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Why Aeroplanes Don’t Fall Out Of The Sky; Why Business Screws Customers and Hospitals Kill Their Patients

I invite you to ponder the following

  1. Why is it that commercial aeroplanes don’t fall out of the sky?
  2. Why is it that terrorism did not take root, establish itself, and grow in the USA/UK?
  3. Why is that it is rare for criminals to kill a policeman in the UK?
  4. Why is it that the bankers lied-cheated-stole, brought the western capitalist system to its knees, and prospered whilst the rest of society has been paying the price of their actions?
  5. Why is it that hospitals in the NHS have been killing their customers (the patients) for ten years (or so) despite whistleblowing (by doctors and nurses working in these hospitals) and complaints made to hospital management, the regulators, and the politicians?
  6. Why is it that employees have no voice in large organisations and domination-intimidation of the less powerful by the more powerful is rife in these organisation – public and private?
  7. Why is it that large established businesses, and those who lead-manage-run them, continue to screw (cheat, swindle) their customers?

What did you come up with?  I suspect that you came up with the standard excuses and explanations – this is what we do when we show up from the taken for granted way of seeing and explaining.

What shows up when I look beyond the accepted excuses and explanations? 

I invite you to put aside the standard, commonplace, complaints, excuses and explanations.  Instead I invite you to grapple with the question that I have posed in a zen like manner. What shows up for you?  When I grapple with this question this is what shows up for me:

  1. When a commercial aeroplane falls out of the sky it is clear-obvious that the aeroplane has fallen out of the sky. When such an aeroplane falls out of the sky people die and often there is carnage.  Loved ones grieve and demand answers. The media is on the scene and gives voice to the grief-loss of the loved ones and vividly displays the carnage.  All of which makes it unacceptable for commercial aeroplanes to drop out of the sky.  Put simply, commercial aeroplanes don’t fall out of the sky because we do not accept them falling out of the sky!

  2. Terrorism failed to get established in the USA and UK because it was unacceptable to allow terrorists space to terrorise.  Because it was not acceptable, massive resources were mobilised and draconian measures put in place to deal with threats of terrorism.

  3. It is not ok for criminals, or anyone else, to kill a policeman in the UK. Killing a policeman is going to far and that is something we will not allow. Because we do not allow it, it rarely occurs.

  4. Bankers lied-cheated-stole and got away with it because we accept lying-cheating-stealing as business as usual. Greed is good. Lying is good. Cheating is good. Stealing is good. As long as this lying-cheating-stealing generates bumper profits, generates employment and yields the requisite tax revenues.

  5. A number of NHS hospitals have been killing their customers, the patients, over a period of some 7 – 10 years because we accept it. It is OK to kill patients provided the instructions of the Tops (the government ministers) are carried out. It is not OK to disobey our masters. It is OK to kill patients. Besides the killing of patients by neglect-negliance is not evident unlike the clarity of aeroplanes falling out of the sky.

  6. Domination, intimidation and bullying is common place because it is OK to dominate, intimidate and bully people. It is the way that the powerful get the powerless to do what they want them to do. It is the way to exercise control.  It is business as usual in public and private sector organisations.  It occurs because we accept it.

  7. Large established businesses, and those who run them, continue to screw their customers because it is not obvious when this screwing is taking place. And even when it is obvious it is perfectly OK to screw customers. We accept that business and those who run them will seek to and find way so screwing customers. This is simply business as usual.

Lloyds Banking Group is fined a record £28m by the Financial Conduct Authority

If it occurs to you that I go too far then I invite you to read the latest revelations as showcased in the following piece in the Guardian newspaper: Lloyds Banking Group fined record £28m in new mis-selling scandal.  This is what Tracey McDermott, the Financial Conduct Authority’s director of enforcement and financial crime is quoted as saying:

Customers have a right to expect better from our leading financial institutions and we expect firms to put customers first – but firms will never be able to do this if they incentivise their staff to do otherwise.”

Why has the FCA handed down a record £28m fine?

According to Guardian piece:

1. “for putting staff under intense pressure to sell products customers did not want – or face demotion and pay cuts”; and

2. “the fine had been increased by 10% because Lloyds failed to heed repeated warnings about sales practices and because it had been fined 10 years ago for poor sales practices. 

Summing up

It occurs to me that which shows up and continues to show up in our world, the human world, is that which we accept, that which is OK by us, that which we assent to in our way of being-showing up in the world. As customers we get what we accept – no more, no less. As employees we get what we accept – no more, no less. As citizens we get what we accept – no more, no less.

What Are The Two Antidotes to Sucking At CRM and Customer Experience?

