Category Archives: Customer Insight (inc VoC)
Customers-Employees-Leadership: Distinguishing Between ‘Caring About’ And ‘Caring For’- And Why It Matters
Given that I find myself in the week of Christmas, it occurs to me that today is a great time to diving into caring. And in particular, I wish to make/introduce a distinction. Which distinction? I wish to distinguish between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’. Let’s start with the realm of Customer.
Caring About Customers v Caring For The Customer
I am clear that folks in business care about customers. Specifically, they care about:
- Figuring out what makes customers tick – by ‘listening’ to customers through market research, social listening, ethnography, and voice of the customer surveying;
- Getting more customers – turning prospects into customers by pushing out the right message, right offer, at the right time and through the right communication channel;
- Keeping more of their existing customers buying from them for longer – through a range of techniques including making it easier for customers to do business with the organisation (reducing effort, improving access, improving the customer experience) and through targeted incentives (promotions, discounts, loyalty points);
- Selling a wider range of ‘products’ to existing customers – by turning customer data into insight through the use of data mining and predictive analytics or just plain collaborative filtering;
- Moving existing customers from lower margin ‘products’ to higher margin customers – through the use of range of techniques and tactics;
- Winning back folks that used to be customers – usually through some kind of enticing promotion, discount or, rarely, a new/compelling ‘product'; and
- Servicing customers in a smart manner – by using the right combination (digital, telephone) of customer service channels.
Now, let’s turn our attention to caring for the customer. Let’s start with the basic question, who (specifically) cares for the customer? Let’s make this even more specific, who cares for me? As a customer, I deal with many companies and I am clear that there is not one company/organisation that cares for me. Not one! I, as a flesh and blood human being, do not show up on the organisational radar. Does anyone in an organisation ever care for me in a business context? When I interact with the organisations that I interact with do I get left with the feeling-experience of being cared for by an organisation? The answer is: No!
Are there any occasions where I, as a customer, feel cared for? Yes. When do I experience this kind of experience? When I encounter a Welcomer. What is a Welcomer? For me a Welcomer is a human being who, in his being, welcomes me as a fellow human being. S/he going beyond the formalised rituals of business and organisational life, beyond the scripts, beyond the transaction, and reaches out to me as one human being to another. I know when this is going on because I notice and experience the English reserve breaking down. There is breaking down of boundaries, whilst still respecting boundary. There tends to be mutual disclosure of the human kind: sharing occurs. And there tends to be smiling, even laughter. As a result of these kind of encounters, I find myself uplifted, smiling, grateful and with a sense of pride in being a member of the human race. These kind of encounters leave me with hope, with optimism in my footsteps.
I invite you to consider that there is a world of difference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer. Notice the difference: in the realm of ‘caring about’ we are dealing with customers whereas in the realm of ‘caring for’ we are in the realm of the individual customer – that one human being. There is a vast difference. And it occurs to me that the folks who talk about, evangelise about, preach out all things Customer are not present to this critical distinction.
Does this indifference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer matter? I say it matters – it matters to each customer. You see this is the deepest and most radical meaning of personalisation – speaking to the person of that one person (the customer). I invite you to listen to the following words:
The general obsession with observing only historical or sociological movements, and not a particular human being …. is as mistaken as a doctor who does not take an interest in a particular case. Every particular case is an experience that can be valuable to the understanding of the illness…….
….. this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.
As soon as you speak in psychological terms ….. people act as if you had a lack of interest in the wider currents of the history of man. In other words, they feel able to study masses and consider this more virtuous, assign of a vaster concept than relating to one person. This makes them …. inadequate in relationships, in friendships, in psychological understanding.
- Anias Nin
I invite you to consider that the strongest bonds, usually called loyalty, occurs where one human being experiences himself cared for (as a unique human being) by another human being. Is it then any surprise that despite the talk of customer loyalty, and all the customer loyalty programmes and tactics, there is so little loyalty between customers and brands.
Caring About Employees v Caring For The Employee
Sure, organisations ‘care about’ employees. It is the employees who do the work – the work that creates value for the the customer. The work that ends up generating revenue and profits. So I find that organisations care a great deal about their employees including but not limited to:
- Attracting the right people to become employees of the organisation;
- Keeping the most valuable employees;
- Getting more out of their existing employees (productivity, collaboration, teamwork, ideas..);
- Ranking employees for performance management purposes;
- Minimising the costs associated with recruiting, retaining, managing, controlling employees.
Now, who in your organisation actually cares for that individual flesh+blood human being to whom you have given the label employee, and, thus deprived him/her of personhood and turned him/her into a category? Let me ask this question differently, as an employee do I feel cared for? Who do I feel cares for me in this organisation in which I find myself employed?
I invite you to consider that there is world of difference between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person to whom you have given the label employee. Does this difference matter? Of course it matters! Until this difference is recognised and acted up organisations will continue to grapple with the challenge of ‘employee engagement’. Why should I engage with you and your organisation when I do not feel myself cared for – as a unique human being?
