Where does customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity reside in your organisation?

I put that question to Google today and I did not get an answer.  The closest I got was a checklist for a customer-centric business and a post on Amazon’s customer experience obsession.  Let’s take a look at both of these before whilst you consider the question that I have posed here.

Checklist for a customer-centric business

According to the folks at YSatisfy you can determine the customer-centricity of your organisation by answering the following questions:

  1. Do your have a clear idea of  who your customers are and their needs?
  2. Do you know which of your customers are most valuable to you?
  3. Does your business strategy / mission mention anything about your customers?
  4. Do you hire / develop your staff with your customers in mind?
  5. Do you have a process by which customers and employees can give feedback and review / act on this within your business?
  6. Do you have a customer complaints process which enables quick resolution of customer problems?
  7. Are all your employees empowered to deal with customer complaints?
  8. Do you know how satisfied or loyal your customers actually are?
  9. Do you provide specific services or incentives for your most valued / loyal customers?
  10. Do you deliver what you promise in your advertising / marketing to your customers?

This occurs to me as a list of features / characteristics as in what are the features/characteristics of a cat.   Yet, knowing the features of a cat (even if they are accurate) does not help me to locate the cat.  Where is the cat?

Amazon’s core value and customer experience obsession

Flavio Martins writes “The successful organizations with massive positive online goodwill and reputation are those that have embraced, live by, and seek to innovate in the area of customer experience and creating customer delight.”  and then he goes on to say that Amazon strives to live by the following values:

Customer Experience Requires Customer Obsession: We start with the customer and work backwards.

Customer Experience Requires Innovation: If you don’t listen to your customers you will fail. But if you only listen to your customers you will also fail.

Customer Experience Requires a Bias for Action: We live in a time of unheralded revolution and insurmountable opportunity – provided we make every minute count.

Customer Experience Requires Ownership: Ownership matters when you’re building a great company. Owners think long-term, plead passionately for their projects and ideas, and are empowered to respectfully challenge decisions.

Customer Experience Requires a High Hiring Bar: When making a hiring decision we ask ourselves: “Will I admire this person? Will I learn from this person? Is this person a superstar?”

Customer Experience Can Be Frugal: We spend money on things that really matter and believe that frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention!

OK, I now know what Amazon’s Tops consider to be the key requirements to play the customer experience excellence game.  For me that is like knowing the rules of chess.  Great, now where is the chess set?  Where does that chess set reside?  Notice that this list of requirements does not answer the questions I posed.

Does customer-centricity reside in your mission, strategy, processes, data, technology, metrics, people?

Mission:  then I ask you “Where does your mission reside and who/how is this mission enacted?”

Strategy:  then my question is “Where does your strategy reside and who/how is it enacted?”

Processes: then I ask you “Where do your processes reside, who works them, who monitors them, who keeps them up to date, who fine tunes them?”

Data:  then my question is “Why do so many people in your organisation complain there is mountain of data and a lack of useful, actionable insight?  And if data is where customer-centricity resides then why the need to turn data into this actionable insight?”

Technology: then I ask you “Why do you people on the payroll?  What contribution do people make?”

Metrics:  then my question is “Who produces these metrics?  Why do you produce these metrics?  What do you do with these metrics?”

People: then I ask you “Which people? The Tops, the Middles, The Bottoms, Marketing, Customer Service, Sales, Logistics….?  And where exactly in people does customer-centricity reside?”

Customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity lies in language / conversation

I say that customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity, the customer orientation lies in language.  Specifically, a network of ongoing conversations between people.  All the people including customers, suppliers, partners and all the people within the company irrespective of where these people sit in the organisation.  I say that these conversations then  show up in decisions, investments, policies, practices, processes, metrics, data, technology and a whole host of other organisational artifacts.  I say that the ‘quality’ of these conversations will determine both the quality of your decisions and the power of your actions.  I say that the more widely distributed these conversations the powerfully your organisation will enact these decisions, the more powerfully your organisation will live customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity.  What do you say?

