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

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

Purpose of The Customer & Leadership Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its ALL made up!

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

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

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

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

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

What Has This To Do With Customers and Leadership?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is The Customer and/or Employee Experience Your Priority?

You may have noticed that my speaking here at The Customer & Leadership Blog has been sparse since 2016. A mere eight conversations so far in 2017. There was a time when I’d write that many conversations in one month.  Why the change? Because of change in that which takes priority.  Before we continue, allow me share the definition of priority that I wish to use in this conversation:

something that is very important and must be dealt with before other things.

The Critical Importance of Priority

I say knowing and being mindful of your priority (not priorities) is essential to being effective – to making your dent (whatever that may be) in this world.  A leader has to show up and operate in manner that embodies and discloses his priority to those s/he seeks to lead. Effective managers plan and execute in the context of that which takes priority. Why?

Priority enables one to focus. Shared priority enables social cohesion and brings into play the power of focus – strength. There is huge difference between one man aiming at a ‘target’ and a cohesive army of men aiming at the same ‘target’.  Human history is the history of WE (including the breakdown of we) rather than ME. One is rarely present to this in the Western world because the ideology of the individual conceals/distorts it.

Human existence is a messy affair that requires us (individual, community, nation, world) to make trade-off’s. Being clear on one’s priority enables us to make the right trade-offs and do it quickly.  This is especially important when we are talking about groups – where power lies in the members of the group aligning with one another without the gimmicks (almost always expensive and ineffective) that one often sees in business. Gimmicks, to me, disclose that the fundamentals are missing and folks are looking for an easy solution to one of life’s most difficult challenges.

How does one determine if a genuine change has occurred in priority?  I say you see a significant shift: in being (how one shows up & travels);  in doing (who/what one focuses upon), and in having (the desired outcomes that one is committed to attaining/having).

Think about that. Think about significant shift in being, doing, and having. Significant is the key word – significant enough for those who you touch to notice the change in your priority.

The Central Question Regarding The Customer/Employee Experience

Now tell me if you, your team, your organisation has made easing/enriching the lives of your customers (and/or your employees) the priority.

Ah, I hear you say yes. Yes, CX is one of our priorities. Yes, employees and their experience is also one of our priorities.

I say you didn’t answer my question. Or perhaps you did without meaning to answer my question.  What do I mean?  What am I pointing at? The clue is this: I used the term “the priority” not “a priority”. Why?

The One & Only Point of This Conversation That’s Worth Remembering

There is a huge difference between priority and priorities.  Priority is by definition that which becomes everything else in importance.  For a priority to be a priority and work its magic as a priority there can only be ONE priority – always, no exceptions. Turning priority into laundry list of priorities (common practice) is like adding so much water to milk that milk no longer functions like milk.

If time is short and just want the main point you can stop here.  If you are interested in my story – my absence and, now, my return then stick around a little longer. Allow me to tell you my story.

My Story Told As Briefly As I Can Tell It

Writing as a form of self-expression and contribution was my priority between 2010 and 2015.  Why? I no longer had access to my previous priority: sports. Why? Back pain due to a prolapsed disc pushing against the spinal cord.  So I had time – lots of time – and nothing to fill it with.  Filling it with writing as a form of self-expression and contribution  occurred as a magical way of using my free time.  I loved it.

December 1995. I see the neurosurgeon specialising in dealing with the kind of issue that I was dealing with. Yes, there had been a huge change since the last consultation: the spinal cord was in the kind of state that an electrical power cord is when it is trapped under a fully laden chest of drawers.  I had come to see the neurosurgeon because I suffered back pain continuously, it had got worse over the last 10+years, the sciatica was worse, most importantly my arms were getting paralysed from time to time. The neurosurgeon was clear: “Before (many times) I had advised you to wait, now I am telling you that you need surgery and soon.” I chickened out because there was a 4% chance I would be paralysed as a result of surgery. I continued writing this blog as best as I could given the back pain. And writing made me happy.

