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How Not To Go About Effecting Behavioural Change And Moving Towards Customer-Centricity

Let’s assume that for the purposes of this conversation that when I use the term customer-centricity I am pointing towards a specific behaviours which show an organisation as being attuned and responsive to the needs of their customers – their core customer base.

How should you go about effecting change in the behaviour of your people, your teams, your functions, your business units, your entire organisation so that your organisation shows up as customer-centric?  The authors of Six Simple Rules point out that managers go about effecting change by typically taking a hard approach (strategy, structure, process). And when this fails or to make it more appealing they introduce elements of the soft approach (training, team building, affiliation events). How well do these approaches – hard, soft, hard+soft – work?

In the last post I illustrated what tends to happen when managers take the hard approach: set direction, communicate direction, set metrics to hit, change the bonus system.  What about taking the soft approach? How does that tend to work out?  Lets return to David K. Hurst’s experience at Hugh Russel:

The top management team emerged from Hugh Russel as a “band of brothers” ….. we found we could “read ” situations better … “contextual intelligence” seemed to be an important feature of our newfound skills.  So, after our near death experience, we set out to create an educational experience that would nurture the spirit of commitment, excitement, and engagement we had seen at the senior level of the organisation….

What did this senior leadership do?  They organised a series of 3 day retreats ["core samples"] where 50 people drawn from all levels of the company (truck drivers, salespeople, branch managers, vice presidents) were invited to a “lovely old cottage”.  What happened on the retreat?  The participants hung out together doing team exercises, case studies, got feedback on their behavioural styles, and discussed the issues that the Hugh Russel was facing.  How did it go? The senior leadership were delighted with the results:

Discussion at the meetings was open and honest, the behaviours observed were cooperative, and the feedback from the participants was excellent..…… our local branch managers, who nominated most of the attendees, told us that they saw changes in the behaviour of those who had come to the session, even staunch union members. We were very pleased.

The soft approach works!  If you take folks from all levels of your organisation to a three day retreat, at a nice place, educate them, teach them, develop them, give them feedback, and allow them to hang out with another then you are well on your way to being customer-centric. Or are you?

Then, over time, the feedback from the managers became less positive…..  after awhile back at work, the participants began to revert to their old dysfunctional habits. Many of them who had been cooperative and open during the core samples became surly and aggressive again after a few weeks back at work.

Slowly it dawned on us that we had completely misunderstood cause and effect….. We thought we were teaching them new behaviours, which they could practice back in the workplace. But they knew these behaviours already since they were the ones the workers used in friendly environments, like their homes or bowling alleys or golf clubs. The open environment of the development sessions evoked those social behaviours.

Please make note of the line that I have put in bold. The behaviour that was being taught was behaviour that the folks already had in their very being: cooperation is intrinsic to us. In infant never makes it past infanthood unless it arrives and is nurtured in a cooperative context.  So if cooperation is not showing up in the work context then it is because non-cooperation is the functional behaviour in the work context. And cooperative behaviour is dysfunctional in that work context.  What can we learn from David K. Hurst?

We had misunderstood the power of context over our people’s desire and even their ability to practice these behaviours back at work. The closed work setting was completely different from that of the country estate …..

Martin Heidegger was on to this phenomenon back in the 1920’s almost a hundred years ago. Most managers are yet to get it: when you ‘deworld the world of its worldhood’ you are in the land of theory. And what is theory? Theory is derived from the Greek word: theoros. What does theoros signify? Spectator.  And if you follow that which I speak here on this Blog, you may have gotten the profound difference between “being in the stands and being in the arena”.

Let’s continue listening to David K. Hurst:

…. we weren’t teaching them soft skills that they didn’t already know; we weren’t conveying any hard skills that might have been helpful to them; we weren’t using live company cases or confronting real issues…… our management development program had some of the ingredients of a behavioural trap – short term rewards and a long terms waste of resources.

How does David K. Hurst conclude this story? With a profound lesson for anyone seeking to effect behavioural change that lasts:

This is a perennial problem with development programs, especially those that depend upon a radical change in context to produce their effects. Climbing a challenging mountain peak or whitewater rafting can certainly build temporary espirit de corps in a team. However, the challenge is not to take the skills learned in those challenging contexts back to the workplace but to create challenging workplace contexts that evoke those desirable behaviours. The development sessions should deal with the constraints that prevent an organisation from creating challenging work environments where learning and teamwork are a natural response….

– David K. Hurst, The New Ecology of Leadership

I say:

1 – That the challenge of showing up as a customer-centric organisation is one that involves a radical change in context to produce the kind of behavioural change that is needed from just about every person in your organisation;

2 – The central task of any leadership team is to get to grip with the existing work context – to understand what it is about the context that generates the behaviour that is generated today; and

3 – Using this insight to nudge-influence-shape the work context (made of up many micro work contexts) such that the only functional way for your people to show up is as being attuned to and responsive to customers.

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.

Does Love Lie At The Heart of Service & Loyalty?

I was introduced into the ethos of service around the age of 6.  I would arrive back from school in the afternoon and be welcomed back by my mother.  She would ask me about my day whilst offering me tea and sandwiches. Once fed, she would hand me a box of sandwiches. She would tell me to go and feed our elderly neighbours and help them with their chores.  And this is what I did every day. I visited my neighbours, I talked with them, I moved things around for them, I cleaned up a little, I went shopping for them.  My initial reluctance and shyness gave way to relationship – I looked forward to visiting my neighbours and helping them out.

Why did my mother make sandwiches every day for our neighbours?  Why did my mother insist that I take the sandwiches to our neighbours and help them with their chores?  Whenever, I asked these questions my mother simply said something along these lines: they are our neighbours, they are old, they need our help, it is our duty to help our neighbours, that is what human beings do for one another, we care for one another, we help each other out.

