What Does The Doublespeak of Customer Love Disguise?

Looking beyond the doublespeak of customer-centricity, customer engagement, customer love to see what is truly there.

In his latest post Andrew Rudin questions the advice of customer experts and provides his take on the language that has come to pervade marketing, sales, service – business in general.  Allow me to share a passage or two from his post:

“We’re bombarded with messages from experts about getting close to customers. How close? Really close! Lustful words like embrace, love, and passion have migrated from romance novels into business blogs. Marketers freely infuse love as a marketing schtick, with buyers as the intended objects. But when sellers get amorous, I remember the words to Are You With Me Baby? by the LeRoi Brothers: “At least tonight, you know that I’m in love with you.” Explanation, not needed.”

In this conversation I wish to look beyond the fashionable language and see what shows up.  Let’s start with the role of the customer in business.

What Is The Role Of The Customer In Business?

Let’s look at business as a system for creating value.  The first question is this one, who truly matters? Look into the very constitution of company and company law. You will find it is the shareholders – specifically the shareholders who individually or collectively control the voting rights.  Next question, what is the ONLY concern of shareholders?  Wealth.  Shareholders of the business are looking for the Tops (at the helm of the business) to generate wealth for them .

Which brings us to the role of customers. What is the role of customers in business?  I say it is to enable the business to survive and thrive by feeding the business.  What do I mean by feeding the business? I mean to provide the money that the business needs. Put differently, customers are the source of cash that flows into the business and keeps the business going.

What can we conclude?  How about this, a customer is only of importance (valuable) if s/he is source of cash flowing into the business.

What Is The Extrinsic Value Of A Customer To A Customer-Centric Business?

Anyone who truly understands the genesis and true meaning of customer-centricity will be familiar with Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).  How does one calculate CLV? Be estimating a figure for the lifetime (years, months), then estimating the value (revenue, contribution..) that this customer will generate for the business over the lifetime.  The smarter folks will discount the value to take into account the time aspect of money.

Here, I draw your attention to a critical point. The past does not count, only the future counts.  What the customer has contributed to the business in the past is irrelevant.  It is only his value to the business in the future that counts.

Why calculate CLV?  To differentiate between customers. In my days at Peppers & Rogers it was the done thing to perform the calculation and then put customers into three buckets: MVCs (most valuable customers), MGCs (most growable customers), and BZs (below zero). And the corresponding ‘strategies’ were to retain MVCs through great service / preferential treatment, increase the value of MGCs by persuading them to buy more at higher prices (x-selling, upsetting), and get rid of the BZs as they were taking value away from the business.

What is going on here?  Pure self-interest.  As Tops we wish to enrich ourselves – earn and walk away with the greatest wealth for ourselves. To do that we must please the shareholders.  To please the shareholders we have to generate as much as value as we can. To do that we need to focus on customers – those customers who hold the promise of generating the most value for us ‘today and tomorrow’.

Here I wish to add that the drive to automate interactions between the customer and the business saw its genesis in the promise of technology to cut down the cost of customer interactions by replacing employees with technology.  By cutting down the costs the value generated by customers, as in CLV, could be increased – sometimes substantially.  The fact that automation of interactions led to benefits to customers was an added bonus – not the primary motive. Disagree? Then answer this question, why have IVRs proliferated rather than being ripped out?  Customers hate IVRs and have hated IVRs for years.

What Value Does Business Place On The Intrinsic Value Of A Customer?

Look beyond the label of customer. What do you see?  I see a human-being – a flesh and blood human being.  Is there any intrinsic value to a human being.  Let’s take a look at that by examining real life examples.

When I see a pregnant woman, a fellow human being, standing on a train, I offer her my seat. Usually I don’t even get to do that. Why? Because some other man or woman has offered her a seat by the time I open my mouth.

When I see an elderly wo/man with what looks like heavy luggage I offer to carry that luggage up and down the stairs – usually at train stations. I do so without being asked.

Once I was in a Deli – some 10-15 years ago. Whilst ordering lunch (sandwiches, drinks…) I notice a young lady. She was not dressed well. She had a handful of coins and she was counting them.  She looked hungry – I saw her face looking at the product. Yet she ordered a tea. I calculated that this was the case because she could only afford a tea. All this happened in seconds, maybe a minute or two.  Immediately, I took out £20 and gave it to her.

