Meditation on Customer Relationships & Experiences

One might think by now that we would have figured out what makes for great customer relationships & experiences. Ask yourself have we figured this out?  Really, lets stop and really sit with this question.  What comes up for you?  Here’s what comes up for me:

One does not create/build, nor manage customer relationships

That’s right, one does not create/build nor manage customer relationships! News to you?   That just how many folks think about it and thus go about it because they have brought into the sloppy thinking / language which is ubiquitous in business. It is also deliberate play by those who started the CRM bandwagon – language chosen to appeal to managers who buy CRM.  This may explain how it is that the CRM industry flourishes whilst customer loyalty languishes; only a handful of companies, the same companies, are renowned for customer loyalty – I get that you know who they are.

Customer relationships grow over time and this growth is messy

A relationship is formed when two or more human beings interact-communicate-relate over the course of time.  Relationships grow (rather like a plant grows from a seed) and this growth is not linear. The growth is messy – rather like that which occurs in a game of Snakes & Ladders.  One can no more manage the customer relationship than one can manage one’s way through the game of Snakes & Ladder. Only BS artists and idiots can truly believe that one can build/create relationships like one builds/creates a car/house or manage relationships say like I manage my library of books.

A customer can be said to have a customer relationship with a person working in an organisation, or the organisation itself

As a starting point we can segment/categorise customer relationships into two: the relationship between a customer and a person employed by an organisation; and the relationship between a customer and the organisation itself.

There is certain quality in the relating that occurs between one human being and another – sharing of personal information, sadness/sorrow, laughter/joy.  It is like the relationship one has with friends and the relationship I had with my neighbours (Chris, Christine) whilst I was growing up in Lancashire.  Tops, in commercial organisations, do everything in their power to diminish or extinguish these kinds of relationships. Why? Because the bond is between the employee and the customer. And the employee can walk out of the door as easily as s/he walks into it.  Tops want the organisation to own the relationship with the customer. Hence, the rise and continued rise of CRM software.

The relationship between a customer and companies is different. What is a customer relating to when he relates to / has affinity for a company/organisation?  See the absurdity/trap in that question? No, ask yourself which customer is he talking about?  So take me as the customer.  My relationship with Amazon is based on pure self-interest: it is convenient & cheap for me to buy from Amazon than other retailers.  My relationship with the Guardian newspaper (where I choose to be a member and pay as oppose to read the content for free online) is based on an affinity with what this newspaper stands for: we share common values and objectives.  My relationship with the National Trust is based around my love of natural landscapes & beautiful old mansions. As well as my affinity for that which the National Trust stands for.

There is never a Customer Experience!

If you have been paying attention then you will get that there is never a Customer Experience! To talk about Customer Experience is to talk about the singular.  A singular entity that does not exist.  Think! What is so in the world that you & I share?

Always there are customers – plural.  Therefore, and necessarily, there are a multitude of customer experiences.  Each customer experiences – and if you have 1 million customers there is going to be significant variations in the experiences of these customers for the same interaction/touchpoint. I say it is simple minded at best, mostly idiotic, to think in terms of Customer Experience as opposed to customer experiences. Why am I being so assertive/forceful? Because my experience is that sloppy thinking (including use of language which often drives our thinking without our realising it) leads to idiotic actions disguised as visionary genius.

Let me say this one more time: think/speak customer experiences!  Which comes back to one of the most useful things I learned at my time with The Peppers & Rogers Group. At the heart of PRG’s strategy work lay this primary (foundational) principle: treat different customers differently.

I have grown plenty since my time at PRG.  Today, I say it necessary to go further: treat the same customer differently at different times. Why so? Allow Heraclitus to speak on my behalf: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

One cannot create nor deliver a Customer Experience!

There is so much talk about creating the Customer Experience or delivering the Customer Experience. Stop, stop, stop!  Think!  What the fork are you saying?  How is it that you and I can be relatively intelligent when outside of the work environment and idiots within?

