What Is Transformation?
For the purposes of this conversation, when I speak ‘transformation’ I am pointing at a radical shift in one’s way of being – as in one’s way of showing up and travelling in this world. If you are Christian, and know your Bible then think of the transformation (often called conversion) of Saul to Paul. What was intrinsic to this transformation? Was it not a letting go, a complete letting go, and embracing the unknown?
What Has Transformation To Do With Customer-Centric Business?
What has this conversation to do with all things Customer and especially customer-centric business? Everything. As I have said many times before a shift to showing up and doing business in an authentically customer-centric way requires a transformation: personal (Tops, Middles, Bottoms) and business (policies, practices, processes, tools).
a. What is the access to transformation?
What is the access to transformation at the individual (personal), and business (organisational) level? Allow me to share the following with you:
In some Asian countries there is a very effective trap for catching monkeys. A slot is made in the bottom of a coconut, just big enough for the monkey to slide its hand in., but not big enough for the hand to be withdrawn when it is clenched. Then you put something sweet in the coconut, attach it to a tree, and wait for the monkey to come along. When the monkey slides its hand in and grabs the food, it gets caught. What keeps the monkey trapped? It is only the force of desire and attachment. All the monkey has to do is to let go of the sweet, open its hand, slip out, and go free - but only a rare monkey will do that.
- Joseph Goldstein, A Heart Full Of Peace, Best Buddhist Writing 2008
OK, this Buddhism stuff shows up for you as ‘other worldly’ – unrealistic. So allow me to make it real for you.
b. The Transformation of Zappos Occurred in March 2003
Listen to Tony Hsieh talk about the early days of Zappos when the leadership team was struggling to find funding to keep Zappos going – the cash had run out (bolding is my work):
A month later, we still weren’t profitable. We still couldn’t raise funding.
But we had a decision to make.
How serious were we about this idea of making the Zappos brand be about the very best customer service? We had discussed the idea internally with our employees, and everyone was excited about the potential new direction.
But was it all talk? Or were we committed?
We hadn’t actually changed the way we did anything at Zappos yet. We did a lot of talking, but we weren’t putting our money where our mouths were And our employees knew it…..
For 2003, we were projecting sales to double, with about 25 percent of our overall sales coming from our drop ship business. The drop ship business was easy money. We didn’t have to carry inventory so we didn’t have any inventory risk or cash-flow problems with that part of the business. But we had plenty of customer service challenges.
The inventory feeds ….. from our vendors for our drop ship business were 95 percent accurate at best …. On top of that, the brands did not ship as quickly or accurately as our own WHISKY warehouse, which meant we had plenty of unhappy and disappointed customers. But it was easy money.
We all knew deep down inside that we would have to give up the drop ship business sooner or later if we were serious about building the Zappos brand to be about the very best customer service. We also knew that the bigger we grew, the more reliant we would be on the cash from drop shipping. There would never be a good time to walk away……
So we made what was both the easiest and hardest decision we ever had to make up until that point. In March 2003, with the flip of a switch, we turned off that part of the business and removed all of the drop ship products from our web site.
We took a deep breath and hoped for the best…..
We had to deal with our first test of our new direction right away. With a drop in revenue, cash was even tighter than before.
Now we had to figure out how to make next week’s payroll.
- Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness
Not easy is it? Which kind of explains why many organisations which talk about customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity are playing at the periphery: making process changes, buying-implementing technology etc. Which CEO or leadership team looks forward to taking a deep breath and hoping for the best?
If you are serious about cultivating genuine-meaningful loyalty between yourself and your customers then you have to open up your clenched fist. And let go of all the policies-practices-products-people that generate bad profits – profits made at the expense of your customers.
As Tony Hsieh says there is NEVER a good time to do this. So the best time to do that which goes with showing up and travelling the authentic customer-centric path is NOW! Why now? Get this, everything that ever happens, happens NOW. I know that this is not how it shows up for you, or me. And look into this, deeply, and you will see the truth of it. All action occurs in the present, NOW.
Here is where it gets interesting. There cannot be an organisational transformation unless it is preceded by individual/personal transformation; this individual/personal transformation has to start with the Tops – it is called leadership.
What is the subtitle of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness book? “A path to profits, passion, and purpose”. It occurs to me that the many with whom I speak show an avid interest in profits – increasing profits. Few show any interest in any purpose other than ego: self enrichment in its many disguised. Passion? Passion for great customer service, passion for great Customer Experience, passion for the genuine well-being of customers as fellow human beings? If you come across it then please share it with me.
