Are we asking too much of marketers and the Marketing function?

The implications for Marketing when the company|customer ‘relationship’ is viewed through SD Logic

I have been reading this deck that has been posted on Slideshare by Wim Rampen.  In this presentation Wim is making the case for looking at the business|customer ‘relationship’ through Service Dominant Logic.  In a nutshell SD logic states that service is the fundamental basis of exchange between the company and the customer; products are services in disguise – you go and buy a drill to get access to the service of drilling a hole/s, there is no intrinsic value in the drill itself.

Looking at the business|customer relationship Wim makes the following point (I have modified his language to make certain concepts clearer):

If value for the Customer is dominantly created after the value exchange (buy/sell when goods are transferred from producer to the consumer), ie. IN USE, both the scope and content of MARKETING STRATEGIES SHOULD SHIFT from dominantly focused on creating momentum for value exchange (promotion /selling) to a continuum of interactions aimed at supporting the customer’s value creation process.

Do you get it?  Wim is asking marketers and the Marketing function to shift from doing what they current do to designing and orchestrating the Customer Experience – across all interactions and touchpoints along the customer’s journey from research through to ownership and usage.    This is how Wim puts it:

Marketing  has to shift “from campaign and communication design to service experience design, end to end..”

Accepting this as the ground, the context, out of which Marketing operates, Wim goes on to spell out the key jobs that marketers and the Marketing function should be doing.

Wim Rampen: The 7 jobs that fall to the Marketing function

1. Understand customers’ value creation process (= jobs & desired outcomes) and where in the process customers fail to meet their desired outcomes;

2. Build relationships in communities of people with similar desired outcomes and behaviour;

3. Support customer’s value creation process;

4. Design experiences that stimulate engagement through interactions in networks of relationships;

5. Engage employees and partners in supporting customers in their process of value creation;

6. Extract actionable insights from 360-degree feedback to foster innovations and to turn them into value propositions that attract new customers; and

7. Redesign metrics to capture the engagement value for the firm and ensure there is high correlations between these metrics and customers value created.

Is Wim is asking too much of marketers and the Marketing function?

Lets assume that these are the jobs that need to be performed when it comes to the customer|customer relationship.  Now the question is do marketers (and the Marketing function) have the required skills to do these jobs?  Many of us would say that they do not.  Yet, that is not an issue because people who do have the skills can be brought into the Marketing function.  Do marketers have the required mindset and attitude?  That is debatable – people, as groups, are loathe to let go of their mindset, values and attitudes.  Yet, it is doable so let’s assume that marketers and the Marketing function can make that shift.

Now we come up with the more interesting question: does the Marketing function have the influence, the clout, to design and orchestrate end to end Customer Experience / “service experience design”?  Before you answer this question get present to what is being asked of the Marketing function.  The Marketing function is being asked to orchestrate the mindset, metrics and behaviour of all the functions and people in the enterprise: product development, sales, customer services, logistics, finance, human resources, information technology….  Is that realistic?  And if that task falls to the Marketing function then why have a CEO or the Board of Directors?

Look into what is so (reality) and you are likely to find that the Marketing function is simply one piece on the corporate chessboard and its mandate / role is limited to using advertising and spin to stimulate demand for the products that the corporation makes and needs to sell.   That is all that is expected of the Marketing function.  Sit with marketers and you are likely to find that they feel boxed in, limited, by the space that they are given to play in.  Only a few Marketing functions control the 4Ps – most only control one P, Promotion.  What I am pointing at is the gulf between marketing theory and the reality on the ground.

We are looking at organisational transformation and Marketing cannot lead that

Continue looking into reality and you are likely to find that the Marketing function that has little respect in the Boardroom or within the organisation in many if not the majority of companies.  If that is so then how is the Marketing function going to take the lead an, in effect, transform the organisation: product development, sales, customer services, logistics, finance, human resources, IT etc – they all have to play together to provide the kind of end to end service experience that Wim is talking about.

The role of organisational renewal and transformation belongs to the Tops (the CEO and the senior leadership team) and not the Marketing function.  Collectively the Tops need to: buy into the services dominant logic way of looking at the business; articulate an inspiring vision of the future and convert this into a blueprint; have the guts to requisition and deploy the right resources to convert that blueprint into reality; roll their sleeves up and help in turning the blueprint into reality; see it through to the end – be committed to the end goal; and be flexible and patient in going around obstacles on the path – there will be many obstacles.

