Taking A Deeper Look At Customer-Centricity: Is It All Goodness?

Today, let’s take a deeper look at customer-centricity. Why? To get a better appreciation of what this term signifies. And importantly what it does not signify.  How best to go about this? Allow me to share a personal story or two with you and lets see what is unconcealed.

My Father Is Centred On Me

Up to the age of 5 (or so) nobody was centred upon me. As a result I lived a life that showed up as free – I pretty much got to do what I wanted to do for the whole day; my father was living in a different country for most of the time and my mother was too busy working the farm to keep a close eye on me.

Everything changed shortly after my fifth birthday. I found myself living in the UK, living an indoor life in a city (rather than an outdoor life in the countryside) and under the careful gaze of both my mother and father.  This is where life became interesting. Why? Because my father became maz-centred: he centred his attention on me.  What did this look like?

My father planned and dictated pretty much every day of my life. So when I got back from school, I was fed by my mother then marched upstairs to my bedroom to study. And not let out until the studying was done. Homework from school was not enough. My father got together with his more educated friends and gave me extra homework.  Each night there would be test.  If I did not pass the test there were unpleasant consequences.  Further, I had to watch the six o’clock news and the nine o’clock news. And I had to translate for my father. I remember that one night I forgot to inform him that the Egyptian army had been decimated by the Israeli army. The next day he found out from his friends and I got punished.

This level of maz-centricity was not enough for my father. Some weekends he would arrange for my cousin who was several years older to come over. And then he would pose questions to us both.  If I did not surpass my cousin – who was and is clever – I got punished.  To avoid the punishment I studied a lot in the evenings and even at the weekends.

As I excelled in school my fathers maz-centricity broadened to include Islam. Now I come home to school, was fed by my mother, did some homework, then had to go the mosque and study there for 2-3 hours, then return home and complete my homework.

When it came to choosing which subjects I was going to study at school for my O’levels. My father chose the subjects for example overriding my preference for Physics with his choice of biology. Why? My father was totally centred on me. Why? My father was clear that I was his passport to status (standing in the community) and money. Therefore, he was clear and determined that I was to become a doctor – at least a doctor, more likely a surgeon.

What has been unconcealed here?  My father centred his resources (time, money) on me in order to serve his needs – for status, for wealth.

I Centre On My Children

I remember coming home very late one evening – around about 11pm. It had been a hard day at work. Opening the door, I found my son (who was around 3 at the time) rushing towards me with big eyes, big smile, and open arms. As I picked him up the following thought occurred: “My son loves me just as I am. All he asks is that I be here and spend time with him. Whereas at work, I am only as good as the last project. And my utilisation rate.”  I also realised that I had been prioritising work over my son!  I made a choice. I chose to stop climbing the ladder at a Top 5 management consultancy – work less, spend more time with my son.

When Rohan (eldest son) was around 4 years old I made the decision to put him into a private school: a Montessori School. Many people advised me not do so. Their argument, private school is costly. And I could not put Rohan into Montessori School without, later, putting both Rohan and Marco (second eldest son) into Montessori School. And then later a third child; my wife and I had planned to have three to four children.

After some consideration, I chose to walk down this path – of putting Rohan into Montessori School and keeping there at least until the age of eleven. And likewise for the other children – born and unborn. Why did I make this choice? I noticed that Rohan was an unusual child: bright, risk taking, inquisitive, creative yet struggling to read or put a sentence together. Later it turned out that Rohan has the gifts and constraints that go with being Dyslexic. Noticing, what was so, I was convinced that Rohan would suffer in traditional school where the classroom size is 30+. And the work if focussed on reading and writing.  Montessori School offers a much broader curriculum and importantly uses all five sense – not just sight and sound.

