Does Amazon deserve the label of ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’? Before I answer that question, allow me to tell you a little story about a well-known telecommunications company, one whose official strategy was to become customer-centric.
What Customer-Centricity Meant At A Well Known Telecommunications Company
I once did some consulting work for one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. In the process, a certain kind of fellowship grew between me and the billing manager. To some extent he was a frustrated man. Why? The billing challenge was growing more and more complex: requiring more people, more expensive IT equipment, stronger oversight etc. .
What was the cause of the increasing complexity and thus challenge in billing? The number of unique billing plans in place. There were thousands of them. And most of them were legacy billing plans – many years old. So I asked the billing manager, why he didn’t just move customers to the latest billing plans. And in so doing he would be free to delete the thousands of legacy billing plans that were the cause of the headache. Can you work out his answer?
He told me that he built a ‘business case’ and presented to his boss. Yet, the proposal had got nowhere because Marketing had vetoed is proposal. What was the basis of the veto? The legacy billing plans were much more profitable for the company. Why? Because compared to the latest, competitive, price plans, the legacy plans were overpriced. And if the company took the decision to move these customers, arguably the most loyal as they had been with the company for a long time (3+ years), then this would mean giving away revenues and profits.
What did customer-centricity actually mean in this company? It involved lots of activity: vision statements, presentations, meetings, talk, customer research, mystery shopping, process changes, balanced scorecard. What it did not involve was the conscious choice to do right by the customer: to put the wellbeing of the customer on par with the wellbeing of the company (revenues, profits, share price).
Does Amazon Deserve To Be Called The Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company?
We all know that Amazon works. It is easy to find and buy from Amazon. It is easy to keep track of where one’s order is. Amazon delivers the goods within the promised window. It is easy to return goods and get a refund. And on the only occasion something did not turn up when expected, I found it easy to get hold of Customer Services, and the call was handled by a friendly agent, who got my situation, validated my feelings, made a promise to have the issue fixed by the next day, and it was fixed.
This level of performance has kept me doing business with Amazon despite my concerns over Amazon’s tax avoidance strategy, and the concerns about how Amazon treats the folks who work in the warehouses. And to some extent my disposition towards Amazon has been a pragmatic one rather than one of affinity with what Amazon stands for.
This week the situation changed. What happened? My wife signed up for the Amazon Prime offer and she then enrolled me into it as well. As a result, I found renting and watching a movie (on demand) with my eldest son. The experience of selecting, paying for, and watching the movie was effortless.
The next day, to my astonishment (I do not use the world lightly), I found myself reading the following email:
We’re contacting you about your recent attempt to purchase “The Wolverine”. We recently learned that a technical issue may have prevented you from being able to watch this video. We’re very sorry about this.
To help make it up to you, we’ve issued a £3.48 for this order. The refund will be applied to your original order payment method and should complete within the next 2-3 business days.
We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Please note: this e-mail was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.
Why was I astonished? I was and continue to be surprised that there is a commercial organisation that gives! What does it give? Proactive service. An apology. A refund. And all on the basis that a technical issue may have prevented me from watching the movie!
Once I got over my astonishment who was I left thinking-feeling? Given that I had watched the movie without any problems, and Amazon had been generous, I found a strong urge to contact Amazon and ask them to take their money back. Why? Because, I was brought up to repay good with good, generosity with generosity, considerateness with considerateness. Then I read the bottom of the email and found I could not reply to the email.
What did I find myself doing within 24 hours of receiving this email? I found myself buying a book, that I had been meaning to buy and had not bought, for £9 and watching a movie that I had not been intending to watch (this week) for £3.49.
Why did I do this? It occurred to me that I could not treat badly one who has treated me well. And as such I felt a pull to repay Amazon’s ‘goodness’ by repaying the £3.49, which I did by buying and watching a movie on the day of the email.
