What’s The Real Challenge That Lies At The Heart Of Customer Experience?

Monday 14th Jan19: My Story, My Experience

It’s Monday 14th January 2019. It’s the day I am due to meet up with ‘my’ NHS oncologist to learn whether I continue to be cancer free, or if cancer has returned.  So its an important day for me.  I leave early as finding a parking place is always an issue except at night time.

I arrive at the relevant unit, housed in a part of the hospital that has seen much better days. It’s old, it’s drab. I approach the ‘receptionist’ and wait for her to acknowledge me. After a minute or so she looks up and says, “Name.” I hand over my appointment letter. She ‘plays’ with her computer and then says “Take a seat.” I look around and there are plenty seated in the waiting area. Thankfully, there are some empty seats. I sit and start reading the book I brought along.  This is the only way I have found to deal with unpredictable waiting that always occurs.  These folks see you when they see you irrespective of the time slot they have given you; the time slot is there to enable them to turn you away if you do not turn up on time.

Someone calls my name. I respond, “That’s me, I will be along in a minute.”  In a minute I find myself in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar person.  He tells me that he is Doctor…. and asks if his colleague can sit in as a part of the training.  I say “Yes.” Then I ask “Where is Nicola, my oncologist?”  This is when I learn that I will not be seeing ‘my’ oncologist today.

This doctor dives into jargon. The only thing I understand is that there is something unusual in the results. That he is not ok with this. And is sending me over the X-ray unit to have an ultrasound performed in my neck.  He hands me the paper that I have to take with me.  I ask “Where is the X-ray unit?  How do I get there from here?”  He tells me to go ask one of the receptionists…..

Thankfully, the signage in the hospital is good and I happen to arrive at an entrance/exit where this signage is present.  I use this to make my way to the X-ray unit, hand over the paper to one of the receptionists, and then make my way to the next waiting area.  I get my book out again.

After waiting for about an hour, a young woman comes out of the main X-ray room and says, “There will be a delay of an hour…..”  As she is about to go back I ask, “What does this mean for me?  By what time can I expect to be seen? This information is useful to me as it allows me to determine if I can go for a walk, get something to eat, need to top up the parking meter.  Telling us that there is an hour delay is not helpful.  So by when will you be ready to do my ultrasound?”

She looks at me, almost as if she is in shock.  It may just be the first time that anybody has talked back to her and asked this kind of question. She recovers and then proceeds to tell me that there is an hour delay.  I respond by telling her that I heard her the first time. And that her answer does not give me the information that I asked for – the only information that is meaningful/helpful.  She says, “I’ll go talk to the doctor and come back to you soon.”  I wait. It becomes clear to me that her understanding of “soon” is different to mine.  I put my book away, get up, and make my way back to the original unit handling cancer patients.

I approach the receptionist, and when she looks at me I tell her that I did not get the ultrasound done as I am not willing to wait around for the rest of the day. And, that I am going home.  She tells me to wait. Then she takes me to the doctor and tells him that which I told her. What does the doctor say? This: “I got it wrong. After you left I took another look at your case history and I can see that……So there is nothing to worry about.  You can go home.”

I say, “What about my next appointment – in six months time?  What about the blood test form that I get given each time? You do know that I have to get my blood tested about 4 weeks before my next appointment to see my oncologist?”  By his response, it becomes clear that he does not know.  Soon thereafter, I leave that hospital – the blood testing form that he has given me is not the one that I need.  And, I have not the patience to deal with novices.

The next day, I call ‘my’ oncologist’s secretary and leave a message along these lines: I turned up yesterday, the doctor who dealt with me did not know what he was doing.  He did not give me the blood test form that you give me.  And I have no confidence in anything that he told me.  Please ring me back as soon as you can.  As yet, I have not heard anything back.

Deconstructing My Journey: Why Is It That It Turned Out This Way?

I am clear that each unit of the hospital was operating as a silo. Each unit with its own agenda, priorities, constraints, people, tasks, practices…  These units just happened to be housed in the same physical location. And lumped under a label: X Hospital.  Further, it occurs to me that each person in a particular unit of the hospital was thinking in terms of his/her role: the work (tasks) s/he had to perform, the people s/he had to please, the priorities/constraints that had to be respected etc.

It occurs to me that nobody that I encountered on that day in that hospital was thinking in terms of the Customer (the patient – me) or the Customer’s experience. The doctor did not speak in a language I could possibly understand though we both spoke English fluently.  Neither the doctor nor the receptionist was concerned about how I would make my way to the X-ray unit.  The folks in the X-ray unit just assumed that I had all day to sit and wait.  Nobody was mindful that the clock was running down on the parking meter.  My oncologist clearly doesn’t get or doesn’t care that I am concerned about the accuracy of the information I was given by the ‘novice’ doctor.

Why Is It That Customer Experience Is So Poor In The UK?

How is it that an institution whose purpose is to provide care treats a human being like an object?  Let’s be clear I was treated as an object – to be processed according to the rules. I did not encounter any humanity at all. The people I encountered could be replaced by robots – the level of humanity would not be reduced one iota.

