Category Archives: CRM

Can You Improve The Customer Experience Without Spending A Fortune On Information Technology?

Does Customer Experience require information technology?  Allow me to rephrase this question, is it necessary to purchase-configure-operate an arsenal of information technologies to improve the Customer Experience?  Which is my way of asking, if it is necessary to turn Customer Experience as a business philosophy and/or value proposition into CRM: an information technology?

It occurs to me that it is mistake to collapse information technology and Customer Experience together – to make the kind of mistake that was made with CRM.  I say that your organisation can impact-improve the Customer Experience in many ways that do not require information technology.   Where is my proof? Let’s start with my recent experience.

Why Didn’t I Buy From Two Well Known Retail Brands?

I needed more trousers; my preference, some would call it addiction, is for Chinos. So my nephew drove me to a shopping centre outside of town. On his advice, I went to the first shop, found what I was looking for. And in the process I came across summer shorts. So with a handful of trousers and shorts I headed to the fitting rooms. Long queue. No movement for three minutes. No staff around to help out.  I put the goods back on the racks and left.

Onwards to the second retail brand, which just happened to be next to the first store. Within five minutes or less, I found myself exiting this story empty handed. Why?  One, they just didn’t stock trousers that fit me. Just about every trouser that caught my attention was regular length and regular is too short for me as I am tall and have long legs. Second, no staff members around to ask for help in finding longer length trousers. Third, the prices showed up as being too high; I remembered what I had paid for the Chinos I was wearing.

Why Did I Buy From The Gap Store?

Having had enough, I headed directly for the Gap store. Why? Because this is where I had purchased, some years ago, the Chinos I was wearing and happy with.  The store showed up as friendlier-easier as it was much smaller in size, I could clearly see two sales assistants, and they looked happy.  I spent over £150 pounds and walked out of the store with several Chino trousers and shorts.  Why did I end up buying from Gap?

  • They stocked the products that I was looking for – Chino trousers and a range of summer shorts;
  • I found the particular style I was looking for – Classic;
  • Each range of trousers came in a range of sizes including the size (34, 34) I was looking for;
  • I found it easy-quick to try on the trousers (and shorts) as there was no queue for the fitting rooms; and
  • The ‘checkout’ experience of paying for these items was quick-easy and delivered by a friendly sales assistant.

And there was a moment of delight. What delight? Upon checkout I found that I had been charged 30% less than I had expected to pay. Why so? Because Gap had a sales promotion that day and I had not noticed it as it had not been well signposted.

I draw your attention to this: no information technology was needed other than the POS till.  Gap ended up the winner simply because it did the basics of clothes retailing right: store design (size-layout-signposting), the right product, ability to trial the product, good customer service, and pricing that is in tune with product quality and customer expectations.

I also notice, that I have a stronger bond to Gap and Gap did not have to engage in any customer loyalty or outbound marketing programme to generate that bond. How has this strengthening of the bond come about? By stocking the kind of products that I am looking for, by asking the kind of price I am willing to pay, and by making it easy-pleasant to buy from them: not just once, but every time I have bought from them.

If Gap does want to do something other than get the basics right then here is my advice. Gap should consider storing my preferences in terms of the products that I have bought from them. And allow me to order those products from them. Why do I say that? Whilst I like their latest Chino trousers (the ones I brought from them recently) I prefer the ones that I bought several years ago.  The fact that those trousers are no longer available makes them that much more attractive to me. I wonder how many others are like me. If there are enough of us then there might be a market for listening to and catering to our needs. Back in the days when I was a consultant with Peppers & Rogers, we would put this idea into the mass customisation bucket.  This is where information technology would be useful, even essential, for improving the Customer Experience.

I wish you a great week, thanks for listening – your listening calls forth my speaking.  And if you have thoughts that which you wish to share then please engage in a conversation with me by commenting.

 

On Culture Change, Leadership and Change Management

CRM, Customer Experience, and Digital Business Require Culture Change

What I notice is that in order for an organisation to be effective in the games of CRM (building profitable relationships with customers), Customer Experience (competing on the basis of a superior customer experience) and/or digital business (rethinking the business through the lens of what digital technologies enable) require culture change: a change in the way that people think, in their expectations, and in the way that they go about doing things.