When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, I ask folks not to give me presents. I tell them if they wish to contribute to me then they should do so with cash.  Do I need the money? No. So why do I ask for it? Because I get joy out of putting that money into Kiva and then using it to fund folks around the world, who have ideas but lack the money, to build better lives for themselves and their loved ones.

Am I the only one doing these things? No. One of the people I value highly is the President of a leading player in the VoC market. He travels a lot. When he travels he helps folks put their luggage in the overhead compartments. It is not an option for him to not help those who need help. And he gets joy out of this.

I suspect you, also, have at some point in your life carried out an act of kindness. If not, then I suspect you have read about, seen or witnessed an act of genuine human kindness and been moved by it.  Why?

Here is my answer. We ‘know’ at some deep level that there is intrinsic value in a human being – a human life. Why? Because, for the most part, most of us are brought up that way: to value human life, to treat folks right….. To be helpful members of society.  What is heroism but the sacrifice of oneself for the wellbeing of our fellow human beings?

What about the business world?  Does the business world of largish corporations recognise and honour the intrinsic value of a customer as a fellow human being?  Look into this and you will find that aside from small scale community based ‘mom and pop stores’ there is no genuine relating between the business and the customers. A small ‘mom and pop store’ where mom and pop work will get to know their customers: their backgrounds, their family, their hopes and dreams, their challenges…. their intrinsic value.  Not so the case in corporations where the roles remain but the folks that fill those roles is like hotels: the rooms are the same but occupied for short periods of time by many guests.  Further, and this is important, genuine human relating is not permitted in corporations.  What is permitted, even encouraged, is fake relating: scripted interactions, scripted smiles…

When is the last time that a largish corporation paid for life-saving treatment for one of its customers? Or took actions that take time and money to make a customer’s dream come true?  Yet some celebrities have done exactly that for their fans. And folks in communities get together to do that if one of their own is in need.

No, the business world of corporates is blind to the intrinsic value of a customer, any customer.  The only value that counts is the extrinsic (CLV) of the customer – however this is arrived at, whether by intuition or by making complex calculations.  I, the corporation, do something for you if and only if the calculations shows that you will do something for me which is of higher value so that there is good ROI for me.

Summing Up

Without friendship life is hollow which is why almost all of us seek and cherish our genuine friends.  Without love for some person or some activity life is missing something essential. Without being loved by someone or some community life is missing something that is essential to our well being.

So relationships do matter. Love does matter.  However, it would be foolish to expect this kind of relating occurring between a customer and a corporation.  And experts/gurus encourage companies to love customers is pure BS.

Yes, the language that folks in business and those who make a living from pandering to businesses (the media, business gurus, consultants, professors…) has changed.  It speaks of customer engagement, customer relationships, loyalty, customer love….

No, the game of business has not changed.  The game is the same as it has always been – causing ‘surplus rents’ for Tops (in the form of pay, bonus, shares) and Shareholders.  All the Customer talk is doublespeak – it disguises the transactional orientation, it disguises the lack of morality and ethics in big business.

I leave you with this thought / assertion: It is easier to change the words, the images, the slogans, the story than it is to change the system (purpose, values, priorities, people, roles, relationships, practices, tools…).  Therefore, in the absence of a catastrophic breakdown, only the words, image, slogans, and stories change.

I thank you for your listening and I wish you the very best.  Until the next time….

Why Is It That So Many Who Sell Are So Ineffective At Selling?

Are you looking for a  definitive answer to sales ineffectiveness? The kind that identifies the ‘top 10 reasons’ and then recommends great sounding actions. If you are then you have come to the wrong place. I don’t position myself as a sales guru. And experience has taught me to distrust the one definitive answer. Sales advice form sales gurus, for the most part, strikes me as being similar to religion: pure ideology with bits of truth thrown in the mix.

I don’t have a definitive answer for you.  What I wish to do, in this conversation, is to explore the question  through my own lived experience: being on the receiving end of sales pitches as the author of this blog.  Let’s start with advertising.

Sales Pitches From ‘Advertisers’

From time to time someone will contact me to sell me on the idea of accepting advertising (of one kind or another) and making some money.  Nobody has as yet succeeded in persuading me to put ads on this blog. Why not?