If the acid test of customer-centricity is putting the needs-interests of customers on par with the needs of the company then I am in no doubt that Amazon is customer-centric. Is this enough to show up as Earth’s customer-centric company? No. To win that mantle it occurs to me that an organisation chooses to prosper only by doing right by customers. That is how Amazon shows up for me this week. I cannot imagine any other company (that I am doing business with) taking the stance that Amazon takes in relation to its customers.
For those who are cynics, I get that Amazon may have taken a pragmatic decision to provide the refund so as to reduce the number of calls (and/or emails) coming into the call-centres. Even if this is the case, then the action that Amazon has taken is smart. So at the very least the folks at Amazon are smart in a way that also benefits customers.
What can we learn from Havas Media’s 2013 Meaningful Brands survey?
For me, the highlights from the survey report are:
- Just 20% of brands worldwide are seen to meaningfully positively impact people’s lives;
- The majority of people worldwide wouldn’t care if 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow;
- Only 32% feel brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises;
- 54% of us don’t trust brands; and
- The meaningful brand index outperforms the stock markets by 120%.
It would appear that the case for making a shift towards a ‘meaningful brand’ is compelling according to Havas Media and yet most brands do not show up as meaningful. This shows up as interesting for me given all the talk-spend on brand, branding and brand building.
Let’s shift perspective and take a look at the situation through the eyes of Customer Experience.
What is the state of Customer Experience at the end of 2013?
In her November post, “Sucking Less” is Not a #CX Strategy, Annette wrote:
“Are organizations seeing the value of delivering a great customer experience? Clearly they pay lip service, but we know that actions speak louder than words. Do they really get it? No. There’s no real commitment of time, resources, and budgets to initiatives that improve the customer experience.
I spend a lot of time talking to prospects and clients about how to sell the value of customer experience to company leaders. It’s so disheartening …..”
My experience resonates with Annette’s. And our experience is not unique – talk with Customer Experience professionals and you get a taste of how difficult it is to move the Customer Experience ball beyond conducting VoC surveys and collating-publishing the results.
So what is going on here? If Tops are VCs and Customer Experience is seen as investment then the Tops do not see the value of investing in Customer Experience ventures.
What is the state of CRM at the end of 2013?
It occurs to me that large established companies have spent large sums of money in the name of CRM – usually in procuring and implementing so called CRM systems. What is there to show for this investment in terms of generating superior value for customers and cultivating meaningful profitable relationships with customers?
As I look around I find that the single customer view is just as elusive today as it was when Siebel was promising it, through the adoption of its CRM suite, back in 1999. The gulf between the talk and the reality continues to stun me. So many companies still struggle to work out the totality of their relationships (products purchased, interactions) with their customers.
I notice that many marketing, sales and service (customer, field) processes are just as broken today as they were in 1999. Why? Because too many people implemented CRM to automate the existing way of doing business.
It occurs to me that the challenge of getting the marketing, sales and service folks to genuine work together to build meaningful relationships with customers is beyond almost all companies. These functions and the people in them continue to work in silos, pursue their functional objectives, and work to their particular style.
I notice that the state of fragmentation within the marketing function is higher today than in 1999 due to the proliferation of digital channels. Marketing has become so complex that a whole industry, marketing automation, has grown up with the aim of automating marketing with a view to taking the complexity out of it.
Why do organisations continue to grapple with the same challenges despite their investments in CRM and Customer Experience?
Having been in the field since 1999 I am struck about how little has really changed despite all the changes that have occurred outside and inside organisations. What is going on here? Why is this the case?