“We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”

Talk abounds, advice abounds: the road to organisational nirvana is laid out by many a guru, professor and consultant. Talk about big data, customer analytics and customer insight. Talk about marketing effectiveness and marketing automation. Talk about sales effectiveness and sales force automation. Talk about great customer service. Talk about CRM. And talk about Customer Experience. Yet, little really changes: I see managers grappling with the same challenges that they were grappling with in 1999 when it comes to marketing, sale, service, and CRM. 

Given the abundance in talk why is it that so little changes when it comes to organisational behaviour and organisational effectiveness?  Let’s take a look at this question from the position of being on the court (in the organisation) rather than in the stands as a journalist/reporter (which is how many gurus, professors and consultants show up for me).

Working with a number of people grappling with the challenge of improving the sales process, improving customer service, enabling CRM and improving the Customer Experience across the entire customer journey one manager exclaimed We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”. What led to this statement?  Days of grappling with the challenge; coming face to face with the many and interlinked factors – culture, people, process, systems, data, metric, business priorities – in the way of making any significant changes-improvements.

If you and I had been on the court grappling with the challenges that this manager was grappling with then I say that it is highly likely, almost certain, that we would have arrived at the same place: this is too much to take on, let’s focus on what is doable in the short-term.

A history of short-term local fixes leaves room only for short-term local fixes 

Given how everything is interlinked to everything (the systems nature of organisations) and the desire of Tops for ‘instant solutions’ to specific problems, Middles get busy on the short-term fixes and the quick wins. What is missed is that today there is only room for short-term fixes and quick wins because previously management took the route of the short-term fix instead of doing that which was necessary for generating longer term effectiveness.

Every time we intervene in the organisation we make a choice. What choice?  The choice to leading the organisation to higher performance or generating a drift to low performance. In fixing the pressing local-functional problem, focusing on the short-term, and going after quick wins, the Tops and Middles are generating a drift to low performance. How/why? Let’s listen to a noted systems thinker, Donella H. Meadows.

“Some systems not only resist policy and stay in a normal bad state, they keep getting worse. One name for this archetype is “drift to low performance”. Examples include falling market share in a business, eroding quality of service in a hospital, continuously dirtier rivers or air ….. state of …… schools…..”

How does this drift to low performance occur? 

“The actor in the feedback look (… government, business, hospital….), has …. a performance goal or desired system state that is compared to the actual state. If there is a discrepancy, action is taken……

But in this system, there is a distinction between the actual system state and the perceived state. The actor tends to believe the bad news more than the good news. As actual performance varies, the best results are dismissed as aberrations, the worst results stay in the memory. The actor thinks things are worse than they really are.

And to complete this tragic archetype, the desired state of the system is influenced by the perceived state. Standards aren’t absolute. When perceived performance slips, the goal is allowed to slip.  “Well, that’s about all you can expect.” ……. “Well, look around, everybody else is having trouble too.”

The lower the perceived system state, the lower the desired state. The lower the desired state, the less discrepancy, and the less corrective action is taken. The less corrective action, the lower the system state. If this loop is allowed to run unchecked, it can lead to continuous degradation in the system’s performance.

Another name for this system is “eroding goals”. It is also called the “boiled frog syndrome”……. Drift to low performance is a gradual process. If the system is plunged quickly. there would be an agitated corrective process. But if it drifts down slowly enough to erase the memory of (or belief in) how much better things used to be, everyone is lulled not lower and lower expectations, lower effort, lower performance.”

Here I ask you to be present to what the manager said after grappling with the challenge: “We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term.” Do you see, how it is that if one takes this reasonable approach the organisation almost never gets around to creating-putting in place the ‘perfect solution’?  How/why? Because it is never the right team to make difficult decisions, create-accept short-term pain in order to generate longer term effectiveness!

What are the antidotes to eroding goals and the drift to low performance? 

In her book, Thinking In Systems, Donnella H. Meadows points out that there are two antidotes:

One is to keep standard absolute, regardless of performance. Another is to make goals sensitive to the best performances of the past, instead of the worst..….. if one takes the best results as standard, and the worst results as a temporary setback, then the same system structure can pull the system up to better and better performance.

This reminds me of my father. When I was young my father insisted that a) I finish whatever I started no matter what; b) do the best that I was capable of doing; c) strive to do better than I did the last time; d) set my sights on the best performer in the class; and e) take the short-term pain in order to generate the longer term gain.

Customer Experience: What Can We Learn From An Organisation That Kills It’s Customers?

