On Customer Obsession

Customer Obsession Is Fashionable

I hear more and more Middles & Tops mention the importance/need for customer obsession. It’s often used as an exhortation to the Bottoms – those on the front line.  Something interesting happens when I ask the speaker what s/he means by, is pointing at, when s/he speaks of customer obsession. Silence followed by stuff that shows up for me as either banal or made up on the spot.  Little in the way of thinking (as in contemplation) has occurred in many instances.

Is Customer Obsession New?

Interestingly, customer obsession isn’t new. What’s the basis of my assertion?  I remember 2000/2001: my colleagues and I start a customer strategy engagement (centred on 1to1 marketing) at a well known mobile telco. What do we find? We find a dedicated research unit in the marketing function.  A unit which has budget of many millions. What is this money spent on?  Understanding the market (totality of customers for mobile phones/services); understanding their own customer base; and understanding the customers of their competitors.  I categorically state that the head of this research unit and the folks that worked in that unit were obsessed with customers.

The interesting question is this one: Towards which end/s was this customer obsession directed?  Was it directed towards driving product development?  Or the customer’s experience of signing up for the right phone/package?  Perhaps, helping the customer’s make good of that which s/he had purchased?  No, not at all. The purpose was to work out how to drive up sales and profit margins through marketing: targeting the right messages/offers to the right customers or potential customers.

Was 2000/2001 the start of customer obsession? No.  I remember the power and practices of the various brand marketers whilst in the employ of International Distillers & Vintners back in 1993.  I say customer obsession of this kind -figuring out how to squeeze more out of the customer has a long history.

Let’s consider alternative conceptions of customer obsession.

Satya Nadella on Customer Obsession

In his book Hit Refresh Microsoft’s CEO says (bolding/coloring is my doing):

“First, we need to obsess about our customers. At the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs ….. There is no way to do that unless we absorb with deeper insight and empathy what they need.….. When we talk to customers, we need to listen. It’s not an idle exercise….. We learn about our customers and their businesses with a beginner’s mind and then bring them solutions that meet their needs. We need to be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that learning into Microsoft, whilst still innovating to surprise and delight our users.” 

Jeff Bezos on Customer Obsession

Here’s what Amazon’s founder & CEO says in his 2016 Letter to Shareholders (bolding/coloring is my doing):

“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.”

Shortcuts on The Route of Customer Obsession

It occurs to me that many executives are all for customer obsession as long as they can just speak it sitting comfortably in the stands.  It’s another matter altogether when customer obsession requires leaving the stands and entering the arena.  Which arena? The arena in which customers show up and operate.  And the arena in which the customers interact with the organisation’s front line – websites, mobile apps, sales folks, customer services….

Take a look at the CX movement and ask yourself what is it characterized by?  Is it not journey mapping almost always in the comfort of a workshop in the corporate offices, and the results of voice of the customer surveys?  What are these?  They are proxies for the real thing.  These proxies are attractive as they allow folks to pretend they have insights from the arena whilst sitting comfortably in the stands.

Here’s what Jeff Bezos says with regards to proxies in his 2016 letter (bolding/coloring is my doing):

Resist Proxies

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous…

A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing… The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right…..

Another example: market research and customer surveys can become proxies for customers – something that’s especially dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products.

Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.
I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.”

Enough for today.  I thank for your listening. Until the next time….

Maz Signature

 

 

 

Make Life Easier By Asking Only One or Two Questions of Your Customers

I find myself living in an age where we take good ideas and squeeze the life out of them through inappropriate implementation.

It occurs to me that the scourge of the customer-centric fad is customer surveys. It seems to me that just about every large organisation that I deal with asks me for my feedback through some kind of survey.  And this scourge is not limited to these big organisations. On my last visit to my GP’s (doctor’s) surgery I was asked to fill in a survey – it was over ten pages long!

I say that you only need to ask one or two questions of your customers. What are these questions?  Let’s start with what I say you shouldn’t ask. Don’t ask your customers to rate their satisfaction using some kind of scale e.g. 1 to 10 – with your brand, your product’s, your people, the last interaction etc.  Why not?

First, I (the customer) find it hard work to figure out how to rate you. Second, my asking me to figure out/apply ratings you have switched on my reasoning brain not my emotional brain.  Third, satisfaction is the wrong word to use – it is not a word that you find folks using much in every day talk.

