Experience Engineering: How Do You Engineer Authentic Humanity Into The Customer Experience?

I have been working in Cheltenham for a few weeks now. I like, really like, the folks (at the client) that I find myself working with. It has something to do with their kind of accueil- a word that my French family often use.

Let’s just consider accueil. How is it translated?  It is translated as: welcome, reception, acceptance, hospitality. It is also used to refer to the home page of a website.

Many years ago I chose not to specialise – going against the dominant trend and advice. I chose to do what comes naturally to me: be a generalist. Today, that means I get involved primarily in some combination of digital transformation, customer experience, CRM, marketing automation, change leadership, programme management. And I get involved in one of many levels – from helping devise strategy through to drawing out the systems architecture.

Why did I share that with you? To set the context. Why?  Because the more I see of what organisations are doing under the CX umbrella and the way they are going about it, the more I find myself falling out with the whole CX thing. I also find myself disagreeing with many CX gurus – many of whom are self-appointed. It is not a domain where one can criticise and remain in the CX club – as I have learnt. That is ok by me.  I can criticise CX because I do not depend on it to make my living, build a reputation, or safeguard one.

Call it Customer Experience design, call it Service Design, call it Experience Engineering. Whatever you call it, here is my question: How do you engineer accueil – authentic, spontaneous, warm accueil?  How do the BPR/six-sigma folks (I always find plenty of them working under CX umbrella) engineer/standardise processes for generating authentic warm accueil?  Or let’s turn to the business change or HR folks, how do they train the frontline staff (who are often on minimum wage, or some of the lowest wages in the organisation, in the economy) to generate authentic warm accueil?  Let’s not leave out metrics – according to conventional dogma only what gets measured gets done. What metrics does one use to assess if authentic warm accueil is experienced by the experiencer: the customer, the guest, the employee, the partner, the supplier?

In my first week in Cheltenham, I found myself staying in the Holiday Inn Express.  I checked in late on a Sunday. Lady on check-in was polite, helpful (gave me ‘map’ of Cheltenham centre), and quick. The lifts were plentiful, clean, quick. Room was easy to find through the signposting. The room was clean and spacious. And as promised it was on the quiet side. The breakfast was in line with expectations for that kind of hotel.  The right folks ‘faked’ the right kind of smiles. And behaved in the appropriate scripted manner. In short, all was in line with a well run hotel in that class of hotel.

If I had to put it into words, I’d say that the experience engineers (through design or accident) had engineered a professional competent experience.  Did this experience evoke any kind of emotional bond to this hotel, or anyone in the hotel? No. Why?  The whole experience felt corporate – efficient yet inhuman.

One evening I returned to the hotel after a busy (full) day of consulting work.  I found myself keen to get changed and go walkabout around Cheltenham: walk, look around, check out potential dining choices, pick a restaurant. Problem: it was raining heavily and I had no umbrella. Further, the situation did not afford the purchase of an umbrella as it was about 7:30 in the evening.

Remembering that some hotels (of the expensive kind) stock umbrellas for use by guests, I approached the lady staffing the reception desk. “You don’t happen to have an umbrella I can borrow do you?”  Her polite answer? “Sorry, we don’t have any umbrellas.” Hope dashed. Mild disappointed – mild because I did not expect this kind of hotel to offer customers umbrellas.  Then the most amazing-delightful thing happened.

One of the employees working at the bar (which happened to be adjacent to the Reception desk) said “I have an umbrella, you are welcome to borrow it. Mind you, it’s girly. Are you ok with that?”  Then she went into a back room and handed me her own (private) girly umbrella. Surprise. Delight. Gratitude. I accepted her gift, thanked her, and promised to return her umbrella to her by the end of the evening.

Here’s the thing, I was so deeply touched (and continue to be touched) by this young lady’s humanity (kindness, generosity) and her placing her trust in me (without me having earned it first) that some deeply human dimension of me wanted to both to hug her. And to cry. Why cry? Cry of joy. Joy of what?  Joy that fellow feeling – genuine human compassion – is still alive in some people.  She did not know me. She did not owe me anything. She had no script to follow. In fact, if there was a script to follow I suspect it would advise employees not to lend their or the hotels private property to guests (customers).

