise I got an email from Amazon UK informing that the book would be delivered the next day: Sunday.  I found myself DELIGHTED – delighted that Amazon delivers on Sundays, delighted that I could start reading it on the Sunday as I had some spare time that Sunday.

Guess what happened on Sunday?  Around about lunchtime I got an email from Amazon UK.  The email told me that Amazon UK had delivered the book to my home.  That email left me puzzled.  If the book had been delivered then why had it not made its way through my letter box? So I opened the door to see if the book had been left outside on my doorstep. No. I went around to one side of the house, to see if the deliver folks had left it in the garden as they sometimes do. No.

How was I left thinking?  I was left asking myself questions.  How is it that Amazon says the book has been delivered and yet it has not been delivered?  Has Amazon made a mistake? Or is it that the delivery folks are playing games with Amazon? Or is it that Amazon’s definition of delivered differs from my understanding of delivered. And if Amazon gets something as basic as this wrong then what else does it get wrong: invoicing, not delivering some of my stuff, charging me a different price to that which was displayed?

How was I left feeling? Delight turned into significant disappointment.  There was even some frustration thrown in. When? When I was looking around the house for the book that had been delivered (according to Amazon UK) and which I could not find.  I believe that I also experienced mild anger. I suspect that if an Amazon manager had been around I would have ‘given him/her a piece of my mind’.

When did I get the book? On Monday. Was I delighted/happy to get the book on Monday? No.  Yet, if I had been told that the book would be delivered on Monday and had been delivered on Monday, I would have been happy. And importantly, my trust-confidence in Amazon would not have been dented.

What are the lessons here in addition to that which I have already shared?  The following occur to me:

1. If you are pushing the envelope on the Customer Experience (like Amazon UK is doing) then make sure that you do not push it so far that delight turns into disappointment.  It occurs to me that Amazon is pushing the envelope in letting its customers know when a delivery is scheduled. And then letting the same customers know when the delivery has been made.

2. Every piece of information you provide to your customers acts kind of like a promise and sets the customer expectations.  So make sure that the information is accurate.  Any ‘bullshitting’ in the provision of information is likely to come back and bite you in the form of customer disappointment. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that many in marketing and sales have yet to learn.

3. Your informational processes+practices must be in tune with you operational processes+practices. Any disconnect between the two is likely to impact your customers – usually negatively. I imagine that the delivery partner informed Amazon that delivery had been made. And this triggered Amazon’s email alert to me.

4. If you subcontract part of your value chain (like Amazon does when it comes to delivery) then you will be held responsible, by the customer, by the failures of your value chain partners. Therefore, it behoves you to select the right partners and ensure that if they are telling you something then you can rely on their word. For my part, I am clear that I am disappointed only in Amazon because I hold only Amazon UK accountable for my experience as a customer.

Forget Working On The Customer Experience, Focus On Competition

I say that the way to make a significant impact on the quality of the customer experience (as experienced by the customer) is for the organisation not to focus on improving the Customer Experience.  That is a bold assertion and shows up as nonsense to many. So what is it that I am getting at?

It is my experience that after accessing the voice of the customer and doing the journey mapping a range of initiatives are on the table. So the folks around the table getting busy figuring out which initiatives to take forward. Which ones do they take forward? The ones that don’t rock the boat. The ones that are the least risky. The ones that are usually called low hanging fruit: the easy ones that involves a tinkering at the edges,  and in the bigger scheme of things make little difference.

To Improve The Customer Experience Ramp Up The Quality Of Competition

SouthWestTrainsPacked

Take a look at this photo. Notice, the people standing up – how many there are, and how closely packed they are against one another. I invite you to step into this picture. Imagine yourself standing up in this train. And finding yourself packed in like sardines in a tin.

I found myself on this train – standing up. This train was so packed that it took considerable skill to just get my smartphone out of my trouser pocket – to take this photo.  How long was I standing up in this train? For one hour and ten minutes.

So I ask you how is it that this kind of occurrence is actually a regular occurrence on the trains going into and coming out of  London at peak travel times? It is so because there is no competition. On each line there is one company that has won the right to run the train services.  A monopoly is in place and the folks who need to use the train have no choice but to put up with whatever they have to put up with.

Now consider that the Tops of just about every business strive to minimise the competition. Why?  Because where there is no genuine competition, Tops can ignore customers, and run the organisation in a manner that extracts surplus profits from customers.

