What Is The Access To Calling Forth The Best From Your People and Cultivating Authentic Customer Loyalty?

In the realm of business, first and foremost, I show up (for myself) and travel as a philosopher-strategist. One of the central concerns in philosophy used to be ethics: how to live well in this world with others. This has not been the case for quite some time and may account, to a large degree, to the way the world is and is not. One of the central pillars of strategy is focus: bringing to bear all your resources to the key leverage points at the right time/s.

Looking through the ethical and strategic lenses, I have been grappling with the question of performance and loyalty: what calls forth the best from the people who work in your business and what is he access to authentic customer loyalty? The kind without bribery, without the gimmicks. In my search I came across a wonderful book. Today, I wish to share with you certain passages that speak to me and may provide an answer to the question that I have posed here (bolding is my work):

Liberation Ethics

When people work in conditions of perceived unfairness and unkindness, they fall into a self protective mode. Like turtles, they crawl into their shells and hide. They’re not motivated to take positive risks, to dig deep inside to discover all their talents and bring those talents to bear in creative ways on the challenges of the corporate business. Their emotions are tinged by fear and resentment, and these negative feelings block the flow of positive emotional energy the could be putting to work in their daily activities…..

employees who feel honourably treated are most likely to pass on that honour and respect in their dealings with customers, potential customers, and vendors. Those who feel badly treated will quite often pass on some of that treatment as well to those outside the company with whom they have contact. And this can become a flash point for whether business is gained or retained. Most people find it difficult over the long run to buy even good products from bad or discourteous people. 

Relationships Rule The World

In the course of my life so far, I have become totally loyal to any number of businesses ….. because I felt well treated in each of these places, welcomed, honoured, and respected. Friendliness, kindness, genuine concern, that little extra touch, going beyond the call of duty – these are all exemplifications of basic goodness, applications of the moral dimension that often bring with them the result of loyal relationships and greater business success…

- Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Go ahead and develop a strategy, change the organisation structure, redesign processes, and implement the latest Customer Experience technologies.  And it occurs to me that if you don’t talk about, grapple with, and address the questions of liberation and basic goodness as exemplified by friendliness, kindness, fairness and genuine concern for the people in your business (those who work ‘within’ it), the people served by your organisation (customers), and the people impacted by your organisation (community, vendors, partners..) then you are unlikely to ever build a solid foundation that allows you to call forth the greatness of your people and cultivate enduring authentic relationships with your customers.

I know that this is a BIG ask. Sit in on counselling sessions and you will learn that almost every single one of us resists acknowledging, understanding, and dealing with that which really matters. We will do just about anything and everything except that which really matters: how we show up and travel in the world and in particular who we relate to and treat our fellow human beings including those closest to us.  And some folks do the difficult work and by so doing the live lives and make an impact in the lives of others that is uncommon.

I wish you a great day, thanks for listening. I welcome your thoughts, your experience on that which I have shared here today.

 

The Beauty Of Apple

I wonder if you have noticed something about the world of business?  You may have not noticed it as this feature of business life is pervasive, so enduring, that lies in the background.  I found myself reawakened to this feature recently.

Some consultants and sales folks were carrying around and using the standard issue company owned laptops made by the likes of Dell, IBM, HP, Toshiba…. Others were carrying around and using Apple MacBook laptops (Air, Pro) – they had purchased these themselves out of their own money.

What is it that I observed? I noticed that the consultants and sales people using Apple MacBook laptops handled their laptops as if these were sacred objects. I noticed these folks look, actually look, at their MacBooks as I look at landscapes that catch my eye and take my breath away. I noticed that these folks displayed their MacBooks so that all could see. And I noticed that these folks carried their MacBooks with a certain kind of pride.  Most importantly, I noticed a certain kind of affection, even reverence, between the consultants and their MacBooks.

What about the consultants and sales people carrying around the corporate issue laptops made by the likes of Dell, IBM, HP, Toshiba..? I noticed these folks showed no pride, no reverence, no affection for their laptops. They treated them as functional machines – mere tools to do a job.  They dragged them out of their cases. They plonked them on the table. When not using them them ‘hid’ them by putting papers on top of them….

