Category Archives: Customer Insight (inc VoC)
On LinkedIn, Don Peppers is sharing his perspective on making better decisions with data. This got me thinking and I want to share with you what showed up for me. Why listen to my speaking? I do have a scientific background (BSc Applied Physics). I qualified as a chartered accountant and was involved in producing all kinds of reports for managers and saw what they did or did not do with them. More recently, I was the head of a data mining and predictive analytics practice. Let’s start.
Data and data driven decision-making tools are not enough
Yes, there is a data deluge, and this deluge is becoming down faster and faster. Big enough and fast enough to be given the catchy name Big Data. What is forgotten is the effort that it takes to get this data fit for the purpose of modelling. This is no easy-cheap task. Yet, it can be done if you throw enough resources at it.
Yes, there are all kinds of tools for finding patterns in this data. And in the hands of the right people (statistically trained-minded, business savvy) these tools can be used to turn data into valuable (actionable) insight. This is not as easy as it sounds. Why? Because there is shortage of these statistically trained and minded people: amateurs will not do, experts are necessary to distinguish between gold and fools gold – given enough data you can find just about any pattern. It statistical savvy is not enough you have to couple it with business savvy. Nonetheless, let’s assume that we can overcome this constraint.
The real challenge in generating data driven decision-making in businesses is the cultural practices. We do not have the cultural practices that create the space for data driven decision-making to show up and flourish. A thinker much smarter-wiser than me has already shared his wisdom, I invite you to listen:
On the whole, scientific methods are at least as important as any other research: for it is upon the insight into the method that the scientific spirit depends: and if these methods are lost, then all the results of science could not prevent a renewed triumph of superstition and nonsense.
Clever people may learn as much as they wish of the results of science – still one will always notice in their conversation, and especially in their hypotheses, that they lack the scientific spirit; they do not have the distinctive mistrust of the aberrations of thought which through long training are deeply rooted in the soul of every scientific person. They are content to find any hypothesis at all concerning some matter; then they are all fire and for it and think that is enough …….. If something is unexplained, the grow hot over the first notion that comes into their heads and looks like an explanation ….
- Nietzsche (Human, All Too Human)
It occurs to me that the scientific method never took route in organisational life. Put aside the rationalist ideology and take a good look at what goes in business including how decisions are made. I say you will find that Nietzsche penetrating insight into the human condition as true today as when he spoke it. The practice of making decisions in every organisation that I have ever come in contact with is not scientific: it does not follow the scientific method. On the contrary, managers make decisions that are in alignment with their intuition, their prejudices, and their self-interest. It is so rare to come across a manager (and organisation) that makes decisions using the scientific method that when this does occur I am stopped in my tracks. It is the same kind of unexpectedness as seeing a female streaker running across the football pitch in a league match.
What are the challenges in putting data driven decision-making practices into place in organisations?
Technologists have a gift. What gift? The gift of not understanding, deeply enough, the being of human beings. Lacking this understanding they can and do (confidently) stand up and preach the virtues-benefits of technology. If life were that simple.
Truth shows up as attractive to those of us who do not have to face the consequences of truth. Data driven decision-making sounds great for those of us selling (making a living and hoping to get rich) data driven tools and services.
The challenge of putting in place data driven decision-making practices is that it disturbs the status quo. When you disturb the status quo you go up against the powerful who benefit from that status quo. Remember Socrates:
The very nature of what Socrates did made him a disruptive and subversive influence. He was teaching people to question everything, and he was exposing the ignorance of individuals in power and authority. He became much loved but also much hated …. In the end the authorities arrested him for …., and not believing in the gods of the city. He was tried and condemned to die …
- Bryan Magee, Professor
Beware of being successful in putting in place a culture of data driven decision making!
With sufficient commitment and investment you can put in place a data driven decision making culture. Like the folks at Tesco did. And by making decisions through harnessing the data on your customers, your stores, your products, you can outdo all of your competitors, grow like crazy and make bumper profits. Again, again, and again. Then the day of reckoning comes – when you come face to face with the flaws of making decisions solely on the basis of data.
Tesco is not doing so great. It has not been doing so great for several years – including issuing its first ever profits alert in 2012. What is the latest situation? Tesco has reported a 23.5% drop in profits in the first half of this year. What has Tesco been doing to deal with the situation? This is what the article says:
Last year, Tesco announced it would be spending £1bn on improving its stores in the UK, investing in shop upgrades, product ranges, more staff, as well as its online offering.
