Hall of Shame: SwissAir -The Service Sucks!!

Ever since I moved to Switzerland some 16 months ago, I have chosen to fly SwissAir rather than BA. Why? Because I found the travelling experience to be better with SwissAir. However, now – today – I am so so minded to switch to any airline as long as it is not SwissAir. Why?

My Experience With BA: Excellent, Could Not Ask For More/Better/Different

It started back in March-19. I had booked two flights – for my son, and my daughter -with BA, from London to Zurich, for April. BA cancelled each of these flights – both of which departed on different days – and notified me via email. Further, BA informed me that I would automatically be refunded the cost of those tickets. BA was true to its word as in a few days of the cancellation notification email I received a confirmation – via email – of the refund. This left me impressed with the professionalism and integrity (moral) of the people running the airline as well as the operational integrity of the IT systems and associated business processes.

My Experience With SwissAir: Wow How Incompetent & Inconsiderate!

As soon as BA notified me that the flights were cancelled, I made the flight bookings with SwissAir. And, I was relieved and delighted as I was so looking forward to my two children coming over for Easter. All SwissAir did to delight me was to allow me to book (and pay) easily/quickly via their mobile app.

Since then my experience with SwissAir is one that can best be described – politely – as poor. Or as the Brit in me says “Piss Poor!” Allow me to set out my Moments of Despair:

1-Flight Cancelled But No Automatic Refund Nor Can I Get Through to Customer Services

Early April, days before my children were due to fly, SwissAir cancelled the flights: those of my children, and my scheduled flight to the UK at the end of April. As I made the bookings, I was notified. Unlike BA there was no automatic refund of the costs of those flights. No, to get a refund it was necessary to go online and fill in a form. Why?

To make it harder for customers to get refunds. Further, it simply was not possible to speak to a member of the Customer Services team. And we were told not to call Customer Services team. What the fork!? I let this be and gave SwissAir the benefit of the doubt given the covid-19 circumstances. Yet, I did notice their lack of moral integrity with regards to issuing refunds. In my way of seeing things: BA had acted decently, and SwissAir indecently.

2-Rebooking By Calling Customer Services, Cannot Be Done Online


Mid-July I rebook my son’s cancelled flight – as I am allowed to do this free of charge – due to the change in terms of conditions set out by SwissAir to deal with covid-19 impact. The thing is that I cannot do this online. Not great as I have been used to doing it all via the SwissAir app on my mobile.

So I ring Customer Services. Thankfully someone helpful answers my call within a few minutes. So far so good. Getting the flight rebooked turns out to be painless. Except for one thing. I am told that the new tickets will be issued and the transaction will be confirmed by email.

I wait for a few days, no email arrives. So concern is present. Which in turn drives me to call Customer Services. I get through and am told “Your ticket has not yet been issued. You are in the queue and your ticket will be issued shortly. Once the ticket is issued you will get an email confirmation.” That does not happen. And, I do not chase as I notice that the booking (including booking reference) appears on my SwissAir mobile app.

Notice that this is a fail for me, the customer, and for the airline. By not keeping the promise, by not keeping me up to date with status, SwissAir made work for me and for itself. I had to call, they had to take the call. I wonder how many customers did that which I had found myself forced to do?

3-Time to Check-In And Get A Boarding Pass For Flight to Zurich

It’s now just less than twenty four hours before the flight is scheduled to depart from London. Son goes to the SwissAir mobile app to do the check-in. Not allowed. Instead instructed to go talk to the SwissAir folks once arrive at London Heathrow. Which means that my son has to arrive earlier (and thus a longer journey) at Heathrow to get this issue dealt with. This is not forking great as my son – due to anxiety – finds travelling stressful. Imagine what my son is dealing with right now.

What does he find at the ticket desk in Heathrow? A queue. And when he finally gets to the ticketing desk, he finds that SwissAir have failed to issue a ticket for his flight!

Get this SwissAir had 2 weeks to issue the ticket. And failed to do so. Then, there, some running around to get the ticket issued so that my son could get a boarding card. And when he did get one, he got one of the shitty seats – as these were the only ones left.

How is it that SwissAir takes the booking, takes my money, and yet does not issue a ticket for the flight? Surely, issuing a ticket is basic, fundamental, business process for an airline, any airline! So, from an CX perspective, this is a huge fail. And, being charitable, I think “OK, it might just be a one-off glitch”

4-Yesterday, Time to Check-In And Get Boarding Card For Flight to London

Guess what happens! Yes, you have guessed it: we go to the SwissAir app to do the online check-in as the flight departs in just less than 24 hours. And we face the same issue: not allowed, told to go see the SwissAir folks at Zurich Airport.

I call Customer Services, I wait only a couple of minutes and get through to an agent. I set out the issue that I am facing. She checks. Sure enough, SwissAir have failed to issue a ticket for the return leg of the trip! How forking incompetent. And inconsiderate with regards to the impact on the Customer!

Can she get the ticket issued there and then? No! The best she can do is to put a high priority urgent request to the ticketing team. And, she tells me that the ticket should be issued in 2 hours so I should attempt online check-in after 2 hours.

Did SwissAir keep that promise? Fork no! It’s around 8pm yesterday and I am on the line with another agent in Customer Services. She tells me that ticket is still not issued. That it is in the queue. And there is nothing she can do about it. That the matter will have to be dealt with the ticket desk at Zurich airport tomorrow.

In Conclusion: The Management Team at SwissAir Should Be Sacked Immediately

I am clear that issuing a ticket -correctly and on time – is both an essential and a basic business process. It should happen automatically, and should work flawlessly. It should not be the job of the Customer to chase SwissAir to issue tickets.

