an organisation that gets service and shows up as being caring

I am delighted with cartridgesave.  Why?  The short answer is that my experience with cartridgesave shows up as experience that could only have been crafted by an organisation operating from a context of service. How best to convey this to you?  Let’s start from the beginning.

Cartridgesave makes it easy for me to buy: information, messages, process

On Friday morning, breakfast, my wife told me that her Brother printer had run out of toner.  Shortly after breakfast I typed in “Brother MFC-7820N” in Google and various vendors came up.  I tried the first one and I found that the page displayed toners for the Brother 94…. I didn’t notice this at first and then I did.  My feeling?  Anger – “How dare you show up in my search if you don’t have what I am looking for?”.  Then I looked at the next vendor – a whole bunch of Brother consumables for all kinds of printers (on the first page) except the one that I was looking for!  Then I clicked on the listing.  Viola, the very first item displayed was exactly what I was looking for.

Two messages stood out for me.  First delivery – next day provided order were placed before a certain time.  Second, free shipping.  These messages were displayed prominently – obviously cartridgesave have figured out the kind of questions buyers are asking when they are considering buying something.  Everything stacked up so I made the decision to buy.  Within a couple of minutes I had chosen the toner, entered my credit card details, set up an account and made the purchase – easy!  In the process I was told to expect delivery on Monday.  My thinking?  “It would be great if it arrived tomorrow and I can live with Monday.”

Delight: the order arrives two days early!

Saturday morning the toner arrived.  I was delighted:  how that showed up in my world “Wow, this is great, what a great company.” I have noticed that the turnaround time between placing an order and receiving the order matters – it matters a whole lot.  Clearly the folks at Zappos have recognised and act on a human truth: when we buy we want the item immediately and in the online domain that is the next day!

Delight: the importance of the personal, of the human touch that says “I care about you, I am here for you”

As I opened the package I noted that the toner had been carefully packaged – the quality of the packaging said it all.  Then I noticed and read this letter:

This letter grabbed my attention.  Here is what showed up for me:  the letter is not personalised (it is not addressed to me, it does not mention what item I have purchased etc) and yet it is personal!   There is big difference and personal matters more than personalisation.  What am I pointing at?  Just be with the whole letter: logo, fonts, language, what is in bold, what is ‘handwritten’, the clearly displayed phone number and email address for customer service.  Here are the four aspects I noticed:

“Thanks for your order – we really appreciate it”

How many companies write that?  How many write it such that it shows up in my, the customer’s, world as words with power as opposed to empty words not worth the paper they are written on?

“If you have any problems whatsoever….please get in touch…”

Notice the word “whatsoever”  and “please get in touch”.  The first conveys an absolute commitment to service and the second lands as a personal invitation.  How?/Why?  The “whatsoever” refers not only to the order itself but also to technical support!  Clearly cartridgesave does not see itself as being in the business of selling toner.  It sees itself in the business helping customers deal with their printer issues.   Did you notice that the email address is “”?  It occurs to me that the folks at cartridgesave get that when customers ring in they are looking for help with something.  Finally, do you notice the difference in how “please get in touch” differs from “contact us”?  Do you notice the difference in the tone and how this impacts you?

“Thank again, Laura”

What a great way to end a letter – with thanks and from a human being.  Yes, it matters to me that it is “Thanks again” as opposed to “Yours….” and it matters to me that it is signed by Laura.

“PS  put this sticker on you printer and you will never have to search for us again!” 

Simply fantastic – that is marketing/selling done right.  Why? How?  Because it does not land in my world as marketing/selling – the company simply looking after its own interest.  This invitation occurs as an act of caring.  And given what has gone before (my experience to date) it is a perfect ending.  It is an invitation that is likely to be taken up.

What did I do with that sticker?

I peeled it off and put it right on the front of the printer where it is obvious.  Why did I do that?  Because cartridgesave did everything right (process wise) and spoke with/to me in a way that shows up as caring.  So why would I want to buy from anyone else?  Why would I want to take the risk of buying from another company that does not care?

Final thoughts

It is not enough to be competent.  It is not enough that you care.  If you want to connect with the customer – to get his attention at an emotional level (and that is the only kind of attention that matters) then you absolutely have to aim for creating that “Wow!” in the customer.  That is how the customer gets that you care – it is getting like a getting a punch in the stomach as opposed to getting as in reading a book and understanding some concept.  When do you need to do that?  The first time that the customer interacts with your company and places and order with you.   Create a “Wow!” and you have created, in the words of NLP, an ‘anchor’.  Result, you are ‘anchored’ in your customer’s heart and that buys you both ‘attention’ and ‘forgiveness’.

You cannot fake caring.  Why? Caring requires that you notice and take care of all the details; caring is in the details!  Finally caring has a certain quality to it: it is like body language it leaks through subconsciously irrespective what words you are speaking and what impression you are seeking to cultivate.

Sales: are you cultivating desire when you should be focussing on dealing with skepticism?

The situation:  buyers are interested in what you have to sell and yet you are failing to sell

Situation 1: You have a website and you get your fair share of visitors to that site.  You don’t have to pay much to get them to your website as they come naturally via Google.   Your website is not an entertainment destination and you are not in an ‘entertainment type of business’.  So you can be confident that the bulk of the folks coming to your website are clearly interested in what you are offering.  You have an attractive proposition.  So why is it that only a small percentage of interested buyers actually buy from you through your website?

Situation 2: I was with a client this week and some of the folks there shared their frustration.  What is their frustration?  They they have a set of inter-related jobs that need doing and they need a ‘solution’ that does these jobs.  So they invited in a well know brand whose marketing claims to provide just the solution.  Several meetings (including demos) have taken place and my client has yet to see the ‘solution’.  To date the client has listened to lots of talk and sat through poor demos of products that the sales reps claim can be knitted together to create a solution. My client remains unconvinced and is totally unimpressed – he hasn’t even been told what the total cost of this ‘solution’ is likely to be.

What does Kristin Zhivago (Roadmap to Revenue) have to say on this?

