What does it take to be a customer-centric enterprise?

What is it to be a customer-centric enterprise?

When I started my journey in the land of customer-centricity (2000), the answer to this question, according to the leading theorists and proponents, was this: an enterprise that organises itself by customer segments rather than products; and where one starts with the needs/wants of the customer segment/s and works back to the ‘products’ that meet these needs/wants.

There is another answer and it usually comes from those working in, or selling to those working in, the Customer Services arena. As far as I can see, an enterprise is customer-centric if it provides good/great customer service.

Today, I provide you with my point of view and it is informed by my recent experience with Bergli Books . First let me tell you my story.

I Order a Book From Bergli, I Never Get My Hands On It

I saw an add on Facebook for a book on Switzerland. I ordered that book by clicking on that ad and paid by credit card. Then I waited for the book to arrive. It didn’t. And, after some four weeks I contacted Bergli via email. The folks at Bergli looked into the matter and told me that the book had been delivered weeks ago. And, asked me to talk with my neighbours – to see if one of them has taken delivery. I responded that I have 15 neighbours and I was not going to chase all of them up on the basis anybody who has the book and didn’t hand it over to me is not likely to own up to have ‘stolen’ a book meant for me.

The folks at Bergli were great as in they agreed to send me another copy. And, the told me when it was going to be delivered. When I did not receive the book I emailed the folks at Bergli. Once again, they were polite and responsive. They looked into the matter and told me that their distributor had delivered the book. And, provided proof. Given that I had not received the book, they told me to ask my neighbours.

What is being communicated here by Bergli? Is it not something like, “Hey, you ordered a book, we sent it out, our logistics partner states that the book has been delivered. So over to you – it’s not our problem but yours if it was delivered or taken by one of your neighbours. And, don’t bother us as we have done our job!”

My definition of a customer-centric enterprise

I say: “A customer-centric enterprise takes the customer’s problem, makes it it’s own, and solves it in a way that leaves the customer happy and grateful.”

Allow me to illustrate, there is huge chasm between my experiences with Amazon (in the UK) and Bergli. If I had been dealing with the folks at Amazon they would solved my problem as in made sure that I got my hands on the product that I had ordered. If a second delivery had failed to make its way into my hands, the Amazon folks would have gone all out to make sure that the third delivery did end up in my hands.

What does it take to be a customer-centric enterprise?

What would have happened if Bergli had sent me an alert (email, sms) to let me know that the book had been despatched? Another one to tell me when the book was being delivered? And, one when the book was delivered? As I have been working from home for months, I would have gone downstairs to my postbox and retrieved the book.

Alternatively, what if Bergli books had allowed me to choose the day/date that I wanted the book to be delivered? There are online operations in Switzerland that do just that: I place the order on the website, and in the process of checking out I choose which day I want the item to be delivered. And, I always choose the day when I know I will be at home. This way, I have never missed a delivery.

Why did Bergli not allow me to choose the delivery date and/or provide the alerts? I suspect that Bergli has not put in place the requisites: the technology infrastructure; and choosing a delivery partner that has the requisite technology infrastructure. One that holds my customer details. One that tracks the progress/status of the delivery. One that sends out timely alerts as the delivery makes it way to the customer.

Which brings me to this conclusion: if your enterprise wishes to show up as customer-centric (as perceived by your customers) then it is essential that effective use is made of digital technologies.

Please note that effective use of digital technologies is necessary but not sufficient.

What Can The Hotel Industry Learn From Homelands B&B?

Homelands Bed & BreakfastDuring November, whilst on business, I stayed at Homelands Bed & Breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It was so good that staying at Homelands occurred as staying at a home away from home.  My experience lived up to the five star rating that Homelands has earned on TripAdvisor.

Here’s what I think the hotel industry can learn from the folks (Erik and Nicola Burger) who own and run Homelands B&B Woodsmancote:

After Booking And Before Arrival

I think I made the booking via Hotels.com about a week in advance of arrival.  A couple of days after making the booking I received an email from Erik and Nicola confirming the booking, welcoming me, and letting me know that the normal check-in time is between 4 and 9pm. And if I was going to arrive outside of that window then they needed to know so that alternative arrangements could be made.

