“Customers are assets.” Have You Totally Lost Sight of Your Humanity?

It occurs to me that whilst the words have changed the speakers who speak “Customers are assets.” continue to be gripped by the same old paradigm, the same old way of being-in-the-world.  And it occurs to me that one makes little headway in cultivating genuine customer loyalty if one continues to be gripped by this outdated paradigm and the associated way of being-in-the-world.  Let’s explore.

What kind of frame of reference would give rise to the statement “Customers are assets”?  Think about it, engage with it, and it comes clear that the frame of economics, of trade, is what gives rise to this way of thinking, speaking, and being-in-the-world.  It is in the world of the economist and accountant that one speaks of and deals in assets and liabilities.  There are fixed assets and current assets.  What does one do with assets?  Well if you are an economist or accountant you leverage assets, you make assets sweat, you strive to generate a ROI from your assets…

Now please take a moment and think of your life, your personal life, your social life.  How often do you talk of your partner as an asset?  What about your father or mother?  Do you refer to your children as assets?  What about your friends do you speak of them as assets?  How often do you hear other people, in social situation, speaking of the people in their lives as assets?

Now please tell me why you speak of your customers as assets.

I say that customers are not assets.  I say that customers are people.  I say that customers are fellow human beings.  I say that customers have hopes and dreams. I say that customers have worries and concerns.  And I say that it is the emotional bonds that we cultivate between our customers and ourselves that are assets. Why? The principle of reciprocity.  Most of us are brought up to live the principle of reciprocity – to return good for good, and bad for bad.  Most of us literally have no say in the matter. When people are good to us we feel compelled to be good to them. And if we do not return good for good our self-esteem takes a big hit.

Why is the distinction between “Customers are assets” and “It is the emotional bonds that we cultivate between our customers and ourselves that are assets” matter?  Because, it is the very kind of being and showing up in the world that gives rise to the statement “Customers are assets” that gets in the way of cultivating emotional bonds with our customers.  

Let me put it bluntly, the relationships that arise out of a context of love/service are vastly different to the relationships that arise out of a context of greed/selfishness/fear.   Customers are not assets. Customers are people.  And people do not like to be thought of or spoken of  as “assets”. No, they crave to be appreciated, validated, trusted, supported, encouraged, helped, included,  listened to, treated fairly …. Please notice these words – appreciation, validation, trust, support, encouragement, help, inclusion, listening – do not arise in the language/world of economists and accountants.

If there are any doubts then let me put them to rest.  Customers are loyal to you, your business, when you honour/validate that which matters most to them.  What is that?  Their human dignity. And their need to feel that you genuinely care for them and have their best interests at heart.  If this shows up as being unrealistic then I say this to you: I was with friends who have built up a successful business, against the odds, through this very orientation: genuine caring for customers as fellow human beings.

Why are so many companies vulnerable in the ‘age of the customer’?

So much of what is happening under the Customer umbrella occurs to me as being wide of the mark.  Why?  Because of the unwillingness to honestly face what is so. Which begs the question what is so?

“The reason so many companies are vulnerable is because the state of relationships between companies and customers is so poor. Products and services tend to be impersonal. Responsiveness tends to be uneven at best, or miserable at worst.  

It is reasonable to assert that frustration, annoyance, and anger have been building up among customers for decades. They are tired of being treated as numbers, of being mislead or even lied to, and of being considered targets instead of living, breathing human beings.”  – Michael Hinshaw and Bruce Kasanoff, Smart Customers Stupid Companies

Why now?  Because social media enables transparency of a kind never seen before. Because social media enable customers to easily voice their experiences, share them with the world, and thus influence/shape behaviour – customers, media, governments. And most importantly because of the many who are busy figuring out how to use digital technologies to create a new world of possibilities enabled by digital technologies and social customers.

Is this the access to profitable revenues, loyal customers and enduring success? (Part I)

Being a physics graduate I value an insightful theory that opens up new domains of enquiry and provides access to breakthroughs in performance.  Now and then I come across a business author who nails it, who provide such a theory.  It occurs to me that Clayton Christensen nails the essence of the customer-centric approach to doing business. And it just happens to be at the core of my consulting work.  Let’s start.

