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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?

 

The Dark Side of Using NPS as a Performance Management Tool

Let’s leave aside the theoretical aspects and arguments related to the suitability of using NPS. Instead, let’s consider the implications of using NPS as a performance management tool rather than simply as an indicator which tells us who well we are doing, as an organisation, in building meaningful relationships with customers.

Every human activity produces both things that we want – “goods” – and things we don’t want – “bads”.

- Garrett Hardin, Filters Against Folly

It occurs to me that when we use NPS as a performance management tool we act on the people in the organisation, we act on customers, we alter the balance of power between the multiple parties. And we inject high does of fear and greed into the rich tapestry of human interactions.  

This is how we end up generating the “bads” – the dark side of using NPS as a performance management tool.  Let’s get specify and look at the dark side. What shows up?

  1. Customer facing employees (sales, service) and their managers game the system to generate high NPS scores;

  2. Some customers are either ‘bribed’ and-or ‘pressured’ to give high scores;

  3. Some customers, especially the more powerful ones in B2B, exercise their new-found power to extract concessions – free ‘products’, more discounts, credits, special treatment – from the sales reps and account managers; and

  4. Some sales reps and account managers ‘give away’ more than they need to’ in order to play safe and assure high NPS scores.  This ‘giving away’ tends to be in the region of services which do not directly impact on the revenue figures and commission cheque of the sale rep.

I leave you to decide whether the “goods” generated by using NPS as a performance management tool outweigh the “bads” that I have shared with you.  I do assure you that points 3 and 4 above are not just theoretical – this behaviour is occurring.

Next time you are planning an intervention in the rich web of human relationships get together a diverse group of people, including those who are likely to be impacted, and explore this question: what is likely to happen – today and over the course of time – after we make this intervention?

Without Integrity, Is Talk of Customer Focus Just Cheap Talk?

Integrity is a choice – one that we fail to choose

Let me make clear that when I speak integrity I am not talking about morality nor virtue.  I am talking about integrity as honouring one’s word.

Integrity, as honouring one’s word, is a choice. It is a choice that almost all of us choose not to make. And those of us who do choose integrity, as way of being and showing up in the world, get that ‘Integrity is mountain with no top’ – that is to say that one never arrives. Put differently, integrity is always flowing out. Therefore, the challenge is to be present to this flowing out and make the necessary corrections ongoingly – this applies to individuals, teams, organisations.

It occurs to me that we live in an age given by cultural practices which allow and encourage us to have a cheap-weak relationship to our word. In our societies one expects people not to talk straight. One expects people not to mean what they say. Nor to say what they mean. It is perfectly ok to make promises and break them if it is convenient to do so. And when we do this the challenge is to find convenient reasons and excuses that allows us to ‘save face’.

What place is there for integrity when the measure is ROI?

Consider the world of business. What drives decisions and actions? If you look at it theoretically, every significant decision should be based on ROI. If honouring your promise, your word, delivers ROI then the smart course of action is to honour your word. If honouring your word does not deliver ROI then the smart course of action is not to honour your word. Doesn’t the ROI argument, in one shape or another, show up at each level of the organisation: Tops, Middles, Bottoms?

Without integrity promises to customers are just cheap talk

Why am I drawing our attention to integrity and the importance of fierce resolve to honouring one’s word? I say that work on harnessing digital technologies is useful. I say that work on changing policies and processes is necessary and useful. I say that harnessing data and using it to generate insight is useful. And I say that all of this makes no difference if fierce resolve is missing. What kind of fierce resolve? The fierce resolve to create superior value for a core set of customers. The fierce resolve to honour the organisations implicit and explicit promises to the customer. The fierce resolve to honour one’s word to colleagues within the bigger context of honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

Let me put it bluntly, the companies that excel at generating strong profitable relationships with customers create and show up from a fierce resolve to create superior value for their customers. Companies like Amazon, John Lewis, SouthWest Airlines, USAA, Zappos… Then are the rest – those that talk the talk and lack the fierce resolve to honour their word. Their words, our words, are cheap.

The real test of integrity is?