16th March 2016. I walk into the emergency area of the Royal Berks Hospital, it is 09:20. Why? The conditions that my neurosurgeon had told me to watch out for had showed up. Now, with these conditions, there was a 98% probability that I would be paralysed unless I was operated on immediately. Thankfully, the head of the unit (Chris Brown) put on an extra operation at 21:15 that day – as I needed to be operated on that day.  I don’t remember much about that day as I was drugged out with morphine.  I was told that a 1.5 hour operation had turned into a 3 hour operation due to the damage that the prolapsed disc had done to the sheathing protecting my spinal cord.

To Sept 2016. Recovery and all that goes with recovery. Hospital visits. Physio. Exercises….  The priority, now, is recovery – not this blog, not my family, not friends, not work.  No, the priority is recovery – getting back into shape, and healing.  Not doing anything stupid that would end up putting me back in hospital.

Oct 2016 to Jul 2017. I get my health back! I say that I find myself blessed with a new life – another shot at the kind of life that I had lived and enjoyed. The priority is living!  You know the kind of living that occurs as living – as in being fully alive.  I travel abroad with my wife (something I couldn’t do before due to back pain).  I walk all day long in Barcelona – day after day for four days.  I play badminton after a sixteen year absence – with my 20+ year old racket and it feels great!  My family buy me a new bicycle and I am back cycling: 2 miles, 4 miles, 8 miles, 12 miles, 24 miles…. Oh, what a joy living is.  Why sit inside and write when I can outside cycling in the sunshine?

Aug 2017. Cancer is confirmed and life changes dramatically.  I know what kind of an impact cancer has because I have been walking the path with a friend very dear to me. I found out about his terminal cancer in May17 – I cried, I cried, I cried more. Now it is my turn. How bad is it?  Now the priority comes cancer – dealing with that which cancer brings: hospital visits, blood tests, scans, surgery, radiation/chemo…..

16th Oct 2017. I am told that the iodine ablation (chemo/radiation) seems to have worked. There is news not so good news mixed in with good news. The priority becomes living again – this time a balanced living as in sports as well as reading, and self-expression through sharing that which occurs to me as worth sharing through the two vehicles I use – this blog, and the other more personal one.

Yesterday. I find a deeper part of me calling me get up and converse again on the Customer & Leadership Blog. So here I am.  And the next conversation will be on the importance of cultivating psychological safety in order to harness the power of the hive mind.

And Finally

I dedicate this conversation to Richard Hornby – a dear friend who has been there for me every time I asked. A friend who may or may not make it past the next 18 months as he has a brain tumour – the kind Senator John McCain has.

For those of you who have continued to stick with me, with The Customer & Leadership Blog, I thank you for your listening.   I wish you great health and the blessing of real friends and friendship.

Calling Forth The Best From Folks Working For You

 

“I like coming here!”  was confessed with a smile. The speaker?  A highly skilled professional who is undertaking a major refurbishment project for me in my home.

 

It hit me that this is the fundamental ask. Every professional including those who deal directly with customer and shape the customer experience is looking to feel-think “I like coming here!”

I say that this is the most fundamental ask because only those folks who as they show up for work AND find themselves confessing to themselves “I like coming here!” are likely to give of their best. It is necessary to feel good – about oneself, about one’s colleagues, about one’s manager/leader, about one’s work – if one is going to find oneself doing great work.

How is it that we arrived at this stage: “I like coming here!”? I can tell you that I did not turn to HR specialists. Nor did I make use of the kitbag of tools/tricks called employee engagement.  I didn’t even set up a reward and punishment framework – commonly labelled performance management.  So how did this come about?

Here’s my contribution:

  1. Made sure that my drive was free so that John (the skilled professional) could park is van without any hassle;
  2. Welcomed John each day when I found myself at home;
  3. Asked my wife to do that which I would do if I were home;
  4. Gave John a key to get in the house when nobody was at home;
  5. Asked John and his assistant what they wished to drink – each day, every few hours;
  6. Made John a tea (his favourite drink) and poured the assistant his favourite drink – an orange juice – at least four times a day;
  7. Occasionally, took up slices of cake and some biscuits – without being asked;
  8. Offered to make John and his assistant a sandwich lunch – which they declined;
  9. Regularly checked in with them to see how they were doing and if they needed anything from me;
  10. Actively looked for the opportunity to strike up a human conversation and create a human relationship with John and his assistant;
  11. Listened to John’s point of view when tricky matters came up, discussed the matters, and jointly came up with an appropriate solution that worked for both of us; and
  12. Jumped into my car to go to the store and buy urgently needed supplies that John had forgotten to buy; and
  13. I did not make John wrong (including in my speaking of him to myself) for forgetting / not doing that which he was supposed to do.

