What Can The Hotel Industry Learn From Homelands B&B?

Homelands Bed & BreakfastDuring November, whilst on business, I stayed at Homelands Bed & Breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It was so good that staying at Homelands occurred as staying at a home away from home.  My experience lived up to the five star rating that Homelands has earned on TripAdvisor.

Here’s what I think the hotel industry can learn from the folks (Erik and Nicola Burger) who own and run Homelands B&B Woodsmancote:

After Booking And Before Arrival

I think I made the booking via Hotels.com about a week in advance of arrival.  A couple of days after making the booking I received an email from Erik and Nicola confirming the booking, welcoming me, and letting me know that the normal check-in time is between 4 and 9pm. And if I was going to arrive outside of that window then they needed to know so that alternative arrangements could be made.

Further, they provided useful advice like which road to take and importantly which road to avoid unless I had strong nerves and a 4×4 vehicle.

After an email exchange it became apparent that Erik and Nicola make it a habit to welcome their guests. Yet few guests turn up on a Sunday night – business travellers don’t tend to stay there. And the Burger family had made plans to go out that Sunday evening.  This was not a problem we came to an arrangement that worked well for all of us.

What impression did this exchange make on me?  “Wow, these folks know I am coming. They want to make sure that I get there safely. And that when I get to their place they are either there to welcome me. Or at the very minimum, that I can get to my room without any problems. They are living up the praise they have received on TripAdvisor. I have made the right choice.”

Further because of this proactive email exchange I was able to let Erik and Nicola know that my breakfast needs were simple: fruit, croissants or cereal (granola), and a cup of tea.

Now compare this with the Holiday Inn Express where I stayed the first week of November. I made the booking. I heard nothing from the Holiday Inn Express. When I turned up I found there was no parking. Which came as an unpleasant surprise. And then I had to ask for car parking options.

Lessons:

  1. Reach out to your customers when they place an order and provide them with useful information.
  2. If standard ways of doing things don’t work  for this customer in this particular instance then look for creative ways around the standard ways. Creative ways that leaves the customer feeling valued. And yet does not damage the business.

Upon Arrival and First Night At Homelands

I arrived on Sunday night. It was dark. I was in the middle of the countryside. After asking a neighbour I found Homelands, used the pin code that Erik and Nicola had emailed me. Found the envelope with my name on it and key inside – as promised. Entered Homelands, found a friendly welcoming note for me. Then made my way to my room for the week. The room was tastefully decorated. The sheets were clean… Everything was in order – just as I had been led to expect it from the photos, from the reviews.

Lessons:

  1. The ‘product’  must match your description of your ‘product’. Put differently,  the ‘product’ must contain / do exactly what it says on the tin. In this case the picture of Homelands accurately represented Homelands. The decorations were tasteful – just as described…
  2. In the hospitality business the experience (total experience) is the product!  How you treat folks matters as much as the quality of the room you are selling or the breakfast you are providing.
  3. You must keep your promises – if you promise something then you must deliver it. Why? Because the customer is counting on you to deliver it.

First Morning at Breakfast Time

At the agreed time (7:50am) I came down to breakfast. I was greeted warmly and professionally by Erik. What I had asked for, for breakfast, was there: fresh fruits, jars of cereals, apple juice, orange juice, water….

During the process of getting to know one another I learnt that Erik was Dutch. That the night before he had gone to see the new Bond movie with his son…. I told Eric a little about me, like where I lived, why I was in his part of the world….

Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that I needed. Like a cooked breakfast. Or coffee. I told Erik that I was keeping things simple as I was on bunch of drugs due to back and neck problems. And that these medicines has a side effect: constipation.  So, I was being careful about what I did eat and what I did not eat.  Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that he could do for me.

After hesitating, I made my request. I told Erik that I had neck and shoulder pain. That he could help release that pain. And I showed him how to do it – by pressing his elbow at two points on the upper part of my body. Erik told me that this was the most unusual request any guest had ever made of him. And he accepted.  Frankly, I was surprised. After Erik had finished, I expressed my gratitude as I was truly grateful.

Can you imagine me making that kind of a request at a corporate hotel?  What do you think the likely reaction would have been if I had approached a staff member of Holiday Inn, Hilton, Radissan SAS.?  I guess I would have been told it is against policy for staff members to physically touch guests. Never mind press down hard with their elbow into the top of my shoulders!

