Category Archives: Case Studies

Hall of Fame: Why I Am Willing To Buy From And Recommend Tesco Mobile

Honouring One’s Word v Keeping One’s Word

As a ‘graduate’ of Landmark Education I came across many valuable distinctions.  One of the most powerful of these distinctions is this one: honouring one’s word. Notice, that honouring one’s word is not keeping one’s word.

When one operates from a stand of ‘honouring one’s word’ then one cleans up the mess that occurs or is likely to occur when one does not keep one’s word.  And one does so gladly as one values the other, values the relationship, and values one’s word as one’s self.

Tesco Mobile Honours Its Word After Having Not Kept It

What has this to do with Tesco Mobile?  You may remember that it occurred to me that Tesco Mobile had not treated me fairly given the situation I found myself in. And the way that I had sought to work with Tesco Mobile to come to an amicable resolution – one that was fair and worked for both Tesco Mobile and myself.  I wrote up my experience in the following post: Why I Will Never Buy Anything From Tesco Mobile Again!

Several days after writing the last post, a helpful chap (Niky McBride) from Tesco Mobile contacted me.  We spoke on the phone.  And the phone call ended with Mr McBride promising to look into the situation and find am amicable solution for all.

I had my doubts.  One part of me expected that Mr McBride would come back and tell me that he had looked into the corporate policy and he could not help me. The other part of me expected that the best offer would be along the following lines: you can terminate the contract by paying up the remaining amount on the cost of the iPhone and this months airtime-data fee.

Instead I received the following offer:

Dear Mr Iqbal

Thank you for your time over the phone today.

As discussed, we are unable to offer tethering on iPhone at present. As a resolution to the matter, we’re happy to:

1. Allow you to return the handset so we can cancel your contract without Early Termination Charges
2. Allow you to pay for the handset so you can keep this and use it on another network that supports tethering

Please let me know which course of action you would prefer so we can bring this matter to a resolution for you.

Kind regards,

Niky McBride (Mr)
Customer Service Executive
Tesco Telecoms

After consideration, I chose to return the handset and cancel the contract.  In part, this was because I wanted to see what my experience would be like if I did decide to return the handset.  Would it be easy or difficult?  Would I find that despite Mr McBride’s promise, I would find that the right arm didn’t know what the left arm was doing. And so I would find myself charged for cancelling the contract and returning the phone.

The return process turned out to be remarkably easy.  I was sent clear-helpful instructions on how to go about returning the iPhone. And on the appointed day-time, the courier turned up to pick up the iPhone.

Somewhat later, I got an email informing me that I would be charged something like £800+  for the early termination of the contract.  So that which I had envisaged had come true: the right arm did not know what the left arm was doing!  Just as I was about to consider my options, I found myself disarmed with the following email:

Dear Mr Iqbal

I am writing to prevent any concern, as there has been a charge applied to your Tesco Mobile account for the iPhone handset you returned. Please however, rest assured that we’ve asked for this balance to be cleared so you will not be charged.

This email is confirmation that you will not be charged.

Kind regards,

Niky McBride (Mr)
Customer Service Executive
Tesco Telecoms

Did Mr McBride live up to his promise?  Did he keep his word?  Here is an extract from the email that I wrote:

Dear Mr McBride,

I have just received my credit card statement and find that you have been true to your word …. I have not been charged by Tesco Mobile.

….. I thank you for all that you have done on my behalf. I find myself wondering what kind of world you-I would find ourselves living in if enough of us were to show up and operate in this world in the way that you have done – in helping me come to an amicable-just resolution……

It occurs to me that a great way for me to repay you is to thank you through a follow up post. You have done right by me. And now it is my turn to do right by you, and Tesco Mobile. If you are in a position to email me a photo of yourself, your team leader, or your team then please do so, and I will include it in the post……

At your service / with my love and gratitude
Maz

Does Tesco Mobile Now Offer Tethering On The iPhone?

Allow me to close out this post by dealing with the issue of tethering on the iPhone. Why?  It was the lack of tethering that drove me to look to end my relationship with Tesco Mobile.

Two readers have written to let me know that Tesco Mobile is now offering tethering.  I am assuming that this means that Tesco Mobile is now offering tethering on the iPhone; they were already offering tethering on other phones including my daughters £60 Samsung phone which made me see red as I had paid £660 for the iPhone 5s 32GB and could not get tethering when I needed it for work.

I cannot say whether Tesco Mobile is or is not offering tethering with the iPhone.  My recommendation is to check this before you enter into a contract.  Or to check it out as soon as you receive your iPhone. Why?  Because you have 14 days to return your phone and cancel the contract.  I believe this is a legal requirement when buying stuff via the internet.

