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Looking Under The Hood Of Customer And Employee Engagement

A Skeptical Look Under The Hood Of Customer Engagement?

Why is Customer Engagement so fashionable?  Is that because Tops, Middles, and Marketers have found Jesus and come to love the Customer? I say “No!”

It occurs to me that Customer Engagement has become fashionable because marketers have found it increasingly difficult to get the customer’s attention long enough to exercise their dark arts of activating-influencing-manipulating human beings to want what the marketers are paid to sell.

Put differently, the purpose of the bag of tricks that falls under fine sounding rhetoric of Customer Engagement is to get customers to march in tune with the marketer’s agenda: tell us about yourself so we can sell your data and send you marketing messages; buy from us and buy more from us; and sell us, and for us, by recommending us to your social network.

I say Customer Engagement is a Taker’s way of taking whilst masking-disguising the taking that is going on. Is it then a real surprise that whilst there is so much talk of Customer Engagement, there is so little in the way of success?  Which might explain why the masters of the dark arts (those who advise-assist marketers) are busy inventing new tools-tricks for taking. And why marketers continue to fall for the latest tool-trick?

You may not be as skeptical as me; being skeptical as opposed to trusting-gullible is the norm, that is our default wiring.  So I invite your to play a mind game. Imagine that every company that is busy with Customer Engagement scraps their existing engagement tools-tricks. Instead, customers vote and choose their champion: the customer champion. This customer champion is invited to any-every discussion in the business which makes decisions that impact customers. And no decision can be made without the agreement of the customer champion.  In giving his/her consent the customer champion solicits the views of the people he represents: the customers.  Is this not real engagement with customers?  Then ask yourself if any business/organisation is doing this today. How many names have you come up with? Who even gets close to something like this?

What Is The Alternative To Customer Engagement?

If you showed up and travelled through life as a Giver how would you approach the Customer challenge?  I say that you would not be asking yourself  the following question: “How do I get the customers to engage with me and my agenda?”

It occurs to me that as a Giver you would be grappling with the following kinds of questions:

  1. How do I create superior value for my customers?
  2. How do I make their lives simpler-easier?
  3. How do I enrich the lives of our customers?
  4. What will it take for our organisation to leave customers feeling happy doing business with us and grateful that we exist?”

A Skeptical Look Under The Hood Of Employee Engagement?

Why is it the Employee Engagement is so fashionable? Is it because Tops, Middles and HR folks have found Jesus, recognised the universal brotherhood of man, and come to see the folks that work in the business as fellow human beings – of equal worth and value? I say “No!”

It occurs to me that Employee Engagement has become fashionable because the business place is so competitive. As such there is tremendous pressure on organisations to increase productivity and cut costs.  And for some organisations, there is the added pressure of generating knowledge and converting this knowledge into new products, new services, and better (cheaper) ways of doing things.

Imagine one of the Tops getting up and saying: “We are keen, even desperate, to get as much knowledge-innovation-work out of our human resources as possible whilst paying the absolute minimum that we can get away with paying.”  How much better, upstanding, uplifting, it sounds for a Top to talk about Employee Engagement.

I get that you may think that what I speak here is far-fetched. Let’s put that to the test. Imagine every company that is touting Employee Engagement goes to their employees and asks them to vote for and nominate an employees champion. And once this champion is appointed, s/he has to be presented in any-all discussion that affect the lives of the employees. And that no decisions that affect employees can be made unless the employees champion gives his/her agreement.  Now tell me how many companies that you know which practice anything like this.

I say Employee Engagement is just another term devised by Takers to disguise their taking. And I am clear that most employee are wise to this. Why might just explain why there is so little ‘engagement’ and genuine collaboration in the very companies that are touting Employee Engagement and devising-implementing the latest bag of tricks dreamed up by those passing themselves of as masters of manipulating people (psychologists, social scientists, academics, consultants, change agents..).

What Is The Alternative To Employee Engagement?

I say that if you genuinely care about your fellow human beings you would never refer to them as human resources. Just get present to this term: where is the dignity in the term human resource?  When you get home do you refer to husband/wife/partner and children as human resources?  Do you view-call your friends and members of your social network human resources?

