What Are The Two Antidotes to Sucking At CRM and Customer Experience?

“We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”

Talk abounds, advice abounds: the road to organisational nirvana is laid out by many a guru, professor and consultant. Talk about big data, customer analytics and customer insight. Talk about marketing effectiveness and marketing automation. Talk about sales effectiveness and sales force automation. Talk about great customer service. Talk about CRM. And talk about Customer Experience. Yet, little really changes: I see managers grappling with the same challenges that they were grappling with in 1999 when it comes to marketing, sale, service, and CRM. 

Given the abundance in talk why is it that so little changes when it comes to organisational behaviour and organisational effectiveness?  Let’s take a look at this question from the position of being on the court (in the organisation) rather than in the stands as a journalist/reporter (which is how many gurus, professors and consultants show up for me).

Working with a number of people grappling with the challenge of improving the sales process, improving customer service, enabling CRM and improving the Customer Experience across the entire customer journey one manager exclaimed We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term”. What led to this statement?  Days of grappling with the challenge; coming face to face with the many and interlinked factors – culture, people, process, systems, data, metric, business priorities – in the way of making any significant changes-improvements.

If you and I had been on the court grappling with the challenges that this manager was grappling with then I say that it is highly likely, almost certain, that we would have arrived at the same place: this is too much to take on, let’s focus on what is doable in the short-term.

A history of short-term local fixes leaves room only for short-term local fixes 

Given how everything is interlinked to everything (the systems nature of organisations) and the desire of Tops for ‘instant solutions’ to specific problems, Middles get busy on the short-term fixes and the quick wins. What is missed is that today there is only room for short-term fixes and quick wins because previously management took the route of the short-term fix instead of doing that which was necessary for generating longer term effectiveness.

Every time we intervene in the organisation we make a choice. What choice?  The choice to leading the organisation to higher performance or generating a drift to low performance. In fixing the pressing local-functional problem, focusing on the short-term, and going after quick wins, the Tops and Middles are generating a drift to low performance. How/why? Let’s listen to a noted systems thinker, Donella H. Meadows.

“Some systems not only resist policy and stay in a normal bad state, they keep getting worse. One name for this archetype is “drift to low performance”. Examples include falling market share in a business, eroding quality of service in a hospital, continuously dirtier rivers or air ….. state of …… schools…..”

How does this drift to low performance occur? 

“The actor in the feedback look (… government, business, hospital….), has …. a performance goal or desired system state that is compared to the actual state. If there is a discrepancy, action is taken……

But in this system, there is a distinction between the actual system state and the perceived state. The actor tends to believe the bad news more than the good news. As actual performance varies, the best results are dismissed as aberrations, the worst results stay in the memory. The actor thinks things are worse than they really are.

And to complete this tragic archetype, the desired state of the system is influenced by the perceived state. Standards aren’t absolute. When perceived performance slips, the goal is allowed to slip.  “Well, that’s about all you can expect.” ……. “Well, look around, everybody else is having trouble too.”

The lower the perceived system state, the lower the desired state. The lower the desired state, the less discrepancy, and the less corrective action is taken. The less corrective action, the lower the system state. If this loop is allowed to run unchecked, it can lead to continuous degradation in the system’s performance.

Another name for this system is “eroding goals”. It is also called the “boiled frog syndrome”……. Drift to low performance is a gradual process. If the system is plunged quickly. there would be an agitated corrective process. But if it drifts down slowly enough to erase the memory of (or belief in) how much better things used to be, everyone is lulled not lower and lower expectations, lower effort, lower performance.”

Here I ask you to be present to what the manager said after grappling with the challenge: “We’re not going to get a perfect solution in the short-term.” Do you see, how it is that if one takes this reasonable approach the organisation almost never gets around to creating-putting in place the ‘perfect solution’?  How/why? Because it is never the right team to make difficult decisions, create-accept short-term pain in order to generate longer term effectiveness!

What are the antidotes to eroding goals and the drift to low performance? 

In her book, Thinking In Systems, Donnella H. Meadows points out that there are two antidotes:

One is to keep standard absolute, regardless of performance. Another is to make goals sensitive to the best performances of the past, instead of the worst..….. if one takes the best results as standard, and the worst results as a temporary setback, then the same system structure can pull the system up to better and better performance.