In short, I sought to transcend the conventional role based performance (customer – supplier, employer – employee, manager – subordinate) that folks so easily fall into.  Instead, I focussed on cultivating a genuinely human to human relationship: a relationship of equality of dignity whilst recognising inequality of expertise and power.

Whilst all of the above has been necessary in calling forth great work from John it is not sufficient. It is a new age myth and fashionable nonsense that folks will do right by you if you treat them right. Some folks will simply walk over you if you take this approach with them – they will see your generosity / friendliness as a weakness that they can exploit.

Perhaps, the most important thing that I did is to take my time in selecting the right person. I asked around to find a true professional. Then I met the professional and experienced how he worked. Finally, I waited – I waited six weeks for him to come free despite the fact that the work needed to be done urgently.

Summing up, I say:

If as a manager you are not receiving great work from the folks that work for you then you either recruited the wrong folks and/or you are not treating them right – as fellow human beings worthy of equality of dignity.

If as a customer you are unhappy with the performance of your supplier then I say the same to you: you didn’t select/recruit the right supplier and/or you are not treating this supplier right.

Transcend the default roles (customer – supplier, employer – employee, manager – subordinate) and plays. Instead strike up a genuine human to human relationship – its the key to calling forth the best, including loyalty, for human beings no matter which role they are playing.

 

 

 

 

 

CX: Are You Speaking The Customer’s Language?

The meeting was due to start at 16:00 and the flight I had taken landed at midday.  Four hours to get to Augsburg.  Take a taxi? Expensive and will get me there three hours too early.  Take a train?  Yes – it will force me to get out of my bubble and my comfort zone. And possibly teach me something about German railways.

I make my way to the train station at Munich airport.  Long line of folks waiting at the ticket office. I walk over to the automated ticket machines.  Fail. “I must have done something wrong. Let’s try again!” Fail. Walk over and join the line for the ticket office.

Ten minutes or so later I am face to face with a German. I don’t speak German. So I speak English: “Return ticket to Augsburg via Munich”.  A helpful friendly voice responds in my language.  Together we determine what type of ticket I need.

Next question. “What trains do I need to take to get to Augsburg”.  The helpful German who speaks fluent English consults his IT system.  I stand there expecting that which is the default: a verbal response.  Surprise!  The German chap prints of the the following document for me:

DBahn

This German ticket office clerk does not just print the document and hand it to me. He takes the time to explain it to me. Whilst explaining the document he circles the platforms and times. Not just that. He goes on to tell me that when I get off the first train, at Munich’s central station, I have then to go up two floors in order to get to my next train.  Delighted!  So delighted that I thank this chap for his helpfulness and reach to shake his hand.  He is taken aback, relaxes, shakes my hand and smiles.

Due to the helpfulness I have an effortless journey to Augsburg.  Upon getting off the train I make my way to the ticket office.  I look at the woman manning the ticket office.  Will she speak my language? That is the question on my mind.  I make my request for train times – for trains leaving Augsburg for Munch between 17:00 and 18:00.  To my relief she speaks English and tells me that she can help me with my request. She taps into her computer and prints off a one page document.  I look at the document. What a useful document!  It tells me all that I need to know: departure time, arrival time, fast train or slow train, departure platform…  I thank this friendly-helpful woman.

Here’s what strikes me about my interactions with the folks that I have encountered at the ticket offices:

  • Both have flexed to speak my language – English;
  • Both clearly have access to an IT system that gives them easy-quick access to train times irrespective of whether the train is metro/underground, overground, regional, intercity etc.  Which is to say that their IT system joins up the trains.  It provides a 360 view of trains and train timetables;
  • Both went way beyond that which I am used to in England – in England the best that I would expect is to be given the timetables and left alone to figure out how to get from A to B;
  • Both took a certain pride/satisfaction in the work that they were doing – this is what touched me the most.