If you are still in doubt over the point that I am making then ponder this: how likely is it that one of the States in the United States is in a position to influence and orchestrate the agenda / priorities / behaviour or all of the States in the United States so as to create harmony across all?  Then ask yourself if you did want that kind of harmony – say in the laws that apply – across the States then who is best placed to lead that task?  Is it really one of the States?  And if it is, which one is best placed, has the most credibility, the most influence, to bring about that kind of change?  Then ask yourself how long this process is likely to take?

Customer Experience Design: it’s not about the process it’s about the human being

The problem with Customer Experience is the Designers

Is the engineering / six sigma way of thinking and approaching the business world the right one for designing and orchestrating customer experiences?  Walk into many business, take a look at who is involved in Customer Experience efforts and the way that they are going about it and the answer is YES.  I am not in agreement with this view, this approach.  I wrote a post (The Problem with Customer Experience is the Designers) some time ago.  The one change I would make, today, is to say that the issues is not limited to the designers – it also includes their masters, the people who commission the work of the designers.

Customer Experience design is so much more than process design

In this post I simply want to get us present to the fact that the process lens (and thus process design / redesign) whilst useful can be misleading when it comes to getting a rounded grip on Customer Experience.   Designing great customer experiences means getting to grips with the fullness of our humanity.  I can talk about this (and it will show up as abstract) or I can point you towards what I am thinking by using an example.  Lets take look at my tea drinking experience.

How you can change the Customer Experience without changing the process

This is the mug that I normally use:

Why do I use it?  I use this mug because it is just right.  The main differentiator is the size/design of the handle – I can easily slide three fingers into the handle and the mould into the handle, a good fit.  There is the functional component of ease, the tactical component of fit between the handle and my fingers AND there is the emotional component.  There are two strands to the emotional component.  The first arises out of the tactile – how holding the mug ‘feels’ in my hands.  The second strand arises from memory – this mug was given to me as a Christmas gift, by colleagues, at a previous employer.

Can I change my tea drinking experience without changing any elements of the tea making-serving-drinking experience?   Yes, I can.  I can do it simply by changing the container I use.

Here is another mug that I use:

At a functional and tactile level this mug is poor in comparison to the previous mug.  Yet I do use this mug and I am attached to it.  Why?  This mug was made/decorated by my daughter and presented to me with a big hug and kiss on my right cheek.  It was her gift for Fathers Day and it says “No 1 Cuddly Bear”.  Every time I see and use this mug I am not just drinking tea, I am in fact present to and immersed in the love of my daughter.   So here we have a transformation of my experience simply by changing the mug.

Lets take a look at a different ‘mug’ and what impact this has on me and my tea drinking experience:

Notice that this ‘mug’ is not a mug, it has no handles, it is more accurately described as a bowl.  I first came across this when I married into the French – at breakfast my tea was presented to me in a bowl just like this one.

Drinking tea from a bowl instead of a mug completely alters my tea drinking experience.  When I use this bowl I am totally present to the sensations of holding the bowl, lifting the bowl, drinking/tasting the tea.  Why?  Because, the bowl requires me to hold it with both of my hands.  When I am holding the bowl with both of my hands I cannot be mindlessly drinking tea (not being present to the tea drinking experience) whilst using the computer – it simply does not lend itself to that.   Furthermore, the simple act of holding the bowl with two hands to cusp the bowl creates, for me, a more ‘intimate’ tea drinking experience.  I use this bowl when I want to bring myself back to the real world – to be mindful of my physical experience, to really be present to and appreciate the tea experience in its fullest dimensions.

Finally, lets take a look at this last ‘mug’:

My wife loves pretty stuff and this is the what she uses to serve tea when we have guests with us.  This ‘mug’ is neither a mug nor a cup or a bowl.  Yet, it is a little like all three and as a result it provides with a different experience.  First of all, when I see this ‘mug’ memories of family and friends rush into my mind along with pleasant feelings.  Second, this ‘mug’ is too big for the handle and so a certain presence is required:  it is not possible to drink tea mindlessly – I have to be present to what I am holding.  Third, I like the look of this ‘mug’ – the design, the colours, the simplicity of the pattern.  As a result, I enjoy drinking tea that much more.  Finally, I cannot ever drink tea from this ‘mug’ without thinking of my mother-in-law (who loves pretty objects) and thinking how much my wife is like my mother-in-law and yet does not realise it!   This brings a chuckle to my lips and smile into my heart.

Points to reflect upon when you are looking to improve / design the Customer Experience

I hope that I have shown up that just focussing upon and improving the process is not enough when it comes to designing / orchestrating the customer experience.  You need to look broader and understand how human beings experience stuff.

Human beings see, hear, touch, walk, smell and taste.  What does this mean for your Customer Experience design? How can you use the right sensory cues?  How can you involve customers more so that they are more fully present and thus in the experience?  Or how can you distract your customers so that they are not present to ‘unpleasant’ experiences?