Looking at the situation from the Customer’s point of view I am clear that the most effective way of causing improvements in Customer Experience is to effect genuine competition into every industry, every market place.  Genuine competition for customers will force companies to do that which they are not willing to do today: focus on creating superior value for customers – that includes the Customer Experience.

I don’t know about your country, I do know about the UK.  I assert with confidence that there is no genuine-significant competition in many industries: retail banking, grocery retailing (Aldi, Lidl are starting to make a dent), energy (gas, electricity) suppliers, telecom’s providers….

Consider that if business genuinely had the interests of customers at heart then the Tops of every business would welcome increased competition in their market place. Why? It would provide the impetus to do better: to focus on creating superior value for customers – including providing a better Customer Experience.

Is injecting genuine competition into a market place enough? Is it enough to ‘force’ the incumbents to pay attention to customers and do right by customers: focus on providing superior value for customers?

Effective Regulation Is Necessary To Make Competition Work

For two years I was leading a data mining and predictive analytics practice which operated across Europe. So I got to know something about how different countries went about implementing-enforcing the European Data Protection directive.  Some countries were effective (Germany, France, Italy, Spain) and others (UK) ineffective. Why? The Germans, French, Italians, and Spaniard adequately funded their national data protection agencies and allowed them to levy unlimited fines (usually running into millions of Euros). I believe one of these countries set up the funding arrangements so that the data protection agency had to fund itself through the fines it levied on those companies found bending or simply not following the legislation. Whereas the UK government provided the minimum funding possible, and limited the fine that the national data protection agency could apply to £50,000.

Let’s get back to the issue of competition. Is it necessary for national governments to put in place effective regulations and enforcers of these regulations?  No? Are you of the view that multinationals so love their customers, and are so committed to the Customer Experience, that regulation is not necessary? If so I invite you consider this: business, especially, big business is not customer friendly.  Allow me give life to this assertion.

Yesterday I read this Guardian article: France fines 13 consumer goods firms €951m for price fixing.  Which companies are involved? Companies include:

  • Gillette
  • Proctor & Gamble
  • Reckitt Benckiser  – €121m
  • Unilever – 2nd largest fine, €172.5m
  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • L’Oreal – largest fine, €189.5m
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Henkel (maker of Persil) –  €109m
  • Biersdorf (Nivea) – €72m
  • SC Johnson

Which products were involved? As far as I can figure out, just about everything. Here’s what the Guardian says (bolding mine):

The price-fixing affected a large number of popular brands, such as Vanish stain remover, Palmolive washing-up liquid, Sun and Calgonit dishwasher tablets, Sanex and Petit Marseillais shower gel, shampoos including Head & Shoulders, Fructis and Elsève, and Colgate and Signal toothpaste. Mouthwashes, deodorants, shaving creams and razors, female hygiene products, body lotion, facial and sun creams and insect sprays were also affected.

So what went on?  What did the folks at these companies do to merit such a large fine? This is what the Guardian says (bolding mine):

The regulator said the 13 companies ….. had colluded on price increases between 2003 and 2006. “These two sanctions are among the most significant imposed to date by the competition authority,” it said. The regulator added that the price-fixing had kept prices “artificially high” affecting consumersand “caused harm to the economy”.

…. commercial directors and other sales officials from the companies involved met “regularly and in secret” to co-ordinate price hikes at restaurants or via correspondence to private homes, as well as through telephone calls. The groups in which they met were called “Team” or “Friends”. 

Consider that if business genuinely had the interest of customers at heart – were committed to creating superior value for customers – then business Tops would not only welcome regulation, they’d want it enforced rigorously and big fines handed out to those who cheat customers.  Name me a Top that advocates this position – can you think of one?  I cannot.

Summing Up

I say greed, selfishness and even corruption permeate our way of life. It permeates politics, national government, and local government. It permeates the police. It permeates business. It permeates the broader society – us.  Given this context, I say, all talk of customer – customer focus, customer service, customer relationships, customer engagement, customer experience, customer obsession – is totally and utter bullshit.

Do you study history?  I have. This is what I have learnt: every right that you/I enjoy today was earned and paid for through blood of brave souls many years ago.  So if you and I are going to be treated right by folks in big business then it behoves us to fight for genuine competition in the market place, stronger customer protection legislation, and effective enforcement bodies.  What you and I cannot count on is business itself: yes, the words have changed, and business as usual (screwing customers) continues unabated. I say that the true customer strategy of most business is something like this: blind customers with bullshit, and empty their pockets whilst they are not looking.