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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:

2014 Nunwood CX Leaders Table

 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 2)

In this post I continue the conversation I started in the last post. The focus of this conversation is the customer experience themes that Nunwood call attention to in their 2014 UK Analysis Report.

What Are The Primary Customer Experience Themes?

I shared one of these customer experience themes with you in the last one. So let’s start on that one and flesh it out.

1. Employees Come First, Customers Come Second

Let’s start this theme with a few paragraphs from the Nunwood report (bolding mine):

These excellent companies realise that value is created commercially and reputationally at the interface between the employee and customer – and it really does happen in that order…… So it is no accident that members of the top 10 also feature highly in the Sunday Times best places to work survey. 

As such, the management lesson for brands aspiring to join the top 10 is clear: those responsible for the employee experience need to be fundamental and genuine partners in building customer experiences. Internal values, behavioural frameworks, competencies, training plans and recruitment principles are fundamental determinants of CX success. 

 

I find myself in full agreement with that which Nunwood articulate. And I acknowledge Nunwood for talking straight and pointing out the Achille’s Heel of just about every Customer initiative (strategy, CX, CRM, customer service) that I have been involved in since 1999.  It continues to be an Achilles Heel because there is no listening for the soft stuff, the human stuff, and certainly not for treating employees right.  That which Nunwood is pointing out has been pointed out before. It even has a name: Service-Profit chain. 

If this is the challenge then what is the ‘solution’ that Nunwood proposes? Let’s listen (bolding mine):

…. HR are seen as playing a role in implementing some customer journeys, but are not genuine partners in the overall strategy. Putting in place a progressive customer governance, which unites marketing, operational and HR professionals, is an important consideration ….

Is that enough? Is it enough just to get the marketing, HR operational folks and let them cook up customer and employee experience excellence? No. Why not? Because technology plays such a critical part. Technology enables or constrains, it facilitates or hinders, it can liberate or enslave. So this is what Nunwood says (bolding mine):

… the CIO will also have representation in this group – as systems and technologies become a vital determinant of the kind of employee and customer experiences that these brands are seeking to forge.

2. The CX Champions Benchmark Themselves Against The Best Organisations In The World

Industries can be meaningful ways of looking at the business world. And  looking at and across the players in a particular bucket, category, can be a useful exercise – if you are financial analyst or the like.  When it comes to excellence in Customer Experience staying in these artificial silos is limiting. Why? Let’s listen to Nunwood (bolding mine):

…. experienced, well-informed consumers have expectations that are no longer industry-specific. A consumer’s experience with Amazon or Appliances Online resets their expectations for all digital experiences. The same for the purchase experience in Lush – for all retail experiences…… the excellent companies are simply following their customers in expanding their field of vision to discover what great looks like and then building that into the experiences they create, fuelling a constant cycle of setting and resetting expectations.

In Which Domains Are The CX Champions Shaping-Setting-Resonating With Customer Expectations?

1. Standing For Something Meaningful and Facilitating Values Based Buying

In an age where ‘God is dead’, an age of nihilism, an age where one can buy just about everything, what is it that many yearn for and cannot be bought? Meaning.  Let’s listen to Nunwood (bolding mine):

Lush and before it Body Shop, are indicative of a shift toward value based buying. The increased expectation that, not only are the products and services great, but they also bring with them some form of attached meaning. Consumers buy into what the firm stands for as much as its products.

Reading that paragraph, I find myself reminded by Simon Sinek. He has been saying pretty much the same thing for a couple of years. And using Apple to illustrate this thought.  If you haven’t watched his TED talk then I urge you to do so.

Just in case you think that meaning and values are only for the likes of Lush or the Body Shop then Nunwood has this ‘warning’ for you (bolding mine):

Marks & Spencers Plan A still strongly resonates with customers, as does the Waitrose green token that apportions local charitable giving. Conversely, Amazon’s reputational issues manifest itself in a slightly weakening …. customer experience. In 2014, customer’s expect ethics as standard. 

2. Ease Through Seamless Omni-Channel Integration

I prefer to do business with those organisations which make it easy for me to do business with them. Turns out my wife and children are very much like me. In fact, I have yet to come across anyone who will admit to preferring doing business with the folks that make it really hard to do business with them.  Here’s what Nunwood says (bolding mine):

John Lewis has set the benchmark for online retailing. Customers are empowered to purchase how they want, in the way that they want – without being pushed to low cost channels. First Direct works seamlessly across online and telephony, as does Appliances Online.

Here, it occurs to me that it is worth pointing out that First Direct is No 1 on the 2014 list of CX Champions. John Lewis is No 2. And Appliances Online is a new entrant at No 6. So making it easy for customers to do business with you through an integrated omni-channel experience makes some impact with/on customers.