I wish to acknowledge members of the ‘methodology police’, whom I met recently, for being the source of this conversation. Please note that for the purposes of this conversation I will use the terms formula, recipe, method, script, template interchangeably.
Is Success Reducible To A Formula/Recipe?
Is communicating with another reducible to a formula? Is relating and cultivating relationships with colleagues, clients, family and friends, reducible to a recipe? Does the co-creation of a ‘good’ customer experience yield to a predefined template? Does the successful implementation of a new CRM systems and the associated way of showing up and operating in the organisation yield to a specific method? Is great customer service reducible to a recipe? What about leadership: is the exercise of leading and leadership reducible to a formula?
YES. If I look at how it is that we show up and travel then it occurs to me that we operate on the basis that the answer is an unequivocal YES. Everything is reducible to a recipe: EVERYTHING. Which means that if the outcomes that we wish for are not showing up then the cause of the problem must be in one of the following domains:
- we are making it up as we go along as opposed to following a ‘proven’ formula;
we are not following the formula/method and as such we need to be manipulated (training, rewards, punishment) into following the one ‘proven’ formula; and
there is something wrong with the recipe, it is not ‘tight’ enough, or it is out of date.
Hence, our obsession in organisational worlds with the likes of processes and procedures, methodologies and methods, scripts, judgment-evaluation of people, criticism, praise, reward and punishment. With this deep rooted obsession we create a wide open clearing for all kind of charlatans to show up and sell their unique ‘secret recipes’ for success – in just any and every domain including the domains of Customer and Leadership.
What Constitutes The Deepest Lack Of Intelligence?
Is there a deeper lack of intelligence (stupidity) than seeking formulas/recipes for the major challenges of business, of education, of living and life? I say yes. What is the deeper stupidity? I say it is keeping our faith in the god like being of formula/recipe intact even when we have followed the formula/recipe and it has not generated the promised-desired outcome/s. Why do we do this? We do this because we grant, individually and collectively, divine status to formulas/recipes. Therefore, it makes sense to conclude that our understanding and/or application of the formula was at fault.
Words Of Wisdom
I invite you to listen to the speaking of one that shows up for me as speaking wisdom:
Once, several years ago, some friends and I enrolled in a cooking class taught by an Armenian matriarch and her aged servant. Since they spoke no English and we no Armenian, communication was not easy. She taught by demonstration; we watched (and diligently tried to quantify her recipes) as she prepared an array of marvellous eggplant and lamb dishes. But our recipes were imperfect; and try as hard as we could, we could not duplicate her dishes.
“What was it,” I wondered, “that gave her cooking that special touch?” The answer eluded me until one day, when I was keeping a particularly keen watch on the kitchen proceeding, I saw our teacher, with great dignity and deliberation, prepare a dish. She handed it to her servant who wordlessly carried it into the kitchen, to the oven and, without breaking a stride, threw in handful after handful of assorted spices and condiments. I am convinced that those surreptitious “throw-ins” made all the difference….
But what are these “throw-ins”, these elusive, “off the record” extras? They exist outside of formal theory, they are not written about, they are not explicitly taught. Therapist are often unaware of them ……. The critical ingredients are hard to describe, even harder to define. Indeed, is it possible to define and teach such qualities as compassion, “presence”, caring, extending oneself, touching the patient at a profound level, or – that most elusive one of all – wisdom?
- Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Pyschotherapy
Concluding Thoughts For Your Consideration
I invite you to consider:
That the guru does not even have to be a charlatan for charlatanry to show up. How so? In this example, the matriarch, was not aware of the “throw-ins” that were being added to her recipe by her assistant.
Where human beings are intrinsic to the game being played, the access to effectiveness (generating the desired outcomes) lies in a sensitivity-attunement to the context in which the game is being played.
Sensitivity-attunement to the context allows you to figure out and put into the game the “throw-ins” that make the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary.
It is our addiction to slavishly following formulas/recipes that is the biggest obstacle to being attuned and responsive to the context and throwing in the most appropriate “throw-ins” for that particular context in that moment;
Insisting on and slavishly following formulas/recipes (including processes, procedures, scripts, methods etc) is the most significant barrier to effectiveness in the human realm. And that includes the dimensions of Customer (customer service, CRM, customer experience) and of Leadership.
You may disagree. If that is the case then I look forward to hearing what you say.
