Most Important Post I Have Written This Year: What Does It Really Take To Know Your Customers?

This is long conversation and likely to be of interest to those of you who have experienced the limitations of knowledge as it is commonly understood. It may also be of interest to you if you glimpsed the radical difference between knowing and knowing about. If this is not you, then please go do something else.

How Useful Is The Knowledge Gained Through Market Research?

There is a huge industry that caters to the needs of business folks (often those in the marketing function) to know their customers or their target audience/market. I am speaking of the market research industry: qualitative (focus groups etc), quantitative (surveys), and a mix of each. In recent years, a new breed of player has entered this industry: the Voice of the Customer industry with its many technology solutions providers focussed almost exclusively on feedback through surveys. How useful is this research? What are its limits? What can you really know about your customer/s through this kind of knowing?

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Short Answer

There is one well know market research organisation that sells and ‘supplies’ market research to many big brands who are keen to know their customers. This organisation knows it stuff: market research. Given this one would assume that the folks in this organisation would know all they need to know about their customers – those who commission the research (on their customers and target markets). What is actually the case?

One of the growth challenges, of this marketing research organisation, is a lack of understanding, knowledge, of its customers. How can this be?  This organisation has an army of professional market researchers, an array of market research technologies, a broad range of tools that it uses every day; and history/track record of conducting all kinds of research.

Clearly, market research, that this organisations does and sells, does not provide the kind of knowing that it is seeking of its own customers. So the short answer is it takes more than market research whether through focus groups or surveys. Whilst this kind of knowledge may be interesting, even somewhat useful, it is not sufficient.

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Long Answer

To answer this question it is necessary to clearly understand-distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing about’.  Once you get this distinction you get why it is that the market research companies has no real understanding of its customers. You will also get why it is that most advice given by sales gurus to sales reps is useless.

Should you use your valuable time to master this distinction?  Let me put it this way, I say, mastering this distinction is one of the most important distinctions, if not the most important, distinction to master for effective living.  Once you master this distinction you can focus on what really generates knowledge. And you will no longer need to be bewitched and misled by the many academic articles, business books, guru, advisors and consultant. You may even see that this stuff is worse than useless, it is dangerous!

What distinguishes ‘knowing’ from ‘knowing about’?

I invite you to read the following passage with someone who has grappled with this question not theoretically but through lived experience:

When I was working on the Meaning of Anxiety, I spent a year and a half in bed in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I had a great deal of time to ponder the meaning of anxiety – and plenty of first hand data on myself and my fellow anxious patients. In the course of time I studied two books ….: one by Freud, The Problem of Anxiety, and the other by Kierkegaard, TheConcept of Anxiety.

I valued highly Freud’s formulations …… But these were still theories.  Kierkegaard, on the other hand, described anxiety as the struggle as the living being with nonbeing which I could immediately experience in my struggle with death or the prospect of being a lifelong invalid……

What powerfully struck me then was that Kierkegaard was writing about exactly what my fellow patients and I were going through. Freud was not..… Kierkegaard was portraying what is immediately experienced by human beings in crisis….. Freud was writing on the technical level, where his genius was supreme ….. he knew about anxiety. Kierkegaard, a genius of a different order, was writing on the existential, ontological level; he knew anxiety.

– Rollo May, The Discovery Of Being

Have you gotten the distinction? Kierkegaard knew anxiety in the only way that generates knowing: through experiencing it, living it, being anxious.  Freud, knew about anxiety.

Failing to distinguish ‘knowing about’ from ‘knowing’ compromises effective action and generates unintended outcomes

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that I can get a bunch of data about you: name, address, age, marital status, number of children, job, income, what you spend your money on, where you spend your time, your height, your weight, colour of your eyes……  Clearly I know about you. And I might get to thinking that I know you. Do I? Do I really know you as a living-breathing human being?

Before you answer that question, I ask you read and truly get present to the profound insight that is being communicated in the following passage:

The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus 9 spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being – an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.

The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil smelling jar, remove a still colourless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines, and write the truth…… There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed – probably the least important reality concerning the fish or yourself.

