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What Does It Take To Access And Hear The Richness Of The Voice Of The Customer?

I invite you to take a zen like look into the whole ‘voice of the customer’ thing. By ‘voice of the customer’ I mean the practice of using customer surveys to get customer feedback.  And then turning these individuals customer surveys into tables, charts, reports, and presentations which are fed to managers. By zen I mean a simple direct looking into the concrete reality void of ideology-conceptualisation and self deception.

What do you see when you take that zen like look at this ‘voice of the customer’ thing? Here is what shows up for me: I do not hear the voice of the customer!  There is no voice of the customer! So what is there? Paper, ink, text, diagrams; no human voice speaks.

We, human beings, are masters of self-deception. We are told that being effective with customers starts with customer insight. We are told that being effective involves listening to the voice of the customer. We are told that being effective requires ‘walking in the shoes’ of the customer. What do we do? We get busy with technology centred services that keep Tops and Middles as distant, as insulated, from customers as usual. But now with the illusion of being in contact with the customer!

Before I go on, I wish to make it clear that I am not bashing ‘voice of the customer’ surveying. These surveys, if designed, implemented, and used correctly can provide some useful information. And if the limitations are gotten by those who need to get them (Tops and Middles) then they can be a useful tool. However, this is not what I have experienced. What have I experienced? It occurs to me that many managers use this tools to avoid actually listening to the voice of the customer. And to stay within their comfort zones: the office-corporate environment.

So what does it take to access AND hear the voice of the customer.  I invite you to read and ponder the following (bolding is my work):

How do your decisions affect customers and suppliers? It’s hard for us to imagine this well if we don’t really know the customers and vendors we work with. And we can’t know them if we hardly ever see them. This is one reason why it’s so important to give people a chance to get …., out of their offices, and out of the building, to visit the people they serve.

Whenever manufacturing or design people actually make site visits and see firsthand how customers are using their products, they develop a new insightful imaginative feel for the needs of the customer, and sometimes the plight of the customer. They come face to face with what really works well and what doesn’t work as it should. They hear from other real people what they like and don’t like about the product, what they need and what they’d really like to have if it were just possible. When the end user becomes a face and a voice, a genuine, three dimensional human being, it is much more difficult to ignore his or her interests and needs. This is a natural impetus for good decision making, with the customer’s interest at heart.

- Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Is this all there is to get another human being – be s/he a customer, an employee, a partner or a supplier?  No. Even in my home I notice that some of us prefer not to be present to that which is so. Why? Because being present to the reality of the impact of our behaviour can be painful especially if we are committed to keeping our existing practices intact.

So what does it take to get another human being: his/her needs, his/her experience, his/her dreams?  I invite you to read-ponder the following:

we need to cultivate a perceptive imagination on two different levels. First, we need imagination on a small scale. We need empathy. You can’t know how you would want to be treated if you were in another person’s shoes unless you can imagine what it would be like to be in his shoes. It is hard to develop empathy in a robust form without getting to know in concrete and detailed ways the people with whom we need to empathise. One of the most important business commandments then should be: Know thy customer. And it’s equal should be: Know thy associate…… Service and empathy must flow through an organisation first if they are to flow out unimpeded to those with whom the organisation does business.

We also need to cultivate imagination on a large scale, a vivid vision for our lives and our businesses. We need an imaginative conception of what we are doing, a big picture for the contribution we are making to the world. We need a map with coordinates to guide us in our concrete day-to-day decisions….. With a powerful ethical vision directing all our thoughts, we don’t need long list of rules to guide us. We are both informed and inspired to do what is right.

- Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Summing up, if I am to access and hear the richness of the voice of my customers, my associates, my value creation partners, then the starting point is dropping my ego which constantly calls out “Me, me, ME!”. And rigorously embracing practices that call forth fellow feeling; moving from an I-It way of showing up and travelling in the world to the I-Thou mode.  What I have found is that as I do this the workability of my relationships and my effectiveness-impact increases. So does my experience of being alive and being fulfilled.  What about you?

I thank you for your listening and I hope you will cause-create a great weekend for yourselves and your fellow human beings starting with those with whom you are in most intimate contact. And if you happen to be a Top or a Middle and are serious about listening to your customers then leave your office and go talk with real flesh+blood human beings. And note that you will not have listened, really listened, until you humanity (the best of you) has been called forth and put into these encounters with your fellow human beings disguised as ‘customers’.  Incidentally, this is what social really is.