It is the accueil – the acceptance, the welcome, the warmth, the hospitality of this young lady’s humanity in action that I remember and carry with me. I am moved by how she showed up. Her way of being makes me feel good about being a member of the human race. Gives me hope for the human race despite the savage/violent aspects of human existence.

Which brings me back to experience engineering and the question I posed: How do you build authentic humanity into the customer experience?  What I can tell you is this: you cannot do it by the means that most folks are using to design/engineer customer experiences: putting lots of channels in play, collecting lots of data (small and big) and using this to do ‘personalise content’ to do targeted marketing/selling, engaging a bunch of BPR/Six Sigma to redesign processes, handing out vision/value cards to employees, sending employees on training courses, using VoC measures (NPS) to reward/punish employees…..

If the quality of the accueil matters (and I say it matters a lot in service environments) then you have to deliberately attract and welcome folks who embody warm accueil in their way of being. And then you have to continually cultivate an environment/climate where 1) those in management roles generate that kind of acceuil for the folks working in the organisation; and 2) folks working in the organisation can agree or disagree with one another – passionately against a background of warm accueil for their fellow colleagues despite challenging their ideas, proposals, and behaviours.

Do this and you dispose your organisation to spontaneously and appropriately generate the kind of humanity/accueil that build genuine affinity with your organisation / brand.  And yes, the right tools, and behind the scenes processes can make it easier for your folks to deliver outstanding accueil.

Notice, the technology (tools) and process – are there in the background to serve your people.  Your people become real-time, flexible, experience engineers – treating different customers differently and even the same customer differently depending on the context.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  Until the next time, I wish you the very best – may you receive and grant the kind of accueil that makes you proud to be a member of the human race.









Latest Musings on Customer Experience, Digital Transformation, and Agile

It’s been a while – quite a while since the last conversation.  During this period I have experienced that which I have experienced and in the process some aspects of human existence inside organisational worlds have revealed themselves to me. Today, I wish to share a few of the experiences and revelations.

Some Matters Call Louder and Make Bigger Demands

This has been the year that I have found myself involved in digital transformation visions and initiatives aimed at designing and delivering compelling  omnichanel customer experiences. So my work has taken me across Europe. That has meant a lot of travel: taxis, airports, planes, more taxis….. Towards the end of September that travel became too much for my back. If I sat down I could not get up unaided.  What did I do?  Did I do as my advisers advised?  Did I stop this way of existence?  Did I take it easy?  Did I take time off work to let my back heal?

No. I continued working. The exception that I made because I had to make it was to cut down on the travelling. To do as much as possible working from home. When that did not work and I found myself forced to work from home, I worked from home. To even do that I had to take medicines. Medicines to ease the pain and make it possible for me to work – usually and mostly by standing up for hours at a time. And when the work was over (for that day) I took medicines to relax certain muscles by putting me to sleep.

Apart from the work of working and honouring my commitments to clients and colleagues, I cut everything else out. That cutting out included spending time with the family. It also included cutting out any and all matters that go into thinking about and sharing the conversations that constitute The Customer & Leadership Blog.

Why is it that I cut everything out except work – the very thing that my advisors told me to cut out?  Why did I put the emphasis on today (work that needed to be done) and not tomorrow (restoration to full health)?  The honest answer is simply that the matters of today (work) made a stronger call-demand-pull on me than the matters of tomorrow. Why? Because dealing with matters of today (the work that needed to be done on initiatives that I was deeply involved in) generated the income that funds my lifestyle – and that of those who depend on me.