What Has This To Do With Leadership?
I invite you to consider that this distinction between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person whether under the label ‘customer’ or the label ‘employee’ can be used to distinguish between management and leadership. Leaders must dwell in the human real, the personal realm: ‘caring for’ the person. Here I share the following wise words with you:
My lack of faith in the men who lead us is that they do not recognize the irrational in men, they have no insight, and whoever does not recognize the personal, individual drama of man cannot lead them.
- Anais Nin
Something to Consider And Play For At Christmas?
As you head into Christmas and the festivities where hopefully you will be in amidst people who are family and friends, I invite you to be present to the distinction between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ the folks that you will be meeting up with and celebrating Christmas with. It occurs to me that making the shift from ‘caring about’ the folks you find yourself with, to ‘caring for’ each person that is there will transform your (and their) experience of Christmas.
If you play this ‘game’ you might just find that ‘caring about’ is easy, ‘caring for’ is really difficult. This might just explain why it is that all the folks who speak Customer and Employee make ‘caring about’ masquerade as ‘caring for’. The interesting thing is that whilst we can hoodwink ourselves in the management suite, our customers and our employees are not hoodwinked that easily: they experience and detect the difference between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ – which is why they are not loyal to us and rightly so.
Why is it that I prefer not to business with a customer-centric business? Allow me to share my answer by referring to the UK grocery market. Which supermarket chain was applauded, by many, for its customer-centred way of doing business? Tesco. What was held responsible for fuelling this customer-centred way of doing business? The Tesco Club Card. Through this loyalty card, Tesco captured and made effective use of customer shopping data to grow revenues and optimise profits. In the process Tesco came from nowhere to became the world’s second largest retailer.
Where is Tesco today? Here is what The Economist said back in July 2014:
… on July 21st Tesco abruptly announced that Mr Clarke would be leaving his job, apparently prompted by a warning that profits in the first half of 2014 would come in “below expectations”. In June Tesco revealed a drop in same-store sales that Mr Clarke admitted was the retailer’s worst performance in 40 years….
Recession taught middle-class shoppers that discounters like Aldi and Lidl were cheap but not nasty; they spent some of the money they saved at higher-end grocers, such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer……
Tesco is faring badly. Its sales dropped by nearly 2% in the year to June while those of its closest rivals, Asda (which is owned by Walmart) and Sainsbury’s, rose by 3% or better. Despite his exertions, Mr Clarke failed to persuade consumers that Tesco offers better value than the discounters or quality to match the upmarket merchants.
Is this as bad as it gets? No. Here is what the Guardian newspaper stated in on the 22nd of September this year:
Tesco has suspended the head of its UK business and called in independent accountants and lawyers to investigate after discovering that its guidance to the City overstated expected first-half profits by about £250m….
Tesco shares fell almost 8% on Monday morning to an 11-year low of 212p, making them the biggest faller in the FTSE 100 index and wiping £1.5bn off the retailer’s market value. More than £6bn has been wiped off share value since 21 July, when the previous chief executive, Phil Clark, was ousted.
Why is it that Tesco is in such deep trouble? I say that Tesco has arrived at where it is at due to its customer-centric way of doing business. What do I mean by this? I mean that the Tops got fixated into harnessing the data yielded by the Club Card to get customers to part with more of their money in Tesco stores.
Was this done by offering customers superior products as in higher quality products? No. The products were middle of the road yet ways were found of selling these at higher prices through clever marketing and merchandising.
Was this done by providing superior customer service in the stores? No. Tesco cut back on the number of people working in the stores so it was not unusual for the customer to find that there was nobody around to help when help was needed or find long queues at the checkout tills.
Was this done through a superior shopping experience? No. Management chose not to invest in the stores or the shopping experience in the stores. As a result the stores become less and less attractive over time.
I prefer not to do business with a customer-centric business because the management of such a business is more likely to be focussed on extracting value from their customer base through a variety of clever manoeuvres than earning its keep through superior products (Apple, Waitrose), superior service (John Lewis, Zappos), low prices (Lidl, Aldi), or a combination of service and low price (Amazon).
If you are a customer and your supplier is touting customer-obsession then you might want to think about whether that is a good thing. Is the obsession with providing you with a superior product, superior value, and/or experience? Or is it an obsession with with finding clever ways of getting you to buy more, pay more for what you buy, and get less in return? You might want to keep in mind that which many remind me of: business is not altruistic.
Recap: Where We Are At
If you took part in the previous conversation you will have a good grasp of the work context that led to the receptionists running to-fro from the front desks to the problem rooms, seeking to keep rooms in reserve so that they were in a position to placate angry customers by moving them to a different-better room, and using their newly acquired guest engagement skills to negotiate with customers – offering them refunds, room rate reductions and/or vouchers.
What Is The Core Challenge Here?
So I ask you what needs to happen for InterLodge to generate its desired outcomes: higher occupancy rates, higher price points per room, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and ultimately a higher share price? Let’s make this question simpler, what is the challenge here? Have a go, formulate an answer to that question.