We, human beings, think and they remember – the bring both of these qualities to the experience.  How can you evoke the right thoughts, the right memories so as to elevate the customer experience? What do you need to do to avoid evoking unpleasant memories?

Human beings are social by design and one of main facets of social is speaking and listening.  What implications does that have for your Customer Experience design?  Should people be present or not in the Customer Experience?  If they should be present then how many, what kinds of people?  What kind of social conversations and exchanges are the right ones? And so forth.

Finally:  process mapping and process design are easy in comparison to Customer Experience design.  Incidentally, process mapping disguised as customer experience mapping is still process mapping.  It only becomes customer experience mapping when you get access to the inner domain where experience resides and look at a lot more than the sequence of steps that the customer has to execute.

Marc Pritchard (P+G’s global marketing chief) has an interesting and inspiring view on the future of marketing and brand building

I get present to the reality of marketing and I find myself disappointed

Last night I had the privilege of participating in a CMO dinner hosted by IBM in Central London.  Thank you IBM.  If I am truthful (and my commitment is to be straight with myself and with you) then my experience was one of entering into the conversation in a state of delight and leaving the dinner a little despondent as regards the state of marketing: same old thinking – “consumers”, not “people”, not “our fellow human beings”;  few marketers feeling that they work in an organisational context that allows them / calls them to be customer-centric;  the relentless focus on ROI driving short term thinking, hobbling tinkering / experimentation….

Please understand I am not being critical of marketers (my fellow human beings), just disappointed about the state of marketing (the activity, the function).  As a result of last night’s dinner I have more understanding and more love of my fellow human beings toiling away in marketing.  They want to be customer-centric, to improve the customer experience, to forge stronger bonds.  They find it difficult to do so as they have to please their bosses who are insistent on making the numbers no matter what it takes.  And the numbers that matter are this quarters numbers.  That kind of orientation does not allow for the long term game that the likes of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Julian Richer (Richer Sounds), Chris Zane (Zane’s Cycles), Steve Jobs (Apple) play or played so well.

Why did I get so down?  The key questions are not being addressed

It occurs to me that the central question of our times is this one: “How do we touch lives, create value for customers, make the world a better place?”  No-one talked about this.  Yes, there was talk about brand.  And to me that occured as brand as image, brand as personality, brand as a mask that we put on.  Few talked about ‘character’ – the values we uphold, are proud to uphold, values that uplift us, our colleagues, our customers…..

Follow close behind is the second question: “What do I stand for, what do you stand for, what do we stand for, what can we be counted on?”  I write two blogs (this one and the Possibility-Transformation-Leadership blog) and they are expressions of my stand: to be useful, to provoke fresh thinking and be of service to my fellow human beings, to put something into the game of life, to make a contribution.  If I can answer this question (an ordinary person) then why can’t brands and professional marketers answer this question?

The last question that is particularly relevant for these times of discontinuity (in chaos theory this would be called a “phase transition”) is: “How do we get access to what we don’t know that we don’t know?”.  The answer is experimentation.  We experiment – we try out lots of different ideas on a small scale  (the nudge theory / approach) and see what shows up in the world.  We reflect on what shows up, we learn and then we use that learning to do more intelligent experimentation – building on what works, learning from and letting go that which did not work. The consensus around the table was that in the current economic climate there is a relentless focus on ROI and this prevents/hinders/shackles any experimentation: experimentation is a luxury that the marketer cannot afford.

P&G’s Marc Pritchard lights me up, restores my faith in marketers and marketing

Marc Pritchard is P&G’s global marketing and brand building officer and he gave a speech on the 21st March at the WACL dinner.  I found it an inspiring speech, one that provides both a vision and an actionable pathway to the future.  Here are the key point that speaks to me:

1. Find your purpose, be useful

“….as a person and as a leader, define your own purpose. What drives you? What difference do you make in people’s lives in and outside of your organisations?  I think of my simple purpose in life as “to be useful”. To be useful in every meeting, every pitch, planning session or business review; to be useful to all the people around me.”

My view:  this is absolutely the first questions each and everyone of us has to answer authentically.  I exist, you exist and while we are here lets be useful!  Figuring out how you can be useful and make that contribution which you are best placed to make.  That goes for individuals, teams, functions, brand,  organisations.  We have all the tools to be useful – really we do, that in a nutshell is what the internet and social media is all about.