Here, I invite you to consider that many companies look to generate a 360 degree view of the customer. Yet, few, strive to deliver a 360 degree of the business to the employee is face to face with the customer.  The ticket clerk could only print out that which he printed out (and gave me) because the folks at the German railways have gone to the trouble of providing a 360 degree view of the various trains and train timetables.

I am hungry. I make my way to a smallish cafe serving healthy food. Once again, I wonder if the young woman working the cafe will speak my language.  I make my request. She smiles. She responds in perfect English. I strike up a conversation- she joins in the dance. We learn a little about one another.

After the business meeting is concluded, I find myself on a train headed from Augsburg to Munich.  Do I play it safe and take the route that I took earlier that day?  I resist the temptation. Instead I take the advice of the helpful ticket clerk at Munich. I get off the train at Passing.  From here I should be able to get on a train to Munich airport.

One big problem: Passing is much larger as a rail station then I had imagined – lots of platforms.  Which platform?  Which train?  And I only have so much time to get to the airport or I miss the last plane out to England.  I go to one of the platforms. I look around for a friendly helpful face. I find one – a young woman. I ask her for help: which platform for the train to Munich airport.  She responds in fluent English. And helpfully.  She tells me that she doesn’t know. An older – middle aged – woman speaks to her in German.  The young woman now informed by the older woman directs me to the right platform. I thank them both and make my way to the platform. I catch the right train and arrive at just the right time.  Relief. Delight. Gratitude to the German people.

I’d like you to answer this question through the lens of the customer experience: What is it to speak the customer’s language?  Is it merely to speak English with the customer that speaks English?  If you are of that view then I say that you are short of the mark.

From experience I say that to speak the customer’s language is to ‘give’ the customer exactly what s/he is needing at every interaction:

  • It is to speak in the customer’s native language.
  • It is to be provide the information that the customer is asking for.
  • It involves providing information that the customer needs – in order to arrive at his/her desired outcome – even if the customer has not asked for this information.
  • It is to deal with the customer in a compassionate / empathic manner – a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful for the care he receives at your hands.

I say that you have truly spoken the customer’s language, viewed through a CX lens, when you leave the customer feeling grateful that you exist in the world and it is his/her great fortune that your paths have crossed.  It is to have enriched your customer’s experience of being alive in this world.  This is to say it is to live CX from the heart, not merely strategise about it with the head.

I dedicate this conversation to the German people – especially those who spoke my language during my recent visit to Augsburg.

To you dear reader I extend my thanks – I thank you for listening to my speaking. 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.

Experience Engineering: How Do You Engineer Authentic Humanity Into The Customer Experience?

I have been working in Cheltenham for a few weeks now. I like, really like, the folks (at the client) that I find myself working with. It has something to do with their kind of accueil- a word that my French family often use.

Let’s just consider accueil. How is it translated?  It is translated as: welcome, reception, acceptance, hospitality. It is also used to refer to the home page of a website.

Many years ago I chose not to specialise – going against the dominant trend and advice. I chose to do what comes naturally to me: be a generalist. Today, that means I get involved primarily in some combination of digital transformation, customer experience, CRM, marketing automation, change leadership, programme management. And I get involved in one of many levels – from helping devise strategy through to drawing out the systems architecture.

Why did I share that with you? To set the context. Why?  Because the more I see of what organisations are doing under the CX umbrella and the way they are going about it, the more I find myself falling out with the whole CX thing. I also find myself disagreeing with many CX gurus – many of whom are self-appointed. It is not a domain where one can criticise and remain in the CX club – as I have learnt. That is ok by me.  I can criticise CX because I do not depend on it to make my living, build a reputation, or safeguard one.

Call it Customer Experience design, call it Service Design, call it Experience Engineering. Whatever you call it, here is my question: How do you engineer accueil – authentic, spontaneous, warm accueil?  How do the BPR/six-sigma folks (I always find plenty of them working under CX umbrella) engineer/standardise processes for generating authentic warm accueil?  Or let’s turn to the business change or HR folks, how do they train the frontline staff (who are often on minimum wage, or some of the lowest wages in the organisation, in the economy) to generate authentic warm accueil?  Let’s not leave out metrics – according to conventional dogma only what gets measured gets done. What metrics does one use to assess if authentic warm accueil is experienced by the experiencer: the customer, the guest, the employee, the partner, the supplier?

