“Ridiculous!”: Does Your Organisation Treat Customers This Way?

I have been helping one of my clients grapple with growth challenges. During the course of our conversations we got around to looking at the business from the standpoint of customers. As such, I asked for an analysis of the customer base by revenue and profit.The analysis shows that the top 10 customers accounted for the lion’s share of the company’s revenues and thus its health and viability.

On that basis I was expecting the management team to have in place a policy, plan, practices and people to take great care of these customers. I was expecting that there would be some kind of game plan: to keep in regular touch with these customers; to stay in tune with their changing needs; to  come up with new products and services to meet these needs; and to ensure that any issues were identified quickly and addressed.

What did I find? I found that these customers were signed up some years ago, these customers are getting the service they contracted for, they have made no complaints, and so there has been no communication with these customers other than the monthly invoice.

“Ridiculous!” That was the statement that the MD made when I asked him to reflect on the importance of these customers to the business and the way that his business has been treating these customers.

It occurs to me that so many people – at all levels of the organisation and across all functions – are so immersed in the doing that there is so little reflection upon what is being done, and not done, and the implications. Which makes me wonder, how much of what occurs, and does not occur, in an organisation would show up as “Ridiculous!” if viewed through the eyes of the customer?

So why is it that the management team of this client are oblivious to the importance of their existing customers? The simple answer is that they are fully immersed in:

1) the sexy stuff of ‘developing new products’;

2) the sexy stuff of getting new channel partners so as to acquire new customers faster and grow market share; and

3) dealing with all that it takes to make the organisation work – the people issues, the process issues, the information issues, the financial issues, and the systems issues.

Behind the obvious, is the not so obvious. Is it possible that there is no focus on existing customers because the MD is from a sales background and enjoys the thrill-chase of new customer acquisition? Is it possible that there is no focus on existing customers because the other directors take their lead from the MD?

Is the same kind of thing true in your organisation? How much of what you do, and do not do, would show up as “Ridiculous!” when looked at from a customer view, or a longer term perspective?

Back to my client. The good new is that the MD has taken steps to engage with at least one of his top 10 customers. And there is significant opportunity to create value for this customer by selling them new products and solutions that are more in tune with their current and future needs. Sounds like a win-win to me and as such it shows up for me as being the best kind of business.

What Are the 4 Factors That Constitute The Foundation for Being a Leader?

“We argue here that the four factors we identify as constituting the foundation for being a leader and the effective exercise of leadership can also be seen as the foundations not only for great leadership, but also for a high quality personal life and an extraordinary organization. One can see this as a “value free” approach to values because:

1) integrity as we define it (being whole and complete) is a purely positive proposition;

2) authenticity is also a purely positive proposition (being and acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others and who you hold yourself to be for yourself),;

3) being committed to something bigger than oneself is also a purely positive proposition (that says nothing about what that commitment should be other than it be bigger than oneself); and

4) being cause in the matter as a declaration of the stand you take for yourself regarding everything in your life is also a purely positive proposition”

– Werner Erhard and Michael C. Jensen

Does Leadership Effectiveness Start With Deep Listening?

Where the truth is self is not.

Where you are the other is not.

– Krishnamurti

Most of us are poor listeners, self included. And it occurs to me that the people who really excel at being poor listeners are those who hold positions of power in organisations.

How many decisions are made without the right people – those who have some kind of stake in the matter at hand – being in the room to discuss the matter? Even when the right people are present, I notice how quickly we dismiss the voices around the table that put forth a view of reality that differs from that of the powerful, or the dominant narrative.

I say that we should not stop at listening to the voice of the customer. I say we should listen also to the voice of the employees. I say that we should listen to the voice of the ‘whole system’ – all the stakeholders – when we explore matters, make decisions, and take action. Why?

What each of us believes to be true simply reflects our views about reality. When reality changes and when we ignore competing realities, if we dig in our heels regarding a familiar or favoured reality, we may fail. Perhaps what we thought was the truth is no longer the truth in today’s environment.

Multiple, competing realities existing simultaneously: This is true and this is true and this is true…… If we entertain multiple realities, we create possibilities that did not exist for us before. 

We are more likely to discover the truth we most need to understand today by demonstrating that everyone has a place at the corporate table. That all voices are welcome. That no matter what our area of expertise, each of us has insights and ideas about other aspects of the organisation..