I recently wrote a post praising Kristin Zhivago’s book Roadmap to Revenue.  As I was grappling with the question “Why do websites and sales folks fail to sell despite being in front of interested buyers?” Kristin’s wisdom came into my mind.  And that is the wisdom that I wish to share with you (and I don’t use the word ‘wisdom’ lightly):

“When someone sets out to buy a product or service, they bring two antithetical emotions to the process: desire and skepticism.  Desire compels them forward, skepticism yanks them back.

They desire certain product/service attributes.  They desire a smooth buying process, including friendly, helpful sellers, straight forward and reasonable pricing and an easy way to examine the product and compare the product with other choices.

Their skepticism comes from past experiences with sellers who promised good products and exceptional service but who delivered disappointing results.  The product or service was substandard.  The buying process was uncomfortable, confusing or difficult.  Customer service didn’t help.

Reading copy on websites, you’d think that 1) buyers have no desires and 2) buyers are not skeptical.  For some reason, marketers and website copywriters completely ignore these two realities.  The copy treats the customer as if he had to be encouraged to spend money – when, in fact, most people spend every penny they can. “

Kristin goes and elaborates on this critical theme (p115):

Desire is what starts the person on his buying process.  However, as soon as he begins the buying process, his skepticism kicks in.  The more expensive and complex the purchase, the greater the scrutiny that the customer will apply to the purchase.

The answers the customer seeks must be easily accessible on the website.  And if the buying proceeds to the next stages, the company representative must be available – and able – to answer the customer’s questions.

All companies, small and large, in every industry, don’t get this right.  They behave as if they want your business, but when you come to them, eager to buy, they behave as if your business doesn’t matter to them.  They don’t help you take the next step.”

Desire brings the customer to your website.  Once there, he doesn’t need anyone to stoke the fires of his desire.  He needs the website to allay his skepticism. He needs your website (or a salesperson) to answer his questions so he can decide if the product or service is going to solve the problem.”

Then Kristin lays it out on the table for all to see clearly and get present to what is so:

“A sale is what happens at the very end of the customers’ buying process.  Marketers typically focus all their efforts on the beginning of the buying process.  They think that what happens at the later stages of the buying process and after the sale, is someone else’s responsibility.”

Is this issue only limited to smaller less sophisticated companies?  This is what Kristen has to say on the matter:

Big companies also fail to support the latter stages of the buying process.  One of the largest companies in the world runs clever commercials showing people getting their business problems solved by the large company.  But  when the customer actually decides that the large company might be able to meet is need, he goes to the company website – and his buying process is stopped dead in its tracks.  He can’t figure out where to start.  There is nor relationship between those clever commercials and the products and messages on the company’s website.  There is no easy way to figure out whom to contact.”

What does Kristin advise?

“We have all set out to buy something and have soon become discouraged from doing so.  Our skepticism – and or our inability to find exactly waht we wanted – forced us to abandon the effort…This is one of the reasons to map out the entire buying process for our product or service, from the initial desire all the way through the purchase, and beyond, including customer support. From the customer’s perspective, all phases of the buying process are important.  Customers are just as likely to ditch the process near the end as they were at the beginning…..”

Final thoughts 

Would you buy a car without actually sitting in it, driving it and talking with (even if that is via social media) others who have already bought that car and lived with it or several months?  So why do you expect our customers to do what you would not do yourself?

From where I stand and view the world, based on lived experience, it occurs to me that Kristin speaks ‘truth’ – she has identified what is so.  Too much focus on cultivating desire and little or no consideration on addressing the skepticism by answering the questions honestly/accurately.  Too much focus on messaging, telling and making loft claims and almost none on professionally demonstrating the solution AND showing such a solution in actual operation.

An invitation, an offer – do you want to get a free copy of Roadmap to Revenue?

I think so highly of Kristin’s expertise captured and shared in her book Roadmap to Revenue that I asked her if she would be happy to send me a copy that I can offer you free.  She agreed and I have that book in my possession.  So here is my invitation, my offer:

I have one FREE copy of Roadmap to Revenue and I will post it to the first person who sends me an email asking for it.  I have one request – please only ask it if you are going to read it / make use of it.  If you know that you are not going to do that then leave it for one of our fellow human beings who will use it and get value out of it.  A useful book should not be left sitting on the shelf!”

Where does customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity reside in your organisation?

I put that question to Google today and I did not get an answer.  The closest I got was a checklist for a customer-centric business and a post on Amazon’s customer experience obsession.  Let’s take a look at both of these before whilst you consider the question that I have posed here.

Checklist for a customer-centric business

According to the folks at YSatisfy you can determine the customer-centricity of your organisation by answering the following questions:

  1. Do your have a clear idea of  who your customers are and their needs?
  2. Do you know which of your customers are most valuable to you?
  3. Does your business strategy / mission mention anything about your customers?
  4. Do you hire / develop your staff with your customers in mind?
  5. Do you have a process by which customers and employees can give feedback and review / act on this within your business?
  6. Do you have a customer complaints process which enables quick resolution of customer problems?
  7. Are all your employees empowered to deal with customer complaints?
  8. Do you know how satisfied or loyal your customers actually are?
  9. Do you provide specific services or incentives for your most valued / loyal customers?
  10. Do you deliver what you promise in your advertising / marketing to your customers?

This occurs to me as a list of features / characteristics as in what are the features/characteristics of a cat.   Yet, knowing the features of a cat (even if they are accurate) does not help me to locate the cat.  Where is the cat?

Amazon’s core value and customer experience obsession

Flavio Martins writes “The successful organizations with massive positive online goodwill and reputation are those that have embraced, live by, and seek to innovate in the area of customer experience and creating customer delight.”  and then he goes on to say that Amazon strives to live by the following values:

Customer Experience Requires Customer Obsession: We start with the customer and work backwards.

Customer Experience Requires Innovation: If you don’t listen to your customers you will fail. But if you only listen to your customers you will also fail.

Customer Experience Requires a Bias for Action: We live in a time of unheralded revolution and insurmountable opportunity – provided we make every minute count.

Customer Experience Requires Ownership: Ownership matters when you’re building a great company. Owners think long-term, plead passionately for their projects and ideas, and are empowered to respectfully challenge decisions.