Most Important Post I Have Written This Year: What Does It Really Take To Know Your Customers?

This is long conversation and likely to be of interest to those of you who have experienced the limitations of knowledge as it is commonly understood. It may also be of interest to you if you glimpsed the radical difference between knowing and knowing about. If this is not you, then please go do something else.

How Useful Is The Knowledge Gained Through Market Research?

There is a huge industry that caters to the needs of business folks (often those in the marketing function) to know their customers or their target audience/market. I am speaking of the market research industry: qualitative (focus groups etc), quantitative (surveys), and a mix of each. In recent years, a new breed of player has entered this industry: the Voice of the Customer industry with its many technology solutions providers focussed almost exclusively on feedback through surveys. How useful is this research? What are its limits? What can you really know about your customer/s through this kind of knowing?

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Short Answer

There is one well know market research organisation that sells and ‘supplies’ market research to many big brands who are keen to know their customers. This organisation knows it stuff: market research. Given this one would assume that the folks in this organisation would know all they need to know about their customers – those who commission the research (on their customers and target markets). What is actually the case?

One of the growth challenges, of this marketing research organisation, is a lack of understanding, knowledge, of its customers. How can this be?  This organisation has an army of professional market researchers, an array of market research technologies, a broad range of tools that it uses every day; and history/track record of conducting all kinds of research.

Clearly, market research, that this organisations does and sells, does not provide the kind of knowing that it is seeking of its own customers. So the short answer is it takes more than market research whether through focus groups or surveys. Whilst this kind of knowledge may be interesting, even somewhat useful, it is not sufficient.

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Long Answer

To answer this question it is necessary to clearly understand-distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing about’.  Once you get this distinction you get why it is that the market research companies has no real understanding of its customers. You will also get why it is that most advice given by sales gurus to sales reps is useless.

Should you use your valuable time to master this distinction?  Let me put it this way, I say, mastering this distinction is one of the most important distinctions, if not the most important, distinction to master for effective living.  Once you master this distinction you can focus on what really generates knowledge. And you will no longer need to be bewitched and misled by the many academic articles, business books, guru, advisors and consultant. You may even see that this stuff is worse than useless, it is dangerous!

What distinguishes ‘knowing’ from ‘knowing about’?

I invite you to read the following passage with someone who has grappled with this question not theoretically but through lived experience:

When I was working on the Meaning of Anxiety, I spent a year and a half in bed in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I had a great deal of time to ponder the meaning of anxiety – and plenty of first hand data on myself and my fellow anxious patients. In the course of time I studied two books ….: one by Freud, The Problem of Anxiety, and the other by Kierkegaard, TheConcept of Anxiety.

I valued highly Freud’s formulations …… But these were still theories.  Kierkegaard, on the other hand, described anxiety as the struggle as the living being with nonbeing which I could immediately experience in my struggle with death or the prospect of being a lifelong invalid……

What powerfully struck me then was that Kierkegaard was writing about exactly what my fellow patients and I were going through. Freud was not..… Kierkegaard was portraying what is immediately experienced by human beings in crisis….. Freud was writing on the technical level, where his genius was supreme ….. he knew about anxiety. Kierkegaard, a genius of a different order, was writing on the existential, ontological level; he knew anxiety.

- Rollo May, The Discovery Of Being

Have you gotten the distinction? Kierkegaard knew anxiety in the only way that generates knowing: through experiencing it, living it, being anxious.  Freud, knew about anxiety.

Failing to distinguish ‘knowing about’ from ‘knowing’ compromises effective action and generates unintended outcomes

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that I can get a bunch of data about you: name, address, age, marital status, number of children, job, income, what you spend your money on, where you spend your time, your height, your weight, colour of your eyes……  Clearly I know about you. And I might get to thinking that I know you. Do I? Do I really know you as a living-breathing human being?

Before you answer that question, I ask you read and truly get present to the profound insight that is being communicated in the following passage:

The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus 9 spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being – an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.

The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil smelling jar, remove a still colourless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines, and write the truth…… There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed – probably the least important reality concerning the fish or yourself.