Isn’t the challenge to shift the work context so that it calls forth, naturally and by default, the kind of behaviour that will result in guest rooms being fit for guests, leading to happy customers, leading to less rooms being kept aside by receptionists and no need for the receptionists to offer discounts-refunds on the room rates?
Now look further-deeper, go into the heart of the matter. Venture into territory that few venture into: think! Keep peeling the onion.
What is the core challenge when it comes to doing that which needs to be done in order to craft-deliver the kind of customer experience (end to end) that causes happy customers? Isn’t it cooperation? Cooperation between all the organisational actors who directly-indirectly influence the customer experience. Is it not your experience that the bigger the organisation, the higher the importance of cooperation, and the lower the likelihood of finding genuine cooperation?
What Steps Did InterLodge Take To Shift-Shape The Work Context?
According to the authors of the Six Simple Rules, InterLodge took the following three steps:
- Did away with the organisational elements that were useless and/or counterproductive. For example, they did away with the financial incentives which were supposed to motivate the receptionists to improve room occupancy. And they stopped the soft skills “guest engagement” training program.
Made managerial promotion dependent on having worked in multiple functions. Why? To encourage and ensure that managers had a lived-experiential understanding of the work of each function and how it related to the work of other functions.
Changed the work context so that cooperation was called forth between Housekeeping, Maintenance and the Front Desk (receptionists).
Let’s dive into point 3 shifting the work context to cause cooperation as the default behaviour. Imagine that is your challenge. What specific action/s would you take to shift the work context and call forth cooperation between Housekeeping, Maintenance, and the Front Desk (receptionists)?
What Actions Did InterLodge Take To Generate Cooperation Between The Multiple Actors?
Before I share the answer with you, I invite you to listen to the authors of Six Simple Rules:
Their [receptionists] work put them in the closest contact with customers, and they were the most directly penalised when customers were unhappy. They had an interest in cooperation but had not way to influence the behaviour of other groups – specifically, the housekeeping and maintenance staff.
So the clue is there: find a way to directly expose the housekeepers and maintenance staff to the wrath of unhappy customer/s. Did management pursue this option? No. Why? Because the did not find a practical way to expose these folks to the wrath of the customer. The customer was most likely to be angry in the evening when s/her checked into or returned to her room. And this is exactly when the housekeepers and maintenance were not at work.
What did InterLodge do? Management give the receptionists a say in the performance evaluation of the folks in housekeeping and maintenance. Did it work? Yes. Why? Because the Receptionists had a say and their say mattered. This is how the authors put it (bolding is my work):
In the past, it had always been enough for these employees [housekeeping, maintenance] to fulfill the criteria and meet the targets of their individual function. Now, people in the the two back office functions were also being evaluated on how effectively they cooperated with each other and with the receptionists, and it was the opinion of the receptionists themselves that carried special weight…. After all, their careers and the possibility of promotion were on the line.
Was it as simple as that. Not quite, this change had to work in conjunction with the other big change:
When this change in how personnel in back-office functions were evaluated was combined with the new cross-functional rotation of managers (which gave managers more of an appreciation for the interdependencies among the various functions), the nature of work changed rapidly at the hotel.
How exactly did the nature of the work change? By this expression the authors are pointing out, in particular, how the way the folks in housekeeping and maintenance ‘showed up and travelled’. Let’s listen once more to the authors:
The housekeepers checked the equipment in the rooms when they cleaned and let the maintenance groups know immediately when something needed attention. What’s more, the two back office functions were a lot more responsive when someone from reception would call asking for help to resolve a customer problem.
What Results Showed Up At InterLodge?
According to the authors:
… InterLodge hotel business unit’s gross margin increased by 20 percent within eighteen months. The rapid improvement in margins allowed the company to … nearly triple it [stock price] in just two years.
If you want to understand the logic behind this then I recommend buying-reading the Six Simple Rules.
What Is The Core Insight-Lesson For Those Working On Customer Experience And Customer-Centricity?
The core insight-lesson is spelt out rather pithily and it is one with which I am in full agreement. The lesson is so obvious and yet neglected. Why? Because it involves taking the “road less travelled”. What is this central insight-lesson:
To achieve customer-centricity make the organisation listen to those who listen to customers. Changing interaction patterns among functions is much more powerful than creating a dedicated customer-centricity function.
There you have it. The challenge of customer-centricity is that of disrupting, shifting, and shaping interaction patters so that transformed work context calls forth the requisite degree of co-operation from-across-amongst all organisational actors which directly and/or indirectly affect the customer experience. And the authors have shared how this was done at InterLodge. And they give other examples in their book, which is well worth reading.
Enough for today. In the next and last part of this conversation I will lay out for you (and comment upon) the sociological theory behind tools for shaping the work context. And why it is that the standard-commonplace approaches (hard, soft, hard+soft) to organisational change and customer-centricity do not work. Like they did not work for InterLodge.
Thanks for listening, I hope you got value out of the conversation.