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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?

Musings on customer-centricity, customer experience and social: not your usual perspective

In this post I want to share my take on three items of news that caught my attention recently: Stephen Hester’s insights into the banking industry; Apple’s iOS6 maps fiasco; and the Madrid barman who has became a hero in Spain.

The culture of greed is not limited to the banking industry, it is an inherent feature of ‘business as usual’

Stephen Hester the CEO of the bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland gave a speech on rebuilding banking at the London School of Economics on Monday.  This quote in particular got my attention as it gets to the heart of the matter:

We cannot afford to just fix Libor, to just fix money laundering controls, or to just fix the way we market our products. We have to address the root cause of the industry’s failings…”

What are the root causes of the banking industry’s failings?  Let’s listen to what Mr Hester said:

“It is possible to look at the many scandals that have hit banking in recent years and see them as individual episodes of bad judgment or wrong behaviours….. In fact, I think it’s more accurate to say that most of them are related to one big scandal: banks have simply not been good enough servants of their customers in the recent past.”

“The banking industry in the decade preceding the crisis was focused on income, it expanded too fast, prioritised sales over service and failed to properly balance the interests of its customers and shareholders with those of its managers.”

I say that the push for sales, income and profits is central to many companies, many industries, many economies and is in fact central to ‘business as usual’.  And within the context of ‘business as usual’  where ‘bad profits’ are pursued because it is too much work to come up with products, services, experiences that create genuine value for customers (and thus generate ‘good profits’) authentic customer-centricity cannot take root and flourish.  So the challenge is culture change.  Not just culture change at the organisational level, nor at the industry level, nor at the business level. No, the culture change has to happen at the societal level.

Apple: Tim Cook, iOS6 and the Maps application

I notice that Apple has been under pressure and Tim Cook has done the right thing by apologising.  Within that context, the following got my attention:

“At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

How many CEOs can get up and say that with conviction?  How many CEOs would be believed?  Which tells me that the number of companies that are committed to making world-class products that deliver the best experience possible for customers is rare.  Which kind of explains why Apple shows up as Apple as opposed to the multitude of other companies.

The other thing that occurs to me is that making that apology is a wise move: as human beings we tend to ‘forgive’ those that apologise.  And I suspect that the Maps saga will not dent the Apple brand provided that it is just a one-off occurrence.

What can we learn about social from the Madrid barman?

You can say that I am not a fan of social.  Why?  It occurs to me that is so much chatter on social and so little understanding of social.  Yes, the human being is social being.  Yet, that does not mean that we can collapse social with socializing.   Social is more than idle chit chat over social media.  Social is more than meeting up with friends at a cafe or restaurant.  Social is more than meeting up with folks that you like (or are interesting in) for drinks after the end of the conference day.  Social is more than sticking in some social technologies in the work place.

In its fullest/truest sense social is ‘care and concern for our fellow human beings.  It is about moving from a place of ‘exclusion to inclusion’.  It is about collapsing the distance from ‘me’ and ‘you’ and becoming ‘us’.  It is putting into practice our humanity – the best of our humanity.  It is being up for and delighting in the well being of our fellow human beings.  And acting when that well-being is at stake.

With that in mind I share the following story about the Spanish barman that put his well-being at stake to protect demonstrators.  And here is the video:

It occurs to me that if you watch this video, really watch this video, then you will get a flesh+blood for what social is, what social takes, and why social is so powerful.   And if you do not get it then it occurs to me that you can do all that you want on social media and it matters not, you are not social, you are just being selfish through social channels.

And finally

Without genuine care for our customers all the customer talk is just that talk.  And genuine care for our customers means a concern for humanity. To paraphrase the words of the Spanish barman, “There is excessive focus on short-term profits. I am for companies being profitable, but above the profitability, there is humanity. Let’s make enduring profits by playing the long-term game of people-profits-planet.”

That is what I say, what do you say?

Culture Change: what does it take to change culture in a business? in the banking industry?

The ‘banking scandal’ and Ed Milliband got me thinking about culture and culture change

The latest ‘banking scandal’ and a statement from Ed Milliband (Leader of the Opposition) caught my attention and has inspired me to write about culture and the role/contribution of the CEO.  Let’s start with the statement and take it from there:

“It was clear Bob Diamond was not the man to lead the change that Barclays needed. But this is about more than one man.  This is about the culture and practices of the entire banking system which is why we need an independent, open, judge-led, public inquiry.”

I am going to start with tackling culture, then what it takes to change culture in a business organisation and I will end up with my take on what it will take to change the culture of the financial services industry.

What is culture?  And are culture and practices distinct?

A lot has been written on culture and most of it is not particularly useful – as in actionable. Some of it is even been written by people who have pretty much always swam in the one culture and/or spent their lives in the ivory tower of academia.  And I say people in academic ivory towers make stuff more complicated than is necessary or useful.  Isn’t that the job of professors, gurus and other ‘witch doctors’?

Let’s attack this question of culture differently.  How do you know that you are in presence of culture?  Put differently, how does culture manifest itself?   Look into this and you are likely to find that you and I do not have access to the ‘beliefs’, ‘shared assumptions’, ‘mental models’ of others.   No, you and I are up to our necks in language and practices.  What we notice, what impacts us, what we participate in is language and practices – we cannot escape language and practices.