The real test of integrity, honouring one’s word, comes when the ROI of keeping one’s word is negative. For an organisation the real test of integrity shows up when the cost of honouring one’s word directly and negatively impacts the short term numbers: revenues and profits. And when the cost is a loss of face even ridicule. I think back to Warren Buffet sticking to his way of investing-doing business during the tech-internet boom.

Here’s the core point when it comes to integrity and honouring one’s word. Those who recognise the critical importance of integrity (as a positive phenomenon) would never do an ROI calculation once they have given their word.  For these people honour one’s word is  matter of principle not expediency. People with such deep relatedness to their word get that integrity is not a nice to have. No, they get that integrity is basis of workability and performance – of our lives, our relationships, our communities, our organisations, our societies, our world.

What is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth integrity?

Enough said, now I want to share with you this article that I read  and which got me present to what is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth a strong relationship to our word.  Here is what struck me about this real life WWI story:

  • Capt Robert Campbell had been languising in Magdeburg prisoner of war camp for two years;
  • He received word that his mother was dying of cancer;
  • He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II, begging to be allowed home to visit her one final time;
  • The Kaiser granted his request, allowing him two weeks leave, and did so on Capt. Campbell’s word as an Army officer;
  • Capt. Campbell returned to Kent (England) in December 1916, spent time with his mother and returned to the prison camp (keeping his word to the Kaiser), and was held there until the end of the war (1918).

I say that this is possible only in an age where cultural practices call us to be our word. When we are called to be our word, our enemy can grant us leave trusting that we will honour our word. We in return are called upon to honour our word. As the author of the article says:

“Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners. What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany. The British could have said to him ‘you’re not going back, you’re going to stay here’.”

Imagine what level of performance would be possible if the people in your organisation were committed to honouring their word. Imagine what kind of relationships would be possible with customers if the people in your organisation – Tops, Middles, Bottoms – were committed to honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

If you want to explore integrity at a deeper level

If you find yourself drawn to this conversation on integrity then I encourage you to listen to this 2 hour talk on integrity by Professor Michael Jensen

What Kind of Customer Experience Builds Genuine Loyalty?

What is the word that best describes or points out the fundamental context/orientation that underpins business as usual?  It occurs to me that the word is “taking”.  Taking as much as possible from the customers.  Taking as much as possible from employees. Taking as much as possible from suppliers, Taking as much as possible from the community. Taking as much as possible from the planet…..

From the context of taking you get personalised emails and direct mail that does not show up as personal. From this context of taking you get the incessant focus on replacing human customer service with self-service and the switch from skilled staff to unskilled and cheaper staff. From this context of taking you get the focus on upselling, x-selling, and increasing wallet share.

I have yet to find any meaningful and enduring relationships that are based on taking. Where the context of taking is present all that shows up is taking. And people coming up with ways of protecting themselves from being taken. This is not the case for giving.

Where actions flow from a context of giving then it is possible to arrive at symbiotic relationships. Symbiotic relationships are ones where each party brings something of value to the other such that both benefit. It occurs to me that the strongest relationships tend to be symbiotic. Symbiotic relationships start with one party giving – giving something of genuine value to the other party.

Why are so many companies struggling to generate meaningful-enduring relationships with their customers despite their investments in all kind of customer stuff? Why is it that a genuine shift towards a customer centred orientation is so difficult? I say it is difficult because all this effort and investment arises from a context of taking.  Whilst this may not be obvious to the people in the company it is obvious to customers – our bodies can tell the difference between those who care for us and those who do not.

Allow me to share an example two example with you. Examples that will illustrate the difference between taking and giving.  Let’s start by looking at the taking orientation.

This week I brought a training course. To make the sale happen the supplier offered a 10% discount amounting to £100 and threw in some extras. Given that it is summer and there is less demand for the course it makes perfect sense for the supplier. And it showed up as an attractive discount for me given that I was going to buy the course with or without the discount. Did this discount build any gratitude, any relationship, any loyalty? No. I am clear that the discount served the needs and interests of the supplier.

Are there any companies that excel at giving?  It occurs to me that giffgaff, a mobile network provider, is one such company. Earlier this month I got a email from giffgaff letting me know that the best tariff for me was the £7.50 tariff. By providing me this information giffgaff gave me the choice of switching from the £10 tariff. I didn’t switch tariffs. Nonetheless, I am delighted with giffgaff – I am delighted that giffgaff is practicing what it preaches, that the folks at giffgaff are living their values.

