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.
Tesco: The Darling of Customer Marketing Guru’s Issues Its Fifth Profit Warning
Tesco continues to struggle. According to this piece from the Guardian newspaper, Tesco has issued its fifth profit warning, share price has plunged (down 16%): Tesco is on the floor. Why does this matter? Why is it worth me writing about. Let’s go back a little.
In the early 2000s Tesco was much lauded my many: the customer-centricity gurus, the 1:1 marketing gurus, the data mining and predictive analytics players, and customer loyalty program vendors. Tesco was the exemplar of harnessing customer data through a loyalty programme (Tesco clubcard), using data mining and predictive analytics to generate insights and then doing database driven marketing based on these insights. In the process Tesco went from being just one player amongst the UK grocery retailers to the the dominant retailer. At one point it looked like there would be no stopping Tesco.
Today Tesco is on the floor. Why? Because Tesco’s management ended up doing what management teams do: exploiting customers to extract surplus profits for the Tops and Shareholders. I think some wise person said something like “power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
What Can We Learn About The Challenge Of Building A Customer-Centric Organisation?
So what is it that you and I can learn from Tesco if we are grappling with the challenge of shifting a business towards a customer-centric orientation: one not based on using data/insight to exploit customers; one based on using data/insights to generate superior value (product, proposition, customer experience) for the customer? Here are the paragraphs from this Guardian piece that catch my attention (bolding is my work):
Lewis [CEO], who marks his 100th day in the job on Tuesday, said he was building “a new Tesco” that would eventually reward shareholders. “We need to get back to core principles. We need to improve the service and availability and that is what we are doing.”
Here is what strikes me, how I make sense of this statement based on my prior lived experience:
1. Moving an organisation from a business as usual (product-centred, extractive, short-term focussed) to a customer-centric organisation is akin to building a new organisation;
2. Building a new organisation is not simple, not easy, not quick. It requires the persistent application of substantial energy across a large number of people for a long period of time – years. Only a CEO who has the power and genuinely cares about the wellbeing of the organisation will do what it takes, and keep doing it over the long term of many years.
3. Part of the challenge in building a new organisation is sacrifice. This sacrifice especially involves shareholders. Why? Because usually the shareholders have gotten fat through ‘bad profits’ delivered by their agents (Tops) putting in place strategies-structures-people-practices that collectively take advantage of customers, suppliers, and the employees – extracting surplus rents (to use the term used by economists);
4. Building a customer-centric organisation is matter of getting back to core principles. Notice, it is not discovering some secret recipe nor the latest shiny miracle technology. It is about honouring already discovered, well known, rarely enacted, core principles. How does one honour a principal? By living it – being an exemplar of that principle in action.
What Specific Actions Does It Take To Be A Customer-Centric Retailer?
Let’s continue this conversation by looking at another paragraph that speaks to me. Here it is:
In a bid to improve customer service, the retailer has taken on 6,000 more staff since mid-October, and despatched 6,000 existing head office staff to spend one day a fortnight on the shop floor to get a taste for the sharp end of the grocery business. Lewis has decided not to lay off people after Christmas, a traditionally slack time for retailers, as part of this customer service drive. “Certain activities help you manage profits, but can have a detrimental impact on how you serve customers,” he said. “What we are trying to do is deliver better for customers … I believe that is the foundation from which we can build a new Tesco, which is financially attractive to shareholders.”
Here is how I choose to make sense of this paragraph:
- A customer-centric organisation is one which “delivers better for customers”. Delivers what better? Delivers better products. Delivers better service. Delivers better value propositions. I sum this up by saying it delivers a better Customer Experience.
Customer service is a key thread of Customer Experience. Organisation which seek to show up as customer-centric have to get customer service right. This is especially so for service heavy businesses where the employee to customer encounter is important, even critical.
Getting customer service right means investing in the people who actually are the customer service of the organisation. Please notice the word “are“. Your front line people are your customer service; they do not merely deliver the customer service that someone else (perhaps in head office) has already produced. This critical aspect of reality is much ignored: your front line people simultaneously invent-create-deliver customer service every time they encounter the customer – they are your customer service!
Investing in people is long term play. Think Warren Buffet: you select the right people and then you hold on to them over and for the long term. That means not laying people off during traditionally slack periods. Why? Because two way loyalty (sticking by one another) is essential to creating the context for greatness to show up from your people. When you, the CEO, take the pain for your people you are putting a deposit in the bank account of goodwill. And this allows you to draw on the goodwill of your employees when you need it. Think Market Basket.
The core challenge of building and then keeping in existence (over the longer term) a customer-centric organisation is this one: “Certain activities help you manage profits, but can have a detrimental impact on how you serve customers”. It occurs to me that this is THE most critical insight. There is a broad range of ingrained, celebrated, management practices that deliver the numbers over the short-term whilst at the same time chipping away at the quality of the Customer Experience. Over the shorter-term there is no visible impact. Then the hit occurs and when it does it is big. I refer to this as the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.