Lessons:

  1. If the customer selects from a range of options then make sure that you deliver on the selection that the customer has made. No point offering / giving more than what the customer needs e.g. like laying out a cooked breakfast that a customer is never going to eat.
  2. What really takes the customer’s breath away and builds gratitude, loyalty, advocacy, is your ability to do something special (as defined by the customer) for the customer – especially when the customer asks for it.

Second Night At Homelands

One of the most frustrating things I find at hotels of all kinds is that they don’t feel like home. At home, if I need water I can just get some water. If I want some fruit juice I can get some fruit juice. At hotels I am stuck, at best with an overpriced, mini-bar.  And that leaves me feeling like I am being milked for all the milk the hotel can get out of me.  I usually respond by either buying a large bottle of water from a restaurant – which is still cheaper than the hotel. Or by finding a local store and buying it from there and taking it to my hotel room. I have an aversion to being milked!

Not at Homelands. At Homelands there is kitchen and in that kitchen is big fridge. And in that fridge are fruit juices, and water bottles. There is milk. And there are extra mugs….

So when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to take some pain killers and muscle relaxants, I made my way to kitchen and helped myself to the Apple juice. Exactly the kind of thing I do at home. I wake up, I find myself in pain, I walk down the stairs, I find a glass, open the fridge…..

Lesson:

  1. It is amazing how the little things – like being able to get a small glass of fruit juice, or water without having to pay – matter. And how much they matter.  But to understand which little things matter and how much they matter you have to be able to access your humanity. To genuinely have walked in the shoes of the customer – as a normal every day human being rather than a marketer or a process/six sigma guy…
  2. There is absolutely no substitute for kindness / generosity. Stan Phelps calls this Lagniappe.

Second Morning at Breakfast

After waking up and having a shower, I took the time simply to gaze out at the fields, the green grass, the trees, and the horses. Such a refreshing change to staring at buildings, tarmac, and hearing the noise of vehicles on the road.

When I made my way down to breakfast, I noticed that the range of fruits had increased. In addition to melon, and grapefruit there were berries and prunes.  If you don’t know, prunes help with constipation.  Clearly, Erik had listened, used his listening to learn about me, and most importantly acted on his insight into my health and condition.

How did this leave me feeling? I say it again, it left me with the feeling of being at home away from home. Why is this important? Because home is where I feel safe. Home is where I am with people I know care for me. And people I know I can count on for help if I need help.

Whilst having breakfast Erik and talked a little bit more.  I learnt that Erik is Dutch. That he is into nature and conversation. That Erik and Nicola make their own honey…. A human conversation the kind that I am used to having at home whilst I have breakfast.

 

Lessons

  1. If if you show up in the correct manner and simply engage in conversation, customers will tell you a lot about themselves, the situation they find themselves in, their hopes and fears, the constraints they are working within….
  2. Insight in and of itself has no value. Value, as experienced by the customer and repaid through loyalty, is generated when you act on the insight in a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful because your action/s have made his life easier, simpler, richer.

Time to stop. I could go on and on. And my back is beginning to hurt and that is not good.

By writing this I have kept my word. What word?  Upon leaving Homelands for the second and last time, I told Erik that Homelands had occurred as home away from home.  And that I would be writing about Homelands and sharing my experience.

If you are on holiday or on business and looking somewhere great to stay then I thoroughly recommend that you check out Homelands Bed & Breakfast.  I cannot praise it highly enough. And neither can all the other folks that have stayed there – Homelands gets a five star rating on TripAdvisor. 

A la prochaine – until the next time.

On Customer Experience, Brand Values, and a “Sense of Honour”

Let’s start today’s conversation with the following passage:

By strategy, Bourdieu… does not mean conscious choice or rational calculation. The strategies employed by the Kabyle are not based on conscious, rational calculations but on a “sense of honour” that guides complex manoeuvres of challenge, riposte, delay, aggression, , retaliation and disdain.

