Blog Archives

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?

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.

Why Voice of the Customer Lacks Punch And What You Can Do About It?

Rod Butcher’s latest post and my recent experience with my son have got me thinking. And I want to share this thinking with you.

VoC programmes show up as attractive even compelling

I can see the logic. We need to better understand what matters to our customer, what they think of us, how they feel about doing business with us.  We can’t just ask our employees as they are likely to distort the picture. So let’s go and ask customers.  Using this logic, Tops initiate VoC programmes which usually involve some kind of customer survey (e.g. NPS) and may or may not be integrated with other sources that provide access to the voice of the customer e.g. customer calls, customer complaints. In any case the information is tabulated-summarised and published as a report and sent out typically to the people who matter in the organisation – usually Tops, sometimes Tops and Middles, rarely Bottoms.

VoC programmes have a powerful sting in the tail

What is missing from these VoC reports is the actual listening to the voice of the customer. I say that whilst these reports ‘pretend’ to provide access to the voice of the customer they actually serve the function of obscuring genuine listening and connection to the voice of the customer. I say that VoC acts to keep executives in their comfort zone. VoC programmes keep executives disconnected from any direct contact with real flesh and blood customers and the people in the organisation who actually interact with and serve these customers. This is another example of change in organisational content whilst the powerful-hidden organisational context which determines organisational behaviour staying the same.

You might be asking yourself is this an issue?  It is. Why? Because the dominant complaint around VoC programmes is the failure of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer coming through these programmes.  Why might that be?  This is what Rod writes in his post

It’s far too easy for senior executives to be seduced by numbers, graphs, charts, red-amber-green ratings, and generally let their eyes glaze over when they hear the word, customers. Especially if you’re sitting in a conference room up on the 25th floor – customers look quite small from way up in the rarefied air of the corporosphere.

Where is the emotional punch that generates action?

I have ‘listened’ to the voice of the customer through VoC reports. I have listened to the voice of the customer by listening into customers calling into the call-centre. And I have listened to the voice of the customer by talking with customers over the phone or face to face. I have seen my clients do the same.  And based on my experience I say that there is world of difference.  What kind of difference?  Difference in the emotional punch.  I have found that VoC reports don’t pack emotional punch. This matters because it is the emotional punch that drives action.  Put differently, it is what we feel strongly about that gets us to act.

There is no substitute for experiencing what the customer experience, not even listening to the voice of the customer

Allow me to share a recent experience with you. An experience that shows the huge gulf between listening to the customer and getting the experience of the customer.

My son had his sociology homework to do. It needs to be done by the end of this week. He had been complaining about it being too hard for him to do for over a week. Please notice, my use of the word “complaining”. My son had told us that the homework was too hard, that he could not make sense of what he had to read, that he had tried several times, and that he had given up.  I didn’t hear that. I made a judgement and the judgement was that his teachers could not possibly have given him work that was beyond his capability. And so my son was making a big deal of nothing. Just finding a way of getting out of doing his homework.

One day I actually sat down to help him do his homework.  That involved reading all the papers he had to read and answering his questions. What showed up as I sat in his seat? I experienced what he had experienced!  I ended up saying “Wow these are hard.  These papers assume you have an understanding of the world like I do yet you are only 16 years old. And they use really complicated language. Specialist even academic language. No wonder you have found it hard, I am finding it hard!”

As a result of this experience affinity between us showed up. And I made myself available for 1.5 hours a day to sit side by side with him and help him read and understand all the papers that he needs to read and understand.

My advice

Listen to the advice offered by Rod Butcher in his latest post.  Listen to the experience I have shared with you.  Get your Tops and Middles out of their offices and directly in contact with your customers.  And bring the voice of the customer home to the people in your organisation in way that packs an emotional punch.  Video is a great way of doing just that.  Bringing real customers into your organisation and talking with them at a human to human level is a great way to do that.  I leave you with the Rod’s wise words:

Talk to the customer – yes, I know, it’s not rocket science is it? As I shared in a recent post, SouthEastern does it in person – they regularly hold “meet the manager” events at London Bridge station in the rush hour, where 10 or so senior directors gather with their clipboards, listening to their customers’ tales of commuting nightmares. Others do it over the phone. Virgin Media are strong here – resisting the temptation to just have managers passively listen to calls, and for a day only (when, let’s face it, the urge to check in with the day job will still be strong), they have every manager spend a week back on the floor, being trained up, then manning the phones and at the end of it all, reflecting back on what they’ve seen and learned.

