Timpson: Business Success Through Humanistic Leadership

Allow me to introduce you to a little know business gem: Timpson. It is a family business operating 1000+ stores, annual turnover in the region of £200m, and annual profits of £10m+. Today, this organisation (and its leadership) is on my mind again. Why? Because of what I saw and read on LinkedIn.

This is the photo that captured my attention:

Timpson Free Outfit Cleaning

The last time I looked there were 240+ likes. Here are some of the comments that caught my attention:

  1. “Leadership at its best”;
  2. “Hats off to CEO James Timpson”;
  3. “Very thoughtful and caring”;
  4. “Pay it forward”;
  5. “Brilliant. More selfless acts needed”;
  6. “If another company did this it would probably seem like a publicity stunt, but Timson’s record speaks for itself..”; and
  7. “How many Advocates and how much good feeling does that create for Timpsons who are already an exceptionally socially responsible company…Great win win!”

Why did these comments catch my attention? Because these comments provider a pointer towards the following:

  1. The shape-look-feel-character of humanistic leadership: authentic as opposed to faking it in order to manipulate others (publicity stunt); thoughtful and caring as opposed to thoughtlessness and indifference to our shared humanity – where humanity is hidden under the labels of customer, employee, supplier; and selflessness leading to paying it forward as recognition of one’s good fortune and shared humanity as opposed to unlimited greed dressed up in fine sounding words like maximising revenues and profits.
  2. The impact human-centred leaders make on us: we tend to think of this kind of leadership as “leadership at its best”; and those who exercise this kind of leadership call forth respect – when we are authentic we take our hats off only to those whom we genuinely admire, esteem, respect in terms of their virtues and/or skills.

  3. The benefits that tend to show up as result of exercising humanistic leadership: the good feelingthat this kind of leadership calls forth in just about everyone except sociopaths and those professionally trained as economists and MBAs; and the advocacy-loyalty that is automatically brought into play as a result of evoking this good feeling.

I am clear that we (those of us living in the UK and USA) live in transactional, individualistic, non-humanistic, competitive cultures. So those of us, who are ‘smart’, are likely to be tempted to fake humanistic leadership to get the benefits (respect, status, increased profits, wealth) without paying the necessary ‘price’. So here’s the paradox. The exercise of humanistic leadership does generate advocacy, loyalty, revenues, and higher profits. However, this is not the case when humanistic leadership is exercised for the sake of harvesting these benefits. Why? Because, one can only fake it so long before true intentions leak out and are detected by those who are being manipulated.

Is Timpson faking it? Is this offer of free outfit cleaning for the unemployed merely a publicity stunt? This is what Justin Parkinson of the BBC says on this blogpost:

The problem is that getting suits dry cleaned usually costs in the vicinity of £10, which can be prohibitive for unemployed people looking to return to work.

The offer, in place since 1 January, has been taken up by hundreds of people, Timpson chief executive James Timpson says. “When people are going for interview it’s important to look and feel smart and getting their suit dry cleaned is part of that,” he adds. “It makes people more confident and gives them that 2% extra chance of getting a job. We just thought it was a really good idea.”

In my experience, one of the core challenges of taking a humanistic approach to doing business (including the exercise of human-centred leadership) is that we have a dim view of human nature. Our actions show that we are convinced that if we appear ‘soft’ then we will be taken. So how has this offer turned out for Timpson? Here is more from that BBC blog:

“We just trust customers,” says Timpson. “We had one lady who came in with a cocktail dress and we told her to hold on. But that’s the only instance of a customer taking advantage.”

What is going on here? How to make sense of this? It occurs to me that somewhere deep down in us, our human decency is intact. Put differently, for most of us, there is something deep in our being that makes us think twice and usually prevents us from taking advantage of those who show concern for us, our fellow human beings, and our shared humanity. Where we transgress and do take advantage of the kindness of others, guilt comes into play. That is the price we pay for not honouring the best of our humanity.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with Customer. I say take a look at what has been done in the name of customer service. Take a look at CRM. Take a look at customer loyalty programmes. Take a look at Customer Experience. Take a look at all that has happened and all the money-effort that has been expended in the name of the Customer. Now ask yourself how it is that despite all of this customer loyalty and employee engagement are stagnant – at best. There is your answer: humanistic leadership (and management practices) are the access to calling forth the good feeling that in turn leads to engagement-loyalty-advocacy: from your people, from your suppliers/partners, and from your customers.

If you are interested in learning more about Timpson then check out this piece that I wrote some time ago as it continues to be relevant and instructive: Timpson: Shifting-Transforming Culture Through Language and Practices.

