Take care of God’s creation. But above all, take care of people in need
- Pope Francis
“I’m not contagious, but he didn’t know. He just did it; he caressed all my face, and while he was doing that, I felt only love.”
- Vinicio Riva
I say let’s not restrict our care, our love solely for people. Let’s expand our compassion to include animals and life itself. Let us learn from the example of John Unger as expressed in his relationship, care and love for Schoep, his dog.
“Shep falls asleep every night when he is carried into the lake. The buoyancy of the water soothes his arthritic bones……
I want people to identify with this photo, and remember a time when they felt safe, loved, and cared for,” “Then I want them to channel those feelings and pay it forward!…“
- Stonehouse Hudson
I was introduced into the ethos of service around the age of 6. I would arrive back from school in the afternoon and be welcomed back by my mother. She would ask me about my day whilst offering me tea and sandwiches. Once fed, she would hand me a box of sandwiches. She would tell me to go and feed our elderly neighbours and help them with their chores. And this is what I did every day. I visited my neighbours, I talked with them, I moved things around for them, I cleaned up a little, I went shopping for them. My initial reluctance and shyness gave way to relationship – I looked forward to visiting my neighbours and helping them out.
Why did my mother make sandwiches every day for our neighbours? Why did my mother insist that I take the sandwiches to our neighbours and help them with their chores? Whenever, I asked these questions my mother simply said something along these lines: they are our neighbours, they are old, they need our help, it is our duty to help our neighbours, that is what human beings do for one another, we care for one another, we help each other out.
It occurs to me that my mother would find most of the talk on customer service, customer engagement, customer loyalty, and customer-centricity empty. Empty of what? Empty of a genuine empathy. Empty of genuine of compassion. Empty of wholehearted care for our customers and our fellow human beings. Empty of love.
It occurs to me that love lies at the heart of great service – the kind of service that generates empathic connections, heartfelt gratitude, and loyalty on both sides. Love of working for an organisation that pursues a life affirming purpose. Love of one’s role in that organisational purpose. Love of one’s colleagues. Love of the customer as a fellow human being. It occurs to me that love is the difference that makes a difference.
I leave you with the following passage from Miguel De Unamuno, it is my gift of love to you on this beautiful day:
Here you have a shoemaker who lives by making shoes, and makes them with just enough care and attention to keep his clientele together without losing custom.
Another shoemaker lives on a somewhat higher spiritual plane, for he has a proper love for his work, and out of pride or a sense of honor strives for the reputation of being the best shoemaker in the town or in the kingdom, even though this reputation brings him no increase of custom or profit, but only renown and prestige.
But there is a still higher degree of moral perfection in this business of shoemaking, and that is for the shoemaker to aspire to become for his fellow-townsmen the one and only shoemaker, indispensable and irreplaceable, the shoemaker who looks after their footgear so well that they will feel a definite loss when he dies—when he is “dead to them” not merely “dead”—and they will feel that he ought not to have died. And this will result from the fact that in working for them he was anxious to spare them any discomfort and to make sure that it should not be any preoccupation with their feet that should prevent them from being at leisure to contemplate the higher truths; he shod them for the love of them and for the love of God in them—he shod them religiously.
This is a personal post inspired by great conversation with a great person who carries the title of CXO. If you do not do personal then I advise you to stop now and carry on with the impersonal. Let me start by giving you a glimpse of what I am going to be dealing with in this post:
People, and relationships, matter more than stuff, whatever the stuff.
What is the game of business about? What is your life about?
What I notice in business is busyness. Just about everybody is busy. Just about everyone is running from one meeting to another, from one deliverable to another, from one sales call to another, from one kill to another, from one problem to another. Busyness everywhere in business. And it occurs to me that the whole Customer thing (insight, analytics, customer focus, NPS, VoC, customer experience, customer-centricity…) is the latest fashion for being busy.
I ask, does anyone actually stop and ask the question: “Why?” I ask you, do you stop long enough with this question? Have you grappled with this with real intention long enough to let the hidden surface?
Why do we expend our lives in the game of business? For what purpose? Does anyone stop to ask “What is it all about? What really matters?” Is enriching shareholders what really matters in life? Is it? I am asking you. Is the reason you exist to enrich shareholders, to maximise their financial return, to drive up their ROI?
Who do I have to thank for being alive today?
I must have been around 7 years of age when I stepped on to the main road and got hit by a white van. I don’t remember much. I don’t know how long I spent in hospital. I do know that my fellow human beings saved my life. One of my fellow human beings ran to the telephone box and called the ambulance. Another of my fellow human beings dispatched the ambulance. The ambulance crew took me to the hospital. Doctors operated on me to save my life. Nurses and later my parents nurtured me back to health.
I was 25 – 26 years old and the future looked promising. I had been admitted into the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. It had taken three years of hard work. I had a good job. My health was good. Actually everything was just great. On a Monday morning I turned up at my doctors surgery. My left arm had ballooned up over the weekend. The doctor took one look at my arm and called the hospital. Then he told me to follow him. He asked me to get into his BMW. He put on the flashing light and drove as fast as he could to the hospital. There a team of doctors were waiting for me. I arrived, I was sedated immediately. While I was out cold the doctors operated on me and saved my life.