The people who collectively constitute the biggest obstacle to making the shift to a customer-centric organisation and keeping this customer-centric orientation intact (and effective) are the people who work in head office: those who make policies, set targets, dictate management practices…. I am talking about the Tops and Middles: those who work with concepts and not reality. John Timpson of Timpson recognised this and turned the role of the head office from a dictatorship to a helpline, and in the process reduced the number of people in head office, and moved them to the branches where the real work of interacting with and serving customers occurs.
Final Thoughts: Leadership and Governance
If find it interesting that the management practices that have brought Tesco to its knees ended up being unconcealed when an outsider (no relationship to the Tops running the organisation) took over the role of CEO; and
It is the competitive world in which Tesco competes which has forced Tesco’s leadership to deal with these management practices. It is only when that which had been hidden (bullying of suppliers by head office folks, bullying of store managers by head office folks, manipulating profits through shady accounting practices) could no longer be hidden that both people and management practices are being addressed.
It occurs to me that Tesco is in crisis as there has been a fundamental breakdown in leadership and governance. The Board of Directors failed to do that with which it is concerned. Ensuring that the right person/s are running the organisation. And overseeing the actions (and management practices) of these people. Interesting then that the Chairman of Tesco has had to walk the plank.
I thank you for listening to my speaking. And I invite you to share your thoughts and experience with me. Looking forward to reading your comments.
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?
Some time ago I found myself in a workshop listening to and observing that which was occurring. As time flowed onwards and my existence kept ebbing away, i found myself sad, deflated. Here were a group of intelligent people who were charged with charting the future of their organisation. And that future included the label of ‘a customer-centric organisation’. There was much talk about customer obsession, trust, customer experience innovation etc.
So how is that I found myself sad and deflated? I found myself present to that which did not appear to show up for the rest of the team. What was I present to? The following says it as well as it can be said:
We construct realities and then forget we were the ones that constructed them. When our relationship with reality has a kind of “is-ness”or “fixed-ness” to it, – it limits what’s possible and allows only for options like explaining, trying to fix, resisting or accepting. The answer to the question, what does it mean to be human, gets looked at only through that lens. The movie The Matrix says it well: “Welcome to the desert of the real.”
- Gale LeGassick, Landmark Education
Time and again, I find myself in meetings and workshops where the talk is lofty yet where the course of action is merely reasonable. What magnitude of possibility lies in a reasonable course of action? Reasonable possibility. What kind of possibility is that? More of the same and results which are merely reasonable. What is another word for reasonable? Average.
The access to new realms of possibility and the generating of extraordinary results lies in the unreasonable. Unreasonable given the taken for granted “is-ness” yet not at all unreasonable when one lets go of the cage of “is-ness”. It occurs to me that if there was a master of ‘reality distortion’ it was Steve Jobs. Which may explain why it was that he was the source of new worlds of possibility and extraordinary accomplishment.
It occurs to me that the deeper reason that so few organisations innovate – in any dimension – is that the folks who are doing the innovating are reasonable folks taking reasonable courses of action. What is more reasonable than going for the ‘low hanging fruit’? Or sticking to the proven methods? Or involving only the people that have proven themselves to be good team players and safe pair of hands?
Innovation is not simply a matter of process / methodology. Nor is it a matter of tools and techniques. At its heart innovation, and that is just another word for transformation, is a matter of being: the being of the folks in the organisation, and the being of the organisation as a whole. Only those whose being is ‘unreasonable’ have access to generating innovation and transforming business.
Put simply: plodders do not cause innovation or transformation, they simply plod along no matter what tools and techniques you put in their hands.
The accessing to innovation / transformation? Leaders: those who are ‘unreasonable’ enough in their being to put their very being at stake to bring forth, into the world, the ‘unreasonable': new worlds of possibility.
This conversation follows on from where the previous conversation left off. Specifically, I intend to share with you the theory behind the shaping the work context approach to changes organisational behaviour. And the limitations of using the traditional tools: hard and soft. Let’s begin.
It occurs to me that the fundamental assumption is that human behaviour is always functional. Which is to say that there is correlation between the human behaviour that occurs in a work context and how that work context shows up for the human beings who find themselves there in that context. Put differently, there is an ongoing dance between context and behaviour: each is influenced by the other on an ongoing basis. From this flows the following ‘advice’ from the authors of Six Simple Rules:
1. Human Beings As Purposeful Actors Making Use Of Resources And Dealing With Constraints
Human behaviour can be understood in terms of three elements. First, the goal/s, the towards-which the human being ‘moves’. Second, the resources-tools that are at hand to help ‘move’ towards the goal. Third, that which shows up as an obstacles-hindrance. Collectively, these three elements in their unity (as one) constitute the work context as lived-experienced. Here is what the authors say:
Understanding what people do and why they do what they do is so utterly fundamental that it is our simple rule. Before you, as a manager, do anything to solve a performance problem, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by first applying this rule.