Want to assess the degree to which your organisation is customer focussed, customer obsessed, customer-centric?  Then take a good look at the conversations that occur and the language that is used.  Ask yourself:

1.  Who takes part in these conversations and are they invited or ‘forced’ to take part?  Is it only certain groups or everyone?  Are customers invited?  What about suppliers? Channel partners?

2.  When and how frequently do these conversations occur? Once a month at the senior leadership meeting?  Once a week at the departmental meeting?

3.  How much time, energy, passion, honesty, truth is put into these conversations?  How much real dialogue and discussion really occurs between the people who participate?  Are people free to voice their honest point of view?  Is there a listening for/to the points of view of everyone irrespective of rank?

4.  What language is used in these conversations?  Are customers talked about as ‘muppets’, ‘targets’, ‘personas’, ‘wallets’, ‘members’?  How are people talked about in these conversation?  What language do you use to describe youre people, your suppliers?  Do you use the word ‘partner’ or ‘vendor’ for your suppliers?

5.  Where do these conversations take place?  Which locations? Which mediums /channels?  Are all conversations channels and mediums used?

6.  What commitments do people take on as a result of these conversations?  What decisions are made?  Does everyone around the table volunteer to take on commitments that move the game forward or is it always a select few?  Are these commitments and decisions shared with all of the people who will be affected, who will be expected to enact these decisions and commitments?

7.  What is the conversation around these commitments?  How are they talked about – owned, enacted, ‘my word is my bond’, optional?   What is the conversation around people living up to their commitments?  Is it OK not to live up to your commitments, to substitutes reasons/excuses for action and results?

8.  What mechanisms are in place for keeping these conversations in tune with purpose? How do you know when these conversations are off track?  Who can call it when he/she sees that people are just going through the motions?  Who can call it if he/shes that the conversations are off track, not creating purpose, meaning, unity, alignment, enthusiasm, the will to act?

9.  What mechanisms are in place to keep these conversations in existence and widely distributed?  Business is a game constructed and enacted by people working in concert with one another and walking the same path to the same destination.  So what are the conversations around how we involve everyone in the conversation, in constructing and playing the customer-centricity game?  What are the conversation around inspiring everyone to participate, to play full out?  Who is taking part in these conversations?

10. Who is the steward, the guardian, the ‘servant leader’ of/for these conversations for customer focus, customer obsession, customer centricity?  What is his/her level of passion / enthusiasm for these conversations and the role of steward/guardian?  How is s/he listened to within the organisation?

A final thought: transform the conversations and your transform your culture

Transform the conversations that take place in your organisation and you will transform the culture of your organisation.  It really is that simple.  Word has awesome power: Word creates World.   Remember when the Word spoke ‘witch’?  How many women died as a result of our speaking ‘witch’?  Remember the Word ‘heresy’?  How many people died as a result of this word during the Inquisition – Papal and Spanish?

Choose your words carefully. Do not suck the life, the power out of them, by speaking ‘customer experience’ when you mean ‘customer service’.  Do not speak ‘customer-centricity’ when you mean ‘profit-centric’.  Do not speak customer relationship management when you mean customer interaction management.  If speak of your people as ‘human resources’ then do not expect them to give your their hearts.  If you speak of customers not as ‘members’ but as ‘targets or wallets’ then do not expect them to give you their hearts, their loyalty.  If you speak about your suppliers as ‘vendors’ then expect them to act as ‘vendors’.

Marc Pritchard (P+G’s global marketing chief) has an interesting and inspiring view on the future of marketing and brand building

I get present to the reality of marketing and I find myself disappointed

Last night I had the privilege of participating in a CMO dinner hosted by IBM in Central London.  Thank you IBM.  If I am truthful (and my commitment is to be straight with myself and with you) then my experience was one of entering into the conversation in a state of delight and leaving the dinner a little despondent as regards the state of marketing: same old thinking – “consumers”, not “people”, not “our fellow human beings”;  few marketers feeling that they work in an organisational context that allows them / calls them to be customer-centric;  the relentless focus on ROI driving short term thinking, hobbling tinkering / experimentation….