When I started sharing that which I share here I made a commitment to myself. What commitment? To share my authentic voice uncorrupted by the profit motive.  As such I ruled out accepting standard adverts or paid for placement masquerading as my thinking, my voice on some matter or other.

The folks who pitch me  to ‘accept advertising and make money’ do not get that I relate to myself, on this blog, as giver not a taker, as thinker not a publisher. And for me, money is not the be all end all of a worthy life.

Sales Pitches from Search Engine Optimisation Folks

I regularly get sales pitches from SEO folks. Some of them have even taken on the best practice advice of sales gurus. They have done an analysis of this blog. As such they have identified the weaknesses and the impact of these weaknesses. Furthermore, they come up with sensible recommendations for improving the visibility and traffic to this site.

As yet I have not purchased. Why not? The fundamental fact is that this blog is a platform for me to share my authentic voice and contribute to those who find that which I share a source of contribution. As such, I prefer for a niche set of people to find me rather than take on some form of mass marketing.   Put differently and equally true, this blog is a form of self-expression rather than a money making venture.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for this blog to be at the top of Google rankings. But only on merit, not on search engine wizardry. Yes, I am old fashioned. I might even lack ambition to make it to the top.

Sales Pitches From ‘Writers’

From time to time, and sometimes regularly, people offer to write / supply content for me. Most offer to do it for free. Why is it that I decline the offers of free content?

Firstly, why would I deprive myself of the satisfaction of self-expression and contribution?  That which I share here with you is a valuable form of self-expression for me. I enjoy grappling with, thinking through, and finally sharing that which I share.  This process leaves me feeling creative. And to some extent of service, of contribution, to my fellow human beings – at least some of them.

Secondly, I insist that those who offer to write, contribute something original, something authentic, something that provokes thought, something worth reading.  This is far too demanding for those who offer to write for this me/this blog.  Mostly their pieces are marketing pedaled as an original ‘thought piece’. Or I find no thought in the so called ‘thought piece’. I am delighted to say that one person accepted the challenge and ended up publishing his post here on this blog.

Sales Pitches From Conference Organisers and/or PR Folks

From time to time conference / seminar organisers pitch me the idea of turning up at their event and speaking. They do not offer payment for my time or service.  They assure me that my presence will be good for my reputation – building my brand.  For the most part, I decline these offers. Why? My time is valuable: it is the source of my income, source of relating and relationships, source of thinking through and sharing that which I share….. Furthermore, I have always felt rather uncomfortable at being positioned as a guru. And I have no desire to be branded. I value my freedom of thought and self-expression unconstrained by existing filters / expectations.

PR folks reach out to me and invite me to attend a particular company event and write about it. What is the trade being made here?  It occurs to me that it goes something like this: you are privileged to be invited, we will cover your expenses, and you will have a great time. All in return for writing a favourable post on your blog.  I have never accepted such an invitation. Why? It occurs to me that this is peculiar form of advertising: I advertise a particular company and pay (time, lost earnings) for the privilege of doing so.

Who Has Succeeded In Selling To Me?

Has anyone succeeded in selling to me as the author of this blog? Yes, a few people have.  For the purposes of this conversation, I wish to highlight Bob Thompson. Recently, Bob Thompson sold me on writing original content for his venture: CustomerThink.  How did he do it?

Did he offer to pay me? No. Did he offer to build my brand? No. Did he offer to fly me to one or more exotic places? No.  He offered me nothing along these lines. So how is it that I took up his invitation to write original content for the idea he has in mind?

Bob shared his idea and invited me to step into it with him and a few others. Why did I accept?

One, Bob told me that he finds that which I share thought provoking. In particular, he likes the leadership / human side of things that I bring up and talk about. He presented me with an avenue to express the stand that I am: a stand for humanity (the best of our humanity) in business and the workplace.

Two, Bob reached out and validated me when I most open to that validation. When did this occur? When at the suggestion of friends-colleagues-family members I started this blog some four years ago. At that time it did not occur to me that I could write. Nor that I had anything valuable to share.  After three months or so of sharing my take on things Bob noticed my voice which was mostly unheard.  He told me that he liked that which I shared. And invited me to contribute to CustomerThink. I continue to be grateful to Bob.

