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Do You Allow Your Employees The Space To Be Great With Customers?

What Happened to the Human Touch?

Think back to your last encounter with an employee of a retail store? Did that encounter meet your expectations? Did that encounter leave you ‘uplifted’ in some sense?  Did that encounter, elevate your view of your fellow human beings?  Did it make you feel good about this race of beings who call themselves human beings?

My suspicion is that your last encounter with the employees of a retail store showed up as rather mechanical. The human touch and the sense of aliveness that comes with the human touch was not present. And in not being present, all that took place was an interaction between you and the employee.  The kind of interaction that can be and is being replaced by digital technologies.

Have you wondered why it is that so many retail store employees show up as lacking the human touch?  What have you identified as the core causes?  Did you come to the conclusion that the retail store staff don’t care about customers? Perhaps you thought to yourself that these employees are lazy, want to do the minimum, take no pride in their work.  Did you determine that they simply do not have the soft skills?  Perhaps you concluded that they lacked training and so should be trained in customer service skills.

Are retail employees given the space to be great with customers?

If this is your position then I invite you to consider this question: are retail employees given the space to be great with customers?  Is it possible that retail employees want to do a good job, they want to be engaged in what they are doing, and they want to treat customers well. And yet often they find that they are not given the space to do this. Allow me to illustrate through real examples.

I know a young woman that has been working in one of the UK’s well known high street retailers for over a month. This high street retailer has been established for some time and tends to have a loyal customer base.  And this retailer stresses the importance of customer service. Let’s call this young woman (Miss).

One day, after only about a week in her job, Miss was called over by a customer. The customer was on old woman (70+).  The old woman was carrying a few bags, trying to get hold of her purse, and struggling to stay upright. The old woman asked Miss to help her. Miss provided the help that the old woman asked for: help her steady herself, help her walk over to the cashier, help her get her purse out of her handbag…..

The customer was grateful for the help that she received. She told Miss that. Miss was pleased with the way that she had conducted herself in helping the customer. What was her reward?  She was told off for breaking company policy. What policy?  The policy against touching customers. She was told that she should not have put her arm around the old woman to steady her. She was told that she should have simply walked the old woman to the nearest counter. And there the customer could have steadied herself.  When Miss explained that it had been necessary to put her arm around the old woman she was simply told that it was against company policy.

A week or so later Miss was stopped by another customer, an older man in his 60s. This customer could not find the clothes he was looking for. Miss told him where they were and offered to take him there. Once there, the customer asked for Miss help-advice in selecting certain products. Miss gave the help that this customer asked for. In all this encounter lasted  around 30 minutes. In that time Miss had learned a lot about the customer (articulate, lost his wife, son gone to Australia, lonely…) and had shared some of her life that was relevant to the conversation.  For most of this time, Miss was worried that management would tell her off for spending too much time helping one customer.  What to do, do what the customer is asking for? Or to make an excuse, walk away, and safeguard her job? Miss chose to stay and finish helping the customer.

Once the customer had completed his shopping, Miss walked him to the cashier.  At the cashiers desk the customer thanked her, wished her well, and gave her a hug. It occurred to Miss that the right thing to do was to reciprocate the hug. Even just a little touch on his shoulder to say ‘thank you’. Instead, Miss found herself standing still, arms hanging by her sides, mindful of the company policy, and fearful of what management would say. It showed up awkward for her and she is sure that it must have showed up as cold-distant-awkward to the customer – as if he had done something wrong. That was not the experience Miss wanted the customer to remember.

Reflections

It occurs to me that this is the way to turn human beings into automatons, drive the human touch out of the retail environment, and thus negate the one lever retail stores have to differentiate themselves against e-tailers: the human touch.  Look if social business means anything meaningful then it means this: putting our humanity into the game of business and there is nothing more human than the genuine human touch.

Next time you and I come across an employee that is going through the motions, it may be worth suspending our judgement and not blaming the employee. It may be more useful to look at the broader system in which the employee is embedded. And looking at this system, the smarter question may be: what is it about the broader system that calls this employee to turn and up and go through the motions as opposed to put himself fully into his job and thus show up with aliveness?

The Power of Essential Integrity In A World Where Integrity Is Lacking

You are most effective when you act out of essential human values. When you behave with integrity, you use the challenges in your life to express your higher self. You might not always achieve success, but you can always behave honourably……

Essential integrity allow you to develop strength, inner peace, and self confidence. It acts like a climbing harness, catching you when the challenges of the world prove too arduous. When you trust this harness, you feel more enthusiasm and less fear during the climb.

Essential integrity provides the secret to achieving happiness in a world where you will inevitably end up losing all your possessions – even your life and the lives of those you love.

- Fred Kofman, Conscious Business

I say that essential integrity is also the access to living the brand promise, treating employees and customer right, and cultivating enduring-meaningful relationships with all stakeholders including customers. Think Amazon. What does Amazon do amazingly well? Live the Amazon mission (of being the Earth’s most customer-centric company) by keeping its promises to its customers.