When I was not working away from home, I spent some time every evening with each of my children. If nothing else I would go and lie in bed with each of them for 10 – 20 minutes. And I would ask them the same questions. How are you feeling? What was good about your day? What was not good about your day? Is there anything else that you want to tell Papa?  I would give each of them a hug and tell each of “I love you and I am so proud of you.” That was the truth and continues to be the truth.

It occurs to me that I was also centred on my children. Ask my wife and she will tell you that I continue to be centred on my children even though Rohan is nearly twenty, Marco is eighteen, and Clea is fourteen.  The question is, why have I been and continue to be centred on my children?

My answer: to give these children the best start in life. What kind of start is that? One where they are encouraged and taught to think for themselves. One where they are encouraged and taught to stand up for themselves. One where they are encouraged to be leaders not just followers. One where they are encouraged and taught to consider and care for others. One where they are encouraged to take risks, explore, create, challenge rather then merely follow instructions and execute…..  My desired outcomes for my children have been and continue to be:

  • each child knows and values his gift/s;
  • each child has strong self-esteem (sense of inner worth) and strong self-confidence (way of being in the world and handling that which shows up in the world); and
  • each child values others as fellow human beings worthy of respect-consideration and naturally gets on well with others without sacrificing his/her core values and aspirations.

Summing Up

My father centred his time-effort-resources on me from the age of five until I broke away at the age of eighteen; I had been planning to break away from about the age of fourteen.

I have centred my time-effort-money on my children since 1998-1999.  All three of my children are still living with me. None of them has any intention of moving out any time soon even though the boys are both employed.

What is the difference?  My father was centred on me in order to attain his desired outcomes and at no time considered what I wanted for my life. What mattered was my father maximising his ROI in me. I was his vehicle for status, respectability, wealth…. I have been centred on my children too – throughout the wellbeing of my children has been and continues to be my concern and my commitment.

Imagine a hunter has his attention and rifle centred on your head right now.  He is about to take that shot. How are you left feeling?  Does the fact that this hunter is centred on you mean that he has your wellbeing at the centre of his concern?  You are not that stupid, right?  No you are not, which is why you would prefer it if this hunter centred his attention and rifle on someone/thing else – just not you or your loved ones.

So why is it that so many folks go stupid when it comes to business and the use of the term customer-centricity? Why is it that folks talk about customer-centricity as good thing implying that it is good for the company and it’s customers.  It may be good for the company, it is highly unlikely to be good for the customers. And I get that there are some companies which are exceptions.

Remember:

  1. Customer-centricity is merely a set of people and practices that constitute a powerful tool;
  2. What matters is what this tool will be used for the sake of (purpose/motive);

  3. What this tool is used for will be determined by the person/s who are using this tool;

  4. Therefore, take a good-detailed look at the person/dept/organisation which is using that tool.  Look at how these folks ‘feed and breed’ and you will have a good insight into what they will be using the tool for.

  5. Whatever you do don’t listen to the words, remember the Greek legends -in particular the Sirens with their seductive music and and voices.

And finally, from my own experience I have never found anyone to be as customer-centric as a salesman who needs to make his quota. Or a direct marketers keen to get the max revenue-profits from their direct marketing efforts.

What Has Motive Got To Do With Customer Loyalty?

More than once and by more than one ‘customer guru’ I have been accused of bringing moral considerations into an arena where moral considerations do not belong. Which arena is that? The business arena. Many folks are convinced that what matters in business is the right strategy (plotting the right course) and effective-efficient execution. According to these folks nothing else matters – except perhaps for good luck.

Are these self proclaimed rational, bottom line, no nonsense folks correct?  Frederick Reichheld published The Loyalty Effect back in 1996. And in so doing he put the matter of customer loyalty on the radar of business.  So folks in business have been working on building customer loyalty for almost 20 years. In the process, customer analytics, CRM systems, customer loyalty programmes, NPS, and voice of the customer feedback have become firmly established in big business.  What is there to show for it?  Which companies have, through these and other ‘vehicles’, cultivating meaningful customer loyalty?  Please name these companies. Now go back and ask yourself if the ‘hard headed’ business folks and the ‘customer gurus’ who pander to them are correct in asserting that moral consideration can be and should be left outside of the business arena.

