Want to Make a Success of Your CRM/CX/Digital Initiative? Listen to Montaigne

I’ve read many times that something like 70% of CRM initiatives fail to deliver the goods?  What about CX. marketing automation, and digital transformation initiatives? I don’t remember reading any statistics on the success / failure of these. Yet, I have been involved in these areas. My experience is that the process tends to be painful, and failure is more likely than success.

What Accounts For The Dominance Of Failure?

Success is an option. So what accounts for the dominance of failure in change / transformation initiatives? This is the question I found myself confronted with this week.  So what is my answer?

Before I provide you with an answer, I want you to know that over the last 30 years I have been involved in many kinds of projects-programmes-initiatives: accounting systems, management information systems, business process re-engineering, ERP systems, shared services, lean, CRM, website design & development, ecommerce design and implementation, customer loyalty, customer experience design, marketing automation, digital transformation….

Montaigne’s Insight Provides The Answer

Back to the question. What is the primary reason that many, if not most, change / transformation initiatives fail to delivery on the promise?

I say that THE primary cause of failure is a certain blindness/arrogance in those who initiate-shape-lead-manager such initiatives.  Blindness to what?  Blindness to the workings of human beings – as individuals, as groups, as the crowd. Arrogance?  The arrogance of the powerful in assuming that they can ignore the working of human beings and treat people like widgets.

Allow me to bring home that of which I am speaking by sharing the following with you  by sharing the following:

“His Scepticism makes him celebrate imperfection: the very thing Pascal, as much as Descartes, wanted to escape but never could. To Montaigne, it would be obvious why such escape is impossible: however high we ascend, we take that humanity with us.… He wrote:

It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek others conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.”

Sarah Bakewell, How To Live, A Life of Montaigne

Now let’s make this real by looking at some examples.

Customer Relationships.  Take a moment look around you. How do human beings do when it come to relating and relationships?  Are we masters at this? No. Most of us struggle most of the time when it comes to relationships: unhappy husbands, unhappy wives, unhappy parents, unhappy children, broken marriages, affairs/cheating, unhappy teachers, bored/unhappy students, dissatisfied bosses, resentful employees….

Customer Loyalty. In the world as lived do we reward loyalty?  Yes? Then consider that parents spend a great deal of their lives caring for their children and in the process making many sacrifices. What happens when these parents get old? Do the children exercise loyalty – make sacrifices and look after their elderly parents?  Or is the reward of such parents a place in a nursing home – out of the way with strangers?  How about that employee who has worked for you for 20+ years when you make his job redundant by moving it offshore?  Or the employee who can get a similar/better job with a competitor with higher pay? If we do value loyalty then why it is that the new customer gets a better deal than an existing-loyal customer?

Customer Experience.  Walk in the shoes of the customer! That is the mantra which few really step into and live. Yet even if I did step into your shoes I wouldn’t necessarily experience that which you experience?  I am not you! It may be that when you step in your shoes they pinch whereas I find them comfortable. How can man experience what it is like to be a woman?  Or youngsters what it is to be elderly?  Or a English person what it is to be French?

Cooperation & Collaboration.  There is much talk about the need/importance of cooperation and collaboration. What is the reality?  In my home there has been fierce completion between siblings to be the first/best.  In the classroom there is completion to be the best. When it comes to school plays each actor wants the prominent/leadign role. In the corporation, employees are force ranked so that only a small percentage come out as high performers, and most come out as merely ok. Why? Rewards and honours are reserved for the few so as to encourage competition at all levels.  In the context of competition what will most people do most of the time? Compete!

CRM and Marketing Automation.  Look at the way that these technologies are implemented and you are likely to find that there is minimal time-effort-money given over to educating and training the people who will be expected to use these systems. Further, the folks are expected to go from novice to expert instantly.  The reality?  These systems are not intuitive – they require time, effort and even certain kind of dedication. Time, effort, and dedication that most users are simply not willing to put in – this shows up as extra burden on a back that is just about carrying the existing burden.

Summing Up

If you wish to make a success of your change / transformation initiate then you have a choice: to work with the ‘human nature’ or not. Remember, if you are not actively working with ‘human nature’ then it is almost certain that you are working against ‘human nature’. If you work against ‘human nature’ then you are likely to end up where most folks do end up when they take this route: failure.