It is good to know what you are doing. The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that colour, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way

– Steinbeck and Ricketts, 1971, pp 3-3

Summing Up

Life occurs in the arena, is dynamic, is ALWAYS relational, and every observation and ‘lesson’ is context specific.  Knowing occurs in the arenaGenuine, deep, insightful knowing occurs in and amongst those who spend sufficient time playing full out in the arena to transcend discrete objects-events and experience-see relationships, patterns and the deeper structures that generate the patterns and thus the events.

Most of what is spoken, written about and passes for knowledge in Western society is that which can be observed, relatively painlessly, by sitting in the stands observing what appears to be going on (as viewed by the observer with his particular ‘line of sight’) in the arena: knowing about. It is ok for non-relational objects. It is ok for abstract concepts. It is ok for that which is static. It is totally insufficient when it comes to the living: the individual, the social system, life in its fullest expression.

You can never know a human being (customer, employee) through focus groups or surveys. To know a human being you/i must walk in the shoes of that human being and experience situations, people, encounters as s/he experiences them. And this is not as easy as it sounds. Even when you walk in someone’s shoes it is useful to be aware that it is your feet doing the walking. Which means that to get an appreciation for how the other experiences ‘walking in his/her shoes’ you need to have the genuine openness-willingness-curiousity-patience to walk with the other for long enough to get a feel for the others feet such that you arrive at a place where you can walk in the others shoes.

I leave you with the following quotes:

There are certain things you can only know by creating them for yourself

– Werner Erhard

That which really matters in human life can only be known through lived experience; this knowing can rarely be communicated to those who have not created this knowing for themselves through lived experience.

– maz iqbal

Make it a great week. For my part, I find it a joy to be sharing that which I share with you especially after a wonderful experiential vacation in beautiful Dubrovnik.

 

How To Succeed In The Game Of Experience Design? The Six Essentials Courtesy of Amanda Burden

This is a long post. You will only get value out of it if you find yourself genuinely interested in human beings and experience design.

What Comes Before Customer Experience Management?

More and more I come across the term Customer Experience Management. As I sit with this term, this thought occurs to me: “You must have something in place before you are in a position to manage it!”  Put differently, before I am in a position to manage the operation of a building, the building must exist – be in place.

I get there is a different sense of manage as in project management: where one oversees the planning and execution of a project.  Yet, I do not see Customer Experience as a project say like a marketing campaign is distinct project with a start and a finish.  Customer Experience shows up for me as a way of showing up and doing business with customers which emphasises the critical important of the customer’s holistic experience of your business.

For me the word that rightfully occurs after Customer Experience is design. It occurs to me that this is the first and foremost challenge of Customer Experience: designing customer experiences that speak to customers and leave them feeling great at being associated with your business – association includes yet is not limited to buying from your business. Let’s use the analogy of a rocket launch. It occurs to me that Customer Experience Design is the equivalent of doing that which is necessary to actually get the rocket off the ground.  If the rocket does not get off the ground all else is superfluous.

Now I ask you to ponder this, why is there so much talk of voice of the customer and Customer Experience Management and almost nobody talks about Customer Experience Design?  Really dive into this question with an open-inquisitive-questioning mind and you may just see why it is that so many have achieved so little in the domain of Customer Experience.

What Does It Take To Design Great Customer Experiences?

My short answer to this question is that all that you/i need to know is disclosed-shared by Amanda Burden in the TED talk below.  I urge you to watch it, and watch it again. Here is the talk:

I share with you aspects of the talk which resonate most deeply with me and my lived experience of business and in particular the domain of Customer including Customer Experience.

1. Seeing What Really Matters, What It Is All About?

“When people think about cities, they tend to think of certain things. They think of buildings and streets and skyscrapers, noisy cabs. But when I think about cities, I think about people. Cities are fundamentally about people, and where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work…

My take? The game of life, of business, of performance, of Customer Experience is about people!  In our obsession with strategy, with operations, with processes, with data, with technology (do we love technology!) we are oblivious to fact that these games are fundamentally about people and in particular the human (existential) dimension.