Three, Bob and I have met in person when he was stopping over in London.  People do ask to meet me and mostly they do so because they want something from me e.g. to publicise their company.  Bob’s invitation showed up for me as an invitation to meet me to meet me. Which is to say, it struck me that Bob wanted to learn about me. To spend some time with me. And I gladly took up the offer.

What conclusion do I draw from this? It occurs to me that Bob Thompson has been effective and efficient in selling to me because he gets me: what my world is, what I am about in this world, what matters to me, what possibilities leave me moved-touched-inspired. And he has connected with me as I wish to be connected with: one human being to another sitting at a cafe talking about that which is worth talking about and sharing that which makes each of us genuinely human. Put differently and using the words of Martin Heidegger, I say that Bob Thompson has good enough understanding of the ‘world hood of my world’. And this enables him to be effective in pitching what is most likely to speak to me.

I leave you to draw your conclusions. And I thank your for your listening – it is that which continues to bring forth my speaking through this blog.

A Skeptical Look At The Dogma of Sales Effectiveness

After walking the hallways of business for over 25+years what is it that strikes me?  Nonsense. Specifically, I am struck by how much of what is accepted as the standard way to think about and do things, in business, strikes me as nonsense. It occurs to me, that some of the ‘best’ nonsense is labelled ‘best practice’.

The Nonsense of the Sales Pipeline and Sales Forecasting

There is a particularly delightful piece of nonsense, ‘best practice’, in the area of the sales pipeline and in particular sales forecasting.  Let’s start with disclosing what the ‘best practice’ is. From what I have seen it occurs to me that the ‘best practice’ is:

  • to break the sales pipeline process (some call it opportunity management) into stages and to associate a specific probability of success to each stage;
  • each opportunity, at whatever stage of the opportunity management process, has a revenue figure , an expected close date, and an associated probability attached to it;
  • the sales forecast (of how much revenue the sales force will close) is calculated from these opportunities – the revenue, the probability of successfully closing that opportunity, and the expected close date; and
  • each sales person is held to account for delivering the expected sales forecast figure from his pipeline.

This all sounds sensible if looked at on its own divorced from the real world. What shows up when you expose this ‘best practice’ to the real world? Let’s imagine that five vendors are pursuing the same sales opportunity ($1m) with MegaCorp and they are all using the same six stages to track and forecast this sales opportunity within their organisations.

  • Initial Contact – 0% (probability of successfully winning this opportunity)
  • Qualification – 20%
  • Proposal Submission – 50%
  • Presentation to Decision Maker – 80%
  • Contract Negotiation – 90%
  • Close – 100%

Now let’s assume that three of the five vendors have made the final cut and thus been invited to make a presentation to the decision maker.  What will show up in their sales forecasts?  Each of the vendors will be forecasting revenue of $800k.  And given that the probability is at 80% (so high) the unfortunate sales reps responsible for these opportunities are likely to find themselves committed (by the rules of their organisations ‘best practice’) to delivering this revenue.

Now let’s look at the situation. $1m is on the table. Three organisations are in the running for this prize. Each has an equal chance – 33.33% probability and so each should only be forecasting to win $333k.  Yet, each is forecasting $0.8m and collectively they are forecasting to win 3 x $0.8m = $2.4m.

Let’s assume, that two of the three vendors are invited to submit a contract for negotiation. What will be contained in the sales forecasts?  Each vendor will forecast $1m x 90% = $0.9m and collectively they will forecast $1.8m in revenues. What is the money on the table? It still remains at $1m.

It occurs to me that in the absence of having fixed the game in advance, the probability attached to an opportunity, at whatever stage, is (or should be) works out as follows (if one stays firmly in touch with the real world):

  • Probability of winning sales opportunity <= Deal size / No of vendors still in the running

It also occurs to me that if this way of accounting for opportunities was embraced then more sales people would record and track their opportunities rather than waiting to win/lose the opportunity and then going back and filling in the requite fields in the CRM system or Excel spreadsheet.

The Nonsense of Process

If there is a God in the world of business then it occurs to me that it is ‘Process’.  The taken for granted assumption is that there has to be a process for every piece of work that has to be done in an organisation. Why this insistence on process?  It occurs to me that folks in business have collapsed effectiveness/performance (generating the desired outcomes) with process (doing work through a prescribed set of steps and methods):

  • following process = generating the desired outcomes.