It is good to know what you are doing. The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that colour, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way

- Steinbeck and Ricketts, 1971, pp 3-3

Summing Up

Life occurs in the arena, is dynamic, is ALWAYS relational, and every observation and ‘lesson’ is context specific.  Knowing occurs in the arenaGenuine, deep, insightful knowing occurs in and amongst those who spend sufficient time playing full out in the arena to transcend discrete objects-events and experience-see relationships, patterns and the deeper structures that generate the patterns and thus the events.

Most of what is spoken, written about and passes for knowledge in Western society is that which can be observed, relatively painlessly, by sitting in the stands observing what appears to be going on (as viewed by the observer with his particular ‘line of sight’) in the arena: knowing about. It is ok for non-relational objects. It is ok for abstract concepts. It is ok for that which is static. It is totally insufficient when it comes to the living: the individual, the social system, life in its fullest expression.

You can never know a human being (customer, employee) through focus groups or surveys. To know a human being you/i must walk in the shoes of that human being and experience situations, people, encounters as s/he experiences them. And this is not as easy as it sounds. Even when you walk in someone’s shoes it is useful to be aware that it is your feet doing the walking. Which means that to get an appreciation for how the other experiences ‘walking in his/her shoes’ you need to have the genuine openness-willingness-curiousity-patience to walk with the other for long enough to get a feel for the others feet such that you arrive at a place where you can walk in the others shoes.

I leave you with the following quotes:

There are certain things you can only know by creating them for yourself

- Werner Erhard

That which really matters in human life can only be known through lived experience; this knowing can rarely be communicated to those who have not created this knowing for themselves through lived experience.

- maz iqbal

Make it a great week. For my part, I find it a joy to be sharing that which I share with you especially after a wonderful experiential vacation in beautiful Dubrovnik.

 

How To Succeed In The Game Of Experience Design? The Six Essentials Courtesy of Amanda Burden

This is a long post. You will only get value out of it if you find yourself genuinely interested in human beings and experience design.

What Comes Before Customer Experience Management?

More and more I come across the term Customer Experience Management. As I sit with this term, this thought occurs to me: “You must have something in place before you are in a position to manage it!”  Put differently, before I am in a position to manage the operation of a building, the building must exist – be in place.

I get there is a different sense of manage as in project management: where one oversees the planning and execution of a project.  Yet, I do not see Customer Experience as a project say like a marketing campaign is distinct project with a start and a finish.  Customer Experience shows up for me as a way of showing up and doing business with customers which emphasises the critical important of the customer’s holistic experience of your business.

For me the word that rightfully occurs after Customer Experience is design. It occurs to me that this is the first and foremost challenge of Customer Experience: designing customer experiences that speak to customers and leave them feeling great at being associated with your business – association includes yet is not limited to buying from your business. Let’s use the analogy of a rocket launch. It occurs to me that Customer Experience Design is the equivalent of doing that which is necessary to actually get the rocket off the ground.  If the rocket does not get off the ground all else is superfluous.

Now I ask you to ponder this, why is there so much talk of voice of the customer and Customer Experience Management and almost nobody talks about Customer Experience Design?  Really dive into this question with an open-inquisitive-questioning mind and you may just see why it is that so many have achieved so little in the domain of Customer Experience.

What Does It Take To Design Great Customer Experiences?

My short answer to this question is that all that you/i need to know is disclosed-shared by Amanda Burden in the TED talk below.  I urge you to watch it, and watch it again. Here is the talk:

I share with you aspects of the talk which resonate most deeply with me and my lived experience of business and in particular the domain of Customer including Customer Experience.

1. Seeing What Really Matters, What It Is All About?

“When people think about cities, they tend to think of certain things. They think of buildings and streets and skyscrapers, noisy cabs. But when I think about cities, I think about people. Cities are fundamentally about people, and where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work…

My take? The game of life, of business, of performance, of Customer Experience is about people!  In our obsession with strategy, with operations, with processes, with data, with technology (do we love technology!) we are oblivious to fact that these games are fundamentally about people and in particular the human (existential) dimension.

