Does The Concept Of Integrity Apply Only To Non-Human Systems?
This post continues the conversation (blog and comments) that started with the following blog post: Revisiting Integrity: Why Do All Human Systems Lack Integrity?
To summarise, I say that integrity in the sense of whole and complete (unity between word and action, between the ‘parts’ and the whole) is essential to workability and performance of all systems including human systems. If you want to get a sufficient understanding of Integrity as I am speaking it then it is essential to read this post: Integrity, Leadership, Communication and Performance – The Most valuable Post You Will Read This Year?
Max J. Pucher disagrees. He says that ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation and does not apply to human systems:
“Maz, I propose that it is not allowable to use a physical system concept of integrity (whole-complete) for human systems. Physical systems such as a car have a well-defined function/output and therefore integrity is defined to perform as designed. Human systems have no such function and the output is purely based in individual perception. Therefore ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation from a single human perspective and will most likely not agree with many others….”
As I promised Max, I have been thinking about his assertion. And now I share with you what showed up for me. I find that Max’s view is commonplace, I came across it just today. And I find myself in disagreement. Allow me to share with you that which shows up for me as I get to grips with the coal face of human existence.
What Does The World Of Aviation Disclose Regarding The Integrity of Human Systems?
Let’s consider NASA’s shuttle program. Yes, this program involves amazing technology-equipment. Who produces this technology? Who configures it? Who works it? Who addresses issues with it? Human beings. OK, the equipment is ready, in place. Is that all it takes to take a number of human beings, put them in space, keep them there, and then bring them safely back home? No! It requires a large number of people, in different roles, of different temperaments, of different genders, of different ages to work together as one. What do I mean by one? I mean integrity as in being ‘whole-complete’ at the level of the system they constitute. Which is why there has only been one disaster to date.
Why did this disaster occur? Because the integrity (wholeness-completeness) of the system was compromised. Some ‘parts’ (people) did know of the issue and the associated risk. Some ‘parts’ (people) escalated the known issue. Other powerful-dominating ‘parts’ of the system choose to ignore the voices-concerns of these ‘parts’. And, they also choose not to care for the needs of other ‘parts’ (astronauts) to return safely to Earth.
This is my point. Where there has been a focus and commitment to integrity (wholeness-completeness of the system) the shuttles have launched and returned safely. When integrity was sacrificed, disaster struck, the astronauts died.
Now consider the world of air travel. Don’t the passengers count on the integrity of the system? Don’t they count on people to make sure that the airplanes are safe to fly? Don’t they count on people to ensure that the airplanes have the right fuel – type and quantity? Don’t they count on the pilots to be competent and fit to fly the plane? Now look behind the scenes, what else has to be in place? How about the air traffic controllers – on both sides of the trip? You get the idea: all of these ‘parts’ have to work together for air travel to exist as it does. And the system works. It is rare for the system not to work, for a crash to occur. And when it does, an investigation occurs, lessons are learned, sanctions applied where necessary, new operating policies and practices put in place.
Notice, that the pilot of an airliner that crashed and killed passengers would not get away with pleading “Your honour, I am only a human being. You can’t expect me to follow the rules, each and every flight, regarding how much I drink before boarding the plane and taking the helm.” No, if he was found guilt of breaking the rules, he would go to jail. Notice, no party that is essential to the game of ‘safe air travel’ would get away with shirking its role and responsibility. Why? It is simply not acceptable to compromise the integrity of the system. And if there are ‘flaws’ in human beings, in themselves, then the designers of the system are charged with coming up with the means to address the ‘flaws’ through checklists, equipment, technology….
Why Does The Lack Of Integrity In Human Systems Persist?
Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we do not get the impact of the loss of integrity on the workability and performance of a system. And I find myself to be in agreement.
Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we misunderstand integrity. We make integrity to be ALL about morality: right and wrong according to the moral norms of the group/s we find ourselves living amongst. And in so doing, we are not present to integrity as the fundamental basis of workability and performance: integrity as a state/condition of a system – state of being whole-complete, a unity. I find myself in agreement.