In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, the main character tells his traveling companions that his son has been diagnosed with mental illness.  Now lets following the dialogue:

‘What do the psychiatrists think?’ John asks.

‘Nothing. I stopped it.’

‘Stopped it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is that good?’

‘I don’t know……..’

‘That doesn’t sound right.’

‘No one else thinks so either…..’

‘But why?’ asks Sylvia.

‘I don’t know why…..it’s just that….I don’t know…they’re not kin’…Surprising word, I think to myself, never used it before. Not of kin….sounds like hillbilly talk….not of a kind……same root…..kindness, too…..they can’t have real kindness toward him, they’re not his kin……That’s exactly the feeling.

Old world, so ancient its almost drowned out. What a change through the centuries. Now anyone can be ‘kind.’  And everybody’s supposed to be. Except that long ago it was something that you were born into and couldn’t help. Now it’s just a faked-up attitude half the time, like teachers the first day of class. But what do they really know about kindness who are not kin?

It goes over and over again through my thoughts……mein Kind – my child. There is it is in another language.  Mein Kinder…..

I walked away from my visit to the hospital thinking/feeling this: Nobody here cares whether I have cancer or not. Nobody cares whether I live or not. They are indifferent to my existence. And this is true for the society I live in.  Yet, here I am – the person who finds tears flowing down his cheeks whenever he remembers that one of his best friends is no longer due to brain cancer.  What a difference there is between how one is treated by kin, and those who are not kin!

Now ask yourself this: Is it any different in the business world?  I say that if you are truthful, you will see that which I see. And if you do see what I see then you will see the real challenge that lies at the heart of genuine customer-centricity, Customer Experience, and customer loyalty.

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

 

Maz Signature

 

Customer Experience: Is Amazon Going Downhill?

My Good-ish Experience

I rented some movies so that I could watch them over the Christmas break. This didn’t work out with two movies. In the midst of watching these issues cropped up. And the screen advised me to contact Amazon Customer Support. So I did.

I initiated the contact via online chat because that is what Amazon has decided. As I work in the Customer arena I quickly figured out I was dealing with a ‘dumb’ bot – fit only for a small number of rigid scenarios. My issue didn’t fit within this frame so I asked, in writing, to be put through to a human being. I was – yet wasted minutes unnecessarily and didn’t appreciate this.

Question: If the customer is genuinely king then why didn’t Amazon treat me like one? Why didn’t Amazon treat me like an adult: give me the option of going directly to a human being via chat, via telephone, or via email?

Answer: Amazon’s focus is clearly on reducing/containing the costs associated with customer interactions. Not on delivering good customer service, nor on enabling/facilitating a great customer experience.

Now, I am through to a human being via online chat. I describe my problem, provide the relevant details, then wait. After a few minutes, this human being asks me for the order numbers. I find the orders and respond with the order numbers. After a few minutes, I am told that I have been refunded the money I have paid for these orders. I write back “I am not interested in the money. I contacted you to get the issue fixed. The issue is that I paid to watch these movies. I cannot watch them as there is an error. I have been asked to contact you. I have and I expect you to fix it so that I can watch these movies. I wait more than a few minutes. Finally, I am told that this issue is fixed. I thank this person and disconnect from the chat.

Question: Why did this person seek to refund me the money as opposed to addressing the issue that I was facing?

Answer: Because it was easier/quicker to refund the money than to fix the issue. Which is to say that the priority was to get me off the chat then to do that which was necessary to ‘deliver’ a good customer experience. This leads to question the performance metrics that are being used by Amazon to drive customer interactions, and manage their outsource ‘partner’.

I found myself happy and grateful. Why? Because I got the outcome I had desired – to watch these movies with family & friends. Yet, the bad taste to do with the experience of getting to this outcome still clings. In the past, it was not this hard to get good customer service from Amazon.

The Bad Experience

I order an electronics product and I am given a delivery date that falls in the next two days. That works for me. The product does not turn up. Instead, I get a message saying that there is an issue with my delivery but it’s on its way and will arrive shortly. It doesn’t – a week goes by. I have seen this before and I know what to do: I go cancel the original order and place a fresh order for exactly the same product. This new order is fulfilled the next day.

After a few days, I notice that Amazon has not refunded me for the order Amazon has failed to deliver and which I have canceled. So I contact Amazon via online chat. The bot is there, I ask to be put through to a human being. After a few minutes, I am engaged in an online chat with a human being. I describe my issue: clearly stating what it is that I want: refund for the non-fulfilled canceled order.

What do I get in return? A bunch of reasons why that cannot happen: the product has to be found, then it has to find its way back to Amazon warehouse, only then can the order be canceled and the refund issued.

I point out the facts: 1) I order a product and Amazon supplied a delivery date; 2) Amazon failed to deliver that product; 3) I canceled that order and placed a new order…. And I want a refund on the basis. What is Amazon’s response? To repeat that which has already been communicated to me: the Amazon process.