 

 

State of Customer: What I Learned During 2016

Some years I find myself working on matters of strategy. Other years I find myself with ‘dirty hands’ working at the coalface – helping organisations build capabilities, and deal with operational challenges in the areas of marketing, sales, service, and CRM.  2016 has been a year where I have worked both on strategy and operations. What have I learned?

Customer Strategy

Either organisations do not have a clearly defined customer strategy or the folks working at large organisations are inept at articulating it. At best, I have found the customer strategy to be something like retain existing customers and get more new customers. That is not strategy. That is talking about desired outcomes without articulating how the organisation intends to generate those outcomes.  Maybe, I just don’t get strategy.

Customer Loyalty

I have found that the hard work of engendering customer loyalty has been bypassed by putting in place some kind of customer loyalty programme: do X and get Y points. The challenge with these loyalty programmes is that there is no heart in them. Mostly they are marketing gimmicks. Enough customers realise this and drop out of the loyalty programme – too much effort to win the points, and it takes forever to earn enough points to buy anything of value with the points. A sizeable number of customer loyalty members are inactive.

Then there are folks who see customer loyalty as a one way street. These folks see customer loyalty in terms of monetising the customer base. So they are busy figuring out which kind of marketing tricks will entice loyal customers / fans to spend more. Their heart is transactional – through and through. Why do I say that? Because what is missing is commitment to generate superior value for loyal customers and earn a suitable reward for creating that value. It is like noticing that someone is into you and then using that to get your way with that person just because you know you can.

Customer Experience

Without doubt Customer Experience is the latest buzzword. It is everywhere. Anything and everything is being linked to or brought under the umbrella of Customer Experience. Just about anything and everything is being justified on the basis of improving the Customer Experience.

What isn’t happening is this: real substantive efforts to actually improve the Customer Experience not just at specific touchpoints but also across the entire customer lifecycle. Further almost all organisations are thinking in a blinkered manner when it comes to CX. What do I mean by that? Think Amazon Echo.  What an improvement in the customer’s experience. How many organisations are working on new products that create entirely new, delightful, customer experiences?

Why so much talk but so little real action?  Because for many it involves the equivalent of turning the caterpillar into the butterfly. Just about everybody prefers the butterfly to the caterpillar. Yet, rare it is to find an organisation where the folks are up for the effort, pain, time, and risk involved in the transformation process.  There are easier-safer things to do like embracing ‘best practices’ and the latest channel or fad.

Digital Marketing / Marketing Automation

There is real shortage of skills when it comes to digital marketing / marketing automation.    It is easier to buy digital marketing / marketing automation systems than it is to operate these systems with skill.  There are folks with sophisticated content management systems yet the sophisticated features, like personalisation, are not being used.

Or you have organisations with digital marketing hubs that are not being used well. One organisation that I came across was sending out welcome emails, birthday emails, anniversary (of signing up) emails, and weekly/monthly newsletters. Why just these? Because only these emails came out of the box!  No event driven marketing communications. No dynamic content / personalisation. No predictive content… Yet, all of this functionality is there in the marketing automation suite.

Single View of The Customer / CRM

The biggest challenge / hurdle many organisations are facing is that of constructing that much desired yet elusive single view of the customer. The theory was that CRM systems would make that challenge easier by bringing more and more customer-centred data into one system. This hasn’t actually happened. What has happened is that there are more and more systems holding customer related data – each disconnected from the rest.  If anything cloud based vendors have driven fragmentation as it is easy for marketing folks to buy a marketing system ignoring rest of the organisation. What goes for marketing goes for sales, for the call-centre, for field service……

The Core Challenge is That of Integration

My experience is that the core challenge is that of integration. There is the challenge of integrating the various systems (data sources) to provide the single view of the customer. Then there is the challenge of integrating the organisation players around a well defined, coherent, clearly articulated customer strategy. And a clearly defined customer experience across touchpoints / interaction channels, for the entire customer journey.  It occurs to me that it is only worth gluing up the systems if the folks that run the organisation are willing to glue up the organisation itself. In the absence of that commitment, money spent gluing up systems is likely to be wasted.