This is clearly not the case. And I say, it is especially not the case when it comes to effectiveness in the domain of sales and selling.  Yes, it is quite likely that training a green / novice / incompetent sales rep in process will result in an increase in his sales performance: he will close more deals.  No, it does not follow that process turns an average sales rep into a great one.  It is quite possible, even likely, the need to follow prescribed process creates unnecessary work, and gets in the way, of good sales people working sales opportunities and closing them.

Let me put it differently, if success in sales is so highly dependent on following a prescribed sales process then we should be able to take people who are great at following process and turning them into able sales folks.  Which folks in business are treating at following process?  How about the folks in Customer Services, or Field Services, or Finance, or Logistics, or Operations, or IT?  Having second thoughts?

It occurs to me that success in sales requires a certain way of being-in-the world. In part this way of being in the world involves how one relates to and is involved with people and the challenges/risks/anxiety involved in the world of selling.  If this is not your way of being-in-the-world then it is highly unlikely that you will excel at selling no matter how versed you are in the process or how skilled you are in the tools of selling.

Above and beyond this familiarity with people and ease with the anxiety of selling is attunement. What attunement? An attunement to the situation – the context – at hand: the economic environment, the company you are selling to, the people you are dealing with in chasing opportunities, the product/s you are selling, the organisation you work for, the competitors etc…

No amount of process, method, templates and tools can generate this attunement in and of themselves.  This attunement has to be earned through lived success and lived failure, through learning by doing.  This kind of attunement arrives only after one is scarred through real world experience on the ‘battlefield of life’.  Still wondering what I am talking about?  I invite you to read the following passage:

I think it was in Argentina that I turned professional. I had been on the road for a year; I had been very high and very low, and everywhere in between. The world no longer threatened me as it had; I felt I had the measure of it. 

…. Riding the bike was as natural as sitting on a chair. It scarcely tired me at all. I could pack and unpack the bike with the automatic familiarity of shaving, and I did not allow the prospect of it to annoy me.  The same was true for minor maintenance problems: a puncture, cleaning a chain, aligning the wheels, whatever it was. I did it without giving a thought to the inconvenience. The things were facts of life. I slept on the ground more often, and my bones began to arrange themselves accordingly…

I felt very much tried and seasoned, and no longer expected to make silly mistakes or confront unexpected hazards. I had also developed a battery of useful instincts. I knew when there were thieves around, when the bike had to be protected and when it was safe ….. I knew when to expect trouble from strangers, and how to defuse it. I knew what drivers of cars and lorries were going to do before they knew it themselves. At times I think I could even read the minds of stray dogs, though it was a rarity to see one on the highway that was not already a pulped carcass at the roadside

Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

And Finally

I leave you with my assertion: a lot of that which is sacred in business is nonsense. What it takes to see this nonsense is to empty oneself of the theory, of ‘best practice’, of the taken for granted way of thinking about and doing things, and to look at the situation with fresh eyes:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

– Marcel Proust

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

  1. Why is it that commercial aeroplanes don’t fall out of the sky?
  2. Why is it that terrorism did not take root, establish itself, and grow in the USA/UK?
  3. Why is that it is rare for criminals to kill a policeman in the UK?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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:

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 

Summing up

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.

What Are The Two Antidotes to Sucking At CRM and Customer Experience?

“We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”

Talk abounds, advice abounds: the road to organisational nirvana is laid out by many a guru, professor and consultant. Talk about big data, customer analytics and customer insight. Talk about marketing effectiveness and marketing automation. Talk about sales effectiveness and sales force automation. Talk about great customer service. Talk about CRM. And talk about Customer Experience. Yet, little really changes: I see managers grappling with the same challenges that they were grappling with in 1999 when it comes to marketing, sale, service, and CRM. 

Given the abundance in talk why is it that so little changes when it comes to organisational behaviour and organisational effectiveness?  Let’s take a look at this question from the position of being on the court (in the organisation) rather than in the stands as a journalist/reporter (which is how many gurus, professors and consultants show up for me).

Working with a number of people grappling with the challenge of improving the sales process, improving customer service, enabling CRM and improving the Customer Experience across the entire customer journey one manager exclaimed We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”. What led to this statement?  Days of grappling with the challenge; coming face to face with the many and interlinked factors – culture, people, process, systems, data, metric, business priorities – in the way of making any significant changes-improvements.