Customer Experience Requires a High Hiring Bar: When making a hiring decision we ask ourselves: “Will I admire this person? Will I learn from this person? Is this person a superstar?”

Customer Experience Can Be Frugal: We spend money on things that really matter and believe that frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention!

OK, I now know what Amazon’s Tops consider to be the key requirements to play the customer experience excellence game.  For me that is like knowing the rules of chess.  Great, now where is the chess set?  Where does that chess set reside?  Notice that this list of requirements does not answer the questions I posed.

Does customer-centricity reside in your mission, strategy, processes, data, technology, metrics, people?

Mission:  then I ask you “Where does your mission reside and who/how is this mission enacted?”

Strategy:  then my question is “Where does your strategy reside and who/how is it enacted?”

Processes: then I ask you “Where do your processes reside, who works them, who monitors them, who keeps them up to date, who fine tunes them?”

Data:  then my question is “Why do so many people in your organisation complain there is mountain of data and a lack of useful, actionable insight?  And if data is where customer-centricity resides then why the need to turn data into this actionable insight?”

Technology: then I ask you “Why do you people on the payroll?  What contribution do people make?”

Metrics:  then my question is “Who produces these metrics?  Why do you produce these metrics?  What do you do with these metrics?”

People: then I ask you “Which people? The Tops, the Middles, The Bottoms, Marketing, Customer Service, Sales, Logistics….?  And where exactly in people does customer-centricity reside?”

Customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity lies in language / conversation

I say that customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity, the customer orientation lies in language.  Specifically, a network of ongoing conversations between people.  All the people including customers, suppliers, partners and all the people within the company irrespective of where these people sit in the organisation.  I say that these conversations then  show up in decisions, investments, policies, practices, processes, metrics, data, technology and a whole host of other organisational artifacts.  I say that the ‘quality’ of these conversations will determine both the quality of your decisions and the power of your actions.  I say that the more widely distributed these conversations the powerfully your organisation will enact these decisions, the more powerfully your organisation will live customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity.  What do you say?

Want to assess the degree to which your organisation is customer focussed, customer obsessed, customer-centric?  Then take a good look at the conversations that occur and the language that is used.  Ask yourself:

1.  Who takes part in these conversations and are they invited or ‘forced’ to take part?  Is it only certain groups or everyone?  Are customers invited?  What about suppliers? Channel partners?

2.  When and how frequently do these conversations occur? Once a month at the senior leadership meeting?  Once a week at the departmental meeting?

3.  How much time, energy, passion, honesty, truth is put into these conversations?  How much real dialogue and discussion really occurs between the people who participate?  Are people free to voice their honest point of view?  Is there a listening for/to the points of view of everyone irrespective of rank?

4.  What language is used in these conversations?  Are customers talked about as ‘muppets’, ‘targets’, ‘personas’, ‘wallets’, ‘members’?  How are people talked about in these conversation?  What language do you use to describe youre people, your suppliers?  Do you use the word ‘partner’ or ‘vendor’ for your suppliers?

5.  Where do these conversations take place?  Which locations? Which mediums /channels?  Are all conversations channels and mediums used?

6.  What commitments do people take on as a result of these conversations?  What decisions are made?  Does everyone around the table volunteer to take on commitments that move the game forward or is it always a select few?  Are these commitments and decisions shared with all of the people who will be affected, who will be expected to enact these decisions and commitments?

7.  What is the conversation around these commitments?  How are they talked about – owned, enacted, ‘my word is my bond’, optional?   What is the conversation around people living up to their commitments?  Is it OK not to live up to your commitments, to substitutes reasons/excuses for action and results?

8.  What mechanisms are in place for keeping these conversations in tune with purpose? How do you know when these conversations are off track?  Who can call it when he/she sees that people are just going through the motions?  Who can call it if he/shes that the conversations are off track, not creating purpose, meaning, unity, alignment, enthusiasm, the will to act?

9.  What mechanisms are in place to keep these conversations in existence and widely distributed?  Business is a game constructed and enacted by people working in concert with one another and walking the same path to the same destination.  So what are the conversations around how we involve everyone in the conversation, in constructing and playing the customer-centricity game?  What are the conversation around inspiring everyone to participate, to play full out?  Who is taking part in these conversations?

10. Who is the steward, the guardian, the ‘servant leader’ of/for these conversations for customer focus, customer obsession, customer centricity?  What is his/her level of passion / enthusiasm for these conversations and the role of steward/guardian?  How is s/he listened to within the organisation?

A final thought: transform the conversations and your transform your culture

Transform the conversations that take place in your organisation and you will transform the culture of your organisation.  It really is that simple.  Word has awesome power: Word creates World.   Remember when the Word spoke ‘witch’?  How many women died as a result of our speaking ‘witch’?  Remember the Word ‘heresy’?  How many people died as a result of this word during the Inquisition – Papal and Spanish?

Choose your words carefully. Do not suck the life, the power out of them, by speaking ‘customer experience’ when you mean ‘customer service’.  Do not speak ‘customer-centricity’ when you mean ‘profit-centric’.  Do not speak customer relationship management when you mean customer interaction management.  If speak of your people as ‘human resources’ then do not expect them to give your their hearts.  If you speak of customers not as ‘members’ but as ‘targets or wallets’ then do not expect them to give you their hearts, their loyalty.  If you speak about your suppliers as ‘vendors’ then expect them to act as ‘vendors’.

What is the ‘secret sauce’ of success?

What is the ‘secret sauce’ of this company’s success?

I was at a gathering where the topic of ‘secret sauce’ came up in the context of the ‘secret sauce’ of the company’s success.  After the main forum I ended up in a conversation with two colleagues  – one of whom (D) had posed the ‘secret sauce’ question and other of whom (J) has been working with me on a recent consulting engagement.  Talking about ‘secret sauce’ J pointed out what he sees as my secret sauce: analytical skills, financial skills, workshop facilitation skills, consulting skills, being straight with clients, articulating my point of view, getting along with people……

What is my ‘secret sauce’? Is it what it seems to be?