3. Making It Easy For Customer To Quench Their Thirst For Useful Information

I have gotten so much into conducting some due diligence before buying that it has become an automatic reflex. Looks like there are many like me. Here is Nunwood again (bolding mine):

…. pre-purchase research has become its own form of entertainment as consumers educate themselves and each other. Amazon has led the way in equipping customers with a vast database of reviews, but Appliances Online has gone one step further, publishing reviews of its performance online, as have FirstDirect. 

If I had to sum all of this up I’d sum it up as follows:

  • Stand for something meaningful – that which resonates with you and your customers;
  • Provide solid products and services and ensure that you pass the Ronseal test;

  • Make it easy for your customers to do business with you by providing them with honest-useful information (that helps them in their buying decisions) and by ‘integrating your people-process-technology’ so as to provide an effortless omni-channel customer experience.

Enough for today. Let’s pick up this conversation in the next post where I propose to focus on highlighting some key features of the 2014 CX Champions.  I wish you a great weekend and thanks for 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 Do Tops Struggle With Customer Experience & Employee Engagement?

On Tops And Their Struggle With Customer Experience and Employee Engagement

Have you noticed that the folks who occupy the seats of power (‘Tops’) in organisational life struggle with ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Employee Engagement’? By that I am not pointing at the talk. Nor am I pointing at conceptual-intellectual understanding.  I am pointing at walking the path: ‘showing up and travelling in the world’ in a way that creates a context which calls forth the actions that cultivate meaningful relationships with customers and employees.

Why do Tops, in particular, struggle to embrace-embody that which it takes for an organisation to create-design-deliver the kind of experiences that call forth meaningful relationships with their customers, and their employees? In asking this question I wish to rule out the domains of psychology or morality. What interests me is structural factors: the underlying ‘structures’ that shape human behaviour pretty much irrespective of morality and personality.

What is your answer?  Hold that answer. Let’s first turn our attention to considerateness – the quality/state of being considerate.

What Is It To Be Considerate?

Language always leaves clues. So what does the English language suggest? Let’s take a look at the definition:

considerate

adjective

careful not to inconvenience or harm others.

“she was unfailingly kind and considerate”

Synonyms: attentivethoughtfulconcernedsolicitousmindfulheedfulobliging,

accommodatinghelpfulcooperativepatient,

kindkindlydecent,unselfishcompassionatesympatheticcaringcharitablealtruistic,

generouspolitesensitiveciviltactful

 

If you haven’t done so then I urge to look up each of the synonyms to get a rounded feel for the phenomena under discussion. Notice, what we are talking about here is a genuine concern for the wellbeing of others – our fellow human beings.  A working alongside-with others as opposed to over-against others.  Cooperation and accommodation and not domination or indifference.  What is the basis of considerateness? Is it not fellow-feeling? That you are human just like me and are worth of the same kind of consideration that I ask for, demand, for myself?

Considerateness: The Glue Of Long Term Relationships?

It occurs to me that the way of showing up and travelling in the world that we have named considerate is the access to cultivating relationships. And, importantly,  keeping these relationships in existence over the long-term. It also occurs to me that this way of being-in-the-world is central to human centred design. And that includes experience design: Customer Experience, and Employee Experience.

Now back to the Tops. If you are a Top then what kind of situation do you automatically find yourself in?  Let’s ask this question differently:  What is the privilege that goes with being at the top, a Top?  Is it not that as a Top you fully expect others to be considerate to you and your needs? Others that surround you and serve you show up and travel in a manner that is considerate of your status-needs-wishes-preferences. Is it not true that you are accustomed to be treated with considerateness by just about everybody that you encounter?

As a Top how do you treat others? Is it not that the default way of showing up and  travelling in the world, as a Top, is that of inconsiderateness towards others:

inconsiderate

adjective


thoughtlessly causing hurt or inconvenience to others.
“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

What I’m pointing out here is structural-situational factor. One that calls forth a certain mode of being in the world. In no way am I making a moral-value judgement. Nor am I making reference to psychology or personality types. What happens when you are a Top for long enough? You lose touch with the anyone, the everyman.  So your ability to listen to and respond with considerateness to the needs of others withers  – even if it was there to start with. Yet this very considerateness is essential to being attuned to the needs-wishes-preferences of customers and employees. And responded sensitively and on a timely basis so as to generate gratitude, engagement, and loyalty.

Special Treatment: Words Of Wisdom From James A. Autry:

I wish to end this conversation by sharing words of wisdom with you

I think I started maturing as a manager when I discovered that one of the oldest principles of organisational management was hogwash. That principle is stated in many ways, but the military guys used to put it best: “Nobody gets special treatment around here.” …. In the military, they might also say, “If we do this for you, Lieutenant Autry, we’ll have to do it for everyone.” I used to want to say, “No, sir, you could do it just for me.”

