Dialogue on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity

Colleague: So much money has been spent and continues to be spent. On CRM. On CX – voice of the customer, journey mapping etc. In the name of customer-centricity – whatever that means.  Yet, there is little to show for it.

Me: Seems that way.

Colleague: Which big company, as in the kind of company that we end up consulting to / working with, has anything to show for the time-effort-money that has been spent on the whole Customer thing?

Me: I am not aware of a single one. Maybe there is big company out there that has become customer-centric as seen through the eyes of the customers. And If there is I am not aware of it. I distrust whatever the folks who go to the Customer circus (conference circuit) say about themselves. What matters is what the customers say.

Colleague: What’s your point of view on what’s going on?  You’ve always got a point of view on pretty much everything! Let’s hear it then.

Me: Have you come across a philosopher called Heidegger?  His thinking provides a good clue as to what’s going on.

Colleague: Never heard of him. What’s he got to say that’s relevant.

Me: He introduces the distinction between “in order to” and “for the sake of”. This distinction sheds light on the failure of the whole Customer thing. And what it will take to generate success.

Colleague: Explain then!

Me: Imagine a man in a workshop working on wood.  He happens to be sawing a piece of wood.  Why is sawing this piece of wood? In order to make a cabinet.  Why is he making a cabinet? In order to sell it?  Why is he looking to sell the cabinet?  In order to get money / make a living. Why do that? In order to care for / feed his family? Why do that? For the sake of his own conception of what it is to be a good father/husband.  Why does that matter to him? It just does!  Here the chain of in order to comes to an end.  There is no in order to. Showing and travelling as good father/husband is the sake of which he gets up in the morning and works/lives.

Colleague: There you go again not answering the question. What the fork has this to do with the whole Customer thing?

Me: Let me explain it another way.  Imagine that there are two spherical round hollow cylinders. The walls are quite thin, and of the same size.  It is possible to fit/slide into the other one by squeezing it as the cylinders are made of flexible material.

Colleague: OK.

Me: One is labelled “Revenue & Profits”, the other is called “Customer-Centricity”.  You are told that you need to slide one of these cylinders into/inside of the other cylinder.  Which one do you slide inside? Which one has to fit inside the other one?  Do you fit/slide the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder? Or do you choose to do the opposite: squeeze/fit the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder inside the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder?

Colleague: No question, the ‘Customer-Centricity” cylinder goes inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder. That’s the whole purpose of CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer -Centricity – to boost revenues, increase profit margins, and so boost profits. And to keep on doing this year after year.  Isn’t it?

Me: As a philosopher I say that purpose does not inhere in the things itself. Purpose is a human construction. And as such the speaker who speaks of purpose gets to say what the purpose is. And sure, pretty much everyone that has taken on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity has done so for the sake of ambition/greed: for revenue growth, raising profits margins usually by cutting the costs of serving customers, and for profits and profit growth.

Colleague: What’s wrong with that!

Me: Wrong is not found in the world.  Wrong is a human construct. It’s wrong if you say it’s wrong and get enough other folks to agree with you.  I’m not saying there is something wrong with it. I am saying that when we choose one course of action over another there are always consequences.

Colleague: I think you are saying that there is little that big companies have to show for the time-money-effort they have spent on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity because they have been squeezing “Customer-Centricity” inside of “Revenues & Profits”.  Is that what you are saying?

Me: That is exactly what I am saying!  Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Almost every big company has gone about it that way. The prime, unquestioned directive, is to make the numbers, and grow the numbers. The latest magical recipe is CRM, Customer Experience, or Customer-Centricity. So lets hire a bunch of consultants to fit these magical solutions into our organisation so that these solutions help us deliver on our sake of: sake of making the numbers, sake of “Revenues & Profits”. And this approach has generated that which it has generated: limited benefits, incremental improvements in cultivating genuine loyalty.

Colleague:  The alternative?  Squeezing/fitting “Revenue & Profits” inside of “Customer-Centricity”, how does that work?