Yet, rather than deal with the challenges of culture change, I find that just about every management team in every organisation that I have come across gets busy with buying the technology. And thus ignores the risk spelled out in the following ‘equation’:

Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation

Why does this happen, again and again, one management fad after another?  I point you to these wise words:

It is easier to buy stuff than it is to create and stabilise new ways of relating, new frameworks for organising, and new expectations and norms. Those are the tough, messy issues that accompany shifts to more mindful, reliable, resilient functioning….

Karl Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Managing The Unexpected

What Is The Default Mode Of Going About The Challenge Of Culture Change and Doing Change Management?

This week I found myself in a meeting talking about culture and change management.  I found myself listening to one senior person articulating the challenge of getting his organisation especially senior management and the sales teams to move from one way of doing things to a substantially different way of doing things.  Yes, a shift in the “way we do things around here” is needed for the longer term. And yet there is an awkward reality to deal with. What awkward reality?  The existing “way of doing things around here” has been and continues to deliver the results (sales, revenue growth, profits).

Without a moment’s hesitation I found another senior person (an advisor) offering a solution to this challenge. Which solution? The solution that occurs to me as the default one: the application of “stick and carrots”. I noted that the particular emphasis was on the stick rather than the carrots.  The assumption being that if the Tops yielded a big enough stick then the Middles and Bottoms would fall into line.  I found myself dismayed. Why?

My 25+ years of experience suggests that this approach is largely ineffective and in some cases does considerable damage to the organisation’s long term resilience-performance. Why? I can think of at least two reasons:

First, change in behaviour is merely compliance. And repeated use of the stick to get compliance almost always, and inevitably, leads to a reduction of motivation to do one’s best. And usually an increase in motivation to ‘get back’ at or merely ‘resist’ those wielding the stick.

Second, the people who are the most able tend to leave (as few of us like to be treating as cattle) thus disrupting the network of relationships, degrading the quality of communication and information flow between the players, and putting a dent in the intellectual capital of the organisation.

One more point. It occurs to me that those of us who advocate the sticks and carrots approach to change have failed to appreciate that lasting-sound change requires change in two levels; change at the behavioural level is one of these levels.  I will go into what these two levels are and the critical importance of both levels in another post. Let’s continue with this conversation.

 What Does It Take To Effect Culture Change?

I invite you to consider-grapple with-meditate on the following way of looking at culture change:

The culture change process is a two-sided coin. On one side is the “bottom-up” phenomenon that many changes arise from those actually doing the work. On the other side is the “top-down” reality that changes in conducting business often get made by direction or sanction from top management. Both are essential …

Changing the organisational culture ….. will require commitment at every organisational level…. Culture change is not triggered by a magic bullet or directive. Rather, culture is changed by a series of small steps taken by the leading members of the culture at all levels.

Leadership is standing up and leading the way. It is behaviour and it is demonstrable. It is showing, not telling....

Changing the way business is conducted requires people at all levels to lead by personal example in demonstrating new approaches to achieve safer (and more reliable) operations……. This requires that we strengthen accountability at all levels of the organisation…..

- TriData Corporation, Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, Phase III Implementing Cultural Changes for Safety (1998)

At this point, I confront you with that which is so about us, human beings: our freedom. I leave you to choose which road you wish to travel: that which is convenient-easy and on the whole ineffective even damaging to long term performance (“sticks and carrots”) or that which is effective, takes time, requires embodied leadership day after day from the Tops, and calls forth leadership and accountability from all people at all levels: Tops, Middles, and Bottoms.

One thing that I am absolutely clear on is this: buying technology in the absence of cultural change (changing how we think about, what we expect from one another, and how we do things around here ) is likely to turn out to be a waste of time-effort-money.

I wish you a great week, and I thank you for your listening.

Why Have CRM, 1:1 Marketing, and Customer Experience Failed?

I am clear that CRM, 1:1 Marketing and Customer Experience have failed to deliver on the promises made by professors/academics, authors/gurus, consultants and technology vendors.  Why?  Given the choice between changing our way of showing up and operating in the world or changing our words, almost all of us get busy learning-speaking a new vocabulary.