I say morality matters. I say that the motive that gives rise to your ‘customer-centred’ actions matters: it makes all the difference! Allow me to illustrate the importance of motive through the words of  Edward Slingerland:

“On November 14, 2012, a tourist in Times Square surreptitiously snapped a picture of a police officer kneeling down to help a bare footed homeless man put on a new pair of boots. When posted onto the NYPD’s Facebook page, the photo went completely viral. The officer, named Lawrence DePrimo, had apparently been so moved by the suffering of the barefoot man that he popped into a nearby store to buy him a new pair of boots with his own money. “It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet,” he said when asked about the incident. “I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold”  The story was an enormous publicity coup for the NYPD, but the secret to its appeal was the spontaneity of the officer’s gesture and the happenstance of someone catching it on film.

Imagine if we found out later that DePrimo knew that the photographer was there and had been merely been grandstanding for the camera – his act motivated by the desire for fame rather than spontaneous compassion. This knowledge would instantly transform a heartwarming act of kindness into a horrible travesty. The very act itself would magically change, even though nothing would be materially different: the officer would still be out $75, and the homeless guy would still have a nice pair of boots that he didn’t have before. We have a powerful, ineradicable intuition that a “compassionate” action performed without the right motivation is merely a semblance, a counterfeit of virtue. The flip side is that evidence of sincerity and spontaneity in the moral realm inspires and moves us.

- Edward Slingerland, Trying Not To Try

As I said, morality/ethics/motive matters.  It is the thing that matters the most when it comes to the matter of relating, trust and loyalty. If it did not matter as much as it does matter then many a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ would have made a success of their customer initiatives – cultivated meaningful customer loyalty.

If You Are Struggling In Calculating ROI And Getting Buy-In To Your CX Initiative

I am in the process of reading Edward Slingerland’s book: Trying Not To Try. The following passage got my attention:

Now, imagine a person turning around and, all of a sudden, spotting a small child stumbling toward the opening of a deep well. There is no one who, in such a moment, would not experience a feeling of alarm and empathy. Their response would be motivated by this feeling alone – not because they want to save the child and thereby gain some merit with the parents, not because they want to gain a reputation for goodness among their neighbours and friends, and not because they want to avoid having to hear the child’s anguished cries. From this we can see that someone lacking this feeling of empathy cannot be called a proper human being.

– Mencius

Notice, really notice, what it is that Mencius (‘follower’ of Confucius) is getting at here.  Imagine the same scenario and two adults present. One spots the little child, without any calculating, is called into action. The other, spots the child and starts doing a ROI calculation: the cost of taking action v the payoff (return) in terms of what can be gotten from the child’s parents, neighbours, friends, the community at large.  Which of these two adults will spring into action and save the child? Which of these two adults when s/he acts will do so in the appropriate manner – one that leaves the child cared for / grateful?

If you are with me so far then it occurs to me that you have gotten insight into why it is that so few organisations cultivate genuine-meaningful-enduring loyalty between themselves and their customers and vice versa.  Look at it differently, when you are busy calculating ROI of Customer Experience / Customer Engagement / Customer Relationship / Customer Loyalty initiatives so that you can sell the Tops on your Customer initiative what is really going on? And what does this disclose?

To me it discloses that the Tops are either ‘takers’ or ‘matchers’ or a mixture of both.  Just examine that for a moment and ask yourself this, why would any sane human being (customer, employee, supplier, partner) feel any loyalty to a ‘taker’?  Then consider that when you are dealing with a ‘matcher’ then what is occurring is transaction: matching requires a calculating way of being-in-the-world. The same question: why would any sane person feel any loyalty towards a ‘matcher’?