Does my secret sauce come down to a bunch of skills, behaviour, frameworks and tools?  Is it possible that what J is pointing at are simply the visible aspects of the iceberg and the ‘secret sauce’ is hidden from view especially from those with a scientific orientation which neglects the inner dimensions of the human being? If I have a ‘secret sauce’ then it lies in my inner dimension – my being, my stance, the context from which I operate, how I see myself.

What if I told you that my ‘secret sauce’ is CARING?  I care deeply about this client – the people who have placed their trust in me. I care deeply about the what we (the client and I) are up to – the project we have taken on, the outcome which we wish to manifest in this world. I care deeply about the impact this will have on the lives of prospects and customers who touch this business.  I care deeply about how it will impact/improve the lives of the people who work within this business;.  And I care deeply about excellence – doing great work impeccably.

What if I told you that my ‘secret sauce’ is the conscious choice to operate from a context of service and of contribution – of making a difference to the quality of our lives and the ‘workability’ of the world that we share?  Yes, I am straight with people and that includes sharing/disclosing what they do not necessarily want to hear.  What J does not see is that I can only be straight because this being straight arises out of this context of service.  What J does not see is that when it does not matter, when it does not contribute to the game I am playing, I strive to keep my mouth shut.  Furthermore, what J does not see is that in my consulting work I operate from the  educational/coaching paradigm:  I help clients see, explore and get to grips with the options that are available to them and once this is done I make it clear that the responsibility for choosing the path lies with them as it is ‘their baby’ and I am simply the ‘midwife’ – they have to live with the consequences of their choices whereas I can walk away.


Am I sharing this with you because I am on an ego trip today?  Possibly and I hope not.  I am sharing this with you to point out the following:

  • We live in a culture where the default is to look for success recipes that take away the inherent uncertainty, unpredictability, messiness of life and replace it with certainty, security, guarantees;
  • The number of explanations for anything that shows up is limited only by the number of worldviews / ideologies / perception filters that are available and used to make sense of the ‘situation/data at hand’;
  • We live in a culture where our search for these recipes is often only on the outside – that which is visible to the naked eye;
  • Often the recipes don’ work out because we only looked at the surface and did not dig deeper to get at the true ‘secret sauce’.

This probably occurs as ‘abstract and intellectual’ to you so let me share some example with you to make it more concrete.  Lets start with Honda to show how smart people can come up with multiple interpretations based on their worldview or the secret-sauce they want to promote (because they have a vested interest in promoting it).

Honda: what was the secret sauce behind Honda’s successful entry into the US motorbike market?

What accounts for Honda’s successful entry into the US motorbike industry back in the 60s/70s?  The answer depends on the worldview that you hold, the lens that you use to pose that question and dig around for answers.  Here are three different answers due to three different lenses:

“The first is the BCG Report [1975] story of Honda’s cost advantage, developed (the story goes) by the successful exploitation of scale and learning, and of the “segment retreat” response of British and American competitors. Anyone who received an MBA between 1979 and 1985 was almost certainly exposed to this version of history.

The second, explicated by Pascale [1984], offers a revisionist account of Honda’s motorcycle success.’ According to Pascale’s interview with six Honda executives, the company’s early scale in Japan came from its having a better product, flowing from design skills. Furthermore, Honda did not “target” specific market segments in the U.S., but rather showed an ability to experiment, to learn quickly from mistakes, to rapidly revise design problems, and thereby to discover opportunities.

The third, described by Prahalad & Hamel [1989, 1990], couples Honda’s success in motorcycles with its successful entry into the U.S. automobile market. Here the center of the story is Honda’s remarkable ability to go from “nowhere” to prominence despite the earlier entry of very efficient competitors like Toyota and Nissan. Prahalad and Hamel have given the names “intent” and “stretch” to the processes which underlay this success and the name “core competence” to the central skills and abilities that Honda built upon.”

If you want to read more then check out / download the following:  HONDA Enters Into US

Zappos: what is the secret sauce?

If you read about Zappos the taken for granted answers are: culture and wow service.  One or more astute observers have also noted logistics – Zappos wow service is enabled in part because Zappos has a finely tuned logistics operation that can get goods quickly to customers.   So is that the secret sauce?

I say that these are simply the visible manifestations of the secret sauce.  I say that if you read “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh you will find that the secret sauce is Tony Hsieh.  Tony has a particular philosophy: living a meaningful life, an affinity for people, an affinity for fun, strongly family ethos, a desire to get into and be a part of the nuts and bolts of business, getting that when you create happiness you are the first one to be lifted by this happiness.  And everything that is visible at Zappos is a manifestation of Tony Hsieh.

Starbucks: what is the secret sauce?

Is it the quality of the coffee?  Is it the location of the stores?  Is it the layout / feel of the stores?  Perhaps it is the baristas that serve customers?  Maybe it is the machinery and the processes?

From where I stand I am clear that the secret sauce is Howard Schultz.  Go read “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At a Time” and “Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul”.  Read deeply enough and you are likely to find that Starbucks is simply the manifestation of Shultz’s love of coffee, the coffee experience and his stance/relationship towards ordinary people.

Schultz knows first hand what happens to people and families when people are not treated well, recognised, acknowledged, not given an opportunity to develop, to progress, to shine.  So is it a surprise that he fought so hard to give the barista’s – part time employees – pay and rights (including medical coverage) that were unheard of in the retail industry?

What happened when he handed over the reins?  Starbucks did lose its soul – the person who replaced Shultz was not Schultz and did not live Shultz’s philosophy  when it came to the quality of the coffee, the coffee experience, how people should be treated…..  Incidentally, I do know that Howard Behar and is philosophy about people and relationships complemented and made a big impact on Schultz and how he ran Starbucks.

Final thought

Be skeptical of any and all ‘secret sauces’ that are put forward.  Why?  For any phenomenon a multiplicity of stories can be constructed to explain and give meaning to that phenomenon.  The number of stories is limited only by the imagination and the number of voices that get to speak and be heard.  Furthermore, perhaps the challenge is to come up with, create, construct ‘secret sauces’ rather than find existing ones.  Where would Apple be if it had looked for the ‘secret sauce’ rather than invented it?  Where would Starbucks be?  Where would Facebook be?  Where would Google be (remember that Yahoo was the master of the online universe then)?