Until the next time I thank you for your listening and I wish you the very best.

 

 

 

 

What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.

Customer / Leadership: What Is The Access To Cultivating Greatness?

It is the time of the year that many are pushing out their predictions for 2015. I am not in that business: I lack a crystal ball.  Further, I say that the future is not already made. The future is unborn and how you/i/we show up and operate in this world will shape how 2015 turns out.  So in this final conversation of 2014, I want to share with you my thoughts on what it takes to become great; greatness necessarily involves effecting significant and substantial change.

Let’s assume that you wish to reshape your organisation – to effect significant, substantial, change in the way that the organisation operates.  Perhaps, you wish to transition your organisation from a product-centred orientation towards  customer-centred orientation. And/or shift the fundamental stance of your organisation from ‘extracting value’ from your customers to being generously rewarded (by customers) for simplifying-enriching the lives of your customers. It could be that you want to move from treating your employees as resources (things) to treating them with dignity as fellow human beings…..

What is the access to that?  Is there an organisational equivalent to Ali Baba’s “Open, Sesame!”? You know some kind of hidden magical recipe that provides you access to untold riches, instantly, without significant effort, discipline, and/or sacrifice?  I invite you to answer that for yourself. How has all the strategy stuff worked out? What about all the process change / six sigma stuff? Or the customer journey mapping? What about your investments in CRM systems and other technologies (e.g. IVR) have they taken you to the heights of sales effectiveness and/or customer service delight?  Let’s not forget the VoC feedback- has that unlocked the door to customer loyalty riches?

Greatness does not lie on the road well travelled, greatness lies on the road less travelled. Greatness requires dedication – the kind of dedication that flows from total commitment; this kind of commitment arises in response to a possibility-call that resonates with the very core of your being. Greatness requires the ultimate sacrifice: yourself – your way of showing up in the world and the manner of your travel in this world.  Allow me to give life to this through a story (bolding mine):

There was an artist who was so devoted to her art; nothing else in the world had any attraction for her. She had a studio, and whenever she had a moment to spare her first thought was to go to that studio and work on the statue she was making. People could not understand her, for it is not everybody who is devoted to one thing like this. For a time a person interests himself in art, at other times in something else, at other times in the home, at other times in the theatre. But she did not mind; she went every day to her studio and spent most of her time in making this work of art, the only work of art that she made in her life.

The more the work progressed, the more she began to feel delighted with it, attracted by that beauty to which she was devoting her time. It began to manifest to her eyes, and she began to communicate with that beauty. It was no longer a statue for her, it was a living being. The moment that statue was finished she could not believe her eyes – that it had been made by her….. She felt exalted by the beauty of the statue.

She was so overcome by the impression that this statue made on her that she knelt down before this vision of perfect beauty, with all humility, she asked the statue to speak, forgetting entirely that it was her own work…… there came a voice from the statue: “If you love me, there is only one condition, and that is to take the bowl of this poison from my hand. If you wish me to be living, you no more will live. Is it acceptable?” “Yes,” she said, “You are beauty, you are the beloved, you are the one to whom I give all my thought, my admiration, my worship; even my life I will give to you.” ….. She took the bowl of poison, and fell dead. The statue lifted her and kissed her by giving her its own life, the life of beauty and sacredness …..

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Being and Becoming

Let me end this conversation by posing this question: What possibility (or cause) matters to you such that you are willing to be and do as the artist (in the story above)?  It occurs to me that this is question worth pondering and answering as you/i head into 2015. I wish you a great beginning and the very best for 2015.

Customer Experience: Summing Up 2014

I Find Myself Hurt, In Pain, With Sprained Ankle At Paddington Station

In an earlier conversation I shared the following:

I arrived at Paddington Station and made my way hurriedly toward the underground. Suddenly, I found my feet sliding, no control, left knee smacks into the hard tile floor, right leg twists awkwardly, the right ankle is in some pain. A helpful gentlemen helps me up. I recover and get that the floor has become an ice rink in some places (food for a future post). I walk slowly, in pain, towards the underground….

