Category Archives: Customer Experience
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:
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.
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.
Does The Concept Of Integrity Apply Only To Non-Human Systems?
This post continues the conversation (blog and comments) that started with the following blog post: Revisiting Integrity: Why Do All Human Systems Lack Integrity?
To summarise, I say that integrity in the sense of whole and complete (unity between word and action, between the ‘parts’ and the whole) is essential to workability and performance of all systems including human systems. If you want to get a sufficient understanding of Integrity as I am speaking it then it is essential to read this post: Integrity, Leadership, Communication and Performance – The Most valuable Post You Will Read This Year?
Max J. Pucher disagrees. He says that ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation and does not apply to human systems:
“Maz, I propose that it is not allowable to use a physical system concept of integrity (whole-complete) for human systems. Physical systems such as a car have a well-defined function/output and therefore integrity is defined to perform as designed. Human systems have no such function and the output is purely based in individual perception. Therefore ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation from a single human perspective and will most likely not agree with many others….”
As I promised Max, I have been thinking about his assertion. And now I share with you what showed up for me. I find that Max’s view is commonplace, I came across it just today. And I find myself in disagreement. Allow me to share with you that which shows up for me as I get to grips with the coal face of human existence.
What Does The World Of Aviation Disclose Regarding The Integrity of Human Systems?
Let’s consider NASA’s shuttle program. Yes, this program involves amazing technology-equipment. Who produces this technology? Who configures it? Who works it? Who addresses issues with it? Human beings. OK, the equipment is ready, in place. Is that all it takes to take a number of human beings, put them in space, keep them there, and then bring them safely back home? No! It requires a large number of people, in different roles, of different temperaments, of different genders, of different ages to work together as one. What do I mean by one? I mean integrity as in being ‘whole-complete’ at the level of the system they constitute. Which is why there has only been one disaster to date.
Why did this disaster occur? Because the integrity (wholeness-completeness) of the system was compromised. Some ‘parts’ (people) did know of the issue and the associated risk. Some ‘parts’ (people) escalated the known issue. Other powerful-dominating ‘parts’ of the system choose to ignore the voices-concerns of these ‘parts’. And, they also choose not to care for the needs of other ‘parts’ (astronauts) to return safely to Earth.
This is my point. Where there has been a focus and commitment to integrity (wholeness-completeness of the system) the shuttles have launched and returned safely. When integrity was sacrificed, disaster struck, the astronauts died.
Now consider the world of air travel. Don’t the passengers count on the integrity of the system? Don’t they count on people to make sure that the airplanes are safe to fly? Don’t they count on people to ensure that the airplanes have the right fuel – type and quantity? Don’t they count on the pilots to be competent and fit to fly the plane? Now look behind the scenes, what else has to be in place? How about the air traffic controllers – on both sides of the trip? You get the idea: all of these ‘parts’ have to work together for air travel to exist as it does. And the system works. It is rare for the system not to work, for a crash to occur. And when it does, an investigation occurs, lessons are learned, sanctions applied where necessary, new operating policies and practices put in place.
Notice, that the pilot of an airliner that crashed and killed passengers would not get away with pleading “Your honour, I am only a human being. You can’t expect me to follow the rules, each and every flight, regarding how much I drink before boarding the plane and taking the helm.” No, if he was found guilt of breaking the rules, he would go to jail. Notice, no party that is essential to the game of ‘safe air travel’ would get away with shirking its role and responsibility. Why? It is simply not acceptable to compromise the integrity of the system. And if there are ‘flaws’ in human beings, in themselves, then the designers of the system are charged with coming up with the means to address the ‘flaws’ through checklists, equipment, technology….
Why Does The Lack Of Integrity In Human Systems Persist?
Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we do not get the impact of the loss of integrity on the workability and performance of a system. And I find myself to be in agreement.
Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we misunderstand integrity. We make integrity to be ALL about morality: right and wrong according to the moral norms of the group/s we find ourselves living amongst. And in so doing, we are not present to integrity as the fundamental basis of workability and performance: integrity as a state/condition of a system – state of being whole-complete, a unity. I find myself in agreement.
It occurs to me that there is an even bigger-deeper, more fundamental, cause for this lack of integrity in human systems. What is this cause? Max provides a clue when he says it is not allowable to use the concept of integrity (as the condition of wholeness-completeness) for human systems. It occurs to me that when it comes to integrity and human systems, we accept and are comfortable with defeat before we even start. What do I mean? Allow me to share an extract from another blog post ‘The Myth of Scarcity: That’s Just The Way It Is’:
“That’s just the way it is is just another myth, but it’s probably the one with the most grip, because you can always make a case for it. When something has always been a certain way, and traditions, assumptions, or habits make it resistant to change then it seems logical …. that the way it is is the way it will stay. This is when the blindness, the numbness, the trance, and, underneath it all, the resignation of scarcity sets in. Resignation makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and cynical. Resignation also keeps us in line…….
That’s just the way it is justifies the greed, the prejudice and inaction that scarcity fosters in our relationship with money and the rest of the human race…”
- Lynne Twist
What Does It Take To Call Forth Integrity From Human Systems?
If we are the ones that defeat ourselves when it comes to calling forth integrity from human systems, then the answer to this question lies in us: specifically, in our collective way of being/showing-up in the world. Let’s listen to the wise words of Lynne Twist once more:
We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t away it is or a way it isn’t. There’s the way we choose to act and what we choose to make or our circumstance.”
- Lynne Twist
Consider air travel. Would there be any air travel if all of us had simply accepted that man is not meant to fly on the basis that if he was meant to fly then he would have been given wings. Everything starts with one or more of us being called forth and stepping into a possibility. The possibility of integrity in human systems is a real one. Will you and I embrace and embody that possibility? Will your team embrace-embody that possibility? Will your organisation embrace-embody that possibility?
Why Pay Any Attention To The Integrity of Systems: Human, Mechanical and Hybrid?
I invite you to consider that your customers are painfully aware of where your organisation is not in a state of integrity. Why? Because customers experience the effects of this lack of integrity: promises made in marketing-sales but not kept by the product itself; being passed around from one person to another, one team to another, and having to go through the same dance all over again; promises made by one part of the organisation and not honoured by the others part/s…. I say that if you want to play the joined up game of Customer Experience then you have to work on the integrity of the ‘system’ – the whole organisation including all the key partners whose performance impacts the end customer and shapes her experience.
Finally, I invite you to not kid yourself. You cannot claim to be 90% pregnant and get away with it. Why not? Because you either are pregnant or you are not pregnant. The same is the case for integrity: either the system in question (e.g. the organisation) is in a state of integrity or it is not.
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.