2. Do and learn: “Try new things, accept some won’t work, learn why’

“So, this is my advice to you: Since we are all building brands in a digital world, I would encourage you to “do and learn“. We are trying to make this shift ourselves at P&G – and it’s not always easy. But we have to try new things, be accepting that some things won’t work and learn why. If we are going to live our vision to create 1:1 relationships in real time with every person in the world, this is the only way to do that – and we believe it’s the future of brand building.”

3. We don’t need digital marketing plans, we need holistic brand building plans founded on purpose and contribution

“At P&G, every brand must define its purpose of how it uniquely touches and improves lives with its superior benefit. Brands must still discover deep human insights that make a brand relevant in a person’s life. And from these insights, brands must create big ideas that drive preference for its superior benefits. We translate big ideas into content that engages people in conversations with our brands.

We are building brands in a rapidly changing world – and in a digital world. But I’m clear to tell our marketers that we don’t need “digital marketing” plans. We need holistic brand building plans with big ideas that can be executed in a digital world.

I’m excited about the opportunities that these shifts present to us as brand builders. And it’s also my belief in the power of purpose that makes me so optimistic about the futureAt P&G, our purpose is to touch and improve the lives of every person in the world. Every one of our brands has a unique derivative of this purpose. And it is this purpose that drives everything we do.”

4. Here’s the shift that is required

“….P&G’s vision is to build our brands through lifelong, one-to-one relationships in real-time with every person in the world. But achieving this vision requires some fundamental shifts in how we operate.

– It requires shifting our mindset to think of who we serve as “people”, not just “consumers” in order to make their whole lives better.

– It means shifting from superior products as the sole source of brand value, to creating value from a wide range of sources, including a broader range of disruptive and transformational products, non-product services, knowledge, information and even entertainment.

– It means shifting from static marketing campaigns that we launch and adjust infrequently, to real-time “always on” brand building with ways of constantly engaging people to participate in our brands, and – at their best – even inspiring movements.

– It means shifting from mass broadcasting, to creating more personal, one-to-one conversations with individuals and the communities in which they’re active.

– It means shifting from a linear path to purchase that ends up at a physical retail store, to an approach of “anywhere, anytime” shopping.”

5. The three forces that make it necessary for marketer, brands and companies to make this shift

“Technology gives people 24/7, real-time connections to everyone, and the power to transform public opinion on just about anything, including the direction of brands, companies and even countries. And mobile technology is unleashing a new wave of power as nearly every person on the planet will soon have transparent, always-on information, education, and even entertainment.

Trust in institutions is eroding so people want to know who is behind brands and companies; and if we’re interested in improving lives, versus just making money. Today’s heroes are “everyday people” whose actions inspire others to follow and whose stories generate the most interest and advocacy.

People are participating. They’re involved in conversations about our brands and companies like never before. They’re creating content through conversations, and creative expressions of how they think and feel about topics.”

Final words

I am in total agreement with Marc Pritchard, it occurs to me that we (Marc and I) are fruits of the same tree, envisioning the same vision, and on the same path.  This is a ‘manifesto’ that I totally buy into – actually I have already bought into.  It is because I have already bought into it that Marc’s speech resonates with me and leaves me uplifted / inspired.  And if marketers and marketing were to follow this ‘manifesto’ then marketing would become, for the first time in its history, a noble profession.  What do you think?

Social Customer / Social CRM / Social Business: snake oil or great medicine? (Part III)

This post is the third post of this series.  In the first post I explored ‘the social customer’ and provided my point of view.  In the second post I explored social CRM to make sense of what it is.  In this third post I take a similar look at ‘social business’.  This is a long post and if you have the patience then you will get value out of reading the entire post.  If you are in a hurry and just want the nugget then the first section of this post is all you need to read.

Social business: the nugget to chew on

If you believe that implementing a bunch of social media and collaboration tools into your business is going to make you a social business then you are deluded.  You are making the same kind of mistake that people just like you made when they invested millions into CRM systems in the mistaken belief that implementing these systems would transform relationships with customers and lead to the ‘milk and honey’ of customer loyalty.  If you load a donkey with all the books of wisdom does that make the donkey wise?  No.  And you would never do that, you would laugh at anybody did do that.  Then why do so many tech oriented people think that implementing social tools (collaboration, social media) will make a business a ‘social businesses’?

Why am I so confident?  Because ‘social business’ requires us (our culture, our organisations, our businesses, us) to get present to and live out of / from a social ontology.   Right now our Western culture, our institutions, our businesses and our behaviour (in the public and private domains) are shaped by / arise out of an atomist ontology.  What is required is a transformation. A transformation that requires a shift from the “I-it” mode of relating to people (employees, customers, suppliers, partners….) to the “I-Thou” mode.   I’ll let RD Laing spell it out for us:

“Persons are distinguishable from things in that persons experience the world, whereas things behave in the world.  Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experiential….

The error fundamentally is the failure to recognise that there is an ontological discontinuity between human beings and it-beings.

Human beings relate to each other not simply externally, like two billiard balls, but by the relations of the two worlds of experience that come into play when two people meet.”

Put simply it says that when you and I treat a fellow human being as an object (an It) then we are doing violence to his (and our) humanity.  Do you acknowledge her  existence by saying hello or shaking hands?  Do you provide the right work environment, a human one?  Do you allow her to voice her authentic voice? Do you involve her in the decisions that affect her?  Do you use words that acknowledge, teach, inspire or do you use words that criticise, condemn, humiliate?  Is the whole person welcome in the workplace or just that part that is useful for work?  And so forth.

If we get that a human being is an organism that is continually experiencing then everything that we do or do not do matters.  We cannot escape our responsibility to one another. Each of us is like a wave continually interacting with other who are also ‘waving’ and thus affecting us. That is what ‘social’ means in its fullest sense and that is what we expect when we are being ‘social’ and socialising.

So that is the challenge: a transformation in our world view, in our society, in our organisations, in our businesses and in our behaviour. We are speaking about a transformation in how we look at “what it means to be human” – form atomicity and instrumentality (“I-It”) to social and experiencing (“I-Thou”).  Looking for good examples of companies that treat human beings with dignity and built great relationships withe employees who go on to create great value for customers and the company then look no further than SAS (more on SAS later in this post).

First, lets address this question:  how easy is that likely to be for those of us who get what ‘social business’ is really about to bring about the kind of transformation that I am talking about here?

Morpheus speaks wisely when he says

“The Matrix is a system, Neo.  That system is our enemy.  But when you are inside you look around, what do you see?  Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save.  But until we do, these people are still a part of the system and that makes them our enemy.  You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”  Morpheus, in The Matrix, 1999

What does the latest Deloitte Research tell us?

I came across this piece today which talks about a new global report by Deloitte Research provides guidance organisations should consider on how they can significantly improve bottom-line results by fostering and promoting connections in the workplace.  Here are some of the key points that got my attention and are relevant to the whole notion of a ‘social business‘:

“We are more technologically connected than ever before, being addicted to our computers, cell phones, and PDAs. Ironically, today’s technology-saturated environment can actually weaken the quality of people’s connections that enhance performance.

“…people’s jobs are much more complex, technology can be both a distraction and an asset, and workforces are increasingly more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generational differences. The report concludes that these changes have made it very difficult for today’s workforce to make quality, value-adding connections.”

Employers need to become connected to their employees to deliver on what they need and want in the workplace, such as interesting work, career development, and flexibility in exchange for their highly sought-after capabilities.

“…it’s critical for employees and employers to foster three primary types of connections:

  • Connecting people to people to help promote personal and professional growth; 
  • Connecting people to a sense of purpose to help build and sustain a sense of organisational and individual mission; and
  • Connecting people to the resources they need to work effectively, such as managing knowledge, technology, tools, capital, time, and physical space.

In my view this research validates my point of view:  tech tools are not enough, we have to work on building the connections between us and our fellow human beings.   Lets take a look at a master at this game: SAS.

What can we learn from SAS?

The Deloitte Report (Connecting People to What Matters) illustrates its reasoning through case studies.  Of particular note to me is SAS (the business intelligence software company which which has experienced 29 years of continued revenue growth and was recently named in FORTUNE magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the tenth year in a row. What makes it so special, what can we learn from SAS?

Our corporate culture is based on trust between employees, customers, and the company,” said Jeff Chambers, Vice President of Human Resources for US-based SAS. “We care about employees’ personal and professional growth, which inspires them to do great work. Employees who solve our clients’ biggest problems yield happy, committed customers. It isn’t altruism. It’s good business.”

I don’t buy that at all.  Looking into the company and its founder, I am clear that it happens to be both altruism AND good business.  The altruism came first and was the direct result of Jim Goodnights personal experience – how he was treated (an object, an “It”) when he was employed.  Here is what the net throws up:

“When Goodnight founded SAS, he already knew that work environments affect employee productivity and retention. He has also stated that he believes the work culture is key to the creativity inherent in knowledge work. Earlier in his career when he worked for a NASA subcontractor on the Apollo program, he observed the dismal environment of employees working in cubicle farms and how it contributed to annual employee turnover of around 50 percent. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the negative effect that work environment had on organisational performance”

This point of view is corroborated by this article in Inc, the key points that speak to me are:

“The fact that we’re private means that we can make long-range decisions,” says Goodnight. “We don’t have to be worried about quarterly profits or about pleasing Wall Street. We just please our employees and our customers………..  So when the economy forced most other companies to lay off employees in 2001 and 2002, Goodnight took a contrarian’s approach. “We decided there were so many people looking for jobs that we should take the opportunity to bring in some really first-class people,”……

“Those new employees landed more than just jobs. They gained entry into one of the most progressive corporate cultures in the country. SAS’s headquarters in Cary, N.C., looks more like a college campus than most college campuses do. There’s a 77,000-square-foot health and fitness center, playing fields for soccer and softball, an on-site medical clinic, a dining hall with live piano music, two daycare centers, an eldercare referral service, unlimited sick days, and a masseuse who makes the rounds several times a week. Goodnight’s explanation for this largesse is fairly simple: “If we keep our employees happy, they do a good job of keeping our customers happy.”

Final words

The challenge of ‘social business’ is not one of technology.  It is one of creating a culture, a work environment, like SAS has done where people matter and they know they matter – where they feel trusted and valued as human beings not just interchangeable cogs who fulfil roles and execute specific tasks.  Companies like this address the fundamental question (coming from employees) for a ‘social business’: why should I participate in all this social stuff?  Once again, lets listen to profoundly wise words:

“Why Mr Anderson?  Why do you do it?  Why do you get up? Why keep fighting?  Do you believe you are fighting for something?  For more than your survival?  Can you tell me what it is?  Do you even know?  Is it freedom?  Or truth?  Perhaps peace?  Yes?  No?  Could it be for love?”  Agent Smith, in The Matrix Revolutions, 2003

Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out for all of us.  The ground of our existence is survival – we wish to continue to exist – and there is an awfully lot we will do to earn that paycheck that allows us and the people that count on us to survive.  However, we will only go that extra mile for a) people we love; and b) causes that occur as noble and which stir our hearts and light up our lives.  Does that remind you about the key points from the Deloitte report? The need to foster connections: people to people connections; and people to a sense of purpose?  Without these connections investments in social technologies are a waste, a fool’s errand. 

giffgaff: what impact will the 8 hour service interrruption have on brand reputation and customer loyalty?

The giffgaff network: 8 hour service outage

Last Friday (16th) the giffgaff network went down and it stayed down for 8 hours.  It is not unusual for a mobile network to go down, it happens and many of us don’t even notice it because the outage last a couple of hours.  The giffgaff outage did get noticed – it got noticed by my wife, my son and plenty of other customers.  In our case the impact was not earth shattering.  Yes, my son who was feeling unwell was left hanging around outside for 50 minutes because he could not reach his mum.  As he said, it was annoying to have wait for 50 minutes when you are feeling ill but it’s not a big thing. For me, it is no big deal as I have two phones and had access to a second network that was working fine.

I think about switching until I get this email

The interesting thing is that the service outage did get me wondering as to whether I should switch the family over to say O2.  That was until Fri 16/03/2012 21:24 when I got this email:

We’re sorry

You may have experienced loss of service today (Friday 16th March), we’re sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused you.

This was due to a burst water pipe which took out the power at one of our 3rd party suppliers. Engineers have been working on this and have put a fix in place which we are now monitoring for stability. During the period where service is restored you may notice that your service is intermittent.

We’re continuing to work on this issue and regular updates will be provided in the community Noticeboard. Additional information is also available via our Blog where our CEO Mike Fairman has popped up a quick update.

Once we are sure that full and stable service has been restored for all members we will look at ways to make it up to you.

Again, sorry for the inconvenience.


The giffgaff team”

Upon reading this email my reaction was “I’m sticking with giffgaff!”  Why?  The email struck me as the kind of response that I would expect from a decent and professional human being who had mistake and was now doing everything to make things right.  No, that is not enough.  It occurred to me that this is the kind of email that can only come from someone who has heart – who cares about doing the right thing.  Specifically:

  • The subject header is exactly right -“We’re sorry”.  Isn’t that what we expect and what our friends/family say when they have messed up?
  • The cause of the outage is explained;
  • It provides reassurance (we are continuing to work on it) and access to more information (Noticeboard, blog) for those who need it;
  • The line “Once we are sure that full and stable service has been restored for all members we will look at ways to make it up to you.” is a perfect line.  giffgaff get that whilst it is important to make it up to their customers, it was even more important at that time to deal with the issues (e.g. number porting) that had piled up (and were impacting) customers.
  • The email doesn’t just start with sorry it also ends with sorry.

What does the customer base think?

I trawled through the comments left by customers and the ratings of the comments.  Based on that I’d say that the customer base is split into two camps – polar opposites of each other.

The first camp is not happy with an 8 hour outage and it is best characterised by the following comment:

“I’m with the people who are wondering how this can possibly happen.

We get it, accidents happen, you can’t plan for everything etc… but for one water burst to knock out your entire network is unacceptable. Sure a lot of people just couldn’t text their friends or whatever, but some people might have had an emergency and were without a phone.

I’m glad I had the foresight to buy myself a backup pay as you go orange sim card in case this happened, I would never have done that with any other network…but with giffgaff, I felt it was necessary.

You can’t keep customers with your amazing prices alone, you have to provide a good and reliable service.”

The other segment of customers get that the service outage was a pain and yet give giffgaff full credit what they are about (the value proposition) and how they went about addressing the service outage.  This is best captured by the following comment:

“Thank you GiffGaff employees for getting our network back up and running. Was a hell of a pain without service but hey these things happen, maybe it can be classed as a learning curve for the future. I love GiffGaff and won’t leave you because of the occasional hick cup. Im sorry that so many people feel the need to complain, we have all suffered one way or the other because of this, but for god sake people find something to moan about that really is worth moaning about. You get great value from GiffGaff and they work hard for us when things do go wrong. So stop whingeing and give them a cheer and a big thank you for working so hard to fix the issue.


What are the implications for giffgaff?

If I have read the comments correctly then I’d say that giffgaff have not burned their bridges with the bulk of their customer base.   To the contrary, most of the comments were positive about giffgaff.  Yet giffgaff does have an issue.  Why?  The phone is not just a device, it is THE device for most people; once customers sign-up with a network they expect it to work perfectly and all the time.  They might not notice short service outages, they definitely notice longer service outages: 8 hours is a long, long service outage.

My advice to giffgaff? You have done a good job in the way that you handled the service outage.  And that kind of service outage should not have happened.  So you should do the following:

  • take this opportunity to learn what needs to change (technology, processes, people….);
  • let your members (customers) know what you are doing to make sure that this kind of outage NEVER happens again;
  • invite (and engage) your members to play their part in what needs to happen – that way it becomes something that we do together, that way the ‘ownership’ of giffgaff continues to be distributed;
  • keep your promise and make it up to them – you can use this as an exercise to build more rapport with your customer base if you go about it in the right way.

Final observation

The impact of the  CEO’s post setting out the position (status) and offering an apology is interesting: many customers found that comforting / reassuring  and as a result it generated goodwill for giffgaff.  That strikes me as being an example of a leader leading.

Customer-Centricity: let’s wake up and address the real issue!

Our relationship to reality: the therapist and the patient

Allow me to tell you a story, I promise that you will enjoy it.   Picture a therapist’s consulting room: you have the therapist sitting in in a comfortable chair and the patient sitting in another comfortable chair.  The therapist  has, over many sessions, built up a rapport with the patient.  Today he feels able to discuss the issue at hand and help his patient move on and live well.  Here’s the dialogue:

Therapist: “So, John, am I correct in understanding that you really do believe that you are dead?”

Patient: “Absolutely, I am dead, I died several years ago.”

Therapist: “John, do dead people bleed?”

Patient:  “Don’t be ridiculous, dead people can’t bleed.  They don’t bleed.”

Therapist:  “John, is it ok with you if we did a test?   As you’re dead this test will be easy for you.  I’ m going to come over and cut your hand with a knife to see if you bleed.  Are you ok with that?”

Patient: “Sure go ahead, you’ll find out I’m dead.”

So the therapist takes out a knife and cuts the patients right hand.  Red blood flows – the therapist and the patient look at the blood.  The therapist is delighted, he is savouring his moment of triumph. Let’s get back to the conversation:

Therapist:  “John, I cut your hand and you’re bleeding.  Do you see that you are bleeding?”

Patient:  “Wow, dead people do bleed!”

I, you, we are the patient and you dive into this you will find that the story is reflects a fundamental truth that we are blind to and which when made visible we deny, repress and/or suppress.

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter got me thinking

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter is an internet sensation and it got me thinking about reality and how well we deal with it or not.  We all work in or have worked in organisations.  We know (at an experiential level) the reality of organisations. So, why is this letter a sensation?  It really is not disclosing anything new to us.   We know that the prime directive of big business is to make the numbers no matter what it takes.  Those that make the numbers are hailed as heroes and treated as gods. Those that don’t make the numbers find themselves in the same position as Tesco’s UK chief Richard Brasher who is ‘leaving the company‘ shortly after Tesco announced its first profit warning in decades.