I hurt myself. Why? Because, the ‘vehicle’ for enabling-facilitating walking at Paddington Station was not fit for purpose. What do I mean by that? That one of the primary functions of a floor is to make it easy for folks to move around, at normal walking speeds, safely.  Before, I get further into this, I want you to get that Paddington Station is one of the main railway stations coming into and out of London. There are always plenty of people standing around and walking about. It is especially heavily trafficked at peak time (early mornings, after work). And there are all kinds of people using this station: older couples, middle aged folks, youth, male, female, business folks, leisure travellers etc.

Customer Experience: What Is The Default Setting?

Why is that the floor at Paddington Station did not facilitate one of its primary roles: enable passengers (customers) to walk about easily, freely, quickly (if need be) around the railway station?  Because it was raining. Some of the rain ended up on the smooth, good looking, tiled floor. The rain on the smooth floor, reduced the already reduced friction/traction – to the point where it is really easy to be walking one second, sliding the next, and then finding oneself in pain, hurt, on the floor, dazed, wondering what happened.

Let’s stop. I invite you to ask yourself, how is it that intelligent business folks did not put the various elements together to foresee (smooth floor, rain, floor as ice rink) and thus prevent the annoyance and/or harm to the passengers? My hypothesis, is that insufficient attention-consideration was given to the customer. Did anyone even put the ease/safety of walking as a key decision criteria when the floor was being selected?  It is easy to be smart with the benefit of hindsight. So let’s accept that with the best of intentions we are fallible creatures and make mistakes.

Before we move ahead, I do wish to make one general point: the default is that of poor customer experience  and this is so because the world has been setup without adequate consideration of experience based customer needs. In my view, this is particularly so in nations-cultures with a strong Protestant-Calvinist influence. Incidentally, the lack of consideration of the end users experience based needs is the reason that most CRM systems fail to be adequately adopted and thus fail to generate the promised benefits.

Summing Up The State of Customer Experience As At 2014

Let’s get back to Paddington station and sum up the challenge:

What is so: the floor becomes a potential safety hazard for customers (passengers) when it rains;

Desired outcome: make it easy and safe for all the usual customers to walk around the station, given many obstacles (usually fellow travellers), in all the usual weather conditions – rain is usual in the UK.

Imagine that you are the person responsible for Paddington Railway station. You are the person confronted with coming up a course of action to deal with what is so and bring about the desired outcome. What is the course of action that you’d take? What would the end solution look like?  Would you fix the roof so that no rain got through to the floor? Would you fix the floor to ensure that the floor is rougher thus providing more traction? Would you put some kind of drainage solution to drain water from the floor?  What would you do if you were truly customer-centric and committed to putting the right customer experience (of walking) in place?

Here’s the answer that the folks that manage Paddington Station have put in place:

caution cone paddington stationLet’s stop and consider this. Has the challenge been addressed?  Has management got rid of the potential hazard to customer safety?  Has management improved the customer experience?  No!  What has management done? Management have provided some useful information to the customer: “caution wet floor”. What else has management done?  They have placed the burden of responsibility on to the customer – now if the customer slips and hurts himself he can blame himself for being careless. And management has mitigated its liability under the health and safety legislation. Why have I shared this with you? Because it occurs to me that this concrete example illustrates the course of action that many have taken regarding Customer Experience challenges-opportunities.

Looking at 2014, based on my personal experience, the experience of fellow consultants, and reading the relevant articles/posts, I am of the view that I can sum up the state of Customer Experience in 2014 as follows:

  1. There are only a handful of organisations that compete on the basis of the Customer Experience and excel at it. These organisations continue to do well. For the folks in these organisations Customer Experience is a way of life – like speaking English is a way of life for me.
  2. The vast majority of Tops and Middles toying with Customer Experience lack the courage to take bold action.  In the absence of courage, a ‘burning platform’ is necessary to trigger bold action. For most organisations and management teams such a burning platform is not present.  Look beyond the fear mongering and ask yourself how many organisations are in the shape IBM was when Lou Gerstner took over and kind of totally reshaped IBM?