It occurs to me that there is an even bigger-deeper, more fundamental, cause for this lack of integrity in human systems. What is this cause? Max provides a clue when he says it is not allowable to use the concept of integrity (as the condition of wholeness-completeness) for human systems. It occurs to me that when it comes to integrity and human systems, we accept and are comfortable with defeat before we even start. What do I mean? Allow me to share an extract from another blog post ‘The Myth of Scarcity: That’s Just The Way It Is’:
“That’s just the way it is is just another myth, but it’s probably the one with the most grip, because you can always make a case for it. When something has always been a certain way, and traditions, assumptions, or habits make it resistant to change then it seems logical …. that the way it is is the way it will stay. This is when the blindness, the numbness, the trance, and, underneath it all, the resignation of scarcity sets in. Resignation makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and cynical. Resignation also keeps us in line…….
That’s just the way it is justifies the greed, the prejudice and inaction that scarcity fosters in our relationship with money and the rest of the human race…”
- Lynne Twist
What Does It Take To Call Forth Integrity From Human Systems?
If we are the ones that defeat ourselves when it comes to calling forth integrity from human systems, then the answer to this question lies in us: specifically, in our collective way of being/showing-up in the world. Let’s listen to the wise words of Lynne Twist once more:
We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t away it is or a way it isn’t. There’s the way we choose to act and what we choose to make or our circumstance.”
- Lynne Twist
Consider air travel. Would there be any air travel if all of us had simply accepted that man is not meant to fly on the basis that if he was meant to fly then he would have been given wings. Everything starts with one or more of us being called forth and stepping into a possibility. The possibility of integrity in human systems is a real one. Will you and I embrace and embody that possibility? Will your team embrace-embody that possibility? Will your organisation embrace-embody that possibility?
Why Pay Any Attention To The Integrity of Systems: Human, Mechanical and Hybrid?
I invite you to consider that your customers are painfully aware of where your organisation is not in a state of integrity. Why? Because customers experience the effects of this lack of integrity: promises made in marketing-sales but not kept by the product itself; being passed around from one person to another, one team to another, and having to go through the same dance all over again; promises made by one part of the organisation and not honoured by the others part/s…. I say that if you want to play the joined up game of Customer Experience then you have to work on the integrity of the ‘system’ – the whole organisation including all the key partners whose performance impacts the end customer and shapes her experience.
Finally, I invite you to not kid yourself. You cannot claim to be 90% pregnant and get away with it. Why not? Because you either are pregnant or you are not pregnant. The same is the case for integrity: either the system in question (e.g. the organisation) is in a state of integrity or it is not.
Setting the context for this conversation
In an earlier post, I wrote:
When you take a look at the system that generates outcomes you will find that all human systems lack integrity; at the level of the person, the family, the organisation, the community, the nation and even the world what there is is the lack of integrity.
James Lawther upon reading the post commented:
Sorry Maz, I don’t understand. Why do all human systems lack integrity?
In this post, I honour the promise I made: to think on the matter and share that which has showed up for me. Before we start I am compelled to warn you that this is a long conversation and you will only get value out of it if you really are interested in grappling with the question of integrity. Let’s start.
First, let’s be clear on ‘integrity’
In order to speak about and grapple with the phenomena of integrity it is essential to be clear on what it is that I am pointing at when I speak ‘integrity’. When I speak ‘integrity’ I am not talking about ‘integrity as morality’: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles/practices. So what is this conversation about?
It is about integrity as the condition/state of being whole, complete, cohesive, unified’. Let’s be clear on this:
- If I promise ‘To come over to your house and smash your car with sledgehammer” and I turn up at your house and do exactly that then my actions are in a state of integrity with my words;
If you gathered together all the parts that constitute a car and throw them together without ensuring that they interconnect with one another and are in tune with one another then the car is not in a state of integrity – it may work yet it is highly unlikely that the car will generate high performance, it is highly likely that it will fail far short of the ‘ultimate driving machine’.
Second, let’s consider the phenomena
Now look into your lived experience devoid of theory-opinion-dogma and ask yourself if the individual human being shows up as being in a state of integrity? What about the family – is there a state of integrity operative at the level of family? The organisation – is there a state of integrity operative here? The community? The nation?
Is there a state of wholeness-completeness at the level of the individual human being? Sure? Ask yourself if the values you profess are the values that you embody-live? What about the family, is there wholeness there? Ask yourself how many families work well? In how many families is there respect, consideration, love and communication? How many families are happy families? At the organisational level ask yourself how well management and the workers work together? How about the interplay between the front office and the back office? What about the fit between the talk (espoused values) and that which is in play on a day to day basis (lived values)?
If after this you are still convinced that integrity (whole-complete-unified) is the default condition then take a look at the education system, the healthcare system, the financial system, the legal system, the political system. How well are these working in your country?