What I can say is this: I find myself willing to buy from and recommend Tesco Mobile.  Why? Because Tesco Mobile, through Mr McBride, honoured its word to me as a customer. And that is all that I ask of any person-organisation that I do business with: honour your word.

Hall of Fame: Waitrose Creates A Delighted Customer

Based on recent experiences I find myself moved to create a ‘Hall of Fame’. And a ‘Hall of Shame’ for well known brands based on how these businesses treat their customers.  My commitment is to share the great practices of the ‘givers’ as well as the deceitful-manipulative practices of the ‘takers’.

Let’s start the ‘Hall of Fame’ with Waitrose.  Why Waitrose?  Yes, the stores are clean, spacious, well presented, well stocked. And our local store even has a cafe-restaurant and ample parking.  Yes, the staff in the store are helpful.  Yet, these are not the reason that I am choosing to place Waitrose, as the first entrant, into the ‘Hall of Fame’.

Recently, I found wife telling me that she was surprised about the quality of the tangerines: some of the tangerines were hard (too hard) and others were soft (too soft).  Now, I found this interesting. Why?  It was the way she talked about it. I think it fair to say she was shocked.  What this suggest to me is that Waitrose, in her experience, delivers great quality products consistently.

Despite the relatively small price and the hassle involved, she decided to take them back. Why?  This is not the kind of product quality she expects from Waitrose.  And she was wondering how she would be treated.

Later that day, my wife couldn’t wait to tell me her experience. I was clear by the way she had a huge smile on her face that the experience was positive. What did she say?  Something along these lines: “The staff at Waitrose were great. They apologised, I could tell they were also surprised and genuinely sorry about my experience. And they refunded twice the price. Not just the price of the tangerines, twice the price.”

Waitrose enters my ‘Hall of Fame’ because of the following:

Reputation for product quality – I cannot imagine my wife giving up half an hour of her time to take back a product that only cost her £3 to the likes of Tesco;

Great customer service – the staff in the store have always been friendly and helpful;

Design and condition of the stores – the Waitrose stores are clean, white, spacious, inviting, natural and for some even uplifting; and

An equitable-fair-collaborative-generous business philosophy – Waitrose lives-exhibits a philosophy of generosity and in so doing shows up as a ‘giver’. A ‘matcher’ would simply have refunded the purchase price. And a ‘taker’ would have put all kinds of hurdles in her way so that it was not worth her while even thinking of asking for a refund.

Most of all, Waitrose enters my ‘Hall of Fame’ because my wife told me she “can’t see herself not being a Waitrose customer”.

In the next post, I will kick-off the ‘Hall of Shame’ with anti-virus vendor BitDefender.

 

Amazon: Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company?

Does Amazon deserve the label of ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’?  Before I answer that question, allow me to tell you a little story about a well-known telecommunications company, one whose official strategy was to become customer-centric.

What Customer-Centricity Meant At A Well Known Telecommunications Company

I once did some consulting work for one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. In the process, a certain kind of fellowship grew between me and the billing manager.  To some extent he was a frustrated man. Why?  The billing challenge was growing more and more complex: requiring more people, more expensive IT equipment, stronger oversight etc. .

What was the cause of the increasing complexity and thus challenge in billing?  The number of unique billing plans in place.  There were thousands of them. And most of them were legacy billing plans – many years old.  So I asked the billing manager, why he didn’t just move customers to the latest billing plans. And in so doing he would be free to delete the thousands of legacy billing plans that were the cause of the headache. Can you work out his answer?

He told me that he built a ‘business case’ and presented to his boss. Yet, the proposal had got nowhere because Marketing had vetoed is proposal. What was the basis of the veto?  The legacy billing plans were much more profitable for the company. Why?  Because compared to the latest, competitive, price plans, the legacy plans were overpriced.  And if the company took the decision to move these customers, arguably the most loyal as they had been with the company for a long time (3+ years), then this would mean giving away revenues and profits.

What did customer-centricity actually mean in this company? It involved lots of activity: vision statements, presentations, meetings, talk, customer research, mystery shopping, process changes, balanced scorecard.  What it did not involve was the conscious choice to do right by the customer: to put the wellbeing of the customer on par with the wellbeing of the company (revenues, profits, share price).

Does Amazon Deserve To Be Called The Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company? 

We all know that Amazon works. It is easy to find and buy from Amazon. It is easy to keep track of where one’s order is. Amazon delivers the goods within the promised window. It is easy to return goods and get a refund. And on the only occasion something did not turn up when expected, I found it easy to get hold of Customer Services, and the call was handled by a friendly agent, who got my situation, validated my feelings, made  a promise to have the issue fixed by the next day, and it was fixed.