2. Direct Observation Into The details Of Human Behaviour 

” ….. enjoyable public spaces are the key to planning a great city….. But what makes a public space work? ……. One of the first spaces that I studied was this little vest pocket park called Paley Park in midtown Manhattan…. what was it about this space that made it special and drew people to it? Well, I would sit in the park and watch very carefully, and first among other things were the comfortable, movable chairs. People would come in, find their own seat, move it a bit, actually, and then stay a while, and then interestingly, people themselves attracted other people, and ironically, I felt more peaceful if there were other people around. And it was green. This little park provided what New Yorker’s crave: comfort and greenery …”

My take? Great experiences are designed. The design follows detailed observation of human behaviour. Can anyone do this work? No, it takes people like Amanda who are both trained in the field of human behaviour AND are in touch with their own humanity. Notice, Amanda noticed that she felt more peaceful in that park when there were other people around. And being in tune with her own experience (bodily state, feelings, thoughts, mood) she was able to guess that this park met the New Yorker’s craving for comfort and greenery.  Put differently, direct observation AND lived experience led to inductive thinking – the kind of thinking that does not show up when one is process mapping in the office or poring over VoC reports.

3. Designers Who Have The Requisite Grasp Of Human Beings AND Find Themselves Called To Enrich Lives

“…  one of the more wonky things about me is that I am an animal behaviorist, and I use those skills not to study animal behavior but to study how people in cities use city public spaces…  For me, becoming a city planner meant being able to truly change the city that I lived in and loved. I wanted to be able to create places that would give you the feeling that you got in Paley Park, and not allow developers to build bleak plazas like this….. I was determined to create places that would make a difference in people’s lives.

My take? When I see an organisation using the lean-six sigma-process guys to staff their Customer Experience effort, I know it is doomed.  These folks lack that which it takes to craft experiences that speak to customers. What do they lack? Humanity – they are not sufficiently in tune with their humanity so how can they be in tune with the humanity of others?  Process folks are focused on efficiency/throughput. Not comfort, not connection, not beauty… What they are not called to do nor determined to do is to create experiences (and ways of doing business) that make a difference in people’s (customers, frontline personnel) lives.

4. Great Experiences Need To Be Lived-Experienced Before They Are Implemented; Details Make The Difference

“…. just to make sure, I insisted that we build a mock-up in wood, at scale, of the railing and the sea wall. And when I sat down on that test bench with sand still swirling all around me, the railing hit exactly at eye level, blocking my view and ruining my experience at the water’s edge. 

So you see, details really do make a difference. But design is not just how something looks, it’s how your body feels on that seat in that space, and I believe that successful design always depends on that very individual experience. In this photo, everything looks very finished, but that granite edge, those lights, the back on that bench, the trees in planting, and the many different kinds of places to sit were all little battles that turned this project into a place that people wanted to be.

My take? To design customer experience one needs to be clear on what actually constitutes an experience. And in the domain of customer experience one has to experience-live the customer experience (on more than one occasion) in order to grasp the critical importance of the little details – the kind that are not on the minds of those redesigning processes and/or experiences in the comfort of the office.

 5. Cultivating Customer Trust Starts With A Deep ‘Listening’ In The Deepest Sense of Listening

“So how was I going to get this done? By listening. So I began listening, in fact, thousands of hours of listening just to establish trust. You know, communities can tell whether or not you understand their neighborhoods. It’s not something you can just fake. And so I began walking. I can’t tell you how many blocks I walked, in sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year, just so I could get to understand the DNA of each neighborhood and know what each street felt like. I became an incredibly geeky zoning expert, finding ways that zoning could address communities’ concerns.”

My Take?  Consider what it takes to generate customer insight (and trust). Consider what listening actually involves: listening to the voice of the customer directly (thousand of hours) and listening by experiencing that which the customer experiences by walking in his/her shoes in “sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year…”. Now compare that with what the big brand consultants peddle, and what VoC offers.  As I have stated in a previous post: “There is ALWAYS a price. It is ALWAYS paid. We only get to choose whether we pay the price right up front, during the middle, or at the end.” Notice, Amanda paid the price right up front. Which is why her work turned out to be a success when implemented.

6. To Design Great Customer Experiences Tap Into Your Humanity, Not Your Design Expertise

“So what’s the trick? How do you turn a park into a place that people want to be? Well, it’s up to you, not as a city planner but as a human being. You don’t tap into your design expertise. You tap into your humanity. I mean, would you want to go there? Would you want to stay there? Can you see into it and out of it? Are there other people there? Does it seem green and friendly? Can you find your very own seat?