  3. Where work has been done on Customer Experience, Tops and Middles have taken the easy way out, tinkering on the edges. The stuff that really matters has been kept intact. The business model remains intact. Management practices including those that yield ‘bad profits’ – profits made at the expense of the customers – remain intact.

  4. The Tops and Middles have, once again, resorted to the same old tools and techniques: business process changes and implementation of information technologies whether labelled as CRM, CX, marketing automation, or big data…

  5. Many claim to be Customer Experience experts and/or gurus, almost none of them are. Before you accept this claim I ask you to consider how you would determine if a carpenter is a great carpenter. Would you do so by listening to him speaking? Would you do so by reading his book where he share his tales and tales of others – stories which make you feel good?  Or would you go and see for yourself that which the carpenter has created with his own hands? This has to follow logically and necessarily from point 1 above – there is only a handful of organisations that compete on the basis of the Customer Experience and excel at it.

  6. One reason that so many can get away with claiming to be Customer Experience experts and/or gurus is that the term Customer Experience has been turned into an empty and usually misleading idea. For example Customer Experience is became another fashionable, higher status, label for Customer Service; many folks of significance in Customer Services (including call-centres) have customer experience in their titles. On the other hand some marketing folks – especially digital marketing folks – are using and abusing this fashionable label. Then there are folks who oversee the execution and compilation of customer surveys – they have also chosen to sit under and claim the Customer Experience label.

 

 

Customer Experience As Idea, Not Methodology Nor Technology

As a thinker, I am struck by how rare original thinking is in the organisational world. As a thinker, I am struck by how little thinking – as in stopping and reflecting on that which is occurring and the pattern of this occurrence – occurs in organisations. As a thinker, I am struck by how little space exists within organisational life for ideas to be entertained and grappled with before the mindless rush to implement these ideas usually through some off the shelf methodologies, methods, tools and techniques.

I say that the idea of Customer Loyalty had power.  And this power vanished when we rushed to turn this idea into practical customer loyalty programmes: loyalty cards, databases, offers and points.

I say that the idea of Relationship Marketing had power. And this power was drained and Relationship Marketing turned lifeless when the idea of Relationship Marketing was turned into the technology of CRM: systems that enslave human beings in data capture and script/process following slaves.

I say that the idea of Customer Experience has awesome power. And many are bleeding this idea dry, void of power, by turning it into the methodology of customer journey / touchpoint mapping, the blind worship at the voice of the customers, and the technology of Customer Experience.

What is it that I am getting at?  Let’s see if I can communicate that which I am seeking to communicate to the practical people that dominate organisational life.  I invite you to read the following words of wisdom (bolding is my work):

The word idea supposedly originates in the Greek word eidos, which means something seen like a form and a way of seeing like an eye, a perspective. So, ideas are not only things you can pick up and ponder. They also give you eyes, new ways of seeing things. Ideas are already operating in our perspectives, the way we look at things. We take our usual ideas for granted, and so, ideas have us rather than we have them….

Is the idea fertile, fecund? Does it make you think? Is it surprising, shocking? Does it stop you from habits and bring a spark of reflection? Is it delightful to think it? Does it seem deep? Important? …. This requires you to ponder it, which means weight it, feel its weight…. Pondering is an action of its own and keeps you holding the idea, from letting it go into other kinds of action before it is fully appreciated. Meanwhile you get a better feel of the idea….

You know, to have an idea and thinking about the idea are two different things, and being practical often means skipping over the hard thinking part…

For ideas to be therapeutic, that is, beneficial to the soul and body politic, they must gather into themselves, garnering force, building strength, like great movers of the mind’s furniture, so that the space we inhabit is rearranged. Your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories have to be moved around in new ways, because the furniture has been moved.

A long lasting idea, like a good poem or a strong character in a movie or a novel, continues to affect your practical life without ever having been put there. Ideas that live, live in us and through us into the world. Viable ideas have their own innate heat, their own vitality. They are living things too.

But first they have to move your furniture, else it is the same old you, with you same old habits, trying to apply a new idea in the same old way. Then nothing happens at all except the loss of the idea as “impractical” in your haste to make it “practical”.