Note: At the invitation of Bob Thompson, I write the Human-Centred Leadership column on CustomerThink.com. This conversation was published there last month.

You may have noticed I have not been conversing much recently here on this Blog. I have been dealing with back pain for the last six weeks. This has limited by ability to do that which it takes to create-share conversations. I hope to back in action soon.  If you missed me then I thank you for your patience. If you didn’t, excellent: now you know that you are wasting your time-life listening to me, please go and do something that lights you up!

How To Think Productively About Customer Experience?

A little while back Bob Thompson asked this question on the CustomerThink.com site.  Thereafter, this question called forth 60 or so comments from a range of folks including Customer Experience gurus, thought leaders, experts, practitioners etc.  I found this conversational thread interesting.  Why?  The lack of shared understanding and agreement as to what constitutes Customer Experience / Customer Experience Management. In this conversation I wish to consider how one can think productively (usefully) about Customer Experience.

What Is Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that many think of Customer Experience as a bucket/container.  And so get busy thinking about (arguing about) what does and does not go in to this container.  So some folks put a lot of stuff into this bucket including product and pricing.  Other folks, like Bob Thomspon, would like this bucket to be more restrictive: to contain only customer interaction with the organisation through the established channels.   Let’s take a step back and ask this question: Is Customer Experience a bucket (container)?

Many years ago one of my children came up home upset. Why? Someone had called him stupid!  After giving him a hug, I played an instructive game with my son. I asked him to think of what he could buy with £100.  I listened to his excitement. Then I told him that I would give him £1 if he could show me a chair. Without hesitation he walked over to a chair and pointed at it. I gave him a £1. Then I told him that I’d happily give him £1,000 if he could show me stupid.  It took about ten minutes (of ‘to and fro’) but he got it. What did he get?  He got that stupid is an idea, a concept, a label that folks apply.

I say to you that Customer Experience is not a thing. Customer Experience is not a function like Marketing, Sales, Service…. Customer Experiences is not a process like say ‘Enquiry to Proposal’ or ‘Order to Cash’. Customer Experience is not a technology nor a set of technologies.

I invite you to consider that Customer Experience is a concept (idea).  Please remember that idea comes from idein (to see) and such is simply a way of seeing.  What does it allow you to see?  That everything that your organisation does or does not do has an impact on the customer’s experience of you.

What Is The Value of The Concept: Customer Experience ?

I say that the value of the Customer Experience concept lies in the following:

First, it helps us remember that a customer experiences your organisation/brand: your stores, your products, your pricing, your branding, your website, your sales people, your delivery people, your service people, your communications.  I invite you to consider that a customer (or potential customer) can and does experience your brand without interacting directly with your brand. How so?  By reading about your organisation. By listening to others talk about your organisation….

Second, it opens up the possibility of competing at the level of the Customer Experience (how the Customer experiences your organisation/brand as a whole) rather than at the level of product, or solution, or service; one can create-deliver a ‘product-service-solution’ in a manner that leaves the Customer cold, indifferent, or deeply moved-touched-inspired-uplifted.  One can provide exactly the same product-service-solution yet show up and travel as a good citizen – one who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of other citizens.

What Is The Challenge That Goes With Customer Experience? 

The challenge of Customer Experience is not that of carving out Customer Experience as container and then determining what does and does not go into this bucket.  The challenge of Customer Experience is not setting up a Voice of the Customer Experience program.  The challenge of Customer Experience is not creating a Chief Customer Officer position / CX team and charging this person/team with putting in new touchpoints / channels or redesigning business processes ….

If you choose to compete on the basis of the Customer Experience then it is not enough to get a team of folks together and decide how wide-long-deep the Customer Experience container is, what goes in it, and who owns it.  Then set aside a budget and get busy with creating new interactions channels, improving existing channels….. Why? This is not a productive way of looking at Customer Experience. Disagree?  How many organisations have taken or are taking their route – first with CRM and now with CXM?  Of these how many have become the beloved of their customers?

I say that the challenge of Customer Experience, to use a computer analogy, is like the challenge of erasing the existing operating system and replacing it with a new operating system.  What do I mean by ‘operating system’?  I mean a new way of ‘showing up and travelling’ for everyone in the organisation.  So that when someone in procurement is faced with the task of choosing one product supplier or another s/he considers the impact on the Customer Experience. Or when someone in IT is choosing between system A or system B, he considers not only the cost and fit with IT standards but also the usability and usefulness to the users who are either dealing with customers or supporting those who are dealing with customers.  Finally, it means moving power from those who sit in HQ to those who are on the front lines in direct touch with customers.  It means that the folks in HQ are there to support those interacting with and serving customers.

