Category Archives: Employee Engagement
Tesco: The Darling of Customer Marketing Guru’s Issues Its Fifth Profit Warning
Tesco continues to struggle. According to this piece from the Guardian newspaper, Tesco has issued its fifth profit warning, share price has plunged (down 16%): Tesco is on the floor. Why does this matter? Why is it worth me writing about. Let’s go back a little.
In the early 2000s Tesco was much lauded my many: the customer-centricity gurus, the 1:1 marketing gurus, the data mining and predictive analytics players, and customer loyalty program vendors. Tesco was the exemplar of harnessing customer data through a loyalty programme (Tesco clubcard), using data mining and predictive analytics to generate insights and then doing database driven marketing based on these insights. In the process Tesco went from being just one player amongst the UK grocery retailers to the the dominant retailer. At one point it looked like there would be no stopping Tesco.
Today Tesco is on the floor. Why? Because Tesco’s management ended up doing what management teams do: exploiting customers to extract surplus profits for the Tops and Shareholders. I think some wise person said something like “power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
What Can We Learn About The Challenge Of Building A Customer-Centric Organisation?
So what is it that you and I can learn from Tesco if we are grappling with the challenge of shifting a business towards a customer-centric orientation: one not based on using data/insight to exploit customers; one based on using data/insights to generate superior value (product, proposition, customer experience) for the customer? Here are the paragraphs from this Guardian piece that catch my attention (bolding is my work):
Lewis [CEO], who marks his 100th day in the job on Tuesday, said he was building “a new Tesco” that would eventually reward shareholders. “We need to get back to core principles. We need to improve the service and availability and that is what we are doing.”
Here is what strikes me, how I make sense of this statement based on my prior lived experience:
1. Moving an organisation from a business as usual (product-centred, extractive, short-term focussed) to a customer-centric organisation is akin to building a new organisation;
2. Building a new organisation is not simple, not easy, not quick. It requires the persistent application of substantial energy across a large number of people for a long period of time – years. Only a CEO who has the power and genuinely cares about the wellbeing of the organisation will do what it takes, and keep doing it over the long term of many years.
3. Part of the challenge in building a new organisation is sacrifice. This sacrifice especially involves shareholders. Why? Because usually the shareholders have gotten fat through ‘bad profits’ delivered by their agents (Tops) putting in place strategies-structures-people-practices that collectively take advantage of customers, suppliers, and the employees – extracting surplus rents (to use the term used by economists);
4. Building a customer-centric organisation is matter of getting back to core principles. Notice, it is not discovering some secret recipe nor the latest shiny miracle technology. It is about honouring already discovered, well known, rarely enacted, core principles. How does one honour a principal? By living it – being an exemplar of that principle in action.
What Specific Actions Does It Take To Be A Customer-Centric Retailer?
Let’s continue this conversation by looking at another paragraph that speaks to me. Here it is:
In a bid to improve customer service, the retailer has taken on 6,000 more staff since mid-October, and despatched 6,000 existing head office staff to spend one day a fortnight on the shop floor to get a taste for the sharp end of the grocery business. Lewis has decided not to lay off people after Christmas, a traditionally slack time for retailers, as part of this customer service drive. “Certain activities help you manage profits, but can have a detrimental impact on how you serve customers,” he said. “What we are trying to do is deliver better for customers … I believe that is the foundation from which we can build a new Tesco, which is financially attractive to shareholders.”
Here is how I choose to make sense of this paragraph:
- A customer-centric organisation is one which “delivers better for customers”. Delivers what better? Delivers better products. Delivers better service. Delivers better value propositions. I sum this up by saying it delivers a better Customer Experience.
Customer service is a key thread of Customer Experience. Organisation which seek to show up as customer-centric have to get customer service right. This is especially so for service heavy businesses where the employee to customer encounter is important, even critical.
Getting customer service right means investing in the people who actually are the customer service of the organisation. Please notice the word “are“. Your front line people are your customer service; they do not merely deliver the customer service that someone else (perhaps in head office) has already produced. This critical aspect of reality is much ignored: your front line people simultaneously invent-create-deliver customer service every time they encounter the customer – they are your customer service!
Investing in people is long term play. Think Warren Buffet: you select the right people and then you hold on to them over and for the long term. That means not laying people off during traditionally slack periods. Why? Because two way loyalty (sticking by one another) is essential to creating the context for greatness to show up from your people. When you, the CEO, take the pain for your people you are putting a deposit in the bank account of goodwill. And this allows you to draw on the goodwill of your employees when you need it. Think Market Basket.