It occurs to me that most of that which has taken place in the areas of CRM and Customer Experience has occurred in the domain of doing. And this doing has arisen from the same old domain of being. And as such, the mode of being has poisoned-corrupted all the doing. How best to illustrate this? Think King Midas. Whatever King Midas touched it became gold. Being has that kind of power: every action is tainted with the being that gives rise to it. Yet, those who have walked the CRM and Customer Experience path have been oblivious to this corruption because the the current style of showing up in the world is so taken for granted that it is invisible to us:
“The way of life of a culture is not an explicit set of beliefs held by the people living in it. It is much deeper than that. A person brought up in a culture learns its way of life the way he learns to speak in the language and with the accent of his family and peers. But a way of life is much broader than this. It involves a sense for how it is appropriate and inappropriate to act in each of the social situations one normally encounters; a familiarity with how to make sense of things and of how to act in the everyday world; and most general of all, a style, such as aggressive or nurturing, that governs the actions of the people in the culture although they are normally not aware of it. We can think of it as a cultural commitment that, to govern people’s behaviour, must remain in the background, unnoticed but pervasive and real.“
- All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
This sense of the being, of the default ‘style’, of organisations (and the people who work in them) is spelled out clearly by Vik Maraj in an interview published on the Huffington Post where he talks about the challenge of transforming the not for profit sector:
“Question: What is the over-arching challenge in the not for profit sector?
Answer: We act mostly inside of a context of charity not empowerment. Very few people are “learning to fish”. And this is a societal issue not just a not for profit issue.
Question: With respect to the not for profit sector, what is the truth that we don’t want to talk about?
Answer. We compete with each other with a smile on. We protect ourselves. And we collaborate in an opportunistic way. And the game is rigged such that this behaviour is almost inevitable. And the rigging is usually done by a decades old governmental policy…….
At first some of the obvious challenges are a lack of funding, a lack of resources, a lack of volunteers, turnover, a lack of being valued, lower salaries, lack of training and development, lack of policy, political unwillingness, the economy, etc. There are many more that I have not mentioned and what they all have in common is that none of them are the real problem.
Question: What’s the real problem, and what’s the answer?
Answer: The real problem is that we don’t collaborate and align our vast, often duplicated resources, talents, and mandates, to have a collective voice. Collaboration is both a missing mindset as well as a missing process. We mostly define collaboration as “getting together”. As one of our clients said, “[we act as] independent islands chipping away at symptoms”.
Almost all transformative change started with a series of small groups led by a few courageous people. They came together to tell the truth to one another, did the tough work to get over their differences, and then whole-heartedly went after an intolerable circumstance that each could not surmount on their own! The answer is to move from a “me or you” mindset to a “me and you mindset” and to stop pretending that we are always noble or even often noble!
Question: If this is the answer, at least one powerful answer – so then why aren`t we doing it?
Answer: Good question. Given the common goals, overlapping skillsets, and in many cases overlapping client bases and services, why aren’t we truly collaborating and coming together to increase the power of our voice and share resources, information, and talent? Why? The answer is that there is too much self-interest and survival thinking to allow for this. Making it and surviving forms an almost inescapable context within which people operate.
If you are awake and have any lived experience of the for profit sector you will see the parallels.
Summing up, excellence in CRM and Customer Experience requires a transformation in the character (being) of organisations (and the people in the organisations especially the Tops) not just a change of clothes to project a more ‘customer friendly’ personality. This is a challenge that few have taken on wholeheartedly – arguably the CRM and Customer Experience fixes were actions designed to bypass the need for a genuine shift in being, in transforming from extractive capitalism to conscious capitalism.
Jeff Bezos and Amazon have been in the news courtesy of Bezos latest letter to shareholders. If you have any interest in what constitutes a customer-centric orientation then I throughly recommend that you print out this letter and read it. If you are up for creating a customer-centric organisation then I recommend that you read this letter every day.
Annette Franz on Jeff Bezos and Customer Experience
Annette Franz over at CX Journey has a written an enthusiastic post referring to Jeff Bezos as a CX dream come true!. I recommend reading it, and I share one particular part of her post with you:
As a leader, Mr. Bezos shows that he’s both the customer and the employee champion. Reading through the 2012 letter again, the following traits and qualities come to mind – all of which are certainly descriptive of a customer-centric culture:
- Best interest of customers
- Not being opportunistic
- Customers ahead of shareholders
Do any of those describe your organization’s values and culture?