Me: As members of the senior leadership team you show up & travel in a way that makes it clear to all that you, and the company, that you represent is there for the sake of enriching the lives of your chosen set of customers.

You can do that as Zappos does through it awesome customer service.  You can do it as Apple does by creating great (as in cool, high quality, unique) products for folks who are willing to pay a premium. You can do it as Amazon does – attractive prices, huge product range, ease/convenience of shopping, and next day delivery.

Amazon, in particular Jeff Bezos, sets a clear example.  You choose to be customer-centric, to build that long term customer loyalty, to play for the long term, and you take the hit to “Revenues & Profits” over the short and even medium term. And you tell your shareholders that this is what you are about.  If they don’t like it then they should sell their shares and move on to other enterprises.

Zappos is also an instructive example.  The leadership team of Zappos started out putting the “Customer Centricity” container within the “Revenues & Profits” container. At a critical point when the Zappos was on its last legs the leadership team had to make a choice: to continue providing a lousy customer experience or do the opposite.  And it looked like doing the opposite changing the operation model so that “Revenue & Profits” had to squeeze into / fit into “Customer-Centricity” would leave to ruin faster.  The choice they made? To make “Revenues & Profits” subservient to, and for the sake of “Customer-Centricity” as in delivering an awesome customer experience.  It so happened that this change worked out for Zappos. And there is no guarantee that another company in the same situation as Zappos taking the same course of action will generate the same result.  You have to be a particular kind of idiot to believe that taking the same course of action in a open/dynamic/non-linear/uncertain/unpredictable world will yield the same results as you got last time.

Colleague: But CEOs of big listed companies cannot do this. They have to make the numbers – that’s what the analysts want, that’s what the shareholders want.

Me: Which is why I say that big listed enterprises will continue to make incremental improvements at best when it comes to the customer experiences (as viewed through the eyes of the customers) and customer loyalty.  And the field for creating an awesome customer franchise belongs to outsiders – the Zappos, the Amazons, the Apple’s of the future.



Hall of Fame: Amazon Delights Cultivating Loyalty From This Customer

Amazon claims to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company.  If Amazon were like just about every other company this claim would be just a marketing slogan – deceitful, empty at best. However, Amazon isn’t like just about every other company.  It’s exceptional in that the folks at Amazon get what it takes to cultivate, keep, even grow that particular emotional bond, which I say lies at the heart of loyalty, with customers.  Of what do I speak?  Allow me to share my story with you.

During December 17 I bought presents, some of them from Amazon.  One of the presents was electric toothOralB Smart4 4000Nbrush for my oldest son.  Whilst my son can do with a new toothbrush he doesn’t want this one. He didn’t even open the packaging. He Googled it and found that it’s not the most expensive one.  So the task of returning it fell to me.  And as I have returned stuff to Amazon before I was expecting it to be straight forward: click on order, select item to return, print out return labels, and drop-off at local post office.

To my surprise it didn’t turn out that way.  I found myself annoyed and angry: why isn’t Amazon allowing me to return an item which is within the return period, and which hasn’t even been taken out of its packaging?  What kind of sh**t is this!  That was my emotional state especially as Amazon didn’t tell me why I wasn’t allowed to return it. I was asked to click a link which took me to a return (home) page which I found unusable – as it wasn’t evident which item on that long menu (of items) I should click.

When I know I’m in the right I tend to be dogged in pursuit of my goal. Luckily, Amazon, offered me the ability/opportunity to speak to an agent.  So when option 1 (looking at the Returns page) didn’t work out, I selected option 2 (live chat with an agent).

“Why are you not allowing me to return this given it is well within the return period, never used, not even taken out of its packaging?”  That was the starting point of the chat. Once, I provided order details and specified the item, the agent told me to give her a minute or two to look into the matter.

Have you had the experience of jaw dropping moments?  The first one occurred when Amazon (website) told me that I couldn’t return this item. The second one occurred when the agent came back with “We’ll refund you for the item and you can keep the item – no need to return it. Is that OK?”  My experience?  “Shocked. Delighted. Grateful. Puzzled. What the fork is happening here?”

