Why aren’t customer experiences improving?

I have been reading Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences by Matt Watkinson.  What Matt writes and how he writes it resonates with me.  It may resonate with you as well. So in this post I want to share some passages that particularly speak to me

Companies keep getting it wrong

There is a widespread view that there is a lack of understanding on the customer experience. That the reason the customer experience is so poor is that executives just don’t get it.  It does not seem like Matt agree with this view.

Despite widespread understanding that the customer experience is critically important …… Products are too complex to use, small print leaves us feeling cheated, adverts bear little resemblance to reality, customer service is often rude……….

Is the cause the Vulcan death grip? 

I am delighted to find that Matt and I are on agreement that the obsession with people and organisations as machines leaves no space for humanity and a feel/respect for the most human of human to show up: emotions.

Businesses primarily follow the Vulcan model, seeing their enterprises as a supremely rational endeavour….. As the doyen of design Don Norman concludes ‘Business has come to be ruled by logical, rational decision makers…. with no room for emotions. Pity!”

Clearly the more in touch a business is with with our emotional wants and needs, the more its products or services will resonate with us.

…. while Kirk is captain, Spock serves as his first officer….. This should serve as an excellent model for business to emulate when making decisions: a total understanding of the consumer – their thoughts, feelings and experiential requirements – balanced by rigorous analysis… In most cases, however, the rational and analytical have become substitute for a more empathic, human understanding rather than the other side of the coin…

Out of touch with the customer and addicted to measurebating?

There is no substitute for empathy. And empathy requires us to be in direct contact with their customers: to see their faces, to look into their eyes; to hear their voices, the tone of their voices….  Yet, that is not the way that businesses work, especially not the Tops who make the decisions.

….’Companies have become so dependent on models that many organisations have started to lose touch with reality. Without personal connection to the people they serve, companies lack the context, immediacy, or experience they need to make good decisions. Far too many leaders make critical decisions without any personal feel for the territory.

When working on website projects I’ve often been asked to make the phone number for customer services less prominent. ‘We have a strategic objective to reduce traffic to our call centres’…. This demonstrates a tendency for people to advocate decisions that can degrade the customer experience when numbers and analytics work against empathy.

What is the impact of our addiction to numbers, measures and calculations?

After covering the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt coined the term the ‘banality of evil’. As I understand it her point was that Eichmann was ordinary and most of the people who were directly and indirectly involved in the evil of the concentration camps were ordinary. What allowed them to do what they did? In part it was by replacing people with numbers.

What does Matt Watkinson say? He points out that when we reduce human beings to mere numbers, statistics, it’s hard to see them as people.  And that has consequences, it allow us to treat people badly.

Numbers and calculations can rob people of their humanity with truly harrowing consequences. In his deeply thought-provoking paper ‘Accounting in the Service of the Holocaust’, Warwick Funnel argues that ‘Accounting numbers were substituted for qualitative attributes of individuals thereby denying them their humanity and individuality…. (Accountability) was not only a means of expediting the annihilation of the Jews but was also one of the means by which people who had no direct involvement in the murder of millions of Jews were able to divorce themselves from the objectives and consequences of their work.’

Worshipping at the altar of efficiency has a price?

The modern organisation violates a fundamental principle of organisms that have been adapting-evolving-surviving for millions of years.  What is that principle?  It is the principle of redundancy.  Have you noticed that you and I can do with only when kidney if we need to yet we have two.  And if one fails then we can still get along, survive. What does Matt Watkinson say?

..the optimisation and standardisation of processes to reduce waste and maximise efficiency has dominated the focus of many organisations…… Computers and machinery are mercilessly replacing humans…… in their zeal for efficiency, some of engineered out all the slack … at the expense of agility. The consequences for customer experience can be severe: hyperefficient companies are usually unable to respond to customer expectations, and any customer issue that does not fit neatly into the optimised solution cannot be dealt with satisfactorily.

Lack of vision driven by an obsession with the short-term

One of the most remarkable aspects of business is the disconnect with reality.  I am fond of comparing what it takes to make a safe flight happen. That is to say in the real world of flying one has to deal with reality as it is. And when one doesn’t planes fall out of the sky.  Yet, it occurs to me that the business world, especially Tops, are often deluding themselves. Here is how Matt puts it:

… its no good getting on a late plane and telling the pilot to just fly faster. If you want it sooner, you need to start earlier, and that means looking further into the future. Therein lies the rub. Too much of what business undertakes is driven by short-term thinking. A poor customer experience is often symptomatic of a bigger problem: a lack of vision at the top or a programme structured around quarterly profit statements.

The empty chair of Customer Experience

Matt points out that in almost all organisations the Customer Experience chair is empty. And that has consequences.

