What I Took Away From CXDay In London, UK

CXDay organised by the CXPA took place yesterday. At the invitation of Marco Rodrigues, I found myself at the CXDay event taking place in London. Here is what I took away from that event:

The terms customer-centric, Customer Experience, and innovation are empty. They are so empty that each person can fill them up whatever meaning they wish. And they do. Then the debates occur as to what customer-centric means, what customer experience is and is not, what counts as innovation or not. Some academics see an opportunity here: to define Customer Experience as a set of capabilities backed by empirical data and thus put in a place an established framework for assessing Customer Experience maturity and benchmarking.

Life is difficult/frustrating on those who find themselves either preaching and making a living from Customer Experience. And it is perhaps even more difficult for those who find themselves part of the Customer Experience team within a large corporate. One such person told me that she found it frustrating to make sense of what Customer Experience involves. Dive into it and you realise it is a many headed monster. There are many questions and no ready made silver bullets. To deal with the Customer Experience challenge you have to get pretty much everyone else in the organisation to work with you to tame the monster. And these folks are not interested. To them Customer Experience is irrelevant to what they have to do on a day to day basis. And for them the folks in the Customer Experience show up as an irrelevant annoyance.

Customer Experience has been and continues to be a blessing for one set of folks: the VoC vendors.  These folks cannot believe their luck: listening to the voice of the customer has become a mandatory exercise for just about every organisation and their is an endless appetite for what the VoC vendors are selling. Yet all is not as great as it sounds. The more intelligent VoC folks (at VoC vendors) are concerned. Why? Because they are wondering when someone is going to wake up, notice and call it as it is. How is it? Corporations may be listening to VoC, they certainly aren’t doing much about it. And so from a practical perspective they are not listening to their customers. So the most rational course of action is to put a stop to their relationship with VoC vendor and scrap their Customer Experience team.

A handful of people get it and are living it. What do they get? They get what the whole Customer Experience thing is all about. Renata Wallace, the owner and managing director of Wallacespace gets it. As soon as I walked into Wallacespace (the venue for the CXDay event) I found myself saying “This is a meeting space with soul!”. Then I listened to Renata share her story and I got that Renata embodies the soul that is so manifest in the look+feel of Wallacespace. What struck me most forcefully about Renata is how she is so different to just about every senior person in meet in big corporate land. What makes her distinct for me? She oozes the kind of humanity that is rare in corporate environments.

It’s great to meet up with people in person. I enjoyed meeting up with Marcio Rodrigues – who reminded me of the event and encouraged me to attend. I enjoyed meeting up with Ian J. Golding  a customer experience evangelist and consultant. I enjoyed meeting Nadine Dyer, a Customer Experience Manager, who shared with me how that which I speak her lands for her. I enjoyed meeting Renata Wallace……. For me nothing takes the place of face to face encounters with human beings. And in that respect I thank the folks from Wallacespace who supplied us with drinks, canopies, and friendly service.

I wish you a great day and thank you for making the time to listen and in some cases share that which I speak here.  Live well, be a source of positive difference in the world. Be a Renata Wallace! A human being in touch with his/her humanity and revelling in it. This is an invitation you can accept or reject – as human beings you and I are ‘condemned to be free’ to always be the chooser who chooses, even choosing not to choose and just going with the way that it has been set up for us.

 

 

 

Why I Prefer Not To Do Business With Customer-Centric Businesses

Why is it that I prefer not to business with a customer-centric business? Allow me to share my answer by referring to the UK grocery market.  Which supermarket chain was applauded, by many, for its customer-centred way of doing business? Tesco.  What was held responsible for fuelling this customer-centred way of doing business? The Tesco Club Card. Through this loyalty card, Tesco captured and made effective use of customer shopping data to grow revenues and optimise profits.  In the process Tesco came from nowhere to became the world’s second largest retailer.

Where is Tesco today? Here is what The Economist said back in July 2014:

… on July 21st Tesco abruptly announced that Mr Clarke would be leaving his job, apparently prompted by a warning that profits in the first half of 2014 would come in “below expectations”. In June Tesco revealed a drop in same-store sales that Mr Clarke admitted was the retailer’s worst performance in 40 years….

Recession taught middle-class shoppers that discounters like Aldi and Lidl were cheap but not nasty; they spent some of the money they saved at higher-end grocers, such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer……

Tesco is faring badly. Its sales dropped by nearly 2% in the year to June while those of its closest rivals, Asda (which is owned by Walmart) and Sainsbury’s, rose by 3% or better. Despite his exertions, Mr Clarke failed to persuade consumers that Tesco offers better value than the discounters or quality to match the upmarket merchants.