2. Direct Observation Into The details Of Human Behaviour 

” ….. enjoyable public spaces are the key to planning a great city….. But what makes a public space work? ……. One of the first spaces that I studied was this little vest pocket park called Paley Park in midtown Manhattan…. what was it about this space that made it special and drew people to it? Well, I would sit in the park and watch very carefully, and first among other things were the comfortable, movable chairs. People would come in, find their own seat, move it a bit, actually, and then stay a while, and then interestingly, people themselves attracted other people, and ironically, I felt more peaceful if there were other people around. And it was green. This little park provided what New Yorker’s crave: comfort and greenery …”

My take? Great experiences are designed. The design follows detailed observation of human behaviour. Can anyone do this work? No, it takes people like Amanda who are both trained in the field of human behaviour AND are in touch with their own humanity. Notice, Amanda noticed that she felt more peaceful in that park when there were other people around. And being in tune with her own experience (bodily state, feelings, thoughts, mood) she was able to guess that this park met the New Yorker’s craving for comfort and greenery.  Put differently, direct observation AND lived experience led to inductive thinking – the kind of thinking that does not show up when one is process mapping in the office or poring over VoC reports.

3. Designers Who Have The Requisite Grasp Of Human Beings AND Find Themselves Called To Enrich Lives

“…  one of the more wonky things about me is that I am an animal behaviorist, and I use those skills not to study animal behavior but to study how people in cities use city public spaces…  For me, becoming a city planner meant being able to truly change the city that I lived in and loved. I wanted to be able to create places that would give you the feeling that you got in Paley Park, and not allow developers to build bleak plazas like this….. I was determined to create places that would make a difference in people’s lives.

My take? When I see an organisation using the lean-six sigma-process guys to staff their Customer Experience effort, I know it is doomed.  These folks lack that which it takes to craft experiences that speak to customers. What do they lack? Humanity – they are not sufficiently in tune with their humanity so how can they be in tune with the humanity of others?  Process folks are focused on efficiency/throughput. Not comfort, not connection, not beauty… What they are not called to do nor determined to do is to create experiences (and ways of doing business) that make a difference in people’s (customers, frontline personnel) lives.

4. Great Experiences Need To Be Lived-Experienced Before They Are Implemented; Details Make The Difference

“…. just to make sure, I insisted that we build a mock-up in wood, at scale, of the railing and the sea wall. And when I sat down on that test bench with sand still swirling all around me, the railing hit exactly at eye level, blocking my view and ruining my experience at the water’s edge. 

So you see, details really do make a difference. But design is not just how something looks, it’s how your body feels on that seat in that space, and I believe that successful design always depends on that very individual experience. In this photo, everything looks very finished, but that granite edge, those lights, the back on that bench, the trees in planting, and the many different kinds of places to sit were all little battles that turned this project into a place that people wanted to be.

My take? To design customer experience one needs to be clear on what actually constitutes an experience. And in the domain of customer experience one has to experience-live the customer experience (on more than one occasion) in order to grasp the critical importance of the little details – the kind that are not on the minds of those redesigning processes and/or experiences in the comfort of the office.

 5. Cultivating Customer Trust Starts With A Deep ‘Listening’ In The Deepest Sense of Listening

“So how was I going to get this done? By listening. So I began listening, in fact, thousands of hours of listening just to establish trust. You know, communities can tell whether or not you understand their neighborhoods. It’s not something you can just fake. And so I began walking. I can’t tell you how many blocks I walked, in sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year, just so I could get to understand the DNA of each neighborhood and know what each street felt like. I became an incredibly geeky zoning expert, finding ways that zoning could address communities’ concerns.”

My Take?  Consider what it takes to generate customer insight (and trust). Consider what listening actually involves: listening to the voice of the customer directly (thousand of hours) and listening by experiencing that which the customer experiences by walking in his/her shoes in “sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year…”. Now compare that with what the big brand consultants peddle, and what VoC offers.  As I have stated in a previous post: “There is ALWAYS a price. It is ALWAYS paid. We only get to choose whether we pay the price right up front, during the middle, or at the end.” Notice, Amanda paid the price right up front. Which is why her work turned out to be a success when implemented.