Further, they provided useful advice like which road to take and importantly which road to avoid unless I had strong nerves and a 4×4 vehicle.

After an email exchange it became apparent that Erik and Nicola make it a habit to welcome their guests. Yet few guests turn up on a Sunday night – business travellers don’t tend to stay there. And the Burger family had made plans to go out that Sunday evening.  This was not a problem we came to an arrangement that worked well for all of us.

What impression did this exchange make on me?  “Wow, these folks know I am coming. They want to make sure that I get there safely. And that when I get to their place they are either there to welcome me. Or at the very minimum, that I can get to my room without any problems. They are living up the praise they have received on TripAdvisor. I have made the right choice.”

Further because of this proactive email exchange I was able to let Erik and Nicola know that my breakfast needs were simple: fruit, croissants or cereal (granola), and a cup of tea.

Now compare this with the Holiday Inn Express where I stayed the first week of November. I made the booking. I heard nothing from the Holiday Inn Express. When I turned up I found there was no parking. Which came as an unpleasant surprise. And then I had to ask for car parking options.

Lessons:

  1. Reach out to your customers when they place an order and provide them with useful information.
  2. If standard ways of doing things don’t work  for this customer in this particular instance then look for creative ways around the standard ways. Creative ways that leaves the customer feeling valued. And yet does not damage the business.

Upon Arrival and First Night At Homelands

I arrived on Sunday night. It was dark. I was in the middle of the countryside. After asking a neighbour I found Homelands, used the pin code that Erik and Nicola had emailed me. Found the envelope with my name on it and key inside – as promised. Entered Homelands, found a friendly welcoming note for me. Then made my way to my room for the week. The room was tastefully decorated. The sheets were clean… Everything was in order – just as I had been led to expect it from the photos, from the reviews.

Lessons:

  1. The ‘product’  must match your description of your ‘product’. Put differently,  the ‘product’ must contain / do exactly what it says on the tin. In this case the picture of Homelands accurately represented Homelands. The decorations were tasteful – just as described…
  2. In the hospitality business the experience (total experience) is the product!  How you treat folks matters as much as the quality of the room you are selling or the breakfast you are providing.
  3. You must keep your promises – if you promise something then you must deliver it. Why? Because the customer is counting on you to deliver it.

First Morning at Breakfast Time

At the agreed time (7:50am) I came down to breakfast. I was greeted warmly and professionally by Erik. What I had asked for, for breakfast, was there: fresh fruits, jars of cereals, apple juice, orange juice, water….

During the process of getting to know one another I learnt that Erik was Dutch. That the night before he had gone to see the new Bond movie with his son…. I told Eric a little about me, like where I lived, why I was in his part of the world….

Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that I needed. Like a cooked breakfast. Or coffee. I told Erik that I was keeping things simple as I was on bunch of drugs due to back and neck problems. And that these medicines has a side effect: constipation.  So, I was being careful about what I did eat and what I did not eat.  Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that he could do for me.

After hesitating, I made my request. I told Erik that I had neck and shoulder pain. That he could help release that pain. And I showed him how to do it – by pressing his elbow at two points on the upper part of my body. Erik told me that this was the most unusual request any guest had ever made of him. And he accepted.  Frankly, I was surprised. After Erik had finished, I expressed my gratitude as I was truly grateful.

Can you imagine me making that kind of a request at a corporate hotel?  What do you think the likely reaction would have been if I had approached a staff member of Holiday Inn, Hilton, Radissan SAS.?  I guess I would have been told it is against policy for staff members to physically touch guests. Never mind press down hard with their elbow into the top of my shoulders!

Lessons:

  1. If the customer selects from a range of options then make sure that you deliver on the selection that the customer has made. No point offering / giving more than what the customer needs e.g. like laying out a cooked breakfast that a customer is never going to eat.
  2. What really takes the customer’s breath away and builds gratitude, loyalty, advocacy, is your ability to do something special (as defined by the customer) for the customer – especially when the customer asks for it.