In the business that you work for, who is responsible or indeed accountable for the customer experience? …. Getting the customer experience right necessarily involves coordination of almost every part of the business, but if no one person is ambiguously calling the shots then failure is almost certain…

I have only touched a little of the great, easy to read, book that Matt Watkinson has written.  If you have any interest in Customer Experience then I recommend buying and reading it.

Leadership: what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

You may have noticed that the name of The Customer Blog has changed to the Customer+Leadership Blog.  It occurs to me that the central issue of our times is leadership: our willingness to lead ourselves and others in shaping our lives and our organisations to pursue noble purpose.  The kind of purpose that generates joy within us and creates joy in the world.  The kind purpose that gives our lives meaning. The kind of purpose that gives our organisations meaning and generates loyalty – from all stakeholders.   Let’s start with a powerful poem, one that asks the most important question.

The Summer Day: Mary Oliver asks a great question 

I cannot think of a more apt poem to go along with and complement the profound insight shared by Steve Jobs, then this poem – The Summer Day – by Mary Oliver.  And I share it with you.  If you enjoy listening to poetry then I urge you to listen to her reciting her poem?

And here is the poem itself (the bolding is my work):

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean– the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Steve Jobs: the secret of life

If you are tempted not to be with the question that Mary’ poses because it occurs to you that you are small, that you cannot affect-influence-shape the world as it is, then I share this video with you and urge you to watch it.

Here is the transcript:

When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

And the minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Is this the most important question to live and operate from?

What is the most important question that one needs to grapple with when it comes to customers and the customer-centric orientation?  Is it:

  • how do we calculate customer lifetime value?
  • how do we get the right offer out to the right customer at the right time?
  • do we get just the basics right or do we deliver a wow experience?
  • should we be using social channels to message or provide customer service?
  • do we need a Chief Customer Officer to own the customer and advocate on his behalf?
  • how do reduce/manage the costs of customer service through channel shift?
  • how do we show an ROI from Customer Experience?
  • how do we make the omnichannel stuff work?
  • how do we get customers to stick around and do business with us longer?
  • should we focus on taking care of customers or our shareholders?

I say that it is none of these.  It occurs to me that the most important question is radically different. If you want to know what that question is then I urge you to watch the following video:

It occurs that if we all lived this question, then collectively we would build amazing relationships, amazing products, amazing organisations. And we would transform the quality of our lives and the world that we live in.

What is the question?  It is the question that is fundamental to generating relationships, loyalty, and joy in the world.  It is the question, if lived by us, generates a wonderful world for all of us.  It is first and foremost a social question.  What is that question?  It is so simple that it took a 12 year old to pose and live even in her dying days:

How can we help them?

– Jessie Joy Rees

What Are The Two Most Critical Challenges Facing Marketers?

For those of you who view me as a customer service expert, you might be surprised to know that I have an avid interest in marketing and most of my work over the last 10 years has been with, and continues to be with, marketers and the Marketing function. So in this post, I am going to address what I see as two most important challenges facing marketers and the Marketing function.

Is technology the answer to the challenges facing marketers?

I recently attended and spoke at the Technology for Marketing & Advertising conference/exhibition in London. What I found fascinating is the love of new technology.  I was reminded of the heady days of CRM.  Do you remember those days?  The days when Siebel sales folks would open up every sales presentation with “Siebel is the fastest growing software company ever.” And the point was that CRM technology was going to change the business world and put customers and their wallets at the feet of the organisation.

What is the biggest challenge facing marketing and advertising today?  Is it the lack of technology to gather up all the data on prospects and customers and use this data to fire out marketing propaganda and offers, across a variety of channels; to turn prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers and loyal advocates?  If the folks in your marketing department believe this then your business is in deep trouble.

The first challenge is that of relevance

When it comes to effective marketing the first challenge is relevance.  From the customer perspective the question is “Why should I listen to you?  Why are you relevant to my life? What do you offer that simplifies/enriches my life?”  Please tell me how technology is going to address this crucial challenge for you.

Look, Sky keeping marketing to me through direct mail, through email, and by telephoning me regularly.  What does Sky want?  Sky wants me to sign up for Sky TV; I was once a customer.  I keep refusing. Why?  My viewing needs are adequately addressed through a combination of Netflix/Lovefilm and going to the cinema.  What Sky TV has to offer is no longer relevant even if it is being offered at half price.

The second challenge is that of the Customer Experience

Marketing is a profession that is tasked with manipulating impressions and emotions through the use of image, words, sounds and story. Put bluntly, marketing to date has been the discipline of propaganda.  The big problem is that this propaganda does not work. Why?  The most pithy answer I have ever come across is that put forth by Matt Watkinson:

No amount of marketing can compensate for an average one-star review on Amazon. You just couldn’t talk the talk anymore, you had to walk the walk. 