To sum up, it occurs to me that:

  1. Only a handful or companies cultivate meaningful customer loyalty because only a handful of companies have Tops who are ‘proper human beings': have-express the kind of empathy (that Mencius is pointing at) that resonates with the people who work in the organisation (employees) and the people who are served-impacted by these employees (prospects, customers, suppliers, partners).

  2. Any organisation whose Tops are not ‘proper human beings’ will not cultivate meaningful-loyal relationships (with employees, with suppliers/partner, with customers) no matter how much time-money-effort is spent on strategy, on process changes, on people changes, on the latest technology.

  3. If you are lower down the food chain, struggling with calculating the ROI of your customer experience / engagement / loyalty initiative and getting ‘buy-in’ from the Tops/Middles then I advise you to stop wasting your time – go find another line of work, or work for the Tops/Middles who are empathic towards the whole Customer thing.  Why suffer? Why seek to convert those whose very being is not in line with the Customer philosophy?

Customer Experience Lessons From Amazon UK’s Failures

It is my experience that for the most part and on the whole Amazon UK delivers. It makes it easy for me to find stuff, order it and pay for it. It keeps me informed about when the item/s are going to be delivered. And when they are delivered. Finally, Amazon makes it easy for me to deal with matters that have not worked out as I expected them to.

Against the background that I have painted, I have found myself somewhat disappointed with Amazon as a result of three customer experience failures. I want to share these failures (breakdowns) with you. Why?  It is the breakdowns, in the habitual, that provide me with access to getting present to that which I take for granted, to see matters with a fresh eye, and usually these breakdowns provide an opening for breakthroughs.

Customer Experience Failure 1: The Product Does Not Meet My Expectations

I ordered a copy of Crime and Punishment from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I deliberately picked a Seller who displayed a copy of the book with a red cover and described it as “Used – Very Good”. What turned up?  A tatty copy: the book was worn/shabby and the cover was white not red.  What emotion was aroused in me? Disgust. I found myself not wanting to touch the book. I found myself wanting to throw the book in the bin.

What did I do? I logged into my Amazon account, found the appropriate order, and raised an issue (in writing) with the Seller – sharing my disappointment. Within an day or so the Seller reached out to me in a friendly-understanding manner. The Seller apologised. The Seller shared her disappointment with me. And the Seller refunded my money.

What are the lessons here?  I can think of several:

1. The product is most definitely a core constituent of the Customer Experience!  Put differently, it is foolish to exclude the product and product considerations from the Customer Experience bucket – which some ‘Customer Experience guru’s’ do.

2. You must deliver on the expectations that you set.  If you display a red cover then make sure that the book delivered has a red cover. If you describe the product as being used yet in a very good condition then make sure it is.  The description of the product is not just some marketing fluff; it is a promise that you are making to the customer and in making that promise you are setting the customer’s expectations!

3. If you mess up then be charming-gracious about dealing with the consequence of it. How? By owning up to the mess up AND most importantly the emotional impact of your mess up on that particular customer.  How do you work out what the emotional impact is? By listening to the customer and/or asking the customer.  Then making things right. In this case the Seller refunded the total cost of the book.

4. Use every interaction to build trust and goodwill. It matters that the Seller did not ask me to waste my time sending the tatty book back. If the Seller has asked or insisted that I send the book back then that would have left me feeling angry. Why? Not being trusted and having my valuable time wasted. By trusting me, I am left feeling nothing but goodwill towards the Seller. How do I explain this event to myself? Something along the line that even good folks f**k up from time to time.

Customer Experience Failure 2: I Have To Go To The Post Office Depot To Pick Up My Parcel

One day I got home to find a ‘ticket’ for me from the Post Office. It was notice telling me that I needed to go to the Post Office Depot to pick up my item. And that I needed to pay something like £2.00. Why? Because the Sender had not paid postage. So I made my way to the Post Office depot to collect my item. What did this cost me in addition to the £2.00? It cost me something like 45 minutes of my valuable time: drive there, queue-wait, collect-pay, and drive back home.  So I logged into my Amazon account and made a complaint to the Seller of this item – a book.