This reminds me of my father. When I was young my father insisted that a) I finish whatever I started no matter what; b) do the best that I was capable of doing; c) strive to do better than I did the last time; d) set my sights on the best performer in the class; and e) take the short-term pain in order to generate the longer term gain.

The Dark Side of Using NPS as a Performance Management Tool

Let’s leave aside the theoretical aspects and arguments related to the suitability of using NPS. Instead, let’s consider the implications of using NPS as a performance management tool rather than simply as an indicator which tells us who well we are doing, as an organisation, in building meaningful relationships with customers.

Every human activity produces both things that we want – “goods” – and things we don’t want – “bads”.

– Garrett Hardin, Filters Against Folly

It occurs to me that when we use NPS as a performance management tool we act on the people in the organisation, we act on customers, we alter the balance of power between the multiple parties. And we inject high does of fear and greed into the rich tapestry of human interactions.  

This is how we end up generating the “bads” – the dark side of using NPS as a performance management tool.  Let’s get specify and look at the dark side. What shows up?

  1. Customer facing employees (sales, service) and their managers game the system to generate high NPS scores;

  2. Some customers are either ‘bribed’ and-or ‘pressured’ to give high scores;

  3. Some customers, especially the more powerful ones in B2B, exercise their new-found power to extract concessions – free ‘products’, more discounts, credits, special treatment – from the sales reps and account managers; and

  4. Some sales reps and account managers ‘give away’ more than they need to’ in order to play safe and assure high NPS scores.  This ‘giving away’ tends to be in the region of services which do not directly impact on the revenue figures and commission cheque of the sale rep.

I leave you to decide whether the “goods” generated by using NPS as a performance management tool outweigh the “bads” that I have shared with you.  I do assure you that points 3 and 4 above are not just theoretical – this behaviour is occurring.

Next time you are planning an intervention in the rich web of human relationships get together a diverse group of people, including those who are likely to be impacted, and explore this question: what is likely to happen – today and over the course of time – after we make this intervention?

Marketing and Customer Experience: 6 Core Emotional Needs That Shape Human Behaviour (Part 2 – Control)

If you read the first post of this series you may remember that Mark Ingwer in his book Empathetic Marketing asserts that there are 6 core emotional needs of customers: control, self-expression, growth, recognition, belonging, and care.   In this post I share my thoughts and Mark’s assertions-insights regarding the primary emotional need: CONTROL. 

Satisfying the need for control provides the best access for building customer loyalty

Mark Ingwer is bold in his assertion when it comes to the need for control and the access it provides the smart business:

satisfying the control needs of the consumer, more than any individual need discussed in this book, holds the most potential for a company to build loyalty to a brand, product, or service through intrinsic motivation, which is the internal sense of satisfaction with the purchasing process and the resulting purchase.

Through the iPod and iTunes, Apple handed control of music over to the music listener.  Through the iPhone, iPad and the apps store, Apple handed over much more control over these devices to the user such that each iPhone, each iPad, can truly be customised to the user by the user.  Please notice the genius here. By handing so much control over to the user and making it easy for the user to exercise this control, Apple has created a context where each iPhone, iPad is unique and thus irreplaceable.  Hence, the value if iCloud.

Why is the need for control such a vital need?

Think for a moment about the last time that you did not have any control over an important aspect of your life. What showed up for you in your body? What emotions surfaced? Was it a pleasant experience? An experience you want to repeat?  If you are human then it is likely that this experience was a deeply unsettling one when it occurred. Here’s what Mark Ingwer says on this matter

The need for control fuels our motivation in every aspect of our lives. Positioned near the individuality pole of the needs continuum, control is essential to our every day functioning. We see how this need influences our lives most profoundly when we’re not in control. Some of life’s worst and most stressful predicaments are colored by feelings of helplessness – events in which we are unable to prevent or alter the inevitable. 

I invite you to consider the direction of human progress. Is this progress, as in increasing control over that which showed up an threatening for us or made life uncertain or merely difficult?  Do you doubt that our ideal, even if unstated, is to have complete dominion (control) over that which shows up on planet Earth. And then our galaxy and eventually the universe.  Why might this be?  Here’s Mark Ingwer again:

Many situations that fall outside the purview of personal agency hit us in the gut. We feel insecure. We feel small. We fear losing control. And we strive to regain that control. Not only does that loss of control prevent us from achieving our specific outcomes, but it is also often wrenching evidence that signifies our relative insignificance in a large (and largely random) universe.