Do you have a deep understanding of what problems customers are trying to solve?

Let’s start with a truth that is so neglected. When I say neglected, I am not saying that you have not heard this truth.  I am clear that many of you will have heard of it – most likely it is a platitude.  And that is the very reason that this truth is not taken to heart, not lived, not given life in the world of business.  What truth?  This is what Clayton Christensen says in his marvellous book How Will You Measure Your Life?(bolding is my work):

“Many products fail because companies develop them from the wrong perspective.  Companies focus too much on what they want to sell their customers, rather than what those customers really need. What’s missing is empathy: a deep understanding of what problems customers are trying to solve.  The same is true of our relationships: we go into them thinking about what we want rather than what is important to the other person.  Changing your perspective is a powerful way to deepen your relationships.”

Why does this passage speak to me? It is my experience. Time after time in my consulting work I am struck by the truth of this understanding.  A lack of empathy and understanding for the customer as a human being who becomes a customer of the organisation in order to ‘hire’ that organisation – through its people and ‘products’ – to get a job that matters, done.

What can we learn from IKEA?

IKEA is an incredibly successful discount furniture retailer.  It has been in business for over 40 years, it has global revenues in excess of 25 billion euros and Ingvar Kamprad (the owner) is one of the richest men in the world.  The success of IKEA is not based on secret formulas, intellectual property, nor barriers to entry. So why is it that nobody has successfully copied IKEA?  This is what Clayton Christensen says (bolding is my work):

IKEA’s entire business model – the shopping experience, the layout of the store, the design of the products and the way they are packaged – is very different from the standard furniture store.  Most retailers are organised around a customer segment, or a type of product….

IKEA has taken a totally different approach. Rather than organising themselves around the characterisation of particular customers or products, IKEA is structured around a job that customers periodically need to get done.

The “job to be done” as a source of innovation, growth and competitive success?

Let’s continue listening to the wisdom of Clayton Christensen:

Through my research on innovation ….. my colleagues and I have developed a theory about this approach to marketing and product development, which we call the “job to be done”. The insight behind this way of thinking is that what causes us to buy a product or service is that we actually hire products to do jobs for us.

We don’t go through life conforming to particular demographic segments: nobody buys a product because he is an eighteen to thirty five year old white male getting a college degree. That may be correlated with a decision to buy this product instead of that one, but it doesn’t cause us to buy anything. Instead, periodically we find that some job has arisen in our lives that we need to do, and we then find some way to get it done.  If a company has developed a product or service to do the job well, we buy, or “hire” it, to do the job.

The mechanism that causes us to buy a product is “I have a job I need to get done, and this is going to help me do it.

So if you are going to segment your customers then segment them by the jobs that they “hire” you for. Here, I want to point out that you can use this “jobs to be done” approach for all customer touchpoints.  For example, what jobs do your customers hire your call-centre for?  What jobs do they hire your website for?  What do they hire your facebook page for?

Back to what we can learn from IKEA? 

Having set out his theory, Clayton Christensen returns to IKEA and explains the cause of its success as follows:

IKEA doesn’t focus on selling a particular type of furniture to any particular demographically defined group of consumers. Rather, it focuses on a job that many consumers confront quite often as they establish themselves and their families in new surroundings: I’ve got to get this place furnished tomorrow, because the next day I have to show up at work. Competitors can copy IKEA’s products. Competitors can even copy IKEA’s layout. But what nobody has done is copy the way IKEA has integrated its products and its layout.

This thoughtful combination allows shoppers to quickly get everything done at once….. In fact, because IKEA does the job so well, many of its customers have developed an intense loyalty to its products.

What is the lesson according to Clayton Christensen?

