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in the bottom of a coconut, just big enough for the monkey to slide its hand in., but not big enough for the hand to be withdrawn when it is clenched.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.
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.
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.