When we feel in control of external events, in control of ourselves, and in control of our core relationships, we have a broader and more satisfying feeling of contentment and confidence …. we can’t grow as individuals without attending properly to this need.

Customer service and the power of control

Why is it that I do most of my shopping online and do all of my banking online? Because I experience being in control of the shopping process, the banking process. Why is it that I dread having to call up most call-centres? Because, even before I pick up the call I expect a long-tedious-unpleasant experience where I am at the mercy of the IVR, long waiting times, call-centre agents who lack the expertise-will-freedom to actually help me …..  Here is what Mark Ingwer says on the matter:

Nothing reveals the power of control – and the destructive power of lack of control – than customer service situations. Companies that sell services or routinely interact with their customers in service settings must pay special attention to a customer’s sense of control.

Poor customer service results when proxy control is ineffective. If the proxy does not behave as the customer desires, the customer loses control of the situation.

If you are wondering what proxy control is then think about wanting to do your banking online and finding that the website is out of operation. Or imagine needing cash, turning up at the ATM and finding that it is out of order and there are no other ATMs available. Or imagine, ringing up the call-centre and coming face to face with an call-centre agent who speaks with an accent you find hard to understand. Or imagine going to the restaurant with the family, having eaten your meal, finding your young ones tired, looking for a waiter to pay the bill, and the waiter seems to take forever to come back to take your payment. You are desperate to go home and yet cannot do so until the waiter comes over to you and takes your payment.

What advice does Mark Ingwer have for marketers and customer experience specialists?

What I like about Mark Ingwer’s book is the practical suggestions that he provides at the end of each chapter. Here is his advice for marketers and customer experience specialists, as it shows up for me:

1. Review your core marketing message. It should say to customers: you can be in the driver’s seat – assuming products and service can deliver.

2. Examine the customers’ experience. Are prospects and customers in control throughout the path to the final sale and afterwards?

3. Simply after-sales processes. 

If you want to learn more about these practical recommendations then you will have to buy the book and read it as I do not want to give away Mark’s secrets and deprive him of readers for his book.

If you remember only one sentence then remember this one

It occurs to me that when it comes to the end to end customer experience then this is the one sentence that captures it all when it comes to the human need for control:

From start to finish, customers must never sense that they are at the mercy of a company or product. 

The last time I was in such a situation I walked out of the cinema, choosing not to watch a film that I really wanted to watch, rather than be at the mercy of the cinema and its staff.

In the next post, I will cover the human need for self-expression.  It occurs to me whole industries are based on this need. I thank you for your listening.

Vizolution: A great way to drive sales conversions and improve the customer experience?

I have mixed relationship with corporate technology given my first hand experience of it. It is true that technology is essential and it brings many benefits. It is also true that most corporate technology is complex and expensive to set-up and operate. Last, and perhaps most important is that it does not show up as being usable nor useful to the people on the front lines that have to use the technology. Put differently, from the user perspective the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. A great example of such a technology is enterprise CRM systems. Can Vizolution prove me wrong?

I met up with Marcio Rodrigues, Customer Propositions Director, at Vizolution to learn about this technology. Here is what I learned:

  • Vizolution technology is being used by three of the top five UK banks and two of the top 5 insurance companies;
  • According to customer surveys, customers (95% of them) like the experience that is generated through Vizolution;
  • By using this technology financial services companies have increased sales conversions anywhere from 14% (mortgage conversion) to 93% (life insurance and critical illness); and
  • The folks in compliance love Vizolution as it sends/receives files using 128 bit encryption, allows complex issues to be explained properly, and enables a consistent sales process.

Ok, the banks and insurance companies like it because it improves sales conversion and improves compliance.  What I was interested in was the customer. Why do customers like it? What does Vizolution bring to the customer experience? This is what I learned:

  • By being able to see what the sales agent is talking about customers feel more engaged in the process;
  • The on screen visuals make it easier for the customer to understand the financial product being discussed; and
  • The process of signing-up for a financial product is so much easier and quicker – there is no waiting for the paperwork to arrive by post, reviewing and signing it, waiting for approval.