Second Night At Homelands

One of the most frustrating things I find at hotels of all kinds is that they don’t feel like home. At home, if I need water I can just get some water. If I want some fruit juice I can get some fruit juice. At hotels I am stuck, at best with an overpriced, mini-bar.  And that leaves me feeling like I am being milked for all the milk the hotel can get out of me.  I usually respond by either buying a large bottle of water from a restaurant – which is still cheaper than the hotel. Or by finding a local store and buying it from there and taking it to my hotel room. I have an aversion to being milked!

Not at Homelands. At Homelands there is kitchen and in that kitchen is big fridge. And in that fridge are fruit juices, and water bottles. There is milk. And there are extra mugs….

So when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to take some pain killers and muscle relaxants, I made my way to kitchen and helped myself to the Apple juice. Exactly the kind of thing I do at home. I wake up, I find myself in pain, I walk down the stairs, I find a glass, open the fridge…..

Lesson:

  1. It is amazing how the little things – like being able to get a small glass of fruit juice, or water without having to pay – matter. And how much they matter.  But to understand which little things matter and how much they matter you have to be able to access your humanity. To genuinely have walked in the shoes of the customer – as a normal every day human being rather than a marketer or a process/six sigma guy…
  2. There is absolutely no substitute for kindness / generosity. Stan Phelps calls this Lagniappe.

Second Morning at Breakfast

After waking up and having a shower, I took the time simply to gaze out at the fields, the green grass, the trees, and the horses. Such a refreshing change to staring at buildings, tarmac, and hearing the noise of vehicles on the road.

When I made my way down to breakfast, I noticed that the range of fruits had increased. In addition to melon, and grapefruit there were berries and prunes.  If you don’t know, prunes help with constipation.  Clearly, Erik had listened, used his listening to learn about me, and most importantly acted on his insight into my health and condition.

How did this leave me feeling? I say it again, it left me with the feeling of being at home away from home. Why is this important? Because home is where I feel safe. Home is where I am with people I know care for me. And people I know I can count on for help if I need help.

Whilst having breakfast Erik and talked a little bit more.  I learnt that Erik is Dutch. That he is into nature and conversation. That Erik and Nicola make their own honey…. A human conversation the kind that I am used to having at home whilst I have breakfast.

 

Lessons

  1. If if you show up in the correct manner and simply engage in conversation, customers will tell you a lot about themselves, the situation they find themselves in, their hopes and fears, the constraints they are working within….
  2. Insight in and of itself has no value. Value, as experienced by the customer and repaid through loyalty, is generated when you act on the insight in a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful because your action/s have made his life easier, simpler, richer.

Time to stop. I could go on and on. And my back is beginning to hurt and that is not good.

By writing this I have kept my word. What word?  Upon leaving Homelands for the second and last time, I told Erik that Homelands had occurred as home away from home.  And that I would be writing about Homelands and sharing my experience.

If you are on holiday or on business and looking somewhere great to stay then I thoroughly recommend that you check out Homelands Bed & Breakfast.  I cannot praise it highly enough. And neither can all the other folks that have stayed there – Homelands gets a five star rating on TripAdvisor. 

A la prochaine – until the next time.

On Customer Experience, Brand Values, and a “Sense of Honour”

Let’s start today’s conversation with the following passage:

By strategy, Bourdieu… does not mean conscious choice or rational calculation. The strategies employed by the Kabyle are not based on conscious, rational calculations but on a “sense of honour” that guides complex manoeuvres of challenge, riposte, delay, aggression, , retaliation and disdain.

The sense of honour derives from sets of dispositions that internalise in practical form what seems appropriate or possible in situations of challenge, constraint, or opportunity. Thus, choices do not derive directly from objective situations in which they occur or from transcending rules, norms, patterns, and constraints that govern social life; rather they stem from practical dispositions that incorporate ambiguities and uncertainties that emerge from acting through time and space. 