What does this have to do with digital transformation efforts focussed on enabling client-centricity (single customer view, pull as well as push) and great omnichannel experiences?  A good question.  Here is the answer. These efforts are focussed on creating a future – for some a desirable and compelling future. Yet these efforts are starved of attention and critical resources. Why?  Because the day-to-day operational demands of the business – to keep it working and generating the necessary revenues and profits – make stronger calls/demands on the folks in the business. As such they suck and deeply enmesh the very folks that are needed to create the future. So the digital transformation journey turns out, for many organisations, to be that much ‘harder’, longer, and troublesome than the visionaries and architects imagine.

There Is A Big Difference Between Beginning / Doing CX-Digital Transformation and Truly Doing CX-Digital Transformation!

How can I best convey that which I wish to convey here? Perhaps it is best for me to share the following passage with you:

My solo three months hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. there was the first flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job …. finalizing my divorce… selling everything I owned…… There was the driving across the country… and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to …….

At which point, at long last, there was the actually doing it, quickly followed by the grim realisation of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly prepared to do it.

And then there was the real live truly doing it.

The staying and doing it, in spite of everything, In spite of the bears and the rattlesnakes and the scat of mountain lions…; the blisters and scabs and scrapes and lacerations. The exhaustions and the deprivation; the cold and the heat; the monotony and the pain; the thirst and the hunger…..

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Agile: The Latest Corporate Delusion?

What kind of people have we become? People who want it easy, painless, fast and if possible entertaining.  Further, we are people who are woeful at thinking. Really thinking – looking beyond the surface to see the genealogy of ideas, principles, methods, and practices to enrich our understanding of what it is we are talking about, dealing with.  I am clear that this is clearly the case with Agile.

How can I put this bluntly?  When I was a teenager, played tennis, enjoyed tennis, wanted to become better at tennis, and idolized Bjorn Borg I rushed out and bought a Donnay tennis racket.  That racket did not turn me into a championship winning tennis player.  Want another example? Certain matters are they way they are – they require time, effort, involve pain, making sacrifices…… and adding agile those matters does not magically get rid of this time, effort, pain, sacrifice…. Take pregnancy and the nine month process of giving birth (hopefully) to a health baby.  Add Agile to pregnancy to make it Agile Pregnancy. What difference does this make in the real world of those who become pregnant?

Based on my experience I say that adding Agile to your CX or Digital Transformation will not deal with the matters I have raised in the first two points: the primacy (pull) of the existing business and day-to-day operations; and the matters raised-shared by Cheryl Strayed.  What it will do is to delude you into taking on matters that you may not be well positioned-disposed to take on. And fail to deal realistically with the real hurdles in a pragmatic manner.

I thank you for your listening. If you missed these conversations then I say please know that I missed ‘giving birth to them’ and sharing them with you.  As the French say “A la prochaine” – until the next time…

Leadership Involves Mastery of Initiative Conversations

Effective Leaders Excel At Initiative Conversations

I say that a leader is s/he who brings about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. I also say that human beings are beings who live in-through language. This leads me to conclude that a leader is s/he who is a master of using language to bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. This begs the question, what kind of language? To bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway a leader has to take the initiative and effect change in the present. This means that a leader has to excel in the art of Initiative Conversations.

An Enquiry Into Initiative Conversations

At this point you are likely to want me to define an ‘Initiative Conversation’. Here’s the definition:

An Initiative Conversation is a proposal to create a new future, with the intention of making the future a reality. What makes an Initiative Conversation unique is not that it is a way of talking about starting something. It actually does start something.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

I am aware of the limitation of definitions, so allow me to bring this definition to life by giving you an example of an Initiative Conversation:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. Let it be clear … that I am asking Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgement it would be better not to go at all.

President John R. Kennedy speaking to joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961

What Makes Initiative Conversations Necessary?

In my conversations with my children I often say “The being of man, your being, my being, is not the being of this table right in front of us!” What do I mean by that? Allow me to shed light on that by sharing the following with you (bolding mine):

The twig has no relationship to it’s future, drifting passively in the wind.

People are not twigs: we can create a future by design. We have desires or intentions, goals or plans, and can have an active relationship to the future….. When we become active and intentional about our future, we can deliberately choose to make something happen… The desire for something better is characteristic of human beings. 