This level of performance has kept me doing business with Amazon despite my concerns over Amazon’s tax avoidance strategy, and the concerns about how Amazon treats the folks who work in the warehouses.  And to some extent my disposition towards Amazon has been a pragmatic one rather than one of affinity with what Amazon stands for.

This week the situation changed.  What happened? My wife signed up for the Amazon Prime offer and she then enrolled me into it as well.  As a result, I found renting and watching a movie (on demand) with my eldest son.  The experience of selecting, paying for, and watching the movie was effortless.

The next day, to my astonishment (I do not use the world lightly), I found myself reading the following email:

Hello, 

We’re contacting you about your recent attempt to purchase “The Wolverine”. We recently learned that a technical issue may have prevented you from being able to watch this video. We’re very sorry about this. 

To help make it up to you, we’ve issued a £3.48 for this order. The refund will be applied to your original order payment method and should complete within the next 2-3 business days. 

We look forward to seeing you again soon. 

Sincerely, 
Customer Service 
Amazon.co.uk 

Please note: this e-mail was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.

Why was I astonished?  I was and continue to be surprised that there is a commercial organisation that gives!  What does it give?  Proactive service. An apology. A refund. And all on the basis that a technical issue may have prevented me from watching the movie!

Once I got over my astonishment who was I left thinking-feeling?  Given that I had watched the movie without any problems, and Amazon had been generous, I found a strong urge to contact Amazon and ask them to take their money back. Why?  Because, I was brought up to repay good with good, generosity with generosity, considerateness with considerateness.  Then I read the bottom of the email and found I could not reply to the email.

What did I find myself doing within 24 hours of receiving this email? I found myself buying a book, that I had been meaning to buy and had not bought, for £9 and watching a movie that I had not been intending to watch (this week) for £3.49.

Why did I do this?  It occurred to me that I could not treat badly one who has treated me well. And as such I felt a pull to repay Amazon’s ‘goodness’ by repaying the £3.49, which I did by buying and watching a movie on the day of the email.

If the acid test of customer-centricity is putting the needs-interests of customers on par with the needs of the company then I am in no doubt that Amazon is customer-centric.  Is this enough to show up as Earth’s customer-centric company? No. To win that mantle it occurs to me that an organisation chooses to prosper only by doing right by customers.  That is how Amazon shows up for me this week.  I cannot imagine any other company (that I am doing business with) taking the stance that Amazon takes in relation to its customers.

For those who are cynics, I get that Amazon may have taken a pragmatic decision to provide the refund so as to reduce the number of calls (and/or emails) coming into the call-centres.  Even if this is the case, then the action that Amazon has taken is smart. So at the very least the folks at Amazon are smart in a way that also benefits customers.

In The Age Of Technology Do People Still Matter?

Why Not Replace People With Technology?

In the second half of the 90s I was involved in consulting in the area of shared services.  Being a sidekick I got to witness the sales pitch.  What was the sales pitch?  No human beings.  Everything in the back office was subject to business rules. The business rules could be codified, programmed and back office work could be automated.  No human necessary. Nirvana: 24/7/365 nirvana of efficiency guaranteed to deliver the same outcome each and every time.

Today, I notice the same love of technology as regards the front office: where the customer meets the enterprise.  In this age of technology do people still matter?  Do we need sales people given that content marketing will generate the interest, product demos can be put on the web, and the ‘inside sales’ people can take the orders?  Do we need to have any people in marketing given that big data will generate the insights, decision engines will contain the heuristics, market resource management systems will hold the marketing assets, and marketing automation will take care of the execution of marketing campaigns?  Do we need people in the call-centres taking calls given the extensive self-help that can be enabled through digital channels and every customer would prefer to interact via Twitter?  Do we need people in the stores? Why not rebuild the stores so that they resemble a combination of a website and a vending machine?

What Do These Two Women Say On The Matter?

Allow me to share a conversation that I overheard the other day between two women.  Before I do that let me set some context.  Waitrose is supermarket chain in the UK and it is owned by The John Lewis Partnership.  The John Lewis Partnership has been and continues to do well despite tough times for retailers. Tesco used to be the darling of the CRM press and used to be the dominant supermarket chain. It has not been doing so well since austerity hit.  Morrisons is the fourth largest chain of supermarkets in the UK.

As promised here is the gist of the conversation (between two women) that I overheard at the weekend:

Mrs A: “Waitrose is known for their great customer service and rightly so. It’s easy to find someone to help you. And when you ask for help in finding something, the Waitrose person walks you across the store and takes you right to the item you are looking for.  They are so helpful.”