My response to that agent was along this line: “I’ve been an Amazon customer for a long time. I buy regularly. And Amazon has always been fair to me.  I wish to be fair with Amazon.  Honest, the toothbrush has NOT been used. It’s not even been taken out of its packaging. I am happy to return it so that you can resell it.”

The agent’s response? “We’re happy for you to keep the toothbrush and to give you the refund you have asked for……”  I had another go at returning the toothbrush. She wasn’t having any of it.  I relented. And something was present that I needed to express. What was present?  Gratitude!  How did I express this gratitude?  I asked the agent to give me the refund as an Amazon gift card rather than a refund on my credit card.  She asked “Are you sure?” and I replied something to the effect: “Yes, I’m sure: I was brought up to reciprocate – to repay helpfulness/kindness with helpfulness/kindness.”

Please get that I am fortunate.  The monetary value of this toothbrush is pennies. I will go and spend double-treble this amount taking out an acquaintance (dying of liver cancer) for lunch in an hour or so. And I am so grateful – so grateful!  Grateful for what?  Grateful for the way I was treated.  Think about how I was treated.  How often are you/me treated in this way?  It’s rare isn’t it?  To be able, easily, to get through to someone helpful. For that person to, swiftly, get you/me to our desired outcome. And then on top of that be given a gift.  Wow!

So here I am on my Sunday doing that which occurs to me as the final act of paying Amazon back for its helpfulness / generosity.  That’s the power of cultivating gratitude by treating customers (employees, suppliers, distribution partners…) right.

I leave you with this question:  Is the way that Amazon shows up and behaves towards its customers (decency, fair treatment) rocket science?  No?  Then why is it that other organisations don’t show up in this manner?  Is it because those who lead/direct/manage these organisations lack heart?  Or is it that these folks are self-centred and only focussed on the short-term – this quarter/year’s results?  How the fork is technology (CRM, CX, digital commerce…) going to do the job of the heart – having/putting into play a big heart?

Thanks for your listening to my speaking.  I wish you the very best for this year – may it be the best year, yet, of your existence.  Until the next time….

Maz Signature

What Does a Customer-Centred Orientation Look Like Through The Customer’s Eyes?

Are you customer-centred?  That is a sloppy question as there is no agreement on what is being talked about when talking about customer-centricity.  So, let me ask that question in a more precise way: when the customer interacts with you/your organisation, through any touchpoint or combination thereof, does the customer experience the feeling of being cared for by you?

I take statins every day. It just so happens the daily dose of 60mg requires me to take two tablets: 40mg tablet, and a 20 mg tablet.  Take a look at the pictures:

Do you see that the 40mg tablets come in packaging that merely states what the product is (Arvostatin) and the dosage (40mg)?  Now look at the packaging in which the 20mg tablets come – do you notice the difference? I found myself noticing the difference.  How exactly did I experience this difference?  I heard myself saying to myself “These folks care! They get that the product is for a human being. How useful it is to have the days of week on the packaging next to the tablets!” I found myself in a state (mood) of gratitude. AND I had a smile on my face – I found myself to be feeling happy.

I draw your attention to the following:

  • The product is an essential touchpoint – one which is almost always ignored by the Customer Experience folks whose focus is limited to interaction channels (web, mobile app, telephone, email….);
  • The packaging is a touchpoint – one which is ignored for the most part by many – exception is Apple, the folks at Apple get the importance of packaging and ensure that their packaging is a feast to the eyes and easy on the hands; and
  • Information whilst not a touchpoint can deeply touch a customer – useful information provided at the right time through the right channel / touchpoint occurs (through the eyes of the customer) as a blessing/gift and generates gratitude like that which Amazon.com provides in allowing me to track gifts (start to finish) sent to friends/family.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening.  If you are celebrating Christmas then I hope that your Christmas is one of giving/sharing/loving and being loved.  Until the next time….




Hall of Fame: How Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Apple Advocate!