…until the multiple – sometimes conflicting – realities of key individuals and constituents have been explored, implementing a plan can be decidedly tentative endeavour. To the degree that you resist or disallow the exploration of difficult realities in your workplace …., you will spend time, money, energy, and emotion cleaning up the aftermath of plans quietly but effectively torpedoed by individuals who resent the fact that their experience, opinions, and strongly held beliefs are apparently of little interest to the organisation.

– Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations


Is This The Answer to Collaboration, Creativity, and Innovation?

I met up with a ex-colleague today who is passionate about customers, about service, and about the customer experience. He showed me the NPS charts and figures and lamented that so little real change is occurring in the organisation and so the NPS scores are static. He even went to a call-centre, sat with call-centre agents, and observed them responding to customer calls.

What did he notice? He noticed that these agents were not picking up on the customer’s emotional state and responding creatively to generate a meaningful connection. They were too busy on the task of working many screens-systems, finding information, and relaying this information to customers.  He noticed that the call-centre agents were going about their customer conversations (and work) in a robotic way. I detected a hint of complaint towards the call-centre agents.

This got me thinking about organisations and work places. In my 20+ years of experiences I have worked with-for many organisations and I have noticed that most organisations are dead. Only a handful of organisational environments are alive. I have also noticed that robotic behaviour and dead organisations go together. Have you noticed that when people finish work and leave the building they sigh with relief – relief that they are out of prison. Have you experienced the same?

I ask you how likely is it that collaboration will show up in dead organisational environments? How likely is it that creativity and innovation will show up? How likely is it that the people working in dead organisational environments will show up in a way that leaves customers feeling happy?

Which begs the question, how do we turn dead organisations into alive organisations where empathy, collaboration, connection, creativity and innovation flourish?  I have noticed the there are plenty of people providing answers to collaboration, creativity, innovation and employee engagement. There are all kinds of tip, tricks, techniques and frameworks – some simple, most complex. If they worked then collaboration, creativity, innovation and employee engagement would be flourishing; the tips, tricks, techniques, and frameworks have been around for a long time.

So what is the answer to this riddle? How do we turn dead organisations to organisations that are alive with empathy, with collaboration, with creativity and innovation? I share with you a profound insight, from a radical thinker, that gets to the heart of the matter:

People who are without creativity build dead organisations.

– Krishnamurti


Are These the 7 Key Difference Between Effective and Ineffective Leaders?

In light of my experience and the continuing scandals – NSA/Prism and Lloyds PPI complaint handling – I have been reflecting-grappling with the leadership, accountability, and integrity. As such I wish to share with you my  take on the seven key differences between effective and ineffective leaders.

1. Effective leaders are clear on what matters, communicate what matters, and model the desired values and behaviours. Ineffective leaders are either not clear on what matters or simply not able to able-willing to rule some stuff out. Ineffective leaders suck at communicating what matters. And they don’t live-model-embody the fine sounding values, beliefs, and behaviours that they talk about.

2. Effective leaders name and insist on dealing with the most important issues no matter how unpleasant these issues are. Ineffective leaders find all kinds of reasons and excuses for not dealing with the real issues and instead spend their time on what they are comfortable with.

3. Effective leaders focus on getting a rounded-realistic-fact based picture of reality. And as such they give real thought to who needs to take part in the conversation, and how to create a context that calls forth the ‘truth of each participant’.  Please note that feelings are facts! Ineffective leaders are drunk on their own importance and thus push their views, their agenda, on to the favoured few that they invite to the conversation.

4. Effective leaders deal with the thorny issues in a way that tends to build the self-esteem, confidence, learning, and goodwill of their people. Ineffective leaders issue orders, discount the concerns-views of their people, and make threats thus rupture one of the most critical pillars of an effective organisation: relationship and emotional affinity and loyalty.

5. Effective leaders think about the well-being of the wider system – all stakeholders inside and outside the business.  Ineffective leaders focus on what matters to them and their favoured constituency.

6. Effective leaders first hold themselves accountable. And by doing so they create the powerful access to holding their people accountable. Ineffective leaders hold others to account but not themselves. And sometimes they don’t even hold others accountable for fear of being confronted with their own lack of accountability.

7. Effective leaders get the critical importance of integrity. As such they put in place powerful ‘instruments’ that will: detect any ‘out of integrity’ ways of showing up in the world; and call the effective leader to get back into integrity quickly and clean up any mess s/he has made. Ineffective leaders don’t get that integrity is essential to ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ and as such there is little fit between what they say and what they do.  For ineffective leaders, integrity is optional.

How does this resonate with your experience? Please note the word ‘experience’ and specifically the phrase ‘your experience’.


Why Not Treat Customers, Employees and Suppliers Badly?