Please understand I am not being critical of marketers (my fellow human beings), just disappointed about the state of marketing (the activity, the function).  As a result of last night’s dinner I have more understanding and more love of my fellow human beings toiling away in marketing.  They want to be customer-centric, to improve the customer experience, to forge stronger bonds.  They find it difficult to do so as they have to please their bosses who are insistent on making the numbers no matter what it takes.  And the numbers that matter are this quarters numbers.  That kind of orientation does not allow for the long term game that the likes of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Julian Richer (Richer Sounds), Chris Zane (Zane’s Cycles), Steve Jobs (Apple) play or played so well.

Why did I get so down?  The key questions are not being addressed

It occurs to me that the central question of our times is this one: “How do we touch lives, create value for customers, make the world a better place?”  No-one talked about this.  Yes, there was talk about brand.  And to me that occured as brand as image, brand as personality, brand as a mask that we put on.  Few talked about ‘character’ – the values we uphold, are proud to uphold, values that uplift us, our colleagues, our customers…..

Follow close behind is the second question: “What do I stand for, what do you stand for, what do we stand for, what can we be counted on?”  I write two blogs (this one and the Possibility-Transformation-Leadership blog) and they are expressions of my stand: to be useful, to provoke fresh thinking and be of service to my fellow human beings, to put something into the game of life, to make a contribution.  If I can answer this question (an ordinary person) then why can’t brands and professional marketers answer this question?

The last question that is particularly relevant for these times of discontinuity (in chaos theory this would be called a “phase transition”) is: “How do we get access to what we don’t know that we don’t know?”.  The answer is experimentation.  We experiment – we try out lots of different ideas on a small scale  (the nudge theory / approach) and see what shows up in the world.  We reflect on what shows up, we learn and then we use that learning to do more intelligent experimentation – building on what works, learning from and letting go that which did not work. The consensus around the table was that in the current economic climate there is a relentless focus on ROI and this prevents/hinders/shackles any experimentation: experimentation is a luxury that the marketer cannot afford.

P&G’s Marc Pritchard lights me up, restores my faith in marketers and marketing

Marc Pritchard is P&G’s global marketing and brand building officer and he gave a speech on the 21st March at the WACL dinner.  I found it an inspiring speech, one that provides both a vision and an actionable pathway to the future.  Here are the key point that speaks to me:

1. Find your purpose, be useful

“….as a person and as a leader, define your own purpose. What drives you? What difference do you make in people’s lives in and outside of your organisations?  I think of my simple purpose in life as “to be useful”. To be useful in every meeting, every pitch, planning session or business review; to be useful to all the people around me.”

My view:  this is absolutely the first questions each and everyone of us has to answer authentically.  I exist, you exist and while we are here lets be useful!  Figuring out how you can be useful and make that contribution which you are best placed to make.  That goes for individuals, teams, functions, brand,  organisations.  We have all the tools to be useful – really we do, that in a nutshell is what the internet and social media is all about.

2. Do and learn: “Try new things, accept some won’t work, learn why’

“So, this is my advice to you: Since we are all building brands in a digital world, I would encourage you to “do and learn“. We are trying to make this shift ourselves at P&G – and it’s not always easy. But we have to try new things, be accepting that some things won’t work and learn why. If we are going to live our vision to create 1:1 relationships in real time with every person in the world, this is the only way to do that – and we believe it’s the future of brand building.”

3. We don’t need digital marketing plans, we need holistic brand building plans founded on purpose and contribution

“At P&G, every brand must define its purpose of how it uniquely touches and improves lives with its superior benefit. Brands must still discover deep human insights that make a brand relevant in a person’s life. And from these insights, brands must create big ideas that drive preference for its superior benefits. We translate big ideas into content that engages people in conversations with our brands.