Is this as bad as it gets? No. Here is what the Guardian newspaper stated in on the 22nd of September this year:

Tesco has suspended the head of its UK business and called in independent accountants and lawyers to investigate after discovering that its guidance to the City overstated expected first-half profits by about £250m….

Tesco shares fell almost 8% on Monday morning to an 11-year low of 212p, making them the biggest faller in the FTSE 100 index and wiping £1.5bn off the retailer’s market value. More than £6bn has been wiped off share value since 21 July, when the previous chief executive, Phil Clark, was ousted.

Why is it that Tesco is in such deep trouble? I say that Tesco has arrived at where it is at due to its customer-centric way of doing business.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that the Tops got fixated into harnessing the data yielded by the Club Card to get customers to part with more of their money in Tesco stores.

Was this done by offering customers superior products as in higher quality products? No.  The products were middle of the road yet ways were found of selling these at higher prices through clever marketing and merchandising.

Was this done by providing superior customer service in the stores? No. Tesco cut back on the number of people working in the stores so it was not unusual for the customer to find that there was nobody around to help when help was needed or find long queues at the checkout tills.

Was this done through a superior shopping experience? No. Management chose not to invest in the stores or the shopping experience in the stores. As a result the stores become less and less attractive over time.

I prefer not to do business with a customer-centric business because the management of such a business is more likely to be focussed on extracting value from their customer base through a variety of clever manoeuvres than earning its keep through superior products (Apple, Waitrose), superior service (John Lewis, Zappos), low prices (Lidl, Aldi), or a combination of service and low price (Amazon).

If you are a customer and your supplier is touting customer-obsession then  you might want to think about whether that is a good thing. Is the obsession with providing you with a superior product, superior value,  and/or experience? Or is it an obsession with with finding clever ways of getting you to buy more, pay more for what you buy, and get less in return? You might want to keep in mind that which many remind me of: business is not altruistic.

Why Do Tops Struggle With Customer Experience & Employee Engagement?

On Tops And Their Struggle With Customer Experience and Employee Engagement

Have you noticed that the folks who occupy the seats of power (‘Tops’) in organisational life struggle with ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Employee Engagement’? By that I am not pointing at the talk. Nor am I pointing at conceptual-intellectual understanding.  I am pointing at walking the path: ‘showing up and travelling in the world’ in a way that creates a context which calls forth the actions that cultivate meaningful relationships with customers and employees.

Why do Tops, in particular, struggle to embrace-embody that which it takes for an organisation to create-design-deliver the kind of experiences that call forth meaningful relationships with their customers, and their employees? In asking this question I wish to rule out the domains of psychology or morality. What interests me is structural factors: the underlying ‘structures’ that shape human behaviour pretty much irrespective of morality and personality.

What is your answer?  Hold that answer. Let’s first turn our attention to considerateness – the quality/state of being considerate.

What Is It To Be Considerate?

Language always leaves clues. So what does the English language suggest? Let’s take a look at the definition:

considerate

adjective

careful not to inconvenience or harm others.

“she was unfailingly kind and considerate”

Synonyms: attentivethoughtfulconcernedsolicitousmindfulheedfulobliging,

accommodatinghelpfulcooperativepatient,

kindkindlydecent,unselfishcompassionatesympatheticcaringcharitablealtruistic,

generouspolitesensitiveciviltactful

 

If you haven’t done so then I urge to look up each of the synonyms to get a rounded feel for the phenomena under discussion. Notice, what we are talking about here is a genuine concern for the wellbeing of others – our fellow human beings.  A working alongside-with others as opposed to over-against others.  Cooperation and accommodation and not domination or indifference.  What is the basis of considerateness? Is it not fellow-feeling? That you are human just like me and are worth of the same kind of consideration that I ask for, demand, for myself?

Considerateness: The Glue Of Long Term Relationships?

It occurs to me that the way of showing up and travelling in the world that we have named considerate is the access to cultivating relationships. And, importantly,  keeping these relationships in existence over the long-term. It also occurs to me that this way of being-in-the-world is central to human centred design. And that includes experience design: Customer Experience, and Employee Experience.