2014 State of Customer Experience: Who Are UK’s 2014 Leaders And What Can We Learn From Them? (Part 3)
This conversation continues on from where the earlier one ended. As promised, I have been looking at what Nunwood has to say about certain brands. And find myself in a position to share with you the table that I have put together:
What Does It Take To Be A Customer Experience Excellence Leader?
Just about everyone I come across business is looking for the answer, the recipe, the formula for turning the ordinary into extraordinary, base metal to gold; Nobody has or makes the time to linger, to think and rethink, to grapple with, experiment, and finally arrive at a home made ‘solution’ to any serious challenge. So is there a recipe/formula for CX excellence?
If there is, then it is worth taking a look at First Direct as it is in top place in 2014 and has consistently been in the top 10. Here is what the folks at Nunwood say on the matter (bolding mine):
The First Direct formula is remarkably simple one, yet it has proved difficult to implement in other organisations: remove the barriers between customers and the bank; employ people who want to serve the customer and care about doing a good job; train them intensely and empower them to handle and resolve any issues brought to them by the customer.
What does this look like from a customer perspective? Let’s listen to a First Direct customer:
I was in Venice when my credit card was refused and it was quite stressful. I phoned First Direct and talked with a patient man with a great sense of humour who spent time talking to me about the holiday, acknowledged this this was a stressful thing to happen and worked methodically to sort thing out. I rarely phone First Direct as I can do almost everything online, but is was so important that when I needed them, they were unfailingly polite, human and ready to treat me as valued customer.
What Is It That Is Missing From The CX Game Of Excellence?
I have read the Nunwood report several times. And putting this report together with other reports and my lived experience I find myself thinking “There is no rocket science here!” and find myself in agreement with the author of the Nunwood 2014 UK CX report when they say (referring to First Direct) that the formula for CX excellence is a remarkably simple one. So why is it that so many brands fail to make any meaningful shifts/progress in CX excellence? Allow me to point at what occurs to me as ‘that which is missing the presence of which makes all the difference’ by sharing a personal story with you.
Earlier this week I was due to be at an important meeting in central London at 10:00. Seven people were counting on me to be there to ‘chair’ the meeting. I was counting on myself to be there to chair the meeting. The unexpected occurred on my way to the rail station. I found myself at a stand still on the road for 45 minutes or so. I took the next train – thirty minutes later than I had planned. This meant that my contingency was gone – everything had to work out just right if I was to make that meeting on time. I arrived at Paddington Station and made my way hurriedly toward the underground. Suddenly, I found my feet sliding, no control, left knee smacks into the hard tile floor, right leg twists awkwardly, the right ankle is in some pain. A helpful gentlemen helps me up. I recover and get that the floor has become an ice rink in some place (food for a future post). I walk slowly, in pain, towards the underground. The up escalator is out of action so I make my way up the stairs – slowly and awkwardly, in pain. I walk for several minutes to the underground entrance. It is closed. I ring both of my colleagues and the client to let them know that I am likely to be late.
Making my way to the taxi rank I notice a long queue and get that if I wait there I will not get to the meeting on time. So I make my way down the stairs and out of Paddington Station. Leaving the station, the rain falls down and I start getting wet. I walk away from Paddington station and towards central London. Why? I get that I have to get far enough away from the station to find an empty taxi. As I am walking I am in pain and mindful that I have to walk carefully on my sprained ankle. After walking for 5 – 10 minutes I find a black cab. I tell the cab driver that he is blessing, a Godsend. We arrive at the client’s office – five minutes after the meeting has started. What do I find? The meeting is on the sixth floor and all the lifts are out of service. What do I do? I embrace the pain, walk as mindfully and carefully as I can, and make my way up the stairs to the sixth floor. I chair the meeting, we do what needs to be done. Just after noon I leave and make my way home as I am in considerable pain.
What was it that allowed me to overcome a series of obstacles and considerable pain to honor my commitment? Absolute commitment to the commitments that I make: playing full out to honor my word. Ask yourself how often you find that kind of commitment when it comes to the CX realm. Now you have your answer to why it is that so few are CX Excellence Leaders and most are languishing in ‘no mans land’ of averageness.
Enough for today. In the next post I will bring this series of post on the Nunwood 2014 UK CX report to a close. I wish you a great day and thank you for your listening.