– Culture & Power, The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David Swartz

Look at the organisation that you find yourself leading or working within and for.  Is there such a thing as a “sense of honour” present in this organisation? If there is then who and what is honoured? Is it the customer?  Is it the humanity of the folks that work in your organisation? Your partners in the value chain? The shareholders? Making the numbers, getting ahead, becoming the largest, beating the competition? VW is not the only organisation – just the latest one to be exposed for what the modern organisation is centred on.

So you have customer experience centred digital transformation vision. And associated programme plan. If you are going about this in a ‘best practice manner’ you have defined the objectives, listed the business capabilities you will need, identified the data and content you will need, the information technology applications (CRM, marketing cloud, e-commerce, CMS…) and the IT infrastructure. Oh, and I forgot, you have a bunch of folks busy on mapping and possibly even redesigning business processes. You may even be enlightened and looking at the people part of the puzzle / architecture.

What about the critical question? The “sense of honour”.  Who is busy generating the “sense of honour” required to genuine show up and travel (as experienced by the customer) as a customer experience centred organisation that consistently does right by customers: like produce/deliver the product you are actually selling (like Apple, unlike VW), like treat the customer as s/he wishes to be treated – with attention, with courtesy (like Zappos or John Lewis, unlike your ISP/telecoms provider),  like create a platform for customers to access critical information and tools so that they can help themselves when it makes sense for them to do so (like Amazon)?

 

It is at this point that somebody will come up with brand values. Or corporate values. This somebody will state that these constitute the organisation’s “sense of honour”. But do these constitute that customer-experience centred “sense of honour” I am talking about here?

Let’s be straight with one another. You know and I know that the brand values are stuff that is cooked up by the marketing folks usually to differentiate where really there is no differentiation. You know and I know that these brand values are primarily driven for image making purposes. You know and I know that these brand values are seen as fictions outside of the marketing department.

What about the corporate values plastered on mission, values, purpose statements and usually on the walls?  Let’s be straight with one another again: they are empty aren’t they?  The fact is that they are not embodied in the organisation by most of the folks in the organisation. And rarely are they embodied by the Tops that pronounce these corporate values. Most of  us see these for what they are: propaganda, delusion, or simply aspiration.

So what is my point? My point is that almost all of the organisations that I have ever encountered (worked for, consulted for, been a customer of) lack  a “sense of honour”. And certainly they lack a sense of honour that values genuine care and loyalty for the folks that do business with your organisation. What this means is that you can make all the changes you want in communication channels,  technologies, data, and business processes and you are unlikely to attain your desired outcomes: genuine engagement, genuine loyalty. Loyalty is born of sacrifice. Sacrifice does not come easily beyond the family. Which is why tribes and communities (usually numbering in the tens to hundreds) go to great lengths to cultivate a “sense of honour” and practical dispositions attuned to the “sense of honour”.

My advice? If you are the leader and you wish your organisation to be genuinely customer experience centric and call forth loyalty then embody the “sense of honour” that necessarily goes with such a stance.  And work on infusing all the people in your organisation with this “sense of honour” such that this sense of honour become a set of practical dispositions where anyone in the organisation will naturally do what is right for the customer in any given circumstance. If you are not up for this then I wish to highlight one of my key learnings over the last 25+years:

Old Organisation + New Technology = Old Org. + Trauma – Money

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. A la procaine.

Latest Musings on Customer Experience, Digital Transformation, and Agile

It’s been a while – quite a while since the last conversation.  During this period I have experienced that which I have experienced and in the process some aspects of human existence inside organisational worlds have revealed themselves to me. Today, I wish to share a few of the experiences and revelations.

Some Matters Call Louder and Make Bigger Demands

This has been the year that I have found myself involved in digital transformation visions and initiatives aimed at designing and delivering compelling  omnichanel customer experiences. So my work has taken me across Europe. That has meant a lot of travel: taxis, airports, planes, more taxis….. Towards the end of September that travel became too much for my back. If I sat down I could not get up unaided.  What did I do?  Did I do as my advisers advised?  Did I stop this way of existence?  Did I take it easy?  Did I take time off work to let my back heal?