There are a number of flaws on data driven decision making. For one data driven decision making assumes that the future will be a continuation of the past. Which is rather like saying all the swans that we have come across are white, so we should plan for white swans. And then, one day you find that the black swan shows up! The recession and the shift in consumer behaviour that resulted from this recession was the black swan for Tesco.
Furthermore, I hazard a guess that in their adoration at the pulpit of data driven decision making the folks at Tesco forgot the dimensions that matter but were not fed into the data and the predictive models. What dimensions? Like the customer’s experience of shopping at Tesco stores: not enough staff, unhappy staff, stores looking more and more dated by the day, the quality of their products ……
It looks like the folks at Tesco did not heed the sage words of one of my idols:
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.
What Is The Achilles Heel of Strategy?
My colleague and I put our whole selves into our work talking with folks in the business, listening to customer conversations, reviewing research, looking at competitors and trends, looking at various approaches, evaluating these approaches and coming up with optimal course of action for our client and our client’s customers.
To our delight the strategy was accepted-approved by management. A month or so later we got busy on implementation planning. It was during the implementation planning when hard decisions had to be made that the commitment to the digital strategy unravelled. Our clients got the value of pursuing the digital strategy and they found themselves in a particular situation which called forth and drove a different set of choice and actions.
This is the Achilles Heel of strategy, every executive finds himself in a particular situation. And every situation has its own ‘logic’ and a momentum. As such it really it takes something to alter course and make any significant headway. It takes resolve – fierce resolve, the kind of resolve that grabs you and keeps hold of you. It is not the kind of resolve that is created through the intellect.
Why Don’t We Do What We Know We Should Do?
Have you wondered why your organisation sucks at being authentically customer-centric: practicing relationship marketing, client centred selling, pleasing customer service? Have you wondered why it is that your organisation sucks at calling forth the best from your people?
Now and then someone speaks and their speaking is wisdom. Today, I share with you the wisdom of David Maister as articulated in his great book ‘Strategy and the Fat Smoker‘:
“In business, strategic plans are also stuffed with familiar goals: build client relationships, act like team players, and provide fulfilling motivating careers. We want the benefits of these things. We know what to do, we know why we should do it, and we know how to do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don’t do what’s good for them….
The primary reason we do not work at behaviours which we know we need to improve is that the rewards … are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get their are immediate…..
Our default pattern and why it doesn’t work
When it comes to improving performance at the individual, team or organisational level we tend to follow a self-defeating pattern. I have seen this pattern played out again and again over the last 10+ years as organisations have grappled with relationship marketing, CRM, customer experience, employee engagement, digital. Here’s what David Maister says:
We start self-improvement programs with good intentions, but if they don’t pay off immediately, or if a temptation to depart from the program arises, we abandon our efforts completely – until the next time we pretend to be on the program.
That’s our pattern. Try a little, succumb to temptation, and give up. Repeat until totally frustrated. Unfortunately, there is rarely, if ever, a benefit from dabbling or trying only a little. You can’t get half the benefits of a better marriage by cutting out half your affairs, cure half the problems of alcoholism by cutting out half the drinks or reduce the risks of lung cancer by cutting out half the cigarettes.
You can’t achieve competitive differentiation through things you do “reasonably well most of the time.” You not only cannot dabble, but you also cannot have short-term strategies ….. The pursuit of short-term goals is inherently anti-strategic and self-defeating.
You are either seriously on the program, really living what you have chosen, or you are wasting your time.
Why strategic analysis and listening to customers is not the answer
I worked in an organisation which expended considerably time-effort-cost in doing NPS quarterly. We had access to the voice of the customer. And the voice tended to speak the same tune quarter after quarter. Why? Because the people in the organisation were not willing to change behaviour in any significant way.
Is it possible that setting up VoC listening programs are a ruse? A way of saying to yourself and others that you are serious about improving the customer experience so that you hide your unwillingness to change your behaviour, the behaviour of your team, your organisation? What does David Maister say?
Improving the quality of the analysis is not where the problem lies. The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.
What are the essential questions of strategy?
If we know the why-what-how of employee engagement, meaningful customer relationships, and customer loyalty then what are the strategic question? Here’s what David Maister says:
The essential questions of strategy are these:
 Which of our habits are we really prepared to change, permanently and forever?
 Which lifestyle changes are we really prepared to make?
 What issues are we really ready to tackle?
Now that’s a different tone of conversation and discussion (and the reason that real debate is so often avoided).
What am I getting at here?
