Category Archives: Employee Engagement

Invaluable Customer-Centricity Lessons From Tesco

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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’.

  6. 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.

What Way Of Being Creates Access To Effectiveness In The Exercise Of Change Leadership?

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?

Can Human-Centred Leadership Provide An Access To Love And Profit?

The Human Something That Makes All The Difference In Human Relationships

“I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than a small piece of bread which moved me to tears at the time. It was the “human” something which this man gave me – the word and the look which accompanied the gift.

—Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Here is a man existing in a concentration camp. He is aware that he is being worked towards death. He finds himself starving – day after day. Yet, when he receives a small piece of bread what moves him is not the bread itself. What moves him, what leaves him grateful, is that “human” something which is brought forth and given life in the ‘word and the look’ which accompanies the gift of bread. The human something which transforms Viktor Frankl’s being from that of a thing to that of a human being.

Have we created a space for this human something to show up and dwell in the world of business?

You may be tempted to think so given all the talk of relationship, of service, of engagement, of collaboration, of partnering, of loyalty. And I am confident that many in the business world actually believe so. Yet, Look beyond this veil and you are likely to see a desert of genuine-meaningful-cooperative relating: within the organisation, and between the organisation and its customers, suppliers and partners. Behind the veil of words lies a transactional context where just about everybody finds that the most functional behaviour is to look after oneself. Where does the problem lie? Who is responsible for not putting this human something into the game of business?

Let’s listen to what Susan Scott says on the matter (bolding mine):

“The problem isn’t out there. It’s in here. We want employees to be engaged and feel included, while we ourselves are detached, distracted, disengaged, focused on our to-do-lists. We want others to bring that elusive, coveted “discretionary effort” in the door with them every day, but we don’t have the time to engage in conversations that enrich our relationships with them. We are busy, not to be found. And even when we are willing to spend more time with people, we don’t want to get to close to them. After all, there’s professional distance to maintain. Conversations and meetings that create actual intimacy make us nervous and uncomfortable. Besides, intimacy requires too much upkeep on an emotional level, and conversations and meetings that really engage and include take too much time…. When you disengage from the world, fail to include it, the world disengages too, in equal measure. It’s a two-step process, you and the world, you and your organisation. Your colleagues, associates, employees lost interest in you because you’ve lost interest in them. Calling them associates isn’t enough. If you want to engage and include the people who surround you at work, then gain the capacity to connect with them at a deep level – or lower your aim.

- Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

What Can We Learn From the Events That Occurred At Market Basket?

It occurs to me that when it comes to the human something and the exercise of human-centred leadership (which embodies that human something) we can learn something from the events that have occurred at Market Basket. What happened? According to the Boston Globe (27th August article):

“For six weeks, we were mesmerized by the sight of thousands of grocery clerks, cashiers, and other workers protesting at stores, on Facebook, and on the front pages of this paper. They did so at great risk, without the protection of a union, not because they wanted higher wages, but merely the return of their beloved boss, Arthur T. Demoulas.”

The CEO of Tesco was ousted in July 2014 due to poor performance. Not a single employee turned up at company headquarters to demand his return to the CEO role. So why is it that thousands of employees did turn up at headquarters and demand Arthur T’s return? What makes him beloved – so highly loved? I share with you some quotes that I have come across on the net, from the likes of the Boston Globe and the LA Times (bolding mine):

“He’s a tremendous human being that puts people above profits. He can walk through a store, and if he’s met you once, he knows your name, he knows your wife, your husband, your kids, where they are going to school.

- Tom Trainor, District Supervisor

“He’ll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he’s genuinely concerned about them. He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask about them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just as important as the supervisors and the store management team.”

- Joe Schmidt, Store Operation Supervisor

“Artie is a people person, who places people before profits; he cares about you as an individual. There’s good pay, good working conditions, good benefits. That’s why people people don’t leave.

- Joe Garon, Buyer

Leading From Any Chair: Acknowledging The Acknowledged Leaders

One can ‘lead from any chair’ according to Benjamin Zander the conductor.  Put differently, any one of us can exercise leadership no matter which position (chair) we occupy in the organisation.  That is what the folks at Market Basket have shown.  I wish to acknowledge those who show up for me as the unacknowledged leaders. The supervisors who took a stand and risked all to getting “Artie” reinstated, knowing that they were likely to be dismissed. And found themselves dismissed:

  • Tom Gordon, grocery supervisor;
  • Jim Lacourse, buyer;
  • Joe Garon, buyer;
  • Steve Paulenka, facilities and operation supervisor;
  • Tom Trainor, distribution supervisor;
  • Joe Schmidt, operations supervisor; and
  • Dean Joyce, warehouse supervisor.

How to end this conversation?

What is a fitting end to this conversation? I share these quotes with you:

Every man has to obey the voice of his own conscience, and be his own master and seek the Kingdom of God from within. For him there is no government that can control him …”

- Gandhi

“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

- Jesus (John 15:12-13)

The voice of my conscience calls me to work with you to co-create a world that works for all, none excluded. My conscience calls me to show up and travel in a manner that elevates my fellow human beings: to put into the game of life that “human” something that left Viktor Frankl touched, elevated.  It occurs to me that this is the true meaning of Social not the watered down selfish twittering that passes for social.