I am coming out of my self imposed August retirement to write about something that calls to me, deeply. And to share with you insights and learnings which show up for me as being valuable if you are up for improving service, orchestrating a caring customer experience, and improving organisational effectiveness.

What can we learn from an organisation that kills its customers?

The NHS is more than an organisation it is an institution. Like the BBC, it used to be an institution that was held in affection and even revered. It was an organisation and institution to be proud of. It is also an institution that has been draining resources and has been subjected to the management mindset obsessed with targets, measures and an obsession to drive down costs.  The result? This institution has been killing its customers and driving out employees (managers, doctors, nurses) that raised concerns about the functioning of the organisation and the treatment of customers – the patients.

The Berwick report on patient care and patient safety in the NHS

How does the Berwick Report on patient care and safety begin?  It begins with this assertion:

Place the quality of patient care, especially patient safety, above all other aims.

Engage, empower, and hear patients and carers at all times.

Foster whole-heartedly the growth and development of all staff, including their ability to support and improve the processes in which they work.

Embrace transparency unequivocally and everywhere in the service of accountability, trust and growth of knowledge.

How is this relevant to business and the customer experience?

When I read this opening passage it struck me that the same is true for organisations who genuinely want to compete with the likes of Amazon, USAA, and John Lewis.  As such I have modified this opening passage so that it speaks to business:

Place the quality of customer care, especially the customer experience, above all other aims.

Engage, empower, and hear customers and customer facing employees at all times

Foster whole-heartedly the growth and development of all staff, including their ability to support and improve the processes in which they work.

Embrace transparency unequivocally and everywhere in the service of accountability, trust and growth of knowledge.

Who killed the customers? And what can we learn about what drive organisational behaviour and performance?

When breakdowns occur our temptation, those of us who live in the West and speak the English language, attribute agency and cause to people.  Put differently, we blame people for the breakdowns. In the world of business the blame gets placed on the employees. In the NHS the politicians, the managers and the media have placed the blame on doctors and nurses.

What does the Berwick report say? It says “NHS staff are not to blame.”.  It goes on to say:

Incorrect priorities do damage: other goals are important and the central focus must always be on patients. 

In some instances……clear warning signals abounded and were not heeded, especially the voices of patients and carers. 

Fear is toxic to both safety and improvement.

In the vast majority of cases it is the systems, procedures, conditions, environment and constraints that the NHS staff faced that led to patient safety.

As I read these words my experience working in and consulting with many businesses comes to mind. And I say that these sage words apply equally insightfully to the world of business.

I draw your attention to the assertion “Incorrect priorities do damage”.  And the recommendation that “the central focus must always be on patients.” Now I ask you, is the central focus of your organisation on the needs/concerns of your customers?  And how do the real priorities of your organisation match the talk about customer focus and customer experience?  Is there a big gulf?  That has been the case with the NHS for many years now. The Tops speak the right words, their actions have not been alignment with their words.

What are the recommendations? 

Recognise with clarity and courage the need for wide systemic change.

Abandon blame as tool and trust the goodwill and good intentions of the staff.

Make sure pride and joy in work, not fear, infuse the NHS.

Reassert the primacy of working with patients and carers to achieve healthcare goals.

Use quantitative targets with caution. Such goals do have an important role en route to progress, but should never displace the primary goal of better care.

Recognise the transparency is essential and expect and insist on it.

Let’s rewrite that for business and private sector organisations which genuinely want to excel at the Customer Experience game:

Recognise with clarity and courage the need for wide systemic change if you are to orchestrate and deliver experiences that work for customers and call forth their loyalty.

Abandon blame as tool and trust the goodwill and good intentions of your staff. 

Make sure pride and joy in work, not fear, infuse your workplace even the call-centres. 

Prioritise working with your customers and customer facing staff to achieve your business goals.

Use quantitative targets – like first call resolution, AHT, NPS etc.- with caution. Such goals do have an important role en route to progress, but should never displace the primary goal of taking care of your customers. 

Recognise the transparency is essential and expect and insist on it.

Summing up

Excellence in customer experience is no easy matter for most organisations. What is required is courageous leadership and wide systemic change that involves the entire organisation. It is easy to work on the people. And it is also stupid because organisational performance is driven by the priorities, structure, systems, processes and practices that exist and are maintained by the Tops.

How much VoC work-investment-feedback will it take for your organisation to get off its backside and act?  Honestly, how much of VoC is really eye opening as opposed to already known within the organisation?

“Ridiculous!”: Does Your Organisation Treat Customers This Way?

