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Customer Experience As Idea, Not Methodology Nor Technology

As a thinker, I am struck by how rare original thinking is in the organisational world. As a thinker, I am struck by how little thinking – as in stopping and reflecting on that which is occurring and the pattern of this occurrence – occurs in organisations. As a thinker, I am struck by how little space exists within organisational life for ideas to be entertained and grappled with before the mindless rush to implement these ideas usually through some off the shelf methodologies, methods, tools and techniques.

I say that the idea of Customer Loyalty had power.  And this power vanished when we rushed to turn this idea into practical customer loyalty programmes: loyalty cards, databases, offers and points.

I say that the idea of Relationship Marketing had power. And this power was drained and Relationship Marketing turned lifeless when the idea of Relationship Marketing was turned into the technology of CRM: systems that enslave human beings in data capture and script/process following slaves.

I say that the idea of Customer Experience has awesome power. And many are bleeding this idea dry, void of power, by turning it into the methodology of customer journey / touchpoint mapping, the blind worship at the voice of the customers, and the technology of Customer Experience.

What is it that I am getting at?  Let’s see if I can communicate that which I am seeking to communicate to the practical people that dominate organisational life.  I invite you to read the following words of wisdom (bolding is my work):

The word idea supposedly originates in the Greek word eidos, which means something seen like a form and a way of seeing like an eye, a perspective. So, ideas are not only things you can pick up and ponder. They also give you eyes, new ways of seeing things. Ideas are already operating in our perspectives, the way we look at things. We take our usual ideas for granted, and so, ideas have us rather than we have them….

Is the idea fertile, fecund? Does it make you think? Is it surprising, shocking? Does it stop you from habits and bring a spark of reflection? Is it delightful to think it? Does it seem deep? Important? …. This requires you to ponder it, which means weight it, feel its weight…. Pondering is an action of its own and keeps you holding the idea, from letting it go into other kinds of action before it is fully appreciated. Meanwhile you get a better feel of the idea….

You know, to have an idea and thinking about the idea are two different things, and being practical often means skipping over the hard thinking part…

For ideas to be therapeutic, that is, beneficial to the soul and body politic, they must gather into themselves, garnering force, building strength, like great movers of the mind’s furniture, so that the space we inhabit is rearranged. Your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories have to be moved around in new ways, because the furniture has been moved.

A long lasting idea, like a good poem or a strong character in a movie or a novel, continues to affect your practical life without ever having been put there. Ideas that live, live in us and through us into the world. Viable ideas have their own innate heat, their own vitality. They are living things too.

But first they have to move your furniture, else it is the same old you, with you same old habits, trying to apply a new idea in the same old way. Then nothing happens at all except the loss of the idea as “impractical” in your haste to make it “practical”.

- James Hillman, We’ve Had A Hundred Years of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse

It occurs to me that the conversations that take place here, at The Customer & Leadership Blog, are simply an ongoing exploration and pondering of the ideas of customer relationships, relationship marketing, customer service, customer loyalty, customer experience, customer-centricity, and leadership.

I am no expert, no guru,  in customer relationships (CRM), relationship marketing, customer service, customer loyalty, customer experience, customer-centricity, nor in leadership. Yet, it occurs to me, that it might just be that I have grappled with these ideas at a deeper level than many.  Therefore, any value that i create for you – the person who listens to my speaking – arises out of my willingness to stay with the idea rather than rushing to provide you with a silver bullet for your organisational ills.

Why I have shared this with you?  To provoke thought: to provoke you into doing deeper thinking into the Customer realm before you go and buy the latest snake oil from gurus, experts, consultancies, and IT vendors.  Incidentally, don’t reach for the dictionary to look up definitions of all things customer: customer service, customer relationship management, customer experience etc. Why? Definitions only provide the illusion of knowledge and understanding. There is no replacement for original thinking. A good start would be the following questions:

  • What world of possibility does the idea of Customer Experience open up for us and our customers?
  • What might Customer Experience Leadership look like, feel like, sound like, taste like – for us, for our customers? 

  • What is the first step on the journey of Customer Experience Leadership for us? Is it really getting access to the voice of the customer? Or is it doing that which we know needs to be done for our actions to be in tune with our words?

And finally, I invite you to consider that many if not most organisations have failed to make a success of relationship marketing, CRM, customer loyalty, customer experience etc because these ideas have failed to ‘move your furniture’ leaving the same old you, with the same old habits, trying to apply these radically new ideas in the same old way. 

If you have made it this far into the conversation, I say thanks for listening. These conversations are not easy, not simple. This is deliberate – these conversations are designed to provoke thought from the thoughtful. They are not for the impatient looking for the ten steps to customer success.

