What does it take to generate breakthroughs in performance and the customer experience?

Why do almost all change initiatives fail to deliver?

I have been involved in all kinds of organisational change initiatives whose ultimate purpose was to power performance. These change initiatives have come in many flavours: strategy, people, process, and technology.  They have encompassed the front office, or the back office, or both.  These change initiatives included: BPR, Kaizen, shared services, quality, ERP-CRM-Ecommerce technology, customer service excellence, strategy…

What is it that is I found common pretty much across all of these change initiatives:

  • They were mostly initiated by people gripped by a fad of that time;
  • Each of these initiatives was going to deliver substantial, even breakthrough, improvements in performance; and
  • Almost all of them failed to deliver on the promise.

I see the pattern being repeated with Customer initiatives that are focussed on improving the customer experience and thus engendering loyalty and advocacy.  Why?  Because what is being changed is the content and not the context.  Working on the content whilst leaving the context intact is liking rearranging the music, the dining hall, the food & wine, say on the Titanic.  Great stuff and ultimately it is merely a distraction from the inevitable.  The inevitable (destiny) is always shaped/determined by the context.

Differentiating between the context and the content

Let’s start with the dictionary definitions of context:


  1. Background, environment, framework, setting, or situation surrounding an event or occurrence.
  2. Words and sentences that occur before or after a word or sentence and imbue it with a particular meaning.
  3. Circumstances under which a document was created, including its function, purpose, use, time, the creator, and the recipient.


  1. The things that are held or included in something.
  2. A state of satisfaction: “the greater part of the century was a time of content”.

Are you struggling with distinguishing between context and content and why this distinction is of profound significance? Let me help out.  Let’s use the analogy of computer software. The context can be likened to the operating system.  The content to the software programmes that you are using say Word, Excel, Outlook.

Or think of work and home.  The context of work is radically different to the context of home. Or the context of a wedding is radically different to the context of a funeral. Do you see how the content – people, talk, behaviour – whilst the same is/can be radically different in the differing contexts.  You talk at work, you talk at home, yet the way you talk and what you talk about is likely to be very different between work and home.

Shifts in context are the access to transformation and breakthrough results – for customers, for the organisation

Let me say this bluntly, most of the work that is taking place in the customer space in the name of customer focus, customer experience, customer-centricity, customer obsession is wasted money and effort. It is merely the equivalent of arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Or if you prefer behaving like Blockbuster or HMV – both of which have gone into administration and are busy closing or selling their stores.

I say that excellence in the customer domain, and the business benefit this excellence generates, is only available to a particular set of organisations.  Which organisations?  The organisations whose leaders exercise courage. What kind of courage?  The courage to shift the context.  Allow me to give you some dimensions along which you can shift the context that powers your business:


If you want to get a better grip of context and how it applies to the customer experience then read this post.

Great examples of shifts of context: from Amazon to Zane’s Cycles

Examples of Contextual Shifts


Kuhn called this contextual shifts “paradigm shifts”.  Every paradigm shapes/limits that which shows up including human relations and performance.  Some paradigms create more space and generate more energy to empower high performance. If you want to transform your customer experience then pay attention to the context.  Context comes first, content second. Only the fool, or one who has time-money to burn, focuses only on the content.

Author: Maz Iqbal

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

9 thoughts on “What does it take to generate breakthroughs in performance and the customer experience?”

  1. Fascinating post Maz

    It has often struck me that most of these initiatives: BPR, Kaizen, quality, customer service excellence, operational excellence… are pretty much the same stuff wrapped in slightly different clothes

    “Give the customer what they asked for without messing it up”

    It all sounds sensible, yet you are right, they invariably fail

    And I think your post explains why beautifully.

    There is a quote I like (variously attributed to Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Tony Robins, Albert Einstein and no doubt in due course Steve Jobs)

    if you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got

    Maybe that is your management context?



    1. Hello James

      Many thanks for an interesting reply and for sharing your quote with me. Yes, “if you always do what you always did you will get what you always got.”

      It occurs to me that what I am pointing at is actually to point out something that is of huge significance and that we are blind to. Businesses do not always do what they have always done. They different stuff pretty much all the time depending on what is in fashion. Let’s use a restaurant analogy.

      So as the restaurant manager we change the exterior – give it a paint job. We change the interior – give it a paint job. Doesn’t work. So we change the tables and chairs. Doesn’t work. We change the menu. Doesn’t work…We change something else.

      What we are highly unlikely to change is our assumptions around the restaurant. What a restaurant means. Why we are in the restaurant business. The role of the people serving the diners. Just imagine that the context for restaurant was changed from a place where people come to eat to a place where people come to listen to blind blowing talks and at the same time they eat some food. Or a place where people come to be entertained and just happen to eat food. That shift in context changes everything.



  2. Excellent analysis Maz. It reminds me of the (very) old joke – Q. How many psychoanalysts does it take to change a light bulb? A. Just one – but the light bulb really must want to change.

    Unless the will is there amongst those who shape the context, no amount of work changing the content will succeed. I wonder why there is so little RoI analysis of work on content when there is so much money being spent on it?


    1. Hello Guy
      I find myself in total agreement with you. And I thank you for your kind works, an artist likes to hear that his artistry is appreciated. Much as I strive not to need praise/recognition when it shows up I find that it acts as motivational fuel to continue to be an artist.



  3. Hi Maz,
    Excellent analysis. Don’t you think that the ‘Tops’, as you would call them, may actually realise that the context needs changing. But, they only focus on changing the content because they realise that if they change the context then they may find that they, themselves, no longer fit the context and, therefore, the right thing for the company and the customer may be that they should fire themselves. A dilemma?



    1. Hello Adrian

      My friend you show up as a wise man! Yes, is my answer to what you say. All systems are designed, by definition, by those who are powerful to perpetuate the power of the powerful. So whilst the systems may not work from an ecological perspective this does not matter as long as they serve the interests of the powerful.

      It is why so little has changed since 2008 – when the death knell sounded for western capitalism. Guess what happened? The powerful bailed themselves out by enslaving those that are not powerful.

      Which is why it takes revolutions – bloodshed- to actually change anything. We forget that all the rights we take for granted were won with blood and lives. Which is why the people who did peaceful sit-ins in the UK (the middle classes) were treated so brutally by the system. It was to send a clear compelling message so that the rest of the middle class would not join in.



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