The sense of honour derives from sets of dispositions that internalise in practical form what seems appropriate or possible in situations of challenge, constraint, or opportunity. Thus, choices do not derive directly from objective situations in which they occur or from transcending rules, norms, patterns, and constraints that govern social life; rather they stem from practical dispositions that incorporate ambiguities and uncertainties that emerge from acting through time and space. 

– Culture & Power, The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David Swartz

Look at the organisation that you find yourself leading or working within and for.  Is there such a thing as a “sense of honour” present in this organisation? If there is then who and what is honoured? Is it the customer?  Is it the humanity of the folks that work in your organisation? Your partners in the value chain? The shareholders? Making the numbers, getting ahead, becoming the largest, beating the competition? VW is not the only organisation – just the latest one to be exposed for what the modern organisation is centred on.

So you have customer experience centred digital transformation vision. And associated programme plan. If you are going about this in a ‘best practice manner’ you have defined the objectives, listed the business capabilities you will need, identified the data and content you will need, the information technology applications (CRM, marketing cloud, e-commerce, CMS…) and the IT infrastructure. Oh, and I forgot, you have a bunch of folks busy on mapping and possibly even redesigning business processes. You may even be enlightened and looking at the people part of the puzzle / architecture.

What about the critical question? The “sense of honour”.  Who is busy generating the “sense of honour” required to genuine show up and travel (as experienced by the customer) as a customer experience centred organisation that consistently does right by customers: like produce/deliver the product you are actually selling (like Apple, unlike VW), like treat the customer as s/he wishes to be treated – with attention, with courtesy (like Zappos or John Lewis, unlike your ISP/telecoms provider),  like create a platform for customers to access critical information and tools so that they can help themselves when it makes sense for them to do so (like Amazon)?

 

It is at this point that somebody will come up with brand values. Or corporate values. This somebody will state that these constitute the organisation’s “sense of honour”. But do these constitute that customer-experience centred “sense of honour” I am talking about here?

Let’s be straight with one another. You know and I know that the brand values are stuff that is cooked up by the marketing folks usually to differentiate where really there is no differentiation. You know and I know that these brand values are primarily driven for image making purposes. You know and I know that these brand values are seen as fictions outside of the marketing department.

What about the corporate values plastered on mission, values, purpose statements and usually on the walls?  Let’s be straight with one another again: they are empty aren’t they?  The fact is that they are not embodied in the organisation by most of the folks in the organisation. And rarely are they embodied by the Tops that pronounce these corporate values. Most of  us see these for what they are: propaganda, delusion, or simply aspiration.

So what is my point? My point is that almost all of the organisations that I have ever encountered (worked for, consulted for, been a customer of) lack  a “sense of honour”. And certainly they lack a sense of honour that values genuine care and loyalty for the folks that do business with your organisation. What this means is that you can make all the changes you want in communication channels,  technologies, data, and business processes and you are unlikely to attain your desired outcomes: genuine engagement, genuine loyalty. Loyalty is born of sacrifice. Sacrifice does not come easily beyond the family. Which is why tribes and communities (usually numbering in the tens to hundreds) go to great lengths to cultivate a “sense of honour” and practical dispositions attuned to the “sense of honour”.

My advice? If you are the leader and you wish your organisation to be genuinely customer experience centric and call forth loyalty then embody the “sense of honour” that necessarily goes with such a stance.  And work on infusing all the people in your organisation with this “sense of honour” such that this sense of honour become a set of practical dispositions where anyone in the organisation will naturally do what is right for the customer in any given circumstance. If you are not up for this then I wish to highlight one of my key learnings over the last 25+years:

Old Organisation + New Technology = Old Org. + Trauma – Money

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. A la procaine.

Experience Engineering: How Do You Engineer Authentic Humanity Into The Customer Experience?

I have been working in Cheltenham for a few weeks now. I like, really like, the folks (at the client) that I find myself working with. It has something to do with their kind of accueil- a word that my French family often use.

Let’s just consider accueil. How is it translated?  It is translated as: welcome, reception, acceptance, hospitality. It is also used to refer to the home page of a website.

Many years ago I chose not to specialise – going against the dominant trend and advice. I chose to do what comes naturally to me: be a generalist. Today, that means I get involved primarily in some combination of digital transformation, customer experience, CRM, marketing automation, change leadership, programme management. And I get involved in one of many levels – from helping devise strategy through to drawing out the systems architecture.

