Category Archives: Management
Why Not Replace People With Technology?
In the second half of the 90s I was involved in consulting in the area of shared services. Being a sidekick I got to witness the sales pitch. What was the sales pitch? No human beings. Everything in the back office was subject to business rules. The business rules could be codified, programmed and back office work could be automated. No human necessary. Nirvana: 24/7/365 nirvana of efficiency guaranteed to deliver the same outcome each and every time.
Today, I notice the same love of technology as regards the front office: where the customer meets the enterprise. In this age of technology do people still matter? Do we need sales people given that content marketing will generate the interest, product demos can be put on the web, and the ‘inside sales’ people can take the orders? Do we need to have any people in marketing given that big data will generate the insights, decision engines will contain the heuristics, market resource management systems will hold the marketing assets, and marketing automation will take care of the execution of marketing campaigns? Do we need people in the call-centres taking calls given the extensive self-help that can be enabled through digital channels and every customer would prefer to interact via Twitter? Do we need people in the stores? Why not rebuild the stores so that they resemble a combination of a website and a vending machine?
What Do These Two Women Say On The Matter?
Allow me to share a conversation that I overheard the other day between two women. Before I do that let me set some context. Waitrose is supermarket chain in the UK and it is owned by The John Lewis Partnership. The John Lewis Partnership has been and continues to do well despite tough times for retailers. Tesco used to be the darling of the CRM press and used to be the dominant supermarket chain. It has not been doing so well since austerity hit. Morrisons is the fourth largest chain of supermarkets in the UK.
As promised here is the gist of the conversation (between two women) that I overheard at the weekend:
Mrs A: “Waitrose is known for their great customer service and rightly so. It’s easy to find someone to help you. And when you ask for help in finding something, the Waitrose person walks you across the store and takes you right to the item you are looking for. They are so helpful.”
Mrs B. “I was in Waitrose this week and wasn’t sure what ingredients I needed for eggs Benedict; I haven’t cooked them before. So I asked for help. The Waitrose man didn’t know either but he told me that he would find out. I saw him walk to one of his colleagues. Then he came back and told me what I needed and how to cook eggs Benedict. He was so helpful: he made my problem his own. That’s such good service.”
Mrs B. “The staff in Morrisons don’t walk with you to the item you are looking for. Yet, I always find them warm, friendly and helpful.”
Mrs A. “I don’t like Tesco. It is hard to find people in the store to help you. And when you do find someone to help they tell you where you can find the item, point towards it, and then leave you to it. They don’t walk with you and show you where it is. They don’t care – not at all like the Waitrose people.”
Mrs B. “I used to do all my shopping at Tesco. Then Tesco got greedy – pushing up prices and cutting down on the customer service. Now, I shop for the basics at Morrisons and the rest from Waitrose.”
My Take On The Situation
I’ll leave you decide whether people matter or not in the age of technology. For myself, I am clear that humans are simply more at ease in dealing with other human beings. And there is no substitute for great customer service – the way that the folks in Waitrose (and John Lewis) stores interact with their customers, and amongst themselves.
Before you rush off to revamp your customer service remember that one ingredient does not a dish make. A great dish always consist of the insightful application of a recipe – and the recipe requires a mix of ingredients, in the right measure, and sequence, cooked for just the right amount of time. How does one generate such insight? Through experience: on the battlefield of life. What is the recipe? The business philosophy and organisational design: what matters, who matters, the operating principles, how conflict is handled, how rewards are shared, how people are structured into groups, and how interactions-relationships-differences-conflicts are handled…
Please note: I am not in the business of giving advice (in this blog). So you shouldn’t take anything in this blog as constituting advice. In this blog I find myself involved in sharing my thinking and experience. That is all. Then you make of it what you make of it.
Is performance a function of an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situation?
It occurs to me that, all else being equal, the probability of the airliners successful arrival/landing at San Francisco is a function of the the pilots attunement with reality: that which is and is not. Let’s make this concrete by considering some examples:
- If as the pilot, I have access to the gap between the actual flight and the flight path which is necessary to get the airliner to San Francisco, and I do make the necessary course corrections, on an ongoing basis, then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
- If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a serious problem with one of the engines and I can accurately determine which engine it is, and I do shut down the troublesome engine as/when it becomes necessary to shut that engine down then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
- If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a security lockdown at San Francisco airport and that the airliner is running out of fuel, and I head for the nearest alternative airport (say LA) then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
You get the idea: the probability of success in this venture is a function of the pilot/captain’s ability to ensure that ‘the actions that are critical to the safe arrival of the airliner’ at San Francisco are in attune with, on an ongoing basis, with what is so (and is not so) as this impacts the airliner. Furthermore, this attunement can be broken down into:
- an accurate-timely grasp of what is so – the ‘truth’ of the situation; and
- taking appropriate-timely action, on an ongoing basis, to ensure attunement with this reality.
