Forget Working On The Customer Experience, Focus On Competition

I say that the way to make a significant impact on the quality of the customer experience (as experienced by the customer) is for the organisation not to focus on improving the Customer Experience.  That is a bold assertion and shows up as nonsense to many. So what is it that I am getting at?

It is my experience that after accessing the voice of the customer and doing the journey mapping a range of initiatives are on the table. So the folks around the table getting busy figuring out which initiatives to take forward. Which ones do they take forward? The ones that don’t rock the boat. The ones that are the least risky. The ones that are usually called low hanging fruit: the easy ones that involves a tinkering at the edges,  and in the bigger scheme of things make little difference.

To Improve The Customer Experience Ramp Up The Quality Of Competition

SouthWestTrainsPacked

Take a look at this photo. Notice, the people standing up – how many there are, and how closely packed they are against one another. I invite you to step into this picture. Imagine yourself standing up in this train. And finding yourself packed in like sardines in a tin.

I found myself on this train – standing up. This train was so packed that it took considerable skill to just get my smartphone out of my trouser pocket – to take this photo.  How long was I standing up in this train? For one hour and ten minutes.

So I ask you how is it that this kind of occurrence is actually a regular occurrence on the trains going into and coming out of  London at peak travel times? It is so because there is no competition. On each line there is one company that has won the right to run the train services.  A monopoly is in place and the folks who need to use the train have no choice but to put up with whatever they have to put up with.

Now consider that the Tops of just about every business strive to minimise the competition. Why?  Because where there is no genuine competition, Tops can ignore customers, and run the organisation in a manner that extracts surplus profits from customers.

Looking at the situation from the Customer’s point of view I am clear that the most effective way of causing improvements in Customer Experience is to effect genuine competition into every industry, every market place.  Genuine competition for customers will force companies to do that which they are not willing to do today: focus on creating superior value for customers – that includes the Customer Experience.

I don’t know about your country, I do know about the UK.  I assert with confidence that there is no genuine-significant competition in many industries: retail banking, grocery retailing (Aldi, Lidl are starting to make a dent), energy (gas, electricity) suppliers, telecom’s providers….

Consider that if business genuinely had the interests of customers at heart then the Tops of every business would welcome increased competition in their market place. Why? It would provide the impetus to do better: to focus on creating superior value for customers – including providing a better Customer Experience.

Is injecting genuine competition into a market place enough? Is it enough to ‘force’ the incumbents to pay attention to customers and do right by customers: focus on providing superior value for customers?

Effective Regulation Is Necessary To Make Competition Work

For two years I was leading a data mining and predictive analytics practice which operated across Europe. So I got to know something about how different countries went about implementing-enforcing the European Data Protection directive.  Some countries were effective (Germany, France, Italy, Spain) and others (UK) ineffective. Why? The Germans, French, Italians, and Spaniard adequately funded their national data protection agencies and allowed them to levy unlimited fines (usually running into millions of Euros). I believe one of these countries set up the funding arrangements so that the data protection agency had to fund itself through the fines it levied on those companies found bending or simply not following the legislation. Whereas the UK government provided the minimum funding possible, and limited the fine that the national data protection agency could apply to £50,000.

Let’s get back to the issue of competition. Is it necessary for national governments to put in place effective regulations and enforcers of these regulations?  No? Are you of the view that multinationals so love their customers, and are so committed to the Customer Experience, that regulation is not necessary? If so I invite you consider this: business, especially, big business is not customer friendly.  Allow me give life to this assertion.

Yesterday I read this Guardian article: France fines 13 consumer goods firms €951m for price fixing.  Which companies are involved? Companies include:

  • Gillette
  • Proctor & Gamble
  • Reckitt Benckiser  – €121m
  • Unilever – 2nd largest fine, €172.5m
  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • L’Oreal – largest fine, €189.5m
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Henkel (maker of Persil) –  €109m
  • Biersdorf (Nivea) – €72m
  • SC Johnson

Which products were involved? As far as I can figure out, just about everything. Here’s what the Guardian says (bolding mine):

The price-fixing affected a large number of popular brands, such as Vanish stain remover, Palmolive washing-up liquid, Sun and Calgonit dishwasher tablets, Sanex and Petit Marseillais shower gel, shampoos including Head & Shoulders, Fructis and Elsève, and Colgate and Signal toothpaste. Mouthwashes, deodorants, shaving creams and razors, female hygiene products, body lotion, facial and sun creams and insect sprays were also affected.

So what went on?  What did the folks at these companies do to merit such a large fine? This is what the Guardian says (bolding mine):

The regulator said the 13 companies ….. had colluded on price increases between 2003 and 2006. “These two sanctions are among the most significant imposed to date by the competition authority,” it said. The regulator added that the price-fixing had kept prices “artificially high” affecting consumersand “caused harm to the economy”.

…. commercial directors and other sales officials from the companies involved met “regularly and in secret” to co-ordinate price hikes at restaurants or via correspondence to private homes, as well as through telephone calls. The groups in which they met were called “Team” or “Friends”. 

Consider that if business genuinely had the interest of customers at heart – were committed to creating superior value for customers – then business Tops would not only welcome regulation, they’d want it enforced rigorously and big fines handed out to those who cheat customers.  Name me a Top that advocates this position – can you think of one?  I cannot.

Summing Up

I say greed, selfishness and even corruption permeate our way of life. It permeates politics, national government, and local government. It permeates the police. It permeates business. It permeates the broader society – us.  Given this context, I say, all talk of customer – customer focus, customer service, customer relationships, customer engagement, customer experience, customer obsession – is totally and utter bullshit.

Do you study history?  I have. This is what I have learnt: every right that you/I enjoy today was earned and paid for through blood of brave souls many years ago.  So if you and I are going to be treated right by folks in big business then it behoves us to fight for genuine competition in the market place, stronger customer protection legislation, and effective enforcement bodies.  What you and I cannot count on is business itself: yes, the words have changed, and business as usual (screwing customers) continues unabated. I say that the true customer strategy of most business is something like this: blind customers with bullshit, and empty their pockets whilst they are not looking.

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.

2 thoughts on “Forget Working On The Customer Experience, Focus On Competition”

    1. Hello James,

      I find myself in agreement with Blaise Pascal when he wrote “Custom is our nature.” There is no such thing as ‘the human condition’. There are only the customs that are given – and these customs give rise to ‘the human condition’. Look back in time, and look wide across the world and you will find that the human condition is diverse.

      Our ‘human condition’ today is largely a result of the ‘death of God’. And with that the ‘death of man in the image of God’. So we relate to ourselves as autonomous economic machines – out only for ourselves. This was not always so. And is not so everywhere across the world.

      All the best
      maz

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