We are building brands in a rapidly changing world – and in a digital world. But I’m clear to tell our marketers that we don’t need “digital marketing” plans. We need holistic brand building plans with big ideas that can be executed in a digital world.

I’m excited about the opportunities that these shifts present to us as brand builders. And it’s also my belief in the power of purpose that makes me so optimistic about the futureAt P&G, our purpose is to touch and improve the lives of every person in the world. Every one of our brands has a unique derivative of this purpose. And it is this purpose that drives everything we do.”

4. Here’s the shift that is required

“….P&G’s vision is to build our brands through lifelong, one-to-one relationships in real-time with every person in the world. But achieving this vision requires some fundamental shifts in how we operate.

– It requires shifting our mindset to think of who we serve as “people”, not just “consumers” in order to make their whole lives better.

– It means shifting from superior products as the sole source of brand value, to creating value from a wide range of sources, including a broader range of disruptive and transformational products, non-product services, knowledge, information and even entertainment.

– It means shifting from static marketing campaigns that we launch and adjust infrequently, to real-time “always on” brand building with ways of constantly engaging people to participate in our brands, and – at their best – even inspiring movements.

– It means shifting from mass broadcasting, to creating more personal, one-to-one conversations with individuals and the communities in which they’re active.

– It means shifting from a linear path to purchase that ends up at a physical retail store, to an approach of “anywhere, anytime” shopping.”

5. The three forces that make it necessary for marketer, brands and companies to make this shift

“Technology gives people 24/7, real-time connections to everyone, and the power to transform public opinion on just about anything, including the direction of brands, companies and even countries. And mobile technology is unleashing a new wave of power as nearly every person on the planet will soon have transparent, always-on information, education, and even entertainment.

Trust in institutions is eroding so people want to know who is behind brands and companies; and if we’re interested in improving lives, versus just making money. Today’s heroes are “everyday people” whose actions inspire others to follow and whose stories generate the most interest and advocacy.

People are participating. They’re involved in conversations about our brands and companies like never before. They’re creating content through conversations, and creative expressions of how they think and feel about topics.”

Final words

I am in total agreement with Marc Pritchard, it occurs to me that we (Marc and I) are fruits of the same tree, envisioning the same vision, and on the same path.  This is a ‘manifesto’ that I totally buy into – actually I have already bought into.  It is because I have already bought into it that Marc’s speech resonates with me and leaves me uplifted / inspired.  And if marketers and marketing were to follow this ‘manifesto’ then marketing would become, for the first time in its history, a noble profession.  What do you think?

Social Customer / Social CRM / Social Business: snake oil or great medicine? (Part III)

This post is the third post of this series.  In the first post I explored ‘the social customer’ and provided my point of view.  In the second post I explored social CRM to make sense of what it is.  In this third post I take a similar look at ‘social business’.  This is a long post and if you have the patience then you will get value out of reading the entire post.  If you are in a hurry and just want the nugget then the first section of this post is all you need to read.

Social business: the nugget to chew on

If you believe that implementing a bunch of social media and collaboration tools into your business is going to make you a social business then you are deluded.  You are making the same kind of mistake that people just like you made when they invested millions into CRM systems in the mistaken belief that implementing these systems would transform relationships with customers and lead to the ‘milk and honey’ of customer loyalty.  If you load a donkey with all the books of wisdom does that make the donkey wise?  No.  And you would never do that, you would laugh at anybody did do that.  Then why do so many tech oriented people think that implementing social tools (collaboration, social media) will make a business a ‘social businesses’?

Why am I so confident?  Because ‘social business’ requires us (our culture, our organisations, our businesses, us) to get present to and live out of / from a social ontology.   Right now our Western culture, our institutions, our businesses and our behaviour (in the public and private domains) are shaped by / arise out of an atomist ontology.  What is required is a transformation. A transformation that requires a shift from the “I-it” mode of relating to people (employees, customers, suppliers, partners….) to the “I-Thou” mode.   I’ll let RD Laing spell it out for us:

“Persons are distinguishable from things in that persons experience the world, whereas things behave in the world.  Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experiential….

