What Is The Access To Innovation Including CX Innovation?

Some time ago I found myself in a workshop listening to and observing that which was occurring. As time flowed onwards and my existence kept ebbing away, i found myself sad, deflated. Here were a group of intelligent people who were charged with charting the future of their organisation. And that future included the label of ‘a customer-centric organisation’. There was much talk about customer obsession, trust, customer experience innovation etc.

So how is that I found myself sad and deflated?  I found myself present to that which did not appear to show up for the rest of the team. What was I present to? The following says it as well as it can be said:

We construct realities and then forget we were the ones that constructed them. When our relationship with reality has a kind of “is-ness”or “fixed-ness” to it, – it limits what’s possible and allows only for options like explaining, trying to fix, resisting or accepting. The answer to the question, what does it mean to be human, gets looked at only through that lens. The movie The Matrix says it well: “Welcome to the desert of the real.”

- Gale LeGassick, Landmark Education

Time and again, I find myself in meetings and workshops where the talk is lofty yet where the course of action is merely reasonable.  What magnitude of possibility lies in a reasonable course of action? Reasonable possibility. What kind of possibility is that?  More of the same and results which are merely reasonable. What is another word for reasonable? Average.

The access to new realms of possibility and the generating of extraordinary results lies in the unreasonable.  Unreasonable given the taken for granted “is-ness” yet not at all unreasonable when one lets go of the cage of “is-ness”. It occurs to me that if there was a master of ‘reality distortion’ it was Steve Jobs. Which may explain why it was that he was the source of new worlds of possibility and extraordinary accomplishment.

It occurs to me that the deeper reason that so few organisations innovate – in any dimension – is that the folks who are doing the innovating are reasonable folks taking reasonable courses of action.  What is more reasonable than going for the ‘low hanging fruit’? Or sticking to the proven methods?  Or involving only the people that have proven themselves to be good team players and safe pair of hands?

Innovation is not simply a matter of process / methodology. Nor is it a matter of tools and techniques. At its heart innovation, and that is just another word for transformation, is a matter of being: the being of the folks in the organisation, and the being of the organisation as a whole.  Only those whose being is ‘unreasonable’ have access to generating innovation and transforming business.

Put simply: plodders do not cause innovation or transformation, they simply plod along no matter what tools and techniques you put in their hands.

The accessing to innovation / transformation? Leaders: those who are ‘unreasonable’ enough in their being to put their very being at stake to bring forth, into the world, the ‘unreasonable': new worlds of possibility.

 

 

Customer & Leadership: Is There A Formula / Recipe For Success?

I wish to acknowledge members of the ‘methodology police’, whom I met recently, for being the source of this conversation. Please note that for the purposes of this conversation I will use the terms formula, recipe, method, script, template interchangeably.

Is Success Reducible To A Formula/Recipe?

Is communicating with another reducible to a formula?  Is relating and cultivating relationships with colleagues, clients, family and friends, reducible to a recipe?  Does the co-creation of a ‘good’ customer experience yield to a predefined template?  Does the successful implementation of a new CRM systems and the associated way of showing up and operating in the organisation yield to a specific method? Is great customer service reducible to a recipe? What about leadership: is the exercise of leading and leadership reducible to a formula?

YES. If I look at how it is that we show up and travel then it occurs to me that we operate on the basis that the answer is an unequivocal YES.  Everything is reducible to a recipe: EVERYTHING.  Which means that if the outcomes that we wish for are not showing up then the cause of the problem must be in one of the following domains:

  • we are making it up as we go along as opposed to following a ‘proven’ formula;
  • we are not following the formula/method and as such we need to be manipulated (training, rewards, punishment) into following the one ‘proven’ formula; and

  • there is something wrong with the recipe, it is not ‘tight’ enough, or it is out of date.

Hence, our obsession in organisational worlds with the likes of processes and procedures, methodologies and methods, scripts, judgment-evaluation of people, criticism, praise, reward and punishment.  With this deep rooted obsession we create a wide open clearing for all kind of charlatans to show up and sell their unique ‘secret recipes’ for success – in just any and every domain including the domains of Customer and Leadership.

What Constitutes The Deepest Lack Of Intelligence?

