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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.

Without Integrity, Is Talk of Customer Focus Just Cheap Talk?

Integrity is a choice – one that we fail to choose

Let me make clear that when I speak integrity I am not talking about morality nor virtue.  I am talking about integrity as honouring one’s word.

Integrity, as honouring one’s word, is a choice. It is a choice that almost all of us choose not to make. And those of us who do choose integrity, as way of being and showing up in the world, get that ‘Integrity is mountain with no top’ – that is to say that one never arrives. Put differently, integrity is always flowing out. Therefore, the challenge is to be present to this flowing out and make the necessary corrections ongoingly – this applies to individuals, teams, organisations.

It occurs to me that we live in an age given by cultural practices which allow and encourage us to have a cheap-weak relationship to our word. In our societies one expects people not to talk straight. One expects people not to mean what they say. Nor to say what they mean. It is perfectly ok to make promises and break them if it is convenient to do so. And when we do this the challenge is to find convenient reasons and excuses that allows us to ‘save face’.

What place is there for integrity when the measure is ROI?

Consider the world of business. What drives decisions and actions? If you look at it theoretically, every significant decision should be based on ROI. If honouring your promise, your word, delivers ROI then the smart course of action is to honour your word. If honouring your word does not deliver ROI then the smart course of action is not to honour your word. Doesn’t the ROI argument, in one shape or another, show up at each level of the organisation: Tops, Middles, Bottoms?

Without integrity promises to customers are just cheap talk

Why am I drawing our attention to integrity and the importance of fierce resolve to honouring one’s word? I say that work on harnessing digital technologies is useful. I say that work on changing policies and processes is necessary and useful. I say that harnessing data and using it to generate insight is useful. And I say that all of this makes no difference if fierce resolve is missing. What kind of fierce resolve? The fierce resolve to create superior value for a core set of customers. The fierce resolve to honour the organisations implicit and explicit promises to the customer. The fierce resolve to honour one’s word to colleagues within the bigger context of honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

Let me put it bluntly, the companies that excel at generating strong profitable relationships with customers create and show up from a fierce resolve to create superior value for their customers. Companies like Amazon, John Lewis, SouthWest Airlines, USAA, Zappos… Then are the rest – those that talk the talk and lack the fierce resolve to honour their word. Their words, our words, are cheap.

The real test of integrity is?

The real test of integrity, honouring one’s word, comes when the ROI of keeping one’s word is negative. For an organisation the real test of integrity shows up when the cost of honouring one’s word directly and negatively impacts the short term numbers: revenues and profits. And when the cost is a loss of face even ridicule. I think back to Warren Buffet sticking to his way of investing-doing business during the tech-internet boom.

Here’s the core point when it comes to integrity and honouring one’s word. Those who recognise the critical importance of integrity (as a positive phenomenon) would never do an ROI calculation once they have given their word.  For these people honour one’s word is  matter of principle not expediency. People with such deep relatedness to their word get that integrity is not a nice to have. No, they get that integrity is basis of workability and performance – of our lives, our relationships, our communities, our organisations, our societies, our world.

What is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth integrity?

Enough said, now I want to share with you this article that I read  and which got me present to what is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth a strong relationship to our word.  Here is what struck me about this real life WWI story:

  • Capt Robert Campbell had been languising in Magdeburg prisoner of war camp for two years;
  • He received word that his mother was dying of cancer;
  • He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II, begging to be allowed home to visit her one final time;
  • The Kaiser granted his request, allowing him two weeks leave, and did so on Capt. Campbell’s word as an Army officer;
  • Capt. Campbell returned to Kent (England) in December 1916, spent time with his mother and returned to the prison camp (keeping his word to the Kaiser), and was held there until the end of the war (1918).

I say that this is possible only in an age where cultural practices call us to be our word. When we are called to be our word, our enemy can grant us leave trusting that we will honour our word. We in return are called upon to honour our word. As the author of the article says:

“Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners. What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany. The British could have said to him ‘you’re not going back, you’re going to stay here’.”

Imagine what level of performance would be possible if the people in your organisation were committed to honouring their word. Imagine what kind of relationships would be possible with customers if the people in your organisation – Tops, Middles, Bottoms – were committed to honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

If you want to explore integrity at a deeper level

If you find yourself drawn to this conversation on integrity then I encourage you to listen to this 2 hour talk on integrity by Professor Michael Jensen

Does Leadership Effectiveness Start With Deep Listening?

Where the truth is self is not.

Where you are the other is not.

- Krishnamurti

Most of us are poor listeners, self included. And it occurs to me that the people who really excel at being poor listeners are those who hold positions of power in organisations.