The error fundamentally is the failure to recognise that there is an ontological discontinuity between human beings and it-beings.

Human beings relate to each other not simply externally, like two billiard balls, but by the relations of the two worlds of experience that come into play when two people meet.”

Put simply it says that when you and I treat a fellow human being as an object (an It) then we are doing violence to his (and our) humanity.  Do you acknowledge her  existence by saying hello or shaking hands?  Do you provide the right work environment, a human one?  Do you allow her to voice her authentic voice? Do you involve her in the decisions that affect her?  Do you use words that acknowledge, teach, inspire or do you use words that criticise, condemn, humiliate?  Is the whole person welcome in the workplace or just that part that is useful for work?  And so forth.

If we get that a human being is an organism that is continually experiencing then everything that we do or do not do matters.  We cannot escape our responsibility to one another. Each of us is like a wave continually interacting with other who are also ‘waving’ and thus affecting us. That is what ‘social’ means in its fullest sense and that is what we expect when we are being ‘social’ and socialising.

So that is the challenge: a transformation in our world view, in our society, in our organisations, in our businesses and in our behaviour. We are speaking about a transformation in how we look at “what it means to be human” – form atomicity and instrumentality (“I-It”) to social and experiencing (“I-Thou”).  Looking for good examples of companies that treat human beings with dignity and built great relationships withe employees who go on to create great value for customers and the company then look no further than SAS (more on SAS later in this post).

First, lets address this question:  how easy is that likely to be for those of us who get what ‘social business’ is really about to bring about the kind of transformation that I am talking about here?

Morpheus speaks wisely when he says

“The Matrix is a system, Neo.  That system is our enemy.  But when you are inside you look around, what do you see?  Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save.  But until we do, these people are still a part of the system and that makes them our enemy.  You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”  Morpheus, in The Matrix, 1999

What does the latest Deloitte Research tell us?

I came across this piece today which talks about a new global report by Deloitte Research provides guidance organisations should consider on how they can significantly improve bottom-line results by fostering and promoting connections in the workplace.  Here are some of the key points that got my attention and are relevant to the whole notion of a ‘social business‘:

“We are more technologically connected than ever before, being addicted to our computers, cell phones, and PDAs. Ironically, today’s technology-saturated environment can actually weaken the quality of people’s connections that enhance performance.

“…people’s jobs are much more complex, technology can be both a distraction and an asset, and workforces are increasingly more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generational differences. The report concludes that these changes have made it very difficult for today’s workforce to make quality, value-adding connections.”

Employers need to become connected to their employees to deliver on what they need and want in the workplace, such as interesting work, career development, and flexibility in exchange for their highly sought-after capabilities.

“…it’s critical for employees and employers to foster three primary types of connections:

  • Connecting people to people to help promote personal and professional growth; 
  • Connecting people to a sense of purpose to help build and sustain a sense of organisational and individual mission; and
  • Connecting people to the resources they need to work effectively, such as managing knowledge, technology, tools, capital, time, and physical space.

In my view this research validates my point of view:  tech tools are not enough, we have to work on building the connections between us and our fellow human beings.   Lets take a look at a master at this game: SAS.

What can we learn from SAS?

The Deloitte Report (Connecting People to What Matters) illustrates its reasoning through case studies.  Of particular note to me is SAS (the business intelligence software company which which has experienced 29 years of continued revenue growth and was recently named in FORTUNE magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the tenth year in a row. What makes it so special, what can we learn from SAS?

Our corporate culture is based on trust between employees, customers, and the company,” said Jeff Chambers, Vice President of Human Resources for US-based SAS. “We care about employees’ personal and professional growth, which inspires them to do great work. Employees who solve our clients’ biggest problems yield happy, committed customers. It isn’t altruism. It’s good business.”

