Is this the most important question to live and operate from?

What is the most important question that one needs to grapple with when it comes to customers and the customer-centric orientation?  Is it:

  • how do we calculate customer lifetime value?
  • how do we get the right offer out to the right customer at the right time?
  • do we get just the basics right or do we deliver a wow experience?
  • should we be using social channels to message or provide customer service?
  • do we need a Chief Customer Officer to own the customer and advocate on his behalf?
  • how do reduce/manage the costs of customer service through channel shift?
  • how do we show an ROI from Customer Experience?
  • how do we make the omnichannel stuff work?
  • how do we get customers to stick around and do business with us longer?
  • should we focus on taking care of customers or our shareholders?

I say that it is none of these.  It occurs to me that the most important question is radically different. If you want to know what that question is then I urge you to watch the following video:

It occurs that if we all lived this question, then collectively we would build amazing relationships, amazing products, amazing organisations. And we would transform the quality of our lives and the world that we live in.

What is the question?  It is the question that is fundamental to generating relationships, loyalty, and joy in the world.  It is the question, if lived by us, generates a wonderful world for all of us.  It is first and foremost a social question.  What is that question?  It is so simple that it took a 12 year old to pose and live even in her dying days:

How can we help them?

– Jessie Joy Rees

7 Customer Experience lessons courtesy of the horse meat and Amazon scandals

What is the central insight that arises from the discipline of systems and systems thinking?  It is this

Everything is interconnected with everything else

You may be asking yourself, what has this to do with Customer Experience.  Everything.  For one it means that when one is up for architecting/designing/delivering the Customer Experience it is not enough to simply focus on the service delivered by Customer Services.  Nor is it enough to look at interactions, touchpoints, and the front office functions of marketing, sales and customer service. These are the two essential facts that are not adequately grasped, at best, for many, they are simply platitudes.  Let’s explore.

Horse meat scandal: Supermarkets battle to regain customer confidence

By now you must have heard that there is another scandal which started in the UK and now spans Europe.  It is the horse meat scandal. According to the Telegraph, a pro business newspaper:

A hard-hitting report by MPs on Thursday said that the scale of contamination in the supermarket meat supply chain was “breathtaking”. The cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that consumers had been “cynically and systematically duped”, as “elements in the food chain” had pursued profits by substituting beef for cheaper horse meat.

And if that is not enough, the same piece goes on to say:

Although blame for the contamination lies with suppliers rather than retailers, one long-serving senior supermarket executive described the situation as “pandemonium”. “I was around for foot-and-mouth and BSE and this feels like it’s on that scale,”

Think about the Customer Experience.  Has the experience of customers been affected negatively by the scandal? Here is what the Telegraph newspapers says:

Shoppers already appear to be voting with their feet. Meat sales in independent family-run butchers and farm shops have risen by 75pc in some areas while analysts believe sales of cheaper processed meat in supermarkets have fallen sharply. A survey found that almost half of all shoppers will avoid buying processed meat from affected supermarkets.

Ask yourself what has changed?  Specifically, what customer interaction, touchpoint, and experience at that touchpoint has changed?  It occurs to me that from a functional touchpoint view nothing has changed. So how is it that the Customer Experience has changed?  From a customer viewpoint everything has changed. They have found that they cannot trust the supermarkets.  And as such the Customer Experience of supermarkets, at least when it comes to buying meat, has been impacted negatively.

What specifically does the horse meat scandal unconceal for us?  I say that it unconceals the importance of the supply chain in so far as it impacts the ‘product’ that is offered to the customer. Hold that thought.

Amazon scandal: using neo-Nazi guards to keep workforce under control?

Can you exclude examining the supply chain, as a part of your Customer Experience effort, if it does not impact the quality of the product which touches the customer?  The obvious answer appears to be yes.  I say you might just want to think again. Why?

I am an Amazon customer and up to now I have been neutral about the values/impact of Amazon.  As such I have bought a lot of stuff from Amazon over the years.  Now, I am conflicted.  Over the past few days the desire to buy several products has shown up and yet I have not found myself able to buy. Why?  Because I have been given a glimpse into the supply chain practices of Amazon. And what I stand for in this world conflicts with what Amazon is up to in its supply chain.  According to this Independent article:

Amazon is at the centre of a deepening scandal in Germany as the online shopping giant faced claims that it employed security guards with neo-Nazi connections to intimidate its foreign workers.

Germany’s ARD television channel made the allegations in a documentary about Amazon’s treatment of more than 5,000 temporary staff from across Europe to work at its German packing and distribution centres.

The film showed omnipresent guards from a company named HESS Security wearing black uniforms, boots and with military haircuts. They were employed to keep order at hostels and budget hotels where foreign workers stayed. “Many of the workers are afraid,” the programme-makers said.

7 Customer Experience lessons

I say one should not waste the insight that comes from these scandals. So I offer you 7 lessons that show up for me as result of these scandals and my work on Customer Experience.

1. Clearly Customer Experience, as a construct and as a discipline, is more than simply the service delivered by the Customer Services function.

2. Customer Experience is more than individual, or even the sum of, customer interactions with the company at touch points via specific channels.

3.  Customer Experience is the delivery of the promise (value proposition) and the fulfilment of customer expectations across the complete customer life-cycle.

4. The product or service that draws the customer to purchase is a core/critical part of the Customer Experience and cannot simple be taken for granted and ignored.  I wrote a while ago that the Customer Experience folks cannot simply ignore the product. 