To make your goals a reality, begin by having Initiative Conversations: announce the future you want to achieve, and invite other people to join you in making it happen

Initiative Conversations are proposals that share an idea for an attractive and worthwhile future, and show people the possibility and the value in fulfilling it…. In many cases, the Initiative Conversation goes beyond informing people, and begins to engage them and excite them about being part of making something happen….

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How can you tell whether you have held an effective Initiative Conversation or not? Simple. An effective Initiative Conversation does more than inform or provide direction. An effective Initiative Conversation moves the people taking part in that conversation! The people are moved as in excited by the new future and being so excited they are moved to enter into the ‘arena’ where work has to happen to bring about the new future. At a very human level, you/i feel it: there is a certain energy, a certain buzz.

What Are The Constituents of An Initiative Conversation?

1. What-When-Why

The following three elements make up the heart of an Initiative Conversation:

1. What is to be accomplished (the desired outcome);
2. When (date-time) are we committed to accomplish the desired outcome; and
3. Why does it matter that we generated the desired outcome by such a date-time?

Regarding these elements I share the following advice with you:

The What element …. needs to be brief and compelling to attract the intended audience.

Every goal needs a timeline – that is what makes the new future a specific event instead of an abstract idea.

The value of an initiative needs to be spelled out clearly for everyone, especially when it requires financial or material resources, or causes people inconvenience or extra work. Why is a value statement that provides the context for the change and allows people to choose to spend their time, money, and effort to reach the goal.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

2. Who-Where-How

Let’s imagine that you have thought through your What-When-Why. Are you now in a position to out into the world and hold Initiative Conversations? No. You need to think through the Who-Where-How:

Before taking your initiative on the road, consider Who needs to hear the message, Where the resources are, and How the work might get done.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How much work do you need to do in this domain? Do you need to have fully fleshed out stakeholder management plan? Do you need a fully fleshed out business case and inventory of resources required? Do you need a detailed MS Project Plan running into hundreds, even thousands of tasks, that will send just about everybody to sleep? No. Just need to do enough to show that you have thought through what it will take to bring about the desired future:

Who Needs to Participate?

Identify all the different individuals and groups you believe will be needed to accomplish the initiative. Who could do the work? Who could provide the resources? Who will receive the benefits? Who needs to authorise, approve, or regulate some aspect of the initiative? This is your first guess, which you will probably continue to revise as you go forward….

Where Will The Resources Come From? 

The process of taking an idea through an implementation process to its fulfilment requires resources….. consider what resources are likely to be required and where they might come from. Where could you get the money, the people, and the tools?

How Might The Work Get Done?

Even though you do not need a fully detailed work plan at the initiative stage, it is helpful to think through what might be involved in accomplishing what you are proposing…. The objective is to begin sketching out what you think will be required… suggestive rather than definitive. The prime benefit of doing this task now is that it lets you see where you need input and ideas from others …..

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

3. Hold The Initiative Conversations And Keep Holding Them

When you have both the What-When-Why and the Who-Where-How then you are in a good place to hold Initiative Conversations through a variety of communication methods. When you hold these Initiative Conversations I counsel you to heed these wise words (bolding mine):

The important thing is to include everyone who might have a direct or an indirect contribution to make to the fulfilment of the vision. You want to give people an opportunity to learn about the initiative and think about how their own activities and environment will change. Your goal for Initiative Conversations is to get people talking….

You will probably say this same initiative statement (What-When-Why) many times. One important job for the leader is to keep the big-picture goals alive for people by repeating them as the initiative progresses towards completion. Initiative Conversations tend to have short lives. Even when things are going well, people get caught up in their local details, and the big picture fades from view, so they need frequent reminders about the purpose of their labors.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

What Does This Have To Do With Customer Experience Transformation?

I invite you to consider that most organisations doing Customer stuff (CX, CRM) fail because the folks in leadership positions fail to plan for and hold effective Initiative Conversations. These ‘leaders’ fail to move the folks through communicating a compelling-energizing-uplifting What-When-Why.