How many decisions are made without the right people – those who have some kind of stake in the matter at hand – being in the room to discuss the matter? Even when the right people are present, I notice how quickly we dismiss the voices around the table that put forth a view of reality that differs from that of the powerful, or the dominant narrative.

I say that we should not stop at listening to the voice of the customer. I say we should listen also to the voice of the employees. I say that we should listen to the voice of the ‘whole system’ – all the stakeholders – when we explore matters, make decisions, and take action. Why?

What each of us believes to be true simply reflects our views about reality. When reality changes and when we ignore competing realities, if we dig in our heels regarding a familiar or favoured reality, we may fail. Perhaps what we thought was the truth is no longer the truth in today’s environment.

Multiple, competing realities existing simultaneously: This is true and this is true and this is true…… If we entertain multiple realities, we create possibilities that did not exist for us before. 

We are more likely to discover the truth we most need to understand today by demonstrating that everyone has a place at the corporate table. That all voices are welcome. That no matter what our area of expertise, each of us has insights and ideas about other aspects of the organisation..

…until the multiple – sometimes conflicting – realities of key individuals and constituents have been explored, implementing a plan can be decidedly tentative endeavour. To the degree that you resist or disallow the exploration of difficult realities in your workplace …., you will spend time, money, energy, and emotion cleaning up the aftermath of plans quietly but effectively torpedoed by individuals who resent the fact that their experience, opinions, and strongly held beliefs are apparently of little interest to the organisation.

- Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations

 

Leadership and CX: Is the human spirit the difference that truly makes the difference?

“I’m thinking, as a 6-year-old, 7-year-old, what are their thoughts?” she said. “So I said to them, ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much and that it is going to be okay.’ Because I thought it was the last thing they were ever going to hear.” Caitlin Roig, a 29-year-old teacher, Sandy Hook Elementary School

As I write this I have tears on my cheeks – of sorrow and of gratitude.  I am reminded that I am father to three children. I am reminded the awesome contribution many teachers made to my life.  I can remember the care that  was bestowed upon me during those early years when care/love is particularly important.  And I know that I am in a position to write this only because my fellow human beings saved my life twice.  The first time was when I was 7 years old and went into a coma as a result of an automobile accident.  The second time was when an unusually kind, alert and ‘can do’ doctor told me to get into his BMW and raced me to the emergency room at the local hospital where the right people were ready to sedate me and operate on me.  I owe my life – as it is and as it is not – in large measure to my fellow human beings.

What has this to do with leadership, organisational effectiveness, and customer experience?  A good question and let me address it.  I have done process design and business re-engineering.  I have done cost-cutting and organisational re-structuring.  I have done the metrics side of things.  I have done technology selection and implementation. I have done recruitment, induction, job design…  I have done and still do strategy.  None of these show up either on their own or in combination as the true source of organisational success.

My stance on leadership, organisational effectiveness, employee engagement and service was shaped in my days in corporate recovery.  The days when I would turn up unannounced (either individually or part of a team) and be responsible for running a business that had gone into receivership or administration (for those of you in the USA think Chapter 11).  The challenge was to call forth the best of the people in the organisation whose future looked bleak.  And that happened in every one of the organisations.  There was something that showed up brightly which I have found to be missing in ‘normal’ organisations.  And which does not reside in strategy, in technology, in metrics, in processes, in people/culture.  What is this difference?

As I read about what occurred at Sandy Hook and in particular the courage, the heroism, the sacrifice made by the principal and the teachers I am face to face with that which I noticed in my corporate recovery days: the power of the human spirit to transcend the most difficult of circumstances.

I am clear that the difference that makes the difference is the human spirit.  When the ultimate crazy request was made - to risk their lives to save the lives of their ‘customers’, the young children in their care – the teachers (and the janitor) at Sandy Hook did not fail their customers!  What was it that enabled the staff to rise up and meet that challenge?  Was it strategy? Was it policy? Was it process?  Was it KPIs? Was it money/rewards/promotion? Was it technology? No, it was the human spirit coming to life in those teachers when it was summoned.

And that is the central issue for me.  Our organisations – private and public – do not make space, do not call forth the best of us: our human spirit.  On the contrary, our organisations, indeed our society, does the reverse it shuts out and/or suppresses the human spirit.  We do this by our obsession with the the technology of strategy, of process, of metrics and measurement, of people practices, and of IT.

How to end this post?  It occurs to me that I am a stand for the human spirit in business, in organisations, in life itself.  And that pretty much is the underlying thread in what I write here on The Customer Blog (and on my second blog Possibility, Transformation & Leadership).  And how I aspire to show up in the world.