Is there a deeper lack of intelligence (stupidity) than seeking formulas/recipes for the major challenges of business, of education, of living and life?  I say yes.  What is the deeper stupidity?  I say it is keeping our faith in the god like being of formula/recipe intact even when we have followed the formula/recipe and  it has not generated the promised-desired outcome/s.  Why do we do this?  We do this because we grant, individually and collectively, divine status to formulas/recipes.  Therefore, it makes sense to conclude that our understanding and/or application of the formula was at fault.

Words Of Wisdom 

I invite you to listen to the speaking of one that shows up for me as speaking wisdom:

Once, several years ago, some friends and I enrolled in a cooking class taught by an Armenian matriarch and her aged servant. Since they spoke no English and we no Armenian, communication was not easy. She taught by demonstration; we watched (and diligently tried to quantify her recipes) as she prepared an array of marvellous eggplant and lamb dishes. But our recipes were imperfect; and try as hard as we could, we could not duplicate her dishes.

“What was it,” I wondered, “that gave her cooking that special touch?” The answer eluded me until one day, when I was keeping a particularly keen watch on the kitchen proceeding, I saw our teacher, with great dignity and deliberation, prepare a dish. She handed it to her servant who wordlessly carried it into the kitchen, to the oven and, without breaking a stride, threw in handful after handful of assorted spices and condiments. I am convinced that those surreptitious “throw-ins” made all the difference….

But what are these “throw-ins”, these elusive, “off the record” extras?  They exist outside of formal theory, they are not written about, they are not explicitly taught. Therapist are often unaware of them ……. The critical ingredients are hard to describe, even harder to define. Indeed, is it possible to define and teach such qualities as compassion, “presence”, caring, extending oneself, touching the patient at a profound level, or – that most elusive one of all – wisdom?

- Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Pyschotherapy

Concluding Thoughts For Your Consideration

I invite you to consider:

That the guru does not even have to be a charlatan for charlatanry to show up. How so? In this example, the matriarch, was not aware of the “throw-ins” that were being added to her recipe by her assistant.

Where human beings are intrinsic to the game being played, the access to effectiveness (generating the desired outcomes) lies in a sensitivity-attunement to the context in which the game is being played.

Sensitivity-attunement to the context allows you to figure out and put into the game the “throw-ins” that make the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

It is our addiction to slavishly following formulas/recipes that is the biggest obstacle to being attuned and responsive to the context and throwing in the most appropriate “throw-ins” for that particular context in that moment;

Insisting on and slavishly following formulas/recipes (including processes, procedures, scripts, methods etc) is the most significant barrier to effectiveness in the human realm. And that includes the dimensions of Customer (customer service, CRM, customer experience) and of Leadership.

You may disagree. If that is the case then I look forward to hearing what you say.

 

2014 State of Customer Experience: Who Are UK’s Leaders And What Can We Learn From Them? (Part 4)

Today’s conversation completes this four part series (part 1, part 2, part 3) centred on Nunwood‘s 2014 UK Analysis report. In this conversation I want to talk about CX improvement.  Specifically, what Nunwood say about what it takes to generate CX improvement.

What Does It Take To Excel At The Customer Experience Game? How Should Your Organisation Go About It?

The authors of the Nunwood report show up for me as being practical folks. They get that there is fine balance between aspiration and pragmatism. Here’s what they write (bolding mine)

For most brands, trying to improve performance simply by emulating John Lewis or First Direct can be counterproductive. Trying to move too quickly, or claiming to be something at odds with reality, can cause credibility and cultural issues. The rapid and sustainable progress of the top brands is the result of long-term, diligent investment. 

… the temptation of many chief executives ….. is to set an expectation … that the organisation will soon resemble a top 10 brand……. Transformational change is seldom less than five year project. In fact, a considerable number of brands ranked 100th to 263rd in this study have publicly held similar goals since 2010 and climbed no more than a few places over this time. Rallying cries must be credible, as well as loud. 

Equally dangerous is the risk of myopically focusing just on the immediate sector competitors, who are often only marginally different in the consumers’ eyes.

Given this what is it that the authors advise?  Here is what they say:

… the question for many brands is not how to get into the top 10 within 12 months, nor is it simply how to be the best of their immediate competitors. Rather, the best dividends come from understanding how to accelerate the rate of customer experience change. 

Which Four Critical Dimensions Do Businesses Need To Master In Order To Accelerate Customer Experience Improvement? 

According to the authors these are the four critical dimensions that businesses need to master to generate sustainable and significant improvements in CX excellence:

  1. A business is mobilised around a common vision;
  2. Customer journeys are mapped and prioritised for change;
  3. Measurement is owned by the frontline and linked to actions; and
  4. Customer experience motivates the employee experience.

