What Customer Experience Paths Are Organisations Taking?
It occurs to me that under the Customer Experience umbrella one can pursue several distinctive paths. What might these paths be?
One there is the lets suck less path. This almost always involves looking at way of reducing customer effort at specific touchpoints e.g. call-centre, or specific customer interactions e.g. when buying something. Arguably some, perhaps even most, of the effort that the UK government has put into its digital services programme is about sucking less, reducing customer effort, and in the process decreasing costs.
Two, there is the data-technology path. Let’s make use of the latest technologies (internet, social, mobile, mobile apps, kiosks, marketing platforms..) to do interesting/sexy stuff. And in the process collect-harness data on the end consumers – who have to date been unidentifiable. Take a look at just about any high profile B2C brand. For me, several automotive brands come to mind immediately. This is the path pushed by the technology vendors and the more IT oriented consultancies.
Three, there is the customer journey / business integration path. By this I mean lets glue up the organisation – business units (online, offline), interaction channels and business processes – so as to provide a harmonious (as a result of the integration) customer experience. What is in it for us? Higher revenues (customer stick around more, attract new customers through word of mouth, and existing customers buy more) and reduced operating costs. A great example of this is the John Lewis Partnership in the UK.
Is this all there is? Making that which is, work better? And using the latest shiny technology to collect data on customers, potential customers, and push out marketing messages? Is this the extent of the possibility of Customer Experience?
What Is The Truest / Fullest Expression of Customer Experience?
Bring new light to what life might be.
- Hugh MacLeod
I say that the true-fullest possibility that is inherent in Customer Experience is that of bringing new light to what life might be. Think Amazon. Have the folks at Amazon not brought new light what the experience of searching for, finding, reviewing and purchasing products might be? Have they not set the benchmark for what constitutes an online store and the associated experience?
Think Apple. Some say Apple is phone company now given that this is where the bulk of revenues, profits and growth is at for Apple. How did it get that way? Did not the folks at Apple ‘bring new light to what life might be’ with a touchscreen intuitive (to use) phone? And is it not that possibility that has been pursued consistently such that few of us would now consider being apart from our smartphones?
Think First Direct. Did the folks there not bring new light to what telephone and online banking might be?
Think The John Lewis Partnership. Did the folks there not bring new light to what life might be for the folks that work in the business and those who are served by those who work in the business? The genuine partnership model were they are no employees. Only partners, who partner with one another to deliver great service to customers.
Think giffgaff. Have the folks at giffgaff not brought life to what life might be like for customers of mobile phone networks: life as a community? The experience of membership, of community, of being in it together, of participation, of loyalty, of honest dealing between network and its customers?
It occurs to me that the folks that were at the helm of these companies were pursuing a vision of what life might be. Not just in the pursuit of making the numbers. They chose to tread the bold path rather the safer one of incrementalism or following the latest fashion. They led in the truest sense of leading: the invented a possibility, they enrolled people into that possibility and got busy giving birth to the unborn: what life might be.
I am finding myself becoming more and more dissatisfied with Customer Experience as practiced. Why? Because what calls me is the possibility of ‘bringing new light to what life might be': honouring, enriching, elevating, the life of my fellow human beings. Perhaps my interest is in innovation rather than Customer Experience. Or perhaps my interest is in innovation in the form of the total customer experience : Customer Experience Innovation. What about you?
Some time ago I found myself in a workshop listening to and observing that which was occurring. As time flowed onwards and my existence kept ebbing away, i found myself sad, deflated. Here were a group of intelligent people who were charged with charting the future of their organisation. And that future included the label of ‘a customer-centric organisation’. There was much talk about customer obsession, trust, customer experience innovation etc.
So how is that I found myself sad and deflated? I found myself present to that which did not appear to show up for the rest of the team. What was I present to? The following says it as well as it can be said:
We construct realities and then forget we were the ones that constructed them. When our relationship with reality has a kind of “is-ness”or “fixed-ness” to it, – it limits what’s possible and allows only for options like explaining, trying to fix, resisting or accepting. The answer to the question, what does it mean to be human, gets looked at only through that lens. The movie The Matrix says it well: “Welcome to the desert of the real.”
- Gale LeGassick, Landmark Education
Time and again, I find myself in meetings and workshops where the talk is lofty yet where the course of action is merely reasonable. What magnitude of possibility lies in a reasonable course of action? Reasonable possibility. What kind of possibility is that? More of the same and results which are merely reasonable. What is another word for reasonable? Average.
The access to new realms of possibility and the generating of extraordinary results lies in the unreasonable. Unreasonable given the taken for granted “is-ness” yet not at all unreasonable when one lets go of the cage of “is-ness”. It occurs to me that if there was a master of ‘reality distortion’ it was Steve Jobs. Which may explain why it was that he was the source of new worlds of possibility and extraordinary accomplishment.