Why did I share that with you? To set the context. Why?  Because the more I see of what organisations are doing under the CX umbrella and the way they are going about it, the more I find myself falling out with the whole CX thing. I also find myself disagreeing with many CX gurus – many of whom are self-appointed. It is not a domain where one can criticise and remain in the CX club – as I have learnt. That is ok by me.  I can criticise CX because I do not depend on it to make my living, build a reputation, or safeguard one.

Call it Customer Experience design, call it Service Design, call it Experience Engineering. Whatever you call it, here is my question: How do you engineer accueil – authentic, spontaneous, warm accueil?  How do the BPR/six-sigma folks (I always find plenty of them working under CX umbrella) engineer/standardise processes for generating authentic warm accueil?  Or let’s turn to the business change or HR folks, how do they train the frontline staff (who are often on minimum wage, or some of the lowest wages in the organisation, in the economy) to generate authentic warm accueil?  Let’s not leave out metrics – according to conventional dogma only what gets measured gets done. What metrics does one use to assess if authentic warm accueil is experienced by the experiencer: the customer, the guest, the employee, the partner, the supplier?

In my first week in Cheltenham, I found myself staying in the Holiday Inn Express.  I checked in late on a Sunday. Lady on check-in was polite, helpful (gave me ‘map’ of Cheltenham centre), and quick. The lifts were plentiful, clean, quick. Room was easy to find through the signposting. The room was clean and spacious. And as promised it was on the quiet side. The breakfast was in line with expectations for that kind of hotel.  The right folks ‘faked’ the right kind of smiles. And behaved in the appropriate scripted manner. In short, all was in line with a well run hotel in that class of hotel.

If I had to put it into words, I’d say that the experience engineers (through design or accident) had engineered a professional competent experience.  Did this experience evoke any kind of emotional bond to this hotel, or anyone in the hotel? No. Why?  The whole experience felt corporate – efficient yet inhuman.

One evening I returned to the hotel after a busy (full) day of consulting work.  I found myself keen to get changed and go walkabout around Cheltenham: walk, look around, check out potential dining choices, pick a restaurant. Problem: it was raining heavily and I had no umbrella. Further, the situation did not afford the purchase of an umbrella as it was about 7:30 in the evening.

Remembering that some hotels (of the expensive kind) stock umbrellas for use by guests, I approached the lady staffing the reception desk. “You don’t happen to have an umbrella I can borrow do you?”  Her polite answer? “Sorry, we don’t have any umbrellas.” Hope dashed. Mild disappointed – mild because I did not expect this kind of hotel to offer customers umbrellas.  Then the most amazing-delightful thing happened.

One of the employees working at the bar (which happened to be adjacent to the Reception desk) said “I have an umbrella, you are welcome to borrow it. Mind you, it’s girly. Are you ok with that?”  Then she went into a back room and handed me her own (private) girly umbrella. Surprise. Delight. Gratitude. I accepted her gift, thanked her, and promised to return her umbrella to her by the end of the evening.

Here’s the thing, I was so deeply touched (and continue to be touched) by this young lady’s humanity (kindness, generosity) and her placing her trust in me (without me having earned it first) that some deeply human dimension of me wanted to both to hug her. And to cry. Why cry? Cry of joy. Joy of what?  Joy that fellow feeling – genuine human compassion – is still alive in some people.  She did not know me. She did not owe me anything. She had no script to follow. In fact, if there was a script to follow I suspect it would advise employees not to lend their or the hotels private property to guests (customers).

It is the accueil – the acceptance, the welcome, the warmth, the hospitality of this young lady’s humanity in action that I remember and carry with me. I am moved by how she showed up. Her way of being makes me feel good about being a member of the human race. Gives me hope for the human race despite the savage/violent aspects of human existence.

Which brings me back to experience engineering and the question I posed: How do you build authentic humanity into the customer experience?  What I can tell you is this: you cannot do it by the means that most folks are using to design/engineer customer experiences: putting lots of channels in play, collecting lots of data (small and big) and using this to do ‘personalise content’ to do targeted marketing/selling, engaging a bunch of BPR/Six Sigma to redesign processes, handing out vision/value cards to employees, sending employees on training courses, using VoC measures (NPS) to reward/punish employees…..