At this point, I find that I have had enough of this nonsense – Amazon has forked up and instead of fixing the issue is wasting my time. I point out my rights and state that I expect a refund or proof that Amazon has delivered that product to me – my signature will suffice. The person on the other end of this online chat relents and issues me with that refund.

Question: Why is it that Amazon ‘delivered’ such a poor customer experience? Why has this organization turned a loyal customer to a reluctant customer?

Answer: Amazon is now infected with that ‘disease’ that infects organizations that are successful and grow large: focus on their policies, their operations, their needs/wants, and a blindness to the impact of these on the Customer Experience.

The Ugly Experience

I bought a set of electronics products as gifts for family members a couple of days before Christmas. A day or so after Christmas one of these family members noticed a price reduction on that product. And asked me to get that price reduction. Other family members were listening and wanted the same.

I contacted Amazon support and eventually found myself on the telephone with an agent. I explained that I had bought a bunch of electronics product at price £x, and that the price had now been reduced to £y. That I had another 28 days or so to send the products back to Amazon and get a refund. And that I could reorder (right then) the exact products at the lower price. That following this course of action would just create work for Amazon and for me. So how about you, Amazon, credit my account (with a gift card) for the difference in price?

Amazon’s response? No, we don’t price match. If you want to get the benefit of the lower price then return the existing products, and re-order at the lower price. That is what I did.

Why implement a policy that means that Amazon has to:

  • Pay the freight costs with returning multiple products?
  • Take receipt of multiple returns – as each product has to be returned on its own – and process each of these returns through the systems;
  • Pick and pack multiple orders;
  • Pay the costs of dispatching multiple orders – to replace those that had been returned;
  • Incur additional cost with ZERO financial benefits, and an incur negative customer goodwill?

Honestly, I cannot explain this. This strikes me as stupidity: shooting yourself in the foot deliberately. The kind of short-sightedness and stupidity for which Brexit is the word.

Summing up these experiences what has Amazon achieved? Turn me from a happy (even delighted customer in the past) into a dissatisfied customer. Dissatisfied enough to share his experience with the world. Will I continue to buy from Amazon? Yes, but reluctantly. As and when a better option comes along I will take it.

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

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (4)

This is the fourth and last ‘conversation’ in this series of conversations dealing with implementation. You can find the first three conversations here, here, and here.

Wishful Thinking Leads to Failure Especially When Combined With Incompetence, and Playing Politics

1991, after exiting from the world of corporate recovery I find myself working in the  Finance & Administration function of a global drinks company.  My first mission?  To assist a highly experienced American with a delicate mission.  The hotly anticipated and much ‘advertised’ Management Information System has been live for a couple of months. The MIS, much touted by the Tops has cost a fortune and it doesn’t work. The Tops associated with the MIS are a laughing stock…

That which we ‘found’ to be so in 1991 continues to be so today:

  • Wishful thinking, politics, and incompetence abound in large organizations;
  • These do not cause serious damage with regards to day-to-day operations as ‘algorithms and machinery’ have been built over the years to deal with that which needs to be dealt with;
  • However, the same characteristics (wishful thinking, politics, incompetence) tilt the ‘playing field’ heavily towards failure when it comes to large-scale change – the kind with “transformation” in the title.

There’s a book called “Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will”. I read this book back in 1994/95. And, I have forgotten it all except for this quote by Jack Welch:

Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be

I say that one of the primary causes of DCX/CX failure is not putting the right people in critical roles

Which roles am I thinking about?  The Business Sponsor. The Programme Manager. The Product Owner. The Subject Matter Experts (Business Side). The Solution Architect. The Change Lead. The Project Managers. The Functional Leads. The Technical Leads.

What happens when one doesn’t respect the unforgiving demands of the implementation arena by letting standards slip – accepting/making compromises based on wishful thinking or political expedience – and putting those who are unfit for these critical roles into these roles?  This phenomenon has a history and a name: “Lions led by donkeys”.

Lions led by donkeys” is a phrase popularly used to describe the British infantry of the First World War and to blame the generals who led them. The contention is that the brave soldiers (lions) were sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders (donkeys).

Let’s consider the role of Product Owner. What a responsibility comes with this role!  The person/s filling the role Product Owner in a CX transformation programme must have an in-depth lived/felt understanding of the those falling in the class Customer.  This necessarily means familiarity with variety for the class Customer tends to have considerable variety amongst its members.  This person/s also has to be an advocate for the interests of the Customer class – ensuring that whatever product (solution) is constructed meets the needs/wants of the Customer class. This person/s must bring the genuine voice of the Customer class into the transformation programme and make sure it is vividly present so as to inform thinking and decision making around the Product.

I say that the second cause of DCX/CRM failure is the failure to deal swiftly/decisively with those who are incompetent with regards to the demands of the role they are playing

Incompetence can be hidden relatively easily in the realm of the strategy/theory for there is no connection with the real world. In the arena of implementation, incompetence cannot be hidden for long: it surfaces when results have to be delivered – either they are delivered to the requisite quality or not. Which is to say that some of the “lions” turn out to be “donkeys” when measured against the context/role they find themselves in.