6. To Design Great Customer Experiences Tap Into Your Humanity, Not Your Design Expertise

“So what’s the trick? How do you turn a park into a place that people want to be? Well, it’s up to you, not as a city planner but as a human being. You don’t tap into your design expertise. You tap into your humanity. I mean, would you want to go there? Would you want to stay there? Can you see into it and out of it? Are there other people there? Does it seem green and friendly? Can you find your very own seat?

My take? I do not have any design expertise. Yet, I find myself well fitted to the challenge of experience design. Why? Because I find that all it has taken for me to design customer experiences (and the associated changes in the frontline experience) is the capacity and willingness to tap into my humanity: to put myself in the place of the customer (and the frontline) person – to experience that which they experience and a burning desire-commitment to making a difference in their humanity as lived-experienced.  Which is to say, I find myself in total agreement with Amanda. And, design expertise-tools have their place, can come handy – just as a saw has its place can come handy in the hands of a carpenter who loves working wood to create beauty.

On The Centrality Of Ethics And Practical Wisdom To The Workability Of Our Lives, Our Organisations, Our Institutions

This is a conversation about ethics and wisdom.  As such it is unfashionable – not in tune with the cultural context amidst which we live our lives.

This conversation will not make you a smarter-more cunning marketer. Nor will it increase your close rate and drive up your sales effectiveness. It definitely will not help you to talk lyrically about the customer whilst doing everything in your power to reduce the level of service your provide to your customers after they have become customers.  If this is why you find yourself here then I suggest you leave now. 

Do Ethics and Wisdom Matter In A ‘Scientific’ Age?

On my LinkedIn profile I have written the following:

Inspired by the possibility of a world that works for all, none excluded. Committed to being a source of workability-performance-transformation. And travelling through life in a manner that elevates-honours all. Enjoy conversations of the authentic-human kind.

What is the scientific basis for this freely chosen way of showing up and travelling in this world?  What is the ROI?  The first question can only be asked by a man of ‘reason’ – one working in a laboratory, with no worldly entanglements, and a limited, possibly non-existent, moral horizon.  The second question is probably the fundamental question that every Taker asks himself: what is in it for me, personally?

I find neither of these questions relevant as I strive to show up and operate from an ethical stance. Not a scientific stance. Nor a ROI stance.  Does ethics and moral wisdom matter?  Can we live well, given that living well always involves living well with others, by embracing ‘reason’ and ROI?  Put differently, is ethics and moral wisdom mere superstition and as such can be jettisoned?  Let’s leave aside the theory and look at the phenomena.

Shambles and Lack Of Empathy At Gatwick Airport

Yesterday, Ian Golding wrote the following:

In all my years travelling to and from the UK, I have never witnessed a queue for passport control quite like it. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were snaking around the airport building. Everyone looked rather bewildered….

….. for the 50 minutes I battled through the queue, I heard not one announcement, and not one member of staff from either Gatwick Airport or the border force bothered to make themselves visible to help or advise passengers……..

The experience was not made any better by finally arriving at a desk. As my passport was taken out of my hand, I was not greeted by an apology, or even an acknowledgement of the wait. Instead, I was told that ‘this is not my fault, it’s the system’…..

I do not hold them responsible for there clearly being no contingency plan in place. However I do expect that they should be able to empathise with the people they are serving.

Now here is something that speaks volumes for those who have the listening for it:

Credit should be given to the thousands of customers who quietly and diligently stood in line. I personally did not witness a raised word despite the shambles – there was almost a sad acceptance that this happens in the UK

If you can read the following article and pay particular attention to the language of the several officials:

A government spokesman said: “We are currently experiencing temporary IT problems which may add to the time taken to conduct passport checks…. We are working to rectify this issue and are providing extra staff to get passengers through the controls as quickly as possible. Our priority remains security of the border. We apologise for any additional time this adds to passengers’ journeys.”

A Heathrow spokesman said: “There are some longer queues than normal in the terminals but we have spoken to border force and they are putting on extra staff… Obviously we want to sort the issue out but not risk the integrity of the border controls.”