Digging into ‘customer-centricity’: what is the defining feature of a ‘customer-centric’ company?

My last post (a practical enquiry into service, customer experience and customer-centricity) generated some interesting conversations.  A particularly interesting conversation took place between Bob Thompson and me – you need to scroll towards the bottom and read the comments.  In this post I want to address the key question that Bob raised:

Customer-centricity is at least as vague a term as CRM and CEM. Is it a strategy? A state of mind? A loyal relationship?   Personally, I’ve defined “being customer-centric” as delivering value that customers care about. The end results should be more loyal customers.  But it’s not quite that simple. How do we explain the success of Ryanair, which offers a low-cost service, gets lots of travelers and makes money, but can hardly be said to have raving fans?

If you have looked into that conversation between Bob and myself you will see that I addressed the Ryanair issue.  So what I up for addressing is the question: what clues can you look for that helps you to distinguish a ‘customer-centric’ from a ‘not customer-centric’ company?

Is listening / responsiveness the distinguishing feature?

In this post Bob Thompson asserts that Starbuck is customer-centric because it listened to him.  Bob had an issues with his local Starbucks: “we started noticing that about 30 minutes before the store officially closed, employees brought the tables and chairs from outside and piled them up inside the store. Frankly, it made the store look like “we’re closing” and customers weren’t welcome.” So Bob wrote an email to Starbucks pointing out the issue, he got a response within 24 hours letting him know that the matter would be discussed with the store manager.  And then Starbucks acted on Bob’s email request: “Not only did Starbucks listen, they did something. Fast!  That evening, and all the evenings since then (I checked) the tables and chairs were left outside until closing. And what do you know, there were customers actually using them!

So my question is that if a company makes it easy for you to contact it, responds quickly to your contact and then sorts out your issue / gives you what you are asking for (like Starbucks did with Bob) does that make that company customer-centric?  From where I stand and view customer-centricity the answer is NO.  Why?

Think back to my last post and in particular the issue that arose between the customer and Joe the bartender. Joe acting in the best interests of the customer (including the customer’s wife and three children) refused to serve more alcohol to the customer.  The customer had an issue with this, he reached out to the company, the company gave Joe (the bartender) a telling off, fixed the issue and compensated the customer for his trouble by giving him two free drinks.  What was the end result?  The customer got heavily drunk, drove home, had a crash and died – taking three other people with him.

Purpose-Vision-Mission statements – do these help us distinguish a ‘customer-centric’ company from a ‘not customer-centric’ company?

When you read the following vision/mission statements I’d like you to be present to what emotions they evoke in you as well as what thoughts bubble up for you.   Let’s start:

Ryanair:  “Ryanair’s objective is to firmly establish itself as Europe’s leading low-fares scheduled passenger airline through continued improvements and expanded offerings of its low-fares service. Ryanair aims to offer low fares that generate increased passenger traffic while maintaining a continuous focus on cost-containment and operating efficiencies.”

Yahoo!:  “Yahoo!’s mission is to be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses.”

Microsoft:  “Microsoft’s mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.”

Dell:  “Dell’s mission is to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.”

OK, now lets move on to a second set of companies.  As you read these mission statements please be present to how these land for you – what feelings and thoughts do these evoke for you?

Chick-fil-A:  “Chick -fil-A’s corporate purpose statement reveals the heart of our company: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” Chick-fil-A’s mission statement reveals our commitment to service: “To be American’s best quick-service restaurant.”

Southwest Airlines:  “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”

Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

USAA: “To facilitate the financial security of its members, associates and their families through provision of a full range of highly competitive financial products and services; in so doing, USAA seeks to be the provider of choice for the military community.”

Starbucks:  “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.”

Virgin Atlantic: “At Virgin Atlantic, our mission statement is simple…To grow a profitable airline…Where people love to fly…And where people love to work.”

Did you notice the key differences?

Customer-centric companies are in a totally different league when it comes to the game that they are playing.  Did you notice that their mission statements:

1.  start with / draw attention to customers, what jobs they will do for their customers, what value they will create, how they will treat their customers?

2.  speak words that speak to human beings in terms of their ‘concerns’ as human beings: ‘glorify’,’ faithful’, ‘positive influence’, ‘service’, ‘warmth’, ‘friendliness’, ‘pride’, ‘spirit’, ‘dedication’, ‘member’s, ‘worthwhile satisfying employment’,’discover’, ‘financial security’, ‘competitive products’, ‘families’, ‘nurture’, ‘human spirit’, ‘love’, ‘people’..?

3.  are concrete, meaningful and even inspiring to customers (and employees) whereas the mission statements of the ‘not customer-centric’ companies are vague, amorphous, general and generally meaningless and uninspiring?

Customer-Centricity: being of service, enriching lives and contributing to a better world

From where I stand I am clear that the key characteristic that characterise and distinguish a ‘customer-centric’ company from a ‘not customer-centric company’ is that the ‘customer-centric’ company is playing a totally difference game.

The ‘not customer-centric’ companies (including those that espouse customer-centric rhetoric) see customers as tools, as instruments, as means for enriching the Tops and the the people who represent the shareholders. And within that context there is no consideration of the longer term, stewardship of the world that we live in, the dignity of our fellow human beings.  Anything goes as long as ‘rent’ is extracted from customers to line the pockets of the Tops and shareholders.

Under the rhetoric of ‘customer focus, customer experience, customer-centricity, customer obsession’ is the urgency to sell, sell, sell the products that the companies has to sell.  The customer rhetoric is there only because it has become hard to sell because customers are more demanding, more discriminating and their is a high level of competition. The whole edifice is built on fear, greed and the “I-It” orientation towards customers, employees, suppliers, partners, communities in which these companies operate.  In short, this is business as usual – the standard economic/industrial/organisation model that is in place today and accepted as best practice, the smart way to do business.

