Customer Experience Through The Eyes Of The Frontline Retail Employee

Perspective. If we are to improve the performance of human worlds (couple, family, neighbourhood, team, department, business, nation…) perspective taking is essential. It occurs to me that the simplest form of perspective taking is attentive-receptive listening to those who find themselves embedded in the human world that one is interested in.  The deepest from of perspective taking is to enter into the lives, and live the lives, of those whose perspective one wishes to become intimately familiar with.

What did I learn when listened to the perspective (lived experience) of frontline retail employees who work for one of the big UK retailers?

On many days the store is short-staffed. Those who are present and ready for work find themselves stressed. The standards are high – for merchandising, store cleanliness, customer service…  There is a lot to get done. The pressure is on. This calls people to take short-cuts (including putting their health & safety at risk), bypass policies and practices to do that which needs to be done.

The folks dealing with customers on the frontline are not adequately trained – as in training that comes through apprenticeship.  Why are they not adequately trained? Because the stores are short-staffed. Due to the short-staffing, the pressure is on to throw new frontline employees into the deep end. This places the new employees under stress: these employees face demanding customers, they are aware that their colleagues are counting on them, they know that their manager is judging them, and they are intimately aware that they lack the contextual understanding and experimental know-how to do things well.  They do their best. And their best is not enough. They are aware that their best is enough.

Folks distant and cut-off from the reality of the world of the store (that particular store) make decisions for that store. These decisions whilst sound in theory are impractical given the reality of that store.  Yet the folks in that store – including the manager of that store – have no power to affect or challenge these decisions. So there are substantial and frequent store refreshes and not enough staff to merely do the day to day tasks. The product range is expanded and there is not enough shelf space. Customers complain of products not being in stock yet the replenishment decisions are made by computers and remote others in charge of store replenishment. New machinery is introduced that does not fit well into the store and makes lives harder for the folks in the store ….  All of this increases the level of stress experienced by the folks working in the stores.

Customers are demanding at best, rude at their worst. They demand perfection: a seamless experience. They are encouraged in this demanding-ness by the folks higher up in the business who designate and promote services (and service standards) which are impractical given the reality of that store. Folks serving these customers want to provide a good service and experience a certain kind of human encounter with customers. Yet, they find themselves in a reality in which providing merely an average customer experience is all that can be reasonably provided.  They experience the withering look of many customers. And some customers, more and more these days, who are condescending, critical, and rude. All of this increases the level of stress experienced by these front line employees.

Their employer and their manager does not care for them. The folks experience themselves as not appreciated, not valued, not loved.  It is not just that these folks are paid the minimum wage. It is not just that if they arrive five minutes late for work then fifteen minutes of pay is docked. It is not that they are expected to stay up to half an hour later than their shift and they do not get paid for this half an hour. It is not that they are not adequately trained. It is not just that they are rarely given their allotted lunch break. It is more. It is the gap that they experience (on a daily basis) between the way the company expects them to treat customers and the way they are treated by the company. Is it then any surprise that the stores are regularly and frequently short-staffed – in numbers and in terms of experience/cable employees?  Who wants to work in such an environment? And even those who do work in such an environment quit as soon as the can quit.

If you are working in an organisation and concerned about improving the customer experience,  I end by posing the following questions:

  • Are the folks that work for us and with us less worthy of care, consideration, and respect than folks upon whom we change the label Customer?
  • What is the likelihood that at a distance voice of the customer surveys unconceal the kind of reality that I have shared with you here – the reality of the folks interacting directly with customers?
  • Do your customer journey maps give you an adequate feel for the lives of customers and the lives of the people on the front lines who interact with your customers on a daily basis?

If you are a customer then ask you to be mindful of human worth and dignity in your dealings with the folks that serve you – especially when things are not going right. I ask you to consider that the person is not merely an employee. S/he is a human being who is doing the best s/he can given the circumstances s/he finds herself in.  If you were in h/er position you would most likely do that which s/he is doing.  A kind word can light up the world.