Mrs B. “I was in Waitrose this week and wasn’t sure what ingredients I needed for eggs Benedict; I haven’t cooked them before. So I asked for help. The Waitrose man didn’t know either but he told me that he would find out. I saw him walk to one of his colleagues. Then he came back and told me what I needed and how to cook eggs Benedict. He was so helpful: he made my problem his own. That’s such good service.”

Mrs B. “The staff in Morrisons don’t walk with you to the item you are looking for. Yet, I always find them  warm, friendly and helpful.”

Mrs A. “I don’t like Tesco. It is hard to find people in the store to help you. And when you do find someone to help they tell you where you can find the item, point towards it, and then leave you to it. They don’t walk with you and show you where it is.  They don’t care – not at all like the Waitrose people.”

Mrs B. “I used to do all my shopping at Tesco. Then Tesco got greedy – pushing up prices and cutting down on the customer service. Now, I shop for the basics at Morrisons and the rest from Waitrose.”  

My Take On The Situation 

I’ll leave you decide whether people matter or not in the age of technology.  For myself, I am clear that humans are simply more at ease in dealing with other human beings. And there is no substitute for great customer service – the way that the folks in Waitrose (and John Lewis) stores interact with their customers, and amongst themselves.

Before you rush off to revamp your customer service remember that one ingredient does not a dish make.  A great dish always consist of the insightful application of a recipe – and the recipe requires a mix of ingredients, in the right measure, and sequence, cooked for just the right amount of time.  How does one generate such insight? Through experience: on the battlefield of life.  What is the recipe?  The business philosophy and organisational design: what matters, who matters, the operating principles, how conflict is handled, how rewards are shared, how people are structured into groups, and how interactions-relationships-differences-conflicts are handled…

Please note: I am not in the business of giving advice (in this blog). So you shouldn’t take anything in this blog as constituting advice. In this blog I find myself involved in sharing my thinking and experience.  That is all. Then you make of it what you make of it.

“Oh … milk!”: Is This The Solution To The Customer Interaction Puzzle?

What Occurred and the Experience of What Occurred

In the last post I shared with a customer interaction that took place at Starbucks. If you are to get value out of this conversation it is necessary for you to go and read that last post. Before we proceed, I feel compelled to issue a warning: this post is not for those whose attention span is limited to 30 seconds.

How are we to make sense of what occurred?  Let’s start with how the author (Anna Papachristos) makes sense of the interaction between her mother and the Starbuck’s barista

I’m not sure what was more baffling–the fact that no one in the coffee shop listened, or that they’ve become blissfully unaware of the basics. I understand that Starbucks stands as a status symbol more than anything, but have we really distanced ourselves from the simple things in life that badly? This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Making Sense of This Customer Interaction: Multiple Perspectives

Two people took up my invitation, in the last post, to put intellect-expertise into action and generate-share an explanation of what occurred.  First, lets listen to Gord Demers:

I can’t help but wonder if this could be an English as a Second Language (ESL) situation were one of the parties didn’t have English as their first language…… Maybe the music was too loud and the customer spoke softly and the employee never truly heard the correct order?

James Lawther shares a different take on what occurred:

My guess, though difficult as I wasn’t there…  The barista was bored out of her mind, waiting for her shift to end and was in a world of her own. How’s that?

Finally, lets just remind ourselves as to how Don Peppers choose to interpret this interaction:

Starbucks, like the roadside diner and any other business, tries to maintain quality and control costs by standardizing processes and operations. Routine tasks, if they can’t be automated, are at least handled in the same way by every employee.

My Take On What Occurred

It occurs to me another way to look at the situation and what occurred is to make use of the insights of two philosophers: Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

Wittgenstein on Language

Let’s start with Wittgenstein and his insight into language.  Wittgenstein starts his book, Philosophical Investigations, by sharing a quotation from St Augustine in order to put on the table our taken for granted understanding of language.  This is what Wittgenstein says about this account of language:

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language.  It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Wittgenstein does not see language in this way.  Wittgenstein sees words and language as tools.  What kind of tools?  Social tools for social purposes in specific domains of social life:

A common summary of his argument is that meaning is use—words are not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they are used……

He shows how, in each case, the meaning of the word presupposes our ability to use it….