When incompetence surfaces those playing ‘leadership’ roles are confronted with an important choice: to face reality as it is and is not or to escape into wishful thinking. Few, in my experience, exercise the courage it takes to do the right thing. To take a hard/realistic look into the source of the incompetence and take the necessary action – almost always this is to move these people out of their roles and into other roles or out of the transformation programme.  The logical consequence is that those who are incompetent get to dig a deeper hole in which the transformation programme ultimately finds itself in.

Allowing me to give you an example.  On a recent engagement, one who was playing the role of project manager and solution architect with on the CRM workstream of a transformation programme found himself with a 6 person team – 4 offshore, 2 onshore. It took about four weeks for this person to come face to face with this realization: the entire offshore team was incompetent with regards to the work that had to be done.

This person asked for these people to be replaced by suitably experienced people asap.  The request fell upon the deaf.  So this person made his best efforts to coach/assist the incompetent. After a further few weeks, it became clear that this was counterproductive: the competent/effective were less productive because their time was taken up with the incompetent – teaching them, reviewing their work, correcting their work. Faced with this reality this person took all the work away from the offshore team, reassigned the work to the onshore team, helped the onshore team by doing some of the design and configuration himself, and disbanded the offshore team as soon as that option became feasible.

This person was not thanked for this decision. Why? Recognizing and dealing with incompetence can reflect badly on oneself (if one has recruited those people into their roles) or it can reflect badly on those (usually higher up the status ladder) who did recruit them.  So you see the temptation for those who are politically savvy to bury their heads in the sand.

I say a third and important cause of DCX/CX failure is that politics takes priority over reality thus distorting the thinking and decision making

I can decisively say that rare is the person who will be truthful when his/her identity/status/livelihood is threatened.  Yet, this is the dominant, almost exclusive, context in just about every large organization that I have ever worked in (as an employee) or worked for as a consultant.

Why does this happen?  The lack of psychological safety within almost all organizations that I have come across.  Where one fears speaking the truth one does not speak the truth.  What this means is that one creates a circle of those with whom one can speak the truth (“us”) and those with whom one cannot speak the truth (“them”).

Where psychological safety is not in place, and “us and them” is operative/dominant,  there one finds that information, communication, thinking, and decision making are distorted. This distortion tilts the playing field on which the transformation game is being played towards failure.

How can those who find themselves in leadership positions deal effectively with reality if reality is actively being masked with information that hides/distorts/mislead? If this question interests you then I recommend listening to the following talk:

Enough for today.  I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019. Until the next time….

 

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (3)

This is the third of a series of ‘conversations’ centered on avoiding failure when it comes to Digital Customer Experience and/or CRM.  The first ‘conversation’ dealt with articulation-understanding-ownership of requirements.  The second ‘conversation’ dealt with the challenge of integration.  This third conversation deals with the matter of thinking/collaboration that necessarily comes with a transformation programme.

Thinking & Collaboration: Christmas Day

Yesterday was Christmas Day and we (our household) celebrated it.  The day turned out great and it didn’t just happen. For the day to turn out as it did (workable, enjoyable) required thinking/collaboration: the five members of the family had to think, make decisions, and collaborate in making happen that which we decided upon.

Let’s start with thinking/decision making.  We had to decide (as a family of five) where we wanted to spend Christmas. With the children’s grandparents in France in their main home in the country?  With the children’s grandparents with their winter home in the Alps? With the children’s uncle Ralf (and his family) in France? With my sister in the New Forest?  At home?

Where did these series of conversations centered on this question/decision take place?  Around our dining table – as that is the place where we sit, eat, talk things through ever since the children were toddlers.  After listening to one another and thinking things through we came to a mutual decision: we will do Christmas at home!

Next decision: Do we do Christmas as a family or do we invite guests?  Once we had made the decision that we wanted guests for Christmas, we had to agree upon who and how many people to invite given the demands on shopping-cooking-seating-sleeping that necessarily comes with inviting guests.  How did these decisions get made? Through a series of conversations. Where did these decisions get made? Around the dining table.

Did the thinking and decision-making stop here? No. Next, we had to decide (as a group) what it is that we wanted to eat/drink and the dietary requirements of our Christmas guests.  The challenge? To come up with the minimum number of dishes as some wanted to eat meat, others fish, others had vegetarian/vegan requirements.  And ensure that these dishes are the ones that folks want to eat.  Where did this thinking through (as a family) and decision making occur? Around the dining table.

Once the thinking through/decision making) had happened it was time to formulate a plan of action: Who would do the food shopping and by when? Who would go and buy the wine/drinks and by when? Who would prepare the food? Who would do the cooking? Where did these matters get thought through and decisions get made? Around the dining table.  Then on the day itself, we collaborated with one another to make happen that which needed to happen: setting the table up, clearing up the table, doing the washing up etc.