I have been investigating the domains of ‘digital marketing’ and the  ‘marketing cloud’. In the process I have been listening to pitches made by marketing vendors.  All the relationship-experience centred buzzwords are there: customer experiences, digital experiences, the mobile experience, customer engagement, customer relationships, responsiveness to customers…..  Yet, to the listening of a skeptic like me, something lies hidden under this fine rhetoric.

If you dig underneath what is it that you might find?  You might find that the narrative comes down to the following:

  1. We will put at your disposal an advanced scalable platform where you can suck in anything and everything that you have or can purchase on your customers (and prospects) to give you a 360 view of your customers irrespective of any concern-respect for the privacy of your customers.

  2. We have great tools that allows you to set-up customer journeys and determine when you want to hit customers with your messages, and how often you want to hit them with these messages.

  3. You can use our advanced decisioning engine to figure out what ‘product’, what offer, what message to push at your customer. And If the customer doesn’t respond to that message then our engine will learn and use this learning to come up with a better-different-more attractive message.

  4. We will put at your disposal the ability to send your messages to your customers 24/7/365 through any and every digital interaction channel that your customer uses. So there is no escape. Wherever the customer is, you can invade his privacy, and message him/her.  And,

  5. By doing this you will drive up your marketing effectiveness, make more money for your organisation and live happily every after because you have the tools to make your customers buy, buy, buy – from you.

This is not technology enabled relationship building.  It shows up for me as direct marketing on steroids. It is the nightmare scenario that my coauthor and I envisaged back in 2001 when we were advocating and advising on 1:1 marketing.  It occurs to me that this is technology enabled stalking/harassment: it is the epitome of the business as usual (transactional) way of showing up and travelling in the world.

How is this best summed up?  Allow me to share these words of wisdom from David Maister:

What all these problems have in common is that firms are not only “in it for the money,” but they want the money now! As a result, they talk a good game about long term relationship building marketing efforts, the truth is that these efforts are never really executed well unless they deliver results immediately.

Here is my prediction:

  • marketers (and their IT advisors) will lap up the story being pushed by consultants and technology vendors;

  • only a subset of marketers will do what it takes to become competent at making this technology actually work;

  • those marketers who do figure out how to make this advanced technology actually work (or who use outside agencies with technology savvy) will bombard customers with messages; and

  • the novelty of this ‘seduction’ will wear off and customers will learn to tune out and/or work around the marketer’s arsenal.

I have been wrong. And I may turn out to be wrong again. What do you think?

 

Mazism 1: There Is Always A Price, It Is Always Paid!

The physical world in which we live is unforgiving

Which is to say that it works as it works, and pays no heeds to our needs-wants-desires-preferences. If you choose to jump from a tall building without a parachute or other safety tools, you will pay a price: death and/or seriously injury to yourself and possibly others.  If you choose to send a rocket into space then you must pay the price in terms of engineering talent, tools, equipment, fuel, time….

What about the organisational worlds in which we expend our lives?  

Are these organisational worlds forgiving as opposed to unforgiving? Do our beliefs-needs-wishes shape organisational worlds such that we do not have to pay a price for our choices-actions?

As I look back on my 25+ years of working in business, it occurs to me that the lived answer to the question is “Yes!”. Yes, we can take a course of action, hope for the best, and it will work out. Yes, if we exercise our intelligence-cunning we can escape paying the price.  Yes, the organisational/social world is unlike the physical world, we can seduce these worlds to bend to strategic intent, our plans, our desires-wishes.

Is this way of showing up and travelling in organisational worlds limited to the Bottoms. No. My lived experience suggests this way of showing up and travelling in the world is widely dispersed, almost ubiquitous, at all levels of the organisation: Tops, Middles, Bottoms. It occurs to me that whilst this may be accurate, it is not true. So what is true? My experience suggest that this mode of showing-up and travelling in the world is most intense-pervasive with the Tops and least so with the Bottoms who work at the coal face.

The Law of Life? There Is Always A Price And It Is Always Paid

Having spent some 25+ years at the coal face of organisational life, in particular working on all kinds of organisational change and business performance improvement initiatives, allow me to share with you that which I call the ‘Law of Life’:

There is ALWAYS a price. It is ALWAYS paid. We only get to choose whether we pay the price right up front, during the middle, or at the end.