So how would you treat your employees if you showed up and travelled in this world as a Giver?  Allow me to ask the same question differently. What are the kinds of questions you would be asking yourself if you genuinely cared by the wellbeing of your employees and the business?  I say that you would be grappling with the following kinds of questions:

  1. What kind of workplace is most likely to show up as a great place to work for the people who work (or we want to work) in our organisation?

  2. How do we involve our employees in the key business decisions especially those that affect them and their interactions-relationships with our-their customers?

  3. How do we shape what we do and the way that we do it such that this resonates deeply with that which provides genuine meaning, uplifts our employees, and calls forth the very best they have to offer?  What is it that we are doing-causing in the world that is speaks to and is worthy of the very best that lies at the deep core of our employees?

  4. How do we make sure that we share, equitably, the fruits of the creativity-knowledge-innovation-work that flows from our employees?

I welcome your thoughts on the matters I have touched upon here.

What Is The Access To Cultivating Customer Engagement and Customer Relationships?

My eldest son is in the process of buying a car, his first car.  He knows his budget (£6,0000. He knows the make and model of the car (Ford Fiesta).  Given this he knows that he will buy a used car – couple of years old.  His goal is to have this car in place by the end of this month.  His challenge is that he has never bought a car before.

What comes with this goal and challenge?  Concern. What is he concerned about?  He is concerned that he will get it wrong: that he will buy the wrong car – it is not sound; and or that he will pay too much for the car.  What does he want?  He wants help: he wants someone he can count on, who has his best interests at heart, to take the problem off his hands.  So he turned to me.

I have no experience in buying cars. My youngest brother is into cars, has bought-sold many cars, and so I have used his services.  So when my son asked me for help, I found myself telling him that I was not in a position to help him.  This was his reply:

“You’re not any help, are you!” 

It is the way that he said this that got my attention.  It was a voice of mild anger and strong disappointment.  Why?  Is relationship missing?  No, we have a strong relationship and this has been the case since his birth. Is engagement missing? No, we are engaged in each others lives – sometimes more than I’d like it to be and other times less than I’d like it to be.

Reflecting on that which occurred it hit me that we value those who show up as useful to us given our circumstances and the ‘projects’ we are grappling with.  Put differently, if you show up as useful to me then I am open to entering into a conversation with you. And through a series of conversations-interactions a relationship emerges.

Looked at this way, it hits me that all the talk of, and focus, on generating customer engagement and building customer relationships through a variety of tips, tricks and technology is misplaced.  It is misplaced. It is foolish. It is a red herring – distracting from that which matters.

So where should our focus be? On usefulness! It is when we show up as useful that the gate towards conversation and thus engagement opens.  It is only when mutual usefulness is present, does trading occur.  And it is on the basis of the repeated conversations-interactions-trading that a relationship emerges. Consider that when someone no longer ‘shows up as useful’ and they want to engage with you, have a relationship with you, they show up as clingy-needy. What is it that almost all of us do when this occurs?  We distance ourselves from these people. Why?  The simply do not show up as useful to us given our circumstances and our ‘projects’.

Please note that it is not enough to be useful as in have a useful product, service or solution.  It is necessary that one ‘shows up as useful’ to those whom we wish to trade with.  That means that an essential task is to cultivate awareness of our usefulness – to all who matter.  This was brought home to me in a recent conversation when the lady at the table said something to the effect “Where were you three months ago?  Why haven’t I heard of you? You should make sure you are on the Gartner report.”

In 25+ years of business life, I can only remember a handful of conversations where the people who matter in organisational life (Tops, Middles) grappled seriously with the question of usefulness: how can we be useful and show up as useful in the lives of our customers?

 

Is customer experience and the voice of the customer the CMO’s salvation?

The Economist Intelligence Unit has recently published a report titled ‘Outside looking in: The CMO struggles to get in sync with the C-suite’, sponsored by SAS.  This report has showed up as rather interesting for me and I want to share with you that which has caught my interest.