He sums it up well and find me in total agreement:

When a company understands the jobs that arise in people’s lives, and then develops products and the accompanying experiences required in purchasing and using the product to do the job perfectly, it causes customers to instinctively “pull” the product into their lives whenever the job arises. But when a company simply makes a product that other companies also can make – and is a product that can do lots of jobs but none of them well – it will find that customers are rarely loyal to one product versus another. They will switch in a heartbeat when an alternative goes on sale. 

I will continue the conversation around the ‘jobs to be done’ approach of doing business and creating superior value – for the customers and your business – in the next post in this series.

Customer Experience as an access to & source of business disruption and transformation

What do the failures of three high street chains disclose about Customer Experience?

Over the last week or so, three brand name high street retailers – Blockbuster, HMV, and Jessops – have failed.  What do these retailers disclose about the Customer Experience?

I say that these retailers disclose that Customer Experience is both an access to business transformation. And at the same time, a source of business disruption.  Yes, digital technologies often enable a superior Customer Experience. Yes, someone has to figure out a viable business model. And yet, it is the superior Customer Experience that attracts customers and thus enables business disruption and transformation.

I also say that the demise of these retailers shows something else.  What? It shows that most of the companies that are talking about / using Customer Experience are using it as a tactical tool. And that is a mistake.  How can I point this out clearly? Let’s take the airline industry.  I say that as and when a company invents a ‘teleporter’ (think Star Trek, Blakes 7) it is the end of the airline industry no matter how much money the airlines spend on improving the Customer Experience associated with flying. And even with a ‘teleporter’ the people who go on sea cruises will continue to go on sea cruises.  I hope you get that which I am pointing at.  Just in case, I have failed to communicate, I am going to take a look at the demise of Blockbuster.

What lesson does Blockbuster disclose?

Why did I turn to Blockbuster?  To do a job.  What job?  The job of entertaining myself and/or my family.  What role did Blockbuster play?  Blockbuster provided the means for me to get that job done?  What was ‘the means’?  The video.

What did I have to go through to get the job of entertaining myself and my family done? I had to drive 12 minutes to the nearest Blockbuster store only to find that the car park was full. Then I had to drive around and find somewhere to park – not easy. Once I parked the car, I had to walk to the store. Then hope the right video was in store.  Select a video, queue and pay. Then walk back to the car and drive home. Watch the video. Tell myself to remember to take the video back. Next day, drive to the store, find somewhere to park, walk to the store, return the video.

Do you notice something?  The Blockbuster Customer Experience imposed costs – time, effort, worry – on me.  I did not want to drive.  I did not want to find somewhere to park. I did not want to turn up at the store and find Blockbuster had no more copies of the movie I wanted to watch.  I did not want to have the threat of late fees hanging over my head. I did not want to go back to the store to return the video.  These were the costs imposed on me by the Blockbuster Customer Experience.  I put up with them because I did not have a better alternative.

When the better alternative came – a better Customer Experience – I left Blockbuster. With Netflix and/or Lovefilm I select the movie I want to watch and I can watch it instantly on TV, on the PC, on the iPad, on the iPod. And if I don’t like that movie? I stop it and instantly start watching another one. All for a flat monthly fee which is better value than Blockbuster ever was.  Actually, it is better than that because I don’t watch many movies, my family does. Now, they do it themselves and I have no work to do!

What are the fundamental insights/lessons here?

It occurs to me that there are two lessons.  First, digital is disruptive. Digital technologies, used imaginatively, used courageously, hold the potential and promise of business disruption. Why? Because they enable companies to craft and offer superior customer experiences.  How?  They collapse time-distance-effort-worry. And thus enable smart companies to come up with value propositions and customer experiences that customers value. Which probably explains why the bulk of my work over the last two years has been concerned with digital strategy and digital customer experience.

Second, the real leverage in Customer Experience is not tinkering with what it is – which is what most companies are doing.  The real leverage is using insight and imagination to design fundamentally new and disruptive customer experiences.  The ones that enrich the lives of customers (by delivering unexpected benefits) and at the same time take out costs – time, effort, delay, worry  – and deliver greater value for money.