Customer Experience in the UK: what is really going on?

What’s really going on the UK contact-centre industry?

Yesterday, I met up with a friend who works in the VoC and contact-centre space and we discussed the whole customer thing.  This is what showed up for me in our conversation:

- There has been a huge surge in people with Customer Experience titles. And mostly it is people in contact-centres taking on these titles.

- The customer experience is not the fundamental driver of how contact-centres operate.  The contact-centre industry is permeated through and through by a focus on processing transactions (calls) as cheaply as possible. This was so before Customer Experience titles became fashionable and it is still the case.

- Whilst some brave souls in the contact-centre industry (like my friend) are up for and focus on the customer experience in contact-centres.  The big outsourced contact-centre providers who dominate the industry are focussed on bums-on-seats, costs and meeting their transactional SLA.  They have no listening for customer experience.

- VoC has become the new black, just about everyone is doing it.  And there is big question mark over the value of this given the lack of genuine passion for the customer and the customer experience in the organisation.

- There is a lot of talk about social customer service and the reality is that very little is going on.  There is a tsunami of calls coming in from customers and only a trickle of contacts through social. This works for the people in the business because they are terrified of social and its impact on the carefully scripted brand image and messages.

Customer Experience: what is the cause of the gulf between the words and the reality?

What is going on here?  Why is there such a big difference between the words and the reality?  Why is it that whilst the words have changed from CRM to CEM, the indifference to building emotional bonds with customers continues?  Is it a lack of understanding?  Are people in business simply ignorant and so they need more education from the likes of customer experience gurus?

My passion is the being of human beings especially how we show up in groups and organisational settings.  And what it takes for us to shift our being-doing.  So allow me to share a story with you that I say sheds light on what is going on.

A holy man was meditating beneath a tree at the crossing of two roads. His meditation was interrupted by a young man running frantically down the road toward him.

“Help me,” the young man pleaded. “A man has wrongly accused me of stealing.  He is pursuing me with a great crowd of people. If they catch me, they will chop off my hands!”

The young man climbed the tree beneath which he sage had been meditating and hid himself in the branches. “Please don’t tell them where I am hiding,” he begged.

The holy man saw with the clear vision of a saint that the young man was telling the truth.  The lad was not a thief.  A few minutes later, the crowd of villagers approached, and leader asked, “Have you seen a young man run by here?”

Many years earlier, the holy man had taken a vow to always speak the truth, so he said that he had.  “Where did he go?” the leader asked.

The holy man did not want to betray the innocent young man, but his vow was sacred to him. He pointed up into the tree. The villagers dragged the young man out of the tree and chopped off his hands.

I say that a shift to an authentic customer orientation, one where the focus of the company is to come up with value propositions and customer experiences, that enrich the lives of their customers (and all the people who have to play their part in making this happen) requires transformational change.  It requires a complete break with the past and operating from a radically different context. It is the kind of break that the caterpillar makes in order to show up as a butterfly.  And that is a big ask for almost all of us especially large companies that are doing ok.

What does it take to make an impact as the Chief Experience Officer?

Allow me to introduce you to Lonnie Mayne , Chief Experience Officer at Mindshare Technologies. As his bio says “Lonnie Mayne influences each and every interaction involving Mindshare’s valued clients—from front-desk greetings to printed marketing materials to everyday sales calls to impromptu gifts of friendship.”  Mindshare is in the business of providing companies (and their executives) valuable customer insight gleamed from tapping into the Voice of the Customer.

Just before I went on my holidays I had an interesting conversation with Lonnie and in this post I want to share some of  points/learnings I took from that conversation.

Why focus on the customer and the customer’s experience? 

Lonnie’s answer to this question is simple: at some point the customer will be faced with a choice and if you have not created value for the customer, made his/her life better, then the customer will switch to another supplier.

Yes, it is possible to be doing well financially if you have created enough value for the customer through your product/service without asking/involving/focussing on your customers and what matters to them.  However, sooner or later this situation will change and when that happens your business will pay the price.  Put differently, the price of not listening to your customers and not keeping in tune with them is often paid further down the line.  As I write these lines I cannot help but think of Tesco in the UK.