What Way Of Being Creates Access To Effectiveness In The Exercise Of Change Leadership?

Looking back, I see that I have been involved in drama of organisational change since the days I did corporate recovery work as a part of Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division.  That must have been around 1990/91 – some 20+ years ago.  What is it that I have ‘learned’ about this domain: the domain of leading-facilitating organisational change?

After 20+ years, I find myself totally clear on the following: almost every Top and Middle I have come across, in just about every type of organisation, in just about every type of industry, sucks at leading-enabling-facilitating organisational change.  I found myself face to face with this truth, in a recent organisational context, where I find myself acting as  an outside advisor on a Customer project.

If you find yourself in this ‘place’ and are content with this then stop reading and go do something useful with your life.  On the other hand, if you find yourself in that ‘place’ and looking for an access to being effective in the exercise of change leadership then I invite you to listen – really listen and grapple with these words of wisdom:

Position is everything. Everything changes, even when the circumstances remain identical, when you shift your position. Try it sometime with someone who is your adversary. Shift your position. Be that person and the adversary disappears.

Shift positions with whatever barrier you are facing … in your life. Be the barrier, and it is no longer there. It is only there because we pull back, separate ourselves from it. The more we pull back, the bigger and more overwhelming it gets, and the angrier or the more frightened we become. If we really look at the anger that makes us crazy or the fear that stops us cold, we see that it develops step by step from our thought process. And starting point of that thought process is separation ……

When you really acknowledge that it is nothing but yourself, when you realise this fact, you cannot live your life in the old way. You’ve suddenly taken responsibility for it. Before, the problem was outside – your bad luck, what other did to you, the circumstances you could do nothing about… When you realise that the cause is you, you empower yourself. You suddenly become a ten thousand-foot-high buddha……. Nothing is outside of you.

- John Daido Loori, The Great Way, Best Buddhist Writing 2008

Just about every one of us (as a human being) sucks at relationship, at experience design, at calling forth engagement, at change, and at the exercise of leadership due to the neglect of this radical truth. Some of us are not aware of this. Many who us, who are aware of this truth, choose not to give life to this truth in our way of being (showing up and travelling) in life.

Is it then any surprise that just about every organisation sucks at cultivating relationships with customer, at designing-generating appropriate customer experiences, at calling forth the best of their people popularly labelled employee engagement, and the exercise of change leadership?

What hope is their for an organisation to make a shift to a customer-centric way of being-in-the-world and doing business with customers, when the Tops and Middles are not even effective in the exercise of change leadership in the context of designing-implementing a CRM system?

What Does It Take To Shift To A Human-to-Human Way Of Doing Business?

I find myself interested and caring for the human.  So the following slogan caught my attention: “There is no more b2b or b2c: It’s human to human”.  This got me wondering: What does it take for us to show up and operate as ‘human to human’?

If we are to do business in a ‘human to human’ way then it helps to have a good grasp of what the defining characteristic of human is.  In Being and Time, Heidegger asserts that ‘Care (Sorge) is the being of dasein’. For the purposes of this conversation dasein = human being. What does Heidegger mean by this?  I take it to mean that I do not find myself indifferent: to myself and my experience of living, to the world in which I find myself in, to my fellow human beings.  It matters (to me) how I live and how my life turns out. It matters (to me) how my fellow human beings live and how their lives turn out. And it matters (to me) how this world is and is not.  I care as I am aware that I am being-in-the-world-with-others-towards death.

If we are going to show up and operate from a ‘human to human’ way of doing business then we must genuinely care for ourselves, the people we work with, the people we sell to, the people we buy from, the people whose lives are touched by us and our way of showing up and operating in the world.  How best to illustrate this?  Allow me to share a story the following story with you (bolding is my work):

Harry, an emergency physician …. One evening on his shift in a busy emergency room, a woman was brought in about to give birth…….. Harry was going to deliver this baby himself. He likes delivering babies, and he was pleased…… The baby was born almost immediately.

Whilst the little girl was still attached to her mother, Harry laid her along his left arm. Holding the back of her head in his left hand, he took a suction bulb in his right and began to clear her mouth and nose of mucus. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at him. In that moment, Harry stepped past his technical role and realised a very simple thing: that he was the very first human being this baby girl had ever seen. He felt his heart to go out to her in welcome ….