Let me elaborate on this a little:

  1. Everything that exists, exists in relationship, hence interdependency is the fundamental characteristic of life. We recognise this interdependency when we talk about the system and systems thinking.

  2. At the level of the system there is always a price and the price is always paid.  It does not matter whether we want to pay the price or not. Nor the amount that we want to pay. The system determines the price. And the system extracts the price. Yet it is flexible on when the price is paid – it allows us some element of choice as to when we pay the price.

  3. We, the organisational actors who are an intrinsic part of the system, can choose to pay the price right up front, during the journey, or at the end of the journey.

  4. The wise-experienced-courageous tend on the whole to pay the price (demanded by the system) right up front (or as near to the front as practically possible) and thus forego all the additional pain-suffering that goes with paying the price during the middle or at the end.

What Does This Have To Do With Customers?

You may be asking yourself what does this have to do with Customers?  Allow me to answer this question by walking through a typical CRM or Customer Experience initiative.

I say that CRM and Customer Experience are a game of cooperation not technology.  What do I mean?  I mean the technology piece is the easy piece.  The real challenge is dealing with all the needs to be dealt with to call forth genuine cooperation from all the parts that have to cooperate for the dream of CRM and Customer Experience to bear the fruits that the gurus and academics promise so seductively.

So the price that needs to be paid is all that it takes to let go of history and co-create a promising future.  Allow me to illustrate the degree of challenge that I am thinking of when it comes to large organisations – the ones that I work with.  Think back to South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela. The challenge was that of dealing with division and creating co-operation. What did it take?  All that went with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: the practical aspects (budget, people, buildings, equipment, processes, technology…) and the human dimension (courage, vulnerability, openness, forgiveness…).

What is the default practice?  The default practice is not to pay the requisite price: not to get the people who need to be in the room in the room; not to openly talk about the elephants in the room; not to come up with an approach that works for all, none excluded.

When you choose not to pay the price upfront, there tends to be a lot more pain-suffering during the middle.  What happens?  Disagreements between the various actors on what the vision means in practical terms: objectives, priorities, roles and responsibilities, business processes, technology, metrics….. And it is possible to work through this phase usually through fiat and fear.  Some initiatives never make it through this phase.

Sooner or later you arrive at the end: implementation. If you haven’t paid the requisite price at the front end or during the middle then the system demands payment here at the end.  What form does this payment take? When it comes to CRM systems the price is the lack of adoption.  With regards to VoC systems and programmes the price is the failure of the people in the organisation to actually act, in any significant way, on the voice of the customer. In the realm of Customer Experience you find that the changes that you have made don’t have the kind of impact you expected them to have: happier customers, more repeat business, higher prices, higher revenues, higher profits….

What Does This Have To Do With Leadership?

It occurs to me that effective leadership is all about figuring out what the true price is, determining whether you have the means/willingness to pay the price, and paying the price right up front.  

Often the up front price is as simple as not following blindly (like sheep) the path that happens to be in fashion at that moment in time.  Or taking a courageous decision when it becomes clear that the path that you have embarked upon requires a much higher price that you are willing to pay.  It occurs to me that a great example of a courageous decision is that made by John Wren and Maurice Levy in calling off the Omnicom-Publicis merger.

 

 

 

Hall Of Shame: Bitdefender

What Does It Take To Be Given A Position In The Hall Of Shame?

What does it take to be given a position in my Hall Of Shame?  It takes more than averageness, indifference and/or mediocrity.  For those that show up this way, for me, I have created the Hall Of Mediocrity.  And I shall be inducting CapitalOne into the Hall of Mediocrity in a follow up post.

To be accorded a place in my Hall Of Shame, you have to show up as a ‘taker’: one focussed on furthering one’s interest at the expense of the customer without any consideration for ethics or just plain decency.  It occurs to me that a great exemplar of this way of showing up and travelling in the world is Bitdefender, the antivirus firm.

What has Bitdefender done to earn it’s place on the Hall of Shame?