What did this Seller do, how did he respond?  I got an explanation, an excuse, for the failure to pay postage. Something like, all are items are franked, this should not have happened, don’t know how this has happened. And I was told that half the cost of the book would be refunded along with the £2.00 postage I had paid.  How did this leave me feeling? P****d off!  Why?  My central gripe – waste of 45 minutes of my life – was not acknowledged and addressed

What are the lessons here?

1. The customer cares about his/her experience not about your policies, processes or practices! So if you mess up then acknowledge the impact your mess up has had on the customer - as experienced by the customer.  I was looking for something like “You are busy. By not paying for postage we made you waste 45 minutes of your life including 20 minutes waiting in a queue which you hate to do. Really sorry about that.”

2. When you mess up then ask the customer what you need to do to make things right.  By not asking me the Seller did not involve me in resolving my complaint. By making a decision on my behalf I experienced the Seller treating me as an object not as a human being.  If the Seller had asked me what he needed to do to make things right, I might have told him that by asking me that question he had already made things right. Instead, I was left thinking-feeling “This is NOT good enough! It is not adequate compensation for wasting my time.”

Customer Experience Failure 3: Amazon UK Lies To Me!

I ordered a book directly from Amazon UK – not from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK.  I ordered that book either late on Friday or early on Saturday.  I was expecting to get the book in the following week – earliest Monday. To my surprise I got an email from Amazon UK informing that the book would be delivered the next day: Sunday.  I found myself DELIGHTED – delighted that Amazon delivers on Sundays, delighted that I could start reading it on the Sunday as I had some spare time that Sunday.

Guess what happened on Sunday?  Around about lunchtime I got an email from Amazon UK.  The email told me that Amazon UK had delivered the book to my home.  That email left me puzzled.  If the book had been delivered then why had it not made its way through my letter box? So I opened the door to see if the book had been left outside on my doorstep. No. I went around to one side of the house, to see if the deliver folks had left it in the garden as they sometimes do. No.

How was I left thinking?  I was left asking myself questions.  How is it that Amazon says the book has been delivered and yet it has not been delivered?  Has Amazon made a mistake? Or is it that the delivery folks are playing games with Amazon? Or is it that Amazon’s definition of delivered differs from my understanding of delivered. And if Amazon gets something as basic as this wrong then what else does it get wrong: invoicing, not delivering some of my stuff, charging me a different price to that which was displayed?

How was I left feeling? Delight turned into significant disappointment.  There was even some frustration thrown in. When? When I was looking around the house for the book that had been delivered (according to Amazon UK) and which I could not find.  I believe that I also experienced mild anger. I suspect that if an Amazon manager had been around I would have ‘given him/her a piece of my mind’.

When did I get the book? On Monday. Was I delighted/happy to get the book on Monday? No.  Yet, if I had been told that the book would be delivered on Monday and had been delivered on Monday, I would have been happy. And importantly, my trust-confidence in Amazon would not have been dented.

What are the lessons here in addition to that which I have already shared?  The following occur to me:

1. If you are pushing the envelope on the Customer Experience (like Amazon UK is doing) then make sure that you do not push it so far that delight turns into disappointment.  It occurs to me that Amazon is pushing the envelope in letting its customers know when a delivery is scheduled. And then letting the same customers know when the delivery has been made.

2. Every piece of information you provide to your customers acts kind of like a promise and sets the customer expectations.  So make sure that the information is accurate.  Any ‘bullshitting’ in the provision of information is likely to come back and bite you in the form of customer disappointment. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that many in marketing and sales have yet to learn.

3. Your informational processes+practices must be in tune with you operational processes+practices. Any disconnect between the two is likely to impact your customers – usually negatively. I imagine that the delivery partner informed Amazon that delivery had been made. And this triggered Amazon’s email alert to me.