If you and I had been on the court grappling with the challenges that this manager was grappling with then I say that it is highly likely, almost certain, that we would have arrived at the same place: this is too much to take on, let’s focus on what is doable in the short-term.

A history of short-term local fixes leaves room only for short-term local fixes 

Given how everything is interlinked to everything (the systems nature of organisations) and the desire of Tops for ‘instant solutions’ to specific problems, Middles get busy on the short-term fixes and the quick wins. What is missed is that today there is only room for short-term fixes and quick wins because previously management took the route of the short-term fix instead of doing that which was necessary for generating longer term effectiveness.

Every time we intervene in the organisation we make a choice. What choice?  The choice to leading the organisation to higher performance or generating a drift to low performance. In fixing the pressing local-functional problem, focusing on the short-term, and going after quick wins, the Tops and Middles are generating a drift to low performance. How/why? Let’s listen to a noted systems thinker, Donella H. Meadows.

“Some systems not only resist policy and stay in a normal bad state, they keep getting worse. One name for this archetype is “drift to low performance”. Examples include falling market share in a business, eroding quality of service in a hospital, continuously dirtier rivers or air ….. state of …… schools…..”

How does this drift to low performance occur? 

“The actor in the feedback look (… government, business, hospital….), has …. a performance goal or desired system state that is compared to the actual state. If there is a discrepancy, action is taken……

But in this system, there is a distinction between the actual system state and the perceived state. The actor tends to believe the bad news more than the good news. As actual performance varies, the best results are dismissed as aberrations, the worst results stay in the memory. The actor thinks things are worse than they really are.

And to complete this tragic archetype, the desired state of the system is influenced by the perceived state. Standards aren’t absolute. When perceived performance slips, the goal is allowed to slip.  “Well, that’s about all you can expect.” ……. “Well, look around, everybody else is having trouble too.”

The lower the perceived system state, the lower the desired state. The lower the desired state, the less discrepancy, and the less corrective action is taken. The less corrective action, the lower the system state. If this loop is allowed to run unchecked, it can lead to continuous degradation in the system’s performance.

Another name for this system is “eroding goals”. It is also called the “boiled frog syndrome”……. Drift to low performance is a gradual process. If the system is plunged quickly. there would be an agitated corrective process. But if it drifts down slowly enough to erase the memory of (or belief in) how much better things used to be, everyone is lulled not lower and lower expectations, lower effort, lower performance.”

Here I ask you to be present to what the manager said after grappling with the challenge: “We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term.” Do you see, how it is that if one takes this reasonable approach the organisation almost never gets around to creating-putting in place the ‘perfect solution’?  How/why? Because it is never the right team to make difficult decisions, create-accept short-term pain in order to generate longer term effectiveness!

What are the antidotes to eroding goals and the drift to low performance? 

In her book, Thinking In Systems, Donnella H. Meadows points out that there are two antidotes:

One is to keep standard absolute, regardless of performance. Another is to make goals sensitive to the best performances of the past, instead of the worst..….. if one takes the best results as standard, and the worst results as a temporary setback, then the same system structure can pull the system up to better and better performance.

This reminds me of my father. When I was young my father insisted that a) I finish whatever I started no matter what; b) do the best that I was capable of doing; c) strive to do better than I did the last time; d) set my sights on the best performer in the class; and e) take the short-term pain in order to generate the longer term gain.

The Dark Side of Using NPS as a Performance Management Tool

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?

  1. Customer facing employees (sales, service) and their managers game the system to generate high NPS scores;

  2. Some customers are either ‘bribed’ and-or ‘pressured’ to give high scores;

  3. 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

  4. 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?

Marketing and Customer Experience: 6 Core Emotional Needs That Shape Human Behaviour (Part 2 – Control)

If you read the first post of this series you may remember that Mark Ingwer in his book Empathetic Marketing asserts that there are 6 core emotional needs of customers: control, self-expression, growth, recognition, belonging, and care.   In this post I share my thoughts and Mark’s assertions-insights regarding the primary emotional need: CONTROL. 

Satisfying the need for control provides the best access for building customer loyalty

Mark Ingwer is bold in his assertion when it comes to the need for control and the access it provides the smart business:

satisfying the control needs of the consumer, more than any individual need discussed in this book, holds the most potential for a company to build loyalty to a brand, product, or service through intrinsic motivation, which is the internal sense of satisfaction with the purchasing process and the resulting purchase.