It occurs to me that the deeper reason that so few organisations innovate – in any dimension – is that the folks who are doing the innovating are reasonable folks taking reasonable courses of action. What is more reasonable than going for the ‘low hanging fruit’? Or sticking to the proven methods? Or involving only the people that have proven themselves to be good team players and safe pair of hands?
Innovation is not simply a matter of process / methodology. Nor is it a matter of tools and techniques. At its heart innovation, and that is just another word for transformation, is a matter of being: the being of the folks in the organisation, and the being of the organisation as a whole. Only those whose being is ‘unreasonable’ have access to generating innovation and transforming business.
Put simply: plodders do not cause innovation or transformation, they simply plod along no matter what tools and techniques you put in their hands.
The accessing to innovation / transformation? Leaders: those who are ‘unreasonable’ enough in their being to put their very being at stake to bring forth, into the world, the ‘unreasonable': new worlds of possibility.
This post got published before I intended to publish it. Sorry for this oversight. I have now completed it as intended and am republishing it. I apologise for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.
What do B2B technology vendors sell?
No, it is not the technology. Think again, what do B2B technology vendors sell? They sell dreams that speak to a fundamental human need. What dreams? Dreams of control-mastery-domination over the ever flowing, every morphing, character of a process we turn into a noun: life.
What need do these dreams take root from and speak to? The need for safety and security. At some fundamental level we get that nature is indifferent to our survival and wellbeing. To deal with this anxiety we embrace anything that provides the illusion of safety-security. The Greeks embraced the Gods, we embrace technology and the latest technofix.
I notice that the big data and analytics space is hot right now. It is the latest technofix being pushed by the B2B technology vendors. It occurs to me that this technofix is designed to speak to those running large enterprises – especially those who are higher up and divorced from the lived experience of daily operational life at the coal face.
What I find astonishing is that so few actually ask the following two questions:
1. “What kind of a being is a human being?”
2. “What kind of a culture is human culture?”
What is the defining characteristic of human beings?
Allow me to illustrate by share a story I read many years ago:
Psychologist: John, you have been referred to me by the authorities. They tell me that you think that are dead. Is that right? Are you dead?
John: Absolutely, I died a little while back. I am dead.
Psychologist: How interesting! You died a little back. Yet here you are talking with me. And I am not dead. So how is it that you are dead and I am not dead, yet here we are talking?
John: Beats me how this works or why it is happening. I know that I am dead.
Psychologist: John, I have an idea. Do dead people bleed?
John: Don’t be ridiculous! Everyone knows that dead people don’t bleed!
The psychologist suddenly reaches over and cuts John’s hand with a knife. Both of them are looking at John’s hand. Blood, dark red blood, is seeping through the cut. The psychologist looks at John with the look of satisfaction, of victory. Let’s rejoin the conversation.
Psychologist: John, do you see that blood on your hand? How do you make sense of it? You say that you are dead. And earlier you told me that dead people don’t bleed.
John: F**k me, dead people do bleed!
This is not simply an amusing story. It is a story that captures the experience of a respected psychologist who has been dealing with many kinds of people, dealing with many kinds of problems, over a lifetime. This story capture a fundamental truth of the human condition.
It appears that to survive in the world as it is and as we have made it, we need to be deluded. We need to distort reality: to make life more predictable, to make our current situation lighter-better than it is, to see a future brighter than is merited by the facts, to see ourselves stronger, more capable, more influential than we are. Studies suggest that those of us who lack this ability to distort reality and delude ourselves end up depressing ourselves.
What Kind Of A Culture Is Human Culture?
Symbolic and ideological. Why? Because human beings just don’t cope well with the world as it is. So we get together into tribes. And the glue that keeps the tribe together is a particular way of constructing the world, a particular way of giving meaning to the world, and a particular way of interacting with the world. And when I speak world I include human being, and human beings; a human being is always a being-in-the-world as in always and forever an intrinsic thread in that which we call world.
The next question: which ideology do members of society espouse? The dominant public ideology. In the world of business this is that of scientific management and in particular reasoning and making decisions objectively – irrespective of the past, of tradition, of our personal interests and opinions.
A more interesting question is that about the actual behaviour of the elites, the Tops. What is it that the Tops actually do? They do that which protects and furthers their interests: their power, their status, their privileges, their wealth, their dominance. So insight and recommendations (whether from big data and analytics or through conventional methods) that are in line with these interests are heartily accepted and actioned swiftly and vigorously.
Any insights and recommendations that challenge the vested interests of the elite (Tops) are repressed at the individual level, belittled-disputed-ignored at the societal level. I invite you to read this article which can be summed up as the UK Government sacks the chair of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Why? Because the chair was insisting on the reclassification of drugs. What happened?