I thank you for listening to my speaking. I am grateful that you exist and that in your listening my speaking finds fertile soil. I thank you for reaching out to me and letting me know that my speaking, my existence makes a difference to your existence. What is present between me and you is love.

Customer Service, Customer Experience, Customer-Centricity: Just Fluff?

Is Customer Experience just fluff?

Is all this talk of customer service, customer-centricity and customer experience merely fluff? That is the question that someone put to me recently. Allow me to answer that question from a practical perspective – lived experience at the coal face.

Imagine you are in this situation

Imagine that you review your Top 10 accounts and find that one of these accounts has been one of your longest  customers. And this customer makes up a significant portion of your revenues and profits.  You are grateful for the contribution that this customer makes to your business. And you have a problem to deal with and a decision to make.

Looking into this customer it occurs to you that if you can persuade this customer to move from their existing solution to one of your latest solutions you can cut the customer’s monthly bill by half.  The cost of doing this is obvious: substantial loss in revenue and profitability. The benefit?  There is no obvious benefit.  So the question is what to do? Should you leave the situation as it is and hope for the best? Or do you choose to contact the customer and spell out how the customer can save money?

Being unsure about what to do you consult with your customer strategy consultant. Together you look more deeply at the situation and you come up with following:

1. The customer got a significant saving when the customer switched to your business many years ago. Since then the market has changed mainly through new technology that has made available lower cost solutions.

2. The customer has not complained nor asked you to come in and give advice on how to save costs or help decide which solution best meets the customer’s needs.

3. The customer is ‘out of contract’ and has been for sometime now. You are not sure that the customer even knows that this is the case.

4. Another supplier could approach this customer and offer to cut the customer’s costs by half. If that were to happen then you might lose this customer. Or you might have to re-bid for the business to keep it.

5. Right now your business needs as much revenue and profit as it can produce. And talking to this customer and offering a solution that cuts billings by 50% does not show up as smart.  You are not sure the Finance Director will support such a move.

What choice would you make?

Given this information, what is the smart thing to do? What is the right thing to do? What would you do if you were the CEO of this business?

Are you tempted to continue just as you are?  Are you tempted to let things be? Are you tempted to take the least risky route?  Are you tempted to do that which shows up as being the least hassle, and the most comfortable course of action?

Would you say to yourself something like “Now is not a good time to make revenue and profit sacrifices. Besides the customer is responsible for looking after his own interest and finding the best solution for his needs. In any case the customer has not made any complaints or asked for any price reductions which means that the customer is happy. It’s best to leave things as they are. I am sure that we can match the offer any other supplier makes. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”?

Context-structure drives behaviour: why there is plenty of talk and little real action

Now you know how it is that there is so much talk about customer-centricity, customer relationships, customer experience, customer service, and customer obsession and so little real-effective action. Now you know what Robert Fritz is pointing at when he says “Structure drives behaviour”. Put differently, we are always embedded in a specific context-situation and this context-situation has powerful impact on the choices we make. To go against the prevailing context-situation requires profound courage especially when you have taken over and are running a sound established business. You do not want to be the one that fails and is ridiculed, the one that loses his reputation, his status.

Please note that rather than blame people – Tops, Middles, Bottoms – it is more ‘profitable’ to look at the context-situation that is shaping the behaviour of Tops, Middles, and Bottoms. And it is true that Tops have more leverage over influencing-shaping changes, even transforming, the context-situation and thus enabling breakthroughs in performance.

The critical importance of courage: daring to be different, to take the road less travelled

Some do put courage into the game of business and life. They are the ones, if successful, build great companies. Look behind the scenes of customer experience exemplars (John Lewis, USAA, Amazon, Zappos, Apple, Zane’s Cycles) and you will find one or more people that went against the taken for granted rules of the game.

Shiny Objects and Stupid Practices Won’t Make You a Customer Loyalty Leader

Imagine coming across a car that grabs your attention – in particular you are taken with the handling and performance of the car.  So you take a look at this car and identify the features that contribute to or help shape the performance of this car.  Having done so, you set about adding those features – bigger tyres, different exhaust system, different engine – to your car. How likely is it that you car will generate the kind of performance that you are after?  How likely is it that your car won’t even start and if it does the performance will be less than it was before you added the ‘shiny objects’?

Given that so few of us would be this stupid in the domain of cars why is it that so many are this stupid when it comes to the organisational domain?  Why is it that so many organisational people take ‘shiny objects’ or ‘best practices’ and start adding them to their organisation in the expectation that they will replicate the success of high performing organisations?

Can you take this cherry picking approach to Customer Experience and customer loyalty? Can you just tack on a veneer of Customer Experience to your organisation and thus cultivate customer loyalty? Can you tack some Customer Experience ‘shiny objects’ (almost always these involve technology) and ‘best practices’, here and there in your organisation, and reap the benefits that come with a loyal customer base?  No!