Have you figured out what feature of the business world I am talking about?  I am talking about the lack of beauty in the world of business! I am talking about:

  • conversations devoid of the beauty of genuine human warmth-friendliness;
  • products that function yet are devoid of beauty;
  • offices that are devoid of colour, fragrance, plants, flowers and have the feel of a factory in many ways;
  • call-centres in run down parts of the country where the human  spirit sinks as the body arrives for work;
  • retail stores that have the look and feel of hospitals….

I notice that some folks have been putting Apple down due to the lack of innovative industry making, coffer filling-overflowing, products.  This may be the case.

I notice that the same folks that put down Apple for its lack of innovation point towards Samsung for its innovation especially in the area of smartphones. What I have not yet experienced is an Apple customer handing in their iPhone for a Samsung Galaxy. Why not?  It occurs to me that Samsung products lack that which pervades the Apple products: beauty that calls forth awe, affection, even reverence.

How can you and your organisation cater for and meet one of the most fundamental human needs: beauty?  If you have got around to designing customer experiences then ask yourself if you have even considered this need for beauty?

Can You Improve The Customer Experience Without Spending A Fortune On Information Technology?

Does Customer Experience require information technology?  Allow me to rephrase this question, is it necessary to purchase-configure-operate an arsenal of information technologies to improve the Customer Experience?  Which is my way of asking, if it is necessary to turn Customer Experience as a business philosophy and/or value proposition into CRM: an information technology?

It occurs to me that it is mistake to collapse information technology and Customer Experience together – to make the kind of mistake that was made with CRM.  I say that your organisation can impact-improve the Customer Experience in many ways that do not require information technology.   Where is my proof? Let’s start with my recent experience.

Why Didn’t I Buy From Two Well Known Retail Brands?

I needed more trousers; my preference, some would call it addiction, is for Chinos. So my nephew drove me to a shopping centre outside of town. On his advice, I went to the first shop, found what I was looking for. And in the process I came across summer shorts. So with a handful of trousers and shorts I headed to the fitting rooms. Long queue. No movement for three minutes. No staff around to help out.  I put the goods back on the racks and left.

Onwards to the second retail brand, which just happened to be next to the first store. Within five minutes or less, I found myself exiting this story empty handed. Why?  One, they just didn’t stock trousers that fit me. Just about every trouser that caught my attention was regular length and regular is too short for me as I am tall and have long legs. Second, no staff members around to ask for help in finding longer length trousers. Third, the prices showed up as being too high; I remembered what I had paid for the Chinos I was wearing.

Why Did I Buy From The Gap Store?

Having had enough, I headed directly for the Gap store. Why? Because this is where I had purchased, some years ago, the Chinos I was wearing and happy with.  The store showed up as friendlier-easier as it was much smaller in size, I could clearly see two sales assistants, and they looked happy.  I spent over £150 pounds and walked out of the store with several Chino trousers and shorts.  Why did I end up buying from Gap?

  • They stocked the products that I was looking for – Chino trousers and a range of summer shorts;
  • I found the particular style I was looking for – Classic;
  • Each range of trousers came in a range of sizes including the size (34, 34) I was looking for;
  • I found it easy-quick to try on the trousers (and shorts) as there was no queue for the fitting rooms; and
  • The ‘checkout’ experience of paying for these items was quick-easy and delivered by a friendly sales assistant.

And there was a moment of delight. What delight? Upon checkout I found that I had been charged 30% less than I had expected to pay. Why so? Because Gap had a sales promotion that day and I had not noticed it as it had not been well signposted.

I draw your attention to this: no information technology was needed other than the POS till.  Gap ended up the winner simply because it did the basics of clothes retailing right: store design (size-layout-signposting), the right product, ability to trial the product, good customer service, and pricing that is in tune with product quality and customer expectations.