2014 State of Customer Experience: Who Are UK’s 2014 Leaders And What Can We Learn From Them? (Part 1)
Yesterday, I received one of the few publications I find worth reading. Which publication? The 2014 UK Analysis put together by Nunwood‘s Customer Experience Excellence Centre. In this series of posts, I will be sharing with you my take on this report and its findings and recommendations. Let’s start with the dominant themes.
Little Change In The State of Customer Experience Excellence From 2013
The foreword by Marketing Week is full of the kind of exaggeration-hype that goes with much of marketing:
With customer experience now firmly established as the main competitive battleground for ambitious leaders, this is a uniquely rich insight into the best practices needed for success…..
- Mindi Chahal, Features Writer, MarketingWeek
Did you get the clue? The clue lies in the adjective ambitious as in ‘ambitious leaders’. It turns out that of the 250+ brands surveyed by Nunwood only a very small number are ‘ambitious’. And as such little has improved overall as regards the state of customer experience excellence in the UK. Which kind of makes me question the claim that customer experience is now firmly established as the main competitive battleground. My experience is that whilst it is talked about, that is pretty much all that happens: talk.
What do the folks at Nunwood say on this matter? This is what they say (bolding is my work):
A minority of brands are shining every brighter …… These examples of brilliance are dimmed by the larger set of brands whose efforts have stalled. Either because they have hit cultural glass ceilings …… or the ambition of their leaders has failed to match the rising expectations of UK consumers … This has meant that across all 263 brands analysed the overall improvement in performance was less than 1%.
The Biggest Improvement In Customer Experience Excellence Has Occurred In The Financial Services Sector
Which sectors show an improvement? Three of them: financial services, entertainment & leisure, and travel & notes.
Which sectors are stagnant? Three of them: telecommunications, restaurants & food, and non-food retailing.
Which sectors have declined? Two: utilities, and grocery retailing.
Did the financial services sector make the 2.2% improvement due to benevolent-enlightened leadership? Or a new found love of the customer? Or was it because some teeth have been put into a regulator and regulation? Here is Nunwood’s take on the situation (bolding is my work):
The financial services sector sees the largest improvement in performance …. This is in no small part due to the burning platform created by the government, media and regulators. New FCA-mandated focus on customer outcomes … has led to massive investments and exhaustive leadership attention.
It occurs to me that here we have a clue as to why there has been little or no change in all the other industry sectors. Organisations and the Tops that lead them do not willingly stop screwing their customers and employees. And so switch from the easy and established way of making ‘bad profits’ to doing the hard stuff of generating superior customer value and thus reaping ‘good profits’. This kind of behaviour is arrested and weakened through a combination of effective regulation and sustained media pressure. Which may explain why it is that the utilities sector, which has been the weakest in terms of customer experience excellence has slipped further down the rankings. In my view-experience the Ofgem, the regulator for gas+electricity market, is about as toothless as you can get.
The Same Brands Continue To Shine And Some Shine Less Brightly
By now, I suspect that you may really want to know who the UK’s Customer Experience leaders are. Here are the top 10:
1. First Direct (bank without high street presence)
2. John Lewis (multichannel retailer)
3. QVC (tv based shopping channel)
4. Lush (retailer)
5. Amazon (online retailer)
6. Appliances Online (online retailer of appliances)
7. Waitrose (grocery retailer)
8. Nationwide (building society, financial services)
9. Specsavers (retailer)
10. M+S Simply Food (grocery retailer)
10. Your M+S (retailer)
Here are my take on this Top 10 list in comparison with 2013:
- Virgin Atlantic and Ocado have dropped out of the Top 10. Virgin is now at number 21, and Ocado just outside the Top 10 at number 12.
Appliances Online, Nationwide, and Specsavers are new to the Top 10. This is what Nunwood says about Appliances Online (ao.com):
A clear value proposition wedded to an excellent service culture sets the brand apart.
- Amazon continues its slide down the rankings here is what Nunwoods says:
Amazon …… continues to slip slightly in the rankings for the third year in a row, as consumers react to declining perceptions of its integrity and the performance of its delivery companies.
Waitrose ascends the rankings moving from being number ten (2013) to being number 7 (2014).
M+S (both Simply Food, and Your M+S) descend towards the bottom of the Top 10 in 2014.
My personal take is that Your M+S is a retailer in trouble. Management, probably in desperation, are bullying store managers. This then cascades down to the people on the shop flower. And in turn impacts the customer experience. So it will be interesting to see where Your M+S stands in the 2015 rankings.