Languages and practices are not neutral – they both indicate cultures and they shape/influence/change cultures.  Allow me to give you an example – the dramatic changes in the UK’s public sector.  Have you ever wondered why the ‘humanity’ / the ethos of ‘public service’ has been driven out of our public institutions in the UK?  I have traced this  to the introduction,and subsequent growth, of the ‘language of business’ into the public sector which drove out the language of ‘public service’.  And the introduction of ‘private sector management practices’ that drove out the ‘public sector administration practices’.  If you have not noticed this then let me make it clear – language and practices go together like two sides of the coin.

Culture and practices are not distinct.  Practices are culture.  Change practices – let go of existing practices, adopt/model new practices – and you change culture.  Language is a special case – an incredibly important practice.  A practice that shapes/changes other practices.  And also a practice that is in turn moulded/shaped by practices.  Just think of how the English language of today is so different to the English of Shakespeare.  Or think about ‘human rights’ – the term did not exist once upon a time.  It was invented and its invention led to practices associated with human rights.  Think about the practice of science and the conquest of nature.  When did it take off in a big way?  After Descartes changed language so that language glorified reason and science.

Who/what does it take to change the culture of a company, a business?

Lets say that you want to change the culture of your business from product-centred to customer-centred.  Or from command and control management to collaboration (social business).  Or simply from command and control to  Upside Down Management where the focus is on empowering/inspiring the front line to do what is right for the customer and delivering great customer service.  Who is the person in the business that you should entrust with this mission?  And how should this person go about it and what can this person expect?  I say it is worth listening to what John Timpson (Chairman of the high street chain Timpson) has to say in his book Upside Down Management:

“It is now 10 years since we decided to introduce Upside Down Management and it is making a massive difference.  Nevertheless, it is not easy to change culture.  Anyone who is thinking of following in our footsteps should take note of the vital ingredient that is needed to make it work: the Chief Executive must be the champion of Upside Down Management.  He or she is the only person who can make it work.  If you’re in personnel, sales or marketing, don’t dream of trying to introduce Upside Down Management until you have your CEO’s 100% commitment.  Upside Down Management is all or nothing, only the CEO can do this, and in doing so he or she must understand how it will change everyone’s job. The CEO must have the determination to replace orders, memos, KPIs and nitpicking with praise, lots of listening, and clear obstacles out of the way to give people true freedom to operate.  The Chief Executive must be on a mission to change everyone’s perception of management Doing things upside down is nothing like what they teach at management school.  In doing so, they must understand the importance of personality and identify the drongos who would obstruct progress.

Don’t expect Upside Down Management to take root overnight.  Give it plenty of time – you have got to promote it, sell it and nurture it.  Everything has to be introduced by persuasion because that is the way you run an Upside Down business.  Upside Down Management may take years to establish, but eventually it will start to work….”

In a nutshell: the CEO must be 100% committed; pick the right people to help you make it happen; no compromises – none at all; and patience – can take five years.

What will it take to change the culture of the financial services industry?

Let’s answer this question of culture change in the financial service industry through the lens of game theory and the Prisoners Dilemma. At its simplest level we can say that there is a game going on between the financial services industry and customers/society at large.   The financial services industry can choose one of two options: co-operation or defection.   The same choice falls to customers/society.   Put this way it sounds like there is a balance of power between the financial services industry and customers/society.  That is not the case and that is the heart of the issue.

The setup is such that it ALWAYS pays for the financial services industry to adopt the practice of  ‘defection’ – to pay back the co-operative behaviour of customers/society by taking advantage of it to benefit the financial services industry.   So the challenge is to shift the industry and the key players (the shareholders and the Tops) to the practice of ‘co-operation’.  How to do that?  The simple answer is to change the structure of the game between financial services and customers/industry such that the practice of ‘defection’ hurts (a lot) and the practice of ‘co-operation’ pays.  That means putting place strong penalties for the Tops (going to jail) and the shareholders (massive fines) for practices that constitute ‘defection‘.   Which in turn means getting rid of ‘light regulation’ and replacing it with ‘smart regulation’.  And it means putting teeth into the regulators – so that they have the will, the skills/expertise, the resources, the permission needed to detect and punish ‘defection’ practices.   This means more than adequate funding, it means getting rid of the conflicts of interest at the heart of regulators.  Too often the regulators are cheerleaders for the industry players.

How likely is that to happen?  Not likely.  Why?  First, there is the practice of those at the heart of government going into the financial services industry, when they are no longer in government, and making vast sums of money.  Second, there is the practice of the revolving door between those that are in/represent the financial services industry. Who was brought into advise and help deal with the mess of the credit crunch?  The people who had played a substantial role in the mess and whose careers/livelihoods were invested in the financial service industry. To effect culture change in the financial services industry would require a change in these practices.  For example, making it illegal for any person in government to work with/advise anyone in the financial service industry during their time in government plus 5 years.

Now we come to the who question: who is willing to take on that task?  Which prime minister is willing to forgo the many millions to be made through consulting/advising/sitting on the Boards of the financial giants?  Yet, I am open to surprises and being surprised.  Who would have thought that Bob Diamond would be pushed out of his role as CEO?

Summing up

Culture is constituted and shows up through language and practices.  If you change the language and the practices – and make this change stick – then you have changed the culture.  Culture is always changing because practices and language are changing.  One of the biggest drivers of change in practices and culture, today, is technology.  The reason that the financial services industry does what it does is because there are no practices in place to punish players in the financial services industry for the behaviour that costs customers, cost society at large.


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