What the fork is a Customer Experience?  Well its not a thing is it?  Look, I will pay you £1 million if you go and get me a Customer Experience. Will you ever collect this £1 million. Fork no!  Get it?  Let me spell it out because it is possibly that you have been so brainwashed by business bullshit that your capacity for thinking/reflecting/questioning has became so dormant as to be non-existent – almost.

A customer experiences – always there is experiencing going on.  Experiencing is a kind of relating/communicating that is going on.

The question is, always, what does this concrete customer experience?  This customer experiences a certain kind of relating occurring between herself (importantly her mood which is usually in the background often hidden from the customers consciousness) and the context s/he finds herself . By context I mean environment, situation, actors, interactions, communications..

Can you/i create (as in specify) and/or deliver this relating – as in a specific experience? Fork no!  Its a dance – always a dance between the mood of the customer and the context that the customer finds herself in.

At best you can set-up the context in a way that you think will speak to our customers: pick the right venue, staff it with the right people, pick the right music, and invite our customers to dance with us. Some customers will be thankful (to you) for their experience – of you caring for them and going to all this trouble to create a great spectacle/experience. Other customers will experience you as being pushy, of going beyond acceptable boundaries.  Lets make it even simpler: some will love the music you have chosen, others dislike it, and many will be indifferent.  You get that which I am getting at, right?

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening which creates the context for my speaking. Until the next time…

Maz Signature

On Self, The Customer & Leadership Blog, and Cultivating Loyalty With Employees, Partners, and Customers

Cancer, the impending arrival of death for my friend and later myself, concentrates one (at least me) on that which matters.  Today’s conversation is around that which has been unconcealed for me: about myself and the purpose/contribution of this blog.  So now is the time to leave if this is not the conversation for you.  I don’t even know, right now, how long this conversation is going to be.

Purpose of The Customer & Leadership Blog

Why did I create this blog back in 2010?  Was it to be recognised as a thought leader, a guru, in the Customer space?  Was it to get on the speaking circuit and make money? Maybe it was to sell my services e.g. paid for content and/or advertising as a result of having a thriving web presence?  Some folks think so. Enough people contact me to speak as a thought leader. More contact me about writing advertorials and passing them off as my conversations. Others contact me to search maximise this blog (as it is crap from a search perspective enough though it has great content – that is what I have been told). Then there are others that offer to write stuff, for free, that I can publish on this blog.

I decline all the content stuff. Occasionally, if the speaking stuff appeals to me I speak.  The rule is that I speak that which I speak – for that is the only way that the speaking shows up and expresses itself through me.  Once boundaries are putting up, the speaking dries up.  That is simply so and I work with that – life as it is and is not.

So what got me started?  Allow me to share the following quote:

“I had a vivid imagination. Not only could I put myself in the other person’s place, but I could not avoid doing so. My sympathies always went to the weak, the suffering, and the poor. Realising their sorrows I tried to relieve them in order that I myself might be relieved.” – Clarence Darrow

In short, I found myself identifying with particular folks in organisations: those with affinity for the customer, seeking to simplify/enrich the lives of their customers AND get a fair reward (money) for the difference they make in the lives of customers.  It occurred to me that these folks were being misled or duped by those with influence: academics, consultancies, thought leaders, and gurus.  I found most of their advice BS in the sense that Harry Frankfurt uses this term.

It occurred to me that these high priests (thought leaders, gurus, academics, consultancies) were sitting in the stands and at best sharing that which they saw from the stands. Few had/have substantive (many different trials over many years) experience in the arena. Yet, the game is played in the arena – always! The insight / truth that matters is the truth that arises from and makes a difference in the arena!  Not the commentary that comes from those sitting comfortably in the stands – spectators.