And finally

It occurs to me that if you want to get strategic value out of Customer Experience then go back and read/study The Experience Economy.  The point is not merely to improve the experience associated with a product, service or solution.  It is more than that.  What it says is that you can choose to compete at a completely different level – the experience level.  What are you selling?  An experience.  What kind of experience? The kind of experience that Build-A-Bear has come up with for bears for children.  The kind of music experience that Apple has created through iPods, iTunes, iCloud.  Or the membership experience that the MVNO giffgaff has put together for mobile telecommunications.  The kind of experience that Netflix and Lovefilm deliver for movies.

Please remember that if your business is open to digital disruption then it will be disrupted.  You can choose to do that yourself. Or you can wait for someone else to do it.  Blockbuster and HMV could see the disruption, they chose not to act.  As for the folks at Jessops, hindsight says that they should have got out of the camera business and into the business of selling smartphones.  What do you say?

Santander and Barclays Bank disclose the value of the customer experience

It occurs to me that practical experience can be and often is the best guide to showing the value of theoretical constructs. And practical experience can also act as great tool for making sense of and distinguishing between theoretical constructs like service, customer service, and customer experience.

Santander

I take care of my personal banking needs through Santander.  And I find myself to be a happy customer.  Why?  Because it is easy to get my banking jobs done.  Specifically, it is easy for me to get these banking jobs done online.  It is easy/quick for me to log in, see my accounts, view my transactions, move money around accounts, set-up payments, make payments……  Which is why I cannot remember the last time that I rang Santander’s Customer Services team.  And it is also why I rarely visit/use the Santander branch network.

By getting the online banking customer experience right Santander has assured itself of my continuing business AND in that very process/act  almost cut out the demand that I make on the Santander ‘Customer Services team’ – whether that team is in the call-centres or in the branch network. Put differently, architecting and delivering the right customer experience has allowed Santander to make our relationship sticker and improve the profitability of this relationship.

Barclays Bank

I do my business banking through Barclays.  When I set-up this bank account some 9 months ago,  I opted for an account that allows and encourages me to do almost all of my business banking online.  Why?  Because of the online banking experience I am accustomed to with Santander.  How did things turn out?  I got an unpleasant surprise.  The Barclays online banking experience occurred as fiddly and even tedious compared to my Santander experience.

With Santander I pull out my debit card which I tend to have with me wherever I am and enter the card number into the log-in screen. The next screen comes up with a personal phrase that I have chosen so that I know that I am dealing with the genuine Santander site.  And seeing that is the case I enter two PINs that I have chosen and so can remember easily.  Which means it takes me about 30 seconds to be into my account doing my banking.

To do online banking with Barclays – over the PC – I have to go and find a lever arch file, the debit card, the PinSentry card reader.  That is just the start.  To get into my account I have to: find and type in the account number that is sitting in the lever arch file; enter four digits of the number on the debit card; insert debit card into PinSentry reader; type in a PIN into PinSentry; push the right button (three to choose from); read the security code issued by PinSentry and type that into the website log-in screen.  Guess what tended to happen? Not remember the numbers, making mistakes by entering the wrong numbers, and getting locked out of my account.

As a result of several failures, call then bad experiences, I noticed that I was reluctant to use the online banking service.  It just occurred as too much hassle and prone to going wrong.  So what did I end up doing instead?  I ended up ringing up the Customer Services team. I rang them up when I was trying to make sense of the process including which PIN to type into PinSentry as I had been given several PINs – one for telephone banking, one for online banking, one for the debit card and it was not obvious to me which was which.  I rang them up when I could not get into my account. I rang them up when I had tried to log in successfully several times and got my account blocked.

By not paying attention to the customer experience Barclays ended up creating work for me, making online banking show up as an unpleasant, difficult, tedious process.  Drove up their costs because instead of serving myself effortlessly, like I do with Santander, I ended up calling their Customer Services team. And in the process made me ask myself if I should close down the Barclays account and open one up with Santander.