The ‘customer-centric’ companies are primarily coming from a context of being of service, of contributing to our fellow humans, of making a genuine and worthwhile difference to the lives of the people who touch and are touched by the company- customer-centric companies live a “I-Thou” orientation.   The Tops who founded and/or are running these companies get the importance of making profits.  Yet, that is not the purpose nor the mission of these companies.  To ‘customer-centric’ companies profits are like the air that we breathe necessary to survive and profits are the reward that customers/employees bestow on the company for the service that the company has rendered.  Profits are marker of the level of contribution they make.  And profits are the grain that can be stored today for when the ‘seven years of famine’ strike.

A warning or two

First warning: ‘customer-centricity’ does not necessarily guarantee financial success.  Customer-centric businesses can and do go out of business – all that is needed is a disruptive innovation.

Second warning:  you actually have to live up to the ‘customer-centric’ mission statement to be viewed as being ‘customer-centric’ by your employees and customers.  Starbucks espoused the mission but took all manner of actions that did not fit in with the mission to grow revenues and profits to meet shareholder expectations.  It got into a mess and the man who had formulated, fought for and lived the mission statement (Howard Schultz) had to come back, take over and turn around Starbucks – get the people in the business connected with and living the mission wholeheartedly.  Today, Tesco is where Starbucks was at.  It espouses a fine mission – “Our core purpose is, ‘To create value for customers to earn their lifetime loyalty’. We deliver this through our values, ‘No-one tries harder for customers’, and ‘Treat people how we like to be treated” – and it failed to live up to it for several years and is now paying the price.

Apple: a practical human inquiry into service, customer experience and customer-centricity

Is Apple customer-centric?

I notice that I and You often talk about and collapse customer service, customer experience, customer loyalty and customer-centricity.  Should we?  How are these related?  What is the distinguishing feature of customer centricity?  Apple – is Apple customer-centric?  Come walk with me and lets’ use our imaginations to conduct an experiment.

Imagine this scenario: you walk into your favourite bar

Imagine that your drive to your favourite bar in your shiny new sports car.  The car park is spacious, it is well lit, there are plenty of spaces, your park and head for the entrance.  You happen to enter the bar at the same time as a stranger – you are a regular and you have never seen this person before.  Upon entering one of the people working in the bar (employee) recognises you, call out your name and tells you it is great to see you.  Fantastic, you feel great you have been recognised as an individual.

By the time you arrive at the bar, Joe, the bartender has your favourite drink ready for you at your favourite seat.  You great each other, you catch up on stuff – work, vacations, sports, friends, family – whilst you are sitting there at the bar drinking.  Whilst you are doing that you cannot help but notice that the stranger has ordered the same drink (that you are drinking) and he is being a charged less for his drink.   You ask Joe: “What is going on?  Why is the stranger getting a better deal than me?”.  Joe, in his friendly voice and caring manner tells you that as you are a loyal customer and company policy is not to offer ‘discounts’ to loyal customers.  Why? Because the loyalty guru’s have told management that loyal customers will pay more and should be charged more.  You counter: “But Joe I’m a loyal customer!  Shouldn’t I get the same or even a better deal than this stranger?”  Joe gets your position and says “Yes.  And my hands are tied.  It’s company policy. Sorry!”  You don’t like what is so (the policy on not offering the same deals to loyal customers like you) yet you do like Joe.   Joe cares about his customers, he cares about the job he does and he is great at what he does including connecting with customers. You are willing to overlook that policy largely because of the way that the bar staff treat you (‘service’) and your experience – all of it.

As you sit there drinking you look around and you get why this is your favourite bars: it is to do with all of the experience.  It is easy for you to get to this bar – it is in the right location.  It is easy to park and your car is safe.  The bar is attractive from the outside, so attractive that it draws you in.  The layout of the bar appeals to you – the space, the way that the space is structured, the colour/designs, the furniture, the seating etc.  And this bar seems to play just the right music and at the right volume level.  Furthermore, this bar attracts your kind of people – you feel comfortable, you feel at home here.  Last but not least, the bar staff are welcoming – they remember you, they are pleased to see you, you know them and they know you.  Yes, a great experience!

It just so happens that you have a hard day.  Life is not working out as you expected – there is trouble at work and you have just got some bad news about your health.  The alcohol and the bar – the entire experience – is helping you to relax.  So you order one drink after another and throw them back.  Joe’s paying attention and he politely asks you to slow down as you’ve just got your shiny new sports car and you have a bit of a drive to get back home to your wife and three children.  You pay no attention to Joe.  Your order another drink and then another drink.  You don’t notice it but Joes does notice – you are drunk.  The next time you order a drink, Joe refuses to give it to you – he tells you that you are drunk, that he does not want you to drive home drunk – he knows that you will drive home .  You don’t like this, your protest, you demand and still Joe does not budge.  No problem you have a smartphone and you are ready to do take on this pesky employee who is not giving you want you want.

It so happens that this bar is part of a franchise owned by a big enough company that is social media savvy.  You know that and so you take out your smartphone and tweet about the lousy service that Joe is delivering to you.  Delight: your tweet is picked up.  The Customer Service team rings you back immediately.  You tell them about how you are a regular, loyal, high spending customer.  You tell them that Joes is refusing to serve you the drinks that you want.  They ask you to pass your phone to Joe.  The company policy is to be responsive to customer needs when it comes to selling and making money.  So Joe gets a telling off – he is breaking company policy – and is reminded about what is expected of him in his role.  Joe hands you back your smartphone and gets busy giving you your next drink.  You’re happy.  Then Joe tells you  that this drink and the next one, if you want that next one, is on the house – to compensate you for the poor service.  Now you are delighted.  You think: “Wow, this company really cares. What great service.  Not only did the company sort out your problem immediately, it also said sorry by giving you free drinks.”

Whilst Joe was on the phone and being reminded about company policy – he was reminded on the need and importance of upselling and cross-selling.  So after you have had your two free drinks, Joe notices that you are particularly happy.  That is his moment to execute the company policy.  He invites you to order drinks for all the people in the bar, pointing out that this will make you popular.  That is exactly what you do as it occurs as a great idea.  You’re happy so why not share your happiness.  And it is so easy to pay – this bar is advanced the payment is automatically charged and deducted via your mobile phone!  No need to bother with money or credit cards.  So you drink some more and some more until it is closing time.