CMO’s face a number of big problems

The fundamental problem is that CMOs don’t get much respect from the rest of the C-suite.  CMOs say that they are doing a difficult job well: making a contribution/delivering significant value to product development, sales and customer service.  The problem is that the rest of the C-suite don’t agree – they question the value/contribution that CMOs are making.  And it doesn’t look like they listen to CMOs with much respect.  Here is how the EIU report puts it:

“CMOs believe they are constrained because the rest of the organisation does not consider marketing to be strategic; the C-suite believes marketing has not earned the right to be more strategic because it is ineffective at demonstrating value of its investments.”

Here are the other big problems that CMOs face:

1. Many organisations have trouble defining, clearly/exactly, the CMO’s role and responsibilities. Which could explain why it is that there is no agreement on what business objective the CMO (and the marketing function) should focus upon and be held accountable for.  Worse still there is a fundamental disagreement between what CMOs see as marketing’s priorities and the priorities that the other members of the C-suite assign to the marketing function.  Which makes me wonder if members of the C-suite actually talk with each other, share and agree what they expect of one another.  Doesn’t look like it. The EIU report says “..their greatest challenge: getting everyone to agree on marketing’s priorities.”

2. The  marketing function is not coping with the challenge that comes with the territory that falls under the market umbrella: advertising, brand, market research, communications, customer analytics, social media, mobile and so forth.  Why?  First, the marketing function lacks people with the necessary skills and expertise to cope/deal with this broad/dynamic challenge.  Second, members of the C-suite do not feel the CMO’s pain – they are not approving the necessary marketing investments.

So whilst it looks like CMOs are in a difficult position, there is no need to despair.  The EIU reports offers a route to influence, credibility, impact and respect from the C-suite.

What can CMOs do to make an impact and amass influence/respect in the C-suite?

The EIU report advises CMOs to focus on the customer experience and the voice of the customer. The authors pin their hopes on the following quote from Steve Cannon, CEO, Mercedes Benz USA:

“Every single customer experience is a brand moment of truth. If we create an aspiration through our advertising, and a customer walks into a store and does not deliver on that promise that reflects on marketing.” 

Any intelligent person could drive a coach and horses through this assertion.  And for the the time being lets just accept and go with this assertion.

OK, if Customer Experience is the unifying theme and the rallying call for the organisation then how exactly can the CMO contribute to this play given that the CMO is not the CEO and does not control all the touchpoints, which as a whole, generate the Customer Experience?

Focus on the voice of the customer:

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) stand a better chance of increasing their internal influence – and changing lingering doubts about marketing’s strategic contribution to the business – if marketing can consistently deliver insights and tools that benefit others across the organisation, from salespeople to call centre agents to merchandising teams.”

How feasible is this ‘success route’ being put forward by the EIU?

I say that there is a big difference between a poor strategist and a good strategist.  A good strategist takes into account feasibility.  Specifically, he asks this question: what is the likelihood that my client can execute this strategy?  And the good strategist keeps on going until he comes up with a strategy that the client has a good chance of being able to execute successfully.

So let’s ask this question, how likely is it that marketing can:

a) marshal the voice of the customer from all the disparate sources and turn this into a comprehensive view – single view of the customer;

b) generate actionable insight into customers, how they interact with the business as a whole, the jobs that they hire the business to do for them, and their experience of using the product and dealing with the company?”; and

c) inspire the various members of the C-suite to act – to make changes in their priorities, policies and practices – so as to improve the customer experience?

I’ll let you decide for yourself.  For my part I could not help noticing the following hurdles identified in the same EIU report:

1. Single customer view.  “The airline [BA] has spent the better part of the last decade integrating its systems to support the effort; data warehouse not stores 200 separate data sources from different parts of the business to provide a more granular view of the customer, based on information they have volunteered.”

2. Converting data into actionable insight. “For all the talk about data-driven customer insight, marketers are just starting to understand how they should be using the growing repository of information they are collecting through digital media and other channels.”

What do I say?

I say that if you and your organisation are serious about building your competitive position and commercial success on the Customer Experience then follow the example of Steve Cannon the CEO of Mercedes Benz USA.  Why?