What exactly did Barclays not pay attention to?  First, they did not pay attention to the joining experience from my perspective.  I got several letters, at different times, from different parts of Barclays when I joined up.  Each of which supplied me with numbers and it was not clear to me when/how those numbers should be used.  I remember thinking why all these PINs?  Second, Barclays did not pay attention to the online banking experience itself.  The job of addressing security risks gets in the way of job of making it easy/quick for customers to do online banking.

Why have I ended up staying with Barclays?  Because their mobile banking app is great.  It provides me with an online banking experience that works just right.  It is easy to download and set-up.  And once it is set-up it takes me no time at all to be into my banking account doing what I need to do; all it takes is for me to enter a five digit code that I have chosen and can easily remember!

What is the learning here?

There is no fixed relationship between Customer Service and Customer Experience.  I draw your attention to the assumption that working on customer service (and the folks that work in the call-centres) is an essential part of improving the customer experience.  Not necessarily. By getting the online customer experience right Santander has made Customer Services (the call-centres) and the branch network disappear from my horizon.

By creating value for me Santander creates value for itself.  In getting the online customer experience right Santander creates value for me – saving me time, effort and money. And at the very same time  and through the very same act, Santander creates value for itself. How? By reducing its cost base thus enhancing its profitability. And by creating a sticker relationship – increasing the level of voluntary lock-in.

By not thinking through the joining process Barclays made the already cumbersome online banking process even harder.  By allowing the job of online security swamp my need to easily/quickly access my account Barclays made it hard for me to access the core service that I had hired Barclays to provide.  By making it harder Barclays forced me to use the more costly Customer Services (call-centre) channel that I did not want to use.  So a poorly designed customer experience drove up costs for me (time and effort) and costs for Barclays (unnecessary calls coming into the call centres).

The Barclays mobile banking app has through necessity forced Barclays to get rid of the complexity.  And in so doing Barclays have come with a banking experience that is just right.  So right that both my wife and I turn to the mobile banking touchpoint to do our banking with Barclays.  And my phone calls to the Barclays customer services team have stopped.

It occurs to me that the smart way of reducing the costs associated with the Customer Service function is to look outside of the Customer Services team.  Where?  At each and every touchpoint associated with the customer becoming aware of, learning about, buying and using the core service.  Why?  It is the failure of these touchpoints to meet the needs/expectations of customers that drive customers to call the Customer Services teams.

Bill Price makes a great point when he says the best service is no service.  Which makes me wonder if the prize, in cost terms, of getting the customer experience right is that the cost of Customer Service is zero because nobody is needed in the call-centres to take calls from customers – there are no calls because all the primary touchpoints work just right, deliver the right customer experience.  What do you think?

A skeptical look at 2012 and best practices

Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. [Miguel de Unamuno, “Essays and Soliloquies,” 1924]

What shows up for me when I reflect back on 2012?  It occurs to me that most of what is written on all things business – including customer – is driven by the need of people and organisations to sell something: a product, a service, a solution, themselves.   Put differently, it is marketing.  The job of marketing is not ‘truth’ nor ‘usefulness’.  No, the job of marketing is to bypass the mind and pull the heart strings so as to move the human being to act in accordance with the wishes of the marketer.  And as such that which is written – including every post that I write – should be questioned.  More accurately, it should be tested to determine if it is science or merely philosophy masquerading as science.

I say that the area that needs the most urgent and critical examination into that which is merely philosophy masquerading as science is  in the areas of customer theory (CRM, Customer Experience, loyalty) and best practices.   

Why go to the trouble to question, research, investigate and test stuff out for ourselves?  Because there is a world of difference between genuinely useful theory (‘good theory’ the term used by Clayton Christensen) and that which masquerades as useful theory.  What do I mean?  I’ll let Clayton Christensen speak on the matter:

“Consider, for example, the history of mankind’s attempts to fly.  Early researchers observed strong correlations between being able to fly and having feathers and wings.  Stories of men attempting to fly by strapping on wings date back hundreds of years.  They were replicating what they believed allowed birds to soar: wings and feathers. 