I also find that many ‘leaders’ fail to do a good enough job of the Who-Where-How. Consider the Who. Is it not the case that when it comes to organisational change only the favoured circle are included, really included, in the Initiative Conversations; most of the folks who will do the work and whose lives will change (usually dramatically) are treated as pawns to be moved around the organisational chess board.  Consider the questions of resources (Where) by using an airline analogy. In the airline business one does not have folks flying planes with say 90 units of fuel if 100 are needed to get to the destination. In organisational worlds that I have witnessed, I have found it is common for those charged with implementation to be given only 80 units when 100 are needed, and then for these folks to be punished when they ‘resist change’ or do not bring about the desired outcomes. Consider the How: how often is it that folks that dream up visions, develop strategies, and mandate change do not adequately grapple with  how the work of change will occur  thus storing up trouble during the implementation phase.

And Finally

I thank you for your listening to my speaking. I look forward to listening to your speaking if you choose to speak by commenting.  I wish you a great day and ask that you cause this weekend to be a great weekend for you and all whom you touch. Why not hold Initiative Conversations about what really matters to you, with the folks that matter?  Initiative Conversations are just as relevant in the personal domain as they are in the business/organisational domain.

Please note an earlier slightly modified version of this conversation was published in May 2015 at CustomerThink.com as part of the  monthly Human-Centred Leadership column.

Are There Are Any Flaws In Today’s Hot Theories on Leadership?

What does it take to cultivate strong relationships with the folks that you find yourself leading or managing?

As I listen to the folks in HR, and those that talk leadership, it occurs to me that a specific style/approach is being advocated: be nice to folks, listen to them, don’t lose your calm, delegate/share power, make them feel they matter…  If this is the case then how is it that Steve Jobs is held up as one of the most effective business leaders of all time? Steve Jobs, at least what I know of him, was not the exemplar of this approach.

We can ignore anomalies, breakdowns/holes in our existing take on reality, or look into them, explore and learn. Today, lets take this breakdown to see what it might conceal. As it happens this was a matter that I was grappling with whilst I found myself incapacitated for 4-5 weeks. I’d like to share with you what showed up for me. I invite you to listen to the words of Douglas McGregor as spoken in his book The Human Side of Enterprise (bolding mine):

Many subtle behavioral manifestations of managerial attitude create what is often referred to as the psychological “climate” of the relationship. During childhood ….. each of us acquired a high level of skill in perceiving aspects of parental behavior which told us whether everything was “all right with the relationship. Even very small children are amazingly sensitive to quite unconscious manifestations of parental attitudes of acceptance or rejection...

Granted that the subordinate’s dependency is far less in the employment relationship, it remains materially true that his ability to achieve his goals is materially affected by the attitudes of his superiors….. The climate is more significant than the type of leadership or personal “style” of the superior. The boss can be autocratic or democratic, warm and outgoing or remote and introverted, easy or tough, but these personal characteristics are of less significance then the deeper attitudes to which his subordinates respond. 

What Do You Get When You Swear At, Drive, Discipline, Dictate At Those You Lead?

Let’s continue this conversation by listening to Douglas McGregor share an anomaly that he encountered at a manufacturing company (bolding mine):

The mechanical superintendent in a small manufacturing company was the prototype of the “bull in the woods” manager. He swore at his men, drove them, disciplined them, behaved superficially like a Napoleon. He was the despair of the staff group who were carrying on a program of supervisory training in human relations. Yet, oddly, his subordinates appeared to have high regard to him. They said, “Oh is bark is worse than his bite.” Morale and productivity in his department were both high.

Let’s stop here for a moment and reflect. Here we have a real life example that goes against the conventional wisdom of human-relations – at least the wisdom advocated by leadership gurus, and HR advisors/practitioners. What is going on? How is it that someone who swears, drives, acts like Napoleon calls forth high regard, morale and productivity from the very folks he is swearing at, driving and disciplining? I say we are back to Steve Jobs and the question that I posed at the start of this conversation.