The Secret of Customer Experience Success: Put Your Customers Second
You may have noticed that I insist on the need for and the critical importance of the human dimension: calling forth and putting into play the best of our humanity in order to orchestrate great relationships and generate great experiences. In short, to create a better world, a world that works for all: employees, suppliers, management, customers, shareholders, and the community.
More than once I have spelled out that the access to great customer experience lies through the folks that actually interact with and serve customers: the people working in the business and especially those who interact with and serve customers on a daily basis. Not technology! Technology can enable or hinder the customer experience. It is merely a tool.
Which means that there cannot be excellence in Customer Experience without excellence in Employee Experience. And these two have to be in tune with one another.
What does Nunwood say on the matter? Here is what Nunwood says (bolding is my work):
With only a single exception, the top 10 ‘Champion’ brands are characterised by their evangelical employees and superior cultures. Employees who are exceptionally proud of the brand they represent and the job they do each and every day for customers. Their culture plays a pivotal role in creating outstanding customer experience and they value that some culture first and foremost. In a very real sense, employees come first and customers come second.
Which is the single exception? I take it to be Amazon. And in the longer term this could be the undoing of Amazon.
Enough for today, I will continue this conversation in the next post. In that conversation I propose to explore the underlying factors that show a correlation with Customer Experience excellence. Until then I wish you the very best.
Why is it that I prefer not to business with a customer-centric business? Allow me to share my answer by referring to the UK grocery market. Which supermarket chain was applauded, by many, for its customer-centred way of doing business? Tesco. What was held responsible for fuelling this customer-centred way of doing business? The Tesco Club Card. Through this loyalty card, Tesco captured and made effective use of customer shopping data to grow revenues and optimise profits. In the process Tesco came from nowhere to became the world’s second largest retailer.
Where is Tesco today? Here is what The Economist said back in July 2014:
… on July 21st Tesco abruptly announced that Mr Clarke would be leaving his job, apparently prompted by a warning that profits in the first half of 2014 would come in “below expectations”. In June Tesco revealed a drop in same-store sales that Mr Clarke admitted was the retailer’s worst performance in 40 years….
Recession taught middle-class shoppers that discounters like Aldi and Lidl were cheap but not nasty; they spent some of the money they saved at higher-end grocers, such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer……
Tesco is faring badly. Its sales dropped by nearly 2% in the year to June while those of its closest rivals, Asda (which is owned by Walmart) and Sainsbury’s, rose by 3% or better. Despite his exertions, Mr Clarke failed to persuade consumers that Tesco offers better value than the discounters or quality to match the upmarket merchants.
Is this as bad as it gets? No. Here is what the Guardian newspaper stated in on the 22nd of September this year:
Tesco has suspended the head of its UK business and called in independent accountants and lawyers to investigate after discovering that its guidance to the City overstated expected first-half profits by about £250m….
Tesco shares fell almost 8% on Monday morning to an 11-year low of 212p, making them the biggest faller in the FTSE 100 index and wiping £1.5bn off the retailer’s market value. More than £6bn has been wiped off share value since 21 July, when the previous chief executive, Phil Clark, was ousted.
Why is it that Tesco is in such deep trouble? I say that Tesco has arrived at where it is at due to its customer-centric way of doing business. What do I mean by this? I mean that the Tops got fixated into harnessing the data yielded by the Club Card to get customers to part with more of their money in Tesco stores.
Was this done by offering customers superior products as in higher quality products? No. The products were middle of the road yet ways were found of selling these at higher prices through clever marketing and merchandising.
Was this done by providing superior customer service in the stores? No. Tesco cut back on the number of people working in the stores so it was not unusual for the customer to find that there was nobody around to help when help was needed or find long queues at the checkout tills.
Was this done through a superior shopping experience? No. Management chose not to invest in the stores or the shopping experience in the stores. As a result the stores become less and less attractive over time.
I prefer not to do business with a customer-centric business because the management of such a business is more likely to be focussed on extracting value from their customer base through a variety of clever manoeuvres than earning its keep through superior products (Apple, Waitrose), superior service (John Lewis, Zappos), low prices (Lidl, Aldi), or a combination of service and low price (Amazon).
If you are a customer and your supplier is touting customer-obsession then you might want to think about whether that is a good thing. Is the obsession with providing you with a superior product, superior value, and/or experience? Or is it an obsession with with finding clever ways of getting you to buy more, pay more for what you buy, and get less in return? You might want to keep in mind that which many remind me of: business is not altruistic.