It occurs to me that my mother would find most of the talk on customer service, customer engagement, customer loyalty, and customer-centricity empty.  Empty of what? Empty of a genuine empathy. Empty of genuine of compassion. Empty of wholehearted care for our customers and our fellow human beings.  Empty of love.

It occurs to me that love lies at the heart of great service – the kind of service that generates empathic connections, heartfelt gratitude, and loyalty on both sides. Love of working for an organisation that pursues a life affirming purpose. Love of one’s role in that organisational purpose. Love of one’s colleagues. Love of the customer as a fellow human being.  It occurs to me that love is the difference that makes a difference.

I leave you with the following passage from Miguel De Unamuno, it is my gift of love to you on this beautiful day:

Here you have a shoemaker who lives by making shoes, and makes them with just enough care and attention to keep his clientele together without losing custom.

Another shoemaker lives on a somewhat higher spiritual plane, for he has a proper love for his work, and out of pride or a sense of honor strives for the reputation of being the best shoemaker in the town or in the kingdom, even though this reputation brings him no increase of custom or profit, but only renown and prestige.

But there is a still higher degree of moral perfection in this business of shoemaking, and that is for the shoemaker to aspire to become for his fellow-townsmen the one and only shoemaker, indispensable and irreplaceable, the shoemaker who looks after their footgear so well that they will feel a definite loss when he dies—when he is “dead to them” not merely “dead”—and they will feel that he ought not to have died. And this will result from the fact that in working for them he was anxious to spare them any discomfort and to make sure that it should not be any preoccupation with their feet that should prevent them from being at leisure to contemplate the higher truths; he shod them for the love of them and for the love of God in them—he shod them religiously.

 

Customer Experience and Organisational Change: Reflections on the Limits and Folly of Outside-In

The genesis of this post is a conversation that I had recently with Rod Butcher, a man who has been at the coal face of Customer Experience in a large organisation.

Standing outside of an organisation, as a bystander, it is easy to espouse the value and importance of the outside-in approach to Customer Experience. It seems so easy; just about everything is easy when seen from a distance.  If on the other hand you have spent time in the ‘belly of the whale’ you get a visceral appreciation for the huge importance of inside-out: what matters in the organisation, what doesn’t matter, what works, what doesn’t work, what gets done, what does not get done, what the people who really matter are willing to do and not to do….

Why are so many large companies struggling with genuinely taking a customer-centric approach?  Why is the dominant issue with VoC the inability of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer?  Why is it that despite all the talk of collaboration and social business there is so little genuine collaboration?  Allow me to share two stories with you.

When I moved into my new home over 10 years ago gardening called to me; I had no experience of gardening. One day I found myself in a garden centre and a number of plants called to me. So I bought these plants home and set about gardening.  That is when the obstacles arose.  The soil in my garden didn’t match that required by the most expensive plants. Then there were issues to do with sunshine: some required lots of sunshine other liked shade; some needed lots of watering, others little….

Most of the plants struggled to thrive and many of these eventually died.  Why? Because I was not willing to do what it took to provide what the plants needed.  I had rather hoped that the I could just buy then, find a spot in the garden where I thought they looked good, plant them there, and water them time from time.  That is to say I was looking for the plants to fit into my priorities, my way of doing things.

I recently visited friends who took great interest and pride in taking care of their precious plants: young olive tree, young lemon tree etc.  I was shocked to find that both of these plants looked withered, dry, dead.  Why? What happened?  Clearly, they had not been looked after.  Why? Because both of my friends had turned their attention to stuff that showed up for them as being more important.  Put differently, my friends had failed to sustain their commitment to these trees. Why? Because they were not central to their lives; they were merely hobbies and or decorations.

What have a I learned about gardening? I have learned to start with a good understanding of my garden and then choose plants that will thrive in my garden. I have learned that if I really want acid loving plants in my garden, which does not support them naturally, then I first need to do the work of digging out a specific part of the garden and putting the right soil.  And I have learned that I have to be love these plants so much that I am happily provide them with the regular care they need.

I’ll leave you to figure out the organisational lessons.  For my part I agree with Rod Butcher: outside-in is not enough, what really matters is the willingness of the organisation to change, or not, from the inside-out.

Strategy and CX: what are the five questions that you need to answer?

Recently, I came across this piece – Don’t Let Strategy Become Planning - from Roger Martin.  I recommend reading it.  If you do not wish to make the time then this post is for you.

Strategy is not planning, it is an integrated set of choices

Strategy is not planning – it is an integrated set of choices that collectively position the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage relative to competition and deliver superior financial returns.  Obviously you can’t execute a strategy without initiatives, investments, and budgeting.  But what you need to get managers focused on before you start on these things is the strategy that will make these initiatives coherent.

Strategy is singular: there is only one strategy for a given business

..strategy is a singular thing; there is one strategy for a given business – not a set of strategies.  It is one integrated set of choices: what is our winning aspiration; where will we play; how will we win; what capabilities need to be in place; and what management systems must be instituted?

Strategy by Roger Martin

What has this to do with being customer-centric or customer experience?

If we stand in this framework, then it occurs to me that the customer-centric orientation as put forth by Don Peppers and/or customer experience are relevant if and only if the answer to the question “How will we win?” is “through being customer-centric and/or delivering a great customer experience”.

Looking at what is so, it occurs to me that the majority of companies have a business strategy whose answer to the question “How will we win?” is “not by being customer-centric nor by crafting/delivering a great customer experience.”

What do you think?

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