Why Do Tops Struggle With Customer Experience & Employee Engagement?

On Tops And Their Struggle With Customer Experience and Employee Engagement

Have you noticed that the folks who occupy the seats of power (‘Tops’) in organisational life struggle with ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Employee Engagement’? By that I am not pointing at the talk. Nor am I pointing at conceptual-intellectual understanding.  I am pointing at walking the path: ‘showing up and travelling in the world’ in a way that creates a context which calls forth the actions that cultivate meaningful relationships with customers and employees.

Why do Tops, in particular, struggle to embrace-embody that which it takes for an organisation to create-design-deliver the kind of experiences that call forth meaningful relationships with their customers, and their employees? In asking this question I wish to rule out the domains of psychology or morality. What interests me is structural factors: the underlying ‘structures’ that shape human behaviour pretty much irrespective of morality and personality.

What is your answer?  Hold that answer. Let’s first turn our attention to considerateness – the quality/state of being considerate.

What Is It To Be Considerate?

Language always leaves clues. So what does the English language suggest? Let’s take a look at the definition:

considerate

adjective

careful not to inconvenience or harm others.

“she was unfailingly kind and considerate”

Synonyms: attentivethoughtfulconcernedsolicitousmindfulheedfulobliging,

accommodatinghelpfulcooperativepatient,

kindkindlydecent,unselfishcompassionatesympatheticcaringcharitablealtruistic,

generouspolitesensitiveciviltactful

 

If you haven’t done so then I urge to look up each of the synonyms to get a rounded feel for the phenomena under discussion. Notice, what we are talking about here is a genuine concern for the wellbeing of others – our fellow human beings.  A working alongside-with others as opposed to over-against others.  Cooperation and accommodation and not domination or indifference.  What is the basis of considerateness? Is it not fellow-feeling? That you are human just like me and are worth of the same kind of consideration that I ask for, demand, for myself?

Considerateness: The Glue Of Long Term Relationships?

It occurs to me that the way of showing up and travelling in the world that we have named considerate is the access to cultivating relationships. And, importantly,  keeping these relationships in existence over the long-term. It also occurs to me that this way of being-in-the-world is central to human centred design. And that includes experience design: Customer Experience, and Employee Experience.

Now back to the Tops. If you are a Top then what kind of situation do you automatically find yourself in?  Let’s ask this question differently:  What is the privilege that goes with being at the top, a Top?  Is it not that as a Top you fully expect others to be considerate to you and your needs? Others that surround you and serve you show up and travel in a manner that is considerate of your status-needs-wishes-preferences. Is it not true that you are accustomed to be treated with considerateness by just about everybody that you encounter?

As a Top how do you treat others? Is it not that the default way of showing up and  travelling in the world, as a Top, is that of inconsiderateness towards others:

inconsiderate

adjective


thoughtlessly causing hurt or inconvenience to others.
“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

What I’m pointing out here is structural-situational factor. One that calls forth a certain mode of being in the world. In no way am I making a moral-value judgement. Nor am I making reference to psychology or personality types. What happens when you are a Top for long enough? You lose touch with the anyone, the everyman.  So your ability to listen to and respond with considerateness to the needs of others withers  – even if it was there to start with. Yet this very considerateness is essential to being attuned to the needs-wishes-preferences of customers and employees. And responded sensitively and on a timely basis so as to generate gratitude, engagement, and loyalty.

Special Treatment: Words Of Wisdom From James A. Autry:

I wish to end this conversation by sharing words of wisdom with you

I think I started maturing as a manager when I discovered that one of the oldest principles of organisational management was hogwash. That principle is stated in many ways, but the military guys used to put it best: “Nobody gets special treatment around here.” …. In the military, they might also say, “If we do this for you, Lieutenant Autry, we’ll have to do it for everyone.” I used to want to say, “No, sir, you could do it just for me.”

What I realise now is that the professed aversion to special treatment was all delusion anyway; people in every organisation ….. get special treatment all the time…… much of it has tilted towards “in” groups…. that kind of “special treatment” is favouritism and discrimination.