Bruce Temkin on Amazon and the customer-centric blueprint
Bruce Temkin says that Bezos letter describes Amazon’s customer-centric blueprint. Bruce picks up on Bezos strategy of making investments and sacrifices today (to benefit customers) knowing that some of these will pay of in the long term. There is one particular paragraph from Bruce’s post that I share with you here as I say it goes to the heart of the customer-centric orientation (bolding is my work):
Bezos understands the value of Amazon’s most critical asset, customer loyalty, which I’ve defined as the willingness to consider, trust, and forgive. That focus is what put Amazon.com on the top of the retail sector in the 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings. Great leaders focus on building that customer loyalty asset with the knowledge that it will generate the best returns for all stakeholders in the long run.
My take on Jeff Bezos, Amazon and the customer-centric orientation
I say that the core of authentic customer-centricity is a relentless ongoing commitment to creating compelling value for customers. What does Jeff Bezos say? Here is an extract from his 1997 letter (highlighting is my work):
From the beginning, our focus has been on offering our customers compelling value….. we set out to offer customers something they simply could not get any other way, and began serving them with books. We brought them much more selection than was possible in a physical store, and presented it in a useful, easy-to-search, and easy-to-browse format in a store open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We maintained a dogged focus on improving the shopping experience, and in 1997 substantially enhanced our store. We now offer customers gift certificates, 1-ClickSM shopping, and vastly more reviews, content, browsing options, and recommendation features. We dramatically lowered prices, further increasing customer value.
But we are not in 1997 and Amazon is now the gorilla of the online space not an upstart, a revolutionary. So lets take a look at the present situation. I say the real test of authentic customer-centricity is what you do when you have arrived, when you dominate the marketplace. I have worked with many large successful organisations. Again and again I have seen these organisations ‘squeeze’ the customer and take ‘advantage’ of the customer’s trust or the customers weakness to maximise profits. Has Amazon fallen into this trap? Here are two paragraphs from the April 2013 letter:
When you pre-order something from Amazon, we guarantee you the lowest price offered by us between your order time and the end of the day of the release date…….. Most customers are too busy themselves to monitor the price of an item after they pre-order it, and our policy could be to require the customer to contact us and ask for the refund. Doing it proactively is more expensive for us, but it also surprises, delights, and earns trust.
In 2012, AWS [Amazon Web Services] announced 159 new features and services……. AWS Trusted Advisor monitors customer configurations, compares them to known best practices, and then notifies customers where opportunities exist to improve performance, enhance security, or save money. Yes, we are actively telling customers they’re paying us more than they need to. In the last 90 days, customers have saved millions of dollars through Trusted Advisor, and the service is only getting started. All of this progress comes in the context of AWS being the widely recognized leader in its area – a situation where you might worry that external motivation could fail. On the other hand, internal motivation – the drive to get the customer to say “Wow” – keeps the pace of innovation fast.
Why has Amazon bucked the trend here? Why is Amazon not exploiting its dominant position? Why is Amazon not extracting value from its customer relationships to maximise short-term profits and drive up the share price?
My answer is that Bezos is not playing the profit maximisation game. I say that he is playing “maximise service not profits” game and as such he has built a culture and management doctrine that drives the appropriate thinking and behaviour. Here’s what Jeff Bezos say in his l2013 letter:
One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to. These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than by reaction to competition. We think this approach earns more trust with customers and drives rapid improvements in customer experience – importantly – even in those areas where we are already the leader.
I say there is value in simplicity. I say that there is value in exceeding customer expectations. I say that one of the best ways of exceeding customer expectations is to give customers more than they expect. I say that customers expect companies to play dirty and take advantage. I say a sure route to delighting customers is not to do this and instead treat people right. What does Jeff Bezos say?
To me, trying to dole out improvements in a just-in-time fashion would be too clever by half. It would be risky in a world as fast-moving as the one we all live in. More fundamentally, I think long-term thinking squares the circle. Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.
