Apple, John Lewis, Amazon: Masters of the Customer Experience? Christmas is over and three organisations stand out for me: Apple, John Lewis, and Amazon. Why? It occurs to me that the people in these organisations get customers as human beings, are clear about the kind of customer experience they are up for delivering, AND have […]
Back in 2011 I asked this question: Customer Experience: What About The ‘Product’? And I ended that conversation with the following assertion:
The product is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain. Any serious examination of the Customer Experience has to grapple with the product and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do. That means designing that product so that it is both useful (does the job) and usable (easy/intuitive) to use.
Today, I stand by that conversation. In particular, the necessity and critical importance of the ‘product’ (the core product or service which calls forth the customer to reach out and interact with the organisation which is selling that product or service) to any serious work on improving-transforming the customer’s experience of the organisation.
I also find that I was wrong. How so? Today, I’d sum up that conversation differently. How would I sum it up? As follows:
The ‘product’ is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain. Any serious examination of the Customer Experience (as in the customer’s experience) has to grapple with the ‘product’ and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do. That means designing the ‘product’ so that it is useful (does the job), usable (easy/intuitive to use), and sensuous (evokes the senses and calls forth awe). When you get the ‘product’ right you will learn that in a substantial-meaningful way that the customer’s experience and loyalty start and end with the design of the ‘product’. If you have the right product then you can concentrate on marketing (advertising, distributing) it. Little need to waste your time on the latest corporate nonsense: customer experience management as in customer interaction management across a multitude of interaction channels.
What has led me to this way of summing up the matter? Apple. In particular, Apple’s latest financial results - the largest quarterly corporate profit of any company. Let’s look into the quarterly figures a little bit more: revenue of $75bn, profit of $18bn, and Apple sold 34,000 iPhones per hour. Allow me to share this paragraph with you (bolding mine):
Apple chief executive Tim Cook called the company’s sales “phenomenal” and said the company had sold 34,000 iPhones an hour every day of the quarter. “This volume is hard to comprehend,” Cook said.
I am now going to make my most controversial assertion. Ready? I say that the field of Customer Experience Management (as in customer interaction management) is attractive to and for the mediocre. Yes, the mediocre! You know the folks that do not design-sell great ‘products’. ‘Products’ that do not simplify-enrich the lives of our fellow human beings. Look if you make a great product then the world beats a path to your door -including overcoming any hurdles along the path. Only CXM fools ignore the critical importance of the ‘product’. Isn’t the product the reason that the customer takes action – to actual reach out to the business in the first place?
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?
Misunderstanding, reality and narrative
There are so many misunderstandings around customer-centricity that it is hard for me to know where to start. In this post, I want to deal with a particularly dangerous and widespread misunderstanding. Some of you have led yourself to that misunderstanding after reading my last post on customer-centricity. Before I deal with this misunderstanding I want to draw your attention to the following:
Reality is amenable to and readily supports any narrative that we place on it. Once upon a time the narrative was the earth is flat. Later the narrative changed to the world is round. Once upon a time there were witches in the world, now, at least in the West, there are no witches. For a little while the narrative was almost all of the DNA in the human genome was junk DNA. Today the narrative is that vast majority of so called ‘junk DNA’ is essential to and involved in key biochemical processes. I hope you get what I am getting at.
No single definition and/or ‘understanding’ of customer-centricity will exhaust customer-centricity. Put differently, customer-centricity seems so obvious until you really grapple with it. And when you grapple with it all kinds of stuff shows up – some of it rather surprising. Furthermore, what shows up as customer-centric in one context may not show up as customer-centric another context.
With that out of the way and the context set, lets grapple with this misunderstanding.
To be customer-centric you have to be nice and give you customers what they are asking for
Far too many people confuse customer-centricity with doing what the customer wants, giving the customer what he wants, and being ‘nice’. Some go further and equate customer-centricity with being a patsy, a pushover. I say this is the most serious misunderstanding plaguing customer-centricity.
Why is it so dangerous? First, there are the people who understand customer-centricity this way and for them it shows up as unrealistic and distasteful. Given this way of understanding customer-centricity they dismiss it and/or want nothing to do with it. Second, there are a different group of people who speak and act as if customer-centricity is as simple as giving the customer whatever he asks for.
Customer-Centricity is neither this simple nor this simplistic
To both of these groups of people I say that you are mistaken. You’re mistaken, badly mistaken. Customer-centricity is neither that simple nor that simplistic.
I say that being customer-centric is a stand that you take and not a fixed set of behaviours. What kind of stand am I talking about? The kind of stand that says that the only acceptable profit is that made by creating genuine value for customers. It means letting go of existing policies and practices that enrich the company at the expense of customers – ‘bad profits’. Taking the customer-centric stand is not possible without courage. The kind of courage Tony Hsieh and the Zappos management team showed when the business was in deep trouble financially and they gave up a lucrative source of revenue, profits and cash because it did not fit with their vision and stand to be the brand renowned for great customer service.
I say that being customer-centric is as much about being proactive in coming up with new products/services/experiences that you believe will create value for customers as it is about reacting to what customers say/ask for. As I write this Apple/Steve Jobs/iPod/iTunes/iPhone/iPad come to mind immediately. Or think of Amazon, ebooks and the Kindle.