Having so looked at the phenomena – ‘that which is as it is and is not’ – I am clear that the default condition of ALL human systems is a lack of integrity. If you disagree then I ask you to consider
What is the explanation for the pervasive lack of integrity in human systems?
Let me say that I do not have the one answer to this question. And that which I share here is simply my thinking on what may be the threads of an explanation.
1. Design of the human-being at the level of the system
It occurs to me that at the level of the design of the system that we call ‘human being’ there is a lack of integrity. Rather than there being one unified self it appears that there are a multiplicity of competing selves. Do you find yourself doubting my assertion?
Look at the phenomena. What do you see? Do you see that there is a self that is keen to be slim. And there is the self that loves all the ‘wrong foods’ from a ‘being slim’ perspective. What about the self that wishes to be athletic and gets the value of exercising. And then there is the self that is addicted to being comfortable, sat on the sofa watching tv for hours. Is there not a self that yearns to speak its truth. And then there is the self that ensures that only that which is politically acceptable is spoken…..
Yet this is not an excuse and not the whole picture. After all we are not designed to fly and yet do so safely, through the inventions and practices of aviation. So let’s continue the exploration and ask ourselves why it is that we have not put in place practices that call forth integrity.
2. Not being present to the importance of integrity and the impact of being out of integrity
“Our way of being and our actions are a correlate of the way in which the circumstances we are dealing with occur (show up) for us”.
- Werner Erhard
Do you/i/we truly get (at the experiential level not the cognitive level) the value of operating in a state of integrity and the impact of lapses in integrity? It occurs to me that the answer for most of us – as expressed through our living – is that we are blind to the true impact of violations of integrity. This became clear to me on a driving awareness course.
All of us on this course were on the course because we had been caught breaking the speed limit. Did any of us feel guilty? No. Why? For my part, I found myself feeling sorry for myself and blaming the police for focussing on folks like me rather than the proper villains. Why? Because I had been only doing 36mph in a 30mph zone: “What’s the big deal! What difference does 6mph make?”
The turning point came when I learned the impact of that extra 6mph. That 6mph is the difference between life and death. Turns out even an extra 3mph is the difference between a pedestrian walking away relatively unharmed and spending the rest of his life badly damaged. To bring the point home, in the only way it can home, we were shown a film showing the human impact of speeding. This had such an impact on me that I left this course with the commitment to drive safely and that is what I do. If I catch myself exceeding the speed limit, guilt is present, and the presence of this guilt is enough to get me mindful and respectful of the speed limit.
We assume that it makes no difference if we turn up five minutes late for a meeting. Yet it does. We assume it makes no difference if we tell ‘little lies’ to customers. Yet it does. We assume that it makes no difference if we push employees around and take advantage of their weakened position to get more out of them. Yet it does. We assume that it makes no difference if we push around our suppliers and squeeze them to drive up our bottom line. Yet it does make a difference.
3. Lack of willingness to put in place mechanisms and listen to feedback that points out a lack of integrity
It starts in the family. The child points out of the lack of integrity between what the parent is preaching and what the parent is embodying-living. One response is “Do as I say not as I do”. Another kind of response is a slap on the face or some kind of punishment like that. The third kind is to ignore the child, to pretend that you have not heard anything, and continue as before. In all three cases the child learns the message. Be quiet, don’t rock the boat, don’t upset the authority figures. And so the child muddles through as best as s/he can.
Put bluntly there is an unspoken agreement not to ‘speak truth to power’. Breaking this agreement is no easy matter and as such only a few brave souls do so. When you break the unspoken agreement not to threaten the status and power of those in power then you put yourself in a vulnerable position. The powerful and their allies turn their guns on you and target your livelihood, your reputation, your social status, your freedom and even your life.
There is an excellent example of this unwillingness to listen to feedback and the consequences for those who speak ‘truth to power’ pointing out the lack of integrity of the system. Listen to this piece on the NHS:
The NHS will “go bust” without radical change to drive up standards and rid hospitals of a “toxic” bullying culture that damages patient care, the head of its official regulator has warned.
David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), says the safety of the most vulnerable patients is being jeopardised by a “dysfunctional” rift between NHS managers and clinical staff…..