If the quality of the accueil matters (and I say it matters a lot in service environments) then you have to deliberately attract and welcome folks who embody warm accueil in their way of being. And then you have to continually cultivate an environment/climate where 1) those in management roles generate that kind of acceuil for the folks working in the organisation; and 2) folks working in the organisation can agree or disagree with one another – passionately against a background of warm accueil for their fellow colleagues despite challenging their ideas, proposals, and behaviours.

Do this and you dispose your organisation to spontaneously and appropriately generate the kind of humanity/accueil that build genuine affinity with your organisation / brand.  And yes, the right tools, and behind the scenes processes can make it easier for your folks to deliver outstanding accueil.

Notice, the technology (tools) and process – are there in the background to serve your people.  Your people become real-time, flexible, experience engineers – treating different customers differently and even the same customer differently depending on the context.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  Until the next time, I wish you the very best – may you receive and grant the kind of accueil that makes you proud to be a member of the human race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erich Fromm On The Central Challenge Of Cultivating Meaningful Relationships With Customers

What Is The Central Challenge Of Building Meaningful & Profitable Relationships With Customers? Is this challenge about opening up 24/7 access to your business through any and all channels?  Is it about coming up with new products and services that attract customers like bright lights attract moths at night-time?  Is it about taking out costly, unpredictable, unreliable human beings and replacing them with technology?  Is it about collecting and mining all the data you can get your hands on to generate insight to customers and entice them with the right offer, at the right time, through the right communication channel?  Is it about redesigning processes and gluing up all the interaction channels so that the customer experience across the customer journey is an effortless one?

Perhaps. Or maybe this is simply thinking inside the existing way of showing up and travelling in the world.  What way am I referring to? The technological way. What kind of way is that?  It is the way that refers to human beings as human resources. It is the way that refers to customers as assets. It is the way that thinks that listening to the voice of the customer is the same as reading statistics and text which summarises and details the survey responses coming in from some customers. It is the way that seeks to replace human beings and human to human conversations with automated interfaces and self-service…..

I invite you to listen to the speaking of Erich Fromm written in the 1940s (bolding mine):

The insignificance of the individual in our era concerns not only his role as a business man, employee, or manual labourer, but also his role as a customer. A drastic change has occurred in the role of the customer in the last decades. The customer who went into a retail store owned by an independent business man was sure to get personal attention: his individual purchase was important to the owner of the store; he was received like somebody who mattered, his wishes were studied; the very act of buying gave him a feeling of importance and dignity.

How different is the relationship of the customer to a department store. He is impressed by the vastness of the building, the number of employees, the profusion of commodities displayed; all that makes him feel small and unimportant by comparison. As an individual he is of no importance to the department store. He is important as “a customer”; the store does not want to lose him, because this would indicate that there is something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers. As an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant. There is nobody who is glad about his coming, nobody who is particularly concerned about his wishes. 

– Erich Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom

It occurs to me that many (if not most) organisations struggle to cultivate meaningful-profitable relationships with customers despite spending significant sums on the likes of customer analytics, CRM, marketing automation, and VoC. Why?  My experience of the last 15 years working in the Customer space is that action has been at the abstract level of customer and customers. And almost nobody has paid attention to the experience of the concrete flesh and blood customer as a human being.  As such technology has been used to remove rather than enhance what little was left of the human to human relating.  Technology can do many useful things including increasing access and reducing effort. What it cannot do well is this: create, enliven, enrich human relating.

Cultivating Goodwill Involves More Than Reducing Customer Effort

Is the access to building meaningful relationships with customers merely a matter of improving the customer’s experience of your organisation by making it easy for the customer to do business with you?

The temptation to orient oneself this way and thus the pull of approaching the matter of customer loyalty as an engineer / economist is strong.  With the engineering approach the focus is on: improving access say through digital channels; making it easer for the customer to self-serve; putting in more interaction channels; tweaking and automating business processes; standardising way customer scenarios are handled…. As an economist the focus is on generating / extracting value from the customer and all decisions are about ROI – I give if and only if I am guaranteed to get back more than I gave.