4. If you subcontract part of your value chain (like Amazon does when it comes to delivery) then you will be held responsible, by the customer, by the failures of your value chain partners. Therefore, it behoves you to select the right partners and ensure that if they are telling you something then you can rely on their word. For my part, I am clear that I am disappointed only in Amazon because I hold only Amazon UK accountable for my experience as a customer.

Customer / Leadership: What Is The Access To Cultivating Greatness?

It is the time of the year that many are pushing out their predictions for 2015. I am not in that business: I lack a crystal ball.  Further, I say that the future is not already made. The future is unborn and how you/i/we show up and operate in this world will shape how 2015 turns out.  So in this final conversation of 2014, I want to share with you my thoughts on what it takes to become great; greatness necessarily involves effecting significant and substantial change.

Let’s assume that you wish to reshape your organisation – to effect significant, substantial, change in the way that the organisation operates.  Perhaps, you wish to transition your organisation from a product-centred orientation towards  customer-centred orientation. And/or shift the fundamental stance of your organisation from ‘extracting value’ from your customers to being generously rewarded (by customers) for simplifying-enriching the lives of your customers. It could be that you want to move from treating your employees as resources (things) to treating them with dignity as fellow human beings…..

What is the access to that?  Is there an organisational equivalent to Ali Baba’s “Open, Sesame!”? You know some kind of hidden magical recipe that provides you access to untold riches, instantly, without significant effort, discipline, and/or sacrifice?  I invite you to answer that for yourself. How has all the strategy stuff worked out? What about all the process change / six sigma stuff? Or the customer journey mapping? What about your investments in CRM systems and other technologies (e.g. IVR) have they taken you to the heights of sales effectiveness and/or customer service delight?  Let’s not forget the VoC feedback- has that unlocked the door to customer loyalty riches?

Greatness does not lie on the road well travelled, greatness lies on the road less travelled. Greatness requires dedication – the kind of dedication that flows from total commitment; this kind of commitment arises in response to a possibility-call that resonates with the very core of your being. Greatness requires the ultimate sacrifice: yourself – your way of showing up in the world and the manner of your travel in this world.  Allow me to give life to this through a story (bolding mine):

There was an artist who was so devoted to her art; nothing else in the world had any attraction for her. She had a studio, and whenever she had a moment to spare her first thought was to go to that studio and work on the statue she was making. People could not understand her, for it is not everybody who is devoted to one thing like this. For a time a person interests himself in art, at other times in something else, at other times in the home, at other times in the theatre. But she did not mind; she went every day to her studio and spent most of her time in making this work of art, the only work of art that she made in her life.

The more the work progressed, the more she began to feel delighted with it, attracted by that beauty to which she was devoting her time. It began to manifest to her eyes, and she began to communicate with that beauty. It was no longer a statue for her, it was a living being. The moment that statue was finished she could not believe her eyes – that it had been made by her….. She felt exalted by the beauty of the statue.

She was so overcome by the impression that this statue made on her that she knelt down before this vision of perfect beauty, with all humility, she asked the statue to speak, forgetting entirely that it was her own work…… there came a voice from the statue: “If you love me, there is only one condition, and that is to take the bowl of this poison from my hand. If you wish me to be living, you no more will live. Is it acceptable?” “Yes,” she said, “You are beauty, you are the beloved, you are the one to whom I give all my thought, my admiration, my worship; even my life I will give to you.” ….. She took the bowl of poison, and fell dead. The statue lifted her and kissed her by giving her its own life, the life of beauty and sacredness …..

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Being and Becoming

Let me end this conversation by posing this question: What possibility (or cause) matters to you such that you are willing to be and do as the artist (in the story above)?  It occurs to me that this is question worth pondering and answering as you/i head into 2015. I wish you a great beginning and the very best for 2015.

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