What about you? What does the voice of your conscience call you to? What is the possibility that it speaks and are you listening to it?

Please note that a somewhat modified version of this conversation was first published on CustomerThink in  October 2014.

Customer & Leadership: Is There A Formula / Recipe For Success?

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.

 

2014 State of Customer Experience: Who Are UK’s Leaders And What Can We Learn From Them? (Part 4)

Today’s conversation completes this four part series (part 1, part 2, part 3) centred on Nunwood‘s 2014 UK Analysis report. In this conversation I want to talk about CX improvement.  Specifically, what Nunwood say about what it takes to generate CX improvement.

What Does It Take To Excel At The Customer Experience Game? How Should Your Organisation Go About It?

The authors of the Nunwood report show up for me as being practical folks. They get that there is fine balance between aspiration and pragmatism. Here’s what they write (bolding mine)

For most brands, trying to improve performance simply by emulating John Lewis or First Direct can be counterproductive. Trying to move too quickly, or claiming to be something at odds with reality, can cause credibility and cultural issues. The rapid and sustainable progress of the top brands is the result of long-term, diligent investment. 

… the temptation of many chief executives ….. is to set an expectation … that the organisation will soon resemble a top 10 brand……. Transformational change is seldom less than five year project. In fact, a considerable number of brands ranked 100th to 263rd in this study have publicly held similar goals since 2010 and climbed no more than a few places over this time. Rallying cries must be credible, as well as loud. 

Equally dangerous is the risk of myopically focusing just on the immediate sector competitors, who are often only marginally different in the consumers’ eyes.

Given this what is it that the authors advise?  Here is what they say:

… the question for many brands is not how to get into the top 10 within 12 months, nor is it simply how to be the best of their immediate competitors. Rather, the best dividends come from understanding how to accelerate the rate of customer experience change. 

Which Four Critical Dimensions Do Businesses Need To Master In Order To Accelerate Customer Experience Improvement? 

According to the authors these are the four critical dimensions that businesses need to master to generate sustainable and significant improvements in CX excellence:

  1. A business is mobilised around a common vision;
  2. Customer journeys are mapped and prioritised for change;
  3. Measurement is owned by the frontline and linked to actions; and
  4. Customer experience motivates the employee experience.

As I look at these four critical dimensions it occurs to me that the only one that is ‘easy’ is the first half of the second item on the list: mapping of customer journeys.  Why is this the case? Because you can get a bunch of people together and get them doing customer journey mapping without any disruption to organisational politics or day-to-day operations.  Is that why customer journey mapping, and VoC surveying, are so common place. And action that actually changes anything worth changing so rare?

It occurs to me that it is no easy-simple task to come up with a common vision for the customer experience. And it is a major challenge to get everyone in the business to row in the same direction and in sync with one another. The devil often turns out to be in the detail. The other day I was in a meeting where all the buzzword were there: trusted, easy to do business with, personalisation, consistence…. And everyone was in agreement in this level. The fun came when it came to filling out these empty words with something concrete: What set of practices are ruled out if we are to be trustworthy? What set of practices do we need to embrace to be easy to do business with? What does personalisation actually mean? And so forth.

Take a look at number three on the list: measurement is owned at the front line and linked to actions.  Ask yourself why the call-centre agent on minimum wage, working in factory like conditions, should care, genuinely care, about owning measurement and taking action.  Or flip it and ask yourself who loses out if power moves from head office to the operations, from managers to the people who actually deal with customers?  Furthermore, for this to genuinely occur then something like the practices put forth by Deming (‘drive fear out of the workplace’) and implemented by Toyota (the workers own the design-execution-improvement of the work processes and machinery) need to occur.

Customer experience motivates the employee experience. What does this mean? I take it to mean that you start with figuring out the kind of customer experience that you propose to generate. And use this to figure out which kind of employee experience you need to cause in order for the employees to cause the customer experience you have in mind.  In many businesses, and every service business where the employees touch the customer, it means relaxing control, embracing flexibility and encouraging improvisation-creativity-responsiveness to the situation at hand.  It means treating employees as human beings rather than resources which come in the troublesome form of human being.  It means that power has to move to where the action occurs: the frontline. Who does this threaten? Managers at all levels of the organisation.

Why do I point this out? To reinforce the point that the authors make and which I shared earlier:

Transformational change is seldom less than five year project. In fact, a considerable number of brands ranked 100th to 263rd in this study have publicly held similar goals since 2010 and climbed no more than a few places over this time. Rallying cries must be credible, as well as loud. 

At this point, I ask you this question: what kind of leader and exercise of leadership plants the seeds of transformational change and then nurtures this seeds to fruition?  Can it be the kind of leaders that are commonplace today?  Which leader is going to embark in a journey which involves hardship, including putting one’s reputation and selfhood at stake, and which not yield fruits for at least five years?  It occurs to me only one that it is going to be there in a leadership role for much longer than five years.  Now think of Jeff Bezos at Amazon, or Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Steve Jobs at Apple, Richard Branson at Virgin…

That concludes the conversation on Nunwood’s 2014 UK Analysis report. I hope that I made some contribution to you. Thanks for listening.

 

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