In my first week in Cheltenham, I found myself staying in the Holiday Inn Express.  I checked in late on a Sunday. Lady on check-in was polite, helpful (gave me ‘map’ of Cheltenham centre), and quick. The lifts were plentiful, clean, quick. Room was easy to find through the signposting. The room was clean and spacious. And as promised it was on the quiet side. The breakfast was in line with expectations for that kind of hotel.  The right folks ‘faked’ the right kind of smiles. And behaved in the appropriate scripted manner. In short, all was in line with a well run hotel in that class of hotel.

If I had to put it into words, I’d say that the experience engineers (through design or accident) had engineered a professional competent experience.  Did this experience evoke any kind of emotional bond to this hotel, or anyone in the hotel? No. Why?  The whole experience felt corporate – efficient yet inhuman.

One evening I returned to the hotel after a busy (full) day of consulting work.  I found myself keen to get changed and go walkabout around Cheltenham: walk, look around, check out potential dining choices, pick a restaurant. Problem: it was raining heavily and I had no umbrella. Further, the situation did not afford the purchase of an umbrella as it was about 7:30 in the evening.

Remembering that some hotels (of the expensive kind) stock umbrellas for use by guests, I approached the lady staffing the reception desk. “You don’t happen to have an umbrella I can borrow do you?”  Her polite answer? “Sorry, we don’t have any umbrellas.” Hope dashed. Mild disappointed – mild because I did not expect this kind of hotel to offer customers umbrellas.  Then the most amazing-delightful thing happened.

One of the employees working at the bar (which happened to be adjacent to the Reception desk) said “I have an umbrella, you are welcome to borrow it. Mind you, it’s girly. Are you ok with that?”  Then she went into a back room and handed me her own (private) girly umbrella. Surprise. Delight. Gratitude. I accepted her gift, thanked her, and promised to return her umbrella to her by the end of the evening.

Here’s the thing, I was so deeply touched (and continue to be touched) by this young lady’s humanity (kindness, generosity) and her placing her trust in me (without me having earned it first) that some deeply human dimension of me wanted to both to hug her. And to cry. Why cry? Cry of joy. Joy of what?  Joy that fellow feeling – genuine human compassion – is still alive in some people.  She did not know me. She did not owe me anything. She had no script to follow. In fact, if there was a script to follow I suspect it would advise employees not to lend their or the hotels private property to guests (customers).

It is the accueil – the acceptance, the welcome, the warmth, the hospitality of this young lady’s humanity in action that I remember and carry with me. I am moved by how she showed up. Her way of being makes me feel good about being a member of the human race. Gives me hope for the human race despite the savage/violent aspects of human existence.

Which brings me back to experience engineering and the question I posed: How do you build authentic humanity into the customer experience?  What I can tell you is this: you cannot do it by the means that most folks are using to design/engineer customer experiences: putting lots of channels in play, collecting lots of data (small and big) and using this to do ‘personalise content’ to do targeted marketing/selling, engaging a bunch of BPR/Six Sigma to redesign processes, handing out vision/value cards to employees, sending employees on training courses, using VoC measures (NPS) to reward/punish employees…..

If the quality of the accueil matters (and I say it matters a lot in service environments) then you have to deliberately attract and welcome folks who embody warm accueil in their way of being. And then you have to continually cultivate an environment/climate where 1) those in management roles generate that kind of acceuil for the folks working in the organisation; and 2) folks working in the organisation can agree or disagree with one another – passionately against a background of warm accueil for their fellow colleagues despite challenging their ideas, proposals, and behaviours.

Do this and you dispose your organisation to spontaneously and appropriately generate the kind of humanity/accueil that build genuine affinity with your organisation / brand.  And yes, the right tools, and behind the scenes processes can make it easier for your folks to deliver outstanding accueil.