As you are leaving the bar Joe is thinking to himself “He’s drunk – he’s totally drunk and in no fit state to drive”.  At the same time Joe knows you and is certain that you will attempt that 30 minute drive back home.  Joe is thinking about taking your keys from you so that you cannot drive.  He is thinking about ordering you a taxi and putting it on the company’s tab.  Then Joe remembers the telling off that he got earlier in the evening for breaking company policy.  Joe is also present to the fact that he needs this job – he cannot afford to lose it.  And Joe knows that the company policy is not to intrude on customer’s lives and liberty – certainly not when it costs money e.g. taxi fare.  So Joe, being fully aware of the fact that you are a family man and fully aware that you are too drunk to drive home says nothing.  He stands at the door wishes you good night, watches you fumble into your car and drive away.

In the middle of the night your wife gets a call, she learns that she is now a widow: you had a crash and no-one made it out alive, not you and not the three folks in the other car.

Questions to consider

Did the organisation orchestrate/deliver great service – from the folks in the bar, the folks manning the Twitter account and the Customer Services folks that rang you back and sorted out your issue with Joe?

Did your organisation design and deliver a great customer experience – location, car parking, exterior design, interior design, recognising and greeting a loyal customer, responsive/personalised service, speedy service reovery, making it easy for you to pay?

Did the organisation act in a customer centric manner – knowing your needs/wants as an individual, acting on your needs/wants to deliver what you want, not putting obstacles in the way of you getting your needs/wants met, making it easy for you to buy the drinks, enriching your life by supplying all the drink that you wanted to drink?

I have a finally question for you.  If you widow and your children (all three of them) knew (see, hear, experience) what had occurred in the bar – the whole of it, everything – what would they say?  Would they say that the organisation that runs this bar is customer-centric?

My take on service, customer experience and customer-centricity

Customer-centricity, in the sense in which the man on the street understands this, is in a completely different category to service and customer experience.  For customer-centricity to show up as customer-centricity in the world of the ordinary human being we have to consider our relationship, our obligation, to our fellow human beings.  In short we have to consider and grapple with Ethics: right and wrong; our rights and obligations when it comes to conscious beings as opposed to stuff.  Is it ok to enrich ourselves at the expense of another?  When is it necessary to submit to the demands of our customers?  When is it necessary to refuse the demands of our customers?    Notice that whilst Ethics may play a role in customer service and customer experience it does not have the same significance.  Ethics is secondary here (customer service, customer experience) whereas it is primary when grappling with the question of ‘customer-centricity’.  Put differently, when you are grappling with the notion of ‘customer-centricity’ you absolutely have to grapple with Ethics; it is possible to grapple with customer service and customer experience without grappling with Ethics.

Apple, whilst a master of customer experience, is not customer-centric

I am clear that Apple makes great products.  What makes those products great?  Apple has grasped the importance of the user experience when it comes to using consumer products and designed these products to provide an easy / delightful user experience.  I am also clear that Apple is great at service especially when it comes to the Apple stores.  Furthermore, I am clear that Apple gets the importance of the Customer Experience and is great at crafting and orchestrating a good/great customer experience for most if not all of its customers.

Is Apple customer-centric?  For my part, I have never thought of Apple as a customer-centric organisation.  As I have argues above, to the ordinary wo/man, the question of customer centricity brings along with it, like the two sides of a coin, the question of Ethics, of morality, of right and wrong.  Apple is a great organisation and it fails greatly when it comes to Ethics.  First we have the issue the around Foxconn and the treatment of workers (fellow human beings) in Foxconn factories.  And now we have a lawsuit filed by US department of justice claiming that Apple ended price competition after seeing success of Amazon’s $10 ebooks.  How?  By colluding with five book publishers: Hachette SA, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster.  Let’s be clear about this:  price fixing breaks the law and price fixing so as to increase prices is not what most customers would think of as ‘customer-centric’.  If you are thinking that I have got this all wrong then please enter into a conversation with me and help me understand where I have gone wrong.

Final thoughts

“If Apple can do so fantastically well without being customer-centric then is it necessary for companies to be customer-centric?”  That is the kind of question an economist or strategically minded business executive will ask.  I ask a different question: “Do you and I want to live in a world that is dominated by the Apples of this world for whom we are simply wallets to be emptied?”

What does it take to get value out of customer feedback / VoC efforts?

Before you embark on VoC program you might want to ponder this question

If you are embarking upon or in the midst of a VoC program then you might be wondering what it takes to get value out of this investment, this effort.  If your are not wondering this then I advise you to wonder – deeply and seriously.  Why?  Because soliciting and collecting customer feedback is the easy bit.  Turning that into a coherent course of action that creates value for the customer and for the enterprise is a signficant challenge especially for large organisations.  Don’t believe me?  Here is what Bruce Temkin is quoted as saying:

“Customer feedback is cheap, actionable insight may be valuable, but taking action on insight is precious. VoC programs are useless unless you act on what you find.”

Read that last sentence again.  Do you notice a particular word?  The word is USELESS.  Unless there is the will and the associated mechanisms in place to turn feedback into a coherent action plan, embraced by the people within your organisation who are going to have to change what they do and how they do it, you will find your VoC program a fool’s errand.

What does it take to get value out of VoC programs?

Here is what I have noticed based on my experience of all kinds of organisational change programs.  It is not a recipe.  Yes, I know that you are looking for / addicted to recipes and solutions.  I don’t provide recipes and solutions.  Why?  Because the real world does not work that way.  What I can do is provide pointers, pillars, foundations that you can use to make your VoC ‘pay’ – create value. These pointers are:

1. VoC feedback has to matter

Something matters if and only if its presence contributes to / enhances the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of a system or if its absence degrades the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of the system at hand. Think about the wheels on a car.  If one of the tyres gets a puncture then what happens to the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of the system?  And when you replace that tyre?  You get the idea.