No, I wish to end this post with a dedication to the principal of Sandy Hook – Dawn Hochsprung – who showed what real leadership is.  And to Victoria Soto who gave her life to save the children in her care. And the humanity of Caitlin Roig who thinking that the end was about to come told the children that she loved them all very much.  Why?  She wanted them, her ‘customers’, to experience love, being loved.

I cannot resist this, the urge is too strong.  To all those who talk social and confuse it with social media and the self oriented marketing, selling, chit-chat and vanity that takes place there,  I say that the true meaning of social is the social that showed up through the actions of the principal and teachers at Sandy Hook.  I say true social is the social as expressed by Caitlin Roig: “‘I need you to know that I love you all very much and that it is going to be okay.’ Because I thought it was the last thing they were ever going to hear.”

I am proud to be member of the human race.  And I say I will continue to be a stand for the magnificence of the human spirit in all walks of life. I have a question for you: what would show up if you treated your customers with the kind of care/love that the Sandy Hook teachers did for the ‘customers’ in their care?

Honda & Jaguar: customer experience, management and organisational effectiveness

There is a pervasive assumption that management (managers and the control oriented practices that they put in place) – is useful and necessary.  And that the issues to do with the customer experience and organisational effectiveness centre in the people who work in the organisation – the employees. The specific issue being that these ‘lowly employees’ have to ‘whipped into shape’ and once they are then all will be fine.  That is the assumption that I  challenge in this post.  I say management is the true root cause of poor customer experience and organisational ineffectiveness.  If that interests you then read on, if it doesn’t then go and do something that does – life is too short to do that which does not inspire you.

Why am I delighted to be in possession of my Honda Accord?

Trusted Honda AccordThis week I drove up to Preston (in a Jaguar) to take possession of this beauty.  It is a Honda Accord, it is 12 years old, it has done over 172,000 miles.  And it works marvellously; my latest annual service/MOT/repair bill came to £250.  OK, my brother is rather generous to me, so I’ll double it to £500.

Why is it that I love this car?  Because it works consistently.  Because it is easy to fix – just about any mechanic can fix it without specialist tools or diagnostic computers.  Because, my annual service/repair bill is around £250.

Put differently, in building this car Honda has put in technology that works.  And this is not the only car for which this applies.  I also drive a 1995 Honda Accord Estate which works perfectly, consistently!  And is easy/cheap to service.

Why is it that these ‘old’ Honda Accords work so well?  The simple answer is that Honda designed/built these Accords such that they work and as such are reliable.  Dive into it deeper and you will find that Honda put their time and effort in the technology and functioning of the car and not the look & feel.  Put differently, Honda put workability and performance before looks.  I find it interesting that Honda prides itself on its technology and that is what it emphasizes.  I also find it interesting that Honda cars are consistently at the top of reliability tables.

To sum up, I love this Honda Accord because it shows up as a trusted friend.  It does the job that I hire it to do: get me from A to B, reliably and with no fuss.  And, like a good friend it is low maintenance – it is easy/cheap to keep in good shape.  Which is why I have stuck with it for such a long time.  It also happens that this Honda Accord has a bigger-older-more powerful brother that shows up in exactly the same way.  And that is why I like the Honda brand: in my world Honda shows up as a company that makes cars that work, reliably and relatively cheaply.  True, driving a Honda does not confer status.  And that suits me just fine as I am not that into status.

Why was I happy to hand the Jaguar back?

For a little while I was driving a Jaguar.  At the start I loved driving it: it was more spacious, the driver’s seat showed up more comfortable, I could adjust the steering while such as to get a more comfortable driving position, my kids loved the look/feel of the car and truth be told it did grow on me…  Then this great customer experience fell off a cliff: from great to poor.  How/why?

I had just parked the Jaguar and switched off the engine whilst I waited for my son to return from the shops.  When he did, the Jaguar would not start.  Listening to the noise I was clear that there was nothing wrong with the battery.  And I knew that there could not be anything wrong with the spark plugs etc – because my brother had serviced it a week or so before.  I tried again, then again, then again.  The engine management light was on and the car just would not start!  So I called the AA out.  Half an hour later, I tried again and the Jaguar started perfectly.  And I cancelled the AA patrol.

Next day, it is the morning and I have somewhere to get to.  What happened?  The Jaguar didn’t start.   I waited a little while and tried again – no luck.  Forty minutes Vince from the AA turned up.  What happened?  He sat in the driver’s seat, turned the key and viola – the Jaguar started perfectly.  So Vince plugged in the diagnostics (as the engine management light was on) and there were some 7 faults.  He cleared 5 of them easily – something to do with some “software” in the engine management system being out of date.  That left two faults, which turned out to be the same fault – an O2 sensor playing up.  And Vince advised me to take the car in and get it sorted out.  Which is exactly what I did.