An Apple Customer Becomes an Advocate Due to Apple Support

apple_support_twitter_logo_smallUntil recently I was merely a customer of Apple. That changed over the last two weeks. How so? I ran into a problem and had to reach out to Apple Support to get that problem addressed.  That problem was addressed in a way that leaves me with a delightful experience – one that calls forth a smile and gratitude.

What Calls Forth Customer Loyalty / Advocacy?

Before, I tell you about my experience I want to address the matter of customer loyalty. How do you turn a mere customer into a loyal customer and advocate?  I don’t know as I suspect that it depends on the concrete (flesh and blood) customer.  I can tell you how the folks at Apple Support turned me into a loyal customer and advocate:

  1. You make it easy for the customer to get through to you when that customer needs you;
  2. You staff the front line with human beings (not bots) who embody the human touch and are technically competent;
  3. You put in policies-practices-tools that encourage/enable your people to sit side by side with your customers and together address the matters that matter to your customer;
  4. You make sure that the customer feels that you have made his problem (job to be done) yours and that s/he is safe in your hands;
  5. You don’t leave your customer’s side until you have gotten him/her to his/her desired destination – which is almost always a desired outcome; and
  6. You convey the impression that it has been a pleasure helping the customer in a way that the customer gets (at an experiential level) your pleasure

How The Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Advocate

I own two Apple products: MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.  My daughter is the one who is the heavy user of the MacBook Air and so I hadn’t used it for months. When I did use it I noticed that there was an opportunity to update the operating system to the latest version. So I went for it.  Something went wrong and the MacBook Air ‘died’.

When my daughter found out she was not at all happy. Why? Because she had important homework on it. Homework that had to be handed in the following day. Suddenly, it became both important and urgent to get the MacBook Air working again. This is when I noticed fear taking root. Why so? Because I was thinking something like this: “The MacBook is 5 years old. Will Apple help me?  I don’t see any reason why Apple should help me out with a 5 year old product. There is no warranty in place…”

I googled “Apple Support” and after two clicks ended up here: Contact – Apple Support.  What is the statement / promise Apple makes? “We’re here to help”. Is it an empty promise? No.  Look at the webpage! It invites you the customer to “Talk to us” – that is exactly what I did.

Almost immediately I found myself listening to a friendly male voice. He helped me to find the serial number. With the serial number he knew it was a 2012 MacBook Air. Then he told me how to reset it.  I initiated the process and noted that that computer was telling me it was going to take hours downloading operating system over the internet. So I thanked the young man and told him I was ok to take this forward. The Apple Support chap told me that he had logged my case, ‘gave’ me the case number, and asked me to quote that case number just in case I needed to call back.  He showed up as pleasant, knowledgeable, and helpful.  I felt gratitude.

A day later, I found myself on the phone to Apple Support. Why? The laptop had been downloading software for hours and then just hung up when it got to “40% remaining”.  This time I found myself talking with Danae. She detected my concern (given that the laptop had my daughters homework) and responded beautifully: she told me that it was not an issue and that she would help me to get the MacBook Air working. It was the tone of her voice – a combination of human warmth, confidence in what she was asserting, and her commitment to her promise.

Then she set about keeping her promise.  Whilst she was helping me I asked about her and learned that she is Greek. We talked a little about Greece given that I had been reading Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (ex Finance Minister of Greece), and have positive experience of Greek people. With the reset process in operation again I noticed that the laptop was telling me it was going to take hours. I told Danae of this. It is her response that floored me. Why? She made it plain that she was by my side, continued  to own the problem, and would see it through to the end.  She followed up the verbal promise with this email (I have replaced numbers with *):

Case Number: ********
Dear Mazafer,

Thank you for contacting Apple !

It was pleasure working with you, I will take you in the right path to get your issue resolved!

Should you need anything further regarding this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me personally.

Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.****
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

This time the download process completed to the end. The latest operating system was installed and the MacBook Air was operational. A fact that was a great relief to me and a delight to my daughter.  I wrote back to Danae:

Hello Danae

I so enjoyed talking with you this morning – feel blessed that our paths crossed today.

Thank you for being a beautiful person – in a world that shows up an mostly inhuman it is soul filling to come across such as you.

I want you to know that you have helped me to fix my problem.

The MacBook Air is up and running and I know that this will please my 17 year old daughter who is never far from it.  She will especially welcome getting here homework back – so that she does not need to redo it!

I shall be writing about the GREAT folks at Apple Support and especially you.  Keep a tab on this blog here:  www.thecustomerblog.co.uk

How to end?  I wish you and your loved ones the very best. Also, is it possible to keep in touch perhaps through LinkedIn?

This is the reply I received:

Case Number: ***********
Hello Maziqbal,
Thank you for contacting Apple and for replying to my email (much appreciated)!
Good news, excellent!
I am very happy the issue is resolved and that you are more than satisfied with our support!
I really wanted to resolve this issue for you as much as you did.
Please whatever you will need from now and on just drop me an email and I will contact
you as soon as I will be available.
I wish you all the best!
Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.**********
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

Richard Shapiro in The Welcomer’s Edge stresses the critical importance of Welcomers – customers, to the business, by cultivating loyalty through genuine heartfelt service.  I am clear that Danae is a Welcomer!

I am also clear that the folks in leadership positions are the ones that create the context/space for Welcomers like Danae to show up as Welcomers. Great support does not happen by accident.  Great support flows from a certain kind of customer philosophy: take care of your customers and your customers will take care of you. This kind of philosophy requires a long term orientation and faith in the decency of human beings.  Few, of those that I have encountered, in leadership positions embody this orientation, this faith.

So I offer my thanks and gratitude to the folks at Apple – those in Apple Support, and those who in leadership positions who enable Apple Support to provide great support.

I dedicate this conversation to Danae Panagopoulou – I am grateful that she exists for it makes this world that much more beautiful with her in it.

Enough for today.  I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time….

Maz Signature

Argos Good, AO.com Bad Bad Bad: Why I’ll Never Buy From AO.com Again

I’ll never buy from AO.com and recommend that you do your homework before you do business with this online retailer. Why?  Let me take you through my experience.

Good Experience: Buying Online

I placed the order for a Windows laptop with AO.com as my wife is unwilling to switch from Windows to MacOS.  My experience of buying from AO.com was good to great:

  • process of selecting the laptop and checking out was easy/quick;
  • next day delivery was offered without any extra charge;
  • email confirmation was order arrived immediately as promised.

Ugly Experience: Salesman Calls to Sell Extended Warranty

In between buying the laptop and it turning up on my door I got an unexpected phone call from a fellow from AO.com.  He started by checking with me that I was the person who had placed the order. Then he started his cross-selling pitch: extended warranty.

This conversation occurred as ugly. Why? One, I placed an order for the laptop a couple of hours ago. I’m looking forward to it arriving. I am hoping/expecting will be OK as I wish to provide my wife with a pleasant surprise. This call changes my emotional state: the extended warranty (cross sell) call is a fear based sell – raising the fear that the laptop will breakdown and all the cost/hassle that goes with getting it repaired.  Two, the guy making the call pretended he was doing this as he cared for me – as a customer. My experience was that he was simply doing that which he needed to do to make his sales target irrespective of whether I needed or wanted the which he was selling.

Good Experience: Delivery

I had ordered the laptop on Saturday.  The delivery was due on Sunday and it arrived on Sunday.  The driver who dropped it off was friendly.  The packaging was intact – not damaged.  I opened up the computer and switched it on.  It switched on, the operating system had to configure itself and to do that it asked me questions and I had to supply then like wifi network details….

Another good experience – another expectation fulfilled.  I felt good about doing business with AO.com.  To date, my experience of doing business with AO.com was consistent with my experience of buying a smart TV from AO.com some years ago.

Bad Bad Bad Experience:  Returning The Laptop / Asking For A Refund

During the course of the week my wife used the computer once for about 20 minutes. She found it was ok for surfing the internet. And not fast enough when it came to what she really wanted it for: productivity – writing letters, working with spreadsheets….. She didn’t want it – she wants a faster computer.

I go the AO.com order confirmation email and look for information on how I return the laptop.  There is no information for returns, there is a phone number for cancelling orders.  So I call that number and get through to automated IVR.  I listen, I select the relevant options, I provide the order number.  Then I wait, and wait, and wait.  Eventually, I hang up.  Later that day, I go through the same process and experience that which I experienced first time: frustration, annoyance and contempt.  Why? Time is ticking by and nobody is picking up my call.

Later, it occurs to me why not do that which I do on Amazon.co.uk: find the order, select the relevant item on that order, and choose the returns option on the menu. So I hit the AO.com website, log into my account, find the order, and find myself stopped: AO.com doesn’t have that functionality.  So I go to the home page and hit the “Free 30 day returns” icon.  The is what shows up:

AO.com returns page

I find myself thinking “Great, I have 30 days to get this product back to AO.com instead of the legal 14 days.”

And I want to get this thing over with. So I search for option to contact AO.com without having to call.  I do not come across live chat.  I do come across a customer services email address. The problem: AO.com is still living in the dark ages – 48 hours to respond to an email.  I don’t want to wait 48 hours!  I want to getting this forking business over with right now!

Next day, I ring AO.com again, this time a human being does respond to my call.  I say that I wish to return the laptop. She asks if it is faulty.  I say that it is not faulty, I wish to return it as my wife says it is too slow.  She responds by saying something like “So you have used it.”  I say something like “Of course I’ve used it – how else would I try out the laptop and see if works, meets my expectations?” She tells me that as I have used the laptop AO.com’s policy is to charge 45% of the laptop price to cancel order / return the laptop.

I’m not happy. Actually, I find myself annoyed.  I point out that under the distance selling regulations, the customer can order a product online, try it out, and return it (without giving a reason) and get a full refund except for paying costs of shipping product back to the supplier.  I also say that as I know something about computers, I have reset the laptop back to factory settings – so it is in the same condition that it was shipped out to me.  She tells me to hold whilst she talks with someone.  I wait.

She comes back with an offer. She’s talked to the supervisor and out of the goodness of AO.com’s heart these folks are only going to charge me 10% of the laptop price to exercise my legal right to return this laptop.  I say “No!”  No, I am not going to pay anything except what the law says: return shipping costs.”

She consults with someone and comes back again with something like “OK, as you have reset the computer to factory default settings, we will not charge you for returning it. Is that Ok?”  I say “No! No it’s not ok. You are breaking the law and I want to speak to your manager. I want to know why you are breaking the law.”  She refuses.  We conclude by agreeing the date when the laptop will get picked up from my home.

I have yet to get my refund so we will see if this is the end of this bad experience or if there is more to come.

Is AO.com Complying With The Law?

Put bluntly it occurs to me that AO.com is not trustworthy – not playing fair nor being reasonable with customers. I also happen to think that AO.com is not complying with the law.  Why?

Common sense dictates that it is only reasonable that the person who buys an electrical appliance online has to use it in order to see if a) it works; and b) if the performance is in line with expectations.  Further, consumer rights & protection (e.g. Consumer Contracts Regulations – came into force in June 2014) allow for reasonable use to try out a product.

Here’s what Which? (consumer rights organisation) says:

Consumer Rights 2013

I bring your attention to the following:  “The extent to which you can handle the goods is the same as it would be if you were assessing them in the shop.” And if you do that then you are entitled to a full refund if you let the supplier know within 14 days that you wish to return the goods.

The AO.com Experience Is So Bad In Comparison With My Argos.co.uk Experience 

At about the same time I ordered a laptop for my wife (via AO.com) I ordered a laptop for my daughter (online via argos.co.uk).  My daughter used the laptop from Argos and said “Papa, it’s ok and it’s not as fast as your MacBook Air.  I want to use the MacBook Air. Please send it back.”

I went to the Argos website, hit live chat, explained the situation, and the return was agreed there and then (for the next day) at no cost.  Zero hassle.  I wasn’t even asked if I had reset the laptop to factory settings.

My advice to those of you shopping online: do business with reputable retailers rather than AO.com.  And if you choose to do business with AO.com then you might want to check it out these online reviews: a mixed bag.

On Customer Obsession

Customer Obsession Is Fashionable

I hear more and more Middles & Tops mention the importance/need for customer obsession. It’s often used as an exhortation to the Bottoms – those on the front line.  Something interesting happens when I ask the speaker what s/he means by, is pointing at, when s/he speaks of customer obsession. Silence followed by stuff that shows up for me as either banal or made up on the spot.  Little in the way of thinking (as in contemplation) has occurred in many instances.

Is Customer Obsession New?

Interestingly, customer obsession isn’t new. What’s the basis of my assertion?  I remember 2000/2001: my colleagues and I start a customer strategy engagement (centred on 1to1 marketing) at a well known mobile telco. What do we find? We find a dedicated research unit in the marketing function.  A unit which has budget of many millions. What is this money spent on?  Understanding the market (totality of customers for mobile phones/services); understanding their own customer base; and understanding the customers of their competitors.  I categorically state that the head of this research unit and the folks that worked in that unit were obsessed with customers.

The interesting question is this one: Towards which end/s was this customer obsession directed?  Was it directed towards driving product development?  Or the customer’s experience of signing up for the right phone/package?  Perhaps, helping the customer’s make good of that which s/he had purchased?  No, not at all. The purpose was to work out how to drive up sales and profit margins through marketing: targeting the right messages/offers to the right customers or potential customers.

Was 2000/2001 the start of customer obsession? No.  I remember the power and practices of the various brand marketers whilst in the employ of International Distillers & Vintners back in 1993.  I say customer obsession of this kind -figuring out how to squeeze more out of the customer has a long history.

Let’s consider alternative conceptions of customer obsession.

Satya Nadella on Customer Obsession

In his book Hit Refresh Microsoft’s CEO says (bolding/coloring is my doing):

“First, we need to obsess about our customers. At the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs ….. There is no way to do that unless we absorb with deeper insight and empathy what they need.….. When we talk to customers, we need to listen. It’s not an idle exercise….. We learn about our customers and their businesses with a beginner’s mind and then bring them solutions that meet their needs. We need to be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that learning into Microsoft, whilst still innovating to surprise and delight our users.” 

Jeff Bezos on Customer Obsession

Here’s what Amazon’s founder & CEO says in his 2016 Letter to Shareholders (bolding/coloring is my doing):

“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.”

Shortcuts on The Route of Customer Obsession

It occurs to me that many executives are all for customer obsession as long as they can just speak it sitting comfortably in the stands.  It’s another matter altogether when customer obsession requires leaving the stands and entering the arena.  Which arena? The arena in which customers show up and operate.  And the arena in which the customers interact with the organisation’s front line – websites, mobile apps, sales folks, customer services….

Take a look at the CX movement and ask yourself what is it characterized by?  Is it not journey mapping almost always in the comfort of a workshop in the corporate offices, and the results of voice of the customer surveys?  What are these?  They are proxies for the real thing.  These proxies are attractive as they allow folks to pretend they have insights from the arena whilst sitting comfortably in the stands.

Here’s what Jeff Bezos says with regards to proxies in his 2016 letter (bolding/coloring is my doing):

Resist Proxies

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous…

A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing… The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right…..

Another example: market research and customer surveys can become proxies for customers – something that’s especially dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products.

Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.
I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.”

Enough for today.  I thank for your listening. Until the next time….

Maz Signature




Time to Hit Refresh on Customer and Employee Experience Design Efforts?

What Matters And Is Missing In Those Who Are Working On Improving The Customer/Employee Experience?

I’ve worked with folks working on improving/transforming the Customer Experience.  I’ve also worked with folks working on improving/transforming the Employee Experience. In the process, I have come across personas, customer journeys, voice of the customer surveys, design thinking, service design, process mapping…. Yes, I have come across plenty of stuff.  Yet, I say that I have not come across that which gives life to the work of designing/orchestrating experiences that touch human lives as lived.

What is it that I am pointing at?  Let’s listen to Satya Nadella talk in his book Hit Refresh:


Richard didn’t give me an engineering problem to solve on the whiteboard or a complex coding scenario to talk through. He didn’t grill me on my prior experiences or educational pedigree. He had one simple question.

“Imagine you see a baby laying in the street, and the baby is crying. What do you do?” he asked.

“You call 911,” I replied without much forethought.

Richard walked me out of his office, put his arm around me and said, “You need some empathy, man. If a baby is laying on the street crying, pick up the baby.”

Yes, that sums it up well.  Most of the folks that I have encountered are intelligent like Nadella and have about the same emotional intelligence (empathy) as he had when this event occurred many years ago.

How Important Is Empathy in Experience Design?

Great design necessarily has to be human centred as only human beings can appreciate the presence/absence of great design.  Is any kind of empathy sufficient?  Or is a particular kind of empathy necessary?  Lets listen to the folks at IDEO:

Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for…..

In the Inspiration Phase you’ll learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs..

Notice, that IDEO folks speak of “deep empathy” – the kind of empathy that arises only after one has spent enough time immersed in their lives.  It is that immersion (living in the arena in which life occurs) that leads to the deep understanding of their needs.

Yet, time after time I see folks ‘study’ their target (customer, employee) from a safe distance (sitting in the stands) through a variety of means – surveys, focus groups, interviews. Then use their intellect to come up with personas, journeys etc.  All intellect, zero empathy.

Can you just take these ‘intellectuals’ and turn them into empaths with some classroom training?  Or maybe an empathy app.  Is it this simple?

The Right Kind of Life Experiences Are Essential To The Presence of Empathy

I say that suffering is essential to empathy.  It is my own (personal) suffering in the arena of cancer that has led me to accept a request from a friend to reach out and talk with her friends father who is dying of liver cancer.  How about Satya Nadella?

I discovered Buddha did not set out to found a world religion. He set out to understand why one suffers. I learned that only through living life’s ups and downs you can develop empathy….

It’s just that life’s experience has helped me build a growing sense of empathy for an ever widening circle of people. I have empathy for people with disabilities. I have empathy for people trying to make a living from the inner cities and the Rust Belt to the developing countries …. I have empathy for small business owners working to succeed. I have empathy for any person targeted with violence and hate because of the color of his or hers skin, what they believe, or who they love.

My passion is to put empathy at the centre of everything I pursue – from products we launch, to the new markets we enter, to the employees, customers, and partners we work with.

So how did an ‘intellectual’ like Nadella turn into such an empath.  The clue is in the line “It’s just that life’s experiences …”  Is there a particular life experience that was the turning point?

Little did I know then how profoundly our lives would change. Over the course of the next couple of years we learned more about the damage caused by utero-asphyxiation, and how Zain would require a wheelchair and be reliant on us because of sever cerebral palsy. I was devastated.

Something awful like this happens. It brings your world to a halt and suddenly you ooze with empathy.  Right?  Not necessarily. Let’s listen to Nadella:

I was devastated. But mostly I was sad for how things turned out for me and Anu.  Thankfully, Anu helped me understand that it was not about what happened to me. it was about deeply understanding what had happened to Zain, and developing empathy for his pain and his circumstances while accepting our responsibility as his parents.

What Are The Implications For Your Customer/Employee Experience Efforts?

Empathy is central.

Yet, time after time, I come across Experience ‘teams’ full of Nadella’s – intelligent, hardworking, and self-centred.  Folks who treated everything an engineering (process, technology) problem. These folks even when they think/speak ‘walking in the shoes of the customer/employee’ are doing nothing of the kind. Mostly they are projecting themselves (their mindset) into the shoes of their customers/employees.  Worse, these folks are blind to this – so blind that when someone like me points this out it simply does not show up on their radar.

What’s missing is the Anu’s of this world – people who naturally feel/think and show up/operate in terms of the needs/suffering of the other – fellow human being.

Until the Nadella’s are teamed up with the Anu’s of this world, and listen – really listen, most of the experience design/improvement efforts will yield little of value.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…

Maz Signature