I don’t buy that at all.  Looking into the company and its founder, I am clear that it happens to be both altruism AND good business.  The altruism came first and was the direct result of Jim Goodnights personal experience – how he was treated (an object, an “It”) when he was employed.  Here is what the net throws up:

“When Goodnight founded SAS, he already knew that work environments affect employee productivity and retention. He has also stated that he believes the work culture is key to the creativity inherent in knowledge work. Earlier in his career when he worked for a NASA subcontractor on the Apollo program, he observed the dismal environment of employees working in cubicle farms and how it contributed to annual employee turnover of around 50 percent. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the negative effect that work environment had on organisational performance”

This point of view is corroborated by this article in Inc, the key points that speak to me are:

“The fact that we’re private means that we can make long-range decisions,” says Goodnight. “We don’t have to be worried about quarterly profits or about pleasing Wall Street. We just please our employees and our customers………..  So when the economy forced most other companies to lay off employees in 2001 and 2002, Goodnight took a contrarian’s approach. “We decided there were so many people looking for jobs that we should take the opportunity to bring in some really first-class people,”……

“Those new employees landed more than just jobs. They gained entry into one of the most progressive corporate cultures in the country. SAS’s headquarters in Cary, N.C., looks more like a college campus than most college campuses do. There’s a 77,000-square-foot health and fitness center, playing fields for soccer and softball, an on-site medical clinic, a dining hall with live piano music, two daycare centers, an eldercare referral service, unlimited sick days, and a masseuse who makes the rounds several times a week. Goodnight’s explanation for this largesse is fairly simple: “If we keep our employees happy, they do a good job of keeping our customers happy.”

Final words

The challenge of ‘social business’ is not one of technology.  It is one of creating a culture, a work environment, like SAS has done where people matter and they know they matter – where they feel trusted and valued as human beings not just interchangeable cogs who fulfil roles and execute specific tasks.  Companies like this address the fundamental question (coming from employees) for a ‘social business’: why should I participate in all this social stuff?  Once again, lets listen to profoundly wise words:

“Why Mr Anderson?  Why do you do it?  Why do you get up? Why keep fighting?  Do you believe you are fighting for something?  For more than your survival?  Can you tell me what it is?  Do you even know?  Is it freedom?  Or truth?  Perhaps peace?  Yes?  No?  Could it be for love?”  Agent Smith, in The Matrix Revolutions, 2003

Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out for all of us.  The ground of our existence is survival – we wish to continue to exist – and there is an awfully lot we will do to earn that paycheck that allows us and the people that count on us to survive.  However, we will only go that extra mile for a) people we love; and b) causes that occur as noble and which stir our hearts and light up our lives.  Does that remind you about the key points from the Deloitte report? The need to foster connections: people to people connections; and people to a sense of purpose?  Without these connections investments in social technologies are a waste, a fool’s errand. 

Customer-Centricity: let’s wake up and address the real issue!

Our relationship to reality: the therapist and the patient

Allow me to tell you a story, I promise that you will enjoy it.   Picture a therapist’s consulting room: you have the therapist sitting in in a comfortable chair and the patient sitting in another comfortable chair.  The therapist  has, over many sessions, built up a rapport with the patient.  Today he feels able to discuss the issue at hand and help his patient move on and live well.  Here’s the dialogue:

Therapist: “So, John, am I correct in understanding that you really do believe that you are dead?”

Patient: “Absolutely, I am dead, I died several years ago.”

Therapist: “John, do dead people bleed?”

Patient:  “Don’t be ridiculous, dead people can’t bleed.  They don’t bleed.”

Therapist:  “John, is it ok with you if we did a test?   As you’re dead this test will be easy for you.  I’ m going to come over and cut your hand with a knife to see if you bleed.  Are you ok with that?”

Patient: “Sure go ahead, you’ll find out I’m dead.”

So the therapist takes out a knife and cuts the patients right hand.  Red blood flows – the therapist and the patient look at the blood.  The therapist is delighted, he is savouring his moment of triumph. Let’s get back to the conversation:

Therapist:  “John, I cut your hand and you’re bleeding.  Do you see that you are bleeding?”