2. Understand How The Organisational Elements Affect-Shape The Work Context
Do organisational structures, processes, procedures, and systems matter? Do they affect-shape human behaviour? Yes, they do affect behaviour and performance. But not in the simplistic way that most of us assume. According to the authors (bolding is my work):
Their impact depends on how they combine with each other to shape the goals, resources and constraints to which people adjust their behaviours.
If you do any cooking you will get that the impact that any one ingredient has depends on the other ingredients that constitute the recipe. If you manage stocks you will understand that it is not the risk of the individual stock that primarily matters – it is the impact of that stock on the risk profile of your portfolio. Hopefully you get the idea.
3. Be Wary of Taking The Hard (Scientific Management) And Soft (Human Relations) Approaches To Improving Organisational Performance
Let’s consider each of these approaches to understand why it is that the authors advise caution in automatically and mindlessly adopting one or both of these approaches as the silver bullet for dealing with organisational challenges.
The Hard Approach And Its Limitations
Why is there is much emphasis in the hard approach on clarity – clearly specifying the rules of the game, the roles and responsibilities of the actors, the boundaries, the rewards and punishments….? Is it because the hard approach takes it for granted that performance is a direct consequence of what people are instructed and rewarded-punished for doing? Let’s listen to the authors:
Structure defines the role, processes instruct how to perform it, and incentives motivate the right per on in the right role to do it. From this perspective, if there is a performance problem, then it must be because some key organisational element is missing or not detailed enough. So companies jump straight from identifying a performance problem to deploying new structures, processes or systems to resolve it. This error dumps a first layer of complicatedness into the organisation.
Let’s make this real by revisiting InterLodge. What did management do at the beginning? Did it not resort to restructuring and reengineering without actually looking into the work context that shaped behaviour? And when management did look at the front line what did it conclude?
Receptionists were not selling rooms to latecomers. They were not engaging the customers in a way that made customers satisfied. They were not charging the right room rate.
If you focus on what your people are not doing does this help you understand what it is that they are doing and what leads them to do what they do? Clearly not. So the authors advise the following (bolding is my work):
Performance is what it is, because people do what they do, not because of what they don’t do. People do what they do precisely because of the organisational elements already in place (not because of the ones that are missing)……
The authors go on to provide what I consider the most valuable and most neglected insight into human behaviour in organisational contexts (bolding is my work):
Organisational elements do not combine with each other in the abstract, based on their supposed intrinsic pros and cons.…. It is only by considering the work context, and their effect in this context, the organisational elements can be appropriately analysed and designed. The effect …….. depends on how people deal with these elements as resources or constraints.
What did the receptionists do with the “guest engagement” skills that they honed during the mandated training course? They used these skills as a resource. But a resource for what? A resource for their goal: avoiding stressful encounters with angry customers:
… they used their skills not to meet the target price point but to proactively offer rebates and refunds. What’s more, their new skills combined with their clarified roles in an unexpected way that also provided new resources to the receptionists……: some receptionists used their newfound interaction skills to explain clearly to guests that their responsibilities stopped at the front desk and did not include back-office activities…
Now you know why I am not a fan of worshipping at the altar of lean, six sigma, process and reengineering. And in the world of consulting, the anal retentive fixation on methodology. I learned the hard way: spending years doing it and seeing the meagre and often counterproductive results.
The Soft Approach And Its Limitations
As this post is already long I recommend that you get hold of a copy of the Six Rules for a fuller-deeper picture. For my part I leave you with the following:
…. the soft approach views performance as a by-product of good interpersonal relationships. But this view confuses people getting along with genuinely productive cooperation. Real cooperation is not fun and games….. it always involved adjustment costs.
Indeed, the better the feelings among individuals in a group, the more people are likely to avoid straining the relationship by bearing adjustments costs themselves or by imposing them on others …. So they will avoid cooperation and make third parties bear the consequences, or they will compensate with extra resources to remove interdependencies… the extra resources teak the form of …. excess inventory stocks, time delays, interfaces and committees, and customer requirements unmet….
Here I draw your attention to the never ending challenge that almost every large organisation has in getting just the folks in marketing (advertising, website, email, direct…) to work together – cooperate. Or the bigger challenge of getting the folks in marketing, sales and service to cooperate to generate a joined up and attractive customer experience.
If you wish to learn more but do not wish to read the book then I recommend the following TED Talk by one of the authors of the Six Simple Rules: