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:

iu

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

What Does It Take To Delight This Customer?

Story: The Customer Experiences Sadness & Delight

Last week, Friday, it’s 10:00 and I am working from home.  Andy’s not arrived yet.  I’m wondering if he is OK or if he has forgotten. Neither of these thoughts occurs as a pleasant experience. Then I hear myself speaking: “It’s Andy, most likely he’s simply running late – its who he is. Relax. He’ll probably be here in the next 30 minutes.” I relax, and get back to work.

The doorbell rings. I open the door and see Andy standing there with his smile. I notice that I am happy to see him. I tell him that I am pleased/happy to see him. And invite him into my home whilst asking if he wants a drink. Andy says “A tea would be nice!” I ask him how he likes it and get busy making that tea.  The tea is brewing as Andy likes his tea strong; both of us are standing up in the kitchen.

Andy says “Sorry about contacting you amidst your cancer. What’s the news?”  I thank him for the discreet ways (email, SMS) that he kept in touch and reminded me that the vents had arrived and he was ready to install them when it worked for me.  I tell him that sorting out the condensation problem in the loft (the job to be done from my perspective) continues to be something matters and I am happy that he is here to do that for me. Then I answer his question around my cancer.

After listening patiently Andy shares his (relevant) experiences. His health, the blood tests he has to undergo, the medicines he has to take, and the way this has impacted his existence.  He also talks about his late mother and her cancer journey. We talk a while. Then I excuse myself as nature calls.  Andy gets busy with that which needs doing in the loft.

A little while later Andy comes down and finds me working on my laptop. And says something like “Sorry for disturbing you and I’ve finished”.  We get talking again. In the process he tells me that he noticed that the insulation in the loft is minimal. He tells me that his house had been in a similar situation and that he had managed to get a grant for extra insulation. He gives me the name of a website.  I thank him.

We move into the kitchen and he sets about writing me an invoice. I notice that the labour charge is a fraction of that which Andy had quoted. I point this out.

Andrew Laney Carpentry

Andy says in a matter of fact “It was a lot easier than I thought. It only took half an hour. So that’s the labour charge.”

I say let me pay you now and set about logging into my mobile banking app. Turns out that I no longer have Andrew Laney Carpentry and Maintenance set up. So I ask for Andy’s bank details. He gives me his bank card and make the attempt to pay him. Problem: there is fault in the mobile banking app that does not allow me enter his full name (somebody has not done good enough UX testing on the banking app).

I say, “Let me take a photo of your bank card. That way I’ll have your details and can punch them into the website using the laptop.  I will text you once I make the payment. Please text me back to confirm that you have received the payment.”

The outside door is open and Andy is in the midst of stepping out.  I say “Thank you Andy. Give my regards to John when you next see him. And remember that I work from home on Fridays. If you’re in the area then come around for a tea. You’re welcome.”  Andy tells me that is in the area from time to time, on a Friday, and will take me up on my offer.  I shake his hand and we part company.

I get present to my state of being  – noticing that I find myself experiencing both sadness and delight.

Who/What Is The Cause of Customer Sadness & Delight?

I look into my sadness and delight.  What is going on here?  Why the sadness?  What is the cause of delight?

Sadness. I notice it is the kind of sadness I experience when parting company with a friend. Interesting, at some deeper level than my conscious/rational mind, Andy is showing up for me as a friend.  Makes sense, he is friendly and we do have history together in the sense that some months back he did some work on my home. He was recommended by the fitter that i was using for a major refurbishment – I wrote a conversation on that here.

The delight. Why am I delighted? What is the source of the delight?  I notice that there are several dimensions:

  1. The job to be done (fix condensation problem in loft) occurs as done and is no longer on my mind – I had been carrying this problem for over a year;
  2. I enjoyed my interactions/conversations with Andy – genuine human to human relating had occurred where I found myself with a richer picture of Andy including knowing stuff that I would never have guessed unless he had shared it with me e.g. his military service, his mother’s cancer etc;
  3. The whole thing had turned out to be less troublesome and less costly than I had thought it would be; and
  4. Andy had done right by me all along validating my decision to put my problem (job to be done) in Andy’s hands and trust him.

Which might explain why it is that immediately after Andy left I logged into my Mac, paid him electronically, and texted him to tell him that I had done so, and asked him to confirm that he had got the payment. Doing otherwise, did not occur as an option – not even delaying it to the afternoon.

How Has Andy Laney Done Right By Me?

Looking into my experience of delight, it struck me that the defining factor in my experiencing delight is the thought-feeling “Andy’s done right by me; I made the right decision to trust this man!”  So I got busy looking into that – to see finer detail of doing right by me is made up of in this instance.  Here’s what shows up for me:

  1. I shared the problem with Andy and I proposed the solution – that of replacing some of the roof tiles with vented roof tiles;
  2. Andy looked into the matter and came up with a much cheaper/easier solution that of using internal vented tiles;
  3. My focus/priority to switched from this job to be done to dealing with cancer – and in the process I neglected this job to be done;
  4. Andy had kept in touch discreetly and minimally via non-intrusive means – mostly email about the job e.g. “The vents have arrived,” and SMS to ask about my cancer;
  5. Andy had seen the job through and been honest/straight all the way to the end – he could easily have played around for 2 to 3 hours, made the job look more complex, and charged me that which he quoted or more as I would have paid; and
  6. Andy had also been on my side (helpful) to the end – by pointing out that I do need to improve the insulation in the loft (work that he does not do) and telling me where I could get a government funded grant to cover all/most of the cost.

What Was The Real Gift That Andy Laney Left Me With?

Looking deeper still it hits me that Andy Laney gave me a gift. What gift? A gift that really matters to me!  What gift?  Evidence/experience of folks (in the world of business) who are decent/good.  Folks for whom money is not the measure of all things. Folks who embody a certain kind of old fashioned human dignity. And show up/operate with a sense of dignity/honour.  Folks for whom cheating customers does not occur as an option – even to consider this seriously would be to sully one’s self-esteem.  Thank you Andy for this gift.

I thank you for the listening. I wish you the very best.  Until the next time…

Maz Signature

Meditation on Customer Relationships & Experiences

One might think by now that we would have figured out what makes for great customer relationships & experiences. Ask yourself have we figured this out?  Really, lets stop and really sit with this question.  What comes up for you?  Here’s what comes up for me:

One does not create/build, nor manage customer relationships

That’s right, one does not create/build nor manage customer relationships! News to you?   That just how many folks think about it and thus go about it because they have brought into the sloppy thinking / language which is ubiquitous in business. It is also deliberate play by those who started the CRM bandwagon – language chosen to appeal to managers who buy CRM.  This may explain how it is that the CRM industry flourishes whilst customer loyalty languishes; only a handful of companies, the same companies, are renowned for customer loyalty – I get that you know who they are.

Customer relationships grow over time and this growth is messy

A relationship is formed when two or more human beings interact-communicate-relate over the course of time.  Relationships grow (rather like a plant grows from a seed) and this growth is not linear. The growth is messy – rather like that which occurs in a game of Snakes & Ladders.  One can no more manage the customer relationship than one can manage one’s way through the game of Snakes & Ladder. Only BS artists and idiots can truly believe that one can build/create relationships like one builds/creates a car/house or manage relationships say like I manage my library of books.

A customer can be said to have a customer relationship with a person working in an organisation, or the organisation itself

As a starting point we can segment/categorise customer relationships into two: the relationship between a customer and a person employed by an organisation; and the relationship between a customer and the organisation itself.

There is certain quality in the relating that occurs between one human being and another – sharing of personal information, sadness/sorrow, laughter/joy.  It is like the relationship one has with friends and the relationship I had with my neighbours (Chris, Christine) whilst I was growing up in Lancashire.  Tops, in commercial organisations, do everything in their power to diminish or extinguish these kinds of relationships. Why? Because the bond is between the employee and the customer. And the employee can walk out of the door as easily as s/he walks into it.  Tops want the organisation to own the relationship with the customer. Hence, the rise and continued rise of CRM software.

The relationship between a customer and companies is different. What is a customer relating to when he relates to / has affinity for a company/organisation?  See the absurdity/trap in that question? No, ask yourself which customer is he talking about?  So take me as the customer.  My relationship with Amazon is based on pure self-interest: it is convenient & cheap for me to buy from Amazon than other retailers.  My relationship with the Guardian newspaper (where I choose to be a member and pay as oppose to read the content for free online) is based on an affinity with what this newspaper stands for: we share common values and objectives.  My relationship with the National Trust is based around my love of natural landscapes & beautiful old mansions. As well as my affinity for that which the National Trust stands for.

There is never a Customer Experience!

If you have been paying attention then you will get that there is never a Customer Experience! To talk about Customer Experience is to talk about the singular.  A singular entity that does not exist.  Think! What is so in the world that you & I share?

Always there are customers – plural.  Therefore, and necessarily, there are a multitude of customer experiences.  Each customer experiences – and if you have 1 million customers there is going to be significant variations in the experiences of these customers for the same interaction/touchpoint. I say it is simple minded at best, mostly idiotic, to think in terms of Customer Experience as opposed to customer experiences. Why am I being so assertive/forceful? Because my experience is that sloppy thinking (including use of language which often drives our thinking without our realising it) leads to idiotic actions disguised as visionary genius.

Let me say this one more time: think/speak customer experiences!  Which comes back to one of the most useful things I learned at my time with The Peppers & Rogers Group. At the heart of PRG’s strategy work lay this primary (foundational) principle: treat different customers differently.

I have grown plenty since my time at PRG.  Today, I say it necessary to go further: treat the same customer differently at different times. Why so? Allow Heraclitus to speak on my behalf: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

One cannot create nor deliver a Customer Experience!

There is so much talk about creating the Customer Experience or delivering the Customer Experience. Stop, stop, stop!  Think!  What the fork are you saying?  How is it that you and I can be relatively intelligent when outside of the work environment and idiots within?

What the fork is a Customer Experience?  Well its not a thing is it?  Look, I will pay you £1 million if you go and get me a Customer Experience. Will you ever collect this £1 million. Fork no!  Get it?  Let me spell it out because it is possibly that you have been so brainwashed by business bullshit that your capacity for thinking/reflecting/questioning has became so dormant as to be non-existent – almost.

A customer experiences – always there is experiencing going on.  Experiencing is a kind of relating/communicating that is going on.

The question is, always, what does this concrete customer experience?  This customer experiences a certain kind of relating occurring between herself (importantly her mood which is usually in the background often hidden from the customers consciousness) and the context s/he finds herself . By context I mean environment, situation, actors, interactions, communications..

Can you/i create (as in specify) and/or deliver this relating – as in a specific experience? Fork no!  Its a dance – always a dance between the mood of the customer and the context that the customer finds herself in.

At best you can set-up the context in a way that you think will speak to our customers: pick the right venue, staff it with the right people, pick the right music, and invite our customers to dance with us. Some customers will be thankful (to you) for their experience – of you caring for them and going to all this trouble to create a great spectacle/experience. Other customers will experience you as being pushy, of going beyond acceptable boundaries.  Lets make it even simpler: some will love the music you have chosen, others dislike it, and many will be indifferent.  You get that which I am getting at, right?

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening which creates the context for my speaking. Until the next time…

Maz Signature

What’s THE Critical Matter That Gets In The Way of Business Transformation Efforts?

Accurate Real-Time Communication & Information Are Critical in a Time-Sensitive Game That Involves Many Actors

My local airport is London Heathrow. On average, 30 airplanes are landing and another 30 are taking off every hour.  Put differently, one airplane is landing or taking off every minute. Now consider that mishaps – crashes where people are injured/die and/or property is damaged/destroyed – are rare.  So rare that mishaps make the national news, usually the front page.

Who/what is responsible for that which occurs: 30 airplanes landing and another 30 taking off every hour using two runways?  Read this Wikipedia article especially the section: “Operations”; and the sub-sections “Facilities” and “Flight movements”.  So what’s  your answer to the question that I posed just a moment earlier?

Yes, the folks responsible have put in place a ‘tried and tested’ collection of facilities, practices, and rules that work. Is that all there is to it?  I say there is more. I say there has to be more – as the world we find ourselves embedded and constituting is dynamic: the drama/pattern we call life/world is forever changing, not static like stone.  What is the more?  I say it is communication/information.

Before we continue, let stop to consider what it is that we are talking about here – lets look at the etymology (origins) of these words:

Communication (n.)

late 14c., from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication), from Latin communicationem (nominative communicatio), noun of action from past participle stem of communicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” related to communis “common, public, general”

Information (n.)

late 14c., informacion, “act of informing, communication of news,” from Old French informacion, enformacion “advice, instruction,” from Latin informationem (nominative informatio) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from past participle stem of informare “to train, instruct, educate; shape, give form to”

I say that one of the busiest airports in the world, with an aeroplane taking off / landing every minute, works (as in crashes are rare) because in addition to the system of rules and practices (static) there is the dynamic process of communicating/informing occurring between the players in the system; the primary players are air traffic control (air traffic controllers, practices, systems) and the aeroplanes (pilots, practices, systems).

Notice, the effectiveness of this communicating/informing is a function of honest (accurate) communicating/informing occurring between the parties on an continuous basis – the trigger being the arrival/departure of the aeroplanes from/towards Heathrow. Consider, that in this game (where lives are at stake, and people face public consequences for negligence or dishonesty) the human players communicate/inform that which matters honestly – as in accurately.  The players are not telling outright lies, not leaving out that which is essential because it is convenient for one player (in this drama) even though it imposes a cost on the other player.

What happens when miscommunication/informing occurs?  Crashes, and near misses. Here is an instructive example from TravelMole (bolding is mine):

Two passenger aircraft were reportedly just 600 feet from colliding because an air traffic “holding stack” became so congested… the controller, who could not distinguish the two plane’s call signs on his screen, “mistook another aircraft at 12,000 feet for the BA aircraft, which was at 13,000 feet”. “He then ordered the United aircraft to descend to 13,000 feet, into what he wrongly believed was empty airspace. Within 40 seconds the vertical distance between the two planes had reduced to only 600 feet, breaching the minimum safety gap of 1,000 feet.”

The misunderstanding occurred because there was too many planes in the holding stack waiting to land. That is to say too much information to digest. Information that was overlapping. Thus confusing to the human mind.  Notice, there was no deliberate intention by the pilots or the aeroplane systems to misinform.  Which is one reason it was only a near miss as opposed to a calamity that would have cost 500 lives.  Who/what saved the day: an intelligence that used the accurate information to guide intelligent action. Again, according to TravelMole:

The aircraft would have reportedly come much closer if it had not been for the BA jet’s collision avoidance system, which ordered the pilot to dive.

My Experience of Transformation Programmes in Large Organisations

Almost all of my work on the Customer side of business occurs within/from the context of enterprise wide transformation programmes that usually span multiple business units, many countries, many teams/players, many business processes, many information technology systems….. I say that these transformation programmes are operating within/from complex as opposed to complicated domains (Cynefin). The difference there is an inherent and significant uncertainty/unpredictability in large business organisations as opposed to complicatedness in the dealings that go with the safe take off / landings at Heathrow Airport.

So what is absolutely critical to the success of these business transformation programmes? Effective – as in timely, accurate, complete – communicating/informing occurring between the many actors/players and the business equivalent of Air Traffic Control – those who are charged with leading and managing the transformation programme.

Recently, I was brought in as a consultant to lead a significant work-stream within a larger programme which itself sits within a larger global transformation initiative.  One of my responsibilities is to communicate/inform those who are impacted by that which I know and they do not know.  I did just that sending out an email and copying in a key member of Air Traffic Control. This did not go down well, I was reprimanded. Why? Because I had honestly communicated information that a person did not wish to be communicated. His concern? The information, whilst accurate, may make the work-stream look bad in the eyes of those that matter: the ‘Air Traffic Controllers’.  I was told that in the future ALL outbound communications had to be direct to him. And he will choose who is informed of what, when, and how.

There are so many work-streams that have to come together for transformation initiatives of this kind/scale to work out well: generate the desired outcomes by the desired time, within the desired budget.  So many players involved who have to co-operate and collaborate. So it is no surprise to find that there is a complicated, experienced as burdensome, governance framework/structure in operation to manage the many interlocking dependencies.  Yet, the efficacy of this governance framework/structure/ organisation rests on effective communicating/informing occurring between the players and other players,  and  between the players and ‘Air Traffic Control’, and between ‘Air Traffic Control’ and the players.

Now it really hit me. Wow! How many other actors/players playing a leadership role in this transformation initiative are not communicating the information that needs to be communicating?  How many are delaying bad news?  How many are spinning the truth with falsehoods including false optimism? How many are aware of bad news and choosing to hide it from those in positions of power in ‘Air Traffic Control’?

Given this – that which is so – how effective is the burdensome/expensive governance framework?  Not that effective? This led to this thought arising: “Is it possible that the governance framework (people, practices, forums) is expanding because those in  ‘Air Traffic Control’ perceive that the process/journey of guiding the transformation programme is friction-full and unwelcome surprises pop up? And they think more people, more structure, more formal communication will fix the problem?”  Upon getting present to this thought, the absurdity of it all hit me: one part of my laughed uproariously, the other part cried.

Digesting this it occurs to me that traditional thinking and practices around large scale change transformational change are the obstacle not the solution. Why? I say effective leadership is missing: the fundamental platform upon which effective communicating/informing/teaming occurs is weak or absent.  

What is this fundamental platform?  Psychological safety: do I/you/we/us feel safe speaking truth to power?

As this conversation has been going on for a while and we may be at a point that you are no longer willing to listen to my speaking, I leave you with these resources if you wish to dive deeper into that which I am pointing at:

5 Traits of Effective Teams at Google

I thank you for your listening, and I wish you the very best until our next conversation.

On Self, The Customer & Leadership Blog, and Cultivating Loyalty With Employees, Partners, and Customers

Cancer, the impending arrival of death for my friend and later myself, concentrates one (at least me) on that which matters.  Today’s conversation is around that which has been unconcealed for me: about myself and the purpose/contribution of this blog.  So now is the time to leave if this is not the conversation for you.  I don’t even know, right now, how long this conversation is going to be.

Purpose of The Customer & Leadership Blog

Why did I create this blog back in 2010?  Was it to be recognised as a thought leader, a guru, in the Customer space?  Was it to get on the speaking circuit and make money? Maybe it was to sell my services e.g. paid for content and/or advertising as a result of having a thriving web presence?  Some folks think so. Enough people contact me to speak as a thought leader. More contact me about writing advertorials and passing them off as my conversations. Others contact me to search maximise this blog (as it is crap from a search perspective enough though it has great content – that is what I have been told). Then there are others that offer to write stuff, for free, that I can publish on this blog.

I decline all the content stuff. Occasionally, if the speaking stuff appeals to me I speak.  The rule is that I speak that which I speak – for that is the only way that the speaking shows up and expresses itself through me.  Once boundaries are putting up, the speaking dries up.  That is simply so and I work with that – life as it is and is not.

So what got me started?  Allow me to share the following quote:

“I had a vivid imagination. Not only could I put myself in the other person’s place, but I could not avoid doing so. My sympathies always went to the weak, the suffering, and the poor. Realising their sorrows I tried to relieve them in order that I myself might be relieved.” – Clarence Darrow

In short, I found myself identifying with particular folks in organisations: those with affinity for the customer, seeking to simplify/enrich the lives of their customers AND get a fair reward (money) for the difference they make in the lives of customers.  It occurred to me that these folks were being misled or duped by those with influence: academics, consultancies, thought leaders, and gurus.  I found most of their advice BS in the sense that Harry Frankfurt uses this term.

It occurred to me that these high priests (thought leaders, gurus, academics, consultancies) were sitting in the stands and at best sharing that which they saw from the stands. Few had/have substantive (many different trials over many years) experience in the arena. Yet, the game is played in the arena – always! The insight / truth that matters is the truth that arises from and makes a difference in the arena!  Not the commentary that comes from those sitting comfortably in the stands – spectators.

I have been in that arena playing many roles in many types of Customer games: salesforce automation, CRM, 1to1 marketing, CX, web design & commerce, digital strategy, marketing automation, sales & account management, customer service & contact-centres…

It occurred to me that I could/should make a contribution by sharing that which I had learned through many years in the arena; there is both success and failure in the arena, each provides learning opportunities, oftentimes the learning from failures is more powerful than the learning from successes.  This logically led me to this choice: the choice to share my perspective/learning/experience for those who find themselves in the arena or are about to enter the arena. Hence, the genesis of The Customer & Leadership Blog for the business domain.

The joy of self-expression and contribution through this blog, The Customer & Leadership Blog got me thinking. Why not make a similar contribution to folks on the personal (non business) side of human existence. This led to the birth of a second blog: Play BIG: Live A Life Worth Living.

Still why did I do this and why do I continue to do this. Is it to be a thought leader or to establish myself as a guru thus win lucrative speaking gigs?  Talk to my wife. Talk to my great friend  Lonnie Mayne: you might find that I prefer to be in the background as a catalyst: coaching, educating, enabling/facilitating, and provoking original thought &/or action.  I wish to conclude this portion of the conversation with this quote:

There is a basic difference between the leader and the organiser. The leader goes on to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield power for the purposes both social and personal. He wants power for himself. The organiser find his goal in creation of power for others to use. – Saul Alinsky

I leave you to decide whether I fit the description of the leader or the organiser.

What Has The Process That Keeps The Customer & Leadership Blog In Existence Unconcealed To Me About Myself?

Let me be clear, I started with what occurs to me as altruistic motive.  I continue with the same altruistic motive – declining opportunities to write paid for content and pass it off as my work, to accept advertising, refusing speaking opportunities which are paid for PR/marketing for some business or other.

Despite or because of my altruistic motive, I have gotten a HUGE amount out that has left me enriched:

First and foremost, The Customer & Leadership Blog saw me through some of the darkest times of my existence. Where the world that constituted my world slowly disappeared. I am talking about the world of sports/activity: Paragliding, trekking in the mountains, going backpacking in third world countries, cycling, tennis, badminton, even something as simple/joyful as table tennis.

Second, In the process that is the Customer & Leadership Blog my image of myself shifted.  I start out thinking that I was a pygmy in the land of giants – that I had nothing to say that was worth listening to. Further, I was convinced that I could not write. Today, without hesitation nor doubt I say that I show up for myself as a thinker-writer-speaker who is worth listening to by those who know who/what to listen to.  It doesn’t stop there, I learned much more about myself.

Only as a result of these two blogs did I realise that I am more than a thinker.  I realised, that I create (these original conversations) therefore I have the capacity to be creative. What joy this realisation / experience brings!  What is the experience that I am seeking to share with you?  Allow me to point you towards that direction by sharing this quote:

Curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humour, a free and open mind, an acceptance of the relativity of values and of the uncertainty of life, all inevitably fuse into the kind of person whose greatest joy is creation. He conceives of creation as the very essence of the meaning of life. In his constant striving for the new, he finds that he cannot endure what is repetitive and unchanging. For him hell would be doing the same thing over and over again.  – Saul Alinsky

Yes, fundamentally I am curious, I have that free and open mind, and accept the relativity of values/positions/theories and the inherent uncertainties that come with finding oneself in living in a complex non-linear world where prediction/certainty is for those who are either naive or fools.  Which kind of explains how it is that I have deliberately sought to make friends with folks from different countries, different faiths, different ages. It also explains how it is that my interests/thinking spans science, philosophy (eastern, western), history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, ecology, systems thinking, chaos/complexity….