Harry has delivered hundred of babies. He has always enjoyed the challenges of delivery, the excitement of making rapid decisions and feeling his own competency, but he says that he had never let himself experience the meaning of what he was doing before. He feels that in a certain sense this was the first baby he ever delivered. He’s says that in the past he would have been so preoccupied with the technical aspects of delivery, assessing and responding to needs and dangers, the he doubts he would have noticed the baby open her eyes or have registered what her look meant.  He would have been there as a physician but not as a human being. It was possible, now to be both…

-Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

This is what I notice about the whole Customer thing: the focus is almost exclusively on the technical stuff (metrics, data, analytics, technology, processes) and almost no recognition of the human.  Does this matter?  Yes. Why?  I leave you with these words of wisdom:

 

Quality matters when quantity is an inadequate substitute. If a building contractors finds that her two-ton truck is on another job, she may easily substitute two on-ton trucks to carry the landfill. On the other hand if a three star chef is ill, no number of short-order cooks is an adequate replacement. One hundred mediocre singers are not the equal of one top-notch singer…

- Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy

We may not be able to define-measure-calculate quality. Yet we are present to it when we experience it. The quality that you/i/we experience from the people we interact with, work with, sell to, buy from, makes a huge difference to our experience of living.  This quality of caring cannot be faked, though many folks make the attempt to fake it.

Interestingly, in our age, it is easier to build this caring into the ‘product’ itself (Apple) or the digital interface (Amazon) than it is in human to human conversation-encounters.  Why?  Because we have become so wrapped up in the technical that we have lost touch with the human – including our own humanity.  Yet, it is possible to get in touch with this humanity and give it expression: to show up as a CEO and as a human being; to show up as a CMO and as a human being; to show up as CFO and as a human being; a sales person and as a human being; to show up as call-centre agent and as a human being……

Please note: I am about to go on vacation and will be out of touch for several weeks.  I wish you well and look forward to being in communication after the holiday.

Is The Way We Are Going About Customer Acquisition and Retention Dead Wrong?

In light of the Comcast call that went viral I invite you to listen to these wise words (bolding is my work).

There is no question that acquiring and retaining customers is vital to every company, but it’s the way companies are going about it that’s dead wrong…..

Charles Green, coauthor of the Trusted Advisor, points out that many companies have the client focus of a vulture – the pay close attention to what clients are up to, but only in order to figure out the right time to pounce and tear at their flesh….

Sales plans, computerised data sharing, and advertising strategies are not relationship-building vehicles. While an automated phone system may improve an organisation’s operational efficiencies, it rarely improves the customer experience. In fact, most have the opposite effect…..

The point is, though we can learn the language of our industry, sit up straight, dress appropriately, and speak knowledgeably about product, when the conversation doesn’t feel natural, doesn’t respond precisely to the customer’s questions, doesn’t engage the customer in an authentic way, there will ultimately be no sale. And no matter how many time we hear the same feedback ……., we struggle to behave differently because we don’t know how to get beyond our customer facing “script”. Besides, we aren’t particularly interested in, much less skilled at “seeing” and responding to, each customer as a one-of-a-kind human being….

Today, more than ever, consumers are seeking to be acknowledged as unique individuals with lives, needs, tastes, and desires that differ widely from those around them….

So, assuming your products or services are of good quality and competitively priced, one of the most powerful differentiators has to do with conversations you have with customers. The conversation is the relationship ….

No matter what your job is …… the key is your context, your beliefs about your responsibility to customers and the relationships you intend to enjoy or endure with them … if I’m in the checkout line at my grocery store (or any checkout counter anywhere in the world) it would be easy for you to think that you are doing your job if you ring up the sale and hand me my purchases, the correct change, and a receipt. That you get points for using my name …. That if you have a customer loyalty program, you get more points for asking me for my membership card so you can check to see if I can get a discount….

But, I’ll tell you what makes the real difference. That you look into my eyes and connect with me, even if only for a seconds. Human to human. A real smile suggests, “I see you”. This seems like such a small thing, perhaps foolish to some, yet it’s what we all want, deep down where it counts. To be seen.

I’m reminded of the African greeting sawu bona, which means “I see you.” The response is sikhona, which means “I am here.” The order is important. It’s as if until you see me, I don’t exist. Raking your eyes quickly over someone’s face is not seeing them. So if you want to see your customers, really look at them. What takes mere seconds can make people return again and again.

- Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

If insanity is doing the same stuff over and over and expecting a different result then it occurs to me that many of us who are working on the Customer stuff can be labelled insane. Relationship is not merely the sum of a series of interactions. Relationships do not reside in CRM databases.  Communication is more than bombarding customers with sales messages across any number of channels. Personal is more than sending the customer emails and addressing her by using her name. Engagement is more than a customer opening up your email and clicking your offer.  Customer Experience is more than a new name for the Customer Services function.

I dedicate this to conversation to a fellow human being (and friend) who gets and lives that which Susan Scott is communicating:  Lonnie Mayne, President of InMoment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Did I Buy From The Gap Store?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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