What is the central challenge facing the Chief Experience Officer?

As a result of 20+ years of business experience, Lonnie is clear that CEO’s tend to be focussed on profitable growth. And in pursuing profit it is easy for the CEO to ‘lose sight of the customer along the way’.  How exactly?  The CEO doesn’t consider the impact of decisions deeply enough when it comes to the impact on the customers.  Put differently, too much focus on profit leads to poor decision making: decision making which favours short term efficiency and cost reduction over long term effectiveness in meeting/addressing customer needs.

Therefore, the central challenge for the Chief Experience Officer, according to Lonnie, is to ensure that the customer is present at the leadership table.  How?  By asking the following question: what is the impact of this decision on the customer?  Clearly it is not enough to ask the question.  The Chief Experience Officer (or Chief Customer Officer) also has to provide an answer.  In practice this means ‘applying science to the Voice of the Customer’ to deliver a sound business case that speaks to the CEO.

What does it take to make a meaningful impact as the Chief Experience Officer?

Moving from talking about customer focus and customer experience to actually orienting a company around customers and generating the right customer experience is not easy.  Some say it requires a transformation in mindset, culture and organisational design.  What does Lonnie say and how has he gone about it?

1. Ensure you have the wholehearted support of the CEO and build a good working relationship.  Lonnie is clear that to be successful in his role he needs the wholehearted support of his CEO.  That means reporting into/working with a CEO that gets the importance of the customer and the customer experience.  It helps if the KPI’s of the Chief Experience Officer align with the CEO.  Lonnie tells me that his success metrics are identical with those of his CEO.  So what is the difference between Lonnie and his CEO?  Lonnie’s focus is first on the customer and then on profitable growth whereas the CEO’s focus is first on profitable growth and second on the customer.  You can say that they complement each other.

2. Have real clout within the organisation.  As Chief Experience Officer, Lonnie is not simply heading up a staff function with no line authority or responsibility.  He used to lead the sales and account management function.  Now, as the Chief Experience Officer, Lonnie has direct responsibility for marketing, sales and client retention.

3. Broaden the definition of customer to include internal customers.  Time and again Lonnie referred to internal customers as well as external customers when he talked about customers.  It occurs to me that Lonnie gets that to serve/make an impact on external customers he has to serve/make an impact on the internal customers: the employees of Mindshare.

4. Involve the people in the organisation in grappling with the key questions.  There is considerable value in having the right people grapple with the right questions.   When it comes to designing/generating the right customer experience, the right people are the employees.  Which questions? Lonnie mentioned two questions that he posed: “How would you ever know, if you were outside the organisation, what we stand for as an organisation?”; and “What do we want the ultimate Customer Experience to be?”  The value/beauty of taking such an approach is that you do not have to get ‘buy-in’ later, the ‘buy-in’ is built in right from the start.

5. Access and use of the Voice of the Customer. Lonnie has been able to influence decision making by tapping into and making good use of the Voice of the Customer.  He calls that ‘practicing what we preach’ given that this is the core business of Mindshare.

6. Speak the language of the business.  It is not enough to access the Voice of the Customer.  Why?  If the Voice of the Customer does not speak the language of business then it falls on deaf ears.  What is the language of business?  Finance.  Specifically and in practice this means making a sound economic case for acting on the Voice of the Customer.

7. Get the CEO in front of customers regularly.  Given that CEOs are disconnected from and tend to lose sight of customers and what matters to customers it is essential to the get the CEO in front of real flesh and blood customers. Put differently, facts and figures can never replace face to face encounters: there is nothing like being there, seeing/hearing/experiencing the customer first hand.

8.  Respectfully challenge the CEO as and when necessary.  Clearly, this is only possible if and only if you have confidence.  It is easier to be confident if you have built a good working relationship with the CEO, you have access to the Voice of the Customer and you know how to use it effectively – to make a sound business case.

I dedicate this post to Cathy Sorensen.  Cathy I thank you for your words of kindness:  it is great to know and to feel that my writing makes a contribution to you and that you missed me during August.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,231 other followers

%d bloggers like this: