Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012? Start with ‘Integrity’

First put in place a sound foundation

If you want to make through in being customer-centric in 2012 then forget strategy, forget process redesign, forget technology, forget voice of the customer, forget customer experience design, forget social media – forget everything!   Why?  How much sense does it make to spend time, money and effort on the walls, floors, windows, roof, plumbing, electrics etc if you have not taken care to put in place a sound foundation in place to make sure that the house doesn’t collapse on you – sooner or later?

What is this foundation? ‘Integrity’

What do I mean by ‘Integrity’?  First and foremost ‘Integrity’ in the sense that I am using this word has nothing to do with morality – good, bad, being an upright member of the tribe (whatever the tribe is).  By ‘Integrity’ I mean the state of being whole and complete and in particular I am pointing towards the state where words and actions are in complete alignment.  For example, if you say you will give me a call tomorrow at 09:00 and you do that then your words and your actions are in agreement.   The foundational practice of ‘Integrity’ is ‘honouring your word‘.

What do I mean by ‘honouring your word’?  I do not mean keeping your word – doing what you said you would do when you said you would do it to the standard that we agreed (or the standard we can reasonably expect to have been agreed).  Are you thinking “How can one honour his word and yet not keep it?”  You honour your word by going full out to keep it. And if you know that you are not going to keep your word then right there and then you tell the person/s who are counting on you (and your word) that you will not be keeping your word.  And you clean up the mess that you have made.  This  could involve:

  • getting someone else to do what you promised to do;
  • renegotiating what you have agreed so that the other person is happy with the end result (of the renegotiation) and the state of the relationship does not deteriorate;
  • apologising and making restitution such that the other person is happy with the end result and the relationship is intact.

Why is ‘Integrity’ so important?

You might remember that I wrote about three amazing experiences before Christmas.  The third experience was at the Chemist (the pharmacy) where the dispensing Chemist issued me medicines even though I did not have a prescription signed off by my doctor.  Furthermore, the staff at the Chemists offered to get the repeat prescription signed off by my doctor and have my medicine ready this morning.  Whilst I was initially reluctant, I accepted when the Chemist told me that they provide this service, regularly, for many of their customers – it saves customers the inconvenience of first going to their doctor to get a repeat prescription and then going to the Chemists.

Well I turned up at the Chemists to pick up my medicine – which is incredibly important to my health and well-being.  How did things turn out?  I walked up to the counter and told the assistant that I had been promised that my Levothyroxine Sodium tables (56 of them) would be ready for pick up today.  The assistant could not find my medicine nor my repeat prescription.  She asked the dispensing Chemist (not the one that was there last time) and he could not find my stuff on the computer system.  To cut a long story short the Chemist (as a business unit) failed to honour their word to me:  the medicine was not ready to be picked up.  Instead I made my way to the doctors surgery, picked up my repeat prescription, walked back to the Chemists, handed in the prescription and then waited ten minutes for it to be dispensed.

I get that sometimes there are ‘breakdowns’ – I am totally ok with that as it is simply an integral part of this world that we live in even if you get to six sigma.  What stunned me was the attitude of the staff at the Chemists.  Let me be specific:

  • they were totally oblivious to the importance of the medicine to me;
  • no-one (four staff members) got that they had made a promise to me – no apologies, no effort to make right what had not gone right;
  • they side stepped any responsiblity and accountability by pointing the finger at my doctor – the doctor’s practice had failed to issue the prescription to them even though they had taken my repeat prescription to the doctor’s surgery to be signed by the doctor;
  • they acted as if it is totally OK to make a promise and then not keep it because a part of the system outside of their control had failed to function properly;
  • knowing that they would not keep their promise no-one at the Chemist had contacted – proactively – to let me know of the issue even though I live only two minutes walk away from them.

In most people, most teams, most departments, most organisations ‘Integrity is out’ – it has gone walkabout

Take a good look and you will find that we as individuals, teams, departments, organisations, communities and society have a feeble relationship to our word.  We simply do not keep our word.  Because everyone accepts that it is OK to not keep our word then we give away our word willy nilly without real consideration.  Taken together I assert that our word is cheap and not worth the paper that it is written on.

That is an issue because when I, the customer, buy from you a set of promises (explicit and implicit) have been made.  And now you and your organisation have to deliver on those promises. How the heck are you going to do that if your relationship to your word is feeble just like the Chemist in the story that I told earlier.  Great leaders, teams and organisations have a fanatical, obsessive, relationship to their word – playing full out to honour their word as individuals, as team members and as an organisation. Amazon is a great example:  I have ordered many items and every time the items arrive on time, in the perfect condition and I am billed only what I expected to be billed.  Things went wrong only twice.  Once I did not get the travel books when I expected them (and by the promised date) and upon ringing Amazon they fixed it without any questions or hassle: replacement books were desptached that day and arrived the next morning as agreed.  The second time I bought a book from a reseller and it had a page missing the reseller did not quibble – he apologised and refunded my money.

Integrity being out compromises workability and performance

If you remember nothing else then remember this Integrity being out compromises the workability (the performance) of the system that is out of integrity.  It is not a moral issue. It is a performance issue.  And that is why you should start with Integrity – the performance of the system can never surpass the level of integrity especially across the system (the various players, processes, departments, organisations….).  Any compromise in integrity will impact the customer in terms of misleading advertising, misleading selling, products that do not do what it says on the tin, failed deliveries, inaccurate billing and so forth.

Investing in voice of the customer, in process redesign, in implementing complected CRM systems etc is simply putting lipstick on a pig or putting icing on a mud pie.  You are simply fooling yourself.  Incidentally, lack of integrity will impact the value you get out of any VoC program, process redesign or CRM technologies.  You can never escape the performance impact of the endemic lack of integrity – lack of integrity flows from the very top, the leaders of the organisation.  An organisation can never have more integrity than that of the leadership team.  What do you think?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

9 thoughts on “Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012? Start with ‘Integrity’”

  1. 100% fully agree with you but I think that there is one thing missing here.During a conversation with co-workers, I was asked why customers always have a friendly image of my work. I was pretty sure that it was because of my “integrity” as you describe it above as I always try not to promise anything that I can’t deliver.
    Just to be sure, I’ve recently done a little test during which I wrote down every single “promise” I made whether personal or professional on Evernote as well as the date on which it had to be fulfilled during 2 weeks. I added a checkbox next to each one in order for me to track them.
    The results were shocking, I really didn’t think that I missed out on so many promises, mostly in terms of timing, I would deliver but maybe a few hours late, or even a few days but that’s still a breach of integrity as described above. Results: 23 out of 134 promises weren’t delivered, that’s almost 18% – 1 out of 5 promises. Scary in terms of integrity right ?

    It turns out that what customers/co-workers/friends/family are still very happy is the fact that I always give them a status report – this is the key takeaway here. Never leave anyone expecting something with no news (just like your Chemist example above). It’s ok to be late or not to deliver the way you want to, but please inform people about it. And really, it makes a BIG difference in customer perception.

    Anyways, thanks Maz for your insight on this blog, I’m not always aligned 100% but it sparks thoughts 😉 Happy New Year!


    1. Hello Arnaud
      Excellent – so few people keep a record of their promise making and how they actually perform (as opposed to how they think they perform) in honouring their word.

      Interesting that you have noticed the difference between ‘keeping your word’ and ‘honouring your word’. You are having the impact that you are having despite not ‘keeping your word’ because you are ‘honouring your word’. Say what? When you keep your ‘customers’ (those who depend on you) up to date on where you are at and renegotiate deadlines with these customers you are ‘honouring your word’. And as you have noticed that is all it takes to be seen as ‘being great with customers’ most of the time.

      I thank you for taking part in the conversation. I look foward to hearing your voice once more. Be well. Be great. Be a source of contribution.



      1. Hi Maz,
        I’d tend to agree with Arnaud in his comment and would add that no amount of integrity makes up for a failure to communicate. How, when and what we say and, just as importantly, what we don’t say to each other is just as important. Our integrity is all well and good but is useless if we don’t use it and share it for the benefit of others.



  2. Hello Adrian
    I don’t get what you are getting at: in my world ‘Integrity’ and ‘being in communication’ go hand in hand like two sides of the coin. One cannot exist without the other. So perhaps I have failed to communicate that in my writing so let me give it another go.

    When I use the term ‘Integrity’ I am using it in a specific manner. Specifically:

    – If I say to you (in writing, on the phone, via email…) that tomorrow I will turn up at your house at 9:00 and I do turn up at 9:00 (fit for the matter at hand) then my Integrity is in – my actions match my words.

    – If I say to you that tomorrow I will turn up at your house at 9:00 and I do turn up at your house at 9:00 am yet am unfit (perhaps I am drunk or drugged up) for the matter in hand (the reason we had agreed for me to turn up at your house) then my Integrity is out.

    – If on the way to your house I have an accident and am taken to hospital and do not turn up at your house at 9:00 my Integrity is out if I was in a position to let you know that I would not be turning up at your house at 9:00 and did not do so as soon as I knew that was the case and could communicate that to you.

    If you take a good look at the examples you will notice the essential relationship between Integrity and Communication:

    – I put my Integrity at play and at stake when I make a promise;

    – If I keep my promise (and that is a communication in itself) then my Integrity is in and I communicate that I can be counted on to keep my word;

    – If I do not keep my promise (fail to turn up) and do not communicate that I will not be turning up and do not clear up the mess that I have made by not keeping my promise then my Integrity is out;

    – If I do not keep my promise yet do communicate that I will not be keeping my promise asap and I take the action to clear up the mess and maintain the relationship then my Integrity went out and I took the actions to bring my Integrity back in.

    I thank you for taking time to share your perspective and giving me a second chance to be clear about what I am talking about when I speak of Integrity. It is absolutely NOT the normal, taken for granted, assumption of Integrity as moral virtue. And it is absolutely NOT the established dictionary definition.



    1. Hi Maz,
      Thank you for your response. I have no doubt that you put communication at the heart of your integrity. However, what I have doubts about is whether other people/businesses/organisations/customers have the same understanding.

      If we look at the definition of the word ‘integrity’:
      1the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles: a gentleman of complete integrity

      …we can see that there is no mention of communication. There is implied behaviours and actions in this definition but implied meanings do not necessarily lead to explicit actions. Therefore, I think it is important that we make this element explicit.



  3. Dear Maz,

    I tracked you from your article in B2C. I am a former high tech CEO/brand manager/marketer. I now design natural skin health products for my small company.

    This time each year, we plan. We base our products on our integrity and define the word, integrity, as “being whole and complete.” We mostly define products as those things that make people feel good and solve their problems. Following this mantra, our marketing is based on the very old principle to offer samples sized products at large enough for people to find out if they work for them or not…or make them feel good or not…or hopefully both.

    Our business product way of doing business is seemingly contrarian to the trends. I originally found your B2C article on ‘Integrity’ while searching for 2012 trends in marketing. Reading many sources, I became frustrated that none of the trends sayers connected the product to the consumer or their marketing strategy. All seemed to be focused on the mechanics of the process of marketing with little to no concern for the integrity of the product, the message or the expectations of the consumer.

    My products often compete with prescription products for the skin whose ingredients are often the cause of the disorders people are experiencing. The doctors themselves dispense without really caring of the cause of the ailment. People are left frustrated with often a worse condition than they started with. Our ‘try before you buy’ marketing strategy has lead us to good growth in a down economy which, on the surface, is a good thing for our company and those we serve.

    Our perplexity has been our vendors and partners who do not seem to share the same integrity. Our contract manufacturer and fulfillment partner agreed to one-day shipping of orders and a ‘never out of stock’ situation. They rarely meet five days and often go out of stock of a product for a week or two at a time. Other suppliers reduce quality of ingredients without informing us. These situations grow our frustration, but worse, reflect on our own integrity in the eyes of the consumer. Our integrity does not permit us to ‘blame’ our suppliers.