What the engineer and the economist both lack is humanity.  In the worlds of the engineers and economists there is no room for that which lies at the core of human. What am I talking about? Think about a genuine smile. Or an authentic warm greeting. Or generosity. Or the act of touching one another even if it is a hand that touches you lightly either through a handshake or a light tap on your shoulder as an expression of thanks / gratitude ….

What is it that I am getting at here?  Allow me to explicate it by relating a recent true story.

I was working in my study. My wife came in and grabbed hold of file from one the shelves. Then left. A little while later she returned to put the file back on the shelf. In the process she dropped an A4 lever arch file (full) on to the desk. The file landed on my right hand and the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. Both my right hand and the MacBook Pro were damaged.

Noticing that I was more upset at the broken MacBook keys, my wife took it upon herself to get the keys replaced. I forewarned her it would cost her to get the repairs done: the MacBook was outside the warranty period, and in any case the damaged was a result of our actions.  I also pointed out that she should not expect the repair to be cheap; Apple is not in the cheap marketplace.

A few days later she popped into an Apple store to find out what it would take to get the keys replaced. The folks at Apple were friendly and directed her to go online and book a time to get the work done. They also told her the work could be done in the store and in about an hour. So later that day my wife booked an appointment with Apple for when she was next going to be in town.

On the appointed day-time, my wife handed over the MacBook Pro for repair. And hour later, as promised, the MacBook Pro was like new. My wife thanked the helpful Apple employee / engineer and asked: “How much do I owe you?” The answer was that there was nothing to pay, the work had been done free of charge. My wife walked out of that store delighted.  When she came home she told me the story. And then went on to tell me how unusual it is to experience that kind of generosity. She ended up by saying Apple products are not cheap and they are worth every penny.  I find myself in agreement.  So that is my wife’s experience of Apple.

What is my experience? I am also delighted with Apple. Why? Because the folks at Apple treated my wife well. My wife knows nothing about technology. If the folks at Apple had told her the cost was £150 or so, she would have paid that. She was determined to restore my MacBook Pro to its pristine condition; I look after my stuff.  My wife is someone that really matters to me. As such Apple’s generous treatment of my wife occurs (to me) as Apple’s generous treatment of me. And importantly, vindication of my decision to do business with Apple. Paying a premium for Apple products occurs as a good decision. A smart decision. Even a wise decision.

I say to you that the path of customer effort reduction / minimisation will lead you to the customer’s heart. Yet it is your generosity towards your customers that will open up the customer’s heart and allow you place in that heart.  When you/your organisation make life easier for me, I experience an ease of doing business with you. When the folks in your organisation treat me with friendliness-kindness-generosity I experience cared for, even loved.  And that makes all the difference. Let me say that again: there is world of difference between the experience of ease and the experience of being cared for / loved.

When it comes to your work on customer experience and/or customer loyalty you can settle for cultivating the experience of ease or the experience of gratitude / love.  Your choice.  In making that choice I invite you to consider that when my wife recounts her Apple experience, the ease of doing business lies in the background of her story. The friendliness / helpfulness of the folks in the Apple store lies in the foreground. And right in the centre of the foreground is the generosity.

Competency: The Untapped Lever For Improving the Customer Experience And Cultivating Loyalty?

It took me over nine months to get my eldest son to consult Sandra about his shoulder/back pain. It took only one consultation for him to book another four sessions with Sandra. Why? Because Sandra is excellent at what she does.

How does Sandra demonstrate her excellence? In her greeting. In how quickly-easily she spots what the underlying causes are. In how effortlessly she causes the necessary adjustments. In how keen and effective she is to communicate with, inform, and educate the folks that go and see her.  In short Sandra is competent in that which matters.

What are the sources of her competence? This is what I have distinguished. One, she has been doing what she has been doing for forty years. In her early years. Two, she is really into her chosen field and so keeps up to date with the latest research. Three, she is open to learning  – including learning from the folks who are her clients.

I say competency matters. I say that competency can provide powerful access to improving the customer’s experience of you and your organisation, and cultivating meaningful-enduring relationships. And I say that competency is neglected. Why? It occurs to me that the assumption is that folks / processes / technology are competent. Is this assumption valid?