As I look at these four critical dimensions it occurs to me that the only one that is ‘easy’ is the first half of the second item on the list: mapping of customer journeys.  Why is this the case? Because you can get a bunch of people together and get them doing customer journey mapping without any disruption to organisational politics or day-to-day operations.  Is that why customer journey mapping, and VoC surveying, are so common place. And action that actually changes anything worth changing so rare?

It occurs to me that it is no easy-simple task to come up with a common vision for the customer experience. And it is a major challenge to get everyone in the business to row in the same direction and in sync with one another. The devil often turns out to be in the detail. The other day I was in a meeting where all the buzzword were there: trusted, easy to do business with, personalisation, consistence…. And everyone was in agreement in this level. The fun came when it came to filling out these empty words with something concrete: What set of practices are ruled out if we are to be trustworthy? What set of practices do we need to embrace to be easy to do business with? What does personalisation actually mean? And so forth.

Take a look at number three on the list: measurement is owned at the front line and linked to actions.  Ask yourself why the call-centre agent on minimum wage, working in factory like conditions, should care, genuinely care, about owning measurement and taking action.  Or flip it and ask yourself who loses out if power moves from head office to the operations, from managers to the people who actually deal with customers?  Furthermore, for this to genuinely occur then something like the practices put forth by Deming (‘drive fear out of the workplace’) and implemented by Toyota (the workers own the design-execution-improvement of the work processes and machinery) need to occur.

Customer experience motivates the employee experience. What does this mean? I take it to mean that you start with figuring out the kind of customer experience that you propose to generate. And use this to figure out which kind of employee experience you need to cause in order for the employees to cause the customer experience you have in mind.  In many businesses, and every service business where the employees touch the customer, it means relaxing control, embracing flexibility and encouraging improvisation-creativity-responsiveness to the situation at hand.  It means treating employees as human beings rather than resources which come in the troublesome form of human being.  It means that power has to move to where the action occurs: the frontline. Who does this threaten? Managers at all levels of the organisation.

Why do I point this out? To reinforce the point that the authors make and which I shared earlier:

Transformational change is seldom less than five year project. In fact, a considerable number of brands ranked 100th to 263rd in this study have publicly held similar goals since 2010 and climbed no more than a few places over this time. Rallying cries must be credible, as well as loud. 

At this point, I ask you this question: what kind of leader and exercise of leadership plants the seeds of transformational change and then nurtures this seeds to fruition?  Can it be the kind of leaders that are commonplace today?  Which leader is going to embark in a journey which involves hardship, including putting one’s reputation and selfhood at stake, and which not yield fruits for at least five years?  It occurs to me only one that it is going to be there in a leadership role for much longer than five years.  Now think of Jeff Bezos at Amazon, or Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Steve Jobs at Apple, Richard Branson at Virgin…

That concludes the conversation on Nunwood’s 2014 UK Analysis report. I hope that I made some contribution to you. Thanks for listening.

 

2014 State of Customer Experience: Who Are UK’s 2014 Leaders And What Can We Learn From Them? (Part 3)

This conversation continues on from where the earlier one ended. As promised, I have been looking at what Nunwood has to say about certain brands. And find myself in a position to share with you the table that I have put together:

2014 Nunwood CX Leaders Table

 What Does It Take To Be A Customer Experience Excellence  Leader?

Just about everyone I come across business is looking for the answer, the recipe, the formula for turning the ordinary into extraordinary, base metal to gold; Nobody has or makes the time to linger, to think and rethink, to grapple with, experiment, and finally arrive at a home made ‘solution’ to any serious challenge.  So is there a recipe/formula for CX excellence?

If there is, then it is worth taking a look at First Direct as it is in top place in 2014 and has consistently been in the top 10.  Here is what the folks at Nunwood say on the matter (bolding mine):

The First Direct formula is remarkably simple one, yet it has proved difficult to implement in other organisations: remove the barriers between customers and the bank; employ people who want to serve the customer and care about doing a good job; train them intensely and empower them to handle and resolve any issues brought to them by the customer.

What does this look like from a customer perspective? Let’s listen to a First Direct customer:

 I was in Venice when my credit card was refused and it was quite stressful. I phoned First Direct and talked with a patient man with a great sense of humour who spent time talking to me about the holiday, acknowledged this this was a stressful thing to happen and worked methodically to sort thing out. I rarely phone First Direct as I can do almost everything online, but is was so important that when I needed them, they were unfailingly polite, human and ready to treat me as valued customer.