Summing Up: Customer Experience As A Way Of Showing Up And Travelling

I invite you to consider that there is not much power in choosing to see Customer Experience as a bucket with certain functions, people, processes, channels, technologies inside it and others outside it.  I invite you to consider that a productive (transformative) way of thinking about and orienting oneself towards Customer Experience is to see it as a way of life: It is way of ‘showing up and travelling’ that is mindful of how one’s decisions, actions, inactions, impact the Customer Experience: how the customer experiences you.  This way of life has to be embraced by everyone.  And the biggest barriers to this change are not the folks on the front line interacting with-serving customers. No, it is the folks sitting in HQ.

 

 

Unlocking Organisational Magic Through Humanistic Leadership

Let’s imagine that you want to play the sales effectiveness game. What does it take to play this game well – effectively? At a minimum it takes folks in marketing and the folks in sales to play well together – as one team. Take a broader look, play with the time horizon, and you are likely to find that it takes folks in product development, engineering, strategy/finance, marketing, and sales to work well together.

What does it take for an organisation to excel at the customer-centricity / customer experience / customer loyalty game? One way of answering this question is to take a look at what folks nominate as the biggest obstacles in playing this game. Do the following sound familiar: lack of executive sponsorship/leadership, competition (rewards and resources) between folks in different silos, and the lack of employee engagement – ‘us versus them’ even within the folks in each silo, especially between folks in management positions and those who work at the coal face.

When I look at what is so, I do not find a process challenge here. Nor do I find a technology challenge. And I certainly do not see a strategy challenge. I see a people challenge. In particular I see the challenge of creating a context which calls forth organisational magic.

What is the source of organisational magic? Allow me to put that question different: who/what is the source of greatness in organisations – greatness as in generating breakthrough performance-results? Go beyond the dominant ideology of Anglo-Saxon individualism, beyond the Steve Jobs type myth, and you are likely to find that the source of organisational magic is teamwork: genuine teamwork. What calls forth teamwork? Is it technology, for example the latest collaboration technologies? Is it specific teamwork processes, methods, techniques? Or does the access to genuine teamwork lie in the human realm – how we relate to one another? 

It occurs to me that envisaging and articulating a future/possibility that leaves the folks in your organisation inspired-uplifted-elevated is necessary but not sufficient. The leader who is effective must also cultivate a context that calls the folks in the organisation to work well with one another in the pursuit-fulfillment of that future/possibility. Put differently, the effective human-centred leader must call forth, forge, genuine teamwork. 

How do you, as a leader, call forth organisational magic: genuine teamwork over a prolonged period of time and across many different types of people (personalities) in different roles, functions, and business units?

I invite you to listen to the following words of wisdom (bolding mine) from a master of insight into the ‘human condition’ (bolding mine):

I could always tell when an organization was in good shape. I could tell because the manager of the organization would always be talking about how great the people in the organization were. If the manager was talking about anything other than how great people in the organization were, I knew that the organization was in bad shape. The way to manage an organization successfully is to manage it in such a way that you can be proud of the people with whom you are working. You have to find a way to interact with the people with whom you are working in a way that makes you proud of them.”

– Werner Erhard

As one who is in a leadership position are you proud of the people who you find yourself working with? Be honest. Now ask yourself how likely it is that you will call forth the best from folks who, at least at a subconscious level, get that you are not proud of them – that you see them broken-faulty-lacking in some manner.

I say that if you are playing the customer-centricity / customer experience / customer loyalty game then you are, whether you realise it or not, looking to find ways to interact with your customers which leaves them feeling good about doing business with your organisation. 

Given that your organisation is the folks that collectively constitute your organisation the pressing challenge, for you as the leader, is to find ways to interact with these folks in your organisation such that you are left feeling proud of them. And they are left feeling appreciated and proud to be working in an organisation led by you. 

What way of interacting with folks is likely to leave you feeling proud of them, and them proud of you? A great place to start is with the practice of granting an A.

I invite you to consider that you, as the leader, are responsible for each and every person who you find yourself not proud of. How so? Either you failed to put in place the right recruitment practices and people. And/or you have created a context where people you are proud to hire into your organisation end up being turned into people you are not proud of. I am not saying this is the truth. What I am saying is that this is a great (as an powerful, effective) place to stand and operate from. Why? Those who play victim do not make great leaders; great leaders take responsibility for that which is so, and not so. Enough for today, thank for listening.