My take? I do not have any design expertise. Yet, I find myself well fitted to the challenge of experience design. Why? Because I find that all it has taken for me to design customer experiences (and the associated changes in the frontline experience) is the capacity and willingness to tap into my humanity: to put myself in the place of the customer (and the frontline) person – to experience that which they experience and a burning desire-commitment to making a difference in their humanity as lived-experienced.  Which is to say, I find myself in total agreement with Amanda. And, design expertise-tools have their place, can come handy – just as a saw has its place can come handy in the hands of a carpenter who loves working wood to create beauty.

“Oh … milk!”: Is This The Solution To The Customer Interaction Puzzle?

What Occurred and the Experience of What Occurred

In the last post I shared with a customer interaction that took place at Starbucks. If you are to get value out of this conversation it is necessary for you to go and read that last post. Before we proceed, I feel compelled to issue a warning: this post is not for those whose attention span is limited to 30 seconds.

How are we to make sense of what occurred?  Let’s start with how the author (Anna Papachristos) makes sense of the interaction between her mother and the Starbuck’s barista

I’m not sure what was more baffling–the fact that no one in the coffee shop listened, or that they’ve become blissfully unaware of the basics. I understand that Starbucks stands as a status symbol more than anything, but have we really distanced ourselves from the simple things in life that badly? This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Making Sense of This Customer Interaction: Multiple Perspectives

Two people took up my invitation, in the last post, to put intellect-expertise into action and generate-share an explanation of what occurred.  First, lets listen to Gord Demers:

I can’t help but wonder if this could be an English as a Second Language (ESL) situation were one of the parties didn’t have English as their first language…… Maybe the music was too loud and the customer spoke softly and the employee never truly heard the correct order?

James Lawther shares a different take on what occurred:

My guess, though difficult as I wasn’t there…  The barista was bored out of her mind, waiting for her shift to end and was in a world of her own. How’s that?

Finally, lets just remind ourselves as to how Don Peppers choose to interpret this interaction:

Starbucks, like the roadside diner and any other business, tries to maintain quality and control costs by standardizing processes and operations. Routine tasks, if they can’t be automated, are at least handled in the same way by every employee.

My Take On What Occurred

It occurs to me another way to look at the situation and what occurred is to make use of the insights of two philosophers: Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

Wittgenstein on Language

Let’s start with Wittgenstein and his insight into language.  Wittgenstein starts his book, Philosophical Investigations, by sharing a quotation from St Augustine in order to put on the table our taken for granted understanding of language.  This is what Wittgenstein says about this account of language:

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language.  It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Wittgenstein does not see language in this way.  Wittgenstein sees words and language as tools.  What kind of tools?  Social tools for social purposes in specific domains of social life:

A common summary of his argument is that meaning is use—words are not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they are used……

He shows how, in each case, the meaning of the word presupposes our ability to use it….

Wittgenstein’s point is not that it is impossible to define “game”, but that we don’t have a definition, and we don’t need one, because even without the definition, we use the word successfully. Everybody understands what we mean when we talk about playing a game……

Wittgenstein argues that definitions emerge from what he termed “forms of life”, roughly the culture and society in which they are used. Wittgenstein stresses the social aspects of cognition; to see how language works for most cases, we have to see how it functions in a specific social situation. It is this emphasis on becoming attentive to the social backdrop against which language is rendered intelligible that explains Wittgenstein’s elliptical comment that “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”

Source: Wikipedia/Philosophical Investigations

Heidegger: human being as being-in-the-world

In grappling with the question of being Heidegger chooses to look at the being who has an understanding of being: human being.  In so looking, Heidegger asserts that a human being is a being-in-the-world. It is tempting to interpret this as meaning that the world is a container, say a glass, and the human being is in the world, as water is in a glass. Wrong!  A more accurate representation is to see a tapestry and a human being is one thread in the tapestry. Notice, there is not a thread isolated from the tapestry – the two are one!