To come up with products that enrich the lives of customers requires resolve, analysis is insufficient. To create-deliver truly personalised-relevent marketing requires resolve, analysis and marketing technology are insufficient. To call forth the kind of service that generates gratitude from customers and makes them feel good about doing business with your organisation requires resolve, analysis-outsourcing-technology are insufficient. To orchestrate an end to end customer experience that calls forth customer loyalty requires formidable resolve, VoC and customer journey mapping are insufficient. Put different, dabbling won’t do; it occurs to me that most are merely dabbling.
I say, it is worth listening to David Maister once more:
There is no shame in aiming for competence if you are unwilling to pay the price for excellence. But don’t try to mislead clients, staff, colleagues or yourself with time-wasting, demoralising attempts to convince them that you are actually committed to pursuing the goal.
Relax, it’s ok to be just ok
As I get present to the world of business as it is and as it is not, I get present to the following and contradicts all the evangelising about customer focus, customer service, customer experience, customer relationships and customer-centricity:
1. Almost all businesses are unexceptional. They provide ok products (that do the job well enough). They provide OK digital real estate (websites, social media, apps, mobile). They provide OK stores. They hire OK people. They provide OK customer service – whether in stores or via the call-centres. And they generate an OK end to end customer experience, by default. As a result they do OK – they survive and make OK profits.
2. It is only against this background of OKness that the exceptional can and does show up. It is because almost all banks and insurance companies are ok that USAA glow so brig and htly. It is because most digital retailers are OK that Amazon shines brightly. It is because most high street retailers are OK that John Lewis and Waitrose (part of the John Lewis Partnership) shine brightly. It is because most organisations provide OK customer service that Zappos and Zane’s Cycles shine brightly.
Are the Tops are the biggest obstacle to your organisation becoming a “Customer Company”?
Some of you have questioned my emphasis on the Tops and their critical importance to any successful shift towards your organisation becoming a “Customer Company”. Some of you have asked me why it is that I have focussed on the Tops and not the Middles and the Bottoms. The answer is twofold.
First, there is the fact that every system has certain points that have much higher leverage than others. Isn’t that what we are looking for when we map the customer journey, assess the customer experience, and look for the “moments of truth” – the interactions that really matter and leave customers happy or unhappy, promoters or detractors? Ask yourself who you would approach and seek to convince/persuade if you wanted to trigger major organisational change. Would you approach the sales rep or the call-centre agent or would you approach one or more people in the C-suite?
Second, there is my 20+ years of experience at the coal-face of organisational change and business performance improvement in its many disguises. Yes, the Middles and Bottoms have some capacity to resist/impede change initiated by the Tops. What is missed is that they rarely have the capacity to initiate major organisational change nor to bring it to an end abruptly. This capacity, this power, lies with the Tops.
Never underestimate the Tops addiction to control and the fear of losing it!
Allow me to share a real life example with you. This example is provided by Judith E. Glaser in her book Creating We. In this book she shares the story of a weight loss company and its shift toward customer-centricity. Here is an abridged version of her story:
Major change – or transformation – usually involves a huge shift in power that takes place across a company. In the 1990s, a weight-loss company was experiencing customer defection at a high rate….
Customers were defecting from their programs and, worse than that, they were telling other potential customers that the company was awful…… The company was getting a bad reputation for high cost/low value…..
The company leaders didn’t believe how serious the situation was. They felt that Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig were no match for their billion dollar powerhouse. But they were wrong and the feedback proved it.
……. we did extensive customer research, as well as franchise research among their 4,500 sales consultants, and discovered that the hard-sell style did indeed cause customers to rebel at some point and to spread the word that the company was insensitive, pushy and only out for money.
….. we engaged hundreds of internal consultants and totally revamped the sales approach, and, most of all, its relationship to its customer. The company changed its value proposition ……. we created a sales-training process to teach everyone how to be sensitive to customers, to talk and partner with them……. the program was called “Partnership Selling”….
Customers loved the new approach, and sales consultants did, too. Interestingly, however, the new approach created great problems for the leadership team.
The previous hard-sell approach…… enabled the company to track each sales consultant’s every move. Each was trained to memorize a sales script and not divert from it….. This highly structured, predictable, customer insensitive approach enabled them as a company to track what everyone did and said down to the last word, giving the company control of every customer interaction. They rewarded sales consultants for getting the pitch perfect…….
The new customer-focused process reduced the control of the corporate headquarters and increased control for the sales consultants to manage the “customer experience”. Corporate went along with the new approach for a short while, maybe six months, then retracted the whole value proposition, for fear they were losing control. Corporate were unable to ensure that everyone followed the same process. They therefore were unable to reward the best sales consultants for following the script…… Their focus was totally internal and control-based.