Notice, the technology (tools) and process – are there in the background to serve your people.  Your people become real-time, flexible, experience engineers – treating different customers differently and even the same customer differently depending on the context.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  Until the next time, I wish you the very best – may you receive and grant the kind of accueil that makes you proud to be a member of the human race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Customer Experience Through The Eyes Of The Frontline Retail Employee

Perspective. If we are to improve the performance of human worlds (couple, family, neighbourhood, team, department, business, nation…) perspective taking is essential. It occurs to me that the simplest form of perspective taking is attentive-receptive listening to those who find themselves embedded in the human world that one is interested in.  The deepest from of perspective taking is to enter into the lives, and live the lives, of those whose perspective one wishes to become intimately familiar with.

What did I learn when listened to the perspective (lived experience) of frontline retail employees who work for one of the big UK retailers?

On many days the store is short-staffed. Those who are present and ready for work find themselves stressed. The standards are high – for merchandising, store cleanliness, customer service…  There is a lot to get done. The pressure is on. This calls people to take short-cuts (including putting their health & safety at risk), bypass policies and practices to do that which needs to be done.

The folks dealing with customers on the frontline are not adequately trained – as in training that comes through apprenticeship.  Why are they not adequately trained? Because the stores are short-staffed. Due to the short-staffing, the pressure is on to throw new frontline employees into the deep end. This places the new employees under stress: these employees face demanding customers, they are aware that their colleagues are counting on them, they know that their manager is judging them, and they are intimately aware that they lack the contextual understanding and experimental know-how to do things well.  They do their best. And their best is not enough. They are aware that their best is enough.

Folks distant and cut-off from the reality of the world of the store (that particular store) make decisions for that store. These decisions whilst sound in theory are impractical given the reality of that store.  Yet the folks in that store – including the manager of that store – have no power to affect or challenge these decisions. So there are substantial and frequent store refreshes and not enough staff to merely do the day to day tasks. The product range is expanded and there is not enough shelf space. Customers complain of products not being in stock yet the replenishment decisions are made by computers and remote others in charge of store replenishment. New machinery is introduced that does not fit well into the store and makes lives harder for the folks in the store ….  All of this increases the level of stress experienced by the folks working in the stores.

Customers are demanding at best, rude at their worst. They demand perfection: a seamless experience. They are encouraged in this demanding-ness by the folks higher up in the business who designate and promote services (and service standards) which are impractical given the reality of that store. Folks serving these customers want to provide a good service and experience a certain kind of human encounter with customers. Yet, they find themselves in a reality in which providing merely an average customer experience is all that can be reasonably provided.  They experience the withering look of many customers. And some customers, more and more these days, who are condescending, critical, and rude. All of this increases the level of stress experienced by these front line employees.

Their employer and their manager does not care for them. The folks experience themselves as not appreciated, not valued, not loved.  It is not just that these folks are paid the minimum wage. It is not just that if they arrive five minutes late for work then fifteen minutes of pay is docked. It is not that they are expected to stay up to half an hour later than their shift and they do not get paid for this half an hour. It is not that they are not adequately trained. It is not just that they are rarely given their allotted lunch break. It is more. It is the gap that they experience (on a daily basis) between the way the company expects them to treat customers and the way they are treated by the company. Is it then any surprise that the stores are regularly and frequently short-staffed – in numbers and in terms of experience/cable employees?  Who wants to work in such an environment? And even those who do work in such an environment quit as soon as the can quit.

If you are working in an organisation and concerned about improving the customer experience,  I end by posing the following questions:

  • Are the folks that work for us and with us less worthy of care, consideration, and respect than folks upon whom we change the label Customer?
  • What is the likelihood that at a distance voice of the customer surveys unconceal the kind of reality that I have shared with you here – the reality of the folks interacting directly with customers?
  • Do your customer journey maps give you an adequate feel for the lives of customers and the lives of the people on the front lines who interact with your customers on a daily basis?

If you are a customer then ask you to be mindful of human worth and dignity in your dealings with the folks that serve you – especially when things are not going right. I ask you to consider that the person is not merely an employee. S/he is a human being who is doing the best s/he can given the circumstances s/he finds herself in.  If you were in h/er position you would most likely do that which s/he is doing.  A kind word can light up the world.

I thank you for your listening it is that which continues to call me to share my speaking with you.  I leave you to grapple with what I have shared and make it mean that which you make it mean