He discloses that one in four staff have reported bullying, harassment or abuse from colleagues and managers, while whistleblowers are ostracised……
Mr Prior highlights the treatment of whistleblowers, saying the NHS is failing to listen to those who challenge poor care and champion the rights of patients. He says those who try to speak out are too often “ostracised” by their colleagues and managers.
He writes: “Too often, it delights in the ritual humiliation of those deemed to fail, tolerates and institutionalises outdated working practices and old-fashioned hierarchies and can almost encourage “managers” and “clinicians” to occupy opposing camps…..
Soon after Mr Prior took up his post as CQC chairman last year, the regulator’s previous management was accused of a “cover-up” and failing to properly investigate hospital scandals because it was too close to the last Labour government…..
“Perhaps most crucially, we need to change the culture.”
Even when there is no power to speak truth to, we do not speak truth: we don’t call people on their lack of integrity. Why not? There is another unspoken agreement: “You don’t call me on mine, and I won’t call you on yours!”. We are socialized into this early on with instructions to mind our own business and not to poke our nose into the affairs of others. Furthermore, from an early age we are actively pushed to tell people what they want to hear and/or what will ‘save face’. This becomes so much a part of us and our way of showing up in the world that we don’t even notice how much of social life, in all its favours, is based on this way of showing up.
4. The powerful ensure that they are immune from the impact of systems that lack integrity
As I reflect on the impact of systems that lack integrity I am struck by what is so: the powerful almost always profit and worst walk away unscathed and the powerless are struck with the impact-costs-wound arising from the lack of integrity.
Who suffers most from the impact of poor teaching and poor schools? The powerless – the children. Who has suffered most from the lack of integrity (through and through) in the NHS? The powerless, the vulnerable – the patients. Who has suffered as a lack of integrity in the world of finance? The powerless – those who have the lowest incomes and the least politics clout. Who is most likely to suffer from our way of living and the impact on the world that is our home? The powerless – the unborn, the future generations.
It occurs to me that all human systems exhibit a lack of integrity. And that the reason that this lack of integrity continues to persist is because we have not put in place cultural practices to call forth integrity and keep it in existence: detecting lapses in integrity and correcting course promptly to put the system back into a state of integrity.
Why haven’t we put these cultural practices into place? It occurs to me that despite the lack of integrity in human systems we have successfully muddled through. In so muddling through, most of us do OK, and the powerful do great most of the time. Look at the business world: despite all the scaremongering (by those who hope to profit by selling their products-services) most organisations have muddled through all the ‘challenges and dangers’: they are doing OK. Look at the banking crisis: we have muddled through. Look at the Euro crisis: we have muddled through. Every time we muddle through we reinforce our addiction to muddling through. Look under the hood of ‘business transformation’ and most and on on most occasions you will find plain old fashioned incremental change.
We do not put integrity into our way of being-showing up in the world because like thinking, genuine thinking, it is hard work. More importantly it is hard work that never ends. Why? Because integrity is always flowing out and so we have to be always putting it back in. Then there are people like Jobs who set out to make a dent in the universe and accept nothing less. Or people like Gandhi who set out to set India free and accept nothing less. Or people like Mandela……
What can we learn from Havas Media’s 2013 Meaningful Brands survey?
For me, the highlights from the survey report are:
- Just 20% of brands worldwide are seen to meaningfully positively impact people’s lives;
- The majority of people worldwide wouldn’t care if 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow;
- Only 32% feel brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises;
- 54% of us don’t trust brands; and
- The meaningful brand index outperforms the stock markets by 120%.
It would appear that the case for making a shift towards a ‘meaningful brand’ is compelling according to Havas Media and yet most brands do not show up as meaningful. This shows up as interesting for me given all the talk-spend on brand, branding and brand building.
Let’s shift perspective and take a look at the situation through the eyes of Customer Experience.
What is the state of Customer Experience at the end of 2013?
In her November post, “Sucking Less” is Not a #CX Strategy, Annette wrote:
“Are organizations seeing the value of delivering a great customer experience? Clearly they pay lip service, but we know that actions speak louder than words. Do they really get it? No. There’s no real commitment of time, resources, and budgets to initiatives that improve the customer experience.
I spend a lot of time talking to prospects and clients about how to sell the value of customer experience to company leaders. It’s so disheartening …..”
My experience resonates with Annette’s. And our experience is not unique – talk with Customer Experience professionals and you get a taste of how difficult it is to move the Customer Experience ball beyond conducting VoC surveys and collating-publishing the results.