I ask you to notice the following as regards the very structure of this game of commercial flying:
- that which we are talking about applies irrespective of who/what is piloting the airliner. And what shape the airliner takes;
- every crew member who values his life finds him/herself called to pass on information that helps the pilot to be attuned to the truth of the situation and take the appropriate action;
- every sane pilot (one who values his life) is motivated to be open to and seek knowledge of the ‘truth of the situation’ and take the action that the situation calls for given the commitment to arrive safely at the desired destination;
- lack of sufficient attunement to the the truth of the situation would affect the lives of all including the pilot/captain – even if the pilot/captain could ‘parachute’ out (and leave all the others to their fate) his live would be affected sufficiently negatively that parachuting out does not show up as an attractive option for any same pilot; and
- there is no space to ‘hide behind’ an ideology that does violence to the ‘truth’ of the situation - the structure of this game is such that any significant lack of attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation will lead to visible disaster and those held responsible will pay a public price.
Are large-established organisations in attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation?
What accounts for the rampant malfunction, even outright failure, when it comes to large-established organisations? I say that it is a lack of ongoing attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation. Put differently, it occurs to me that the first and most serious casualty of organisational life is the ‘truth’ of the situation; the ‘truth’ of the situation is moulded so as to speak-pander to the interests of the powerful and to conform to the reigning ideology.
Perhaps, there is no greater challenge for those who aspire to be leaders and who fill leadership positions then calling forth and truly listening to the ‘truth’ of the situation: seeing ‘reality’ in the nude – naked of personal interest and the dominant ideology.
How to illustrate, make concrete, that which I have been talking about here? How to give it flesh and bones? Let’s revisit the latest news on the NHS. Here is what jumped out at me from a piece (NHS-on-brink-of-crisis-because-it-became-too-powerful-to-criticise.html) in the Telegraph newspaper:
THE NHS should not be treated as a “national religion” while millions of patients receive a “wholly unsatisfactory” service from GPs and hospitals, the official regulator has warned.
David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission, said the health service had been allowed to reach the brink of crisis because it was “too powerful” to be criticised.
He said parts of the NHS were “out of control” because honest debate about the weaknesses of the health service was not tolerated.
… he said. “When things were going wrong people didn’t say anything. If you criticised the NHS – the attitude was how dare you?”…..
Mr Prior suggested that the “target culture” imposed by Labour a decade ago fundamentally damaged the culture of the NHS, creating a “chillingly defensive” operation in which the truth was often sacrificed. “The whole culture of the NHS became so focused on targets that it obscured what real quality was about,” he said. “The voice of the patient wasn’t in those targets.”
He said many hospitals needed radical reform.
Is it just many hospitals that need radical reform? It occurs to me that many organisations need radical reform. It occurs to me that our whole way of life requires radical reform. It occurs to me that our fundamental way of being-showing up in the world requires reform.
Where to start? It occurs to me that, at an ‘organisational’ level, a great place to start is to create a context which call forth an enquiry into, and a grappling with, the ‘truth’ of the situation from all of the actors who find themselves in or impacted by the situation.
When it comes to Customer Service, Customer Focus, Customer Experience, CRM, Customer Obsession, a great place to start with is the question, “Do we REALLY want to play this game, play it full out? Are we willing to do what it takes to EXCEL at this game?”
I say excellence in the game of cultivating meaningful customer relationships and excelling at the Customer Experience is an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situations as experienced-lived by the Customer. This kind of attunement takes more than customer surveys or mystery shopping. I say these mechanisms are merely ‘defence mechanism’ – ways of avoiding what it truly takes to be attuned to the ‘truth’ of the situation as lived by the Customer.
Why Aeroplanes Don’t Fall Out Of The Sky; Why Business Screws Customers and Hospitals Kill Their Patients
I invite you to ponder the following
- Why is it that commercial aeroplanes don’t fall out of the sky?
- Why is it that terrorism did not take root, establish itself, and grow in the USA/UK?
- Why is that it is rare for criminals to kill a policeman in the UK?
- Why is it that the bankers lied-cheated-stole, brought the western capitalist system to its knees, and prospered whilst the rest of society has been paying the price of their actions?
- Why is it that hospitals in the NHS have been killing their customers (the patients) for ten years (or so) despite whistleblowing (by doctors and nurses working in these hospitals) and complaints made to hospital management, the regulators, and the politicians?
- Why is it that employees have no voice in large organisations and domination-intimidation of the less powerful by the more powerful is rife in these organisation – public and private?
- Why is it that large established businesses, and those who lead-manage-run them, continue to screw (cheat, swindle) their customers?
What did you come up with? I suspect that you came up with the standard excuses and explanations – this is what we do when we show up from the taken for granted way of seeing and explaining.
What shows up when I look beyond the accepted excuses and explanations?