In amidst all this content it is easy to miss what really matters: the context. So let’s just take a look at the context. Between the 1997 letter and the 2013 letter, a span of 15+ years, there has been consistency:
- Leadership: Jeff Bezos continues to be in charge
- Focus: creating compelling value for customers
- Strategy: take calculated risks, innovate, invest today to create value for customers and look for payoff in terms of customer loyalty and market leadership in the longer run
- Management doctrine: the fundamental pillars of the management doctrine are set-out in the 1997 letter.
This post follows on from the previous one – if you have not read it then you may wish to do so, as this post continues the story, the conversation.
Trust – I put my life in the hands of ‘others’
I awaken and notice that I am back in the day ward, what happened, what am I doing here? Confusion. My last memory is of being in the ‘operating theatre’: the nurses are hooking me up to equipment and assuring me that they will be monitoring my vital signs throughout the procedure. The Consultant inserts a needle into my hand, the sedative flows I can feel that it is warm. Now I am awake, here in this ward.
The nurse offers me a tea and sandwiches, I refuse. She gently and confidently tells me that the right thing to do is to take the tea and sandwiches. I agree – she comes across as she knows what she is doing and she is doing it out of care for me. After finishing the ‘meal’ and the paperwork, she tells me someone will be along soon to take me to another ward until my wife can come and collect me.
As I am wheeled along to the other ward I reflect on what happened today and has happened before. How many times have I put my life at risk – in the hands of the medical profession? It occurs to me that trust is present between me, the doctors and the nurses. I trust that they will act in my best interests, to take care of me, to safeguard my life by doing the right thing. I can think of two instances where the medical profession saved my life: at the age of 8 when I walked into the path of van and then in my mid-20s when I had a blockage in an artery ……
What is the bedrock of this trust? I am of the view that the medical profession is bound by the prime directive: do no harm. I am convinced that the doctors and nurses are here for me – to serve me, to cater for my needs, my welfare – and not the other way around. I believe that there are rigorous standards in place to ensure competence – these folks know what they are doing, they haven’t just walked off the street. What would happen if this trust was eroded? Would we, here in the UK, end up in the same place as the USA? Highly likely. Trust is THE lubricant of friction free relationships between human beings. Trust is what makes all forms of social organisation possible.
Now compare this with the business world. What is the prime directive? Can you and I honestly say that the prime directive is to do no harm to customers? What about the design of the business system? Is ‘business’ there to serve me and my needs or is it there to find means to sell stuff to anyone who can be persuaded to buy it? Is it somewhere in the middle? What about competence? How sure can you and I be that the business folks we depend on are competent? I know of a bank where the vast majority of customer services staff cannot accurately answer the top 10 frequently asked questions. And then are the customer facing staff in stores – most of them do not have the requisite product knowledge nor the skills to listen to / talk with customers.
Care: the difference that makes all the difference?
The Consultant telling the nurse that he was going to give me a sedative as that was the right thing to do. And instructing her to find me a bed showed up as care – care for me.
The nurse ringing around, finding a bed, coming back to tell me with a smile in her being, showed up as care – care for me, for my well being.
The Consultant and the team rearranging the operating schedule to put me lower on the list – as I was in lots of pain and not ready to be ‘operated’ on – showed up as care, care for me.
The nurses talking to me, explaining what was about to happen, pointing out that they were hooking me up to equipment to monitor my vital signs throughout the procedure showed up as care – care for me.
The nurse offering/encouraging me to have that tea and sandwich after the ‘operation’ showed up as act of care – care for me.
The trainee nurse coming up every so often to measure my blood pressure showed up as care – care for me.
The nurses on the receiving ward who got that I was not lucid, who first found me chair to sit in and then later moved me to the bed (when it became available) and then put blanket on me showed care – care for me!
What I am present to is the kindness/care of strangers, the kindness of my fellow human beings, the kindness of the medical professionals – at my GP’s surgery and at Heatherwood Hospital. What showed up in my experience was caring and competence. Caring is not enough it requires competence. Competence is not enough, it requires authentic caring for the other as fellow human being. I say that if you care then you make sure that you do all that you need to do to be competent. Put differently, ensuring competence is a key act of caring and if incompetence is present then that shows a lack of caring, indifference.