By now you might be wondering what is Vizolution and what does it do.  As I understand it, Vizolution:

  • Is patent pending software that allows businesses to engage their customers in sales conversations through an instant, easy, screen sharing session via the internet;
  • Is  simple and quick – with just one click the sales agent can initiate a Vizolution session and it is just as easy for the customer; and
  • bypasses the typical issues in installing screen sharing software locally and navigating around-through corporate firewalls.

My last question to Marcio was on costs: purchasing, installation, and use. What I can tell you is that the pricing showed up for me as being modest even cheap given the difference that this technology has made to sales conversion rates. At this point I could not help being a ‘strategic consultant’ and so I advised Marcio and his team to rethink the pricing!

If you want to learn more about Vizolution then I suggest that you contact Marcio. His email address is marcio.rodrigues@vizolution.co.uk

If you have used this software solution either as a manager, a sales agent or a customer then I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Please note that I am taking a holiday over August and as such I do not expect to be writing any posts until September. I thank you for reading and hope you make August a great month for yourself and all the people you ‘touch’.

Disclosure: I am happy to write about Vizolution as it occurs to me that this is a simple useful technology. I am not being paid, in any way, for writing this post. Please note that I am not promoting Vizolution and with every technology I encourage you to do your research before you buy.

What Kind of Customer Experience Builds Genuine Loyalty?

What is the word that best describes or points out the fundamental context/orientation that underpins business as usual?  It occurs to me that the word is “taking”.  Taking as much as possible from the customers.  Taking as much as possible from employees. Taking as much as possible from suppliers, Taking as much as possible from the community. Taking as much as possible from the planet…..

From the context of taking you get personalised emails and direct mail that does not show up as personal. From this context of taking you get the incessant focus on replacing human customer service with self-service and the switch from skilled staff to unskilled and cheaper staff. From this context of taking you get the focus on upselling, x-selling, and increasing wallet share.

I have yet to find any meaningful and enduring relationships that are based on taking. Where the context of taking is present all that shows up is taking. And people coming up with ways of protecting themselves from being taken. This is not the case for giving.

Where actions flow from a context of giving then it is possible to arrive at symbiotic relationships. Symbiotic relationships are ones where each party brings something of value to the other such that both benefit. It occurs to me that the strongest relationships tend to be symbiotic. Symbiotic relationships start with one party giving – giving something of genuine value to the other party.

Why are so many companies struggling to generate meaningful-enduring relationships with their customers despite their investments in all kind of customer stuff? Why is it that a genuine shift towards a customer centred orientation is so difficult? I say it is difficult because all this effort and investment arises from a context of taking.  Whilst this may not be obvious to the people in the company it is obvious to customers – our bodies can tell the difference between those who care for us and those who do not.

Allow me to share an example two example with you. Examples that will illustrate the difference between taking and giving.  Let’s start by looking at the taking orientation.

This week I brought a training course. To make the sale happen the supplier offered a 10% discount amounting to £100 and threw in some extras. Given that it is summer and there is less demand for the course it makes perfect sense for the supplier. And it showed up as an attractive discount for me given that I was going to buy the course with or without the discount. Did this discount build any gratitude, any relationship, any loyalty? No. I am clear that the discount served the needs and interests of the supplier.

Are there any companies that excel at giving?  It occurs to me that giffgaff, a mobile network provider, is one such company. Earlier this month I got a email from giffgaff letting me know that the best tariff for me was the £7.50 tariff. By providing me this information giffgaff gave me the choice of switching from the £10 tariff. I didn’t switch tariffs. Nonetheless, I am delighted with giffgaff – I am delighted that giffgaff is practicing what it preaches, that the folks at giffgaff are living their values.

Let’s take a moment to look at my experience upon receiving the email. First, surprise. Second, delight. Third, gratitude. Fourth, satisfaction in having chosen giffgaff. Fifth, loyalty validated and cemented.  Sixth – advocacy as in writing this post.  Put differently, giving by giffgaff has called forth giving by me. I should point out that it is not just me.  My wife has been telling a similar story to her circle of friends and colleagues.

The lesson? I say genuine-meaningful-enduring relationships are built upon mutual giving. I say you cannot build such relationships from a context of taking – the context that underpins business as usual.  I say that as human beings we are always on the lookout for people and organisations that are trustworthy and on our side – looking after our best interest.

It occurs to me that if the people in companies pursuing customer experience, customer-centricity, even customer obsession, were to focus on giving and not clever ways of taking then they would have more success in fostering customers who are genuinely loyal.

What do you say?