Category Archives: Customer Insight (inc VoC)
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?
The genesis of this post is a conversation that I had recently with Rod Butcher, a man who has been at the coal face of Customer Experience in a large organisation.
Standing outside of an organisation, as a bystander, it is easy to espouse the value and importance of the outside-in approach to Customer Experience. It seems so easy; just about everything is easy when seen from a distance. If on the other hand you have spent time in the ‘belly of the whale’ you get a visceral appreciation for the huge importance of inside-out: what matters in the organisation, what doesn’t matter, what works, what doesn’t work, what gets done, what does not get done, what the people who really matter are willing to do and not to do….
Why are so many large companies struggling with genuinely taking a customer-centric approach? Why is the dominant issue with VoC the inability of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer? Why is it that despite all the talk of collaboration and social business there is so little genuine collaboration? Allow me to share two stories with you.
When I moved into my new home over 10 years ago gardening called to me; I had no experience of gardening. One day I found myself in a garden centre and a number of plants called to me. So I bought these plants home and set about gardening. That is when the obstacles arose. The soil in my garden didn’t match that required by the most expensive plants. Then there were issues to do with sunshine: some required lots of sunshine other liked shade; some needed lots of watering, others little….
Most of the plants struggled to thrive and many of these eventually died. Why? Because I was not willing to do what it took to provide what the plants needed. I had rather hoped that the I could just buy then, find a spot in the garden where I thought they looked good, plant them there, and water them time from time. That is to say I was looking for the plants to fit into my priorities, my way of doing things.
I recently visited friends who took great interest and pride in taking care of their precious plants: young olive tree, young lemon tree etc. I was shocked to find that both of these plants looked withered, dry, dead. Why? What happened? Clearly, they had not been looked after. Why? Because both of my friends had turned their attention to stuff that showed up for them as being more important. Put differently, my friends had failed to sustain their commitment to these trees. Why? Because they were not central to their lives; they were merely hobbies and or decorations.
What have a I learned about gardening? I have learned to start with a good understanding of my garden and then choose plants that will thrive in my garden. I have learned that if I really want acid loving plants in my garden, which does not support them naturally, then I first need to do the work of digging out a specific part of the garden and putting the right soil. And I have learned that I have to be love these plants so much that I am happily provide them with the regular care they need.
I’ll leave you to figure out the organisational lessons. For my part I agree with Rod Butcher: outside-in is not enough, what really matters is the willingness of the organisation to change, or not, from the inside-out.
Most of my work over the latter years has been around helping organisations to generate profitable revenues by doing a better job of addressing customer needs. In the course of my work I spend a lot of time with the folks responsible for marketing and sales.
One of the exercises that I do is to get the right people from customer touching functions such as marketing, sales and customer services in a workshop. And then I guide the folks through a structured SWOT type process for each significant customer segment.
The process starts of by asking the people in the room to identify what matters to the people in that customer segment. What are the jobs that these people are hiring the company’s ‘products’ to do for them? And what are the key outcomes that matter to the customers. This is terminology that is not typically familiar to the people in the room so there is some tension in the room. At some point someone in the marketing function will say “Aha, you are talking about customer needs!” and everyone relaxes.
Then the answers come. Almost always the top five tend to be: brand, product, quality, price, and service. Not particularly useful and I have learnt not to challenge people at this stage. So, I ask the people around the room to allocate 100 points between these five needs. This is where the fun starts . First, people really struggle to allocate weights to these five needs. And second, there tends to a lot of predictable disagreement. Marketers rate brand and quality highly. The Sales folks rate product and price highly. The folks from Customer Services tend to rate quality and service highly. And if there is senior, dominant, person in the room then slowly the people in the room come around to his/her way of thinking and weighting these top five needs. Notice something? How confident would you be that the people in the room are providing you with an accurate picture of what matters to customers?
Next, I ask the folks sitting around the large conference table to identify their key competitors. And once they have done so I create a grid. The columns are the company and its key competitors. The rows are the top five needs usually brand, product, quality, price and service. Now I ask the people in the room to evaluate how each of the competitors is doing in terms of meeting these five customer needs by giving marks out of 10. Once again the fun starts. People really struggle to come up with weighted answers. And there is considerable disagreement between people.
By the time we get to this stage the people around the room sigh a collective relief as if to say “Wow, that was hard work. We are so relieved that this is over and done with.”
At this stage I am hoping for someone to say “Going through that exercise has made me realise that I/we know so little about what matters to our customers. And how we compare to our competitors on what matters to our customers, as seen through the eyes of our customers. So we should go and get better answers by conducting research, talking with customers, talking with the people on the front line who actually are in touch with customers on a daily basis.” This rarely happens.
Instead, the people around the room have an air of assurance. They are visibly convinced that they know what matters to their customers. And how they compare to their competitors. It is as if the hard work of the exercise that I have taken them through hypnotises them into believing that the answers they have conjured up have to be true, are true.
So the biggest barrier to coming up with a powerful customer based strategy is simply this: ignorance and prejudice masquerading as knowledge/understanding of customers. The failure of people to say “We don’t know what really matters – jobs, outcomes, needs – to our customers. We don’t know how customers prioritise these jobs-outcomes-needs. We don’t know how our customers see us in comparison with our competitors. Let’s go and find out.”