What I realise now is that the professed aversion to special treatment was all delusion anyway; people in every organisation ….. get special treatment all the time…… much of it has tilted towards “in” groups…. that kind of “special treatment” is favouritism and discrimination.

But there’s another kind of special treatment …… a manager’s willingness to bend the rules to accommodate every person’s specialness…. Some people do good work but are slow; some do fast work but are sloppy. Some are morning people; some do better in the afternoon. Some have children that cause schedule problems; some have elderly parents. Some need a lot of attention and affirmation; some want to be left alone to do their work. Some respond more to money, less to praise; some thrive on praise…… some are very bright; some are slow….. Some are men; some are women.

Who in the world could believe that all those special needs could be accommodated without special treatment? But it takes a lot of management courage to provide that special treatment…..

I’ve made exceptions to corporate rules to help get an employee’s family through the nightmare of overwhelming financial and emotional distress. I’ve made similar exceptions for employees needing assistance to recover from substance abuse…..

The road of special treatment is not without peril, and it makes day-to-day management much trickier and more time consuming. You must consider the impact on the group, the legal risks, and the questions of equity and justice, in addition to the record and commitment of the person involved. Then if at all possible, decide in favour of special treatment…….

When someone complains, just say, “Everyone gets special treatment around here.”

- James Autry, Love and Profit, The Art of Caring Leadership

I leave you to ponder considerateness and special treatment. It occurs to me that they are intertwined: being considerate involves providing special treatment when special treatment is called for – by the customer, by the employee.  What gets in the way of being considerate and providing special treatment? It makes the life of those in management harder. And ultimately, once you get beyond the rhetoric, the organisation is designed so as to be considerate to the needs of the Tops – not customers, not employees.

What Is The Access To Calling Forth The Best From Your People and Cultivating Authentic Customer Loyalty?

In the realm of business, first and foremost, I show up (for myself) and travel as a philosopher-strategist. One of the central concerns in philosophy used to be ethics: how to live well in this world with others. This has not been the case for quite some time and may account, to a large degree, to the way the world is and is not. One of the central pillars of strategy is focus: bringing to bear all your resources to the key leverage points at the right time/s.

Looking through the ethical and strategic lenses, I have been grappling with the question of performance and loyalty: what calls forth the best from the people who work in your business and what is he access to authentic customer loyalty? The kind without bribery, without the gimmicks. In my search I came across a wonderful book. Today, I wish to share with you certain passages that speak to me and may provide an answer to the question that I have posed here (bolding is my work):

Liberation Ethics

When people work in conditions of perceived unfairness and unkindness, they fall into a self protective mode. Like turtles, they crawl into their shells and hide. They’re not motivated to take positive risks, to dig deep inside to discover all their talents and bring those talents to bear in creative ways on the challenges of the corporate business. Their emotions are tinged by fear and resentment, and these negative feelings block the flow of positive emotional energy the could be putting to work in their daily activities…..

employees who feel honourably treated are most likely to pass on that honour and respect in their dealings with customers, potential customers, and vendors. Those who feel badly treated will quite often pass on some of that treatment as well to those outside the company with whom they have contact. And this can become a flash point for whether business is gained or retained. Most people find it difficult over the long run to buy even good products from bad or discourteous people. 

Relationships Rule The World

In the course of my life so far, I have become totally loyal to any number of businesses ….. because I felt well treated in each of these places, welcomed, honoured, and respected. Friendliness, kindness, genuine concern, that little extra touch, going beyond the call of duty – these are all exemplifications of basic goodness, applications of the moral dimension that often bring with them the result of loyal relationships and greater business success…

- Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Go ahead and develop a strategy, change the organisation structure, redesign processes, and implement the latest Customer Experience technologies.  And it occurs to me that if you don’t talk about, grapple with, and address the questions of liberation and basic goodness as exemplified by friendliness, kindness, fairness and genuine concern for the people in your business (those who work ‘within’ it), the people served by your organisation (customers), and the people impacted by your organisation (community, vendors, partners..) then you are unlikely to ever build a solid foundation that allows you to call forth the greatness of your people and cultivate enduring authentic relationships with your customers.

I know that this is a BIG ask. Sit in on counselling sessions and you will learn that almost every single one of us resists acknowledging, understanding, and dealing with that which really matters. We will do just about anything and everything except that which really matters: how we show up and travel in the world and in particular who we relate to and treat our fellow human beings including those closest to us.  And some folks do the difficult work and by so doing the live lives and make an impact in the lives of others that is uncommon.

I wish you a great day, thanks for listening. I welcome your thoughts, your experience on that which I have shared here today.

 

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