7 Customer Experience lessons courtesy of the horse meat and Amazon scandals

What is the central insight that arises from the discipline of systems and systems thinking?  It is this

Everything is interconnected with everything else

You may be asking yourself, what has this to do with Customer Experience.  Everything.  For one it means that when one is up for architecting/designing/delivering the Customer Experience it is not enough to simply focus on the service delivered by Customer Services.  Nor is it enough to look at interactions, touchpoints, and the front office functions of marketing, sales and customer service. These are the two essential facts that are not adequately grasped, at best, for many, they are simply platitudes.  Let’s explore.

Horse meat scandal: Supermarkets battle to regain customer confidence

By now you must have heard that there is another scandal which started in the UK and now spans Europe.  It is the horse meat scandal. According to the Telegraph, a pro business newspaper:

A hard-hitting report by MPs on Thursday said that the scale of contamination in the supermarket meat supply chain was “breathtaking”. The cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that consumers had been “cynically and systematically duped”, as “elements in the food chain” had pursued profits by substituting beef for cheaper horse meat.

And if that is not enough, the same piece goes on to say:

Although blame for the contamination lies with suppliers rather than retailers, one long-serving senior supermarket executive described the situation as “pandemonium”. “I was around for foot-and-mouth and BSE and this feels like it’s on that scale,”

Think about the Customer Experience.  Has the experience of customers been affected negatively by the scandal? Here is what the Telegraph newspapers says:

Shoppers already appear to be voting with their feet. Meat sales in independent family-run butchers and farm shops have risen by 75pc in some areas while analysts believe sales of cheaper processed meat in supermarkets have fallen sharply. A survey found that almost half of all shoppers will avoid buying processed meat from affected supermarkets.

Ask yourself what has changed?  Specifically, what customer interaction, touchpoint, and experience at that touchpoint has changed?  It occurs to me that from a functional touchpoint view nothing has changed. So how is it that the Customer Experience has changed?  From a customer viewpoint everything has changed. They have found that they cannot trust the supermarkets.  And as such the Customer Experience of supermarkets, at least when it comes to buying meat, has been impacted negatively.

What specifically does the horse meat scandal unconceal for us?  I say that it unconceals the importance of the supply chain in so far as it impacts the ‘product’ that is offered to the customer. Hold that thought.

Amazon scandal: using neo-Nazi guards to keep workforce under control?

Can you exclude examining the supply chain, as a part of your Customer Experience effort, if it does not impact the quality of the product which touches the customer?  The obvious answer appears to be yes.  I say you might just want to think again. Why?

I am an Amazon customer and up to now I have been neutral about the values/impact of Amazon.  As such I have bought a lot of stuff from Amazon over the years.  Now, I am conflicted.  Over the past few days the desire to buy several products has shown up and yet I have not found myself able to buy. Why?  Because I have been given a glimpse into the supply chain practices of Amazon. And what I stand for in this world conflicts with what Amazon is up to in its supply chain.  According to this Independent article:

Amazon is at the centre of a deepening scandal in Germany as the online shopping giant faced claims that it employed security guards with neo-Nazi connections to intimidate its foreign workers.

Germany’s ARD television channel made the allegations in a documentary about Amazon’s treatment of more than 5,000 temporary staff from across Europe to work at its German packing and distribution centres.

The film showed omnipresent guards from a company named HESS Security wearing black uniforms, boots and with military haircuts. They were employed to keep order at hostels and budget hotels where foreign workers stayed. “Many of the workers are afraid,” the programme-makers said.

7 Customer Experience lessons

I say one should not waste the insight that comes from these scandals. So I offer you 7 lessons that show up for me as result of these scandals and my work on Customer Experience.

1. Clearly Customer Experience, as a construct and as a discipline, is more than simply the service delivered by the Customer Services function.

2. Customer Experience is more than individual, or even the sum of, customer interactions with the company at touch points via specific channels.

3.  Customer Experience is the delivery of the promise (value proposition) and the fulfilment of customer expectations across the complete customer life-cycle.

4. The product or service that draws the customer to purchase is a core/critical part of the Customer Experience and cannot simple be taken for granted and ignored.  I wrote a while ago that the Customer Experience folks cannot simply ignore the product. 

5. The supply chain matters as it impacts the Customer Experience, as such it cannot simply be ignored by those of us working on the Customer Experience.

6. Everything is connected to everything else. This means that what happens in the ‘back office’ or ‘out of sight’ of the customer, including HR practices and technology decisions, indirectly impacts the Customer Experience.

7. To excel and compete at Customer Experience one needs to get that Customer Experience has to be the organising doctrine for the whole organisation-  it has to be a way of life for every person, every part of the organisation including its supply chain and channel partners.

And finally

It occurs to me that it is worth sharing this lesson. It is lesson that is not appreciated nor heeded especially by the Tops.  It is a lesson that comes from the nature of systems:

One cannot escape indefinitely the long-term consequences of short-term orientated behaviour. Or as my father taught me at the age of 5, if you ‘steal’ then expect to get caught sooner or later.

Author: Maz Iqbal

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

6 thoughts on “7 Customer Experience lessons courtesy of the horse meat and Amazon scandals”

  1. Maz, you’re right. This is a great reminder that the customer experience is a sum of all parties involved in delivering it, and that includes your partners, vendors, supply chain, etc. Great list of lessons, too.

    Annette 🙂


  2. Maz,

    Two organisations I respect and buy from regularly are Amazon and Waitrose

    Both implicated by scandal in one way or another.

    Both with huge complicated supply chains.

    I doubt the “tops” in either of these organisations condoned what happened, but the bigger and more complex an organisation becomes the more the chances are that somebody somewhere will try to make a fast buck.

    I totally agree with your points, but isn’t there an inevitability in there somewhere? The larger you become, the more likely some thing will go wrong.



    1. Hello James
      Yes, larger systems are more susceptible to these kinds of errors. And that is highly unlikely to be the root cause of that which has occurred.

      For me it all comes down to our core intent and the incentive structures that shape/determine behaviour of the Tops. What matters is making the numbers. And what Tops love is having the largest space possible to choose/act to make the numbers. This is why there is so much pushback on regulation: it reduces the options that Tops have.

      This is where outsourcing comes in handy. Outsourcing allows the Tops to have their cake and eat it. They can plead ignorance. They can pass on legal and moral liability to their suppliers. And it works. I once worked for a company where the Tops had as all sign ethics agreements. At the same time these guys were figuring out ways to break laws that governed the sale of alcohol in the USSR. The solution: the found a Greek smuggler to buy their stuff and smuggle it into the USSR. If the shipments got looted or confiscated the Greek smuggler got paid under the counter.



  3. Hi Maz,
    All of these scandals and stories show that trust is a central element of our, the customers, experience and that as organisations scale and supply chains become more complicated then businesses should become more vigilant. That, however, does not seem to have been the case in these instances.



    1. Hello Adrian

      I agree trust is the central pillar and the glue. That is what makes business and society work. Now the interesting thing is that customers really have no choice but to trust the supermarkets. The only alternative is for us all to become farmers or starve. So the trust factor actually works in favour or larger brands and against the interests of the customers.



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