I want to take you back to 1993 and the wise word of Frederick Reichheld:

Building a highly loyal customer base cannot be done as an add-on. It must be integral to a company’s basic business strategy. Loyalty leaders like MBNA are successful because they have designed their entire business systems around customer loyalty. They recognize that customer loyalty is earned by consistently delivering superior value ….. Designing and managing this self-reinforcing system is the key to achieving outstanding customer loyalty.

When a company consistently delivers superior value and wins customer loyalty, market share and revenues go up, and the cost of acquiring and serving customers goes down. Although the additional profits allow the company to invest in new activities that enhance value and increase the appeal to customers, strengthening loyalty generally is not a matter of simply cutting prices or adding product features. The better economics mean the company can pay workers better, which sets off a whole chain of events. Increased pay boosts employee morale and commitment; as employees stay longer, their productivity rises and training costs fall; employees’ overall job satisfaction, combined with their knowledge and experience, leads to better service to customers; customers are then more inclined to stay loyal to the company; and as the best customers and employees become part of the loyalty- based system, competitors are inevitably left to survive with less desirable customers and less talented employees.

Does Your Business Emanate the Warmth of a Cool Fluorescent Light?

I recently read Setting The Table by Danny Meyer. This book shows up for me as inspiring, useful and entertaining. In this post I want to share with you a few passages from this book and my thoughts on these passages. In the process I question the value-power of Customer Experience.

What gave rise to Danny’s way of showing up in the world?

In France we usually stayed in low-key, family run inns where the welcome felt loving and the gastronomy was exceptional.  Those trips left a lasting impression. The hug that came with the food made it taste even better! That realisation would gradually evolve into my own well-define business strategy……..

Take a look at your business, your organisation and ask yourself whether your welcome occurs as loving and your ‘product’ as exceptional as experienced by your customers. How did you fare? I say many, if not most organisations, have huge room for improvement here.

Does genuine customer-centricity lie at the heart of Danny Meyer’s business strategy?

The heart of Danny Meyer’s business strategy is being on the customers’ side. Here is how he puts it:

Hospitality is the foundation of my business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side……. Hospitality is present when something happens for your. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions for and to - express it all.

I invite you to take a look at the policies and practices of your organisation and assess how your organisation rates on the for and to dimensions. If your organisation is like the multitude of organisations you are likely to find that your organisation is not hospitable. Put differently, you are likely to find many instance of to and few of for if you look at your organisation through your customers’ eyes.

Is there power in distinguishing between hospitality and service?

When we make new distinctions new worlds of possibility open up for us. Danny Meyer has generated such a distinction and living it has been the source of his success.

Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of the product makes its recipients feel…… To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.

My question for you is this, has your organisation invented new distinctions that open up new possibilities? Or are you stuck in the taken for granted and common distinctions of your industry?  I say that everything starts with inventing new distinctions. Lets take the area of customer service. What happens when you invention the distinction ‘customer love’ and contrast it with ‘customer service’? Notice ‘customer love’ cannot be collapsed into ‘customer service’. Why? Something new-fresh is born with ‘customer love’.  The distinction ‘customer love’ calls forth a very different way of being-showing up in the world to ‘customer service’.

Incidentally, I say that there is no power, no vitality, no freshness, and no possibility in the distinction ‘Customer Experience’. This distinction has been made empty and meaningless by the way that it has been embraced. I’ll let you chew on that and get back to me if you disagree.

Do most businesses delivery plenty of light but no warmth? 

I love the way that Danny Meyer uses concrete metaphors to make instructive points.  Here is one that is particularly valuable and in line with the lamentations of Colin Shaw:

Imagine if every business were a lightbulb and that for each lightbulb the primary goal was to attract the most moths possible. Now what if you learned that 49% of the reason moths were attracted to the bulb was for the quality of its light (brightness being the task of the bulb) and that 51% of the attraction was to the warmth projected by the bulb (heat being connected with the feeling of the bulb).

Its remarkable to me how many businesses shine brightly when it comes to acing the tasks but emanate all the warmth of a cool fluorescent light. That explains how a flawless four-star restaurant can actually attract far fewer loyal fans than a two or three star place with soul.

How does your organisation fare on the light-warmth scale?  And in your Customer Experience efforts are your  business cases and people focussed on improving the light or the warmth?  From what I have seen, and what Colin says, it occurs to me that the bulk of Customer Experience efforts are focussed on the light.

Does your organisation lack soul?

It occurs to me that the distinction ‘with soul’ is worth savouring. I invite you to ask yourself how many businesses show up in your experience as showing up ‘with soul’?  When was the last time you experienced a product ‘with soul’? Or the last time you were served ‘with soul’? What about the last time you came across marketing literature ‘with soul’? When was the last time you came across a salesperson ‘with soul’?

I say that most workplaces and most brands lack soul. And the challenge is for these organisations to put soul back into workplaces and brands. It occurs to me that even that is not enough. It occurs to me that the true challenge is for us to show up ‘with soul’ each and every day and collectively put soul back into the game of business.  What do you say?

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