I say that being customer-centric is as much about influencing/persuading customers as it is listening to/obeying customers. Yes, there is a role for the right advertising, marketing and selling. Customers are human beings and they do not necessarily know what is best for them. Even if they do know, customers often do not do what is best for their well-being. This is where you can use insights into the human functioning to come up with a design that nudges the customer towards the right behaviour. It is also where something more forceful than a nudge can be necessary. Again I cannot help but think about how Jobs handled the antenna/signal reception issue around the iPhone. Or think about how Zappos persuaded shoe buyers that it was OK to buy shoes online without trying them on.
I say that customer-centricity only makes sense in a particular context and as such being customer-centric requires a “yes” when it is appropriate to say “yes” and a “no” when it is appropriate to say “no”. This point was the key point made by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in their book Uncommon Service. As they say “you have to be bad in the service of good”. They talk at some length about Commerce Bank: to be great at convenience and service Commerce Bank chose to only offer one banking product (checking account) and paid the worst rates of any bank in the market place. Look, if you turn up at my Mercedes dealership and want to pay Ford prices then the most ‘customer-centric’ behaviour is for me to drive you to the nearest Ford dealership! Furthermore, sometimes a “no” is simply in the best interests of your customer even if he does not know it. This was the point I was making in this earlier post.
I say a lot. What do you say? If you the situation at hand differently to me then speak up and share your understanding.
This is the fourth in the series of posts on strategy making using Richard Rumelt’s masterpiece: Good Strategy Bad Strategy. If you have not already done so then you may get value out of the reading the first three posts:
What passes for strategy and strategy is so often simply muddled thinking or why so many websites generate a poor user experience
One thing that I have noticed is that so many websites are poor – from the users perspective. Why is that? I have my point of view which I pleased to see validated by Mark Adams of PortalTech Reply in the May edition of Internet Retailing:
“If your strategy, for example, is to use mobile to generate significant revenues the key considerations, technology choices and approach are going to be very different from setting out to use mobile as brand engagement channel…….. Often the strategy is to accommodate selling, loyalty, brand engagement, in-store integration, social marketing, payments and so on with no clear path on how each of these areas are going to be addressed and at what point.”
Sounds like a ‘dog’s dinner’ of aims/objectives masquerading as strategy to me. That got me thinking that it is worth sharing what Richard Rumelt has to say on the matter of aims, objectives and strategy.
What does Richard Rumelt say about aims, objectives and strategy?
Richard Rumelt says that strategic objectives are one domain that differentiates good strategy from bad strategy:
“One of the challenges of being a leader is mastering this shift from having others define your goals to being the architect of the organisation’s purpose and objectives. To help clarify this distinction it is helpful to use the word “goal” to express overall values and desires and to use the word “objective” to denote specific operational targets……. Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes.“
In his book, Rumelt identifies two pitfalls in the areas of objectives: ‘dog’s dinner objectives'; and ‘blue sky objectives’. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Dog’s dinner objectives
This is what Rumelt says (keep in mind my earlier comment on poor websites and the quote on mobile):
“A long list of “things to do”, often mislabeled as “strategies” or “objectives”, is not a strategy. It is just a list of things to do. Such lists usually grow out of planning meetings in which a wide variety of stakeholders make suggestions as to things they would like to see done. Rather than focus on a few important items, the group sweeps the whole day’s collection into a “strategic plan”. Then, in recognition that it is a dog’s dinner, the label “long term” is added so that none of them need be done today.“
I absolutely love this paragraph, it strikes as pointing at the ‘truth’ in a similar way to the Dilbert cartoons and leaves me saying “How true!”. How does it strike you?
Blue sky objectives
Back to Mr Rumelt and his wisdom on strategy:
“The second form of bad strategic objectives is one that is “blue sky”. A good strategy defines the critical challenge. What is more, it builds a bridge between that challenge and action, between desire and immediate objectives that lie within grasp. Thus, the objectives a good strategy sets should stand a good chance of being accomplished, given existing resources and competence.…… By contrast, a blue-sky objective is usually a simple restatement of the desired state of affairs or of the challenge. It skips over the annoying fact that no one has a clue as to how to get there.
The purpose of a good strategy is to offer a potentially achievable way of surmounting a key challenge. If the leader’s strategic objectives are just as difficult to accomplish as the original challenge, there has been little value added by the strategy.”
Lets revisit 1997 and Steve Jobs return to the helm of Apple
Back in 1997 Apple was burning through its cash and was expected to become bankrupt in months. The imperative was survival – increasing the cash pile and cutting costs to buy time to focus on product renewal. What did Steve Jobs do? The very first thing, the most thing, he did was to persuade Microsoft, the arch enemy, to invest in Apple. By doing so he was able get his hands on $150 million (in return for non-voting shares). This dismayed the Apple faithful, left them stunned and led to heckling and booing. Something that Jobs had not experienced before. Nonetheless it was a masterstroke as it bought him time to:
- Cut the number of products from 15 to 4;
- Streamline distribution by selling through an exclusive national dealer as opposed to many retailers;
- Focus marketing on a single message “Think Different”;
- Terminate licensing deals that enabled other manufacturers to undercut Apple with Mac clones.
Result: operating expenses were cut nearly in half. Within months, Apple was back in the black and could focus on developing and bringing to market ‘killer products’ worthy of the Apple brand as personified by Jobs.
It occurs to me that Steve Jobs was more than creative or a showman (like Richard Branson). He was a master strategist he focussed relentlessly on the essence. How different to so many others who call themselves strategist and claim to put forth strategies. What do you say?