Patient:  “Wow, dead people do bleed!”

I, you, we are the patient and you dive into this you will find that the story is reflects a fundamental truth that we are blind to and which when made visible we deny, repress and/or suppress.

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter got me thinking

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter is an internet sensation and it got me thinking about reality and how well we deal with it or not.  We all work in or have worked in organisations.  We know (at an experiential level) the reality of organisations. So, why is this letter a sensation?  It really is not disclosing anything new to us.   We know that the prime directive of big business is to make the numbers no matter what it takes.  Those that make the numbers are hailed as heroes and treated as gods. Those that don’t make the numbers find themselves in the same position as Tesco’s UK chief Richard Brasher who is ‘leaving the company‘ shortly after Tesco announced its first profit warning in decades.

Given this big business context is it surprising that the customer is seen/treated as a wallet to be emptied and the contents transferred into the company’s treasury?  If this was not the case then a handful of companies like Zappos, Zane’s Cycles, USAA, Chick-fil-A… would not stand out.  And all the billions spent by big business on CRM and related Customer initiatives would have delivered customer loyalty and the rewards that go with that.  We know that it hasn’t.

So back to my question, what is the fuss?  Could it be that the  BBC has got it right when it writes:

“Many of us have imagined writing a letter of resignation that shakes our bosses to the core, but few have actually done it, and rarely even then has the letter been read by millions. Greg Smith, who quit Goldman Sachs this week, has realised our fantasy.”

It is my point of view that Greg Smith’s letter is a sensation because it gives voice to our voices and our experiences.  If the resignation had showed up as as one man’s fantasy then it would never had become the sensation it is.  It is became a sensation because it is our fantasy: to tell the truth of our experience, to walk away from the filth that we find ourselves to be mired in, to be noble in our conduct and work for noble causes.

Most of us know that the “Emperor has no clothes” yet few of us the financial security or the courage to say publicly that the Emperor has no clothes. That is why few of us are ‘whistleblowers’, just take a look at the price Linda Almonte has paid for doing the right thing: fired, no other bank would employ her, real struggle to survive – to make ends meet for the last two years or so.  So I totally get that why Greg Smith collected his bonuses before departing,  I believe that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of Black Swan fame) called this “f**k you money”.  It is only when we don’t have to worry about money that most of us can do the right thing – follow the dictates of our conscience.

What has this got to do with customer-centricity and customer loyalty?

Do you remember my post on good strategy bad strategy (part III – failing to face the problem)?  The key point is that formulating a sound strategy (think back to the story of the therapist and the patient) requires us to acknowledge reality as it is and address the key problem/s that have to be faced.  The question is how good are we at facing reality?  Jack Welch didn’t think at the people at GE were adept at facing reality and so he made it his mission to change that situation:

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch

As I walk around the halls of business and look at / talk with the people walking on Customer initiatives and read the stuff that is written on customer-centricity, customer loyalty, customer service, I find myself getting present to the following:

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Anybody who knew their ass from a hole in the ground could stand up and tell me how they know when something’s real.”  Werner Erhard

All the time-money-effort being put into Customer initiatives will continue to be wasted (from the customer loyalty, customer experience perspectives) until and unless we deal with reality: what is so rather than what we pretend is so.  We pretend that the customer matters, that the customer is the king/queen, the master of our hearts and drives our actions.  The reality is that within the current system (they way it really operates) Customers (as fellow human beings) don’t matter.  What really matters is getting our hands on customers wallets – quickly, easily, repeatedly and taking out as much money as we can and transferring it into the company treasury.   The problem is that digital technologies and social media have made it that much harder to do that.  

We have a choice to make.  We can stick with the existing context (misrepresentation, manipulation, extraction, greed, me, me, me),  relating to these customers as muppets and embracing anyone who promises the latest ‘shiny object’ that will allow us to get the better of our customers. Or we can choose to operate from a radically different context.