I have been in that arena playing many roles in many types of Customer games: salesforce automation, CRM, 1to1 marketing, CX, web design & commerce, digital strategy, marketing automation, sales & account management, customer service & contact-centres…

It occurred to me that I could/should make a contribution by sharing that which I had learned through many years in the arena; there is both success and failure in the arena, each provides learning opportunities, oftentimes the learning from failures is more powerful than the learning from successes.  This logically led me to this choice: the choice to share my perspective/learning/experience for those who find themselves in the arena or are about to enter the arena. Hence, the genesis of The Customer & Leadership Blog for the business domain.

The joy of self-expression and contribution through this blog, The Customer & Leadership Blog got me thinking. Why not make a similar contribution to folks on the personal (non business) side of human existence. This led to the birth of a second blog: Play BIG: Live A Life Worth Living.

Still why did I do this and why do I continue to do this. Is it to be a thought leader or to establish myself as a guru thus win lucrative speaking gigs?  Talk to my wife. Talk to my great friend  Lonnie Mayne: you might find that I prefer to be in the background as a catalyst: coaching, educating, enabling/facilitating, and provoking original thought &/or action.  I wish to conclude this portion of the conversation with this quote:

There is a basic difference between the leader and the organiser. The leader goes on to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield power for the purposes both social and personal. He wants power for himself. The organiser find his goal in creation of power for others to use. – Saul Alinsky

I leave you to decide whether I fit the description of the leader or the organiser.

What Has The Process That Keeps The Customer & Leadership Blog In Existence Unconcealed To Me About Myself?

Let me be clear, I started with what occurs to me as altruistic motive.  I continue with the same altruistic motive – declining opportunities to write paid for content and pass it off as my work, to accept advertising, refusing speaking opportunities which are paid for PR/marketing for some business or other.

Despite or because of my altruistic motive, I have gotten a HUGE amount out that has left me enriched:

First and foremost, The Customer & Leadership Blog saw me through some of the darkest times of my existence. Where the world that constituted my world slowly disappeared. I am talking about the world of sports/activity: Paragliding, trekking in the mountains, going backpacking in third world countries, cycling, tennis, badminton, even something as simple/joyful as table tennis.

Second, In the process that is the Customer & Leadership Blog my image of myself shifted.  I start out thinking that I was a pygmy in the land of giants – that I had nothing to say that was worth listening to. Further, I was convinced that I could not write. Today, without hesitation nor doubt I say that I show up for myself as a thinker-writer-speaker who is worth listening to by those who know who/what to listen to.  It doesn’t stop there, I learned much more about myself.

Only as a result of these two blogs did I realise that I am more than a thinker.  I realised, that I create (these original conversations) therefore I have the capacity to be creative. What joy this realisation / experience brings!  What is the experience that I am seeking to share with you?  Allow me to point you towards that direction by sharing this quote:

Curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humour, a free and open mind, an acceptance of the relativity of values and of the uncertainty of life, all inevitably fuse into the kind of person whose greatest joy is creation. He conceives of creation as the very essence of the meaning of life. In his constant striving for the new, he finds that he cannot endure what is repetitive and unchanging. For him hell would be doing the same thing over and over again.  – Saul Alinsky

Yes, fundamentally I am curious, I have that free and open mind, and accept the relativity of values/positions/theories and the inherent uncertainties that come with finding oneself in living in a complex non-linear world where prediction/certainty is for those who are either naive or fools.  Which kind of explains how it is that I have deliberately sought to make friends with folks from different countries, different faiths, different ages. It also explains how it is that my interests/thinking spans science, philosophy (eastern, western), history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, ecology, systems thinking, chaos/complexity….

Is it possible that it is irreverence that lies at my core?  It hasn’t escaped my notice that the subtitle of this blog is: “provocative conversations: questioning conventional wisdom / stimulating original thinking.”