I thank you for your listening it is that which continues to call me to share my speaking with you.  I leave you to grapple with what I have shared and make it mean that which you make it mean

Erich Fromm On The Central Challenge Of Cultivating Meaningful Relationships With Customers

What Is The Central Challenge Of Building Meaningful & Profitable Relationships With Customers? Is this challenge about opening up 24/7 access to your business through any and all channels?  Is it about coming up with new products and services that attract customers like bright lights attract moths at night-time?  Is it about taking out costly, unpredictable, unreliable human beings and replacing them with technology?  Is it about collecting and mining all the data you can get your hands on to generate insight to customers and entice them with the right offer, at the right time, through the right communication channel?  Is it about redesigning processes and gluing up all the interaction channels so that the customer experience across the customer journey is an effortless one?

Perhaps. Or maybe this is simply thinking inside the existing way of showing up and travelling in the world.  What way am I referring to? The technological way. What kind of way is that?  It is the way that refers to human beings as human resources. It is the way that refers to customers as assets. It is the way that thinks that listening to the voice of the customer is the same as reading statistics and text which summarises and details the survey responses coming in from some customers. It is the way that seeks to replace human beings and human to human conversations with automated interfaces and self-service…..

I invite you to listen to the speaking of Erich Fromm written in the 1940s (bolding mine):

The insignificance of the individual in our era concerns not only his role as a business man, employee, or manual labourer, but also his role as a customer. A drastic change has occurred in the role of the customer in the last decades. The customer who went into a retail store owned by an independent business man was sure to get personal attention: his individual purchase was important to the owner of the store; he was received like somebody who mattered, his wishes were studied; the very act of buying gave him a feeling of importance and dignity.

How different is the relationship of the customer to a department store. He is impressed by the vastness of the building, the number of employees, the profusion of commodities displayed; all that makes him feel small and unimportant by comparison. As an individual he is of no importance to the department store. He is important as “a customer”; the store does not want to lose him, because this would indicate that there is something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers. As an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant. There is nobody who is glad about his coming, nobody who is particularly concerned about his wishes. 

– Erich Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom

It occurs to me that many (if not most) organisations struggle to cultivate meaningful-profitable relationships with customers despite spending significant sums on the likes of customer analytics, CRM, marketing automation, and VoC. Why?  My experience of the last 15 years working in the Customer space is that action has been at the abstract level of customer and customers. And almost nobody has paid attention to the experience of the concrete flesh and blood customer as a human being.  As such technology has been used to remove rather than enhance what little was left of the human to human relating.  Technology can do many useful things including increasing access and reducing effort. What it cannot do well is this: create, enliven, enrich human relating.

What’s The Difference Between UX and CX At An Experiential Level?

Is there a difference between UX and CX? Yes. What is the difference between UX and CX? Allow me to answer this question by sharing my experience in dealing with a web hosting company.

The User Experience? Great!

I came across a web hosting company which appealed to me. Let’s call this company: NewWebHostCo. What appealed to me? The look+feel of the website: easy and appealing to my eyes. The navigation: well thought out and signposted. The content: written in plain English and as such is easy to understand – especially for non-technical folks like me.

So I chose to do business with NewWebHostCo. First, I searched for and then purchased a domain. I followed the instructions, paid through my credit card.  Second, I undertook a second transaction: transfer of an existing domain (from 123Reg) to NewWebHostCo, and the purchase of web hosting plan. Again the process of selecting and paying for that which I wanted was easy and quick. Shortly after each transaction, I got emails from NewWebHostCo confirming the purchases I had made.

At this point I was delighted. Clearly, someone had given considerable thought to the design of the NewWebHostCo website: my user experience was excellent in comparison to other web hosting sites which are busy and often confusing to me. So I was looking forward to being up and running (quickly-easily) with NewWebHostCo; I felt reassured by the promise of a 45 day no quibble refund and the promise of great support-service to customer queries.

The Customer Experience? Poor!

The next day I logged into my account at the NewWebHostCo website. I was surprised and disappointed to find that the domain name that I had purchased was not on my account. I did a web search for this domain name only to find that it was still available for purchase. I found myself puzzled. Previously, this had been such a straight forward matter: select domain, pay, wait several hours, domain is ready for use. Not with this web hosting company.

Later that day, I got an automated email from NewWebHostCo informing me that the transfer of the existing domain had failed. I was surprised as I had carefully read the instructions provided by 123Reg and thus unlocked the domain and made it ready for transfer to NewWebHostCo. And I provided the details that NewWebHostCo’s online wizard had requested. Nonetheless, I double checked everything and went through the transfer wizard a second time. Same result: I got another email telling me that the transfer had failed.