No. I continued working. The exception that I made because I had to make it was to cut down on the travelling. To do as much as possible working from home. When that did not work and I found myself forced to work from home, I worked from home. To even do that I had to take medicines. Medicines to ease the pain and make it possible for me to work – usually and mostly by standing up for hours at a time. And when the work was over (for that day) I took medicines to relax certain muscles by putting me to sleep.

Apart from the work of working and honouring my commitments to clients and colleagues, I cut everything else out. That cutting out included spending time with the family. It also included cutting out any and all matters that go into thinking about and sharing the conversations that constitute The Customer & Leadership Blog.

Why is it that I cut everything out except work – the very thing that my advisors told me to cut out?  Why did I put the emphasis on today (work that needed to be done) and not tomorrow (restoration to full health)?  The honest answer is simply that the matters of today (work) made a stronger call-demand-pull on me than the matters of tomorrow. Why? Because dealing with matters of today (the work that needed to be done on initiatives that I was deeply involved in) generated the income that funds my lifestyle – and that of those who depend on me.

What does this have to do with digital transformation efforts focussed on enabling client-centricity (single customer view, pull as well as push) and great omnichannel experiences?  A good question.  Here is the answer. These efforts are focussed on creating a future – for some a desirable and compelling future. Yet these efforts are starved of attention and critical resources. Why?  Because the day-to-day operational demands of the business – to keep it working and generating the necessary revenues and profits – make stronger calls/demands on the folks in the business. As such they suck and deeply enmesh the very folks that are needed to create the future. So the digital transformation journey turns out, for many organisations, to be that much ‘harder’, longer, and troublesome than the visionaries and architects imagine.

There Is A Big Difference Between Beginning / Doing CX-Digital Transformation and Truly Doing CX-Digital Transformation!

How can I best convey that which I wish to convey here? Perhaps it is best for me to share the following passage with you:

My solo three months hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. there was the first flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job …. finalizing my divorce… selling everything I owned…… There was the driving across the country… and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to …….

At which point, at long last, there was the actually doing it, quickly followed by the grim realisation of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly prepared to do it.

And then there was the real live truly doing it.

The staying and doing it, in spite of everything, In spite of the bears and the rattlesnakes and the scat of mountain lions…; the blisters and scabs and scrapes and lacerations. The exhaustions and the deprivation; the cold and the heat; the monotony and the pain; the thirst and the hunger…..

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Agile: The Latest Corporate Delusion?

What kind of people have we become? People who want it easy, painless, fast and if possible entertaining.  Further, we are people who are woeful at thinking. Really thinking – looking beyond the surface to see the genealogy of ideas, principles, methods, and practices to enrich our understanding of what it is we are talking about, dealing with.  I am clear that this is clearly the case with Agile.

How can I put this bluntly?  When I was a teenager, played tennis, enjoyed tennis, wanted to become better at tennis, and idolized Bjorn Borg I rushed out and bought a Donnay tennis racket.  That racket did not turn me into a championship winning tennis player.  Want another example? Certain matters are they way they are – they require time, effort, involve pain, making sacrifices…… and adding agile those matters does not magically get rid of this time, effort, pain, sacrifice…. Take pregnancy and the nine month process of giving birth (hopefully) to a health baby.  Add Agile to pregnancy to make it Agile Pregnancy. What difference does this make in the real world of those who become pregnant?

Based on my experience I say that adding Agile to your CX or Digital Transformation will not deal with the matters I have raised in the first two points: the primacy (pull) of the existing business and day-to-day operations; and the matters raised-shared by Cheryl Strayed.  What it will do is to delude you into taking on matters that you may not be well positioned-disposed to take on. And fail to deal realistically with the real hurdles in a pragmatic manner.

I thank you for your listening. If you missed these conversations then I say please know that I missed ‘giving birth to them’ and sharing them with you.  As the French say “A la prochaine” – until the next time…

What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.