On 20th February I got the latest email informing that my antivirus subscription was due for renewal. Noticing that the renewal date was in the next 10 days, I logged onto my account (via the website) in order to cancel the renewal of the two subscriptions.  Whilst I could see the details of both of my subscriptions, I was not able to cancel the renewal. Why not?  Clearly, to stop me (and other customers) from cancelling renewals easily thus ensuring that some subscriptions would be renewed automatically as some customers would not go to the trouble of calling Customer Services.

Looking around the Internet I managed to find the telephone number and called Bitdefender’s Customer Services team. I provided the details that allowed the call-centre agent (let’s call him Mathus) to log into my account and see my subscriptions. Then I told him about the renewal emails, my failed attempt to cancel renewal online, and asked him to cancel the renewals.  Mathus went into sales mode. I responded by saying that I was not interested in renewing and asked him to cancel the renewals.

Mathus asked me to hold on whilst he cancelled the renewals.  I kept hanging on for at least ten minutes (I was counting them) despite being tempted to hang up. Why? I got that this was a deliberate ploy: keeping customers hanging up long enough and some of them will hang up thus limiting the number of renewals that get cancelled.

When Mathus came back on the line and apologised for taking so long I called him on it. Like a naughty boy who is proud of what he is doing and gets caught cheating, Mathus laughed immediately.  Noticing some humanity present, I asked Mathus to do the decent thing, stop running me around, and just cancel the renewals.

Mathus told me that only the Sales team had the authorisation to cancel the automated renewals. So I asked to be put through to the Sales team. Mathus told me that he couldn’t do that and that he would raise a ticket to ensure that the Sales team would cancel the automated renewals. I asked Mathus to create the ticket there and then. He told me he had done it, so I asked him to email me the ticket number, when I got that email I hung up the phone.

What I wish to convey her is this: if I had been dealing with Amazon, I would have logged on to my account and cancelled my order within 1 to 3 minutes.  With Bitdefender I had spent at least 20 minutes only to get an email with a ticket number.  And that only because I had persisted and insisted.  Was this the end of the story? No.

On the 24th February I got an email from Bitdefender’s Support Team informing that I had an open ticket with them, that they had not heard back from me for a while, and that I should contact them in order for them to resolve my issue.

On the 25th February, I emailed the Bitdefender Support Team with the following message: “Please confirm that you have cancelled the automated renewal of the annual subscription. That is what I rang you about and asked you to do. The agent told me that could not do it as he did not have the rights. He told me that only Sales could do it. And he told me that he would set up a ticket to ensure that the cancellation took place.”

What happened?  Did the folks at Bitdefender cancel my automated renewal?

A few days later I got an email from Bitdefender informing me that my antivirus subscriptions had been renewed.

This automated email was followed, the next day, by an email from Mathus informing me that the automated renewals had been cancelled.

When I got my credit card statement I noticed that I had been billed two sums of £43.96 – double the amount if I had been allowed to cancel the automated renewals and buy the same product, online, from Bitdefender or another antivirus vendor.

 Summing Up

If Bitdefender had played fair and offered to renew the subscription at the market rate of £24 I would have renewed. And as such Bitdefender would have earned £48 (2 x £24) at zero marginal cost.

If Bitdefender had played fair and made it easy for me to cancel the automated renewal of the subscription via my account on the net, they would have not incurred any costs.

Clearly Bitdefender has some kind of CRM system in place. And yet this system has not forged a closer relationship between myself and Bitdefender.  That is the limit of all systems. A tool is merely a tool.  The effect that any tool has in the world is who uses it, how it is used, and most importantly why it is used.

What was once a sound business practice from a rational actor/value maximisation perspective is no longer such a sound practice. The transparency enabled by the internet and social media allows customers like me to point out ‘takers’ as ‘takers’ and thus enable those who do not wish to be taken, to stay well clear of ‘takers’. So unless you have a killer (must have) product and/or deep pockets, it is time to wake up and act decently towards all stakeholders – especially customers.

By acting purely in their selfish interests with no consideration for decency or ethics, Bitdefender have earned themselves this post.  In dealing with CapitalOne (credit card company that I use) I found myself writing this of Bitdefender:

“I am clear that Bitdefender is dishonest, manipulative, organisation intent on doing everything possible to stop it’s customers from exercising their right to cancel the renewal of subscription.”

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