Possessing these attributes had a high correlation ….. with the ability to fly, but when humans attempted to follow what they believed were “best practices” of the most successful fliers by strapping on wings, then jumping off cathedrals and flapping hard … they failed.  The mistake was that although feathers and wings were correlated with flying, the would-be-aviators did not understand the fundamental causal mechanism … that enabled certain creatures to fly.  

The real breakthrough in human flight did not come from crafting better wings or using more feathers.  It was brought about by Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernouelli and his book Hydrodynamica, a study of fluid mechanics…. he outlined …. a theory that, when applied to flight, explained the concept of lift.  We had gone from correlation (wings and feathers) to causality (lift).  Modern flight can be traced directly back to the development and adoption of this theory.”

I say that most of what is pushed as “best practice” in business – including the areas of CRM, CXP, customer loyalty – is merely anecdote and correlation.  And putting in place these ‘best practices’ and expecting to win the game of business is about as sane as strapping on feathers and wings and expecting to fly! I say that you should adopt/live the best practice of deeply questioning best practices.

If you disagree with me then please share your perspective.  I am particularly interested in anyone who thinks they have found the equivalent of lift (causal mechanism) for business success, for engendering customer loyalty.  Please know that I am open to being proved wrong, to be shown the error of my ways – and I mean that genuinely.  Or as Clayton Christensen puts it:

“But even the breakthrough understanding of the cause of flight still wasn’t enough to make flight perfectly reliable.  When an airplane crashed, researchers then had to ask, “What was it about the circumstances of that particular attempt to fly that led to failure? Wind? Fog? The angle of the aircraft?” Researchers could then define what rules pilots needed to follow in order to succeed in each different circumstance.  That’s a hallmark of good theory: it dispenses its advice in “if-then” statements.”

And finally, I recommend Clayton’s book How Will You Measure Your Life.  It is a great read. And if embraced it will make a contribution to your life, your business.

Skeptical musings on ‘treating different customers differently’ and the expertise of business gurus

You may know that I value skepticism in the sense of questioning the taken for granted.  In this post I question the  central tenet of the customer business.  And I question the insight and expertise of customer gurus and management consultants. Let’s start with the central tenet.

What is the right basis for treating different customers differently?

If there is a central tenet of the whole customer business (CRM, CXM, customer retention & loyalty) then it is this: treat different customers differently.  How does that work in practice?  There are two options: you can treat different customers differently based on their needs or based on their financial value.  Which should take priority?

Imagine that you are in pain doubled up in the waiting room of a hospital emergency room. It is late at night during the new year holidays and there is a shortage of doctors.  So there are some ten people there with you in the waiting room – each of whom is keen to get seen to quickly.  What basis should be used to decide who gets access to the scarce/valuable ‘resource’ (the doctor) next?  Should the basis be first come first served?  Should it be the person who is in most need of urgent attention because his/her life is at risk?  Should it be the person who is willing to pay the highest price – the one that represents the most financial value?  What do you say?

What would the ‘customer guru’ say if he was to act consistently with his business philosophy?  He would say that if the hospital is a business then the people in the waiting room should be divided up (segmented) first by their financial value (to the hospital) and then by their medical needs.  Which means that the person who is going to make the most money for the hospital and who is most in need of urgent attention should be the next one to get to see the doctor.

What actually happened?  I was that person in the waiting room doubled up with pain.  And the lady next to me was in a lot of pain as well.  We were talking and complaining about the shortage of doctors, how slow the process was, how long we had been waiting – over an hour. We both hoped that we would get seen to quickly – ideally next.  Then a mother came in with a young child who was clearly in a lot of pain.   What was our reaction?  Both of us were adamant that the young child had to be seen next and seen immediately; we forgot our pain, we no longer thought about ourselves, our humanity reached out to that young child who was suffering so much!  And I noticed that all the other adults in the waiting room forgot themselves and collectively we gave one big sigh of relief when that young child was taken to see the doctor after a couple of minutes. Clearly, the hospital got this because they were seeing us on the basis of our need – how serious our condition was.  And that  is what allowed us all to bear our pain and go with the system: the system occurred as fair, as just – as one that does justice to human dignity.