So I reached for support. Only to find that all support requests have to be made via email. So I filled in the requisite form setting out the issues that I was facing. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Days went by and I received no response: no acknowledgement that anyone had received my email, nor any idea of when any action was going to be taken.

Back to the NewWebHostCo website and the support section. Once again I filled in the email support form. This time I took the company up on its offer to ring customers back. I reiterated the issues. I set-out my disappointment. And I asked to be rung back on my mobile.

The day after this email, I got an email response telling me that I had not provided all the required details for the domain name purchase. And asking me for the details of the second transaction – the domain name transfer and hosting package – so that the transaction could be annulled.  I did not find myself impressed.

So What?

My experience suggests that time-effort-money spent on UX is ultimately wasted unless the UX is one component of a great CX: the end-to-end experience of the customer.  How have I come to this conclusion? I cancelled my transactions with NewWebHostCo. And have chosen to keep doing with my existing web hosting provider (123Reg).

Another thought strikes me. I notice that folks in organisational worlds are besotted by technology. Which is to say that I find folks putting their faith in technology not human beings and the kind of service that can only be provided by human beings.  That strikes me as mistake: Technology fail! When technology fails the right kind of human service (responsive, considerate) can take care of the breakdown and build a stronger relationship with the customer. Lack of human service, on the other hand, shows the lack of care-consideration for the customer.

Why have I not named and shamed NewWebHostCo? Because the tone of the email that I received by the human being who finally did respond to my email request for help. The tone was human: apologetic and helpful. For me, humanity calls forth humanity. Is this something that folks that wield power in organisational worlds have forgotten? Or are they simply blind to the value of humanity?

Customer Experience: A Tale Of Two Service Providers – One Public, One Private

The Technology Exists to Transform the Customer Experience

In his latest post Don Peppers shares his experience of attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Given my recent experiences as a customer, the following words particularly resonate with me (bolding mine):

“At virtually every booth, at every significant exhibit, the message was about how to use each of these new technologies or product offerings to deliver a better customer experience. To interact faster or more efficiently with customers. To provide what customers need in a more effective manner. To deliver better, more reliable service, less expensively and more flexibly.

And this didn’t seem out of place to me at all, because the customer-experience revolution is being powered by technological change. It’s always been a good thing for businesses to be customer-oriented, but it’s only within the last twenty years or so that technology has made it economically possible to be customer-centric, at scale.”

I want to pick up this theme and illustrate it through two of my recent experiences. One with a public sector organisation (The Passport Office, UK) and Churchill (car, home, travel, life insurer).  Which one is making effective use of technology to transform the customer experience?

What Kind of A Customer Experience Does The Passport Office Enable-Deliver?

1. My Experience Fifteen Years Ago

The last time I put in an application to renew my passport was fifteen years ago: 1990.  I remember it being a painful process.  First, I made my way to the local Post Office branch. Then queue up for some 10 minutes, finally only to be told that the branch had run out of passport renewal forms. This meant getting into my car and travelling to the main Post Office branch in the town centre. This required a ten minute journey, the hassle of finding a car park, paying car park charges. Waiting even longer – something like 20 minutes – to get hold of the requisite form. Whilst I was in town, I took the opportunity to get passport photos made.

Once I had the paperwork and photos, I returned home. After I had completed the paperwork, I had to write a long declaration in tiny writing on the back of several photos (of me). Then I phoned my doctor’s surgery requesting my doctor to sign two of these photos to declare that they represented my likeness. I was told that the doctor would charge a fee of £40. So the next day I took the fee and the photos and left them with the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery. I was told that the photos would be available for collection in two days.

A week or so, I remembered the photos so I made my way back to the doctor’s surgery to pick up the photos. As the surgery was busy I had to wait something like five minutes to ask for the photos only to find that they had not been signed!  After another couple of days I got hold of the signed photos. Then I put all the material together, took it to the Post Office and sent it away ‘special delivery’. About four weeks later, I received my new passport.

2. My Experience This Time Around

I had been aware for months that my passport would run out in Feb2015. I also knew I needed a passport to travel – for work, with the family on holidays  . Yet, I could not get myself to start the renewal process – except for getting the passport photos made. Why?  The memory of the previous experience was fresh in my mind. I was totally convinced that it was going to be a long drawn out effort (hassle) to get my new passport.