– James Hillman, We’ve Had A Hundred Years of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse

It occurs to me that the conversations that take place here, at The Customer & Leadership Blog, are simply an ongoing exploration and pondering of the ideas of customer relationships, relationship marketing, customer service, customer loyalty, customer experience, customer-centricity, and leadership.

I am no expert, no guru,  in customer relationships (CRM), relationship marketing, customer service, customer loyalty, customer experience, customer-centricity, nor in leadership. Yet, it occurs to me, that it might just be that I have grappled with these ideas at a deeper level than many.  Therefore, any value that i create for you – the person who listens to my speaking – arises out of my willingness to stay with the idea rather than rushing to provide you with a silver bullet for your organisational ills.

Why I have shared this with you?  To provoke thought: to provoke you into doing deeper thinking into the Customer realm before you go and buy the latest snake oil from gurus, experts, consultancies, and IT vendors.  Incidentally, don’t reach for the dictionary to look up definitions of all things customer: customer service, customer relationship management, customer experience etc. Why? Definitions only provide the illusion of knowledge and understanding. There is no replacement for original thinking. A good start would be the following questions:

  • What world of possibility does the idea of Customer Experience open up for us and our customers?
  • What might Customer Experience Leadership look like, feel like, sound like, taste like – for us, for our customers? 

  • What is the first step on the journey of Customer Experience Leadership for us? Is it really getting access to the voice of the customer? Or is it doing that which we know needs to be done for our actions to be in tune with our words?

And finally, I invite you to consider that many if not most organisations have failed to make a success of relationship marketing, CRM, customer loyalty, customer experience etc because these ideas have failed to ‘move your furniture’ leaving the same old you, with the same old habits, trying to apply these radically new ideas in the same old way. 

If you have made it this far into the conversation, I say thanks for listening. These conversations are not easy, not simple. This is deliberate – these conversations are designed to provoke thought from the thoughtful. They are not for the impatient looking for the ten steps to customer success.

Invaluable Customer-Centricity Lessons From Tesco

Tesco: The Darling of Customer Marketing Guru’s Issues Its Fifth Profit Warning

Tesco continues to struggle. According to this piece from the Guardian newspaper, Tesco has issued its fifth profit warning, share price has plunged (down 16%): Tesco is on the floor.  Why does this matter? Why is it worth me writing about.  Let’s go back a little.

In the early 2000s Tesco was much lauded my many: the customer-centricity gurus, the 1:1 marketing gurus, the data mining and predictive analytics players, and customer loyalty program vendors.  Tesco was the exemplar of harnessing customer data through a loyalty programme (Tesco clubcard), using data mining and predictive analytics to generate insights and then doing database driven marketing based on these insights.  In the process Tesco went from being just one player amongst the UK grocery retailers to the the dominant retailer. At one point it looked like there would be no stopping Tesco.

Today Tesco is on the floor.  Why? Because Tesco’s management ended up doing what management teams do: exploiting customers to extract surplus profits for the Tops and Shareholders. I think some wise person said something like “power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

What Can We Learn About The Challenge Of Building A Customer-Centric Organisation?

So what is it that you and I can learn from Tesco if we are grappling with the challenge of shifting a business towards a customer-centric orientation: one not based on using data/insight to exploit customers; one based on using data/insights to generate superior value (product, proposition, customer experience) for the customer?  Here are the paragraphs from this Guardian piece that catch my attention (bolding is my work):

Lewis [CEO], who marks his 100th day in the job on Tuesday, said he was building “a new Tesco” that would eventually reward shareholders. “We need to get back to core principles. We need to improve the service and availability and that is what we are doing.”

Here is what strikes me, how I make sense of this statement based on my prior lived experience:

1. Moving an organisation from a business as usual (product-centred, extractive, short-term focussed) to a customer-centric organisation is akin to building a new organisation;

2. Building a new organisation is not simple, not easy, not quick. It requires the persistent application of substantial energy across a large number of people for a long period of time – years. Only a CEO who has the power and genuinely cares about the wellbeing of the organisation will do what it takes, and keep doing it over the long term of many years.