5. The supply chain matters as it impacts the Customer Experience, as such it cannot simply be ignored by those of us working on the Customer Experience.

6. Everything is connected to everything else. This means that what happens in the ‘back office’ or ‘out of sight’ of the customer, including HR practices and technology decisions, indirectly impacts the Customer Experience.

7. To excel and compete at Customer Experience one needs to get that Customer Experience has to be the organising doctrine for the whole organisation-  it has to be a way of life for every person, every part of the organisation including its supply chain and channel partners.

And finally

It occurs to me that it is worth sharing this lesson. It is lesson that is not appreciated nor heeded especially by the Tops.  It is a lesson that comes from the nature of systems:

One cannot escape indefinitely the long-term consequences of short-term orientated behaviour. Or as my father taught me at the age of 5, if you ‘steal’ then expect to get caught sooner or later.

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

In this post I continue the conversation which I began with the last post.

Warning: don’t collapse ‘job to be done’ with customer needs

How did the philosopher Heidegger put it? Yes, he pointed out that you/I always approach that which shows up in our lives with an already existing horizon of understanding.  Put simply, that means that our default way of being is such that we use our existing ‘frame of reference’ to make sense of the new.  Which means that we will distort the new to fit into the old and thus squeeze all value out of the new.  And I have noticed that some of you have collapsed ‘job to be done’ with ‘customer needs’.  No, no, no.  They are distinct even if they are related – think about the two sides of a coin.  If you don’t get that now, you will by the end of his post provided you keep an open mind.  Let’s listen to Clayton Christensen.

Milkshake: Cheaper? Chunkier? Chocolatier? 

In his book How Will You Measure Your Life?  Clayton Christensen writes that that a big restaurant chain wanted to increase sales of their milkshakes. So the company spent months studying this issue.  It bought in customers who fit the profile of the milkshake consumer and asked them all sorts of questions.  Questions like:

  • Can you tell us what we need to do to improve our milkshakes so you would buy more of our milkshakes?
  • Do you want them chocolatier? Cheaper? Chunkier?

Using this customer feedback the company worked and worked on making the milkshake better.  The impact on sales?  No impact on sales or profits whatsoever.  I say you might want to really hear this and make a note of it before your rush out, gather feedback and get busy making changes.

One of Clayton Christensen’s colleagues looked at the situation and brought a completely difference perspective to the matter at hand.  He asked the following question:

“I wonder what job arises in people’s lives that causes them to come to this restaurant to ‘hire’ a milkshake?”

This question opened up a new domain of enquiry.  Clayton’s colleagues stood in a restaurant hours on end observing – paying careful attention to what was happening: “What time did people buy these milkshakes? What were they wearing?  Were they alone? Did they buy other food with it? Did they eat it in the restaurant or drive off with it?”

What did they find?  They found that nearly 50% of the milkshakes were bought in the early morning. And they were bought by adults who were almost always on their own. It was almost the only product they bought and almost all of them got in a car and drove off with their milkshake.

On another morning, as customer left with milkshake in hand, Clayton’s colleagues asked them questions designed to elicit the job that these customers were hiring the milkshake to do.  What did they find?  They found that these customers had a long boring ride to work. “They needed something to keep the commute interesting. They weren’t really hungry yet, but they knew that in a couple of hours, they’d face a midmorning stomach rumbling.”  

What else did Clayton’s colleagues learn?  They learnt that customers had hired bananas, doughnuts, bagels, candy bars. And the milkshake was the best product for the job. Why? “It took a long time to finish a thick milkshake with that thin straw.  And it was substantial enough to ward off the looming midmorning hunger attack”.

Was this the end of the breakthrough insights? No. Clayton and his colleagues discovered that the same product – milkshake – was hired for a fundamentally different job.  “Instead of commuters, the people who were coming in to buy milkshakes in the afternoon were typically fathers.…… I recognised that I had been one of those dads…. and I had the same job to do when in that situation.  I’d been looking for something innocuous to which I could say “yes”, to make me feel like a kind and loving father.”

Who well did the milkshake do the job that the fathers hired it to do?  Not well at all.  Observations showed the children would take a long time to finish the thick milkshake through the thin straw. And after a while the fathers would become impatient to leave and so half the milkshake would be get thrown away.

What is the profound learning here?

I cannot do better than Clayton Christensen so let me share his words with you:

“If our fast food chain asked me, “So Clay…. how can we improve the milkshake so that you’ll buy more of them?      Thicker? Sweeter? Bigger?” I wouldn’t know what to say, because I hire it for two fundamentally different jobs…. when they averaged up the responses ……demographic segment that has highest proclivity to buy milkshakes….. to develop a one-size-fits-none product that doesn’t do either job well. 

On the other hand, if you understand that there are two different jobs that the milkshake is being hired to do, it becomes obvious how to improve the milkshake.  The morning job needs a more viscous milkshake, which takes even longer to suck up. You might add in chunks of fruit – but not to make it healthy, because that’s not the reason it’s being hired…..And, finally, you’d wheel the dispensing machine out from behind the counter to the front, install a prepaid swipe-card so that commuters could run in, gas up and go……

The afternoon make-me-feel-good-about-being-a-parent job is fundamentally different. Maybe the afternoon milkshake could come in half sizes; be less thick……” 

Words of wisdom

I wholeheartedly agree with Clayton Christensen’s words of wisdom:

“There is no one right answer for all circumstances.  You have to start by understanding the job the customer is trying to have done.”