I have been helping one of my clients grapple with growth challenges. During the course of our conversations we got around to looking at the business from the standpoint of customers. As such, I asked for an analysis of the customer base by revenue and profit.The analysis shows that the top 10 customers accounted for the lion’s share of the company’s revenues and thus its health and viability.

On that basis I was expecting the management team to have in place a policy, plan, practices and people to take great care of these customers. I was expecting that there would be some kind of game plan: to keep in regular touch with these customers; to stay in tune with their changing needs; to  come up with new products and services to meet these needs; and to ensure that any issues were identified quickly and addressed.

What did I find? I found that these customers were signed up some years ago, these customers are getting the service they contracted for, they have made no complaints, and so there has been no communication with these customers other than the monthly invoice.

“Ridiculous!” That was the statement that the MD made when I asked him to reflect on the importance of these customers to the business and the way that his business has been treating these customers.

It occurs to me that so many people – at all levels of the organisation and across all functions – are so immersed in the doing that there is so little reflection upon what is being done, and not done, and the implications. Which makes me wonder, how much of what occurs, and does not occur, in an organisation would show up as “Ridiculous!” if viewed through the eyes of the customer?

So why is it that the management team of this client are oblivious to the importance of their existing customers? The simple answer is that they are fully immersed in:

1) the sexy stuff of ‘developing new products’;

2) the sexy stuff of getting new channel partners so as to acquire new customers faster and grow market share; and

3) dealing with all that it takes to make the organisation work – the people issues, the process issues, the information issues, the financial issues, and the systems issues.

Behind the obvious, is the not so obvious. Is it possible that there is no focus on existing customers because the MD is from a sales background and enjoys the thrill-chase of new customer acquisition? Is it possible that there is no focus on existing customers because the other directors take their lead from the MD?

Is the same kind of thing true in your organisation? How much of what you do, and do not do, would show up as “Ridiculous!” when looked at from a customer view, or a longer term perspective?

Back to my client. The good new is that the MD has taken steps to engage with at least one of his top 10 customers. And there is significant opportunity to create value for this customer by selling them new products and solutions that are more in tune with their current and future needs. Sounds like a win-win to me and as such it shows up for me as being the best kind of business.

Customer Experience and Organisational Change: Reflections on the Limits and Folly of Outside-In

The genesis of this post is a conversation that I had recently with Rod Butcher, a man who has been at the coal face of Customer Experience in a large organisation.

Standing outside of an organisation, as a bystander, it is easy to espouse the value and importance of the outside-in approach to Customer Experience. It seems so easy; just about everything is easy when seen from a distance.  If on the other hand you have spent time in the ‘belly of the whale’ you get a visceral appreciation for the huge importance of inside-out: what matters in the organisation, what doesn’t matter, what works, what doesn’t work, what gets done, what does not get done, what the people who really matter are willing to do and not to do….

Why are so many large companies struggling with genuinely taking a customer-centric approach?  Why is the dominant issue with VoC the inability of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer?  Why is it that despite all the talk of collaboration and social business there is so little genuine collaboration?  Allow me to share two stories with you.

When I moved into my new home over 10 years ago gardening called to me; I had no experience of gardening. One day I found myself in a garden centre and a number of plants called to me. So I bought these plants home and set about gardening.  That is when the obstacles arose.  The soil in my garden didn’t match that required by the most expensive plants. Then there were issues to do with sunshine: some required lots of sunshine other liked shade; some needed lots of watering, others little….

Most of the plants struggled to thrive and many of these eventually died.  Why? Because I was not willing to do what it took to provide what the plants needed.  I had rather hoped that the I could just buy then, find a spot in the garden where I thought they looked good, plant them there, and water them time from time.  That is to say I was looking for the plants to fit into my priorities, my way of doing things.

I recently visited friends who took great interest and pride in taking care of their precious plants: young olive tree, young lemon tree etc.  I was shocked to find that both of these plants looked withered, dry, dead.  Why? What happened?  Clearly, they had not been looked after.  Why? Because both of my friends had turned their attention to stuff that showed up for them as being more important.  Put differently, my friends had failed to sustain their commitment to these trees. Why? Because they were not central to their lives; they were merely hobbies and or decorations.

What have a I learned about gardening? I have learned to start with a good understanding of my garden and then choose plants that will thrive in my garden. I have learned that if I really want acid loving plants in my garden, which does not support them naturally, then I first need to do the work of digging out a specific part of the garden and putting the right soil.  And I have learned that I have to be love these plants so much that I am happily provide them with the regular care they need.

I’ll leave you to figure out the organisational lessons.  For my part I agree with Rod Butcher: outside-in is not enough, what really matters is the willingness of the organisation to change, or not, from the inside-out.

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