- The Advisory Council looked at the data (of harm to the individual taking the drugs and others affected by his/her behaviour) on drugs at the request of the UK.
On the basis of the data, the Advisory Council came up with the conclusion that “if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine.”
The drug rankings, associated findings and recommendations were ignored by the UK government. Why? Because they went against the government’s stance on drugs.
The chair of the Advisory Council challenged the UK government’s refusal to act on the recommendations of the Advisory Council. So the appropriate UK Government minister sacked him.
What Does The Future Hold for Big Data & Analytics?
If past behaviour is an adequate guide to the future then it is safe to say that technology vendors will get rich. And the business folks will have another layer of technology that they have to manage. One or two organisations may reap substantial benefits, the rest will be disappointed. Yet, this disappointment will not last long. Why? By that time the technology folks will have come up with the latest technofix!
I leave you with the following thoughts:
1. There are no technofixes to the kinds of social issues-problems we continue to face;
2. Incremental improvements lie in the domain of big data and analytics;
3. Breakthroughs lie in our ability to see that which is with new eyes – a shift in dominant concepts, dominant paradigm, dominant ideology, dominant way of seeing that which is.
Put differently, big data & analytics is a red herring for those who aspire to lead: to cause-create that which does not exist today. Managers, those whose horizon extends to daily operations and the next twelve months, may find big data and analytics useful – as long as it does not threaten the sacred cows of the Tops-Middles and the corporate culture.
I have been reflecting over 20+ years of experience centred on enabling, effecting, facilitating business change and improving business performance. During this time I have been involved with a whole range of management panaceas:
- business process re-engineering;
- management information systems;
- ERP systems;
- shared services
- knowledge management systems;
- kaizen, lean and six sigma;
- the internet;
- database marketing;
- permission marketing;
- relationship marketing;
- 1:1 marketing;
- customer relationship management;
- data mining and predictive analytics;
- organisational development;
- change management;
- leadership development;
- strategy and strategic planning;
- scenario planning;
- balanced scorecard;
- zero based budgeting;
- matrix organisations;
- customer experience;
- customer loyalty schemes;
- employee engagement;
- corporate social responsibility;
- social business;
- digital transformation …
What shoes up for me when I reflect on this experience?
I am present to the gulf between the promise of each of these ‘tools’ and the reality of that which showed up when these tools were introduced-applied in business settings. Rarely did the reality match up to the promise of these ‘tools’. Why? Were these ‘tools’ defective?
It occurs to me that few of these ‘tools’ are fundamentally flawed in themselves. The one that comes to mind is the area of knowledge management. There a huge gulf between information and knowledge. Knowledge management systems are great at holding information. They cannot ever hold-distribute knowledge. Knowledge is contextual, largely tacit and embodied. If you get this then you get that the premise of knowledge management systems is fundamentally flawed.
If most of these tools are sound then why has there been such a gap between the promise and the reality?
Take just one example: CRM. Why is it that whilst CRM systems have become essential part of the corporate infrastructure, they have not fulfilled on their promise: to drive marketing, sales and service effectiveness; and generate sound relationships thus contributing to higher revenues and profit margins?
Before I provide my answer to this question, I pose another question. Why is it that whilst so much is known about Steve Jobs (the way he went about doing what he did at Apple) there will never be another Steve Jobs? Why is it that you can copy Steve Jobs’ techniques and not generate the results that Steve Jobs generated? Why is it that pretty much all one needs to know about Zappos is widely available yet there is only one Zappos? For that matter, why is it that USAA is still in a league of its own?
Here’s my pointer to solving this riddle:
All we have is who we ‘are’, and this in turn shapes what we do. Being is sometimes though of as something intangible, abstract, or even ineffable, but it is actually quite real ….. Being is the context from which all of our thinking and actions spring, as opposed to doing, which is just a content that flows from the context.
Robert Hargrove, Masterful Coaching
The access to empowerment, customer-centricity, and innovation lies in being
Let me put this bluntly, the access to customer-centric organisations lies in being. Not in the ‘tools and techniques’ (the doing, the content). The same applies to cultivating a loyal, motivated, engaged, high performing workforce. And it is no different when it comes to innovation.
If empowerment, customer-centricity and innovation is not your being then all the ‘tools and techniques’ will make little difference. On the other hand if empowerment, customer-centricity, and innovation are your being then you will find or create all the ‘tools and techniques’ that you need as you need them.
There are people in leadership positions whose being is in tune with talk of enlightened leadership, customer focus, and empowerment. I dedicate this post to my friend Lonnie Mayne. I am clear that Lonnie’s being is a clearing for the best of our humanity and our greatness to show up. And as such I find Lonnie to be a source of inspiration.