Because, the role and this responsibility or organising the business around the Customer Experience is a huge change full of organisational politics. And as such it is beyond the remit and the capacity of the CMO and the marketing function.  This role/challenge – that of aligning the organisation around the customer experience requires marshalling resources, reassigning resources, engendering and dealing with organisational conflict – belongs to the CEO.

Here is what Steve Cannon did in the words of the EIU report:

“..aligning the organisation around a superior customer experience has been the focus of Steve Cannon since he took over as CEO in January 2012…. Investments in customer experience programmes have been large – such as the formation of a dedicated customer experience team – and small – like providing Mercedes Benz dealers with iPads equipped with custom apps and videos.” 

As regards what Steve Cannon is doing at Mercedes Benz USA I draw your attention to the following:

1. Steven Cannon was the CMO before he came the CEO.  When he was the CMO he did not take charge of “aligning the organisation around a superior customer experience” No, he did it when he became the CEO.  I say he is a smart man who has a sound grasp of reality.

2. If the CMO had come up with the clever idea of buying hundreds of iPads for dealers it is highly likely that he would have reinforced the C-suite’s already always listening of the marketing function as the “department of coloured pencils” (how one CEO described the marketing function) and s/he would not have got the budget approved by the CEO/CFO.

What do you say?

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part V – the ‘dark side’ of the being of human beings)

We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.”  Pascal

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is still greater evil to be full of them and be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of voluntary illusions”  Pascal

I have a confession to make.  So far (part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV) I have deliberately given you a one sided – positive – picture of the being of human beings and thus your employees.  If you have read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels (especially The Brothers Karamazov) you will get the true richness of the being of human beings.  And that includes the dark side – a side that the enlightenment and the humanistic philosophers and psychologists do not address adequately if at all.   In this post I want to address this darker side of being human in our age, in our organisations.

Why is it so hard to call forth ‘employee engagement’?

To create a contexts which calls forth ‘employee engagement’ is one of the hardest feats in traditional organisations.  Why?  There are two key reasons.

First, people – leaders, managers, employees – who have worked for more than a couple of years in command & control organisation have accepted and habituated in a particular mode of being and behaviour.  And it is difficult for them to change.  Why?  Because, contrary to accepted wisdom, human beings don’t have behaviours; behaviours have them!  When I write this I am thinking of both categories of people in organisations:  the managers and those who are managed and have come to expect to be managed – one category cannot exist without the other as they co-create one another.

The headmistress of the local Montessori children never takes on teachers that have gone through the traditional system and taught in traditional schools. Why?  Because she has found from experience that it is too hard to arrive at a place where these teachers embody the Montessori philosophy in their way of being in the classroom and the world.  After teachers have been teaching for some time in the traditional system it is practically impossible to get them to leave behind their way of being and making the shift to the Montessori way of being.  In a lots of ways these long timers experience the same kind of experience and success rates of feral children.

The second reason that it is so hard to get ‘employee engagement’ to show up is to do with the ‘dark side’ of being human that is always present and which we, with our obsession with the rational image of man, fail to acknowledge, accept and work with.  Let’s take a look at this ‘dark side’  – the shadow that is always with each of us.

The dark side: is this what really drives how human beings show up in the workplace, in the world? 

Peel back the onion to examine human behaviour and you might just find that the ‘machinery of being human’ seems to work to the following ‘four prime directives’ when it comes to dwelling with fellow human beings:

  1. Look good, avoid looking bad;
  2. Be right, avoid being wrong;
  3. Strive for control and dominate, avoid losing control and being dominated;
  4. Justify self, invalidate others.

It is worth pointing out that these four prime directives work at the level of the individual and the level of the tribe.   It is also worth pointing out that the root driver of these prime directives is most likely to be fear.  Fear of being excluded/ostracised like the lepers were.  Fear of being ridiculed.  Fear of being victimized/oppressed…..