If you get this you get the enormity of the challenge.  What this means is the marketers and the Marketing function have to pretty much turn themselves inside out.  They have to transform themselves from image makers to reality makers. Their challenge is to ensure that all the organisational actors that impinge on the Customer Experience do that which is necessary to deliver a Customer Experience that matches the brand promise, the value proposition, and the customer expectations.

Please tell me who the fancy technology is going to help you, the marketers, to influence the minds and shape the actions of all the people in the organisation that directly or indirectly generate the Customer Experience?

My advice to marketers

Technology is a red herring.  Technology allows you to undertake marketing activities.  Technology impacts the operation/mechanics of doing marketing.  What technology does not do is address the strategic challenges. Worse still the pursuit of technology distracts you from the most important strategic challenges facing you, and your business.  What are those strategic challenges?  Brand relevance, and Customer Experience.

Shareholder value or customer delight? Choose

It doesn’t work if you fill up the tank with petrol when your car runs on diesel.  It doesn’t work to turn up at a nightclub and expect to get peace-quiet.  It doesn’t work to drive down the wrong side of the road at a busy time when there are lots of cars on the road and expect no problems.  It doesn’t work to turn up in your bikini for work or to turn up with your business suit to sunbathe on the beach.  And almost all of us get that.

So why is it that in the world of business we forget this.  Why is it that we still cling to stupid ideas, and practices, like what gets measured gets done. Rubbish. In the world of business what gets measured gets gamed. And if it isn’t being gamed now, then you can rest assured that someone is working on finding a way to game it especially if his/her bonus cheque depends on that measure.

Take the idea of best practice. When all the players in the industry go for best practice, the best practice is to do something totally different. Isn’t that what Jobs did?  And in the process he reinvented and created industries. So worshipping at the altar of best practice and benchmarking is a stupid practice especially if you are on of the followers, the laggards.

Then there is the stupid idea that you can generate genuine collaboration and teamwork within the organisation – social business – when the context the players operate from is one of competition: for resources, for recognition, for rewards.  In a context of competition what shows up is competition.  If you are stupid enough not to accept this and demand collaboration then you will get competition disguised as collaboration.

Which is the most stupid idea of all within the realm of business?  It is the one that was invented some 30 – 40 years ago.  It is the idea of shareholder value as being the sole purpose of a business and its management team. Why is it stupid?  Allow me to quote Roger Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Management:

Customer delight is a more powerful objective than shareholder value ….. if you take care of customers, shareholders will be drawn along for a very nice ride. The opposite is simply not true: if you try to take care of shareholders, customer’s don’t benefit, and ironically, shareholders don’t get very far either.

A lot of the issues that I see in the customer thing is that many of us are attempting to force it into the shareholder value game.  And it doesn’t fit.  The shareholder value game is the ‘one night stand’ game – get me laid this year!  Whereas the customer delight game is a longer-term game, an affair that keeps both parties interested in each other over the longer term.

The vital importance of empathy and kindness to customer experience design and employee engagement

How far can you get in cultivating enduring customer relationships, delightful customer experiences, and ’employee engagement’ without empathy?

What kind of world shows up when we put aside empathy?  What kind of world shows up when we put aside kindness?  The kind of world that arose as a direct result of the ‘age of machines’ – of the Industrial Revolution.  When our way of life is centred on and around machines, we worship machines, and we go about life asking and expecting one another to be-act like machines.  We have become great at showing up in the world as machines. And as result we have lost sight of kindness, generosity, empathy.

Why do I bring this up?  Because it occurs to me that our age is calling out for empathy, for kindness, for the injection of the human back into business and our way of life.  Also because, you cannot get far in cultivating meaningful relationships with customers nor designing customer experiences that delight customers, nor generating ’employee engagement’ without grappling with these topics. Look you and I can make the world accessible, convenient, hassle free and fast.  And, if such a world is missing kindness, generosity, empathy, friendship and love then it is a world that is not fit for human beings.

Empathy is central to customer experience, customer-centricity, and employee engagement

With this context I share with you the following video that was brought to my attention by LinkedIn where Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO shared it:

If this video speaks to you, if it stimulates your interest in empathy then I invite you to take a look at the following posts:

What Does It Take To Generate Deep Contextual Customer Insight?

Customer Loyalty and Advocacy: what can we learn from Jonathan Ive and Zappos?

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part IV)

Is this the access to profitable revenues, loyal customers and enduring success? (Part I)

Is kindness born of empathy fundamental to cultivating customer loyalty and employee engagement?

I say it is. What kind of kindness am I speaking about?  I am speaking what Werner Erhard refers to as “ruthless compassion”.  If you want to dig into this a little more then check out this talk.

I want to leave you with a quote of a hero of mine, Albert Schweitzer:

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

A Final Word

I am putting together a course on communication-empathy-relationship. And there is one slide that I wish to share with you:

Being Empathic Listening.jpg