Wittgenstein’s point is not that it is impossible to define “game”, but that we don’t have a definition, and we don’t need one, because even without the definition, we use the word successfully. Everybody understands what we mean when we talk about playing a game……

Wittgenstein argues that definitions emerge from what he termed “forms of life”, roughly the culture and society in which they are used. Wittgenstein stresses the social aspects of cognition; to see how language works for most cases, we have to see how it functions in a specific social situation. It is this emphasis on becoming attentive to the social backdrop against which language is rendered intelligible that explains Wittgenstein’s elliptical comment that “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”

Source: Wikipedia/Philosophical Investigations

Heidegger: human being as being-in-the-world

In grappling with the question of being Heidegger chooses to look at the being who has an understanding of being: human being.  In so looking, Heidegger asserts that a human being is a being-in-the-world. It is tempting to interpret this as meaning that the world is a container, say a glass, and the human being is in the world, as water is in a glass. Wrong!  A more accurate representation is to see a tapestry and a human being is one thread in the tapestry. Notice, there is not a thread isolated from the tapestry – the two are one!

Not only is a human being a being-in-the-world, it is also so that a human being is situated within specific worlds. What kind of ‘worlds’?  The world of academia.  The world of business. The world of politics. The world of education-schooling. The world of Christianity.  The world of Islam. The world of the high-tech start up. The VC world. The world of finance …… 

What constitutes a world?  A world consists of human beings, their concerns, roles, interactions between human beings, tasks and equipment (stuff). 

“Oh … milk!”: the solution to the riddle?

In our average everydayness what is closest to us is our environment (Umwelt) in which we are caught up in our concerns and activities.

- Heidegger

Situated in a world, busy with the concerns-activities-equipment, we approach each encounter from a particular understanding. What kind of understanding?  The automatic-default understanding of a particular world.  For example, in the world of dining at restaurants you automatically ask for the bill, pay, leave a tip. Do you do the same after enjoying a delicious meal at a friends house when you have been invited as a guest?  What would happen if you did ask your hostess for a bill? Or insist on paying for the meal?  

It occurs to me that the author (Anna Papachristos) committed the same kind of blunder (asking your host for a bill at the end of the meal) when the authors mother walked into Starbucks and asked for “Milk”.  In the world of Starbucks, the world of coffee and coffee drinkers, one does not walk into a Starbucks, stand in line, get to the barista and ask for milk.

The barista is in the world of coffee and in a dance with customers who show up and ask for a coffee. In this world the request for milk is puzzling. It is nonsensical in the sense that one cannot automatically make sense of it.  How does the barista make sense of it?  Probably by looking for the coffee word that sounds closest to milk: “Mocha?”  Notice, that the barista did not get milk until the authors mother said: “No. Two percent white milk.”. What was the barista’s response? “Oh … milk!” Finally, the barista has made sense of the nonsensical request for “milk”.

What makes me confident of my interpretation?  The author writes (the bolding is my work):

This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Yes, the barista was confused. She was as confused by the request for milk as a hostess would be by a guest’s request for a bill!

Let’s move on and consider why it is that even when the barista got the demand for milk, Starbucks delivered steamed milk and not cold milk:

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out.

Think back to Wittgenstein: the meaning of a word is the use to which it is put within a particular social world.  What is the meaning-use of the word ‘milk’ in Starbucks?  Milk that goes into coffee. What kind of milk is that? Steamed milk.  Put differently, in a game of chess ‘castle’ does not mean a castle as in a castle where a lord lives. Nor does castling in chess mean moving between castles in real life!

Why Have I Made Such An Effort With This Challenge?

Think research: how can you be sure that the question that you asked is the question that the customer answered?

Think Voice of the Customer feedback: how can you be sure that what you took the customer’s feedback to mean is what the customer meant?

Think requirements gathering: how can you be sure that you have understand the requirement that the customer is actual communicating?

Think experience design: how can you be sure that you have gotten the experience of the customer that you talking to, right now?

Lessons: 

To truly understand our fellow human beings we have to immerse ourselves in them. How? By living in their worlds. Which is why it takes a nurse to understand a nurse, a doctor to understand a doctor, a CEO to understand a CEO, a woman to understand a woman, a person with back pain to understand a person with back pain, an immigrant to understand an immigrant.

If you do want to understand another then learn from Undercover Boss.  Get out of your office.  Dive into a particular world by fulfilling a particular role in that world.  Dress for that role, train for that role. Dive into the activities that go with that role by actually doing the activities – not as a simulation but for real. And spend enough time, at least five days, living that role.

It takes a woman to understand a woman, a CEO to understand a CEO, an immigrant to understand an immigrant, a teenager to understand a teenager, a person with back pain to understand another person with back pain …….. How do you know when you have arrived at this level of understanding?  You live-breathe-speak the same language! And it speaks you.  Enough for today ..

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