Not only is a human being a being-in-the-world, it is also so that a human being is situated within specific worlds. What kind of ‘worlds’?  The world of academia.  The world of business. The world of politics. The world of education-schooling. The world of Christianity.  The world of Islam. The world of the high-tech start up. The VC world. The world of finance …… 

What constitutes a world?  A world consists of human beings, their concerns, roles, interactions between human beings, tasks and equipment (stuff). 

“Oh … milk!”: the solution to the riddle?

In our average everydayness what is closest to us is our environment (Umwelt) in which we are caught up in our concerns and activities.

- Heidegger

Situated in a world, busy with the concerns-activities-equipment, we approach each encounter from a particular understanding. What kind of understanding?  The automatic-default understanding of a particular world.  For example, in the world of dining at restaurants you automatically ask for the bill, pay, leave a tip. Do you do the same after enjoying a delicious meal at a friends house when you have been invited as a guest?  What would happen if you did ask your hostess for a bill? Or insist on paying for the meal?  

It occurs to me that the author (Anna Papachristos) committed the same kind of blunder (asking your host for a bill at the end of the meal) when the authors mother walked into Starbucks and asked for “Milk”.  In the world of Starbucks, the world of coffee and coffee drinkers, one does not walk into a Starbucks, stand in line, get to the barista and ask for milk.

The barista is in the world of coffee and in a dance with customers who show up and ask for a coffee. In this world the request for milk is puzzling. It is nonsensical in the sense that one cannot automatically make sense of it.  How does the barista make sense of it?  Probably by looking for the coffee word that sounds closest to milk: “Mocha?”  Notice, that the barista did not get milk until the authors mother said: “No. Two percent white milk.”. What was the barista’s response? “Oh … milk!” Finally, the barista has made sense of the nonsensical request for “milk”.

What makes me confident of my interpretation?  The author writes (the bolding is my work):

This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Yes, the barista was confused. She was as confused by the request for milk as a hostess would be by a guest’s request for a bill!

Let’s move on and consider why it is that even when the barista got the demand for milk, Starbucks delivered steamed milk and not cold milk:

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out.

Think back to Wittgenstein: the meaning of a word is the use to which it is put within a particular social world.  What is the meaning-use of the word ‘milk’ in Starbucks?  Milk that goes into coffee. What kind of milk is that? Steamed milk.  Put differently, in a game of chess ‘castle’ does not mean a castle as in a castle where a lord lives. Nor does castling in chess mean moving between castles in real life!

Why Have I Made Such An Effort With This Challenge?

Think research: how can you be sure that the question that you asked is the question that the customer answered?

Think Voice of the Customer feedback: how can you be sure that what you took the customer’s feedback to mean is what the customer meant?

Think requirements gathering: how can you be sure that you have understand the requirement that the customer is actual communicating?

Think experience design: how can you be sure that you have gotten the experience of the customer that you talking to, right now?

Lessons: 

To truly understand our fellow human beings we have to immerse ourselves in them. How? By living in their worlds. Which is why it takes a nurse to understand a nurse, a doctor to understand a doctor, a CEO to understand a CEO, a woman to understand a woman, a person with back pain to understand a person with back pain, an immigrant to understand an immigrant.

If you do want to understand another then learn from Undercover Boss.  Get out of your office.  Dive into a particular world by fulfilling a particular role in that world.  Dress for that role, train for that role. Dive into the activities that go with that role by actually doing the activities – not as a simulation but for real. And spend enough time, at least five days, living that role.

It takes a woman to understand a woman, a CEO to understand a CEO, an immigrant to understand an immigrant, a teenager to understand a teenager, a person with back pain to understand another person with back pain …….. How do you know when you have arrived at this level of understanding?  You live-breathe-speak the same language! And it speaks you.  Enough for today ..

Musings on Leadership, Performance, and Customer Experience

Is performance a function of an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situation?

It occurs to me that, all else being equal, the probability of the airliners successful arrival/landing at San Francisco is a function of the the pilots attunement with reality: that which is and is not.  Let’s make this concrete by considering some examples:

  • If as the pilot, I have access to the gap between the actual flight and the flight path which is necessary to get the airliner to San Francisco, and I do make the necessary course corrections, on an ongoing basis, then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
  • If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a serious problem with one of the engines and I can accurately determine which engine it is, and I do shut down the troublesome engine as/when it becomes necessary to shut that engine down then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
  • If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a security lockdown at San Francisco airport and that the airliner is running out of fuel, and I head for the nearest alternative airport (say LA) then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.

