On Cultivating Meaningful Connections With Customers or Why Technology Is The Path To The Dark Side

What does it take to build a connection between you and your customer?  Forget the talk, look at what businesses are actually doing.  What are they doing?  On what are the folks spending money and effort?

Are they not investing big sums of money on technology?  The answer, as lived, is that the way to build connection with your customers is through technology: marketing platforms, salesforce automation systems, customer service systems, CRM systems, e-commerce engines,  web content management systems, knowledge bases, chat functionality, CTI, mobile apps…..

Let’s stop and think.  Are we sure that technology helps build connection with our customers?  Could it be that the lack of technology causes operational issues that cause dissatisfaction yet the abundance of technology will not lead to that emotional connection?  If you are familiar with Herzberg’s dual factor theory then I am saying that technology is merely a hygiene factor.  Further, I ask you to consider that too much reliance / use of technology actually gets in the way of cultivating connection.

I say that in largish organisations technology (and the way of being that goes with it) drives out humanity – in particular the human touch.  We no longer talk to one another it is easier to send an email. We no longer write to one another, we send an email.  We don’t even write emails with the human touch. Instead the CRM system has ready made email templates which are automatically sent out – every customer receiving the same bland corporate communication.  All in the name of efficiency, consistency, and productivity.

 

I want to end this conversation by sharing a story with you. As I enjoy reading I tend to read widely. This means that I buy many books – many of them through Amazon.  When the book arrives I can immediately tell if it is from Amazon. Every package has the same look on the outside, and pretty much the same paperwork inside.  It is the kind of paperwork that a computer spits out.  Zero humanity: utterly forgettable.

Today, I received the book I had ordered from one of the Amazon sellers. From the neat handwriting on the envelope I could tell that it had been sent by a human being.  When I opened the package, I found myself delighted.  Why?  See for yourself:

human-all-too-human

That is all it took for me to find myself surprised, delighted, and thankful. The technology needed?  A pen and a sticky white label!

What was my response after experience that which I experienced in seeing this message?  I found myself wanting to learn more about the Seller (Birdy Hop) AND a strong desire to reciprocate by thanking the Seller. So I went to Amazon, found my order, and gave the seller a 5 star rating.

Is this significant?  Consider that I receive many emails from Amazon sellers chasing a positive review (from me) on Amazon.  For how many of these emails have I logged into Amazon and done as the seller asked?  None of them.

I say that within largish organisations too often technology is the path to the dark side.   If you are not already deeply smitten by technology then I ask you to consider that the human touch is essential for cultivating meaningful connection with your customers – at least those customers who are like me.

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

Beware The ‘Customer-Centric’ Enterprise!

It’s evening time, work is finished for the day, and I am taking a stroll.

Across my path I notice a man in his thirties. He smiles.  He starts speaking to me. I reply. He notices that I am a foreigner in this land. He says “English?”, I say “Yes”. He asks where I am from. I tell him. Then he says he likes English football.

I am listening – listening with a view to understand what he is talking about. Then he moves closer into me and starts ‘tackling’ me – the “English tackle” he says. He says something about the World Cup…. I stand there puzzled – why is this fellow up close and personal with me? I didn’t give him my permission.

Right at that moment this feeling hits me: “Somethings not right!”. Automatically, I reach for my back pocket where I keep my wallet.  What do I find?  I find his hand there on my back pocket: he is in the midst of stealing my wallet.

I find myself hit with a wave of disgust. Why? It hits me that it has all been a charade – an effort to distract and deceive me long enough for him to pick my pocket and walk away with my wallet.

A little later it occurs to me that this is true for the whole customer-centric thing.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that when you strip away the fine sounding words, the whole Customer thing – as lived by just about every large business I have come in contact with – comes down to this:

  • Working out which customers have the biggest wallets;
  • Striving to understand the motivations, inclinations, behaviours and weaknesses of customers; and
  • Using this insight to craft-execute ‘strategies’ to attract/engage/seduce the customer long enough to walk away with his wallet without alerting the customer to what is really going on.

So, my advice to you as a customer is be wary of the customer-centric enterprise. Why?  The odds are it is a pickpocket in disguise.  Instead go for the enterprise that has a reputation for great products (e.g. Apple). Or a reputation for great service (e.g. Amazon). Ideally, one that has a reputation for a great products and great service (e.g. John Lewis).

 

 

Customers-Employees-Leadership: Distinguishing Between ‘Caring About’ And ‘Caring For’- And Why It Matters

Given that I find myself in the week of Christmas, it occurs to me that today is a great time to diving into caring. And in particular, I wish to make/introduce a distinction. Which distinction? I wish to distinguish between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’. Let’s start with the realm of Customer.