Allow me to give you examples of incompetency that I have come across myself:

Many if not most marketers are incompetent. Some are not adequately skilled in the creative side. Many are not skilled in the data/analytical/digital side of marketing….

Most sales folks are not competent in the craft of selling.  Some lack commercial acumen. Others lack an adequate grasp of their customer’s industry/business. Some lack a through grapes of the product/solution that they are selling. Others lack the ability to focus on the clients/deals that matter. Some suffer from all of these handicaps.

Most of the folks that I have found to be in retail stores are incompetent. Some are not skilled in greeting / welcoming customers. Others simply do not have the requisite product knowledge to answer the customers’ questions. Some cannot work the technology that they need to be able to work quickly-easily to serve customers promptly….

Most of the folks in call-centres are incompetent. Some simply do not have the requisite listening and speaking skills. Others do not have the knowledge-understanding to provide the right answers to customer queries. Some are not adept at working the range of systems that they need to interact with to deal with customer queries. Others lack a sound understanding of the company’s processes.

Most managers are incompetent. Some are incompetent in the task dimension. Most are incompetent when it comes to working effectively with people and calling forth the best from their people.

Many of the IT folks are incompetent. Some do not understand the technologies that they are dealing with. Far more and most are unskilled in dealing effectively with human beings or simply bearing in mind that they IT systems must serve the needs of people if these systems are going to be adopted and used effectively….

Most business processes are incompetent – they are not fit for purpose.  Some are simply out of date. Many are too restrictive – they do not allow folks to respond flexibly to the demands of the situation.  So the folks who find themselves amidst these processes have to find creative ways around these processes. Or stick to the script and leave customers with the experience of dealing with robots.  That is is the biggest incompetency of business process fixation: turning resourceful, creative, flexible beings (human beings) into mindless morons.

Most IT systems are incompetent. Some are simply not useful – they do not help the folks to get the job done better, quicker, easier. Others are not usable – they take to long to learn, finding one’s way around the system is not intuitive, they are not accessible when they need to be accessible, or they are not adequately responsive… Most are simply not for human beings with soul. And of course often there are simply too many of these systems and these systems do not talk to one another – thus creating extra work for the human beings.

I say that when you choose to really look at the world of business through the lens of competency you may just be amazed on how incompetency is ubiquitous. I say that the organisational world is wide open for those who wish to make a name for themselves (and/or their organisations) by rising above the general level of incompetency and committing to excellence.  I say that one critical role of effective leaders is to set and live high standards – standards which define competence as being no less than excellence as defined by the ‘customer’ of the product, the process, the system…

How To Solve The Insoluble Problem Of Employee Engagement and Customer Loyalty?

It occurs to me that when the same ‘problem’ keeps coming up then it worth taking a deeper look at the ‘the way of showing up and travelling’ (some call this mindset  or worldview) that generates the methods-techniques-tools for addressing the problem.  So in this conversation I wish to grapple with the persistent problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’. Let’s start by listening to one of my favourite stories (of wisdom):

Dividing Camels

There was once a Sufi who wanted to make sure his disciples would, after his death, find the right teacher of the Way for them. He, therefore …. left his disciples seventeen camels with this order: ‘You will divide the camels among the three of you in the following proportions: the oldest shall have half, the middle in age one third, and the youngest shall have one ninth.’

… the disciples were at first amazed at such an inefficient disposition of their Master’s assets. Some said, ‘Let us own the camels communally,’ others sought advice and then said, ‘We have been told to make the nearest possible division,’ others were told by a judge to sell the camels and divide the money; and yet others held that the will was null and void because its provisions could not be executed.

Then the fell to thinking that there might be some hidden wisdom to the Master’s bequest, so they made enquiries as to who could solve insoluble problems.

Everyone they tried failed, until they arrived at the door of … Hazrat Ali. He said: ‘This is your solution. I will add one camel to the number. Out of the eighteen camels you will give half – nine camels – to the oldest disciple. The second shall have a third of the total, which is six camels. The last disciple may have one-ninth, which is two camels. That makes seventeen. One, my camel, is left over to be returned to me.’

This is how the disciples found the teacher for them.