But there’s another kind of special treatment …… a manager’s willingness to bend the rules to accommodate every person’s specialness…. Some people do good work but are slow; some do fast work but are sloppy. Some are morning people; some do better in the afternoon. Some have children that cause schedule problems; some have elderly parents. Some need a lot of attention and affirmation; some want to be left alone to do their work. Some respond more to money, less to praise; some thrive on praise…… some are very bright; some are slow….. Some are men; some are women.

Who in the world could believe that all those special needs could be accommodated without special treatment? But it takes a lot of management courage to provide that special treatment…..

I’ve made exceptions to corporate rules to help get an employee’s family through the nightmare of overwhelming financial and emotional distress. I’ve made similar exceptions for employees needing assistance to recover from substance abuse…..

The road of special treatment is not without peril, and it makes day-to-day management much trickier and more time consuming. You must consider the impact on the group, the legal risks, and the questions of equity and justice, in addition to the record and commitment of the person involved. Then if at all possible, decide in favour of special treatment…….

When someone complains, just say, “Everyone gets special treatment around here.”

– James Autry, Love and Profit, The Art of Caring Leadership

I leave you to ponder considerateness and special treatment. It occurs to me that they are intertwined: being considerate involves providing special treatment when special treatment is called for – by the customer, by the employee.  What gets in the way of being considerate and providing special treatment? It makes the life of those in management harder. And ultimately, once you get beyond the rhetoric, the organisation is designed so as to be considerate to the needs of the Tops – not customers, not employees.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

6 thoughts on “Why Do Tops Struggle With Customer Experience & Employee Engagement?”

  1. Maz, thanks, as always for your thoughts. I enjoy reading your blog.

    I think in addition to the “inconsiderateness” (not sure if that is a word), there are a couple more things to consider. Most companies that have been in business for multiple years or more, have arrived at a place of not serving or treating customers well over time. Processes evolve and the focus can mostly be on efficiency to modify them. Additionally, over the same period of time, customers and their requests (expectations, routes to service, access to information) also change. So there ends up being a gap between a company’s care in serving a customer and the customer’s experience. To rectify this and move to a more considerate, caring mentality, Tops must move much in the organization and often without a good understanding of the financial return (as this is what should motivate most businesses since their existence is not completely altruistic). So my experience both as a Top and as a practitioner, isn’t that Tops are inconsiderate, its more that they don’t know how to do three things to bring about considerate change.

    First, is a clearly identifiable business case for change. How will the company increase turnover or improve profit? What are the steps that will directly contribute to these states? Many of these are soft benefits and not as tangible as most investments. By the way, even with initial funding, this is difficult because improving a customer’s experience takes time, it’s a journey and results don’t always come fast. So staying committed to this path requires consistent funding, not a one time budget.

    Second, to make decisions that might even be exceptions but are probably agreed to being the right thing to do, delegation of certain authorities need to be pushed down with controls. This is really difficult for many employees to advocate on behalf of the customer without fearing supervisory recriminations. There is generally a feeling that this is just a temporary movement by Tops and will go away soon, so why step out and take risk.

    Finally, to overcome both of the items above, takes real leadership from the Tops. To go upstairs and request additional funding in the short run to make changes that will have hoped for returns and second to lead committed change among employees and truly engage them to do the right thing for customers and the company at the same time in often murky situations. The leadership needs to be considerate, certainly, to even step out and attempt these things, but pushing them all the way through requires more than just being considerate.

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    1. Hello George,
      First a big THANK YOU for making the time to share that which you have shared here. I have been mulling over that which you have shared and this is what has shown up for me.

      1. Organisational focus is on standardisation and efficiency. What does that mean? It means getting people to adopt one way of doing things. And where possible automate this one way of doing things. This conflicts with Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety. In the real world variety is the norm. Which means that a great experience (Customer, Employee) requires the organisation to forgo standardisation and embrace variety – provide special treatment. This is most likely to occur where the people who exercise power are used to and adept at being considerate of the needs of the people that are involved in and being served by the business.