What Is It That Is Missing From The CX Game Of Excellence?

I have read the Nunwood report several times.  And putting this report together with other reports and my lived experience I find myself thinking “There is no rocket science here!” and find myself in agreement with the author of the Nunwood 2014 UK CX report when they say (referring to First Direct) that the formula for CX excellence is a remarkably simple one.  So why is it that so many brands fail to make any meaningful shifts/progress in CX excellence?  Allow me to point at what occurs to me as ‘that which is missing the presence of which makes all the difference’ by sharing a personal story with you.

Earlier this week I was due to be at an important meeting in central London at 10:00.  Seven people were counting on me to be there to ‘chair’ the meeting. I was counting on myself to be there to chair the meeting.  The unexpected occurred on my way to the rail station. I found myself at a stand still on the road for 45 minutes or so. I took the next train – thirty minutes later than I had planned.  This meant that my contingency was gone – everything had to work out just right if I was to make that meeting on time. I arrived at Paddington Station and made my way hurriedly toward the underground. Suddenly, I found my feet sliding, no control, left knee smacks into the hard tile floor, right leg twists awkwardly, the right ankle is in some pain. A helpful gentlemen helps me up. I recover and get that the floor has become an ice rink in some place (food for a future post). I walk slowly, in pain, towards the underground. The up escalator is out of action so I make my way up the stairs – slowly and awkwardly, in pain. I walk for several minutes to the underground entrance. It is closed. I ring both of my colleagues and the client to let them know that I am likely to be late.

Making my way to the taxi rank I notice a long queue and get that if I wait there I will not get to the meeting on time. So I make my way down the stairs and out of Paddington Station. Leaving the station, the rain falls down and I start getting wet. I walk away from Paddington station and towards central London. Why? I get that I have to get far enough away from the station to find an empty taxi. As I am walking I am in pain and mindful that I have to walk carefully on my sprained ankle. After walking for 5 – 10 minutes I find a black cab. I tell the cab driver that he is blessing, a Godsend. We arrive at the client’s office – five minutes after the meeting has started.  What do I find?  The meeting is on the sixth floor and all the lifts are out of service. What do I do? I embrace the pain, walk as mindfully and carefully as I can, and make my way up the stairs to the sixth floor.  I chair the meeting, we do what needs to be done. Just after noon I leave and make my way home as I am in considerable pain.

What was it that allowed me to overcome a series of obstacles and considerable pain to honor my commitment? Absolute commitment to the commitments that I make: playing full out to honor my word.  Ask yourself how often you find that kind of commitment when it comes to the CX realm. Now you have your answer to why it is that so few are CX Excellence Leaders and most are languishing in ‘no mans land’ of averageness.

Enough for today. In the next post I will bring this series of post on the Nunwood 2014 UK CX report to a close.  I wish you a great day and thank you for your listening.

2014 State of Customer Experience: Who Are UK’s 2014 Leaders And What Can We Learn From Them? (Part 2)

In this post I continue the conversation I started in the last post. The focus of this conversation is the customer experience themes that Nunwood call attention to in their 2014 UK Analysis Report.

What Are The Primary Customer Experience Themes?

I shared one of these customer experience themes with you in the last one. So let’s start on that one and flesh it out.

1. Employees Come First, Customers Come Second

Let’s start this theme with a few paragraphs from the Nunwood report (bolding mine):

These excellent companies realise that value is created commercially and reputationally at the interface between the employee and customer – and it really does happen in that order…… So it is no accident that members of the top 10 also feature highly in the Sunday Times best places to work survey. 

As such, the management lesson for brands aspiring to join the top 10 is clear: those responsible for the employee experience need to be fundamental and genuine partners in building customer experiences. Internal values, behavioural frameworks, competencies, training plans and recruitment principles are fundamental determinants of CX success. 

 

I find myself in full agreement with that which Nunwood articulate. And I acknowledge Nunwood for talking straight and pointing out the Achille’s Heel of just about every Customer initiative (strategy, CX, CRM, customer service) that I have been involved in since 1999.  It continues to be an Achilles Heel because there is no listening for the soft stuff, the human stuff, and certainly not for treating employees right.  That which Nunwood is pointing out has been pointed out before. It even has a name: Service-Profit chain. 