One day I decided to take on the challenge. This time I did not go to the local Post Office branch. I opened up my laptop and typed “UK passport renewal online” into Google. To my delight, I shortly found myself on the http://www.gov.uk website presented with easy to understand wizard/directions. By following the online process, within four minutes I had filled in the requisite screens, selected various options, paid the fee through credit card, and printed out the requisite paperwork.

I checked over the paperwork. Then I attached two passport photos – this time I was not required to get the photos attested by my doctor. I added in my expired passport, sealed everything up in an envelope, and walked to the local Post Office branch. At the branch, I paid the requisite fee for ‘special delivery’. I experience ease and marvelled at how easy it had been this time around.

Just a week into the process, I got an automated message from The Passport Office telling me something like “Your passport is being printed right now. And will be with you in a couple of days.” I found myself surprised and delighted. Why?  The Passport Office had used technology to make the application process easy and quick. Now The Passport Office was using technology to keep me up to date with progress – just at the right moment, the moment my passport was being printed. Wow!  How clued in, how customer-centric, is The Passport Office.

The Passport Office went on to keep its promise. I received my new passport within the promised two days. It had taken a total of 8 working days to get a new passport office issued. And the most effort had involved going into the town centre and getting the photos taken.  A total contrast with fifteen years ago.

Now that is how to make good use of technology to get the customer from where he finds himself (current situation) to where he wishes to be (desired outcome) easily, quickly, intelligently. And cut out unnecessary costs – for both the customer and The Passport Office.  So I acknowledge and thank the folks that have thought things through and transformed the process of renewing a British passport through the smart use of digital technologies.  Great work! It is the kind of work that I’d be proud to do myself as a digital strategist and CX designer.

What Kind of a Customer Experience Does Churchill Deliver?

Recently, I had to contact Churchill to ask how many years of no claims my wife has. So I phoned Churchill and after a couple of minutes I found myself talking to a helpful call-centre agent. She gave me the answer.  Then I told her that I needed that in writing. She told me to wait whilst she triggered the necessary paperwork, and assured me that the no claims certificate would be with me in five days.

The no claims certificate did not arrive as promised. And my wife started pestering me as her car insurer was pestering her to provide it – else her insurance policy would be cancelled.

So I rang Churchill again. Another helpful call-centre agent took my call. I explained the situation and the importance of getting the no claims certificate asap. I requested that she email it to me. She told me that she was not in a position to do that. She did not have access to email. All she could do was request (in her system) for the certificate to be printed and mailed to me. That is not the answer I was looking for.   The end result was that I had to be patient and wait to receive the certificate in the post.

Has anything substantial changed in regards to customer’s post sales interaction with insurance companies?  I am tempted to say, little – at best.  Fifteen years ago, I called up insurers to get my post sales needs met. I did the same this year. Fifteen years ago I had to wait for five to ten days to get paperwork in the mail. This time, 2015, it is the same.

Why has Churchill not made effective use of digital technologies – to make things easier, to minimise the cycle time, to cut out unnecessary costs, to deliver a customer experience that leaves their customers grateful that they are doing business with Churchill?

The technology exists to create a online self-service portal. The technology exists to allow customers to make requests through this portal. The technology exists to take these requests and convert them to cases for call-centre agents to review-execute. The technology exists to cut-out call-centre agents out of simple processes and get simple requests actioned by the system itself. The technology exists, to create documents and send them out through email. The technology exists to keep customers informed – to track the progress of their requests…. Is Churchill using any of this technology?  No!  Why not?

Summing Up: Why The Customer Experience Sucks Most Of The Time For Most Organisations

I will allow Don Peppers (who, along with Martha Rogers, deserve the label thought leader) to sum up the situation at hand:

The technology part gets faster-better-cheaper every year, but this just throws into stark relief how difficult it really is, as a business, to take the customer’s point of view, and to organize yourself to deliver a superior customer experience, across the firm. The vast majority of companies have a great deal of difficulty with this task, even with all the digital technology now available.”

Why do the vast majority of companies have such great difficulty?  Don sums this up, beautifully:

“At its core, for a firm to improve its customer experience it must minimize the friction in the experience. It has to remove obstacles, eliminate problems, and streamline processes. But the overwhelming majority of companies just aren’t organized to do this. Instead, as a first priority, companies organize themselves to minimize the friction in their production process.” 