3. Part of the challenge in building a new organisation is sacrifice. This sacrifice especially involves shareholders. Why? Because usually the shareholders have gotten fat through ‘bad profits’ delivered by their agents (Tops) putting in place strategies-structures-people-practices that collectively take advantage of customers, suppliers, and the employees – extracting surplus rents (to use the term used by economists);

4. Building a customer-centric organisation is matter of getting back to core principles. Notice, it is not discovering some secret recipe nor the latest shiny miracle technology. It is about honouring already discovered, well known, rarely enacted, core principles. How does one honour a principal? By living it – being an exemplar of that principle in action.

What Specific Actions Does It Take To Be A Customer-Centric Retailer?

Let’s continue this conversation by looking at another paragraph that speaks to me. Here it is:

In a bid to improve customer service, the retailer has taken on 6,000 more staff since mid-October, and despatched 6,000 existing head office staff to spend one day a fortnight on the shop floor to get a taste for the sharp end of the grocery business. Lewis has decided not to lay off people after Christmas, a traditionally slack time for retailers, as part of this customer service drive. “Certain activities help you manage profits, but can have a detrimental impact on how you serve customers,” he said. “What we are trying to do is deliver better for customers … I believe that is the foundation from which we can build a new Tesco, which is financially attractive to shareholders.”

Here is how I choose to make sense of this paragraph:

  1. A customer-centric organisation is one which “delivers better for customers”. Delivers what better? Delivers better products. Delivers better service. Delivers better value propositions. I sum this up by saying it delivers a better Customer Experience.
  2. Customer service is a key thread of Customer Experience.  Organisation which seek to show up as customer-centric have to get customer service right. This is especially so for service heavy businesses where the employee to customer encounter is important, even critical.

  3. Getting customer service right means investing in the people who actually are the customer service of the organisation. Please notice the word “are“.  Your front line people are your customer service; they do not merely deliver the customer service that someone else (perhaps in head office) has already produced. This critical aspect of reality is much ignored: your front line people simultaneously invent-create-deliver customer service every time they encounter the customer – they are your customer service!

  4. Investing in people is long term play. Think Warren Buffet: you select the right people and then you hold on to them over and for the long term.  That means not laying people off during traditionally slack periods. Why? Because two way loyalty (sticking by one another) is essential to creating the context for greatness to show up from your people.  When you, the CEO, take the pain for your people you are putting a deposit in the bank account of goodwill. And this allows you to draw on the goodwill of your employees when you need it. Think Market Basket.

  5. The core challenge of building and then keeping in existence (over the longer term) a customer-centric organisation is this one: “Certain activities help you manage profits, but can have a detrimental impact on how you serve customers”.  It occurs to me that this is THE most critical insight.  There is a broad range of ingrained, celebrated, management practices that deliver the numbers over the short-term whilst at the same time chipping away at the  quality of the Customer Experience.  Over the shorter-term there is no visible impact. Then the hit occurs and when it does it is big. I refer to this as the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.

  6. The people who collectively constitute the biggest obstacle to making the shift to a customer-centric organisation and keeping this customer-centric orientation intact (and effective) are the people who work in head office: those who make policies, set targets, dictate management practices…. I am talking about the Tops and Middles: those who work with concepts and not reality.  John Timpson of Timpson recognised this and turned the role of the head office from a dictatorship to a helpline, and in the process reduced the number of people in head office, and moved them to the branches where the real work of interacting with and serving customers occurs.

Final Thoughts: Leadership and Governance

If find it interesting that the management practices that have brought Tesco to its knees ended up being unconcealed when an outsider (no relationship to the Tops running the organisation) took over the role of CEO; and

It is the competitive world in which Tesco competes which has forced Tesco’s leadership to deal with these management practices.  It is only when that which had been hidden (bullying of suppliers by head office folks, bullying of store managers by head office folks, manipulating profits through shady accounting practices) could no longer be hidden that both people and management practices are being addressed.

It occurs to me that Tesco is in crisis as there has been a fundamental breakdown in leadership and governance. The Board of Directors failed to do that with which it is concerned. Ensuring that the right person/s are running the organisation. And overseeing the actions (and management practices) of these people. Interesting then that the Chairman of Tesco has had to walk the plank.

I thank you for listening to my speaking. And I invite you to share your thoughts and experience with me. Looking forward to reading your comments.