They say you remember the moments in your existence that really matter. I must have been between 8 and 10 years of age.  Unhappy. Perplexed. Desperate to figure this thing out. What thing? Why is it that the stuff the (white) folks teach me at school about good/bad, right/wrong differs from and contradicts that which my parents (and their relatives) insist is good/bad, right/wrong?  Then one day, one moment, outside walking, a thought/insight arises and hits me.  It does not leave me the same person – it changes me fundamentally and forever.  Which thought/insight? Here it is:

Its ALL made up!

Once I got that, I started pushing the boundaries – at school, at home. I became the person who questions that which is taken for granted.  The one that asks the difficult questions like “Why be a team player in a competitive individualistic culture and economic system? Do you think I am stupid? What is a team player – one who censors self to fit in with the powers that be – you?  Why should I be that kind of person?  Anyway, why should you get to define what constitutes team playing?” Or”What makes you certain that your religion is the only true religion, that your way of life is the right one?”

There is a Chinese saying which goes something like “Beware, every stick has two ends, when you pick up a stick you get both ends!” I can vouch for the truth of that.  Curiosity, open mindedness, acceptance of relativity of values/perspectives, and especially irreverence have brought me great learning, memorable experiences, and joy.  That is one end of the stick.  The other end is that almost always I find myself the Outsider. And folks do not like that which they hold dear questioned. They don’t even like the opinions/prejudices/’facts’ they picked up from their media to be subjected to Socratic questioning or my blistering critique.

My professional existence is been that of a traveller: travelling from one employer to another, moving from domain to another.  History suggests that I tend to last about two years in an organisation. At about that time I usually find myself bored – having learned that which there was to learn. And/ or I find myself facing a ‘superior’ who shows up for me as ignorant/stupid/arrogant or just a bully.

There’s an ancient story of The Oak and the Reed. According to this tale, the smart choice is to be the flexible/supple reed. I am the reed when it comes to means to accomplish ends. When it comes to values/ends and the way I have chosen to show up and travel in this existence I am the Oak. Why?  Because these matter – these are what I choose to orient/navigate my existence by.  How important are they to me?  This quote says it all:

“A man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Hemingway, The Old Man & The Sea

What Has This To Do With Customers and Leadership?

Good question.  Allow me to respond with a few questions of mine:

Do you identify with the customer (see the Clarence Darrow quote at the beginning of this conversation) and so are committed to simplifying/enriching the lives of your customers? Or are your in it purely for yourself – to make a name for yourselves, to get rich?

Are you playing the Customer game because it is THE game that you want to play because it is THE game that calls you – your deepest self?  Is playing this game the expression of your deepest self?

Do you have or are you cultivating the curiosity, the open mindedness, the awareness of the relativity of perspectives, and the inherent uncertainty of existence to get out of your existence (your default existence) and really enter into / live the lives of your customers? And thus to generate original insight, and cultivate empathy, for your customers?  How can you simplify/enrich their lives if you do not truly understand them – not as mere personas nor statistics – but as concrete human beings?

Do you get all that is – you, your organisation, the economic model, society as such – is all made up?  And are you up for unmaking that which is necessary to unmake to become a giant in the Customer arena – as seen through through customers’ eyes?  Is this a mission that appeals to you – calls forth intellectual interest and emotional passion? How do you know that passion is present?  Passion brings boundless energy and it does not get stopped by obstacles that appear on the path.

Are you willing to pay the price that comes with questioning the status quo and threatening the powerful who seek to lose by the changes you are proposing to make or making? Are you willing to be that Outsider?  Are you willing to accept Hemingway’s truth that a man is not made for defeat, that he can be destroyed but not defeated?

If you answer these questions honestly you may get why it is that few are successful in calling forth genuine loyalty between themselves and employees, between themselves and their value chain partners, between themselves and their customers, between themselves and the communities in which they operate.

Thank you for your listening, I wish you the very best, until the next time.

 

CX: Using Intelligent Generosity To Cultivate Customer Delight

Certain businesses deal with products that perish or become useless if not used by a certain date/time.  This is often seen as a problem – a problem of generating demand to drive sales, and a problem of inventory management. I have yet to see this viewed, by Tops, as an opportunity to delight customers, and cultivate gratitude / loyalty between the customer and the business.