Thinking & Collaboration: DCX/CRM Transformation Programmes

Now think of your transformation programme (DCX/CRM): the elements, the actors, the interplay between the various elements/actors, the sequencing of work, the design of the end-to-end solution, orchestrating dependencies, dealing with the arrival of the unexpected – challenges, opportunities… Ask yourself these questions:

1-Is thinking (and decision-making) required?

2-Is this thinking (and decision-making) a one-off event or an ongoing series (a process)?

3-Is the thinking (and decision-making) that is called for, simple/easy – as in here is a round block of wood, here is a round hole, insert that block of wood into that hole?

4-Is the thinking deep, intricate, multi-dimensional – the kind of thinking that comes up with options, thinks through these options, considers the advantages/disadvantages of promising options, and identifies the impact of an option on the wider transformation programme?

5-Is the thinking (and decision making) an exercise for one omnipotent person? Or does the ‘nature’ of the thinking, decision-making, action planning, and execution necessarily require the active participation/contribution of a group of people?

6-If the thinking is not superficial/simple and cannot be done (or should not be done) by a single person then ask yourself this: Have we created a suitable context & space for the kind of thinking/collaboration that needs to occur in order for this programme to deliver on the promise?

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Context’?

What is it that I mean by ‘context’?  Imagine that you open your mail and find a wedding invitation for someone who matters to you.  What happens? You automatically know the context by having attended (or seen if it is via the movies) the context that goes with a wedding: the mood, the music, the place (most likely a church for the wedding service), the actors, clothing, the sequence of events, what actions are expected etc.  Now imagine you open your mail and learn that a friend has died and you are invited to his/her funeral.  Again, you know (almost immediately) the context that goes with a funeral – for example, the mood (and setting) will be dramatically different to that of a wedding and the expected behaviour/clothing will also be radically different.

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Space’?

Imagine that you are charged with staging a soccer game, in a foreign country,  between two well-known soccer teams. On the day of the match, you, the soccer teams, and the fans turn up to the venue What do you find?  The pitch, the space, is set-up for cricket! There are no goal posts. There are none of the markings that a game of soccer requires e.g. half-way line. Instead, the space has been set-up and thus calls forth (supports) a game of cricket as there are wickets. And there are the markings that go with a game of cricket e.g. the crease.

Avoid Failure By Cultivating a Context-Space That Calls Forth Deep Thinking and Collaboration

Time after time I come across transformation programmes where the space in which the actors show up and operate is that of a large call-centre.  Have you spent time in a large call-centre?  If you have, it cannot have escaped your notice that the environment is like that of a large warehouse. What is warehoused?  The people who answer calls!

The kind of space that one finds in a large call-centre operation is suited to the context of almost all call-centres. Why?  Because the context is one where ZERO original thinking is required. And ZERO collaboration is required.  Everything of significance has been thought through and turned into a script: for call type X follow script X, for call type Y follow script Y.

If you wish to avoid failure in your transformation programmes then it is essential that you create a context that signals, to all actors, that here we have to think (deeply) and collaborate – this is the default.  And, you have to create the space to support this signaling and enable this deep thinking/collaboration to occur.  Specifically, this means:

1-Plenty of meeting rooms – where the availability of these meeting rooms is kept up to date and made visible (electronically) to all working on the programme;

2-Range of meeting room sizes – from four people working on a challenge through to 20 people working on a challenge;

3-Each of these meeting rooms equipped with the equipment that goes with the kind of thinking/collaboration that the meeting room is designed for e.g. whiteboard/s, pens, ‘erasers’, sticky notes, audio-visual equipment…

Heed My Warning For The Transformation ‘Game’ Is An Unforgiving One!

I consider this to be a MINIMUM requirement.  Since 2016, I have worked on (and or witnessed) four transformation programmes.  Of these, only one company (global Oil & Gas operator) has provided the context and space I have set out here.  The rest, in my view, failed – the degree of failure varied from one company to another.   Allow me to end by saying this:

1-If you fail to provide a context-space for deep thinking to occur then I guaranteed you that your transformation programme will end up with superficial thinking;

2-If you fail to provide a context-space for collaboration to occur then I guarantee you that you will get silo-based thinking (and actions) and you will end up with requirements that do not gel across the elements of the programme, solution components that will not fit/integrate with another, and dependencies that are not identified early enough nor orchestrated effectively;

3-Where there is lack of context-space for deep thinking and collaboration there you will find a lack of effective leadership and programme management; and

4-The transformation ‘game’ is unforgiving as in failures in effective leadership and programme management will be punished through missed milestones, rework, escalating costs, demotivated actors, finger-pointing, scapegoating, and a sub-optimal ‘solution’ from the perspective of end users – your prospects/customers, your distribution partners, and the people on the front line of your organisation dealing with prospects, customers, and distribution partners.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019.  Until the next time….

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (2)

In the first part of this series, I pointed out that IT centered programmes that involve the term “transformation” tend to be complex and tend towards failure – failure to deliver the desired outcomes to time, to budget, to end-user expectations.  And, I dealt with that which I consider as one of the most important sources of failure – inserting business analysts between those who will be using the technology and those configuring/building that technology.