      2. What is the price of integrity? If integrity has a price then it is not integrity. Put differently, the whole Customer Experience thing has nothing to do with the business case or ROI. What do I mean? I mean that if you chose to compete based on a specific proposition say ‘easy to do business with’ then to be in integrity with this promise it is essential to design-deliver the corresponding experience. If you choose to compete on the basis of ‘quality products with friendly-courteous-reponsive service’ then to be in integrity requires the organisation to do that which it takes to fulfil this proposition. Customer Experience is matter of keeping one’s promise – fulfilling on the brand and.or value proposition.

      3. Yes, making a transition from one way of doing business to another way of doing business is always a challenge. Which is why most established organisations don’t make such changes. Until they are forced to do so. Take Tesco as an example, it is being forced to make changes some six years after the UK recession took hold. And some four years after consumer behaviour changed. I am perfectly OK with this, fire ravages the forest and it looks like doom and gloom. It is not, The old timber ‘dies’ and give space for the growth of the seeds lying dormant.

      At your service / with my love
      maz

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  2. Definitely gets the grey matter turning over Maz.

    Tops direct based on ‘structure’ and ‘solutions’ to affect outcomes for an organisation. Often these are ‘sold’ on a spec sheet, matched against a (complex) tick list. Customer Experience & Employee Engagement are largely about culture change, be that small or significant; coaching to shift behaviour, demonstrating how structure and solutions support and enhance employee experience, to effect the desired outcome. The difference in mind-set between those directing the organisation, those tasked with procuring /buying a solution, and those tasked with effecting culture change, are progressively moving from one end of the scale (0 – 10) to another, with varying degrees of overlap; the aim is the same, yet the language used to convey the desired outcome, and the methods utilised to achieve the aim, are potentially night and day different.

    George Fandos makes some great observations in his comments, one of which I feel is at the very heart of the matter; “(from) experience both as a Top and as a practitioner, (it) isn’t that Tops are inconsiderate, its more that they don’t know how to do three things to bring about considerate change.”

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    1. Hello Simon,

      It occurs to me that Customer Experience and Employee Engagement are about how we treat one another. And the most powerful exemplars and shapers of ‘how we treat one another around here’ are the Tops. As such it occurs to me that Customer Experience and Employee Engagement lie in the dimension of leadership.

      Lets consider inconsiderateness. It occurs to me that just about every organisation is a context of inconsiderateness or put differently, selfishness. I witness this every day in many ways. In the design of websites who is not considered? The user of the website. In the design of the CRM system who is not considered? The end users who are expected to use the system. In the design of workplace practices who is not considered? The people who will actually work there.

      The powerful do not consider the weak. The very privilege of power is not having to consider others, being able to project one’s might to get one’s way. The rich do not consider the weak. The very privilege of the rich is to not to have to consider or involved themselves with the weak. Monopolies do not have to consider the needs of their customers and give them a fair deal. Which is why just about every management team seeks to differentiate its organisation and build a brand.

      My point is not a moral one and I am not pointing any fingers at anyone. I am simply asserting that the access of great experience design is special treatment – willingness to bend the rules to suit that person (and his/her context) that you are dealing with. The person is more important than the script. And this disposition to bend, flex, provide special treatment is most lacking in those who occupy seats of power.

      I thank you for sharing that which you shared. And if you and I find ourselves in disagreement with one another then that is great by me: I prefer diversity over uniformity.

      At your service / with my love
      maz

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  3. Maz,

    I suspect you are right, as you climb the corporate ladder you lose a sense of what you have that others do not. Surely everybody drives a BMW.

    So for even the most “caring” tops it would be easy to become

    thoughtless, unthinking, insensitive, unthoughtful, heedless, unmindful,

    Add a little self centredness (which lets be honest you need to have if you are going to climb to the top) and the more unflattering of your synonyms come flooding out.

    James

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  4. Maz,
    I wonder if people become consciously inconsiderate as they rise up the organisational ladder or is it that they demands of the structure that they operate within that distances themselves from others.

    Whatever the answer, I would agree with you that developing consideration for others is a key part of how we develop long term relationships, both inside and outside of an organisation.

    Adrian

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