What am I talking about? Allow me to illustrate using a recent experience.

Recently, I booked a double room at the local Hilton (St. Annes Manor) hotel via Hotels.com.  I made a mistake – I booked it in my name, and for only one adult. So when time came for my wife and daughter to go to the hotel I rang the hotel. The voice on the other hand was professional and warm. The young lady didn’t just change the booking. Once she learnt that the room was for two adults, she took charge, and without me asking, found a room with two beds. I found myself pleased and grateful.  Later that evening my wife sent me a photo of the room – it was a room with two double beds.  Delight – my wife was delighted, my daughter was delighted, and I was delighted.  Along with this kind of room came four towels – ideal for those of us who needed access to that room merely to shower – until the major renovation work is finished in our home.

Think about it. What did the hotel lose by giving us that bigger (deluxe) room?  Nothing!  It was late in the day, the room was free, and if it had not been used it would have created no value for anyone.  Through intelligent generosity the lady on the front desk did create value: for us (the customers) and also for that hotel. How so for the hotel? I am writing about the hotel right now am I not?  Also, it was the first time any member of the family stayed there – those that got to experience it (wife and daughter) love it and have been talking about it – recommending it to others: the room, the peaceful / beautiful location, the spa…..  I also suspect that sooner or later my wife will check us in there for a quiet weekend away from the children.

It occurs to me that every business that deals with ‘perishable’ inventory has an opportunity to exercise intelligent generosity:

If you are an airline then you can offer seats (that your analytical models show will go unfilled) to some of your customers for free – as a thank you;

If you are a hotel you can do as our local Hilton did and/or offer some / all of the rooms likely to go unfilled to some of your customers for free – as a thank you or as taster;

If you are a supermarket, you have an opportunity to give food that is reaching its sell by date to certain customers (you choose which ones) or to local community organisation / charity that supports those in need…..

I know that some organisations do something this  e.g. airlines which offer free upgrades to certain customers.  I know that some hotels do this also. What I am talking about here is this and more than this – in some instances giving perishable product away to customers for free – free flight, free hotel stay, free train ticket, free concert ticket……

The question I am posing is this one: what opportunities does your business have to exercise intelligent generosity – the kind of generosity that causes customer surprise / delight / gratitude, holds the promise of increased revenue and/or brand reputation over the longer term, yet costs you little or nothing today?

Before you dismiss the question that I have posed, I ask you to consider that if ‘perishable’ inventory is not used by its sell-by date then it is waste. Is waste a better outcome / way of showing up and traveling in life than intelligent generosity?  All I can say is that the field of intelligent generosity appears large and largely unoccupied.

I thank you for your listening, until the next time…

Want to Make a Success of Your CRM/CX/Digital Initiative? Listen to Montaigne

I’ve read many times that something like 70% of CRM initiatives fail to deliver the goods?  What about CX. marketing automation, and digital transformation initiatives? I don’t remember reading any statistics on the success / failure of these. Yet, I have been involved in these areas. My experience is that the process tends to be painful, and failure is more likely than success.

What Accounts For The Dominance Of Failure?

Success is an option. So what accounts for the dominance of failure in change / transformation initiatives? This is the question I found myself confronted with this week.  So what is my answer?

Before I provide you with an answer, I want you to know that over the last 30 years I have been involved in many kinds of projects-programmes-initiatives: accounting systems, management information systems, business process re-engineering, ERP systems, shared services, lean, CRM, website design & development, ecommerce design and implementation, customer loyalty, customer experience design, marketing automation, digital transformation….

Montaigne’s Insight Provides The Answer

Back to the question. What is the primary reason that many, if not most, change / transformation initiatives fail to delivery on the promise?