If this is the challenge then what is the ‘solution’ that Nunwood proposes? Let’s listen (bolding mine):

…. HR are seen as playing a role in implementing some customer journeys, but are not genuine partners in the overall strategy. Putting in place a progressive customer governance, which unites marketing, operational and HR professionals, is an important consideration ….

Is that enough? Is it enough just to get the marketing, HR operational folks and let them cook up customer and employee experience excellence? No. Why not? Because technology plays such a critical part. Technology enables or constrains, it facilitates or hinders, it can liberate or enslave. So this is what Nunwood says (bolding mine):

… the CIO will also have representation in this group – as systems and technologies become a vital determinant of the kind of employee and customer experiences that these brands are seeking to forge.

2. The CX Champions Benchmark Themselves Against The Best Organisations In The World

Industries can be meaningful ways of looking at the business world. And  looking at and across the players in a particular bucket, category, can be a useful exercise – if you are financial analyst or the like.  When it comes to excellence in Customer Experience staying in these artificial silos is limiting. Why? Let’s listen to Nunwood (bolding mine):

…. experienced, well-informed consumers have expectations that are no longer industry-specific. A consumer’s experience with Amazon or Appliances Online resets their expectations for all digital experiences. The same for the purchase experience in Lush – for all retail experiences…… the excellent companies are simply following their customers in expanding their field of vision to discover what great looks like and then building that into the experiences they create, fuelling a constant cycle of setting and resetting expectations.

In Which Domains Are The CX Champions Shaping-Setting-Resonating With Customer Expectations?

1. Standing For Something Meaningful and Facilitating Values Based Buying

In an age where ‘God is dead’, an age of nihilism, an age where one can buy just about everything, what is it that many yearn for and cannot be bought? Meaning.  Let’s listen to Nunwood (bolding mine):

Lush and before it Body Shop, are indicative of a shift toward value based buying. The increased expectation that, not only are the products and services great, but they also bring with them some form of attached meaning. Consumers buy into what the firm stands for as much as its products.

Reading that paragraph, I find myself reminded by Simon Sinek. He has been saying pretty much the same thing for a couple of years. And using Apple to illustrate this thought.  If you haven’t watched his TED talk then I urge you to do so.

Just in case you think that meaning and values are only for the likes of Lush or the Body Shop then Nunwood has this ‘warning’ for you (bolding mine):

Marks & Spencers Plan A still strongly resonates with customers, as does the Waitrose green token that apportions local charitable giving. Conversely, Amazon’s reputational issues manifest itself in a slightly weakening …. customer experience. In 2014, customer’s expect ethics as standard. 

2. Ease Through Seamless Omni-Channel Integration

I prefer to do business with those organisations which make it easy for me to do business with them. Turns out my wife and children are very much like me. In fact, I have yet to come across anyone who will admit to preferring doing business with the folks that make it really hard to do business with them.  Here’s what Nunwood says (bolding mine):

John Lewis has set the benchmark for online retailing. Customers are empowered to purchase how they want, in the way that they want – without being pushed to low cost channels. First Direct works seamlessly across online and telephony, as does Appliances Online.

Here, it occurs to me that it is worth pointing out that First Direct is No 1 on the 2014 list of CX Champions. John Lewis is No 2. And Appliances Online is a new entrant at No 6. So making it easy for customers to do business with you through an integrated omni-channel experience makes some impact with/on customers.

3. Making It Easy For Customer To Quench Their Thirst For Useful Information

I have gotten so much into conducting some due diligence before buying that it has become an automatic reflex. Looks like there are many like me. Here is Nunwood again (bolding mine):

…. pre-purchase research has become its own form of entertainment as consumers educate themselves and each other. Amazon has led the way in equipping customers with a vast database of reviews, but Appliances Online has gone one step further, publishing reviews of its performance online, as have FirstDirect. 

If I had to sum all of this up I’d sum it up as follows:

  • Stand for something meaningful – that which resonates with you and your customers;
  • Provide solid products and services and ensure that you pass the Ronseal test;

  • Make it easy for your customers to do business with you by providing them with honest-useful information (that helps them in their buying decisions) and by ‘integrating your people-process-technology’ so as to provide an effortless omni-channel customer experience.

Enough for today. Let’s pick up this conversation in the next post where I propose to focus on highlighting some key features of the 2014 CX Champions.  I wish you a great weekend and thanks for listening.

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