I hope that you get what I am getting at here.  If you do not then let me spell it out for you.  What the ‘customer gurus’ espouse contradicts certain ingrained values that go with being human.  Most of us have a sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ including that which contributes to our human dignity and that which takes away from our human dignity.  Visibly treating different customer differently is a minefield because it brings out into the open the question of human dignity.  It occurs to me that only people who are not called to by these values are economists, MBAs, business gurus and management consultants.

Why you should be skeptical about business gurus and management consultants

First and foremost, I say, you should be skeptical of any business guru and every management consultant.  Why?  Because business gurus and management consultancies are in the business of passing of philosophy as science, as scientific management, as truth, even if they are not aware that this is what they are doing.  Put differently, when you take a thorough skeptical look then you find that the business gurus and management consultancies are like the king who was not wearing any clothes – it just took a child to see it and call it.

At his point, I wish to introduce you to Colin Shaw because has written a post that has generated high emotion.  Colin is the CEO of Beyond Philosophy – a customer experience consultancy which  makes a big point about the importance of tapping into the irrational side of customers and says it has a scientific proven method for doing so.  On LinkedIn Colin describes himself as “Author 4 Customer Experience books | Consultant | Customer Retention & Customer Loyalty | Keynote Speaker” 

His latest post hasn’t got the kind of reaction (comments) that he was expecting. I think it is fair to say he shows up as being totally surprised by the reaction as expressed through numerous comments many of which are not supportive of him and his point of view.  Which occurs to me as interesting given that the heart of  all things customer is a good grasp of the human condition.  Colin starts off his latest post (Missed opportunities to identify high value Customers – Virgin Atlantic Case Study)  with the following:

“I fly a lot. I have Diamond status on the Delta airlines loyalty scheme, the highest you can get. I really fly a lot! On my briefcase and all my bags I have the Delta Diamond tags. This is like wearing a beacon that says ‘this guy flies a lot’!

My question is, “When I fly with other airlines, do they ignore this display that says I am a high value Customer and could be one of your best customers?” It seems that my badge has the cloak of invisibility as everyone ignores it. Why?

Back in my past career, when I used to run call centers, I remember saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if we knew how much potential revenue the caller could spend with us”. The reality was if I knew someone could spend $1m dollars I would treat them differently to someone that could only spend $10. Airlines seem to ignore this in the choices they make when designing their Customer Experience. This is a lost opportunity. 

Let me give you five examples from a recent experience with Virgin Atlantic on how they are missing these opportunities:”

What kind of reception did this post receive?  An emotional one!  A human one, that discloses reality as experienced by the ordinary airline customers: the lived experience rather than theory. Allow me to share some of the comments that showed up as particularly interesting:

1. “Welcome to the real world Mr. Shaw!”

2. “is this dude serious?”

3. “Colin…here is part of the issue that people are having with your rant. I also fly quite a bit, but simply not enough to get this kind of status. When I go to the airport, I have to wait in a security line while people with “status” have their own priority line, and the airport decides that having the two lines converge on the same TSA agent is a good idea. This means that people without status feel that they are being held up because you have your fancy Delta tags. Then the boarding begins and they do the same thing…..put lines converging on a door where people with status move to the front and cause others to wait. Then there is me – a frequent flier who is in the airport enough to hate travel, and not enough flights to get the airlines to recognize how unpleasant it is to travel…..A significant part of that unpleasantness is the fact that I have to be put aside by a wave of people like yourself who have that level of status. Think about every other industry where status matters. Credit cards offer status to high value customers, but recipients of the cards do not inconvenience other card holders when they make a purchase, so no resentment exists. The backlash you are feeling is from people who have to witness and be inconvenienced by what we all know you deserve. Virgin should take care of you, but not at the expense of other travelers.