Of course this begs the question: Why aren’t the Tops who run these companies reorganising the way their companies work?  It occurs to me that if the caterpillar had the kind of intelligence that we have it is highly likely that s/he would think the idea of ‘butterfly’ was a great one. And when it came to taking action – to going through the transformation process – the caterpillar would choose to stay as a caterpillar. And take the easier route of adding one or more colours to its caterpillar body. Our gift of foresight-imagination is both a blessing and a curse.

I thank you for your listening. For my part, I am delighted to be in a position where I can share my speaking with you.  I look forward to listening to that which you share.

 

Customer Experience Lessons From Amazon UK’s Failures

It is my experience that for the most part and on the whole Amazon UK delivers. It makes it easy for me to find stuff, order it and pay for it. It keeps me informed about when the item/s are going to be delivered. And when they are delivered. Finally, Amazon makes it easy for me to deal with matters that have not worked out as I expected them to.

Against the background that I have painted, I have found myself somewhat disappointed with Amazon as a result of three customer experience failures. I want to share these failures (breakdowns) with you. Why?  It is the breakdowns, in the habitual, that provide me with access to getting present to that which I take for granted, to see matters with a fresh eye, and usually these breakdowns provide an opening for breakthroughs.

Customer Experience Failure 1: The Product Does Not Meet My Expectations

I ordered a copy of Crime and Punishment from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I deliberately picked a Seller who displayed a copy of the book with a red cover and described it as “Used – Very Good”. What turned up?  A tatty copy: the book was worn/shabby and the cover was white not red.  What emotion was aroused in me? Disgust. I found myself not wanting to touch the book. I found myself wanting to throw the book in the bin.

What did I do? I logged into my Amazon account, found the appropriate order, and raised an issue (in writing) with the Seller – sharing my disappointment. Within an day or so the Seller reached out to me in a friendly-understanding manner. The Seller apologised. The Seller shared her disappointment with me. And the Seller refunded my money.

What are the lessons here?  I can think of several:

1. The product is most definitely a core constituent of the Customer Experience!  Put differently, it is foolish to exclude the product and product considerations from the Customer Experience bucket – which some ‘Customer Experience guru’s’ do.

2. You must deliver on the expectations that you set.  If you display a red cover then make sure that the book delivered has a red cover. If you describe the product as being used yet in a very good condition then make sure it is.  The description of the product is not just some marketing fluff; it is a promise that you are making to the customer and in making that promise you are setting the customer’s expectations!

3. If you mess up then be charming-gracious about dealing with the consequence of it. How? By owning up to the mess up AND most importantly the emotional impact of your mess up on that particular customer.  How do you work out what the emotional impact is? By listening to the customer and/or asking the customer.  Then making things right. In this case the Seller refunded the total cost of the book.

4. Use every interaction to build trust and goodwill. It matters that the Seller did not ask me to waste my time sending the tatty book back. If the Seller has asked or insisted that I send the book back then that would have left me feeling angry. Why? Not being trusted and having my valuable time wasted. By trusting me, I am left feeling nothing but goodwill towards the Seller. How do I explain this event to myself? Something along the line that even good folks f**k up from time to time.

Customer Experience Failure 2: I Have To Go To The Post Office Depot To Pick Up My Parcel

One day I got home to find a ‘ticket’ for me from the Post Office. It was notice telling me that I needed to go to the Post Office Depot to pick up my item. And that I needed to pay something like £2.00. Why? Because the Sender had not paid postage. So I made my way to the Post Office depot to collect my item. What did this cost me in addition to the £2.00? It cost me something like 45 minutes of my valuable time: drive there, queue-wait, collect-pay, and drive back home.  So I logged into my Amazon account and made a complaint to the Seller of this item – a book.

What did this Seller do, how did he respond?  I got an explanation, an excuse, for the failure to pay postage. Something like, all are items are franked, this should not have happened, don’t know how this has happened. And I was told that half the cost of the book would be refunded along with the £2.00 postage I had paid.  How did this leave me feeling? P****d off!  Why?  My central gripe – waste of 45 minutes of my life – was not acknowledged and addressed

What are the lessons here?

1. The customer cares about his/her experience not about your policies, processes or practices! So if you mess up then acknowledge the impact your mess up has had on the customer – as experienced by the customer.  I was looking for something like “You are busy. By not paying for postage we made you waste 45 minutes of your life including 20 minutes waiting in a queue which you hate to do. Really sorry about that.”