Is Effective Leadership Limited to Creating a Deep and Satisfying Emotional Certainty of Free Treatment?

I invite you to listen some more to the words of Douglas McGregor (bolding mine):

Probing revealed some significant facts. He was known as a “square shooter” who dealt with his men with scrupulous fairness. Despite his superficial toughness he was sincerely and warmly interested in his subordinatesWhen they were in trouble – whether it was a simple matter of a few dollars to tide a man over until payday, or a family crisis – he helped out in matter-of-fact way that left no uncomfortable feeling of being patronised.

Most important of all, he was known to be ready to go to bat for his men on any occasion when he felt they had not been accorded a fair break by higher management. The men spoke with awe of two occasions during a ten-year period when he had stormed into the office of the big boss to demand that a decision be altered because it was unfair to “his boys.” When he was refused in one of these instances, he resigned on the spot, put on his hat, and left. His superior actually followed him out to the gate and capitulated.

Douglas McGregor concludes his take on this superintendent and his leadership/management style with the following words of wisdom:

His managerial attitude cuts across authoritarianism, permissiveness, paternalism, firmness and fairness, and all the other “styles” of management to create a deep and satisfying emotional certainty of fair treatment.

It occurs to me that Douglas McGregor’s take on leadership/management accounts may just account for the success of Steve Jobs as a leader/manager. From what I have read, Steve Jobs surrounded himself with A players: those that showed up as A’s were treated as As, those who did not were pushed out.

I Find Myself Disagreeing With Douglas McGregor. Why?

How is it that I find myself left uncomfortable and in disagreement with Douglas McGregor? I say that the ground upon which the exercise of human-centred leadership occurs is ‘care’: genuine care for the wellbeing of one’s ‘boys and girls’. Care is more than fair treatment. And is illustrated by this superintendent in two ways. First, when “his boys” were in troubles he helped out “in a matter of fact way that left no uncomfortable feelings”. Fair treatment in the workplace does not require one to lend money to the folks you are leading or help them out with family crises. Second, he resigned. Fair treatment would require that the superintendent go to bat for his boys – to make the case. It does not require one to resign. So how does this resignation show ‘care’? It occurs to me that it shows the other (usually hidden side) of care: care for one’s stand in relationship to what will and will not stand for. In his case, the Superintendent was not willing to stand for anything less than fair treatment for “his boys”. I bet that “his boys” were proud to be called “his boys”.

Note: this conversation is a modified version of the conversation published earlier at CustomerThink.com

What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.

Competency: The Untapped Lever For Improving the Customer Experience And Cultivating Loyalty?

It took me over nine months to get my eldest son to consult Sandra about his shoulder/back pain. It took only one consultation for him to book another four sessions with Sandra. Why? Because Sandra is excellent at what she does.

How does Sandra demonstrate her excellence? In her greeting. In how quickly-easily she spots what the underlying causes are. In how effortlessly she causes the necessary adjustments. In how keen and effective she is to communicate with, inform, and educate the folks that go and see her.  In short Sandra is competent in that which matters.

What are the sources of her competence? This is what I have distinguished. One, she has been doing what she has been doing for forty years. In her early years. Two, she is really into her chosen field and so keeps up to date with the latest research. Three, she is open to learning  – including learning from the folks who are her clients.

I say competency matters. I say that competency can provide powerful access to improving the customer’s experience of you and your organisation, and cultivating meaningful-enduring relationships. And I say that competency is neglected. Why? It occurs to me that the assumption is that folks / processes / technology are competent. Is this assumption valid?

Allow me to give you examples of incompetency that I have come across myself:

Many if not most marketers are incompetent. Some are not adequately skilled in the creative side. Many are not skilled in the data/analytical/digital side of marketing….

Most sales folks are not competent in the craft of selling.  Some lack commercial acumen. Others lack an adequate grasp of their customer’s industry/business. Some lack a through grapes of the product/solution that they are selling. Others lack the ability to focus on the clients/deals that matter. Some suffer from all of these handicaps.