I also notice, that I have a stronger bond to Gap and Gap did not have to engage in any customer loyalty or outbound marketing programme to generate that bond. How has this strengthening of the bond come about? By stocking the kind of products that I am looking for, by asking the kind of price I am willing to pay, and by making it easy-pleasant to buy from them: not just once, but every time I have bought from them.

If Gap does want to do something other than get the basics right then here is my advice. Gap should consider storing my preferences in terms of the products that I have bought from them. And allow me to order those products from them. Why do I say that? Whilst I like their latest Chino trousers (the ones I brought from them recently) I prefer the ones that I bought several years ago.  The fact that those trousers are no longer available makes them that much more attractive to me. I wonder how many others are like me. If there are enough of us then there might be a market for listening to and catering to our needs. Back in the days when I was a consultant with Peppers & Rogers, we would put this idea into the mass customisation bucket.  This is where information technology would be useful, even essential, for improving the Customer Experience.

I wish you a great week, thanks for listening – your listening calls forth my speaking.  And if you have thoughts that which you wish to share then please engage in a conversation with me by commenting.

 

Customer Relationships: Does It Pay To Tell The Truth?

In amidst all the talk of the importance of a customer-centric culture, customer obsession, building customer relationships and improving the customer experience I find something missing. What?  The commitment to tell the truth: being straight (levelling) with the customer. What I notice is that the ubiquitous business practice is to:

1) bullshit – make things up because they support the narrative/agenda irrespective of concern for truth-falsehood of assertions;

2) deceive by actively misrepresenting and/or omitting essential information; and

3) lie – to know the truth and assert the opposite.

So I find myself delighted to read that recently Honda has recalled ‘1.8m cars around the world after a scare over an airbag in another manufacturer’s vehicle but made by its supplier Takata’. I’d like to believe that the folks in Honda are decent folks who put the lives  of their customers before profits.  And that may be wishful thinking. At the very minimum, it occurs to me that Honda has learned some lessons from Toyota and GM: when you find there is an issue, share what you know with your customers, and do the right thing.

Does it pay to do the right thing: to tell the truth?  I share with you the following story (bolding is my work):

What many hospitals don’t consider is that a positive error culture could increase the trust of patients, as the following case shows. Matthias Rothmund, a professor of surgery, once made a big error. When one of his patients was checked a few days after a successful tumour operation, the x-ray showed a surgical clamp that had been mistakenly left inside the patient’s body. Rothmund immediately informed the patient, removed the clamp, and reported the incident to his insurance, which gave the patient a settlement.

For a long time the surgeon was plagued with the thought of his error. Five years later the patient returned to his office with a hernia and said he wanted him to perform the operation. Rothmund was surprised. The patient explained that he trusted Rothmund and his clinic precisely because Rothmund had immediately admitted his error and corrected it.

- Gerd Gigerenzer, Risk Savvy

Did you notice the trap that I set for you/us?  Did you notice that the question that I asked is this one: ‘Does it pay to do the right thing: to tell the truth?’  If you formulate the question/challenge of right action in this manner then you show up and travel in the world in the manner of the Tops at GM. The folks at GM kept the knowledge of a faulty ignition switch secret for over a decade and in the process at least 13 people lost their lives. Why? Because by their calculations it didn’t pay (revenues, profits) to tell the truth, recall the cars, and fix the ignition switch.

What is my point?  If you are genuinely committed to putting in place a customer culture then you do right by the customer, always, irrespective of how the ROI calculation works out.  And whilst Mary Barra may lay the blame on the corporate culture, I say that the responsibility ALWAYS lies with the Tops.

I leave you with this final thought: Steve Jobs may have been able to bring about that which we he brought about because his actions were not dictated by ROI.  What were his actions dictated by?  Simplicity? Beauty – in its fullest, holistic, sense? The customer experience?