2. When you mess up then ask the customer what you need to do to make things right.  By not asking me the Seller did not involve me in resolving my complaint. By making a decision on my behalf I experienced the Seller treating me as an object not as a human being.  If the Seller had asked me what he needed to do to make things right, I might have told him that by asking me that question he had already made things right. Instead, I was left thinking-feeling “This is NOT good enough! It is not adequate compensation for wasting my time.”

Customer Experience Failure 3: Amazon UK Lies To Me!

I ordered a book directly from Amazon UK – not from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK.  I ordered that book either late on Friday or early on Saturday.  I was expecting to get the book in the following week – earliest Monday. To my surprise I got an email from Amazon UK informing that the book would be delivered the next day: Sunday.  I found myself DELIGHTED – delighted that Amazon delivers on Sundays, delighted that I could start reading it on the Sunday as I had some spare time that Sunday.

Guess what happened on Sunday?  Around about lunchtime I got an email from Amazon UK.  The email told me that Amazon UK had delivered the book to my home.  That email left me puzzled.  If the book had been delivered then why had it not made its way through my letter box? So I opened the door to see if the book had been left outside on my doorstep. No. I went around to one side of the house, to see if the deliver folks had left it in the garden as they sometimes do. No.

How was I left thinking?  I was left asking myself questions.  How is it that Amazon says the book has been delivered and yet it has not been delivered?  Has Amazon made a mistake? Or is it that the delivery folks are playing games with Amazon? Or is it that Amazon’s definition of delivered differs from my understanding of delivered. And if Amazon gets something as basic as this wrong then what else does it get wrong: invoicing, not delivering some of my stuff, charging me a different price to that which was displayed?

How was I left feeling? Delight turned into significant disappointment.  There was even some frustration thrown in. When? When I was looking around the house for the book that had been delivered (according to Amazon UK) and which I could not find.  I believe that I also experienced mild anger. I suspect that if an Amazon manager had been around I would have ‘given him/her a piece of my mind’.

When did I get the book? On Monday. Was I delighted/happy to get the book on Monday? No.  Yet, if I had been told that the book would be delivered on Monday and had been delivered on Monday, I would have been happy. And importantly, my trust-confidence in Amazon would not have been dented.

What are the lessons here in addition to that which I have already shared?  The following occur to me:

1. If you are pushing the envelope on the Customer Experience (like Amazon UK is doing) then make sure that you do not push it so far that delight turns into disappointment.  It occurs to me that Amazon is pushing the envelope in letting its customers know when a delivery is scheduled. And then letting the same customers know when the delivery has been made.

2. Every piece of information you provide to your customers acts kind of like a promise and sets the customer expectations.  So make sure that the information is accurate.  Any ‘bullshitting’ in the provision of information is likely to come back and bite you in the form of customer disappointment. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that many in marketing and sales have yet to learn.

3. Your informational processes+practices must be in tune with you operational processes+practices. Any disconnect between the two is likely to impact your customers – usually negatively. I imagine that the delivery partner informed Amazon that delivery had been made. And this triggered Amazon’s email alert to me.

4. If you subcontract part of your value chain (like Amazon does when it comes to delivery) then you will be held responsible, by the customer, by the failures of your value chain partners. Therefore, it behoves you to select the right partners and ensure that if they are telling you something then you can rely on their word. For my part, I am clear that I am disappointed only in Amazon because I hold only Amazon UK accountable for my experience as a customer.

Customer / Leadership: What Is The Access To Cultivating Greatness?

It is the time of the year that many are pushing out their predictions for 2015. I am not in that business: I lack a crystal ball.  Further, I say that the future is not already made. The future is unborn and how you/i/we show up and operate in this world will shape how 2015 turns out.  So in this final conversation of 2014, I want to share with you my thoughts on what it takes to become great; greatness necessarily involves effecting significant and substantial change.

Let’s assume that you wish to reshape your organisation – to effect significant, substantial, change in the way that the organisation operates.  Perhaps, you wish to transition your organisation from a product-centred orientation towards  customer-centred orientation. And/or shift the fundamental stance of your organisation from ‘extracting value’ from your customers to being generously rewarded (by customers) for simplifying-enriching the lives of your customers. It could be that you want to move from treating your employees as resources (things) to treating them with dignity as fellow human beings…..