So what are the one or two questions?  At the end of major work on my home – main bathroom, the ensuite bathroom, downstairs toilet, and utility room – the fitter asked me and my wife this question:

“Are you happy?”  

As soon as I heard that question I realised that no commercial organisation has ever asked me such a simple question!  And it occurred to me that it is exactly the right question:  short, simple, worded perfectly, no misunderstanding.

“Are you happy?” taps into emotions and the emotional brain. The answer is either a definitive “Yes!” or its not.  If it’s not a definitive “Yes!”then you know that you (the person/organisation supplying the goods/services) have failed to live up to one or more of the customer’s expectations.

Our fitter didn’t just ask the question for the sake of asking the question. The way he asked it suggested that he genuinely cared about whether we were happy or not with the work he had carried out.  How do I know this? Because when he picked up that we did not immediately come out with “Yes!” he asked the second question along the lines of:

“What needs fixing in order for you to be happy?”

Our fitter really listened to our answer to this question. How do I know this? Simple: he immediately set about asking us to show him what needed fixing and what “happy” would like like in each case.  Then he set about fixing the ten or so little things that we wanted fixed.

What happened after the fitter had completed the work of fixing?  Did he simply assume that he had done the necessary work, get paid, and walk away? No!  He went back to the first question” “Are you happy?”

The fitter genuinely cared about ensuring that we were happy with the work that he had carried out for us. Why? For three reasons:

  • He thinks of his customers as people and treating people right matters to him – it is part of who he is;
  • He takes pride in the work that he does – he invest himself (his identity) into this work and thus doing merely OK work is not acceptable to him; and
  • He does no marketing/selling – all of his work, and he is busy really busy, comes from word of mouth recommendations.

 

I wish to end with my take on what listening to the voice of a customer is. It is not sending a survey. It is not the automated processing of the results of customer surveys. It is not presenting summarised results every so often to the executive team.   Nor is listening simply meeting up with customers and hearing that which is spoken by customers.

From a customer’s perspective, you have listened only when you do that which our fitter did: take speedy/correct action to fix that which the customer says needs fixing.   If you do not do this then you have not listened. Worse, from the customer’s perspective you have wasted his/her time and disregarded him.

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

 

What’s The Impact of a Shitty Employee Experience on the Customer Experience?

Can you deliver a good-to-great customer experience without paying attention to the employee experience?  If you forget theory and look at the practice in large organisations you might just see that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  There is so much talk about the customer experience and in the process a lot of extra work is put on to the shoulders of the employees. There is almost zero attention to the employee experience. Almost nobody that matters grapple seriously with improving the lives/experience of the employees who face the customers. Especially not the folks in call-centres.

I say that if you provide your call-centre agents with a shitty employee experience then the costs (of this shitty experience) are inevitably passed on to the customers. First the customer experiences a lack in the interaction with the call-centre agent: something just doesn’t feel right. Second, the customer is left with an inadequate outcome whether s/he is aware of this or not: the question isn’t really answered; the advice given is less than optimal; or the advice is plain wrong.

Let me say this again: fine sounding words like customer focus, respect, empathy, customer-centricity, customer delight are not enough. On their own they represent icing on a turd.  I go further and assert this: if you recruit the right people and get the employee experience right then your customer facing agents will deliver good-to-great customer experiences without the need for the fine sounding words.

What happens when you have an environment in which the fine sounding words are in place and the call-centre agent experience is shitty?  Allow me share some experience:

  • The agent is aware that time it ticking and his performance is being monitored so he is keen to get on with the call and close it;
  • The agent is so busy navigating / accessing / viewing / updating many applications (that do not talk to one another) including spreadsheets and Word documents that s/he is not in the state necessary to really listen to the customer, to empathise, to make the customer feel valued;
  • The agent is dealing with a complex issue – which is what customers tend to ring in for increasingly – and he doesn’t know the answer. Under the pressure of the clock the agent finds the first plausible answer and gives this to the customer;
  • The agent is speaking jargon whether he s/he knows it or not. The agent is speaking to a sixteen year old who does not get the jargon. This sixteen year old asks for clarification on some of the jargon. The agent explains this jargon with more jargon all the time his/her tone implies that the customer is stupid;
  • This customer, this call, requires flexibility yet the agent is being monitored and managed on his/her ability to stick to the script. So that agent sacrifices the customer experience and his sense of what is appropriate in order do that which is clearly not appropriate – stick to the script. The customer pays the price in that s/he feels that s/he is talking with an idiot and dealing with an inhuman organisation.