You get the idea: the probability of success in this venture is a function of the pilot/captain’s ability to ensure that ‘the actions that are critical to the safe arrival of the airliner’ at San Francisco are in attune with, on an ongoing basis, with what is so (and is not so) as this impacts the airliner.  Furthermore, this attunement can be broken down into:

  • an accurate-timely grasp of what is so – the ‘truth’ of the situation; and
  • taking appropriate-timely action, on an ongoing basis, to ensure attunement with this reality.

I ask you to notice the following as regards the very structure of this game of commercial flying:

  • that which we are talking about applies irrespective of who/what is piloting the airliner. And what shape the airliner takes;
  • every crew member who values his life finds him/herself called to pass on information that helps the pilot to be attuned to the truth of the situation and take the appropriate action;
  • every sane pilot (one who values his life) is motivated to be open to and seek knowledge of the ‘truth of the situation’ and take the action that the situation calls for given the commitment to arrive safely at the desired destination;
  • lack of sufficient attunement to the the truth of the situation would affect the lives of all including the pilot/captain – even if the pilot/captain could ‘parachute’ out (and leave all the others to their fate) his live would be affected sufficiently negatively that parachuting out does not show up as an attractive option for any same pilot; and
  • there is no space to ‘hide behind’ an ideology that does violence to the ‘truth’ of the situation - the structure of this game is such that any significant lack of attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation will lead to visible disaster and those held responsible will pay a public price.

Are large-established organisations in attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation?

What accounts for the rampant malfunction, even outright failure, when it comes to large-established organisations? I say that it is a lack of ongoing attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation. Put differently, it occurs to me that the first and most serious casualty of organisational life is the ‘truth’ of the situation; the ‘truth’ of the situation is moulded so as to speak-pander to the interests of the powerful and to conform to the reigning ideology.

Perhaps, there is no greater challenge for those who aspire to be leaders and who fill leadership positions then calling forth and truly listening to the ‘truth’ of the situation: seeing ‘reality’ in the nude – naked of personal interest and the dominant ideology.

How to illustrate, make concrete, that which I have been talking about here?  How to give it flesh and bones?  Let’s revisit the latest news on the NHS. Here is what jumped out at me from a piece (NHS-on-brink-of-crisis-because-it-became-too-powerful-to-criticise.htmlin the Telegraph newspaper:

THE NHS should not be treated as a “national religion” while millions of patients receive a “wholly unsatisfactory” service from GPs and hospitals, the official regulator has warned.

David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission, said the health service had been allowed to reach the brink of crisis because it was “too powerful” to be criticised.

He said parts of the NHS were “out of control” because honest debate about the weaknesses of the health service was not tolerated.

… he said. “When things were going wrong people didn’t say anything. If you criticised the NHS – the attitude was how dare you?”…..

Mr Prior suggested that the “target culture” imposed by Labour a decade ago fundamentally damaged the culture of the NHS, creating a “chillingly defensive” operation in which the truth was often sacrificed. “The whole culture of the NHS became so focused on targets that it obscured what real quality was about,” he said. “The voice of the patient wasn’t in those targets.”

He said many hospitals needed radical reform.

And finally

Is it just many hospitals that need radical reform?  It occurs to me that many organisations need radical reform. It occurs to me that our whole way of life requires radical reform. It occurs to me that our fundamental way of being-showing up in the world requires reform.

Where to start? It occurs to me that, at an ‘organisational’ level, a great place to start is to create a context which call forth an enquiry into, and a grappling with, the ‘truth’ of the situation from all of the actors who find themselves in or impacted by the situation.

When it comes to Customer Service, Customer Focus, Customer Experience, CRM, Customer Obsession, a great place to start with is the question, “Do we REALLY want to play this game, play it full out? Are we willing to do what it takes to EXCEL at this game?”

I say excellence in the game of cultivating meaningful customer relationships and excelling at the Customer Experience is an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situations as experienced-lived by the Customer.  This kind of attunement takes more than customer surveys or mystery shopping. I say these mechanisms are merely ‘defence mechanism’ – ways of avoiding what it truly takes to be attuned to the ‘truth’ of the situation as lived by the Customer.

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