I say that THE primary cause of failure is a certain blindness/arrogance in those who initiate-shape-lead-manager such initiatives.  Blindness to what?  Blindness to the workings of human beings – as individuals, as groups, as the crowd. Arrogance?  The arrogance of the powerful in assuming that they can ignore the working of human beings and treat people like widgets.

Allow me to bring home that of which I am speaking by sharing the following with you  by sharing the following:

“His Scepticism makes him celebrate imperfection: the very thing Pascal, as much as Descartes, wanted to escape but never could. To Montaigne, it would be obvious why such escape is impossible: however high we ascend, we take that humanity with us.… He wrote:

It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek others conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.”

Sarah Bakewell, How To Live, A Life of Montaigne

Now let’s make this real by looking at some examples.

Customer Relationships.  Take a moment look around you. How do human beings do when it come to relating and relationships?  Are we masters at this? No. Most of us struggle most of the time when it comes to relationships: unhappy husbands, unhappy wives, unhappy parents, unhappy children, broken marriages, affairs/cheating, unhappy teachers, bored/unhappy students, dissatisfied bosses, resentful employees….

Customer Loyalty. In the world as lived do we reward loyalty?  Yes? Then consider that parents spend a great deal of their lives caring for their children and in the process making many sacrifices. What happens when these parents get old? Do the children exercise loyalty – make sacrifices and look after their elderly parents?  Or is the reward of such parents a place in a nursing home – out of the way with strangers?  How about that employee who has worked for you for 20+ years when you make his job redundant by moving it offshore?  Or the employee who can get a similar/better job with a competitor with higher pay? If we do value loyalty then why it is that the new customer gets a better deal than an existing-loyal customer?

Customer Experience.  Walk in the shoes of the customer! That is the mantra which few really step into and live. Yet even if I did step into your shoes I wouldn’t necessarily experience that which you experience?  I am not you! It may be that when you step in your shoes they pinch whereas I find them comfortable. How can man experience what it is like to be a woman?  Or youngsters what it is to be elderly?  Or a English person what it is to be French?

Cooperation & Collaboration.  There is much talk about the need/importance of cooperation and collaboration. What is the reality?  In my home there has been fierce completion between siblings to be the first/best.  In the classroom there is completion to be the best. When it comes to school plays each actor wants the prominent/leadign role. In the corporation, employees are force ranked so that only a small percentage come out as high performers, and most come out as merely ok. Why? Rewards and honours are reserved for the few so as to encourage competition at all levels.  In the context of competition what will most people do most of the time? Compete!

CRM and Marketing Automation.  Look at the way that these technologies are implemented and you are likely to find that there is minimal time-effort-money given over to educating and training the people who will be expected to use these systems. Further, the folks are expected to go from novice to expert instantly.  The reality?  These systems are not intuitive – they require time, effort and even certain kind of dedication. Time, effort, and dedication that most users are simply not willing to put in – this shows up as extra burden on a back that is just about carrying the existing burden.

Summing Up

If you wish to make a success of your change / transformation initiate then you have a choice: to work with the ‘human nature’ or not. Remember, if you are not actively working with ‘human nature’ then it is almost certain that you are working against ‘human nature’. If you work against ‘human nature’ then you are likely to end up where most folks do end up when they take this route: failure.

 

 

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….

Generating Customer Loyalty Through The Experience Not The Program

First and foremost I thank each and everyone who continues to listen the speaking that occurs on this blog.  A special appreciation for those of you who make the time to add your voice to the conversation by commenting. I wish each of you the very best for this year – may this year be the best year of your lives.

Today, I’m up for grappling with the subject of customer loyalty as I have been immersed it it since the second half of 2016 – professionally as a consultant and personally as a customer.

What Are We Talking About When We Talk Customer Loyalty?

Before diving in, let’s stop and really think about what we are talking about when we talk loyalty. According to Wikipedia:

Loyalty is devotion and faithfulness to a cause, country, group, or person. Philosophers disagree on what can be an object of loyalty as some argue that loyalty is strictly interpersonal and only another human being can be the object of loyalty.