I assert that we need to get real.  The days of fooling and fleecing customers easily and cheaply have come to an end. In my last post, I pointed out that the IBM study suggested that there is a social transformation is in progress and big business has to get with that.  Specifically, we have to go from talking about caring for our customers to actually caring for our customers.  It is only when we connect with ‘our heart and what is noble’  can we rule out anything and everything that contributes to “bad profits”, making money at the expense of the customer.  Specifically, that means:

  • being truthful and providing the complete picture in our marketing;
  • designing, making, source quality products – quality as perceived through the eyes of the people who will be using these products;
  • matching the right products to the right customers, refusing to sell products that enrich us at the expense of our customers;
  • ensuring that the contract between the customer and the company is written in plain English and is fair to both parties;
  • investing  in the service dimension of the customer experience as opposed to push relentlessly to reduce the costs associated with serving customers, whether that is in the retail store, the call-centre, the logistics function or in billing;
  • getting the balance right between human and digital channels / interfaces such that, taken as a whole, these interfaces simplify and enrich the life of our customers.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your point of view.  Better, still I’d love for you to share your lived experience.  Are you up for that?

Final words

Before I, you, we get righteous about the people at Goldman Sachs (or any other organisation eg. News International) it is worth getting present to the fact that it is only because I, you, we participate in the current system that allows this morally bankrupt and socially evil system continues to operate. Don’t believe me?  Think you are not responsible for what is so?  I invite you to read this piece – warning, it is not for the faint hearted.   I thank you for your listening.

What we can learn from the IBM 2011 CMO study (Part 1): think social transformation

We are talking about social transformation

I assert that we are taking part in the wrong conversation: customer-centricity.  Yes, customer-centricity matters and it is an important conversation.  I get that.  What I am saying is this: focussing on customer-centricity is liking focussing on a new baby and forgetting about the mother.  How the baby turns out depends dramatically on the mother and the broader context that gives being to both the mother and the baby.  So what should we be talking about if we wish customer centricity to flower?  Social transformation.

I have been re-reading IBMs 2011 CMO study and the following quote jumped at me:

“The empowerment of the consumer is generating more complexity.  The mental model is changing and we are facing a major social transformation”  CMO, telecommunications, Brazil

What are the underlying factors that are driving the need for social transformation?

What are the underlying factors causing this complexity, putting unbearable stress on ‘business as usual” mode of operation and thus pushing towards social transformation?   This is what I have picked up from the IBM 2011 CMO study:

We live in a world where no secret last five minutes. Today, it is impossible to control any confidential information.  Everything leaks.  We need to be better and faster, constantly.  This is the agenda we need to apply to marketing and business as a whole.”  Marketing Director, Natura Consumer Products

The IBM report rightly points out that corporate character (and not just the brand, advertising and PR) counts given that everything leaks (think about Apple and the consumer outpouring over its supply chain, particularly Foxconn):

“Customers can now find out where and how a company makes its products; how it treats its employees, retired workers and suppliers; how much it pays top executives; how seriously it takes its environmental responsibilities and the like.  This knowledge can affect their buying decisions. In other words, what an organisation stands for is as important as what it sells.  It has a “corporate character”……the sum of everything its management and employees say and do – the beliefs they hold, values they profess and ways they behave, visible for all to see.”

What does that mean for corporations?

Here are several quotes that suggest the direction that corporations are going to have to take, sooner or later, and irrespective of how the people in these corporations feel about the issue:

“We have to manage the reputation of the brand in the context of the vulnerability caused by the new digital world, by being honest, transparent and genuine.” President, Dunkin Donuts (India)

“Traditionally, corporate culture and character have been managed by HR, but it can’t remain there in a digital environment.  The world of separate internal and external messages is gone.  Internal actions, memos and decisions can impact your brand just as much as an advertising campaign.”  CMO, financial markets, USA

In the next post, in the series, I will set out the challenges facing the marketing function and how they can be addressed. I thank your for your listening.