So what is going on here? If Tops are VCs and Customer Experience is seen as investment then the Tops do not see the value of investing in Customer Experience ventures.
What is the state of CRM at the end of 2013?
It occurs to me that large established companies have spent large sums of money in the name of CRM – usually in procuring and implementing so called CRM systems. What is there to show for this investment in terms of generating superior value for customers and cultivating meaningful profitable relationships with customers?
As I look around I find that the single customer view is just as elusive today as it was when Siebel was promising it, through the adoption of its CRM suite, back in 1999. The gulf between the talk and the reality continues to stun me. So many companies still struggle to work out the totality of their relationships (products purchased, interactions) with their customers.
I notice that many marketing, sales and service (customer, field) processes are just as broken today as they were in 1999. Why? Because too many people implemented CRM to automate the existing way of doing business.
It occurs to me that the challenge of getting the marketing, sales and service folks to genuine work together to build meaningful relationships with customers is beyond almost all companies. These functions and the people in them continue to work in silos, pursue their functional objectives, and work to their particular style.
I notice that the state of fragmentation within the marketing function is higher today than in 1999 due to the proliferation of digital channels. Marketing has become so complex that a whole industry, marketing automation, has grown up with the aim of automating marketing with a view to taking the complexity out of it.
Why do organisations continue to grapple with the same challenges despite their investments in CRM and Customer Experience?
Having been in the field since 1999 I am struck about how little has really changed despite all the changes that have occurred outside and inside organisations. What is going on here? Why is this the case?
It occurs to me that most of that which has taken place in the areas of CRM and Customer Experience has occurred in the domain of doing. And this doing has arisen from the same old domain of being. And as such, the mode of being has poisoned-corrupted all the doing. How best to illustrate this? Think King Midas. Whatever King Midas touched it became gold. Being has that kind of power: every action is tainted with the being that gives rise to it. Yet, those who have walked the CRM and Customer Experience path have been oblivious to this corruption because the the current style of showing up in the world is so taken for granted that it is invisible to us:
“The way of life of a culture is not an explicit set of beliefs held by the people living in it. It is much deeper than that. A person brought up in a culture learns its way of life the way he learns to speak in the language and with the accent of his family and peers. But a way of life is much broader than this. It involves a sense for how it is appropriate and inappropriate to act in each of the social situations one normally encounters; a familiarity with how to make sense of things and of how to act in the everyday world; and most general of all, a style, such as aggressive or nurturing, that governs the actions of the people in the culture although they are normally not aware of it. We can think of it as a cultural commitment that, to govern people’s behaviour, must remain in the background, unnoticed but pervasive and real.“
- All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
This sense of the being, of the default ‘style’, of organisations (and the people who work in them) is spelled out clearly by Vik Maraj in an interview published on the Huffington Post where he talks about the challenge of transforming the not for profit sector:
“Question: What is the over-arching challenge in the not for profit sector?
Answer: We act mostly inside of a context of charity not empowerment. Very few people are “learning to fish”. And this is a societal issue not just a not for profit issue.
Question: With respect to the not for profit sector, what is the truth that we don’t want to talk about?
Answer. We compete with each other with a smile on. We protect ourselves. And we collaborate in an opportunistic way. And the game is rigged such that this behaviour is almost inevitable. And the rigging is usually done by a decades old governmental policy…….
At first some of the obvious challenges are a lack of funding, a lack of resources, a lack of volunteers, turnover, a lack of being valued, lower salaries, lack of training and development, lack of policy, political unwillingness, the economy, etc. There are many more that I have not mentioned and what they all have in common is that none of them are the real problem.
Question: What’s the real problem, and what’s the answer?
Answer: The real problem is that we don’t collaborate and align our vast, often duplicated resources, talents, and mandates, to have a collective voice. Collaboration is both a missing mindset as well as a missing process. We mostly define collaboration as “getting together”. As one of our clients said, “[we act as] independent islands chipping away at symptoms”.
Almost all transformative change started with a series of small groups led by a few courageous people. They came together to tell the truth to one another, did the tough work to get over their differences, and then whole-heartedly went after an intolerable circumstance that each could not surmount on their own! The answer is to move from a “me or you” mindset to a “me and you mindset” and to stop pretending that we are always noble or even often noble!
Question: If this is the answer, at least one powerful answer – so then why aren`t we doing it?