So customer loyalty, viewed in light of this definition, is about generating devotion and faithfulness to a company and/or its brands.

Is it possible to generate devotion and faithfulness to a commercial organisation?

I can read that which the Guardian newspaper publishes online for free. Yet, I took up the Guardian’s request to pay a fee and become a Guardian member. Why pay for something that I can get free? Because, I find myself in tune with the journalism/editorial values of this newspaper. And I wish to ensure its health so that it can continue to do that which it does.

Football fans.  There are folks (customers) who spend significant amounts of time and money to travel up and down the country in order to watch/support their football team. Their devotion isn’t limited to buying tickets / watching the games. These customers also tend to be the one’s that buy the club’s merchandise and proudly display it.

Then there is Apple – clearly there are many who have been devoted and faithful to the Apple brand through good times, difficult times, great times….

So the answer to the question is yes – it is possible to generate devotion and faithfulness to a commercial organisation.

Are Loyalty Programs The Way to Customer Loyalty?

Recently, I found water pouring through the ceiling of the room below the main bathroom upstairs.  Fortunately this matter was covered by home insurance. The claims folks were helpful and appointed a contractor to replace the ceiling, strip the wallpaper and put the room back into the state it was before the damage occurred.

Unfortunately for me and my family the contractor appointed to carry out the repair work did the work in a slapdash manner.  So I raised the matter with the insurance company and told them I did not want this contractor to do the repairs in the upstairs bathroom. Ongoing, I may name and shame at a later point in time.

Who to use to do the work on the upstairs bathroom?  When faced with this question the immediate answer was the contractor that had carried out work on my home in 2014 when a car had driven into the front wall.  Why this contractor?  Because this contractor did such a professional job: upfront work of scoping and detailing the work; organising the work so that the right tradesmen turned up at the right time/sequence; adhering to the schedule of work; doing a great job of the job to be done; and providing a 2 year guarantee.

So it was the experience of dealing with this contractor including and especially the quality of their work -start to finish – that made me remember them some 3 years later and turn to them.  Not because of any loyalty program.

Back to football clubs and their devoted/faithful customers – the fans. Turns out that collect points and cash them in for rewards type of loyalty programs don’t work. Why not? That is not how a fan (loyal customer) thinks of loyalty. How does such a fan think? Something along the lines of “Remember me. Occasionally, offer me a free drink at your bar and/or invite me in to meet members of the team / club.”  What kind of loyalty is this? The human kind – the kind that the human race has known / practiced for many years. The kind that has allowed human tribes to face obstacles, together, and flourish.

Conclusion: Genuine Loyalty is Built Through the Experience Not the Program

Quality. You can build quality into the production process. Or you can employ quality inspectors to find defective products at the end of the production line.  And/or customer services folks to deal with the complaints arising from poor quality products.

It occurs to me it is the same with customer loyalty.  You can either build loyalty into the way that you do business – product, marketing, sales, logistics, service etc – or you can setup customer loyalty programmes to compensate your customers for the defects in the quality of customer’s experience of your products, your services, your organisation.  And/or your failure to adequately differentiate yourself from your competitors.

I say that the smarter way is to build loyalty into the way that you do business such that no customer loyalty program is necessary to keep your customers coming back to you:

-For Apple this means regularly creating cool/useful products/services that nobody else provides and marketing them in the Apple manner.

-For Amazon it means continuing to do that which Amazon does so well: being easy to do business with, delivering the goods the next day or two, keeping customers informed, and importantly looking out for the customer in multiple ways.

-For the Guardian newspaper it means standing for the causes that matter to the kind of people who are Guardian readers.

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

 

 

 

 

State of Customer: What I Learned During 2016

Some years I find myself working on matters of strategy. Other years I find myself with ‘dirty hands’ working at the coalface – helping organisations build capabilities, and deal with operational challenges in the areas of marketing, sales, service, and CRM.  2016 has been a year where I have worked both on strategy and operations. What have I learned?