A day or so later I took possession of the ‘sorted out’ Jaguar – one without the engine management light on.  And the car started straight away and continue to work fine for several days.  It was the evening, I had to take my son to his Karate, and once again the Jaguar didn’t start.  The issue?  the engine management light!

The customer experience lesson is straight forward and I fear not sufficiently understood/grasped.  ‘Design’, as in the look and feel is great as long as it compliments the proper functioning of the ‘product’.  Why?  Because customers hire ‘products’ to do jobs.  Put differently, you don’t look cool nor have high status in a Jaguar if the damn thing does not start.  You show up as a fool – for yourself and for others!  Which is my way of saying that designing the customer experience starts with being clear about the core job/s that customers hire your product to do.  And ensuring that your product does those jobs.  That is the core of the customer experience.  That is the customer experience that drives advocacy and loyalty.  Everything else is a making it easy/fun for your customers to get to, learn about, experience and buy your ‘product’.  That matters but only as long as you have put forth a product that is worth getting to, learning about, experiencing and buying!

Lets, turn our attention to management, control and effectiveness

What can we learn about management from my experience with the Honda’s and the Jaguar?

Getting present to my experience it occurred to me that the Honda Accords I drive do not have sophisticated engine management systems (and the associated sensors) to monitor and control the functioning of the car.  What there is, is the ‘car itself’.  And Honda designed the ‘car itself’ to work by paying attention to the ‘technology’ that gives being to that car.  This attention is in the form of: using the right technology – that is robust/reliable over the longer term; and taking pains to ensure that the various technologies work together in harmony.  Given that, Honda did not need to put in place a sophisticated engine management system.  Put differently, and this is the key point: the Honda cars have less management.  They have (and need) less management because the ‘car itself’ was designed right – to work, to be reliable – to not need management!

Now compare that with Jaguar.  What is stopping the car from starting consistently?  Management in the form of the engine management system.  Look, there is not an issue in the ‘car itself’: when the engine management system lets the Jaguar start, the Jaguar starts and works perfectly – short and long distances.  My brother has confirmed that the ‘car itself’ is fine, it is the O2 sensor that is playing up and needs to be replaced.  Put differently, it is management itself (the engine management system) that is degrading workability and performance of the Jaguar.  I say that if Jaguar had focussed on the ‘car itself – designing it to be robust and reliable – then Jaguar would not have needed to put in such a sophisticated engine management system.  Which is my way of saying that Jaguar have taken the traditional short cut: too much reliance on control because of lack of ‘quality’ built into the design of the ‘car itself’.

Which brings me to the central point: stop focussing exclusively on the employees (‘the car itself’) and focus also on managers and management.  Put bluntly, the root cause of poor customer experience and poor organisational functioning is often the managers and the management practices that they enact.  Managers whose ‘map of the territory’ is mismatched with the territory that they put in place and enact practices that degrade the workability and performance of the organisation.  In the same way that the O2 sensor in the Jaguar provided a distorted ‘map of the territory’ to the engine management system which enacted a fault practice ‘stop the engine starting’.  I believe my thinking here is in alignment with Gary Hamel – the management ‘guru’ who says the biggest issues in organisations is management.

My next big point is this - and this goes with the former point as they complement/work together -  design your organisation so that it works without management control and oversight!   That is right.  Put in place a context that draws the right people to show up in your organisation and behave in the right way by themselves, of their own accord.  That is to say that the purpose and values are the music that call forth the right type of dance.  And signal to all when one or more people are dancing the wrong dance – a dance that does not fit the music.  If you have doubts I ask you this: does the CEO, the management team, have a more intimate understanding of the customer or the people who interact daily with customers – speaking to them, listening to them, selling to the, serving them?  And who has the best grasp of what really does and does not work within the organisation: management who are divorced from actual work or the people who do the work?  Finally, who has the best insight into what they could accomplish if they put their hearts into it: the people who do the work or the managers?

Summing up

Create a context and design an organisation that does not require managers and management.  Instead create a context and design an organsiation that works by itself - because that is simply what goes with the design.  And from time to time ‘service/repair’ the organisational context and design to ensure that all is in alignment with the mission and values. Robert Greenleaf coined the term ‘servant leadership’- itt is not quite what I am pointing at and yet it is pointing towards the right direction.

What do you say?

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