How the drive for ‘employee engagement’ tends to play out

If these ‘four prime directives’ are not acknowledged and dealt with then the drive for ‘employee engagement’ tends to be a wasted effort at best and most often just a sham.  Why?  Because just about everyone in the organisation is first and foremost protecting himself.  That means those in manager roles don’t really let go of control – if they do then things might not work out and this will reflect badly on the manager and put his reputation/future at stake.  On the other hand those in the role of taking orders (including managers – junior managers take order from middle managers…) do not rise up and take responsibility for the fear of being setup to fail, being ridiculed…..  Now this dynamic does not just work at the individual level it also applies at the team level: marketing, sales, customer service, logistics…..  And it applies at the business unit level.  If you want a detailed understanding of the mechanics of this mutually reinforcing behaviour works then I recommend reading Power Up by Bradford & Cohen or The Responsibility Virus by Roger Martin.

In the next post I will share with you an effective process for generating employee engagement that has been used successfully by the corporate arm of Landmark Education.  It has a lot to do with ‘truth telling’ in the context of ‘creating a future that works for all parties at the table, none excluded’.

And finally

It is worth remembering that customers are human beings.  And as such they are also subject to these ‘four prime directives’.  Once you get this, really get it, then you have an access to all the stuff that you are doing as a corporation that is driving your customers nuts.  And how/why they are responding as they are responding.

Corephone: a great example of the service ethos, customer experience and customer centricity! (Part I)

If your smartphone or iPad needs fixing then contact Spencer at corePhone

It is rare that I come across a person, a company, a business that has cracked the customer-centricity code.  It looks like Spencer and corePhone have done just that.  All you have to do is to take a look at the website (the entire design of it) and read the testimonials to get that Spencer / corePhone is a world apart when it comes to the customer experience they generate and the delight they engender in customers.  So if you have a broken smartphone or iPad then you should contact Spencer at corePhone (www.corephone.co.uk).

Have you noticed that smartphones have a design flaw?

Smartphones are easy to use & useful so they are heavily used.  In the process of using them we drop them and that is when we find out that smartphones have a serious design flaw: they are fragile, they don’t bounce.   Have you dropped your smartphone?  What thoughts/feelings did you experience?   I dropped my iPhone 4 and was shocked to find that the expensive case ‘fell apart’.  Yet, thankfully, it did that when it hit the ground and so my iPhone was ok.  I let out a sigh of relief as I was not looking forward to paying £400+ to get a new one.  Some of us are not that lucky.   Recently one of my colleagues dropped his iPhone, allow me to tell you his story using his words:

“We’ve all either seen it happen or had it happen to us…shiny iPhone one minute, a moment of clumsiness / butter fingers and the next minute it looks like this…

This is what happened to me today. I have no idea how it happened but I saw it all take place in slow motion and I was left cursing …. To make matters worse, my iPhone did have a bumper on it but as happens when you drop a piece of buttered toast on the floor, my iPhone landed face down……. I couldn’t even answer the phone when it rang as the cracked screen had affected it ‘touch screen ability’!….

Luckily sense prevailed and I left the screw drivers and claw hammer in the draw and Googled ‘iphone 4 cracked screen and Portsmouth’…..and bingo!! I came across a helpful chap called Spencer.

A quick phone call later he gave me his address and instructions to be there at 6:30pm (no earlier please as he has his tea at 6pm !). By 6:45pm I skipped out his front door £60 lighter but with what was effectively a new looking iPhone. All fixed, cleaned and shiny !

…… If you find yourself in a similar situation I cannot recommend Spencer enough. Whilst he’s an air traffic controller by day, he’s running a handy side line fixing iPads, Blackberrys, Nintendo’s, Camera’s, laptop screens etc.. by night.   A link to his site is below…probably worth book marking!  As I live local to him I’d be happy to hand deliver your broken item to him should you want me too!     Core Phone

Let’s take a closer look at Spencer / Corephone: testimonials to die for!

It is not often that I read that kind of review, that kind of delight, that kind of enthusiasm, that kind of advocacy.  So I took a look at the CorePhone website to see if my colleague’s experience was exceptional.  It is not.  I was totally blown away by the testimonials - specifically the way that Spencer  is treating his customers, how he is making them feel and the impact he is having on their lives.  Here are a selection of testimonials (I have highlighted what speaks to me by ‘bolding’):