Let me sum it up: If you provide your customer facing employees with a shitty employee experience then the best you can expect these folks to deliver is shitty-to-ordinary customer experience.  And no amount of find sounding words will make any difference. These fine sounding words are as effective as putting cream on a turd and serving it in a restaurant.  Nobody does this in the restaurant business, but this practice is common in large organisations.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

Good Strategy and Effective Execution Necessarily Involves a Sound Appreciation of the Context

I find myself in the midst of an ocean of generalities: frameworks, models, recipes, formulas, 10 steps to…. Every one promising easy/quick arrival at the promised land merely by following the authors secret/revolutionary formula/recipe.

Folks even turn to me, as a subject matter expert, for advice on how to craft a customer-centric strategy, create a customer-centric culture, build meaningful engagements with customers, call forth the very best of the employees.  Sometimes, vanity get the better of me and I do offer an approach.  When reflection sets in I realise my arrogance/stupidity. Why?

Consider deeply, you may just get that the question is not how does one motivates human beings. No! The question is what motivates this flesh & blood human being right in front of me. The question is not how does one build a customer-centric culture. No! The question is how to go about shifting this particular organisation, these particular people, towards a customer-centric way of showing up and travelling. The question is not how one calls forth customer engagement. No! The question is what calls forth engagement in this particular customer.

Put differently, effective strategy, effective execution, effective change require a sound (even intuitive) grasp of the nuances of this particular person, this particular group of people, this particular culture, this particular technology.  Why?  Allowing me to illustrate through the following:

“If a house caught fire, intervention would require an understanding of the type of fire and the strategy required to extinguish it. Clearly and electrical fire cannot be doused with water, and a chemical fire will require will require a specific type of retardant.”

-Dr Eric C. Amberg, The Five Dimensions of The Human Experience

It’s even more complicated than that, the nuances are deeper. You turn up and find it’s an electrical fire. You search for water but there are no water sources nearby. Or there simply is not enough water.  Maybe it is even more complex, it is a chemical fire yet from a distance you cannot determine which chemical is involved. Or you have to persuade some person / group of people to do what they are doing AND make some chemical retardant especially for you.

You get the idea: the nuances present in the concrete, yet always absent in the abstract, have the determining influence on how things turn out. One must be sensitive to these nuances – detect them, and know how to deal with them.  This kind of understanding can only come through a certain repertoire of lived experience. In days gone by this kind of familiarity with the particular was achieve by becoming an apprentice /disciple of a master for many years.

Today we have taken the easy route. Too many folks treat the realm of human beings – a realm of contingency, of approximation, of probability – like the realm of mathematics where 2+2 always equals 4. The price to paid for taking this path is ineffectiveness.  Ask yourself what the telcos have to show for the fortunes they have invested in CRM, customer experience……

You can ask me to advise you on how to craft a strategy right for your organisation, or how to cultivate good relationships with your customers, or how to effect culture change. Please don’t expect me to provide an answer from a distance. I am not a seer nor am I a charlatan. To help you answer the question I have to get a feel for your particulars: you, the people in your organisation, it’s history, the kind of work that occurs, how folks show up and travel in your organisation, the kind of people who are your customers and how you / your products / your competitors occur to them.

I say to you, if you wish to be effective in devising strategies, influencing people, effecting change then it is necessary to give up the easy paths, the short cuts, and take the road less travelled.  To get to grips with the particulars – not just intellectually. This getting to grips must be at a deeper level – an intuitive feel for that which you are dealing with.

Why go to this effort?  Werner Erhard summed it up beautifully: “The context is decisive.”

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Putting The Customer At The Centre of Your Business

Now and then a question comes along that provokes my thinking. Here’s a question that I came across recently expressed in different ways:

  • What does putting the customer at the centre of the business look like?
  • What does it mean to put the customer at the centre of the business?
  • What are the implications (for us) of putting the customer at the centre of the business?

Stop. Hold the automatic weapons fire – the hail of ready made generic and almost always abstract and theoretical answers.