Caring About Customers v Caring For The Customer

I am clear that folks in business care about customers. Specifically, they care about:

  1. Figuring out what makes customers tick – by ‘listening’ to customers through market research, social listening, ethnography, and voice of the customer surveying;
  2. Getting more customers – turning prospects into customers by pushing out the right message, right offer, at the right time and through the right communication channel;
  3. Keeping more of their existing customers buying from them for longer – through a range of techniques including making it easier for customers to do business with the organisation (reducing effort, improving access, improving the customer experience) and through targeted incentives (promotions, discounts, loyalty points);
  4. Selling a wider range of ‘products’ to existing customers – by turning customer data into insight through the use of data mining and predictive analytics or just plain collaborative filtering;
  5. Moving existing customers from lower margin ‘products’ to higher margin customers – through the use of range of techniques and tactics;
  6. Winning back folks that used to be customers – usually through some kind of enticing promotion, discount or, rarely, a new/compelling ‘product’; and
  7. Servicing customers in a smart manner – by using the right combination (digital, telephone) of customer service channels.

Now, let’s turn our attention to caring for the customer. Let’s start with the basic question, who (specifically) cares for the customer?  Let’s make this even more specific, who cares for me?  As a customer, I deal with many companies and I am clear that there is not one company/organisation that cares for me. Not one! I, as a flesh and blood human being, do not show up on the organisational radar. Does anyone in an organisation ever care for me in a business context? When I interact with the organisations that I interact with do I get left with the feeling-experience of being cared for by an organisation? The answer is: No!

Are there any occasions where I, as a customer, feel cared for? Yes. When do I experience this kind of experience? When I encounter a Welcomer. What is a Welcomer? For me a Welcomer is a human being who, in his being, welcomes me as a fellow human being. S/he going beyond the formalised rituals of business and organisational life, beyond the scripts, beyond the transaction, and reaches out to me as one human being to another. I know when this is going on because I notice and experience the English reserve breaking down. There is breaking down of boundaries, whilst still respecting boundary. There tends to be mutual disclosure of the human kind: sharing occurs. And there tends to be smiling, even laughter. As a result of these kind of encounters, I find myself uplifted, smiling, grateful and with a sense of pride in being a member of the human race.  These kind of encounters leave me with hope, with optimism in my footsteps.

I invite you to consider that there is a world of difference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer. Notice the difference: in the realm of ‘caring about’ we are dealing with customers whereas in the realm of ‘caring for’ we are in the realm of the individual customer – that one human being.  There is a vast difference. And it occurs to me that the folks who talk about, evangelise about, preach out all things Customer are not present to this critical distinction.

Does this indifference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer matter? I say it matters – it matters to each customer. You see this is the deepest and most radical meaning of personalisation – speaking to the person of that one person (the customer).  I invite you to listen to the following words:

The general obsession with observing only historical or sociological movements, and not a particular human being …. is as mistaken as a doctor who does not take an interest in a particular case. Every particular case is an experience that can be valuable to the understanding of the illness…….

….. this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

As soon as you speak in psychological terms ….. people act as if you had a lack of interest in the wider currents of the history of man. In other words, they feel able to study masses and consider this more virtuous, assign of a vaster concept than relating to one person. This makes them …. inadequate in relationships, in friendships, in psychological understanding.

– Anias Nin

I invite you to consider that the strongest bonds, usually called loyalty, occurs where one human being experiences himself cared for (as a unique human being) by another human being.  Is it then any surprise that despite the talk of customer loyalty, and all the customer loyalty programmes and tactics, there is so little loyalty between customers and brands.

Caring About Employees v Caring For The Employee

Sure, organisations ‘care about’ employees. It is the employees who do the work – the work that creates value for the the customer. The work that ends up generating revenue and profits. So I find that organisations care a great deal about their employees including but not limited to:

  1. Attracting the right people to become employees of the organisation;
  2. Keeping the most valuable employees;
  3. Getting more out of their existing employees (productivity, collaboration, teamwork, ideas..);
  4. Ranking employees for performance management purposes;
  5. Minimising the costs associated with recruiting, retaining, managing, controlling employees.

Now, who in your organisation actually cares for that individual flesh+blood human being to whom you have given the label employee, and, thus deprived him/her of personhood and turned him/her into a category? Let me ask this question differently, as an employee do I feel cared for? Who do I feel cares for me in this organisation in which I find myself employed?

I invite you to consider that there is world of difference between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person to whom you have given the label employee.  Does this difference matter?  Of course it matters!  Until this difference is recognised and acted up organisations will continue to grapple with the challenge of ’employee engagement’.  Why should I engage with you and your organisation when I do not feel myself cared for – as a unique human being?