What is the access to that?  Is there an organisational equivalent to Ali Baba’s “Open, Sesame!”? You know some kind of hidden magical recipe that provides you access to untold riches, instantly, without significant effort, discipline, and/or sacrifice?  I invite you to answer that for yourself. How has all the strategy stuff worked out? What about all the process change / six sigma stuff? Or the customer journey mapping? What about your investments in CRM systems and other technologies (e.g. IVR) have they taken you to the heights of sales effectiveness and/or customer service delight?  Let’s not forget the VoC feedback- has that unlocked the door to customer loyalty riches?

Greatness does not lie on the road well travelled, greatness lies on the road less travelled. Greatness requires dedication – the kind of dedication that flows from total commitment; this kind of commitment arises in response to a possibility-call that resonates with the very core of your being. Greatness requires the ultimate sacrifice: yourself – your way of showing up in the world and the manner of your travel in this world.  Allow me to give life to this through a story (bolding mine):

There was an artist who was so devoted to her art; nothing else in the world had any attraction for her. She had a studio, and whenever she had a moment to spare her first thought was to go to that studio and work on the statue she was making. People could not understand her, for it is not everybody who is devoted to one thing like this. For a time a person interests himself in art, at other times in something else, at other times in the home, at other times in the theatre. But she did not mind; she went every day to her studio and spent most of her time in making this work of art, the only work of art that she made in her life.

The more the work progressed, the more she began to feel delighted with it, attracted by that beauty to which she was devoting her time. It began to manifest to her eyes, and she began to communicate with that beauty. It was no longer a statue for her, it was a living being. The moment that statue was finished she could not believe her eyes – that it had been made by her….. She felt exalted by the beauty of the statue.

She was so overcome by the impression that this statue made on her that she knelt down before this vision of perfect beauty, with all humility, she asked the statue to speak, forgetting entirely that it was her own work…… there came a voice from the statue: “If you love me, there is only one condition, and that is to take the bowl of this poison from my hand. If you wish me to be living, you no more will live. Is it acceptable?” “Yes,” she said, “You are beauty, you are the beloved, you are the one to whom I give all my thought, my admiration, my worship; even my life I will give to you.” ….. She took the bowl of poison, and fell dead. The statue lifted her and kissed her by giving her its own life, the life of beauty and sacredness …..

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Being and Becoming

Let me end this conversation by posing this question: What possibility (or cause) matters to you such that you are willing to be and do as the artist (in the story above)?  It occurs to me that this is question worth pondering and answering as you/i head into 2015. I wish you a great beginning and the very best for 2015.

Customer Experience: Summing Up 2014

I Find Myself Hurt, In Pain, With Sprained Ankle At Paddington Station

In an earlier conversation I shared the following:

I arrived at Paddington Station and made my way hurriedly toward the underground. Suddenly, I found my feet sliding, no control, left knee smacks into the hard tile floor, right leg twists awkwardly, the right ankle is in some pain. A helpful gentlemen helps me up. I recover and get that the floor has become an ice rink in some places (food for a future post). I walk slowly, in pain, towards the underground….

I hurt myself. Why? Because, the ‘vehicle’ for enabling-facilitating walking at Paddington Station was not fit for purpose. What do I mean by that? That one of the primary functions of a floor is to make it easy for folks to move around, at normal walking speeds, safely.  Before, I get further into this, I want you to get that Paddington Station is one of the main railway stations coming into and out of London. There are always plenty of people standing around and walking about. It is especially heavily trafficked at peak time (early mornings, after work). And there are all kinds of people using this station: older couples, middle aged folks, youth, male, female, business folks, leisure travellers etc.

Customer Experience: What Is The Default Setting?

Why is that the floor at Paddington Station did not facilitate one of its primary roles: enable passengers (customers) to walk about easily, freely, quickly (if need be) around the railway station?  Because it was raining. Some of the rain ended up on the smooth, good looking, tiled floor. The rain on the smooth floor, reduced the already reduced friction/traction – to the point where it is really easy to be walking one second, sliding the next, and then finding oneself in pain, hurt, on the floor, dazed, wondering what happened.