Now back to the Tops. If you are a Top then what kind of situation do you automatically find yourself in?  Let’s ask this question differently:  What is the privilege that goes with being at the top, a Top?  Is it not that as a Top you fully expect others to be considerate to you and your needs? Others that surround you and serve you show up and travel in a manner that is considerate of your status-needs-wishes-preferences. Is it not true that you are accustomed to be treated with considerateness by just about everybody that you encounter?

As a Top how do you treat others? Is it not that the default way of showing up and  travelling in the world, as a Top, is that of inconsiderateness towards others:

inconsiderate

adjective


thoughtlessly causing hurt or inconvenience to others.
“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

What I’m pointing out here is structural-situational factor. One that calls forth a certain mode of being in the world. In no way am I making a moral-value judgement. Nor am I making reference to psychology or personality types. What happens when you are a Top for long enough? You lose touch with the anyone, the everyman.  So your ability to listen to and respond with considerateness to the needs of others withers  – even if it was there to start with. Yet this very considerateness is essential to being attuned to the needs-wishes-preferences of customers and employees. And responded sensitively and on a timely basis so as to generate gratitude, engagement, and loyalty.

Special Treatment: Words Of Wisdom From James A. Autry:

I wish to end this conversation by sharing words of wisdom with you

I think I started maturing as a manager when I discovered that one of the oldest principles of organisational management was hogwash. That principle is stated in many ways, but the military guys used to put it best: “Nobody gets special treatment around here.” …. In the military, they might also say, “If we do this for you, Lieutenant Autry, we’ll have to do it for everyone.” I used to want to say, “No, sir, you could do it just for me.”

What I realise now is that the professed aversion to special treatment was all delusion anyway; people in every organisation ….. get special treatment all the time…… much of it has tilted towards “in” groups…. that kind of “special treatment” is favouritism and discrimination.

But there’s another kind of special treatment …… a manager’s willingness to bend the rules to accommodate every person’s specialness…. Some people do good work but are slow; some do fast work but are sloppy. Some are morning people; some do better in the afternoon. Some have children that cause schedule problems; some have elderly parents. Some need a lot of attention and affirmation; some want to be left alone to do their work. Some respond more to money, less to praise; some thrive on praise…… some are very bright; some are slow….. Some are men; some are women.

Who in the world could believe that all those special needs could be accommodated without special treatment? But it takes a lot of management courage to provide that special treatment…..

I’ve made exceptions to corporate rules to help get an employee’s family through the nightmare of overwhelming financial and emotional distress. I’ve made similar exceptions for employees needing assistance to recover from substance abuse…..

The road of special treatment is not without peril, and it makes day-to-day management much trickier and more time consuming. You must consider the impact on the group, the legal risks, and the questions of equity and justice, in addition to the record and commitment of the person involved. Then if at all possible, decide in favour of special treatment…….

When someone complains, just say, “Everyone gets special treatment around here.”

- James Autry, Love and Profit, The Art of Caring Leadership

I leave you to ponder considerateness and special treatment. It occurs to me that they are intertwined: being considerate involves providing special treatment when special treatment is called for – by the customer, by the employee.  What gets in the way of being considerate and providing special treatment? It makes the life of those in management harder. And ultimately, once you get beyond the rhetoric, the organisation is designed so as to be considerate to the needs of the Tops – not customers, not employees.

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.

How To Cause Customer-Centricity By Shaping The Work Context (Part 3 of 3)

This conversation follows on from where the previous conversation left off.  Specifically, I intend to share with you the theory behind the shaping the work context approach to changes organisational behaviour. And the limitations of using the traditional tools: hard and soft.  Let’s begin.

It occurs to me that the fundamental assumption is that human behaviour is always functional. Which is to say that there is correlation between the human behaviour that occurs in a work context and how that work context shows up for the human beings who find themselves there in that context.  Put differently, there is an ongoing dance between context and behaviour: each is influenced by the other on an ongoing basis.  From this flows the following ‘advice’ from the authors of Six Simple Rules:

1. Human Beings As Purposeful Actors Making Use Of Resources And Dealing With Constraints

Human behaviour can be understood in terms of three elements. First, the goal/s, the towards-which the human being ‘moves’.  Second, the resources-tools that are at hand to help ‘move’ towards the goal. Third, that which shows up as an obstacles-hindrance.  Collectively, these three elements in their unity (as one) constitute the work context as lived-experienced. Here is what the authors say:

Understanding what people do and why they do what they do is so utterly fundamental that it is our simple rule. Before you, as a manager, do anything to solve a performance problem, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by first applying this rule.