What Has This To Do With Leadership?

I invite you to consider that this distinction between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person whether under the label ‘customer’ or the label ’employee’ can be used to distinguish between management and leadership.  Leaders must dwell in the human real, the personal realm: ‘caring for’ the person.  Here I share the following wise words with you:

My lack of faith in the men who lead us is that they do not recognize the irrational in men, they have no insight, and whoever does not recognize the personal, individual drama of man cannot lead them.

– Anais Nin

Something to Consider And Play For At Christmas?

As you head into Christmas and the festivities where hopefully you will be in amidst people who are family and friends, I invite you to be present to the distinction between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ the folks that you will be meeting up with and celebrating Christmas with.  It occurs to me that making the shift from ‘caring about’ the folks you find yourself with, to ‘caring for’ each person that is there will transform your (and their) experience of Christmas.

If you play this ‘game’ you might just find that ‘caring about’ is easy, ‘caring for’ is really difficult. This might just explain why it is that all the folks who speak Customer and Employee make ‘caring about’ masquerade as ‘caring for’.  The interesting thing is that whilst we can hoodwink ourselves in the management suite, our customers and our employees are not hoodwinked that easily: they experience and detect the difference between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ – which is why they are not loyal to us and rightly so.

Is The Way We Are Going About Customer Acquisition and Retention Dead Wrong?

In light of the Comcast call that went viral I invite you to listen to these wise words (bolding is my work).

There is no question that acquiring and retaining customers is vital to every company, but it’s the way companies are going about it that’s dead wrong…..

Charles Green, coauthor of the Trusted Advisor, points out that many companies have the client focus of a vulture – the pay close attention to what clients are up to, but only in order to figure out the right time to pounce and tear at their flesh….

Sales plans, computerised data sharing, and advertising strategies are not relationship-building vehicles. While an automated phone system may improve an organisation’s operational efficiencies, it rarely improves the customer experience. In fact, most have the opposite effect…..

The point is, though we can learn the language of our industry, sit up straight, dress appropriately, and speak knowledgeably about product, when the conversation doesn’t feel natural, doesn’t respond precisely to the customer’s questions, doesn’t engage the customer in an authentic way, there will ultimately be no sale. And no matter how many time we hear the same feedback ……., we struggle to behave differently because we don’t know how to get beyond our customer facing “script”. Besides, we aren’t particularly interested in, much less skilled at “seeing” and responding to, each customer as a one-of-a-kind human being….

Today, more than ever, consumers are seeking to be acknowledged as unique individuals with lives, needs, tastes, and desires that differ widely from those around them….

So, assuming your products or services are of good quality and competitively priced, one of the most powerful differentiators has to do with conversations you have with customers. The conversation is the relationship ….

No matter what your job is …… the key is your context, your beliefs about your responsibility to customers and the relationships you intend to enjoy or endure with them … if I’m in the checkout line at my grocery store (or any checkout counter anywhere in the world) it would be easy for you to think that you are doing your job if you ring up the sale and hand me my purchases, the correct change, and a receipt. That you get points for using my name …. That if you have a customer loyalty program, you get more points for asking me for my membership card so you can check to see if I can get a discount….

But, I’ll tell you what makes the real difference. That you look into my eyes and connect with me, even if only for a seconds. Human to human. A real smile suggests, “I see you”. This seems like such a small thing, perhaps foolish to some, yet it’s what we all want, deep down where it counts. To be seen.

I’m reminded of the African greeting sawu bona, which means “I see you.” The response is sikhona, which means “I am here.” The order is important. It’s as if until you see me, I don’t exist. Raking your eyes quickly over someone’s face is not seeing them. So if you want to see your customers, really look at them. What takes mere seconds can make people return again and again.

– Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

If insanity is doing the same stuff over and over and expecting a different result then it occurs to me that many of us who are working on the Customer stuff can be labelled insane. Relationship is not merely the sum of a series of interactions. Relationships do not reside in CRM databases.  Communication is more than bombarding customers with sales messages across any number of channels. Personal is more than sending the customer emails and addressing her by using her name. Engagement is more than a customer opening up your email and clicking your offer.  Customer Experience is more than a new name for the Customer Services function.

I dedicate this to conversation to a fellow human being (and friend) who gets and lives that which Susan Scott is communicating:  Lonnie Mayne, President of InMoment.

Looking Under The Hood Of Customer And Employee Engagement

A Skeptical Look Under The Hood Of Customer Engagement?

Why is Customer Engagement so fashionable?  Is that because Tops, Middles, and Marketers have found Jesus and come to love the Customer? I say “No!”