– Idries Shah, Thinkers Of The East

Have you watched The Matrix? It is movie that can be listened to at so many levels. I find the same to be the case for this story. For the sake of this conversation, let me highlight this:

1. The conventional ‘leaders’ had supplied conventional advice which was ok for conventional matters. But not for this unusual one;

2. It is what Hazrat Ali put into the game at hand (‘one camel’) that ended up solving the insoluble problem facing the disciples; and

3. The ‘one camel’ does not refer to a physical camel. The ‘one camel’ refers to wisdom, compassion, love, humanity – the essentials of human existence and authentic community. There can never be a human being only human beings; to be human is to be social.

What relevance does this have to the world of business and the two problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’? I say everything. Take a deep look at the methods-tools-techniques used to address these challenges. What do you notice? I notice that the ‘way of showing up and travelling’ (mindset/worldview if you prefer cognitivist rather than existential terms) is extractive: extracting more creativity, time, and effort from the employees and extracting more revenue and profits from customers? Where is the engagement, by the leaders/managers, in the lives (and existential projects) of the employees?  What loyalty is there to the customer?  Here I am pointing at practices and actions that ensure that the company is loyal to customers – not just words.

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit by Robin P.

What ‘way of showing up and travelling’ in organisational life calls forth the kind of employee engagement that most organisations can only dream of?  I share with the following story as shared by Robin P of Zappos. I invite you to pay attention to that which I have put into bold:

My husband passed away under tragic circumstances …. I couldn’t being to think of what was going to happen for our children, our family, or for me.

When I first heard the news, I was numb, but I needed to make a call. Strangely enough, the call wasn’t to an immediate family member. It was to my employer, Zappos.com. That one action made me realize the strong connection I felt with my co-workers and the Zappos culture…

When my senior manager received by hysterical call, she showed great compassion and gave me sound advice to calm me. She assured me that I shouldn’t be concerned with anything else but to take care of myself and my family, and that – day or night – I should call if I needed anything. After that she gave me every single one of her phone numbers, I knew she meant it.

As much as Zappos meant to me before, the things they did after my husband passed amazed and humbled me. I was reassured that I shouldn’t feel pressure to return to work as soon as possible. They even volunteered to cater the reception for my husband’s service….

There was always someone there to listen, offer consoling words, sit with me as I released my tears, or just give a hug. Co-workers and managers alike allowed me time to heal and gave me strength I needed to continue as a contributing and functioning member of the team.

the most important contributions from my extended family at Zappos were support and friendship. Zappos was my refuge and healing place that gave me everything I needed to continue on with my life.

– Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh

What do you notice here? Are the folks at Zappos applying a particular set of techniques-tools dreamt up by social scientists, consultants, or recommended by HR? Or is it that the folks in Zappos, including her manager, putting their humanity into action: demonstrating care/concern for a human being in distress?  Do you/i/we need some kind of special training to do this?  Or is it merely a matter of creating an environment where we can put into play that which we know as well as we know how to breathe? Finally, I invite you to notice that domain of ‘care/concern’ for our fellow human beings (customers, employees…) involves action (doing stuff that makes a difference) not merely smooth talk.

Summing Up

It occurs to the that the worst thing that has happened to the world of business is the language of relationship: customer relationships, customer engagement, employee engagement, social.. Why? It masks the reality of the business world and organisational life. What reality? Business and organisational worlds are transactional. There is no genuine care for customers as human beings. There is no genuine care for employees as human beings. There is no genuine care for suppliers/partners as human beings. My lived experience (25+ years) is that those who occupy management and leadership positions are not in touch with their humanity. I doubt that most genuinely care even for themselves as human beings rather than human doings, human ‘achieve-ings’.

I invite you to listen to the following profound words:

To become a leader, first you must become a human being.

– Peter Senge

It occurs to me that all Customer and Employee efforts, like the advice-solutions offered by the conventional leaders to the disciples, are likely to fall short until the advice of Peter Senge is heeded. When it is heeded, and lived, like it is by Tony Hsieh (the CEO of Zappos) then the Tops and Middles will be able to call forth the best from the folks in the business to create meaningful-strong-loyal relationships with customers. With the folks working in the business and directly/indirectly serving customers. And suppliers/partners.

I thank you for listening and invite you to put your humanity into the game of living no matter where this living occurs: with customers, in the workplace, at home….

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published on CustomerThink.com last month.