Let’s stop. I invite you to ask yourself, how is it that intelligent business folks did not put the various elements together to foresee (smooth floor, rain, floor as ice rink) and thus prevent the annoyance and/or harm to the passengers? My hypothesis, is that insufficient attention-consideration was given to the customer. Did anyone even put the ease/safety of walking as a key decision criteria when the floor was being selected?  It is easy to be smart with the benefit of hindsight. So let’s accept that with the best of intentions we are fallible creatures and make mistakes.

Before we move ahead, I do wish to make one general point: the default is that of poor customer experience  and this is so because the world has been setup without adequate consideration of experience based customer needs. In my view, this is particularly so in nations-cultures with a strong Protestant-Calvinist influence. Incidentally, the lack of consideration of the end users experience based needs is the reason that most CRM systems fail to be adequately adopted and thus fail to generate the promised benefits.

Summing Up The State of Customer Experience As At 2014

Let’s get back to Paddington station and sum up the challenge:

What is so: the floor becomes a potential safety hazard for customers (passengers) when it rains;

Desired outcome: make it easy and safe for all the usual customers to walk around the station, given many obstacles (usually fellow travellers), in all the usual weather conditions – rain is usual in the UK.

Imagine that you are the person responsible for Paddington Railway station. You are the person confronted with coming up a course of action to deal with what is so and bring about the desired outcome. What is the course of action that you’d take? What would the end solution look like?  Would you fix the roof so that no rain got through to the floor? Would you fix the floor to ensure that the floor is rougher thus providing more traction? Would you put some kind of drainage solution to drain water from the floor?  What would you do if you were truly customer-centric and committed to putting the right customer experience (of walking) in place?

Here’s the answer that the folks that manage Paddington Station have put in place:

caution cone paddington stationLet’s stop and consider this. Has the challenge been addressed?  Has management got rid of the potential hazard to customer safety?  Has management improved the customer experience?  No!  What has management done? Management have provided some useful information to the customer: “caution wet floor”. What else has management done?  They have placed the burden of responsibility on to the customer – now if the customer slips and hurts himself he can blame himself for being careless. And management has mitigated its liability under the health and safety legislation. Why have I shared this with you? Because it occurs to me that this concrete example illustrates the course of action that many have taken regarding Customer Experience challenges-opportunities.

Looking at 2014, based on my personal experience, the experience of fellow consultants, and reading the relevant articles/posts, I am of the view that I can sum up the state of Customer Experience in 2014 as follows:

  1. There are only a handful of organisations that compete on the basis of the Customer Experience and excel at it. These organisations continue to do well. For the folks in these organisations Customer Experience is a way of life – like speaking English is a way of life for me.
  2. The vast majority of Tops and Middles toying with Customer Experience lack the courage to take bold action.  In the absence of courage, a ‘burning platform’ is necessary to trigger bold action. For most organisations and management teams such a burning platform is not present.  Look beyond the fear mongering and ask yourself how many organisations are in the shape IBM was when Lou Gerstner took over and kind of totally reshaped IBM?

  3. Where work has been done on Customer Experience, Tops and Middles have taken the easy way out, tinkering on the edges. The stuff that really matters has been kept intact. The business model remains intact. Management practices including those that yield ‘bad profits’ – profits made at the expense of the customers – remain intact.

  4. The Tops and Middles have, once again, resorted to the same old tools and techniques: business process changes and implementation of information technologies whether labelled as CRM, CX, marketing automation, or big data…

  5. Many claim to be Customer Experience experts and/or gurus, almost none of them are. Before you accept this claim I ask you to consider how you would determine if a carpenter is a great carpenter. Would you do so by listening to him speaking? Would you do so by reading his book where he share his tales and tales of others – stories which make you feel good?  Or would you go and see for yourself that which the carpenter has created with his own hands? This has to follow logically and necessarily from point 1 above – there is only a handful of organisations that compete on the basis of the Customer Experience and excel at it.

  6. One reason that so many can get away with claiming to be Customer Experience experts and/or gurus is that the term Customer Experience has been turned into an empty and usually misleading idea. For example Customer Experience is became another fashionable, higher status, label for Customer Service; many folks of significance in Customer Services (including call-centres) have customer experience in their titles. On the other hand some marketing folks – especially digital marketing folks – are using and abusing this fashionable label. Then there are folks who oversee the execution and compilation of customer surveys – they have also chosen to sit under and claim the Customer Experience label.