4. “Wait, it gets better. So now (in your clarification) you’re saying that Virgin could buy your loyalty back by putting you in a shorter check-in queue, and giving you a $48 rebate on your excess baggage, and accepting responsibility because you had lost your headphones? So, not only are you arrogant and self-important, you have no brand loyalty – Delta should value their relationship with you so highly that they treat you like a king, but you value YOUR relationship with Delta so little that after years of good service, upgrades, priority check-in, etc. you’d defect to Virgin for $48 and a check-in queue that is 3 minutes shorter. In other words, for you brand loyalty is a one-way street. As one of the previous comments asked, who exactly do you consult for? I bet they’d be interested to know your new views on asymmetric brand loyalty, and on exactly what can be bought for $48 and 3 minutes…… Then, in your next follow-up, you suggest that you should be treated better than other economy class passengers because you travel more often! So now you’re expecting Club Class treatment while flying economy! Amazing! I drive far more than average, should I have a booklet of “get off with speeding fines” vouchers, or my own special lane as a reward for being a frequent driver? With each post your position sounds more and more ridiculous. Please, stop digging, it’s becoming embarrassing.

5.  “Over 700 million a year fly a year. What makes you any different? Are you military flying back and forth from deployments? No I didn’t think so. Those are the only people that deserve to be treated like royalty when flying. Though I’m sure you’ve given up your first class seat multiple times for a military member haven’t you. No, I didn’t think so. Should people that ride the bus to work on a daily basis be treated better than a person who only rides it occasionally? Did you once think why they have to limit carry on size? Maybe they have calculated the capacity of the overhead storage and this allows all customers to be able to store the same amount of carry on luggage. Its ok cause you fly so much everyone else should have to suffer so you can carry your oversize bags. I bet that $48 dollars will make you think twice before trying to carry on a small suit case next time. Then again if your so high value, I’m sure $48 is pennies to you People try to do this all the time, carry on large bags to avoid waiting at the luggage belts. I fly with Virgin anytime I fly home to the UK with no complaints. Then again I don’t expect to have my A#$ kissed everytime I fly. If thats what your looking for, maybe you should be looking at different services. 2 christmas ago I got stuck in London due to blizzard that hit the east coast of the U.S. While other airlines had their customers sleeping on air port floors, Virgin paid in advance for hotel for 3 nights and even paid 75% of my expenses. Its funny you pick Virgin to bash on when customer service is so terrible and a lot worse in so many other services. Have you tried to call your cable recently or tried making a large purchase at Best Buy during the holiday season? Try bashing them for not bowing down before you go after airlines.”

6. “”Try replacing the word airline with wife/husband/partner. I used to take her out to nice restaurants, go on romantic holidays, buy her presents. Then I left her for someone closer to work. The other week I thought I’d pop round to see her. With my new kids. Showed her pictures of us on holiday. And then (and this makes me really angry), she says she’s moved on!!”

7. “You seem to be a very important man. How disconnected from real life you must be…”

And finally

I say that if you want to excel at the game of Customer then cultivate the human. My experience is that to excel at the Customer game one has to have an intuitive feel for the human in the human being.  How do you do that?  By putting yourself into real, commonplace, human situations and being present to what shows up for you.  By reading the right kind of literature – that means avoiding business and management books!

I say be skeptical about any advice coming from Tops, business gurus, management consultants, MBAs and economists. Why? They are disconnected from real life – the real world experienced by most of humanity, most of your customers.  And, like all philosophers they fall so in love with their philosophy that he forget that it is just philosophy – at best a partial view of reality. I really do believe that Colin Shaw thinks that he is not doing philosophy and that is why he has called his business Beyond Philosophy.

Please note, I have only used Colin Shaw and Beyond Philosophy as an example to illustrate a point simply because this landed on my lap at the right time.  Recently, there was the much publicised demise of The Monitor Group a strategic consultancy established by the king of strategy (Michael Porter).  Which is my way of saying that I am talking about academics, consultants, gurus and not any one single person or organisation.

What do you say?