Authentic caring involves doing what is right including going against the wishes of the customer if that is the right thing to do. After the procedure, when I woke up I was ready to get dressed and literally walk home – I felt that fine. I told the nurses that I would walk to the other ward. I asked the nurses to leave him outside on the lawn until my wife turned up so that I would not take up a bed that someone else needed. They ignored me. Why? They had a better map of the situation – they knew that I was not lucid, not fit to make decisions, not fit to look after myself.
One other thought occurs to me, the level of caring varied from one person to another. Put differently, caring did not show up as an organisational quality, it showed up as personal quality. That is to say that some people cared and showed their caring whereas others did not. Which suggests to that the organisation is not consciously, deliberately cultivating a culture of caring.
Now lets take a look at the business world, how do business organisations show care for their customers? Does care show up in the lives of customers? In what sense do customers feel cared for? What would show up if genuine care, for customers and their well being, was present? How would that effect product development, marketing, sales, customer service, logistics, finance…? Could it be that genuine care will work where all the shiny toys and fashionable tricks are not working?
I will conclude this series of posts by sharing with you the aspects of my ‘customer experience’ that were not so great and highlighting issues’/factors that need to be addressed.
Let’s get up to date
If you have been reading the recent posts you will know that I have been diving into, exploring and sharing what I have learned as I have been reading Extreme Trust the latest book by Don Peppers & Martha Rogers. This weekend I finished reading the entire book and so this post is my, personal and biassed, review of the book. If you have not read these first 2 – 3 posts then here are the links:
What kind of a book is Extreme Trust? Think back to The One to One Future
How best to describe Extreme Trust the latest book by Don Peppers & Martha Rogers? Perhaps the best place to start is to compare it with the other books Don and Martha have written. Which is the book that is the closest to Extreme Trust in its flavour? The One to One Future. That book, The One to One Future, was a delight to read and it said what needed to be said about the state of marketing and spelled out the future. Extreme Trust has a similar flavour and had provided me with a similar experience. What did I like about it? What spoke to me? In Extreme Trust, Don and Martha do the following effectively:
- Inject human beings and in particular the social/co-operative/empathic being of human beings back into the whole Customer conversation – yes, look closely and you are likely to find that for all the talks about relationships the focus of the Customer movement has been on processes, data and technology (that is as true for Don and Martha as any other authors);
- Address the ‘elephant in the room’, the greed based, short term focussed, deceitful/manipulative context of ‘business as usual’ which is oriented towards/focussed on extracting revenues and profits from customers usually by taking advantage of the ignorance/vulnerability/helplessness of customers;
- Explore the theme of trust – why it matters, how it operates, what difference it makes, what benefits it delivers to social life and business/organisational life; and
- Spell out the why/how organisations will have to become ‘trustable’ whether they want to or not – social technologies, smartphones and the fundamentally social/moral wiring of human beings make it inevitable
Extreme Trust is not a book about marketing, it is not a book about customer service, it is not a book about social media. Extreme Trust, if read/viewed through a wide angle lens, is essentially about a new paradigm in business which involves and impacts everyone – the Tops, the Middles, the Bottoms, the Customer, the Community. Essentially, Extreme Trust sets out a new philosophy of doing business based on an understanding of the social being of human beings and how social media has given real weight to the hollow sounding expression “The Customer is King”. If that is the background of the book than the customer and the relationship with the customer sits in the foreground and can best be encapsulated in the following diagram:
The chapter headings are meaningful and so I want to share them with you and provide my brief take on each one.
“Trust: not just a good idea. Inevitable.” Don and Martha make a persuasive argument for the importance of doing the right thing by customers proactively and they spell out the benefits of being trustable (USAA) and the downside of taking advantage of your customers (AOL).