    So, in affirmation of your belief that integrity is at the heart of a product, a company and its marketing, I believe that you are also at the heart of the marketing dilemma for 2012 and beyond. The CEO of our contract manufacturer is in integrity in his own beliefs that we should have one-day shipping and no out of stock situations. His integrity does not flow downward and ultimately our customer’s feel that breach.

    Most everything I read about marketing in 2012 and beyond are processes and platitudes. It has left me feeling that much of what is at the core of a great product has been lost. I struggled with how to define this loss by trying to look for the cause. Ironically, both are contract manufacturer and our company have the word ‘care’ in our name. In practice, not words, our little company ‘cares’ and our contract manufacturer, in their actions, ‘does not care.’ Your beliefs and focus on integrity as helped us to define the reason for our frustration where the actions maybe the ‘cause’ with the ‘reason’ eluding us.

    Because of you, our marketing plan for 2012 is now the simplest we have ever written. It is the word “Integrity!” Now we can work at the tactics! Thank you. Bob


    1. Hello Bob
      First and foremost I acknowledge and thank you for being the type of person who is interested in a conversation around ‘Integrity’. Second, I thank you for the effort that you have made to find me and then the time you have taken to write and share your life, your situation with me. Please know that I consider it a privilege to be in conversation with you. Given that it matters to me to make a contribution I am delighted to know that I have made a contribution to you and that you are going to make ‘being in Integrity’ the cornerstone of your marketing plan for this year.

      As you have taken the time to contribute to me, I hope that you will allow me to contribute to you. Before I launch into what there is to say I want you to know that I relate to you as person of power – someone who can handle ‘straight communication’. Given that context here is what there is for me to say:

      a) The role of the leader is not just to ensure that his personal Integrity is in. That is for each and everyone of us – if we want our lives to work. Playing full out to ensure (ongoingly) the integrity of the organisation that the leader leads is that which goes with being a leader. The Chinese say that every stick has two ends and you only get to choose one end; once you have chosen one end then you automatically get the other end otherwise it would not be a stick. PUt differently, when you step up into the leadership role then you automatically become responsible for the integrity of the entire organisation/system that you are leading. That in turn means that if the Integrity of the organisation is out then your integrity is out. Going further I assert that the Integrity of your contract manufacturer is out only because the Integrity of the CEO is out.

      b) You, Bob Root, can point the finger at your contract manufacturer and fulfillment partner. Great. And what the heck does that accomplish except leave you feeling righteous and relating to yourself as a victim. That is not a powerful place to be Bob and you know that. You can choose to come from the context of ‘playing full out to keep your Integrity in’ and relate to yourself as ‘being the author of your life (and the life of your organisation’. If you choose to come from that place then you will get that what is showing up from your business partners is simply that which is acceptable to you. Yes, acceptable to you. If it was not acceptable to you then you would not accept it: you would not tolerate the lack of Integrity from your business partners. You would call them on their lack of Integrity and have a straight conversation on what they are really up for as opposed to what they simply say they are up for. And based on that you would keep these business partners, find new business partners who can be counted on to keep their Integrity in, and/or change the promises that you make to your customers so that your promise matches your capability. Put bluntly, your Integrity being out allows the Integrity of your busines partners to be out.

      Please note that I am not making ‘truth statements’: statements that can be scientifically proven to be a valid representation of what is so. I am simply ‘offering you a different view of your situation and your role in it’ – a view that I am convinced allows you to be the ’cause in the matter of your life’ or more simply ‘the author of your life’ rather than the ‘victim of your business partners’. Authors are in the driving seat and have power, victims simply take what is and is not handed out by ‘authors’. I hope you get what I am getting at.

      I thank you for the privileging of having an insight into your life and being in communication with you. If I can be of service then please reach out to me.



  4. Hello James
    Absolutely, my favourite saying along similar lines is “You are pregant or you are not pregnant, you cannot be a little bit pregnant!”

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment – sharing your perspective, your wisdom, yourself. I am grateful that we are in communication and I wish you the very best living for this year and every other year!

    Let’s meet up face to face this year. Are you up for it? I am!



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