Integration: The Formidable Challenge of Getting Systems to Work Together as an Ecosystem in a Transformation Programme

Today, I wish to consider, the most troublesome cause of failure: transformation programmes necessarily cover multiple functions, lots of business process, many end users from across the business, and these necessarily require many discrete IT applications (from different vendors) that must talk to one another fluently.  Fluently! Nothing less is acceptable to the end users – whether customers of the business or those in marketing-sales-service who are charged with facilitating the interactions/transactions with these customers

How big of a challenge is this?  Let’s consider this in terms that all of us, especially those not familiar with technology will understand. Imagine a board of directors meeting – there are seven people there, each speaks a different language, and none speaks/understands the languages spoken by the others.  How are these seven directors going to communicate with another and thus work as one to generate that which is expected from a board of directors?

The same is the case for IT systems!  There is a multiplicity of systems none of which ‘talk’ to one another yet they must ‘talk’ (integrate) to one another such that ‘conversation’ (data) flows easily/quickly across these systems.  How to arrive at this – an integrated solution where all the systems ‘talk’ to one another?  How one approaches this challenge determines whether one avoids failure or not.

Here’s One Way to Approach The Integration Challenge

1-Get a bunch of folks together whose title usually includes ‘architect’ as in “solution architect” or “enterprise architect” and get them to agree upon a design and publish a document to the rest of the players – those responsible for configuring/building the individual systems, and those responsible for connecting these systems with one another;  and then

2-Walk away sayings something like “Now, you vendors get together amongst yourselves as and when you see fit and figure out the specifications for the interfaces/integrations” thus neither facilitating nor overseeing this vital matter of working out how the interfaces/integrations are going to work (protocols, data that will flow across systems, direction of travel of this data, the mappings between one system and another, error handling…) and dealing with unexpected complications that always arise.

What Happens When You Take This Approach? 

If you take this approach then I guarantee (as I have seen it with my own eyes) that you are guaranteeing failure. What does failure look like?

1-Many errors are picked up in the Systems Integration Testing phase, and/or the User Acceptance Testing phase. Considerable rework is required from multiple ‘vendors’.  This takes time and effort resulting in Go-Live pushed out further and further, and increasing costs.

2-The ‘vendors’ dodge responsibility and point at others. The client team, including those with ‘architect’ in their title, scapegoat ‘vendors’ instead of taking responsibility for their failure to own/orchestrate/oversee the business of integration – often the most complex piece when you look at transformation in technology terms.

3-End users involved in the User Acceptance Testing rightly become concerned about that quality of the solution. This concern tends to be shared in the wider Business community thus making the challenge of ‘winning heart & minds’ that much greater as few of us have the time or the inclination to give up the familiar and learn the unfamiliar.

4-The Go-Live having been pushed out once, has to be pushed out again. And perhaps again. Then again. And when politics intervenes and the solution must Go-Live then most likely the solution will not be that which was envisaged. It falls short of delivering the desired outcomes: functionality, ease of use, and usefulness to those who use it.

5-Those who make the decisions promise that the deficiencies in the Go-Live solution will be addressed in phase 2.  This promise is rarely kept – at least not in the timescales that matter to the end users. It’s rather like sex: after climax, the passion/desire dwindles to nothing – the parties to the game are satiated.

Is There An Alternative – An Effective Approach To Dealing With The Challenge Of Integration?

Yes. What does this look like? I can only tell you what it looks like for me:

1-With regards to that which truly matters to me, I take full ownership – always, no exception- as in I design the play, I orchestrate the play, I facilitate the conversations/thinking that matters, I oversee to ensure that all are doing that which they are responsible for doing;

2-In the domains where I lack expertise, I bring in the experts as in those who have handled the challenge that I am facing and proven themselves. By “bring in the experts” I do not mean the organisation that claims this expertise – rookie mistake. I mean those individual human beings who embody the expertise either as individuals or as individuals that have worked together with one another as one team;

3-Put in place practices that allow me and those who are supporting me in the challenge of handling integration to keep in touch with individual teams/systems – on a weekly basis. Why, so that we know what is happening on the ground and pick up early if team A is doing something regards to system A that is going to mess with that which Team B is doing with system B.

4-Chair a regular Integration Workshop where ALL involved in building the IT solution attend – always, no exceptions. And, in this workshop I ensure that we actually work as opposed to merely talk. By this I mean, that we deal with that which impacts integration – this may just be issues, equally it could be design changes in one system that may impact other systems, or changes in business requirements that impact the design of the systems and the integrations.  And one output of the Integration Workshop might me that the integration blueprint published a long long time ago by the ‘architects’ has to be re-worked as it turns out to be flawed in one or more areas.

Does what I suggest sound like hard work?  Yes, it’s hard work. Which might explain why it is that so many go for the easier approach – the one I outlined at the start, the one prone to generating a failure.

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

 

Dialogue on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity

Colleague: So much money has been spent and continues to be spent. On CRM. On CX – voice of the customer, journey mapping etc. In the name of customer-centricity – whatever that means.  Yet, there is little to show for it.