The core challenge of building and then keeping in existence (over the longer term) a customer-centric organisation is this one: “Certain activities help you manage profits, but can have a detrimental impact on how you serve customers”. It occurs to me that this is THE most critical insight. There is a broad range of ingrained, celebrated, management practices that deliver the numbers over the short-term whilst at the same time chipping away at the quality of the Customer Experience. Over the shorter-term there is no visible impact. Then the hit occurs and when it does it is big. I refer to this as the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.
The people who collectively constitute the biggest obstacle to making the shift to a customer-centric organisation and keeping this customer-centric orientation intact (and effective) are the people who work in head office: those who make policies, set targets, dictate management practices…. I am talking about the Tops and Middles: those who work with concepts and not reality. John Timpson of Timpson recognised this and turned the role of the head office from a dictatorship to a helpline, and in the process reduced the number of people in head office, and moved them to the branches where the real work of interacting with and serving customers occurs.
Final Thoughts: Leadership and Governance
If find it interesting that the management practices that have brought Tesco to its knees ended up being unconcealed when an outsider (no relationship to the Tops running the organisation) took over the role of CEO; and
It is the competitive world in which Tesco competes which has forced Tesco’s leadership to deal with these management practices. It is only when that which had been hidden (bullying of suppliers by head office folks, bullying of store managers by head office folks, manipulating profits through shady accounting practices) could no longer be hidden that both people and management practices are being addressed.
It occurs to me that Tesco is in crisis as there has been a fundamental breakdown in leadership and governance. The Board of Directors failed to do that with which it is concerned. Ensuring that the right person/s are running the organisation. And overseeing the actions (and management practices) of these people. Interesting then that the Chairman of Tesco has had to walk the plank.
I thank you for listening to my speaking. And I invite you to share your thoughts and experience with me. Looking forward to reading your comments.
Looking back, I see that I have been involved in drama of organisational change since the days I did corporate recovery work as a part of Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division. That must have been around 1990/91 – some 20+ years ago. What is it that I have ‘learned’ about this domain: the domain of leading-facilitating organisational change?
After 20+ years, I find myself totally clear on the following: almost every Top and Middle I have come across, in just about every type of organisation, in just about every type of industry, sucks at leading-enabling-facilitating organisational change. I found myself face to face with this truth, in a recent organisational context, where I find myself acting as an outside advisor on a Customer project.
If you find yourself in this ‘place’ and are content with this then stop reading and go do something useful with your life. On the other hand, if you find yourself in that ‘place’ and looking for an access to being effective in the exercise of change leadership then I invite you to listen – really listen and grapple with these words of wisdom:
Position is everything. Everything changes, even when the circumstances remain identical, when you shift your position. Try it sometime with someone who is your adversary. Shift your position. Be that person and the adversary disappears.
Shift positions with whatever barrier you are facing … in your life. Be the barrier, and it is no longer there. It is only there because we pull back, separate ourselves from it. The more we pull back, the bigger and more overwhelming it gets, and the angrier or the more frightened we become. If we really look at the anger that makes us crazy or the fear that stops us cold, we see that it develops step by step from our thought process. And starting point of that thought process is separation ……
When you really acknowledge that it is nothing but yourself, when you realise this fact, you cannot live your life in the old way. You’ve suddenly taken responsibility for it. Before, the problem was outside – your bad luck, what other did to you, the circumstances you could do nothing about… When you realise that the cause is you, you empower yourself. You suddenly become a ten thousand-foot-high buddha……. Nothing is outside of you.
- John Daido Loori, The Great Way, Best Buddhist Writing 2008
Just about every one of us (as a human being) sucks at relationship, at experience design, at calling forth engagement, at change, and at the exercise of leadership due to the neglect of this radical truth. Some of us are not aware of this. Many who us, who are aware of this truth, choose not to give life to this truth in our way of being (showing up and travelling) in life.
Is it then any surprise that just about every organisation sucks at cultivating relationships with customer, at designing-generating appropriate customer experiences, at calling forth the best of their people popularly labelled employee engagement, and the exercise of change leadership?
What hope is their for an organisation to make a shift to a customer-centric way of being-in-the-world and doing business with customers, when the Tops and Middles are not even effective in the exercise of change leadership in the context of designing-implementing a CRM system?
