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.

 

 

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…

 

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…

 

Beyond Listening to The Voice of The Customer / Employee

Customer gurus and technology companies push the need for the company to listen to the voice of the customer. Many companies, especially large companies, buy what they are selling. Indeed, it makes sense: listen to the voice of the customer through some manner of surveying customers seems complimentary to conducting regular market research.

HR gurus and technology companies push the need for the company to listen to the voice of the employee. In the service of this sale frightening soundbites are put forward about the state of employee engagement – disengagement is rife and getting worse. What happens, organisations set up once a year surveys of their employees in order to listen to their employees.  Ok, some do it twice a year. Maybe, a handful do it quarterly.

Is this listening?  You may be convinced that this is listening. I do not find myself in agreement with you. I say that listening is a specific encounter between one human being and another human being or human beings.  I say that listening really takes something – it takes a dropping of the self to enter into and get the world of the other. I say that listening rarely occurs inside and outside the workplace – we simply do not have cultural practices that teach us to listen nor call us to listen.

For a moment, let’s assume that surveying customers and/or employees is listening to customers / employees. Is this listening complete?  Put differently, have your heard all that your customers / employees are saying?  Before you come to a definitive answer I consider the following:

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”

The man took this advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.

The Master smiled and replied, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”

Be with this for a moment. Doesn’t the profound truth of this hit you?  One can listen at many levels for the speaking is occurring at many levels AND to truly listen to another person it is necessary to listen to the speaking that is silent.

I invite you to consider the following:

  1. Listening to the voice of the customer and/or the voice of the employee through surveying is the pretence of listening. It is not listening.
  2. Even the best designed survey will not give you access to the speaking that is silent.
  3. Listening of the kind that really hears can only take place when you genuinely respect and care for the person you are listening to.  At a very minimum it requires a deep sense / feel of our shared humanity.
  4. The only real world evidence that listening has occurred is a change in the way that you/your organisation is in the world. By “is” I mean the way that one shows up and travels in the world: being-doing.
  5. Good strategists, leaders, managers, sales people, customer service folk have to be great at listening to the silent speaking.

I thank you for your listening and wish you a good day. Until the next time…