Let’s take a moment to look at my experience upon receiving the email. First, surprise. Second, delight. Third, gratitude. Fourth, satisfaction in having chosen giffgaff. Fifth, loyalty validated and cemented.  Sixth – advocacy as in writing this post.  Put differently, giving by giffgaff has called forth giving by me. I should point out that it is not just me.  My wife has been telling a similar story to her circle of friends and colleagues.

The lesson? I say genuine-meaningful-enduring relationships are built upon mutual giving. I say you cannot build such relationships from a context of taking – the context that underpins business as usual.  I say that as human beings we are always on the lookout for people and organisations that are trustworthy and on our side – looking after our best interest.

It occurs to me that if the people in companies pursuing customer experience, customer-centricity, even customer obsession, were to focus on giving and not clever ways of taking then they would have more success in fostering customers who are genuinely loyal.

What do you say?

At Your Service and With My Love

This is personal post and a philosophical one. If you consider yourself a hard-headed business type focussed on the bottom line, nothing but the bottom line, then I suggest that you stop reading now.  If you are open minded then it is possible that this post will find a listening in you.  Let’s start.

Shopping with my mother

My mother is elderly.  She finds it hard to get up, she finds it hard to move about, she finds it exhausting to go up  stairs, she has to be careful coming down the stairs…. She needs help buying the weekly groceries.

This week, I was with my mother for a day and took her on her weekly shop to her favourite grocery store. Whilst there, I had to put patience into the game. Let her walk slowly, let her take her time.  Some of the products were to low for her so I bent down picked them up and let her touch them to see if they were good enough for her.  Her eyesight is not that good and she struggled to read the prices. So I read out the prices for her.

I also found myself protecting her. How exactly? There were many people in this small supermarket and they were in their own worlds: busy focussing on their tasks, rushing by, and oblivious to the needs of an old lady.  More than once I stood between my mother and someone’s trolley or brisk – shoving – walk.  Finally, we got to the cashiers till and stood in line.

An old man struggles with his shopping

There was an elderly man in front of us. His hand-held shopping basket was full. He found it hard to carry so he placed it on the floor while he waited for his turn. When his turn came  he bent down and started taking one item at a time from the basket and putting it on the conveyor belt. Just watching him I got his situation. I felt for him as one human being for another fellow human being.

So I walked up to him, looked him in the face, smiled and said “Allow me to help you with this!” Then I picked up his basket from the floor and placed the contents on the conveyor belt.  The old gentleman had a huge smile on his face whilst saying “Thank you!” Someone standing in the queue, came up to me and said “It’s great of you to help out this old man. This just does not happen anymore.”  I replied, “Thank you. I was brought up to help those who can do with help.  This is my mum, she’s the one that bought me up that way.”

Now here is what gets me: the cashier saw the old man’s struggle and did nothing; many others standing around queuing saw the old man’s struggle and did nothing.  Where is our humanity?  Have we disconnected from our empathy – our natural way of being?  Have we locked up our natural compassion and thrown away the key? Is all our talk about service, experience, relationship simply empty talk?

Some questions to consider about business, about our lives

I have a deeper questions for you, me, us.  What are our lives about?  What are our businesses about?  What are our organisations about?  What is our society about?  Is selfishness, greed, and money-making the best that we can aspire to?  Is “profit maximisation” the most noble purpose that we can aspire to? Is that how we want ourselves and our age to be remembered?

If business, if Customer Experience, is merely the pursuit of profit maximization then count me out.  I am not inspired by that game.  And, I doubt that many people in your organisation are inspired by that game. How many people do you know that get up in the morning fired up by the idea of filling the pocket of nameless-faceless shareholders with gold?

I yearn to live a noble life: to make a contribution; to generate connection and touch lives; to contribute to co-creating a world that shows up as a kinder world – a world that works for all.  How about you?  Are you happy with a life, a tombstone, that reads “Here lies X s/he did a great job of maximising profits for shareholders.”

If you find yourself called to life a noble life, like the one that I have described then I’d love to hear from you, to know you better, to connect with you, to work with you if that is a possibility.

At your service and with my love

Maz

(e: maz@maziqbal.com)

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