Many years ago I came home after a long difficult day. Upon entering our flat my two year old rushed towards me with a huge smile and with both his arms held up. As I lifted him up and gave him a hug, I found myself making a decision: to put him at the centre of my life.

Grappling with that question it became clear to me (over some weeks) that it meant that his wellbeing came first. That my decisions and actions had to be mindful of the impact on his well being. It also became clear to me that his wellbeing was tied to the wellbeing of his mother – he spent most of his waking life with his mother.

Did it stop there with that abstract realisation?  No. Looking at the way of my living it became clear to me that work came first in the way I showed up and travelled. My son and his mother, got what was left for me to give after I had given all to work. As I was often away from home during the week this meant that he got to spend time with me only at the weekends.

I made a decision – to do just enough at BigConsultingCo whilst actively looking to move to a smaller more local employer. Within a year, I left BigConsultingCo and moved over to a software company which was five minutes drive from home. And for which I did not have to travel….

Let’s be clear on one thing: putting my son’s wellbeing first meant, for me, giving up chasing the promotion to partner in BigConsultingCo.  It also meant leaving a world with which I was familiar/comfortable and walking into a new industry / new company and having to learn a new way of doing business.


Back to the question of putting the customer at the centre of your business – your particular business.  What are your answers to the questions I shared earlier?

It occurs to me that you can put the customer at the centre of your business in at least two ways. You can take the busy road where you will find many: you can put the customer at the centre of your business with a view to learning all you can about that customer, and using that knowledge to influence, shape, manipulate customer behaviour so as to enrich you.  Which may account for the fact that customer loyalty has been declining even whilst big brands have been spending a fortune on their IT armoury.

Alternatively, you can take the road less travelled. You can focus your efforts on gaining a deep understanding of your customer and using this insight to enrich the life of your customer.  How do you enrich the life of the customer?  No generic answer will do.  You have to generate this answer for your customer, your business.  It requires insight – insight into the life of your customer, the expressed needs, and the hidden unexpressed needs/wants.

Apple has enriched the life of their customers through compelling/superior products, a distinctive/superior in-store experience, and premium image.  Amazon has done it through an effortless convenient shopping experience and value for money pricing.  John Lewis has done it through a combination of good products, outstanding service provided by friendly knowledgeable human beings, and a culture of integrity.

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

 

Mary: What Kind of a Difference Does Generosity Make?

IMG_MaryIf you want to attract customers then you must have something that pulls customers to you.  If you happen to be in the business of selling fine chocolates then good service is necessary but insufficient.

In the fine chocolate business the ‘product’ matters.  By ‘product’ I mean both the quality (taste) of each chocolate and the range of chocolates.  It is the ‘product’ that calls the customer and pulls him back to your business – your store.  I have witnessed folks put up with poor service just to get their hands on the ‘product’ at a competing brand.

So, it is the ‘product’ that Mary makes-sells that drew me the Mary store in the Royal Galleries (Brussels) last week. Yet, I am not writing this because of the ‘product’.

I am writing this as an expression of my sense of gratitude. Gratitude to whom?  Gratitude to the two fellow human beings (Olivier, Eda? ) who served me.  Language fails here: serve is not the right word.  Yes, they provided service. No, they did not merely serve me.

What is it that made such an impact on me?  Their way of being was professional yet human/warm/considerate. Clearly, they knew/cared about their ‘product’ (the chocolates). And, I was made to feel welcome.  Yet, this is not it. All this is necessary yet not sufficient.

What really made the difference?  Generosity.  Olivier offered me several chocolates to taste whilst he was putting the selection together.  Eda? offered me some chocolates whilst Olivier was working the cash till. Both of them were generous in dancing with the conversation that I initiated.

Lesson: If you wish to be granted a space in the hearts of your customers it is necessary to cultivate gratitude in the hearts of your customers. A great way to cultivate this gratitude is through generosity in your way of showing up and travelling in this world. Reciprocity ensures that most of us, most of the time, remember and repay our debts.  The catch here is that the generosity must be genuine and not a technique for getting the better of your customers.

It occurs to me that the real measure of customer-centricity is generosity.  Which is why so many large organisations struggle with the Customer thing.  Interestingly, I have found Amazon to be the exception as I have experienced acts of generosity from Amazon. Each time those acts have left me feeling delighted.