Is it possible that it is irreverence that lies at my core?  It hasn’t escaped my notice that the subtitle of this blog is: “provocative conversations: questioning conventional wisdom / stimulating original thinking.”

They say you remember the moments in your existence that really matter. I must have been between 8 and 10 years of age.  Unhappy. Perplexed. Desperate to figure this thing out. What thing? Why is it that the stuff the (white) folks teach me at school about good/bad, right/wrong differs from and contradicts that which my parents (and their relatives) insist is good/bad, right/wrong?  Then one day, one moment, outside walking, a thought/insight arises and hits me.  It does not leave me the same person – it changes me fundamentally and forever.  Which thought/insight? Here it is:

Its ALL made up!

Once I got that, I started pushing the boundaries – at school, at home. I became the person who questions that which is taken for granted.  The one that asks the difficult questions like “Why be a team player in a competitive individualistic culture and economic system? Do you think I am stupid? What is a team player – one who censors self to fit in with the powers that be – you?  Why should I be that kind of person?  Anyway, why should you get to define what constitutes team playing?” Or”What makes you certain that your religion is the only true religion, that your way of life is the right one?”

There is a Chinese saying which goes something like “Beware, every stick has two ends, when you pick up a stick you get both ends!” I can vouch for the truth of that.  Curiosity, open mindedness, acceptance of relativity of values/perspectives, and especially irreverence have brought me great learning, memorable experiences, and joy.  That is one end of the stick.  The other end is that almost always I find myself the Outsider. And folks do not like that which they hold dear questioned. They don’t even like the opinions/prejudices/’facts’ they picked up from their media to be subjected to Socratic questioning or my blistering critique.

My professional existence is been that of a traveller: travelling from one employer to another, moving from domain to another.  History suggests that I tend to last about two years in an organisation. At about that time I usually find myself bored – having learned that which there was to learn. And/ or I find myself facing a ‘superior’ who shows up for me as ignorant/stupid/arrogant or just a bully.

There’s an ancient story of The Oak and the Reed. According to this tale, the smart choice is to be the flexible/supple reed. I am the reed when it comes to means to accomplish ends. When it comes to values/ends and the way I have chosen to show up and travel in this existence I am the Oak. Why?  Because these matter – these are what I choose to orient/navigate my existence by.  How important are they to me?  This quote says it all:

“A man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Hemingway, The Old Man & The Sea

What Has This To Do With Customers and Leadership?

Good question.  Allow me to respond with a few questions of mine:

Do you identify with the customer (see the Clarence Darrow quote at the beginning of this conversation) and so are committed to simplifying/enriching the lives of your customers? Or are your in it purely for yourself – to make a name for yourselves, to get rich?

Are you playing the Customer game because it is THE game that you want to play because it is THE game that calls you – your deepest self?  Is playing this game the expression of your deepest self?

Do you have or are you cultivating the curiosity, the open mindedness, the awareness of the relativity of perspectives, and the inherent uncertainty of existence to get out of your existence (your default existence) and really enter into / live the lives of your customers? And thus to generate original insight, and cultivate empathy, for your customers?  How can you simplify/enrich their lives if you do not truly understand them – not as mere personas nor statistics – but as concrete human beings?

Do you get all that is – you, your organisation, the economic model, society as such – is all made up?  And are you up for unmaking that which is necessary to unmake to become a giant in the Customer arena – as seen through through customers’ eyes?  Is this a mission that appeals to you – calls forth intellectual interest and emotional passion? How do you know that passion is present?  Passion brings boundless energy and it does not get stopped by obstacles that appear on the path.

Are you willing to pay the price that comes with questioning the status quo and threatening the powerful who seek to lose by the changes you are proposing to make or making? Are you willing to be that Outsider?  Are you willing to accept Hemingway’s truth that a man is not made for defeat, that he can be destroyed but not defeated?

If you answer these questions honestly you may get why it is that few are successful in calling forth genuine loyalty between themselves and employees, between themselves and their value chain partners, between themselves and their customers, between themselves and the communities in which they operate.

Thank you for your listening, I wish you the very best, until the next time.