Most of the folks that I have found to be in retail stores are incompetent. Some are not skilled in greeting / welcoming customers. Others simply do not have the requisite product knowledge to answer the customers’ questions. Some cannot work the technology that they need to be able to work quickly-easily to serve customers promptly….

Most of the folks in call-centres are incompetent. Some simply do not have the requisite listening and speaking skills. Others do not have the knowledge-understanding to provide the right answers to customer queries. Some are not adept at working the range of systems that they need to interact with to deal with customer queries. Others lack a sound understanding of the company’s processes.

Most managers are incompetent. Some are incompetent in the task dimension. Most are incompetent when it comes to working effectively with people and calling forth the best from their people.

Many of the IT folks are incompetent. Some do not understand the technologies that they are dealing with. Far more and most are unskilled in dealing effectively with human beings or simply bearing in mind that they IT systems must serve the needs of people if these systems are going to be adopted and used effectively….

Most business processes are incompetent – they are not fit for purpose.  Some are simply out of date. Many are too restrictive – they do not allow folks to respond flexibly to the demands of the situation.  So the folks who find themselves amidst these processes have to find creative ways around these processes. Or stick to the script and leave customers with the experience of dealing with robots.  That is is the biggest incompetency of business process fixation: turning resourceful, creative, flexible beings (human beings) into mindless morons.

Most IT systems are incompetent. Some are simply not useful – they do not help the folks to get the job done better, quicker, easier. Others are not usable – they take to long to learn, finding one’s way around the system is not intuitive, they are not accessible when they need to be accessible, or they are not adequately responsive… Most are simply not for human beings with soul. And of course often there are simply too many of these systems and these systems do not talk to one another – thus creating extra work for the human beings.

I say that when you choose to really look at the world of business through the lens of competency you may just be amazed on how incompetency is ubiquitous. I say that the organisational world is wide open for those who wish to make a name for themselves (and/or their organisations) by rising above the general level of incompetency and committing to excellence.  I say that one critical role of effective leaders is to set and live high standards – standards which define competence as being no less than excellence as defined by the ‘customer’ of the product, the process, the system…

How To Solve The Insoluble Problem Of Employee Engagement and Customer Loyalty?

It occurs to me that when the same ‘problem’ keeps coming up then it worth taking a deeper look at the ‘the way of showing up and travelling’ (some call this mindset  or worldview) that generates the methods-techniques-tools for addressing the problem.  So in this conversation I wish to grapple with the persistent problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’. Let’s start by listening to one of my favourite stories (of wisdom):

Dividing Camels

There was once a Sufi who wanted to make sure his disciples would, after his death, find the right teacher of the Way for them. He, therefore …. left his disciples seventeen camels with this order: ‘You will divide the camels among the three of you in the following proportions: the oldest shall have half, the middle in age one third, and the youngest shall have one ninth.’

… the disciples were at first amazed at such an inefficient disposition of their Master’s assets. Some said, ‘Let us own the camels communally,’ others sought advice and then said, ‘We have been told to make the nearest possible division,’ others were told by a judge to sell the camels and divide the money; and yet others held that the will was null and void because its provisions could not be executed.

Then the fell to thinking that there might be some hidden wisdom to the Master’s bequest, so they made enquiries as to who could solve insoluble problems.

Everyone they tried failed, until they arrived at the door of … Hazrat Ali. He said: ‘This is your solution. I will add one camel to the number. Out of the eighteen camels you will give half – nine camels – to the oldest disciple. The second shall have a third of the total, which is six camels. The last disciple may have one-ninth, which is two camels. That makes seventeen. One, my camel, is left over to be returned to me.’

This is how the disciples found the teacher for them.

– Idries Shah, Thinkers Of The East

Have you watched The Matrix? It is movie that can be listened to at so many levels. I find the same to be the case for this story. For the sake of this conversation, let me highlight this:

1. The conventional ‘leaders’ had supplied conventional advice which was ok for conventional matters. But not for this unusual one;

2. It is what Hazrat Ali put into the game at hand (‘one camel’) that ended up solving the insoluble problem facing the disciples; and

3. The ‘one camel’ does not refer to a physical camel. The ‘one camel’ refers to wisdom, compassion, love, humanity – the essentials of human existence and authentic community. There can never be a human being only human beings; to be human is to be social.