Customer Strategy

Either organisations do not have a clearly defined customer strategy or the folks working at large organisations are inept at articulating it. At best, I have found the customer strategy to be something like retain existing customers and get more new customers. That is not strategy. That is talking about desired outcomes without articulating how the organisation intends to generate those outcomes.  Maybe, I just don’t get strategy.

Customer Loyalty

I have found that the hard work of engendering customer loyalty has been bypassed by putting in place some kind of customer loyalty programme: do X and get Y points. The challenge with these loyalty programmes is that there is no heart in them. Mostly they are marketing gimmicks. Enough customers realise this and drop out of the loyalty programme – too much effort to win the points, and it takes forever to earn enough points to buy anything of value with the points. A sizeable number of customer loyalty members are inactive.

Then there are folks who see customer loyalty as a one way street. These folks see customer loyalty in terms of monetising the customer base. So they are busy figuring out which kind of marketing tricks will entice loyal customers / fans to spend more. Their heart is transactional – through and through. Why do I say that? Because what is missing is commitment to generate superior value for loyal customers and earn a suitable reward for creating that value. It is like noticing that someone is into you and then using that to get your way with that person just because you know you can.

Customer Experience

Without doubt Customer Experience is the latest buzzword. It is everywhere. Anything and everything is being linked to or brought under the umbrella of Customer Experience. Just about anything and everything is being justified on the basis of improving the Customer Experience.

What isn’t happening is this: real substantive efforts to actually improve the Customer Experience not just at specific touchpoints but also across the entire customer lifecycle. Further almost all organisations are thinking in a blinkered manner when it comes to CX. What do I mean by that? Think Amazon Echo.  What an improvement in the customer’s experience. How many organisations are working on new products that create entirely new, delightful, customer experiences?

Why so much talk but so little real action?  Because for many it involves the equivalent of turning the caterpillar into the butterfly. Just about everybody prefers the butterfly to the caterpillar. Yet, rare it is to find an organisation where the folks are up for the effort, pain, time, and risk involved in the transformation process.  There are easier-safer things to do like embracing ‘best practices’ and the latest channel or fad.

Digital Marketing / Marketing Automation

There is real shortage of skills when it comes to digital marketing / marketing automation.    It is easier to buy digital marketing / marketing automation systems than it is to operate these systems with skill.  There are folks with sophisticated content management systems yet the sophisticated features, like personalisation, are not being used.

Or you have organisations with digital marketing hubs that are not being used well. One organisation that I came across was sending out welcome emails, birthday emails, anniversary (of signing up) emails, and weekly/monthly newsletters. Why just these? Because only these emails came out of the box!  No event driven marketing communications. No dynamic content / personalisation. No predictive content… Yet, all of this functionality is there in the marketing automation suite.

Single View of The Customer / CRM

The biggest challenge / hurdle many organisations are facing is that of constructing that much desired yet elusive single view of the customer. The theory was that CRM systems would make that challenge easier by bringing more and more customer-centred data into one system. This hasn’t actually happened. What has happened is that there are more and more systems holding customer related data – each disconnected from the rest.  If anything cloud based vendors have driven fragmentation as it is easy for marketing folks to buy a marketing system ignoring rest of the organisation. What goes for marketing goes for sales, for the call-centre, for field service……

The Core Challenge is That of Integration

My experience is that the core challenge is that of integration. There is the challenge of integrating the various systems (data sources) to provide the single view of the customer. Then there is the challenge of integrating the organisation players around a well defined, coherent, clearly articulated customer strategy. And a clearly defined customer experience across touchpoints / interaction channels, for the entire customer journey.  It occurs to me that it is only worth gluing up the systems if the folks that run the organisation are willing to glue up the organisation itself. In the absence of that commitment, money spent gluing up systems is likely to be wasted.

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