Both of these events occurred unexpectedly and when I was young. So nothing interesting showed up for me when they occurred. No deep insight into life and what matters. This changed.
What I learned being face to face with death
The pain in my chest woke me up around 2am. Clearly, my friend Asthma was visiting me once more. Being used to this I was calm and focussed on relaxing assuming he would go away within 60 seconds as that was his custom. This time he did not go away. Instead, he tightened his grip: the pain increased and my breathing became shallower. I walked over, gently, to the windows and opened them to get fresh air. Usually, that helped, this time it didn’t.
Asthma tightened his grip once more. Pain increased and my breathing came shallower. It was then that it hit me: I am going to die! I am going to die, all alone. After 30 seconds or so my fear subsided and absolute calm and clarity was present. What showed up at that moment? Take a guess.
“Who contributed to my life? Who made my life easier? Who was there through the hard times? Who was there through the fun times? Who will I miss? Who will miss me?” There facing death what showed up for me was a question of people, relatedness, and relationship. As my breath was short, I phoned my wife (who was in France with the children) got through to her voicemail. I told her I loved her and thanked her. Then I phoned my brother and got through to his voicemail: I left him the same short message. Then I phoned my sister and left the same short message. After that I had no breath left. And it occurred to me that my time had come.
Is life and business ultimately about contribution?
My encounter with death taught me, that for me, life is about contribution. It is about being of service and making a contribution to my fellow human beings and life itself. For me, business is a realm of life. And as such I am clear that for me business is also about being of source of contribution to my fellow human beings and to life itself. It is about empowering people rather than disempowering them. It is about inclusion rather than exclusion. It is about generating happiness. It occurs to me that Tony Hsieh of Zappos gets this and operates from this context.
Is it possible that the secret of employee engagement and of customer loyalty is this simple? Make a contribution, empower, generate happiness in whoever you touch.
So I ask you, when we leave strategy, process, technology, business models, value propositions etc aside, is the game of business ultimately about being of service, being a source of contribution to our fellow human beings. And playing our part in co-creating a world that works for all, none excluded?
I have one further question for you. Is it possible that this is what real leadership is? Is it possible that real leadership is operating from the context of You AND me, together, co-creating a world that works for all, none excluded? Is it possible that when we operate from this context that co-operation and collaboration show up?
What do you say? What is the game of business for you? What is your life about? I look forward to hearing from you.
Do you know your customers?
Is it possible to know your customers simply through ‘at a distant’ listening methods like NPS, post transaction surveys, social media, text mining customer call records etc? I get that many of you are convinced that you do know your customers. You are that you know what matters to your customers. You are that your VoC listening programmes provide you with insight into your customers.
If only it were that simple. Insight, deep contextual insight, is not that easily gathered. What am I pointing at? Let me share a story with you, a story that Irvin Yalom, an existential psychotherapist, tells in his book The Gift of Therapy:
“Decades ago I saw a patient with breast cancer ….. been locked in a long, bitter struggle with her naysaying father. Yearning for some form of reconciliation …. she looked forward to her father’s driving her to college – a time when she would be alone with him for several hours.
But the long-anticipated trip proved to be a disaster: her father behaved true to form by grousing at length about the ugly, garbage littered creek by the side of the road. She, on the other hand, saw no litter whatsoever in the beautiful, rustic, unspoilt stream. She could find no way to respond and eventually, lapsing into silence, they spent the remainder of the trip looking away from each other.
Later, she made the same trip alone and was astounded to note that there were two streams – one on each side of the road. ‘This time I was the driver’, she said sadly, ‘and the stream I saw through my window on the driver’s side was just as ugly and polluted as my father had described it’.
But by the time she learned to look out of her father’s window, it was too late – her father was dead and buried.”
Please note that the daughter did not get access to her father’s experience until she physically sat in his seat and travelled the same route that her father travelled. Or put differently, that little distance between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat made all the difference! Are you still convinced that you understand your customers and their experience, that ‘at a distant’ VoC listening programmes give you the requisite understanding of your customers?
What does it take to generate this deep contextual insight? Empathy
I say that if you want to excel at the game of service, of customer experience and/or customer-centricity, you have to get deep insight into the lives of your customers. I say that if you want to design great customer experiences you have to get deep contextual insight into the lives of your customers. I say that if you want to cultivate a customer-centric organisation then you have to get deep insight into the lives of your customers AND the people who work inside your organisation. And I say that you cannot get this deep contextual insight through ‘at a distant’ listening programmes. I say that to get this deep contextual insight you have to cultivate empathy.
How do you cultivate empathy for your customers and the people working in your organisation?