We are not here merely to earn a living and to create value for our shareholders. We are here to enrich the world and make it a finer place to live. We will impoverish ourselves if we fail to do so.

– Woodrow Wilson

I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating customers right are based on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating employees right are based ultimately on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating suppliers right are either missing or when present are also justified on the basis of the impact on revenues and profits.

If we justify action on the basis of revenue and profit then surely it is OK to treat:

  • customers badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
  • employees badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
  • suppliers badly if that will lead to higher revenues, profits or cash-flow?
  • the wider community badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?

If you are a customer how much trust do you put in a company if it treating you well as a means of harvesting high profits? As an employee how much trust do you put in a company that treats you well only because it expects to maximise profits?  You get the idea.

One more point to consider, what was the source of the corporate scandals and the financial crisis of 2008? Was it not the pursuit of revenue, profit and bonus maximisation irrespective of the consequences falling on others?

Is there any other basis, other than revenue and profit maximisation, for treating our fellow human beings well?   I say let’s stop for a moment and listen to the words of Srikumar S. Rao in his book Are You Ready to Succeed?

What a sorry pass we have come to when simple decent behaviour has to be “justified” in terms of some other benefit. What happens if behaving without integrity can get you growth and unparalleled profit?

… you treat the customer right because that is how you like to be treated. You treat your employees well because that is the proper thing to do. You behave with integrity because that is an expression of who and what you are. These are the givens. You DO NOT have to justify or explain or rationalise any of it.

…. if you attempt to link your values with external measures like profit, you cheapen them and you discredit your actions.

As I look around, I cannot help but notice that that the companies which are heralded as exemplars of customer-centricity and employee engagement are not pursuing revenue and profit maximisation. Instead they are pursuing a purpose that calls to their customer and employees, treating people right, and harvesting the benefits in terms of productivity, innovation, engagement, loyalty and advocacy.

What do you say?


How Sky Failed Me at the Moment of Truth

How companies respond to moments of truth says all there is to say about the company and its orientation towards customers. This is where the talk of customer focus, customer experience, and customer-centricity is actually put to the test by the customer. I have done some work in the telecommunications industry and I can tell you that device or service failure shows up as a moment of truth for many customers. When the customer relies on his phone and it no longer works that is a big deal for her. When the customer relied on his broadband connection and it fails that is big deal for him. Correct?

Yesterday, my broadband connection failed and stayed that way for several hours. I searched through the Sky paperwork to find a customer services number. I didn’t find any as Sky have made a conscious choice not to print that number on their invoices/statements. Instead, the paperwork only shows the URL for the support section of the Sky website. That would have been useful if and only if my broadband was working!

Thankfully, I had a smartphone and Google handy. So within a few minutes I found a contact number and called Sky. A couple of minutes after this I was speaking to friendly woman at Sky.  After 10 – 20 minutes on the phone, answering her questions and following her instructions, she told me that the broadband router was faulty. I was grateful to her as she had been patient and left me with the impression that she was committed to helping me out.

What was my expectation at this point given that I have been a customer for at least two years? I was expecting the woman to say “I will send you a new router and it will be with you tomorrow morning. And, I’m sorry that our router failed and you are without broadband.” That kind of response would have shown up as customer-centric. That kind of response would have generated forgiveness on the one hand and gratitude on the other hand. That kind of response would have left me feeling good about being a Sky customer. That kind of response would have resulted in a different ending to the post.

What actually happened?  The woman from Sky told me that I would have to pay £35 for a new router. Why? Because I was no longer on a twelve month contract. Or I could sign another twelve month contract.

This was the first time that I considered cancelling the Sky broadband service. Why?  Because I was offended. Because it occurred as Sky taking advantage of me when I was down. Because, I asked myself “Where is the loyalty for me sticking with Sky for over two years?”  I calmed myself down and made the choice to enter into a new twelve month agreement.

Once we had come to this agreement, the woman from Sky told me that the router would be delivered within 3 to 5 days.  I was shocked. So I blurted out something like “Is there any way you can get this out to me tomorrow?  Amazon does this. Surely, you can do the same.”  She asked me to hold whilst she looked into it. After looking into it she told me that the best response Sky could offer was 3 – 5 days.  And that she would ring me no Saturday to make sure that my issue was solved.  I thanked her and ended the call.

What is the lesson here? It doesn’t matter how great the people in your call-centres are if your business policies , practices, and processes are not designed to deliver on the customer needs at the moments of truth.

As I reflect on this experience I cannot help but compare how Apple showed up when my daughter had a problem with her iPod.