Answer: Good question. Given the common goals, overlapping skillsets, and in many cases overlapping client bases and services, why aren’t we truly collaborating and coming together to increase the power of our voice and share resources, information, and talent? Why? The answer is that there is too much self-interest and survival thinking to allow for this. Making it and surviving forms an almost inescapable context within which people operate.
If you are awake and have any lived experience of the for profit sector you will see the parallels.
Summing up, excellence in CRM and Customer Experience requires a transformation in the character (being) of organisations (and the people in the organisations especially the Tops) not just a change of clothes to project a more ‘customer friendly’ personality. This is a challenge that few have taken on wholeheartedly – arguably the CRM and Customer Experience fixes were actions designed to bypass the need for a genuine shift in being, in transforming from extractive capitalism to conscious capitalism.
I have been studying the 2013 UK report by Nunwood’s Customer Experience Centre and in this post I share with you what shows up for me.
Which are the UK’s Top 10 Customer Experience brands and why?
Comparing to last year I notice that:
1. Amazon has dropped to fourth place. Why? The report suggests that this is due to two factors: reputation damage related to tax avoidance and performance of delivery companies.
2. QVC (TV centred shopping channel) comes in at no 2. It appears that in previous years the responses failed to meet the minimum required and so QVC was excluded.
3. The Co-operative Bank has not just fallen out of the Top 10, it has fallen out of the Top 100. Given it’s much publicised troubles centred on its finances this does not come as a surprise. Above all, it occurs to me, that a bank has to have a reputation for being financially sound.
4. M&S, one of the UK’s traditional and loved brands, has moved into the Top 10.
5. Four out of the Top 10 positions are held by two organisations – The John Lewis Partnership and M&S: organisations that have a reputation for caring about their people, caring about their customers and showing this through the quality-range- vfm of their products, and the quality of their service.
Which industries dominate the Top 100 Customer Experience brands?
Given that Nunwood has not done an analysis by industry, it occurred to me that it would be useful to do one. Here is what shows up:
The retail industry leads in the sense that 44 out of the Top 100 places are filled by retail brands. And 10 of the Top 22 customer experience brands are in retail (as classified by Nunwood). Please note I have not listed all of the retail brands in the Top 100 – too many brands.
The supermarkets take 3 out of the Top 10 places, 7 out of the Top 20 places, and 11 out of the Top 100 places. That is quite some domination given the relatively small number of players in this category. It’s interesting that all of the big names are in the Top 20 except for Tesco (47), Morrisons (29) and Lidl (53).
The food & eatery industry takes 14 out of the Top 100 places. None of the brands in this category is in the Top 50. It is interesting to note that Starbucks is missing from the Top 100. Could this be due to the brand damage that Starbucks has suffered due to the tax avoidance issue that has hit Starbucks much harder than say Amazon? Who says life is fair?
The travel & tourism industry takes 16 out of the Top 100 places. There is only one brand in the Top 10 (Virgin Atlantic) and three in the Top 20 (Virgin Atlantic, Butlins, Emirates). Looks like airline travel experience is not that hard to get right if you are committed to getting it right like Virgin Atlantic and Emirates. The surprise appearance (for me) is Butlins. It looks like Butlins have invested in their staff and their hotels and this is paying off.
The telecoms & media industry only takes 3 out of the Top 100 places. Do you notice who is missing? All the big brands like Vodafone, Sky, EE, BT, O2, TalkTalk, Virgin Media …… yet these are the very brands that do much talking about customer service, customer experience, customer-centricity. Seems to me that all this customer talk could just be ‘marketing talk’.
The financial services industry takes 12 out of the Top 100 places. And like the telecoms industry none of the big brands – Barclays, RBS, Lloyds, Santander – are present. It will be interesting to see how much headway the supermarket brands - M&S Bank (23), Sainsburys Bank (83) – can make in this industry. Given the shift to digital-mobile banking, it would be interesting to see what will happen when the likes of Amazon decide to go into that market.
The energy & utilities industry. Have you noticed that not one of the energy and utility players is in the Top 100? No British Gas, no EDF, no Npower, no E.on, no Thames Water, no Severn Trent ….. If the energy industry proves anything it proves this, you don’t need to pay attention to customers when you have structured the industry into an oligopoly and customers have to come to you to buy an essential product.
What does it take to be a Customer Experience leader?