2. Understand How The Organisational Elements Affect-Shape The Work Context

Do organisational structures, processes, procedures, and systems matter? Do they affect-shape human behaviour?  Yes, they do affect behaviour and performance. But not in the simplistic way that most of us assume.  According to the authors (bolding is my work):

Their impact depends on how they combine with each other to shape the goals, resources and constraints  to which people adjust their behaviours.

If you do any cooking you will get that the impact that any one ingredient has depends on the other ingredients that constitute the recipe. If you manage stocks you will understand that it is not the risk of the individual stock that primarily matters – it is the impact of that stock on the risk profile of your portfolio.  Hopefully you get the idea.

3. Be Wary of Taking The Hard (Scientific Management) And Soft (Human Relations) Approaches To Improving Organisational Performance

Let’s consider each of these approaches to understand why it is that the authors advise caution in automatically and mindlessly adopting one or both of these approaches as the silver bullet for dealing with organisational challenges.

The Hard Approach And Its Limitations

Why is there is much emphasis in the hard approach on clarity – clearly specifying the rules of the game, the roles and responsibilities of the actors, the boundaries, the rewards and punishments….? Is it because the hard approach takes it for granted that performance is a direct consequence of what people are instructed and rewarded-punished for doing?  Let’s listen to the authors:

Structure defines the role, processes instruct how to perform it, and incentives motivate the right per on in the right role to do it. From this perspective, if there is a performance problem, then it must be because some key organisational element is missing or not detailed enough. So companies jump straight from identifying a performance problem to deploying new structures, processes or systems to resolve it. This error dumps a first layer of complicatedness into the organisation.

Let’s make this real by revisiting InterLodge. What did management do at the beginning? Did it not resort to restructuring and reengineering without actually looking into the work context that shaped behaviour?  And when management did look at the front line what did it conclude?

Receptionists were not selling rooms to latecomers. They were not engaging the customers in a way that made customers satisfied. They were not charging the right room rate.

If you focus on what your people are not doing does this help you understand what it is that they are doing and what leads them to do what they do? Clearly not. So the authors advise the following (bolding is my work):

Performance is what it is, because people do what they do, not because of what they don’t do. People do what they do precisely because of the organisational elements already in place (not because of the ones that are missing)…… 

The authors go on to provide what I consider the most valuable and most neglected insight into human behaviour in organisational contexts (bolding is my work):

Organisational elements do not combine with each other in the abstract, based on their supposed intrinsic pros and cons.…. It is only by considering the work context, and their effect in this context, the organisational elements can be appropriately analysed and designed.  The effect …….. depends on how people deal with these elements as resources or constraints. 

What did the receptionists do with the “guest engagement” skills that they honed during the mandated training course?  They used these skills as a resource. But a resource for what?  A resource for their goal: avoiding stressful encounters with angry customers:

 … they used their skills not to meet the target price point but to proactively offer rebates and refunds. What’s more, their new skills combined with their clarified roles in an unexpected way that also provided new resources to the receptionists……: some receptionists used their newfound interaction skills to explain clearly to guests that their responsibilities stopped at the front desk and did not include back-office activities…

Now you know why I am not a fan of worshipping at the altar of lean, six sigma, process and reengineering. And in the world of consulting, the anal retentive fixation on methodology. I learned the hard way: spending years doing it and seeing the meagre and often counterproductive results.

The Soft Approach And Its Limitations

As this post is already long I recommend that you get hold of a copy of the Six Rules for a fuller-deeper picture. For my part I leave you with the following:

…. the soft approach views performance as a by-product of good interpersonal relationships. But this view confuses people getting along with genuinely productive cooperation. Real cooperation is not fun and games….. it always involved adjustment costs.

Indeed, the better the feelings among individuals in a group, the more people are likely to avoid straining the relationship by bearing adjustments costs themselves or by imposing them on others …. So they will avoid cooperation and make third parties bear the consequences, or they will compensate with extra resources to remove interdependencies… the extra resources teak the form of …. excess inventory stocks, time delays, interfaces and committees, and customer requirements unmet….

Here I draw your attention to the never ending challenge that almost every large organisation has in getting just the folks in marketing (advertising, website, email, direct…) to work together – cooperate. Or the bigger challenge of getting the folks in marketing, sales and service to cooperate to generate a joined up and attractive customer experience.

If you wish to learn more but do not wish to read the book then I recommend the following TED Talk by one of the authors of the Six Simple Rules:

 

 

 

 

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