I cannot start without saying how amazing this company is! My iPhone was smashed front and back and my home button was faulty after dropping the phone. Spencer replied quickly to my request of a repair and he offered me a next day service. In addition, he offered an amazing price for all jobs. When the repair was conducted, it was an amazing job, the phone looked brand new and Spencer even cleaned my earpiece and other ports out of courtesy. And even more amazing, it was fixed in 20 minutes! I would definitely use this service again and would recommend all to use corePhone for any iPhone repairs as the service you will receive is first class.     Gary Coldwell, Hampshire, March 2012

“Many thanks Spencer. It is nice to find such a genuine guy who could repair my iPhone. I texted Spencer to see if he could repair my iPhone. He texted me back and booked for the repair to be done Monday night. I waited for the repair to be done and could not believe how fiddly it was, but it was soon all put back together and looks like a new phone. Phone this guy; you cannot go wrong.    John Tucker, Titchfield, September 2011

“I would like everyone to know what a fantastic service spencer(corePhone) extended to me. I texted spencer at 7:40 am on Saturday and he replied straight away. I asked if he would take a look at my I phone 3G home button as it hadn’t worked properly for a while. He allowed me to come to his home at 8am and had my phone all fixed and ready to go by 8:15am !! Nice, friendly, quick & professional service is worth every penny,especially at Spencer’s fair rates. I recommend this service 100 %.    Jim, Pickfords Segensworth, January 2011

What can we learn from Spencer / corePhone?

The testimonials show that Spencer / corePhone create superior value for people who have damaged their smartphones.  Let’s take a closer look at this superior value.

Customer Insight

The central insight that corePhone is built upon is the understanding that customers are attached to their smartphones.  Smartphones break – especially the screens.  Getting these screens replaced through the high street retailers is both time consuming (long delays) and expensive.  Customers want a fast turnaround and more affordable repairs.

Value Proposition

The value proposition is what converts people with a problem into customers who reach out to you and buy from you.  So what is corePhone’s value proposition?  According to the website, “affordable iPhone repairs”.  Read through the testimonials and you will find that this is a compelling value proposition.  Customer after customers speaks about the fairness, the reasonableness, the affordability of the repairs when compared to Apple and other high street retailers.

The Customer Experience

It is the Customer Experience that generates delight, indifference, disappointment and/or anger.  It is the Customer Experience that generates advocacy, word our mouth recommendations, customer loyalty and repeat business. Why?  Because this is where you keep or break the bargain that you struck with the customer through your value proposition. This is the area that Spencer / corePhone excel in.

If you reach out to Spencer / corePhone then Spencer responds quickly even on a Saturday morning at 7:40am or Sunday when he is out shopping.  And Spencer fixes your iPhone quickly – one customer rang at 7:40 am Saturday, was at Spencer’s workshop at 8am (that day) and left delighted at 8:15.  That is the next clue:  Spencer fixes your iPhone quickly – seems to be between 15 minutes and a half-hour.  Furthermore, by the time the iPhone is handed to you it looks new, perfect.  Finally, it looks like Spencer does more than he has to (‘”cleaning out ear pieces and ports..”) and treats his customers well – his customers like him as a person not just as a professional.

In short, the Customer Experience exceeds the value proposition.  The value proposition only talks about affordability and sets that expectation.  The Customer Experience delivers that extra: responsiveness, speed of turnaround, the intimate contact – being with /watching Spencer fix your iPhone in front of your eyes!  What must it be like to see a master craftsmen open up your iPhone before your eyes and convert it from a wreck to a work of beauty?  And how many of us want to take a look inside our iPhone and see how it is put together?  This is all included in the Customer Experience!

Have you noticed that corePhone doesn’t have a loyalty or social media program to generate advocacy?

At a recent CMO dinner I asserted that companies that create superior value for customers through compelling value proposition/s and delightful customer experience do not have to pay the tax of customer loyalty.  Show me a company that has a loyalty program and I will show you a company that is selling ‘me too’ products, services, solutions.  Please notice that corePhone is not having to go out and bribe customers with customer loyalty and social gimmicks.  Why?  Because it is a strong value proposition and it delivers an amazing (wow!!) customer experience.

Part II coming next

Enough for today, in the next post I will take a look at the corePhone website, extract and share with you the lessons for building a website that works for customers.  Very few websites do that especially if they belong to a big company!


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