I invite you to put aside the standard, commonplace, complaints, excuses and explanations. Instead I invite you to grapple with the question that I have posed in a zen like manner. What shows up for you? When I grapple with this question this is what shows up for me:
- When a commercial aeroplane falls out of the sky it is clear-obvious that the aeroplane has fallen out of the sky. When such an aeroplane falls out of the sky people die and often there is carnage. Loved ones grieve and demand answers. The media is on the scene and gives voice to the grief-loss of the loved ones and vividly displays the carnage. All of which makes it unacceptable for commercial aeroplanes to drop out of the sky. Put simply, commercial aeroplanes don’t fall out of the sky because we do not accept them falling out of the sky!
Terrorism failed to get established in the USA and UK because it was unacceptable to allow terrorists space to terrorise. Because it was not acceptable, massive resources were mobilised and draconian measures put in place to deal with threats of terrorism.
It is not ok for criminals, or anyone else, to kill a policeman in the UK. Killing a policeman is going to far and that is something we will not allow. Because we do not allow it, it rarely occurs.
Bankers lied-cheated-stole and got away with it because we accept lying-cheating-stealing as business as usual. Greed is good. Lying is good. Cheating is good. Stealing is good. As long as this lying-cheating-stealing generates bumper profits, generates employment and yields the requisite tax revenues.
A number of NHS hospitals have been killing their customers, the patients, over a period of some 7 – 10 years because we accept it. It is OK to kill patients provided the instructions of the Tops (the government ministers) are carried out. It is not OK to disobey our masters. It is OK to kill patients. Besides the killing of patients by neglect-negliance is not evident unlike the clarity of aeroplanes falling out of the sky.
Domination, intimidation and bullying is common place because it is OK to dominate, intimidate and bully people. It is the way that the powerful get the powerless to do what they want them to do. It is the way to exercise control. It is business as usual in public and private sector organisations. It occurs because we accept it.
Large established businesses, and those who run them, continue to screw their customers because it is not obvious when this screwing is taking place. And even when it is obvious it is perfectly OK to screw customers. We accept that business and those who run them will seek to and find way so screwing customers. This is simply business as usual.
Lloyds Banking Group is fined a record £28m by the Financial Conduct Authority
If it occurs to you that I go too far then I invite you to read the latest revelations as showcased in the following piece in the Guardian newspaper: Lloyds Banking Group fined record £28m in new mis-selling scandal. This is what Tracey McDermott, the Financial Conduct Authority’s director of enforcement and financial crime is quoted as saying:
“Customers have a right to expect better from our leading financial institutions and we expect firms to put customers first – but firms will never be able to do this if they incentivise their staff to do otherwise.”
Why has the FCA handed down a record £28m fine?
According to Guardian piece:
1. “for putting staff under intense pressure to sell products customers did not want – or face demotion and pay cuts”; and
2. “the fine had been increased by 10% because Lloyds failed to heed repeated warnings about sales practices and because it had been fined 10 years ago for poor sales practices.
It occurs to me that which shows up and continues to show up in our world, the human world, is that which we accept, that which is OK by us, that which we assent to in our way of being-showing up in the world. As customers we get what we accept – no more, no less. As employees we get what we accept – no more, no less. As citizens we get what we accept – no more, no less.
Let’s leave aside the theoretical aspects and arguments related to the suitability of using NPS. Instead, let’s consider the implications of using NPS as a performance management tool rather than simply as an indicator which tells us who well we are doing, as an organisation, in building meaningful relationships with customers.
Every human activity produces both things that we want – “goods” – and things we don’t want – “bads”.
- Garrett Hardin, Filters Against Folly
It occurs to me that when we use NPS as a performance management tool we act on the people in the organisation, we act on customers, we alter the balance of power between the multiple parties. And we inject high does of fear and greed into the rich tapestry of human interactions.
This is how we end up generating the “bads” – the dark side of using NPS as a performance management tool. Let’s get specify and look at the dark side. What shows up?
- Customer facing employees (sales, service) and their managers game the system to generate high NPS scores;
Some customers are either ‘bribed’ and-or ‘pressured’ to give high scores;
Some customers, especially the more powerful ones in B2B, exercise their new-found power to extract concessions – free ‘products’, more discounts, credits, special treatment – from the sales reps and account managers; and
Some sales reps and account managers ‘give away’ more than they need to’ in order to play safe and assure high NPS scores. This ‘giving away’ tends to be in the region of services which do not directly impact on the revenue figures and commission cheque of the sale rep.
I leave you to decide whether the “goods” generated by using NPS as a performance management tool outweigh the “bads” that I have shared with you. I do assure you that points 3 and 4 above are not just theoretical – this behaviour is occurring.
Next time you are planning an intervention in the rich web of human relationships get together a diverse group of people, including those who are likely to be impacted, and explore this question: what is likely to happen – today and over the course of time – after we make this intervention?