Me: Seems that way.

Colleague: Which big company, as in the kind of company that we end up consulting to / working with, has anything to show for the time-effort-money that has been spent on the whole Customer thing?

Me: I am not aware of a single one. Maybe there is big company out there that has become customer-centric as seen through the eyes of the customers. And If there is I am not aware of it. I distrust whatever the folks who go to the Customer circus (conference circuit) say about themselves. What matters is what the customers say.

Colleague: What’s your point of view on what’s going on?  You’ve always got a point of view on pretty much everything! Let’s hear it then.

Me: Have you come across a philosopher called Heidegger?  His thinking provides a good clue as to what’s going on.

Colleague: Never heard of him. What’s he got to say that’s relevant.

Me: He introduces the distinction between “in order to” and “for the sake of”. This distinction sheds light on the failure of the whole Customer thing. And what it will take to generate success.

Colleague: Explain then!

Me: Imagine a man in a workshop working on wood.  He happens to be sawing a piece of wood.  Why is sawing this piece of wood? In order to make a cabinet.  Why is he making a cabinet? In order to sell it?  Why is he looking to sell the cabinet?  In order to get money / make a living. Why do that? In order to care for / feed his family? Why do that? For the sake of his own conception of what it is to be a good father/husband.  Why does that matter to him? It just does!  Here the chain of in order to comes to an end.  There is no in order to. Showing and travelling as good father/husband is the sake of which he gets up in the morning and works/lives.

Colleague: There you go again not answering the question. What the fork has this to do with the whole Customer thing?

Me: Let me explain it another way.  Imagine that there are two spherical round hollow cylinders. The walls are quite thin, and of the same size.  It is possible to fit/slide into the other one by squeezing it as the cylinders are made of flexible material.

Colleague: OK.

Me: One is labelled “Revenue & Profits”, the other is called “Customer-Centricity”.  You are told that you need to slide one of these cylinders into/inside of the other cylinder.  Which one do you slide inside? Which one has to fit inside the other one?  Do you fit/slide the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder? Or do you choose to do the opposite: squeeze/fit the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder inside the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder?

Colleague: No question, the ‘Customer-Centricity” cylinder goes inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder. That’s the whole purpose of CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer -Centricity – to boost revenues, increase profit margins, and so boost profits. And to keep on doing this year after year.  Isn’t it?

Me: As a philosopher I say that purpose does not inhere in the things itself. Purpose is a human construction. And as such the speaker who speaks of purpose gets to say what the purpose is. And sure, pretty much everyone that has taken on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity has done so for the sake of ambition/greed: for revenue growth, raising profits margins usually by cutting the costs of serving customers, and for profits and profit growth.

Colleague: What’s wrong with that!

Me: Wrong is not found in the world.  Wrong is a human construct. It’s wrong if you say it’s wrong and get enough other folks to agree with you.  I’m not saying there is something wrong with it. I am saying that when we choose one course of action over another there are always consequences.

Colleague: I think you are saying that there is little that big companies have to show for the time-money-effort they have spent on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity because they have been squeezing “Customer-Centricity” inside of “Revenues & Profits”.  Is that what you are saying?

Me: That is exactly what I am saying!  Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Almost every big company has gone about it that way. The prime, unquestioned directive, is to make the numbers, and grow the numbers. The latest magical recipe is CRM, Customer Experience, or Customer-Centricity. So lets hire a bunch of consultants to fit these magical solutions into our organisation so that these solutions help us deliver on our sake of: sake of making the numbers, sake of “Revenues & Profits”. And this approach has generated that which it has generated: limited benefits, incremental improvements in cultivating genuine loyalty.

Colleague:  The alternative?  Squeezing/fitting “Revenue & Profits” inside of “Customer-Centricity”, how does that work?

Me: As members of the senior leadership team you show up & travel in a way that makes it clear to all that you, and the company, that you represent is there for the sake of enriching the lives of your chosen set of customers.

You can do that as Zappos does through it awesome customer service.  You can do it as Apple does by creating great (as in cool, high quality, unique) products for folks who are willing to pay a premium. You can do it as Amazon does – attractive prices, huge product range, ease/convenience of shopping, and next day delivery.

Amazon, in particular Jeff Bezos, sets a clear example.  You choose to be customer-centric, to build that long term customer loyalty, to play for the long term, and you take the hit to “Revenues & Profits” over the short and even medium term. And you tell your shareholders that this is what you are about.  If they don’t like it then they should sell their shares and move on to other enterprises.

Zappos is also an instructive example.  The leadership team of Zappos started out putting the “Customer Centricity” container within the “Revenues & Profits” container. At a critical point when the Zappos was on its last legs the leadership team had to make a choice: to continue providing a lousy customer experience or do the opposite.  And it looked like doing the opposite changing the operation model so that “Revenue & Profits” had to squeeze into / fit into “Customer-Centricity” would leave to ruin faster.  The choice they made? To make “Revenues & Profits” subservient to, and for the sake of “Customer-Centricity” as in delivering an awesome customer experience.  It so happened that this change worked out for Zappos. And there is no guarantee that another company in the same situation as Zappos taking the same course of action will generate the same result.  You have to be a particular kind of idiot to believe that taking the same course of action in a open/dynamic/non-linear/uncertain/unpredictable world will yield the same results as you got last time.