“Serving the interests of customers, profitably”. Here Don and Martha describe and point out the ‘flaws’ of ‘business as usual’ and argue that the central challenge for Tops is to come up with an appropriate business model for the time – a business model that allows the company to generate “good profits” and rule out “bad profits” by aligning the interests of the customer and the company.
“Trustability: capitalist tool”. In this chapter Don and Martha ‘get real’ – they get that the lever for effecting change in business is through the profit motive as opposed to being good or doing good. So Don and Martha strive to show you doing right by the customer, being a trustable company, leads to superior long term performance. In short, trustability is an asset like ‘brand’ is or at least used to be.
“Sharing: not just for Sunday school”. The social nature of human beings as evidenced by co-operation, sharing, reciprocity, sense of injustice and punishment of cheaters is explored here. The key point is that we do not have to be encouraged to share, to cooperate, to reciprocate, to punish those that do not share/cooperate/reciprocate – to be human is to be/do this stuff effortless, it is the default. Social production and the radical implications it has for business is touched upon here.
“Trust and the e-social ethos”. In this chapter Don and Martha take the social being of human beings and look at/describe how this shows up in the e-social world of social networks. The implications are explored through real life examples of companies that got it right and those that did not. This chapter is heavily linked with the previous one.
“Control is not an option”. Business as usual can be characterised by “command-control-secrecy-spin”. Well this used to work great and is now well past it’s sell by date. The world is much more interdependent, fluid, unpredictable – just look at what has been happening since the financial crisis of 2008. And anyone who has studied ‘systems and systems thinking’ will get that control is an illusion. Yet as Kahneman has shown in his latest book (Thinking Fast and Slow) we human beings are wired to strive for control, think we can control more than we can control, and look for/find order when none exists. Don and Martha share these features of our existence and spell out some approaches that Tops can take to deal with the new reality.
“Build your trustability in advance”. In this chapter Don and Martha spell out the advantage of being a trustable company through examples of real companies that encountered hard times and where reputation for trustability (with core customer base) made all the difference. In short, if you look after your customers in the good times they look after you during your bad times.
“Honest competence”. It is not enough to be honest, it is not enough to be competent, your organisation has to show up as being honest and competent. Don and Martha divide competence into product competence and customer competence and explore each one. Turns out that organisations really struggle with customer competence. The key issue – inability/failure to empathise with customers, to see the world through their eyes. Don and Martha share the instructive story around Domino’s pizza.
“Trustable information”. Information is data that makes a difference – it sheds light on a situation, it enables action, it helps attain desired outcomes. One way companies can contribute to customers and the wider community and thus build trustability is through sharing data and/or information that is held by the company. What is often just data within a company, if released to a wide community in a usable format can be turned into information. That is the key point of this chapter, Don and Martha gives some examples.
“Designing trustability into a business”. This chapter completes the conversation, the story and Don/Martha do so by exploring what trustability would involve in various industries – mobile operators, financial services, automotive, airlines, enterprise computing…..
Why I have gone to all this effort to write this review?
Extreme Trust deserves to be read. It opens up a new domain, a new conversation, a conversation that needs to happen. Why? Until this conversation happens, this domain is addressed, pretty much all the money spent on Customer initiatives is wasted. Why? Because the ‘elephant in the room’ is not being addressed and addressing that ‘elephant in the room’ is the key to cultivating genuine affection and customer loyalty. I want to leave you with the parting words of Don and Martha in Extreme Trust:
“In the final analysis, it is almost certain to be the new companies and the start-ups that employ these tactics to overturn the old way. They have less invested in the current paradigm, and less to lose by destroying it. Gradually, they will use trustability to transform our entire economic system, in the same way that interactivity itself has so dramatically transformed our lives already. They will deploy honesty as brutally efficient competitive weapon against the old guard.
As standards for trustability continue to rise, the companies, the brands, and organisations shown to lack trustability will be punished more and more severely…..“
For my part, I am keen for this future to turn up sooner rather than later – the thought occurs to me that this is a future worth operating from and living into. How about you?