I wish to acknowledge members of the ‘methodology police’, whom I met recently, for being the source of this conversation. Please note that for the purposes of this conversation I will use the terms formula, recipe, method, script, template interchangeably.
Is Success Reducible To A Formula/Recipe?
Is communicating with another reducible to a formula? Is relating and cultivating relationships with colleagues, clients, family and friends, reducible to a recipe? Does the co-creation of a ‘good’ customer experience yield to a predefined template? Does the successful implementation of a new CRM systems and the associated way of showing up and operating in the organisation yield to a specific method? Is great customer service reducible to a recipe? What about leadership: is the exercise of leading and leadership reducible to a formula?
YES. If I look at how it is that we show up and travel then it occurs to me that we operate on the basis that the answer is an unequivocal YES. Everything is reducible to a recipe: EVERYTHING. Which means that if the outcomes that we wish for are not showing up then the cause of the problem must be in one of the following domains:
- we are making it up as we go along as opposed to following a ‘proven’ formula;
we are not following the formula/method and as such we need to be manipulated (training, rewards, punishment) into following the one ‘proven’ formula; and
there is something wrong with the recipe, it is not ‘tight’ enough, or it is out of date.
Hence, our obsession in organisational worlds with the likes of processes and procedures, methodologies and methods, scripts, judgment-evaluation of people, criticism, praise, reward and punishment. With this deep rooted obsession we create a wide open clearing for all kind of charlatans to show up and sell their unique ‘secret recipes’ for success – in just any and every domain including the domains of Customer and Leadership.
What Constitutes The Deepest Lack Of Intelligence?
Is there a deeper lack of intelligence (stupidity) than seeking formulas/recipes for the major challenges of business, of education, of living and life? I say yes. What is the deeper stupidity? I say it is keeping our faith in the god like being of formula/recipe intact even when we have followed the formula/recipe and it has not generated the promised-desired outcome/s. Why do we do this? We do this because we grant, individually and collectively, divine status to formulas/recipes. Therefore, it makes sense to conclude that our understanding and/or application of the formula was at fault.
Words Of Wisdom
I invite you to listen to the speaking of one that shows up for me as speaking wisdom:
Once, several years ago, some friends and I enrolled in a cooking class taught by an Armenian matriarch and her aged servant. Since they spoke no English and we no Armenian, communication was not easy. She taught by demonstration; we watched (and diligently tried to quantify her recipes) as she prepared an array of marvellous eggplant and lamb dishes. But our recipes were imperfect; and try as hard as we could, we could not duplicate her dishes.
“What was it,” I wondered, “that gave her cooking that special touch?” The answer eluded me until one day, when I was keeping a particularly keen watch on the kitchen proceeding, I saw our teacher, with great dignity and deliberation, prepare a dish. She handed it to her servant who wordlessly carried it into the kitchen, to the oven and, without breaking a stride, threw in handful after handful of assorted spices and condiments. I am convinced that those surreptitious “throw-ins” made all the difference….
But what are these “throw-ins”, these elusive, “off the record” extras? They exist outside of formal theory, they are not written about, they are not explicitly taught. Therapist are often unaware of them ……. The critical ingredients are hard to describe, even harder to define. Indeed, is it possible to define and teach such qualities as compassion, “presence”, caring, extending oneself, touching the patient at a profound level, or – that most elusive one of all – wisdom?
- Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Pyschotherapy
Concluding Thoughts For Your Consideration
I invite you to consider:
That the guru does not even have to be a charlatan for charlatanry to show up. How so? In this example, the matriarch, was not aware of the “throw-ins” that were being added to her recipe by her assistant.
Where human beings are intrinsic to the game being played, the access to effectiveness (generating the desired outcomes) lies in a sensitivity-attunement to the context in which the game is being played.
Sensitivity-attunement to the context allows you to figure out and put into the game the “throw-ins” that make the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary.
It is our addiction to slavishly following formulas/recipes that is the biggest obstacle to being attuned and responsive to the context and throwing in the most appropriate “throw-ins” for that particular context in that moment;
Insisting on and slavishly following formulas/recipes (including processes, procedures, scripts, methods etc) is the most significant barrier to effectiveness in the human realm. And that includes the dimensions of Customer (customer service, CRM, customer experience) and of Leadership.
You may disagree. If that is the case then I look forward to hearing what you say.