…. during this time, the former president returned to run the company. He favoured the canned controlled interaction with customers and reinstated the old approach to selling. The hard sell returned and the customers left……
During the process, they were hell-bent on reinforcing their own way of doing business, dominating the customer and the sales organisation, and being in total control. After they went out of business, a few of the executives realised they had authored their own demise.
They executives were at the edge of new insights. They were taking the coaching and doing well. Then their insecurities kicked in, the fear of losing control returned, and they went back to square one. They could not leave their Comfort Zone of doing things the way they’d always been done. The only WE they could see was the familiar WE of their fellow senior executives, not the inclusive WE of the enterprise as a whole, and certainly not the WE of the customers.
When organisations are faced with change, fear often causes them freeze and hold on to the current way of doing things, even if its not working…..
Unhealthy cells stop taking nourishment from outside, stop taking feedback, and defend their position; and the president responded the same way. He stopped listening to the marketplace, to the customer, and defended his point of view; he was not open to feedback or to new ways of thinking. People had to please the boss, and they did.
From CRM to CEM: is it as easy as it sounds?
With CRM’ organisations took an’ inside-out’ approach to doing business with customers, though I doubt they knew that is what they were doing when they were doing it. When this didn’t work out as planned, some shifted to advocating an ‘outside-in’ approach and called it Customer Experience Management. I get that when it comes to writing or talking it is easy to shift from ‘inside-out’ to ‘outside-in’. What is it like in practice? What does it take to truly see the world through the eyes of our customers?
My experience is that really takes something to see the world through the eyes of another. My experience is that it is a huge ask to experience the world as another experiences it. My experience is that it is all to easy to be persuade oneself that one has shifted from an ‘inside-out’ view to an ‘outside-in’ view and yet be firmly stuck in an ‘inside-out’ view.
Aravind Eye Hospital: where ‘free’ costs 100 rupees!
What does it really take to see the world through the eyes of our customers? Allow me to share this example which I came across in a wonderful book, which I throughly recommend reading, called Infinite Vision:
While giving away free services might appear to be easy, Aravind’s experience proved to the contrary. “In the early days, we didn’t know better,”……”We would go to the villages, screen patients, and tell those who needed surgery to come to the hospital for free treatment. Some showed up, but a lot of them did not. It was really puzzling to us. Why would someone turn down the chance to see again?” Fear, superstition, and cultural indifference can all be very real barriers to accessing medical care, but Aravind’s leaders were convinced that there was more to it than that. After a few more years and several ineffective pilots of door-to-door counseling, they arrived at the crux of the issue. “Enlightenment came when we talked to a blind beggar,”….. When pressed on why he had not shown up to have his sight restored, the man replied, “You told me to come to the hospital. To do that, I would have to pay bus fare then find money for food and medicines. Your ‘free’ surgery costs me 100 rupees.”
…….. The research found that transport and sustenance costs, along with lost wages for oneself and accompanying family member, were daunting consideration for the rural patient. Aravind learned a valuable lesson: just because people need something you are offering for free, it does not mean they will take you up on it. You have to make it viable for them to access your service in the context of their realities.
Aravind Eye Hospital: it is not enough to see the world through customer eyes, you have to be moved to act
So that is the first step, genuinely seeing the world through the context of the lives of your customers. And it is makes no difference at all unless your organisations acts on what it has learnt. What did the folks at Aravind do? Let’s read some more from the book:
So Aravind retrofitted its outreach services to address the chief barriers. In addition to the free screening at the eye camps, patients were given a free ride to one of its base hospitals, where they received surgery, accommodation, food, postoperative medication, return transport, and a follow up visit in their village, all free of charge……
What difference did this make? Once more from the book:
“Once we did that, of course, our expenses went up,”…… “But more importantly, our acceptance rate for surgery went up from roughly 5 percent to about 80 percent.” For an organisation aspiring to rid the world of needless blindness, this was tremendously significant….
Aravind: two things are critical
What do the folks at Aravind say about this experience of theirs? Let’s listen and learn:
“In hindsight, we found two things are critical,”…..”You have to focus on the nonuser, and you have to passionately own the problem. You can address the barriers only when you own, not shift, the problems.” Paradoxically, that mindset led to what is perhaps the most collaborative outreach system the world of eye care has ever seen.
How does your organisation measure up? Do you really get how your organisation, your offer, shows up for your prospects? Do you really get how your customers experience your organisation across the customer journey? Is your leadership committed to doing what it takes to make it easy for prospects to buy from you? And for customers to keep doing business with you? Is your organisation up for passionately owning the problem or is it designed to hide and/or shift the problems on to customers and others?