Colleague: But CEOs of big listed companies cannot do this. They have to make the numbers – that’s what the analysts want, that’s what the shareholders want.

Me: Which is why I say that big listed enterprises will continue to make incremental improvements at best when it comes to the customer experiences (as viewed through the eyes of the customers) and customer loyalty.  And the field for creating an awesome customer franchise belongs to outsiders – the Zappos, the Amazons, the Apple’s of the future.

 

 

Hall of Fame: Amazon Delights Cultivating Loyalty From This Customer

Amazon claims to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company.  If Amazon were like just about every other company this claim would be just a marketing slogan – deceitful, empty at best. However, Amazon isn’t like just about every other company.  It’s exceptional in that the folks at Amazon get what it takes to cultivate, keep, even grow that particular emotional bond, which I say lies at the heart of loyalty, with customers.  Of what do I speak?  Allow me to share my story with you.

During December 17 I bought presents, some of them from Amazon.  One of the presents was electric toothOralB Smart4 4000Nbrush for my oldest son.  Whilst my son can do with a new toothbrush he doesn’t want this one. He didn’t even open the packaging. He Googled it and found that it’s not the most expensive one.  So the task of returning it fell to me.  And as I have returned stuff to Amazon before I was expecting it to be straight forward: click on order, select item to return, print out return labels, and drop-off at local post office.

To my surprise it didn’t turn out that way.  I found myself annoyed and angry: why isn’t Amazon allowing me to return an item which is within the return period, and which hasn’t even been taken out of its packaging?  What kind of sh**t is this!  That was my emotional state especially as Amazon didn’t tell me why I wasn’t allowed to return it. I was asked to click a link which took me to a return (home) page which I found unusable – as it wasn’t evident which item on that long menu (of items) I should click.

When I know I’m in the right I tend to be dogged in pursuit of my goal. Luckily, Amazon, offered me the ability/opportunity to speak to an agent.  So when option 1 (looking at the Returns page) didn’t work out, I selected option 2 (live chat with an agent).

“Why are you not allowing me to return this given it is well within the return period, never used, not even taken out of its packaging?”  That was the starting point of the chat. Once, I provided order details and specified the item, the agent told me to give her a minute or two to look into the matter.

Have you had the experience of jaw dropping moments?  The first one occurred when Amazon (website) told me that I couldn’t return this item. The second one occurred when the agent came back with “We’ll refund you for the item and you can keep the item – no need to return it. Is that OK?”  My experience?  “Shocked. Delighted. Grateful. Puzzled. What the fork is happening here?”

My response to that agent was along this line: “I’ve been an Amazon customer for a long time. I buy regularly. And Amazon has always been fair to me.  I wish to be fair with Amazon.  Honest, the toothbrush has NOT been used. It’s not even been taken out of its packaging. I am happy to return it so that you can resell it.”

The agent’s response? “We’re happy for you to keep the toothbrush and to give you the refund you have asked for……”  I had another go at returning the toothbrush. She wasn’t having any of it.  I relented. And something was present that I needed to express. What was present?  Gratitude!  How did I express this gratitude?  I asked the agent to give me the refund as an Amazon gift card rather than a refund on my credit card.  She asked “Are you sure?” and I replied something to the effect: “Yes, I’m sure: I was brought up to reciprocate – to repay helpfulness/kindness with helpfulness/kindness.”

Please get that I am fortunate.  The monetary value of this toothbrush is pennies. I will go and spend double-treble this amount taking out an acquaintance (dying of liver cancer) for lunch in an hour or so. And I am so grateful – so grateful!  Grateful for what?  Grateful for the way I was treated.  Think about how I was treated.  How often are you/me treated in this way?  It’s rare isn’t it?  To be able, easily, to get through to someone helpful. For that person to, swiftly, get you/me to our desired outcome. And then on top of that be given a gift.  Wow!

So here I am on my Sunday doing that which occurs to me as the final act of paying Amazon back for its helpfulness / generosity.  That’s the power of cultivating gratitude by treating customers (employees, suppliers, distribution partners…) right.

I leave you with this question:  Is the way that Amazon shows up and behaves towards its customers (decency, fair treatment) rocket science?  No?  Then why is it that other organisations don’t show up in this manner?  Is it because those who lead/direct/manage these organisations lack heart?  Or is it that these folks are self-centred and only focussed on the short-term – this quarter/year’s results?  How the fork is technology (CRM, CX, digital commerce…) going to do the job of the heart – having/putting into play a big heart?

Thanks for your listening to my speaking.  I wish you the very best for this year – may it be the best year, yet, of your existence.  Until the next time….

Maz Signature