 

On Culture Change, Leadership and Change Management

CRM, Customer Experience, and Digital Business Require Culture Change

What I notice is that in order for an organisation to be effective in the games of CRM (building profitable relationships with customers), Customer Experience (competing on the basis of a superior customer experience) and/or digital business (rethinking the business through the lens of what digital technologies enable) require culture change: a change in the way that people think, in their expectations, and in the way that they go about doing things.

Yet, rather than deal with the challenges of culture change, I find that just about every management team in every organisation that I have come across gets busy with buying the technology. And thus ignores the risk spelled out in the following ‘equation':

Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation

Why does this happen, again and again, one management fad after another?  I point you to these wise words:

It is easier to buy stuff than it is to create and stabilise new ways of relating, new frameworks for organising, and new expectations and norms. Those are the tough, messy issues that accompany shifts to more mindful, reliable, resilient functioning….

Karl Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Managing The Unexpected

What Is The Default Mode Of Going About The Challenge Of Culture Change and Doing Change Management?

This week I found myself in a meeting talking about culture and change management.  I found myself listening to one senior person articulating the challenge of getting his organisation especially senior management and the sales teams to move from one way of doing things to a substantially different way of doing things.  Yes, a shift in the “way we do things around here” is needed for the longer term. And yet there is an awkward reality to deal with. What awkward reality?  The existing “way of doing things around here” has been and continues to deliver the results (sales, revenue growth, profits).

Without a moment’s hesitation I found another senior person (an advisor) offering a solution to this challenge. Which solution? The solution that occurs to me as the default one: the application of “stick and carrots”. I noted that the particular emphasis was on the stick rather than the carrots.  The assumption being that if the Tops yielded a big enough stick then the Middles and Bottoms would fall into line.  I found myself dismayed. Why?

My 25+ years of experience suggests that this approach is largely ineffective and in some cases does considerable damage to the organisation’s long term resilience-performance. Why? I can think of at least two reasons:

First, change in behaviour is merely compliance. And repeated use of the stick to get compliance almost always, and inevitably, leads to a reduction of motivation to do one’s best. And usually an increase in motivation to ‘get back’ at or merely ‘resist’ those wielding the stick.

Second, the people who are the most able tend to leave (as few of us like to be treating as cattle) thus disrupting the network of relationships, degrading the quality of communication and information flow between the players, and putting a dent in the intellectual capital of the organisation.

One more point. It occurs to me that those of us who advocate the sticks and carrots approach to change have failed to appreciate that lasting-sound change requires change in two levels; change at the behavioural level is one of these levels.  I will go into what these two levels are and the critical importance of both levels in another post. Let’s continue with this conversation.

 What Does It Take To Effect Culture Change?

I invite you to consider-grapple with-meditate on the following way of looking at culture change:

The culture change process is a two-sided coin. On one side is the “bottom-up” phenomenon that many changes arise from those actually doing the work. On the other side is the “top-down” reality that changes in conducting business often get made by direction or sanction from top management. Both are essential …

Changing the organisational culture ….. will require commitment at every organisational level…. Culture change is not triggered by a magic bullet or directive. Rather, culture is changed by a series of small steps taken by the leading members of the culture at all levels.

Leadership is standing up and leading the way. It is behaviour and it is demonstrable. It is showing, not telling....

Changing the way business is conducted requires people at all levels to lead by personal example in demonstrating new approaches to achieve safer (and more reliable) operations……. This requires that we strengthen accountability at all levels of the organisation…..

- TriData Corporation, Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, Phase III Implementing Cultural Changes for Safety (1998)

At this point, I confront you with that which is so about us, human beings: our freedom. I leave you to choose which road you wish to travel: that which is convenient-easy and on the whole ineffective even damaging to long term performance (“sticks and carrots”) or that which is effective, takes time, requires embodied leadership day after day from the Tops, and calls forth leadership and accountability from all people at all levels: Tops, Middles, and Bottoms.

One thing that I am absolutely clear on is this: buying technology in the absence of cultural change (changing how we think about, what we expect from one another, and how we do things around here ) is likely to turn out to be a waste of time-effort-money.

I wish you a great week, and I thank you for your listening.

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