Note: this conversation was originally published here on the CustomerThink site.

Customer Experience And Loyalty Starts And Ends With The Product!

Back in 2011 I asked this question: Customer Experience: What About The ‘Product’? And I ended that conversation with the following assertion:

The product is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain.  Any serious examination of the Customer Experience has to grapple with the product and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do.  That means designing that product so that it is both useful (does the job) and usable (easy/intuitive) to use.

Today, I stand by that conversation. In particular, the necessity and critical importance of the ‘product’ (the core product or service which calls forth the customer to reach out and interact with the organisation which is selling that product or service) to any serious work on improving-transforming the customer’s experience of the organisation.

I also find that I was wrong. How so?  Today, I’d sum up that conversation differently.  How would I sum it up?  As follows:

 The ‘product’ is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain.  Any serious examination of the Customer Experience (as in the customer’s experience) has to grapple with the ‘product’ and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do.  That means designing the ‘product’ so that it is useful (does the job), usable (easy/intuitive to use), and sensuous (evokes the senses and calls forth awe). When you get the ‘product’ right you will learn that in a substantial-meaningful way that the customer’s experience and loyalty start and end with the design of the ‘product’. If you have the right product then you can concentrate on marketing (advertising, distributing) it. Little need to waste your time on the latest corporate nonsense: customer experience management as in customer interaction management across a multitude of interaction channels.

What has led me to this way of summing up the matter?  Apple. In particular, Apple’s latest financial results – the largest quarterly corporate profit of any company.  Let’s look into the quarterly figures a little bit more: revenue of $75bn, profit of $18bn, and Apple sold 34,000 iPhones per hour.  Allow me to share this paragraph with you (bolding mine):

Apple chief executive Tim Cook called the company’s sales “phenomenal” and said the company had sold 34,000 iPhones an hour every day of the quarter. “This volume is hard to comprehend,” Cook said.

I am now going to make my most controversial assertion. Ready?  I say that the field of Customer Experience Management (as in customer interaction management) is attractive to and for the mediocre. Yes, the mediocre!  You know the folks that do not design-sell great ‘products’.  ‘Products’ that do not simplify-enrich the lives of our fellow human beings.  Look if you make a great product then the world beats a path to your door -including overcoming any hurdles along the path.  Only CXM fools ignore the critical importance of the ‘product’. Isn’t the product the reason that the customer takes action – to actual reach out to the business in the first place?

 

Strategy And Purpose: Is It Really What You Say It Is?

Let’s say that you want to grasp an organisation’s strategy – say customer strategy or customer experience strategy. By strategy I mean the organisation’s manner of ‘showing up and travelling’. How would you go about determining that?

Who would you go and ask? How many people would you ask? Would you seek out the Board? The CEO? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Customer Services Director? The Operations Director? The Chief Customer Officer? The Chief Digital Officer?

What would you look at/for? Would you seek out and review the latest published accounts?  The strategic plan?  Mission and values statements? The brand values and guidelines? The marketing strategy? The statements that the CEO / Finance Director has made to the financial press?

You’d be wasting your time. Just like I did in my early days in consulting. Nowadays, I pay little attention to any of these aspects. What do I direct my attention towards?  That which really matters. That which truly speaks without speaking. That which does not lie. What am I pointing at?  I invite you to listen to a man that knows – really knows:

A strategy – whether in companies or in life – is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy, and money. With every moment of your time, every decision about how you spend your time, and your money, you are making a statement about what really matters to you. You can talk all you want about having a clear strategy and purpose for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.

How do you make sure that you are implementing the strategy you truly want to implement? Watch where your resources flow – the resource allocation process…… You might think you are a charitable person, but how often do you really give your time or money to a cause … that you care about?  If you family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you have made with your time in a week, does your family seem to come out on top? Because if the decisions you make about where to invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.

– Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

Bringing about this consistency is not easy. It is not easy at the individual level. It is not easy at the family level. It is not easy at the team level. It is not easy at the department level. It is not easy at the company level.  Which is why so few of us are in a state of integrity: between what we say, what we believe/value, and how we actually show up and operate in life.  This means that the world is for the taking by the bold: those who are investing their blood, sweat, and tears consistent with the persons/organisation they aspire to be. And a future they aspire to create.

It occurs to me that the core challenge of leadership is not that of vision creation. Nor that of communicating vision. I say it is the political challenge that goes with changing the allocation of resources – and dealing with the blowback from the folks impacted by the changes.

And finally, I dedicate this conversation to a friend. He knows who he is.  I wish him the very best with the game that he his playing this year!

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