What relevance does this have to the world of business and the two problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’? I say everything. Take a deep look at the methods-tools-techniques used to address these challenges. What do you notice? I notice that the ‘way of showing up and travelling’ (mindset/worldview if you prefer cognitivist rather than existential terms) is extractive: extracting more creativity, time, and effort from the employees and extracting more revenue and profits from customers? Where is the engagement, by the leaders/managers, in the lives (and existential projects) of the employees?  What loyalty is there to the customer?  Here I am pointing at practices and actions that ensure that the company is loyal to customers – not just words.

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit by Robin P.

What ‘way of showing up and travelling’ in organisational life calls forth the kind of employee engagement that most organisations can only dream of?  I share with the following story as shared by Robin P of Zappos. I invite you to pay attention to that which I have put into bold:

My husband passed away under tragic circumstances …. I couldn’t being to think of what was going to happen for our children, our family, or for me.

When I first heard the news, I was numb, but I needed to make a call. Strangely enough, the call wasn’t to an immediate family member. It was to my employer, Zappos.com. That one action made me realize the strong connection I felt with my co-workers and the Zappos culture…

When my senior manager received by hysterical call, she showed great compassion and gave me sound advice to calm me. She assured me that I shouldn’t be concerned with anything else but to take care of myself and my family, and that – day or night – I should call if I needed anything. After that she gave me every single one of her phone numbers, I knew she meant it.

As much as Zappos meant to me before, the things they did after my husband passed amazed and humbled me. I was reassured that I shouldn’t feel pressure to return to work as soon as possible. They even volunteered to cater the reception for my husband’s service….

There was always someone there to listen, offer consoling words, sit with me as I released my tears, or just give a hug. Co-workers and managers alike allowed me time to heal and gave me strength I needed to continue as a contributing and functioning member of the team.

the most important contributions from my extended family at Zappos were support and friendship. Zappos was my refuge and healing place that gave me everything I needed to continue on with my life.

– Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh

What do you notice here? Are the folks at Zappos applying a particular set of techniques-tools dreamt up by social scientists, consultants, or recommended by HR? Or is it that the folks in Zappos, including her manager, putting their humanity into action: demonstrating care/concern for a human being in distress?  Do you/i/we need some kind of special training to do this?  Or is it merely a matter of creating an environment where we can put into play that which we know as well as we know how to breathe? Finally, I invite you to notice that domain of ‘care/concern’ for our fellow human beings (customers, employees…) involves action (doing stuff that makes a difference) not merely smooth talk.

Summing Up

It occurs to the that the worst thing that has happened to the world of business is the language of relationship: customer relationships, customer engagement, employee engagement, social.. Why? It masks the reality of the business world and organisational life. What reality? Business and organisational worlds are transactional. There is no genuine care for customers as human beings. There is no genuine care for employees as human beings. There is no genuine care for suppliers/partners as human beings. My lived experience (25+ years) is that those who occupy management and leadership positions are not in touch with their humanity. I doubt that most genuinely care even for themselves as human beings rather than human doings, human ‘achieve-ings’.

I invite you to listen to the following profound words:

To become a leader, first you must become a human being.

– Peter Senge

It occurs to me that all Customer and Employee efforts, like the advice-solutions offered by the conventional leaders to the disciples, are likely to fall short until the advice of Peter Senge is heeded. When it is heeded, and lived, like it is by Tony Hsieh (the CEO of Zappos) then the Tops and Middles will be able to call forth the best from the folks in the business to create meaningful-strong-loyal relationships with customers. With the folks working in the business and directly/indirectly serving customers. And suppliers/partners.

I thank you for listening and invite you to put your humanity into the game of living no matter where this living occurs: with customers, in the workplace, at home….

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published on CustomerThink.com last month.