Through the iPod and iTunes, Apple handed control of music over to the music listener.  Through the iPhone, iPad and the apps store, Apple handed over much more control over these devices to the user such that each iPhone, each iPad, can truly be customised to the user by the user.  Please notice the genius here. By handing so much control over to the user and making it easy for the user to exercise this control, Apple has created a context where each iPhone, iPad is unique and thus irreplaceable.  Hence, the value if iCloud.

Why is the need for control such a vital need?

Think for a moment about the last time that you did not have any control over an important aspect of your life. What showed up for you in your body? What emotions surfaced? Was it a pleasant experience? An experience you want to repeat?  If you are human then it is likely that this experience was a deeply unsettling one when it occurred. Here’s what Mark Ingwer says on this matter

The need for control fuels our motivation in every aspect of our lives. Positioned near the individuality pole of the needs continuum, control is essential to our every day functioning. We see how this need influences our lives most profoundly when we’re not in control. Some of life’s worst and most stressful predicaments are colored by feelings of helplessness – events in which we are unable to prevent or alter the inevitable. 

I invite you to consider the direction of human progress. Is this progress, as in increasing control over that which showed up an threatening for us or made life uncertain or merely difficult?  Do you doubt that our ideal, even if unstated, is to have complete dominion (control) over that which shows up on planet Earth. And then our galaxy and eventually the universe.  Why might this be?  Here’s Mark Ingwer again:

Many situations that fall outside the purview of personal agency hit us in the gut. We feel insecure. We feel small. We fear losing control. And we strive to regain that control. Not only does that loss of control prevent us from achieving our specific outcomes, but it is also often wrenching evidence that signifies our relative insignificance in a large (and largely random) universe.

When we feel in control of external events, in control of ourselves, and in control of our core relationships, we have a broader and more satisfying feeling of contentment and confidence …. we can’t grow as individuals without attending properly to this need.

Customer service and the power of control

Why is it that I do most of my shopping online and do all of my banking online? Because I experience being in control of the shopping process, the banking process. Why is it that I dread having to call up most call-centres? Because, even before I pick up the call I expect a long-tedious-unpleasant experience where I am at the mercy of the IVR, long waiting times, call-centre agents who lack the expertise-will-freedom to actually help me …..  Here is what Mark Ingwer says on the matter:

Nothing reveals the power of control – and the destructive power of lack of control – than customer service situations. Companies that sell services or routinely interact with their customers in service settings must pay special attention to a customer’s sense of control.

Poor customer service results when proxy control is ineffective. If the proxy does not behave as the customer desires, the customer loses control of the situation.

If you are wondering what proxy control is then think about wanting to do your banking online and finding that the website is out of operation. Or imagine needing cash, turning up at the ATM and finding that it is out of order and there are no other ATMs available. Or imagine, ringing up the call-centre and coming face to face with an call-centre agent who speaks with an accent you find hard to understand. Or imagine going to the restaurant with the family, having eaten your meal, finding your young ones tired, looking for a waiter to pay the bill, and the waiter seems to take forever to come back to take your payment. You are desperate to go home and yet cannot do so until the waiter comes over to you and takes your payment.

What advice does Mark Ingwer have for marketers and customer experience specialists?

What I like about Mark Ingwer’s book is the practical suggestions that he provides at the end of each chapter. Here is his advice for marketers and customer experience specialists, as it shows up for me:

1. Review your core marketing message. It should say to customers: you can be in the driver’s seat – assuming products and service can deliver.

2. Examine the customers’ experience. Are prospects and customers in control throughout the path to the final sale and afterwards?

3. Simply after-sales processes. 

If you want to learn more about these practical recommendations then you will have to buy the book and read it as I do not want to give away Mark’s secrets and deprive him of readers for his book.

If you remember only one sentence then remember this one

It occurs to me that when it comes to the end to end customer experience then this is the one sentence that captures it all when it comes to the human need for control:

From start to finish, customers must never sense that they are at the mercy of a company or product. 

The last time I was in such a situation I walked out of the cinema, choosing not to watch a film that I really wanted to watch, rather than be at the mercy of the cinema and its staff.

In the next post, I will cover the human need for self-expression.  It occurs to me whole industries are based on this need. I thank you for your listening.