For VoC to matter it has to provide information that contributes to design and execution of the organisations purpose, mission and strategy.  Sounds right, sound like what you would read in a textbook?  Well its wrong!  For VoC to matter it has to provide actionable insights that meet the needs of the Tops (CEO, VPs, Directors) and Middles (middle managers).  Specifically, these VoC  insights must enable the Tops and Middles to better / more easily achieve their desired outcomes.  If the Tops and Middles can attain their desired outcomes without VoC then that it exactly what they will do.  If the effort involved in making sense of and using VoC is too much then the Tops and Middles will not use it: organisational life is hard enough no need to adding extra weight and stress!

Put succinctly, VoC feedback will be used if and only if “It is the difference that makes the difference (to the Tops) and it is easy to use this difference!”

2. Reward the people who use / act on VoC insights

As human beings we excel at actions that result in immediate rewards.  If we take an action or a series of actions (like say eating better/healthier) and the expected results don’t show up pretty quickly we quit taking the action.  Put differently, results have to be visible and noticeable for us to persist in the actions that generated these results.  Therefore, the design of every VoC program has to grapple with how to feedback meaningful results to the people who are expected to take action based on the VoC insights.   And that includes altering the relationship people in your organisation have with time – particularly timescales.  One of the easiest ways to provide this kind of rewarding feedback (my actions are making an impact) is look for, feedback and celebrate small wins as well as big wins.

3. Create a safe space – a learning and execution laboratory

How likely are you to walk the tightrope if it is 100 feet high and there is no net underneath to support / cushion your fall and assure your safety? How likely are you to attempt that feat if the net is there and you know that if you struggle and/or fail you will be laughed at, criticised, condemned, sent to live with the lepers or simply lose your job?  Not that likely right?

Please get the VoC is the stimulus/trigger for personal and organisational change.  Change that is imposed is NEVER welcomed – it is scary, it is frightening, it threatens our safety even our existence.  So if you want people and groups to behave differently then you have to create a safe environment.  An environment where people and groups are acknowledged and rewarded for taking the right course of action irrespective of the actual results.  If someone / some group takes the right action, plays in the spirit of the game, then they must not be blamed, criticised, condemned.

One other factor that you should bear in mind.  We overestimate what we can do in the short term say 0 -6  months and underestimate what we can do in the longer term say 12 – 36 months. Therefore one aspect of creating this safe space is to ask a lot of people in the organisation over the long term (stretch goals) and be much less demanding so as to build in success and allow for learning over the shorter term.  Yes, I am asking you to do the opposite of what is the default setting in most organisations.

The closest management concepts to what I am talking about here are “drive out fear” as espoused by Deming or “The Learning Organisation” espoused by Senge.

4. Turn data and information into engaging/actionable stories and tell these vividly and dramatically

I once took over the responsibility of a failing planning & budgeting team.  The first action I took was to ask the team to stop sending their standard reports out to the many managers in the organisation.  Guess what happened? Only 10% of the managers rang up to ask where their reports were!  Please get present to this: we, human beings, suck at relating to and making sense of data.  Our naturally way of being is such that data and reports require effort – conscious effort – to understand, to interpret, to make sense of.  Most of us are simply not willing to make the effort.  Yes, pretty graphs help but not that much.

If you want you VoC customer feedback to be acted upon then tell actionable stories.  Stories work because they work they way we work.  There are heroes, there are villains, there is plot, there is cause and effect and they provide lessons / pointers towards how to live, what do do, how to do it differently….  That means that having a team of business savvy people who can turn data into actionable stories is a must.  When I ran a Customer Analytics practice I played this role – to complement the work done by the staticians and data miners; they were great at data mining (I sucked) and I was great at using their data to tell stories (they sucked at telling stories).

5. The CEO must own the play, be committed to the play and be in the play with both feet

Did your read my last post?  Kristin Zhivago has been involved in this game for 20+ years and this is what she says:

“If the CEO isn’t speaking up for your customers, there’s nothing that anyone else can do – regardless of their position – that will turn the company into a customer-centric organisation.”

As you know I totally agree with her.  If your CEO does not see the VoC as critical ingredient in the game then I guarantee that your VoC program will not deliver any fruit no matter how much, time, money and effort you put into VoC.  The people who need to commit resources will not commit resources.  The people who need to act will not act.  Even if people agree to do stuff you will find that they drag their heels.  If they take action then many people will act half-heartedly.

Want to learn more?  Then consider attending one of these seminars hosted by Mindshare, in the UK, on the 17th and 18th April

If you have any interest in VoC – particularly how to get value out of it – and you live near London or Manchester then you might want to attend.  Here are the details:

“Mindshare Technologies to Host Seminars in UK to Help Companies Realise and Implement Customer Experience Best Practices

  •  Two Free Seminars to Take Place in London and Manchester
  • Seminars Will Provide Attendees with Customer Experience Thought Leadership Using the Latest Techniques to Drive Action from Insights

The seminar series begins in London on April 17, followed by a second offering in Manchester on April 18. Registration for these two free events is now open, and information can be found at”

 The customer service best practices seminars will be held at Liberty House, 222 Regent Street, in London and Pall Mall court, 61–67 King Street, in Manchester and will be headed up by three members of Mindshare’s leadership team, each lending their expertise in VoC and enterprise feedback management (EFM) solutions: Lonnie Mayne, chief experience officer; Shane Evans, vice president of business solutions-retail; and Rachel Lane, director of Europe, Middle East and Africa development.

Topics to be covered at the seminars include:

  • Planning the Perfect Customer Experience Strategy
  • The Right Modes for Invitation and Feedback
  • Obtaining Non-Purchaser Feedback
  • Tactical Use of Feedback
  • Correlation to Financial Improvement
  • Making Feedback Actionable at All Layers of Management”

Disclosure and request

Disclosure:  whilst i have been tracking Mindshare and have spoken to several people there (who I like) I have NO financial relationship with Mindshare.  Put differently, I am not getting paid to advertise this nor do I get a fee or any other reward if you attend.  Incidentally, the seminars are FREE.

Request:  if you are reader of this blog and you are going to go along then please let me know as I’d love to meet you, learn more about you and buy you a coffee.