It occurs to me that Customer Engagement has become fashionable because marketers have found it increasingly difficult to get the customer’s attention long enough to exercise their dark arts of activating-influencing-manipulating human beings to want what the marketers are paid to sell.

Put differently, the purpose of the bag of tricks that falls under fine sounding rhetoric of Customer Engagement is to get customers to march in tune with the marketer’s agenda: tell us about yourself so we can sell your data and send you marketing messages; buy from us and buy more from us; and sell us, and for us, by recommending us to your social network.

I say Customer Engagement is a Taker’s way of taking whilst masking-disguising the taking that is going on. Is it then a real surprise that whilst there is so much talk of Customer Engagement, there is so little in the way of success?  Which might explain why the masters of the dark arts (those who advise-assist marketers) are busy inventing new tools-tricks for taking. And why marketers continue to fall for the latest tool-trick?

You may not be as skeptical as me; being skeptical as opposed to trusting-gullible is the norm, that is our default wiring.  So I invite your to play a mind game. Imagine that every company that is busy with Customer Engagement scraps their existing engagement tools-tricks. Instead, customers vote and choose their champion: the customer champion. This customer champion is invited to any-every discussion in the business which makes decisions that impact customers. And no decision can be made without the agreement of the customer champion.  In giving his/her consent the customer champion solicits the views of the people he represents: the customers.  Is this not real engagement with customers?  Then ask yourself if any business/organisation is doing this today. How many names have you come up with? Who even gets close to something like this?

What Is The Alternative To Customer Engagement?

If you showed up and travelled through life as a Giver how would you approach the Customer challenge?  I say that you would not be asking yourself  the following question: “How do I get the customers to engage with me and my agenda?”

It occurs to me that as a Giver you would be grappling with the following kinds of questions:

  1. How do I create superior value for my customers?
  2. How do I make their lives simpler-easier?
  3. How do I enrich the lives of our customers?
  4. What will it take for our organisation to leave customers feeling happy doing business with us and grateful that we exist?”

A Skeptical Look Under The Hood Of Employee Engagement?

Why is it the Employee Engagement is so fashionable? Is it because Tops, Middles and HR folks have found Jesus, recognised the universal brotherhood of man, and come to see the folks that work in the business as fellow human beings – of equal worth and value? I say “No!”

It occurs to me that Employee Engagement has become fashionable because the business place is so competitive. As such there is tremendous pressure on organisations to increase productivity and cut costs.  And for some organisations, there is the added pressure of generating knowledge and converting this knowledge into new products, new services, and better (cheaper) ways of doing things.

Imagine one of the Tops getting up and saying: “We are keen, even desperate, to get as much knowledge-innovation-work out of our human resources as possible whilst paying the absolute minimum that we can get away with paying.”  How much better, upstanding, uplifting, it sounds for a Top to talk about Employee Engagement.

I get that you may think that what I speak here is far-fetched. Let’s put that to the test. Imagine every company that is touting Employee Engagement goes to their employees and asks them to vote for and nominate an employees champion. And once this champion is appointed, s/he has to be presented in any-all discussion that affect the lives of the employees. And that no decisions that affect employees can be made unless the employees champion gives his/her agreement.  Now tell me how many companies that you know which practice anything like this.

I say Employee Engagement is just another term devised by Takers to disguise their taking. And I am clear that most employee are wise to this. Why might just explain why there is so little ‘engagement’ and genuine collaboration in the very companies that are touting Employee Engagement and devising-implementing the latest bag of tricks dreamed up by those passing themselves of as masters of manipulating people (psychologists, social scientists, academics, consultants, change agents..).

What Is The Alternative To Employee Engagement?

I say that if you genuinely care about your fellow human beings you would never refer to them as human resources. Just get present to this term: where is the dignity in the term human resource?  When you get home do you refer to husband/wife/partner and children as human resources?  Do you view-call your friends and members of your social network human resources?

So how would you treat your employees if you showed up and travelled in this world as a Giver?  Allow me to ask the same question differently. What are the kinds of questions you would be asking yourself if you genuinely cared by the wellbeing of your employees and the business?  I say that you would be grappling with the following kinds of questions:

  1. What kind of workplace is most likely to show up as a great place to work for the people who work (or we want to work) in our organisation?

  2. How do we involve our employees in the key business decisions especially those that affect them and their interactions-relationships with our-their customers?

  3. How do we shape what we do and the way that we do it such that this resonates deeply with that which provides genuine meaning, uplifts our employees, and calls forth the very best they have to offer?  What is it that we are doing-causing in the world that is speaks to and is worthy of the very best that lies at the deep core of our employees?

  4. How do we make sure that we share, equitably, the fruits of the creativity-knowledge-innovation-work that flows from our employees?

I welcome your thoughts on the matters I have touched upon here.