If there is one thing I am clear on it is this, one cannot become a customer experience leader by bolting on customer experience trinkets to the existing way of being-doing. This is about as effective as taking a frigate, adding bits and piece of a fighter plane (say wings), and expecting the frigate to be a great fighter plane. That is just stupid. Most of us can see this stupidity when it comes to warships and fighter places. When it comes to organisations, it is amazing how few see the stupidity of taking this route. What does the Nunwood report say?
Culture and climate are the foundation stone of great experiences. Experiences are delivered through people, the above companies are focusing on creating a culture and climate that starts with meeting all of the customer’s needs, emotional, rational and transactional and then replicating across channels.
Customer experience has many moving parts the key is an integrated approach across a business. It demands an intense focus over the long term. It has to be kept on everyone’s daily agenda.
This requires customer experience to be woven into the fabric of the company, reward, performance management and planning.
Enough for today. In the next post, I will take a more detailed look at some of the more interesting brands in the Top 100. Until then I wish you the very best.
Amidst the slavish devotion to customer experience and the ideology of customer-centricity I find Ryanair refreshing and instructive – including its recent change in stance towards how the organisation treats its customers. What can we learn from Ryanair and this change in stance?
Financial fortunes (not customer needs) shape management decisions
I find it instructive that trigger for this change of stance is due to a change in its financial fortunes:
- profits may miss or be at the lower end of its range of 570m euros to 600m euros (£480m to £508m);
- a dip in ticket prices and booking levels for September, October and November;
- the continued success of its competitor (Easyjet);
- shareholder concerns that customer service issues were hitting sales.
It occurs to me that what is refreshing about Ryanair’s management team is the refreshing honesty about what motivates-drives their actions. According to this article, Ryanair’s COO and deputy CEO ‘has dismissed the idea of “wholesale changes” at the carrier as it attempts to improve customer service’. Why is that? In the words of the COO
“Our model is to satisfy shareholders. There are other models to satisfy passengers.”
I say that a safe assumption, for any publicly listed company, is that the focus on the management team is no meeting the financial numbers. And any talk of customer-centricity has to be interpreting within this context.
The critical importance of the business model and how it shapes organisational actions
In order for there to be a viable business there has to be a viable business model. Using the business model canvas this means that the following business model elements have to fit together effectively: revenue streams, customer segments, customer relationships, distribution channels, value proposition, cost structure, key activities, key resources, and key partners.
If you take a deeper look at the business model canvas you cannot help but notice that right in the centre sits the Value Proposition. The organisation has to engage in specific activities to create the value proposition. These activities and the way they are carried out determine the cost structure of the business. Therefore, it is essential that the choice of customer segments, customer relationships, distribution channels and revenue streams deliver revenues that exceed the cost base and deliver a suitable return on investment.
It occurs to me that Ryanair’s COO understands the implication of the no frills airline model a lot better than the media which has been implying that the Ryanair management team have seen the light and will be making significant changes. This is what the Ryanair COO is reported as saying:
There is a balance and maybe we have gone too far one way. But the idea there is going to be wholesale changes is wrong.
We need to be better at communicating with customers, but that is no big deal.
When we take €70 from someone for having the wrong size bag we should do it with sympathy rather than glee.
Great advice for all businesses: don’t unnecessarily annoy your customers
I notice that Michael O’Leary (CEO, Ryanair) has woken up to the fact that it is not wise to unnecessarily annoy customers. He is reported as saying:
We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily annoy customers.
It occurs to me that this does not go far enough. If you are in a management position where you have the power to shape organisational behaviour then I encourage you to end policies and practices that unnecessarily annoy:
- your customers;
- the people that work in your business and create value for your customers;
- your distribution partners;
- your suppliers.
Why? Because that which is unnecessary should not be done. Doing that which is unnecessary and annoys key stakeholders is stupid: self defeating in the longer term.
It does not pay to steal in the longer term
It occurs to me that it is worth bearing the long term in mind. Whilst it is possible to escape the consequences of your actions in the short term, this is rarely the case in the long term. In the long term your history catches up with you. When I was a child my father used to tell me stories to do with human nature. One story, I have remembered vividly, it’s moral was ‘If you steal expect to get caught, sooner or later. The only way not to get caught is not to steal.”
Looking at the Ryanair situation, it occurs to me that Ryanair has been stealing from its customers for many years and this is the year when Ryanair’s management has got caught. And so is having to do something about it.
What did Ryanair steal from its customers? The humanity that one human being expects and counts on another human being to deliver: human dignity.