Failure, twice, to get this right shows that a hygiene factor in the Customer Experience is broken. And, it shows that SwissAir doesn’t give a fork about the impact on the Customer and his/her experience of dealing with SwissAir. That is grounds enough for me, if I were in a position to do so, to fire the SwissAir management team – starting with the CEO. Given that I am not in a position to do that, I will do the next best thing: book future flights with alternative carriers like BA.

Customer Experience Lessons From The Cafe Hotel Greinwald

You travel on business and your expenses are covered such that you can choose to stay at  a 5* hotel (with swimming pools, jacuzzi, sauna, various bars, three restaurants, fantastic lawns outside) or a family owned/run restaurant that is less than half the price and doesn’t have the look/feel nor the facilities of the 5* hotel.  Which do you choose after you have sampled them both by staying there?

Without hesitation I chose, and continue to choose the family owned/run restaurant: The Hotel Greinwald (www. hotel-greinwald.de) – a hotel in Marktoberdorf, Allgau region of Germany.  Why?  In one word: Family!

What I miss most when I travel on business (especially when I am staying away from home 4 nights a week is the feeling of being at home amongst family. And, this is the very feeling that I got from the moment of arrival to departure – every single week.  I would be greeted warmly usually by Gabi; Gabi and Eric, wife and husband, own and run the hotel with help form their son Martin.

Every encounter with the people who work there was a positive. For example, I got to know Quiran – the young man who often brought me cooked breakfast. Or Katerina, one of the waitresses who was such a delight to talk to.  And, not the only one – all the waitresses were.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember their names, though I do remember their faces, our conversations, and their kindness.

If you travel on business, then I ask you this: How many hoteliers have you reached out to since the start of covid=19, just to say “Hello, I wonder how you are doing given covid-19, I miss you and I hope to come back and stay with you as soon travel is possible!”  Zero, is my guess. Well that is the email I wrote and I addressed it to Gabi.

What happened? I got such a wonderful reply from Gabi’s son Martin as he is taking over from Gabi so that Gabi and Eric can do less.  He was delighted to hear from me.  He told me that Gabi and Eric are doing well. The financial impact of collapse of bookings. And the hope that things would get better soon…. And, I continue to think of the folks who own/run, and staff the Hotel Greinwald.  Every time I do, I find sheer gratitude present. And, I wish each/all of them well.

Hotel Greinwald Offers Six Customer Experience Lessons

What is it that makes The Hotel Greinwald excellent? Let me give you some of the moments that stand out:

1-The Welcome. Always greeted enthusiastically. Recognised as a returning customer. Told (and I can see it is meant) something like “I/we are happy to see you again!”

2-Catering for my preferences without even being asked.  There are something like 22 rooms, I stayed in many of them, then I found my favourite. And, I told Gabi about my favourite. From that moment on, I am given that room if it is available. Fantastic – I didn’t ask for it, yet it happens, and I am grateful.

3-The people who work there.  I cannot ask to be greeted by and served by a more welcoming and helpful people. My German is poor. All the staff switched to English to make me feel comfortable. I was greeted with genuine warmth/smiles. They remembered my preferences without the need for any CRM system (there isn’t one!). They danced with me when I opened up a conversation beyond the role. For example, when I asked Katerina about her personal situation. And she told me that she is, divorced  and thus a single mother, with children.

4-The quality of the rooms. The bedrooms that I stayed in were excellent. Yes, there was a bed and a table to work at. And, there was more: comfortable sofa and/or lounge chair to sit in.  The bedrooms were spacious. The bathroom/toilet/shower area was spacious. And, everything was clean.

5-Generosity. When I stay at hotels I have to pay ridiculous prices if I am thirsty and want a bottle of water or a soft drink. At the Hotel Greinwald, this didn’t happen. A fridge on the 2nd floor was stocked with a range of drinks, and we, the guests, could go and help ourselves. No charge. Just a gift from the owners.

6-Exceptional care, going beyond the expected. One evening, I was downstair in the cafe/restaurant. I was with a group of people. We ordered.  The starter came, and we ate them. Unfortunately, it happened to be a Monday evening and every Monday 8pm I have a call that I do not miss because it is with a very special person in the US. As the clock hit 7:50, I left instructing my colleagues to ask Gabi to put the meal, for all of us, on my tab.  Whilst I was up in my bedroom, on the call with my friend, I heard knocking on the door. I opened it to find Gabi holding a tray with my meal on it. Surprise! Delight! Gratitude!

Recommendation

If you happen to be visiting the Allgau region of Germany, then I wholeheartedly, and without reservation, recommend staying at the Hotel Greinwald.  I have yet to come across a better people, a better experience – I have tried a number of hotels, and none comes close.

Finally, My Take On Where Corporates Are Going Wrong With The Customer Thing

Much of that which I see in the CX arena occurs as misguided to me.  Put bluntly, you can:

  • invest all you want in technology (e.g. CRM systems), and it will not make any real difference customer loyalty;
  • spend a lifetime designing and redesigning processes and you can keep an army of consultants busy/happy yet not make a dent in customer loyalty; and
  • change the organisational structure, play around with people’s job description, tinker with the performances etc and this will not make a dent in customer loyalty.

Why? Because your and your organisation are ‘in love with’ just about everything (revenues, profits, KPIs, strategy, processes, technology etc) but with those that truly matter:

  • your people – those who are vital to co-creating the customer’s experience; and
  • your customers – by this I mean the flesh & blood human beings (not customer segments, not personas).

Last but not least, you as in you and your organisation lack Soul.  I say Soul is decisive. If Soul is present then customers will forgive hiccups whether due to people issues, process issues, technology issues, or a combination of these. Without Soul, you can do pretty much everything correctly, and make no connection with the human heart – the basis of all loyalty.

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

 

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…

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.