The short answer is go beyond ‘at a distant’ VoC listening programmes. Get out of the office and get on the front line. Put on the shoes of the front line employees and interact with, sell to and serve customers. Go further and put on the shoes of the customers, sit where she sits, and travel the path that she travels. If you have the patience for the longer answer then I recommend setting aside 20 minutes to watch the follow informative video: http://youtu.be/G9jC1ThqTNo
The 6 habits of highly empathic people
Here are the six habits of highly empathic people as set out and discussed by Roman Krznaric in the video above:
- Cultivate curiosity about strangers
- Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
- Get into extreme sport – extreme sport of experiential empathy
- Practice the art of conversation
- Inspire mass [empathic] action and social change
- Develop an ambitious imagination
The price of deep contextual insight into the lives of our customers and the people who serve them is to travel the path travelled by George Orwell and Patricia Moore. You will get what I am pointing at if you watched the video. There are no short cuts. I say that it is only once you have that deep contextual insight that you will be in a position to even know what questions to ask on VoC surveys, what to listen to on social media, and how to make sense of the that which shows up on VoC listening posts.
It is Christmas time and I want to give you, my fellow human beings and the readers of The Customer Blog, a gift. What kind of gift? The kind of gift, which if embraced, will give you access to great relationships – with your family, with your friends, within your community, at work, with your customers…
The gift of ‘service’: is this the greatest gift that you can give?
It is Christmas time and what I notice is that it is a time of concern – a concern with gift-giving. And this year as I think about gift giving I am immediately taken to Sandy Hook Elementary School. I am confronted with this question: what is the greatest gift one human being can give to another? It occurs to me it is ‘service’. What? When I speak ‘service’ I am pointing at the kind of service being pointed at in the following quote:
“My notion about service is that service is actually that kind of relationship in which you have a commitment to the person. What I mean, in fact, is that for me what service is about is being committed to the other being. To who the other person is.
To the degree that you are, in fact, committed to the other person, you are only as valuable as you can deal with the other person’s stuff, their evidence, their manifestation, and that’s what’s service is about. Service is about knowing who the other person is and being able to tolerate giving space to their garbage. What most people do is is to give space to people’s quality and deal with their garbage. Actually, you should do it the other way around. Deal with who they are and give space to their garbage.
Keep interacting with them as if they were God. And every time you get garbage from them, give space to garbage and go back and interact with them as if they were God.” Werner Erhard
Which business brands provide this kind of service?
In the business world there is one brand in particular that gets the kind of service that Werner Erhard is pointing at and illuminating. Can you guess who it is? It’s Zappos. Which is why I am not at all surprised to read that Zappos Set An Insane Record For The Longest Customer Service Phone Call Ever. How long did this phone call take? 9 hours and 37 minutes! Here is what, in particular, caught my attention:
“On July 16th I received a call from Lisa about 2 hrs. into my shift. We talked for 9 hours, 37 min. I took one bathroom break about two hours in. Kara Levy [another team member] took care of me by bringing me food and drinks. We talked about life, movies and favorite foods.” Shaea Labus, the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team member:
“Sometimes people just need to call and talk,” she [Shaea] said. “We don’t judge, we just want to help.”
What does it take to generate/deliver great service and make a difference?
The question that calls to me and asks for an answer is this one: what does it take to generate/deliver great service – the kind Werner is pointing at and which is being delivered by Zappos? What is your answer? Is it technology – the latest state of the art CRM/customer service system? Is it CX blueprint that sets out the ‘process/script’ that the Customer Loyalty Team Members have to follow? Is it the KPIs that Zappos’s management team have set? Is it perhaps the people – the special people that Zappos employs? Is it the pay/rewards that Zappos gives to its employees?
Let’s listen to a master of the human condition, one who strips away our rationalizations. What does this master have to say on the matter of service, of making a difference?
“All it takes to make a difference is the courage to stop proving I was right in being unable to make a difference… to stop assigning cause for my inability to the circumstances outside of myself …… and to see that the fear of being a failure is a lot less important than the unique opportunity I have to make a difference.” Werner Erhard
Zappos generates/delivers great service because the Tops (starting with Tony Hsieh) are committed to delivering great service. Great service is not something that they do. No, great service is who they are in the world. Did you get that? The folks at Zappos ARE great service; their being – how they show up for themselves, each other, customers, the world at large – is great service! Put differently, for the Zappos folks great service is not a question of doing it is a question of existence. And, yes, existence does require a viable ‘business model’. That is something that the folks at Zappos figured out after they formulated their commitment to being the brand that is synonymous with great service. And they kept tinkering and tweaking to get the business model right.
What does it take for you and me to make a difference in our showing up in the world – to our family, our friends, our community, our fellow employees, our customers? A reconceptualization of ‘service’ along the lines set out by Werner Erhard AND the courage to stop proving that you/I are unable to make a difference. Put more simply and bluntly: you and I need to stop playing small! Look around you and you will find that many businesses generate poor/indifferent service because the people in them – starting with the Tops – play small.
Tags: Business, courage, courage to make a difference, customer, customer service, human, Longest customer service phone call, Reconceptualising Service, service, stop playing small, Tony Hsieh, Werner Erhard, Zappos