Given this big business context is it surprising that the customer is seen/treated as a wallet to be emptied and the contents transferred into the company’s treasury?  If this was not the case then a handful of companies like Zappos, Zane’s Cycles, USAA, Chick-fil-A… would not stand out.  And all the billions spent by big business on CRM and related Customer initiatives would have delivered customer loyalty and the rewards that go with that.  We know that it hasn’t.

So back to my question, what is the fuss?  Could it be that the  BBC has got it right when it writes:

“Many of us have imagined writing a letter of resignation that shakes our bosses to the core, but few have actually done it, and rarely even then has the letter been read by millions. Greg Smith, who quit Goldman Sachs this week, has realised our fantasy.”

It is my point of view that Greg Smith’s letter is a sensation because it gives voice to our voices and our experiences.  If the resignation had showed up as as one man’s fantasy then it would never had become the sensation it is.  It is became a sensation because it is our fantasy: to tell the truth of our experience, to walk away from the filth that we find ourselves to be mired in, to be noble in our conduct and work for noble causes.

Most of us know that the “Emperor has no clothes” yet few of us the financial security or the courage to say publicly that the Emperor has no clothes. That is why few of us are ‘whistleblowers’, just take a look at the price Linda Almonte has paid for doing the right thing: fired, no other bank would employ her, real struggle to survive – to make ends meet for the last two years or so.  So I totally get that why Greg Smith collected his bonuses before departing,  I believe that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of Black Swan fame) called this “f**k you money”.  It is only when we don’t have to worry about money that most of us can do the right thing – follow the dictates of our conscience.

What has this got to do with customer-centricity and customer loyalty?

Do you remember my post on good strategy bad strategy (part III – failing to face the problem)?  The key point is that formulating a sound strategy (think back to the story of the therapist and the patient) requires us to acknowledge reality as it is and address the key problem/s that have to be faced.  The question is how good are we at facing reality?  Jack Welch didn’t think at the people at GE were adept at facing reality and so he made it his mission to change that situation:

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch

As I walk around the halls of business and look at / talk with the people walking on Customer initiatives and read the stuff that is written on customer-centricity, customer loyalty, customer service, I find myself getting present to the following:

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Anybody who knew their ass from a hole in the ground could stand up and tell me how they know when something’s real.”  Werner Erhard

All the time-money-effort being put into Customer initiatives will continue to be wasted (from the customer loyalty, customer experience perspectives) until and unless we deal with reality: what is so rather than what we pretend is so.  We pretend that the customer matters, that the customer is the king/queen, the master of our hearts and drives our actions.  The reality is that within the current system (they way it really operates) Customers (as fellow human beings) don’t matter.  What really matters is getting our hands on customers wallets – quickly, easily, repeatedly and taking out as much money as we can and transferring it into the company treasury.   The problem is that digital technologies and social media have made it that much harder to do that.  

We have a choice to make.  We can stick with the existing context (misrepresentation, manipulation, extraction, greed, me, me, me),  relating to these customers as muppets and embracing anyone who promises the latest ‘shiny object’ that will allow us to get the better of our customers. Or we can choose to operate from a radically different context.

I assert that we need to get real.  The days of fooling and fleecing customers easily and cheaply have come to an end. In my last post, I pointed out that the IBM study suggested that there is a social transformation is in progress and big business has to get with that.  Specifically, we have to go from talking about caring for our customers to actually caring for our customers.  It is only when we connect with ‘our heart and what is noble’  can we rule out anything and everything that contributes to “bad profits”, making money at the expense of the customer.  Specifically, that means:

  • being truthful and providing the complete picture in our marketing;
  • designing, making, source quality products – quality as perceived through the eyes of the people who will be using these products;
  • matching the right products to the right customers, refusing to sell products that enrich us at the expense of our customers;
  • ensuring that the contract between the customer and the company is written in plain English and is fair to both parties;
  • investing  in the service dimension of the customer experience as opposed to push relentlessly to reduce the costs associated with serving customers, whether that is in the retail store, the call-centre, the logistics function or in billing;
  • getting the balance right between human and digital channels / interfaces such that, taken as a whole, these interfaces simplify and enrich the life of our customers.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your point of view.  Better, still I’d love for you to share your lived experience.  Are you up for that?

Final words

Before I, you, we get righteous about the people at Goldman Sachs (or any other organisation eg. News International) it is worth getting present to the fact that it is only because I, you, we participate in the current system that allows this morally bankrupt and socially evil system continues to operate. Don’t believe me?  Think you are not responsible for what is so?  I invite you to read this piece – warning, it is not for the faint hearted.   I thank you for your listening.