Ask yourself if these words could be spoken by a robots. Better still ask yourselves whether these words are more befitting of robots or human beings?  Ask yourself where, in these words, there is any care-concern-empthy for the human beings who found themselves amidst the shambles, trying to figure out what was going on. And many of who will have missed their onward connections and found themselves fending for themselves.

How Did The Staff At Sports Direct Treat A Young Mother?

Yesterday, I came across this article about a protest by mothers at a Sports Direct store. What led to this protest?

.….. staff members allegedly told Wioletta Komar that she could not breast feed her baby because it was “against company policy”.  She was then made to leave the store and continue feeding her child in the rain while she waited for her husband, according to the Nottingham Post.  Mrs Komar claims she has complained to the store five times since the incident, but has received no response…

Do we have so little regard-love for our own mothers so that we can accord no consideration-respect to this mother?

Where is our sense of decency, of fellow feeling, of moral wisdom?  What would it have taken for a member of staff to go up to Wioletta, invite her into the staff room, offer her a chair?  And in the process connect with her as a fellow human being.

What does the law say on this matter?  According to the article:

Breastfeeding in public is protected by the Equality Act 2010, which states that businesses must not discriminate against a woman who is breastfeeding.

The Nonsense of Scientific Management: What Gets Measured Gets Done, Really?

I can think of no better example of the folly of mere ‘scientific’ thinking-acting than the exclusive focus on metrics, incentives (rewards) and punishments. Some are so lacking in practical wisdom that they loudly proclaim: what gets measured gets done!

Successive UK government’s have made a big play of how crime is coming down. Metrics driven crime recording and performance management systems have been put in place. And the figures have consistently showed a drop in crime.

What does the first official inquiry into the accuracy of the crime figures provided by the police have to say?  Here are the highlights from this article:

The police are failing to record as much as 20% of crime – equal to three-quarters of a million offences – including 14 cases of rape and some serious sexual offences…..

The interim report also shows that some offenders have been issued with out-of-court fixed penalty fines when they should have been prosecuted instead…

…… police failure to record crime properly may stem from poor knowledge of the rules or workload but adds that he can’t rule out that it might be the result of discreditable or unethical behaviour by officers.

Well are the crime figures being deliberately fiddled or is it just pure incompetence?  One way of answering this question is to ask how did this official inquiry come about?  According to the same article:

The interim report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, was ordered by the home secretary following claims of widespread fiddling of the police recorded crime figures by a whistleblower which have been endorsed by MPs.

Let’s take a moment to get present to what is happening here!  The very people who are charged with upholding the law are not.  Why not? I say that the ethical foundation and moral wisdom that is the essential ground for effective policing and the just rule of the law is no longer present: if it not dead then surely it is on it’s deathbed.

Does this fiddling of crime figures matter?  Does it really matter?  It seems rather academic doesn’t it?  What is the big deal if the police are failing to record up to 20% of crime.  Now I invite you to step away from the deliberately bland language of academic-managerial-political speech and look at the phenomena: the human impact. What is the human impact? Here are examples that bring the human back into the conversation:

Among the cases HMIC cites as wrongly written off are:

• An allegation by a 13-year-old autistic boy who told his parents he had been raped by a 15-year-old male friend which was wrongly written off by the police as sexual experimentation.

• A report to the police of rape by a doctor on behalf of a female patient who had consented to sex but told the man to stop when it began to hurt. A supervisory officer ruled that no crime had occurred.

This is not the only case of unethical behaviour, lack of integrity, and the lack of moral wisdom.  Just this week I came across this article: Department for Work is government’s worst at providing a living wage.  Why is this a big deal?  Because it is the government department that pays taxpayer funded top ups for those of our fellow human beings on low pay. And this government department was the first one to ‘commit itself to paying a living wage, a voluntary scheme under which employers pledge to supplement the legally binding national minimum wage.’

Case after case suggests that the lack of integrity, unethical behaviour and the lack of practical-moral wisdom is now the norm: the default setting at all levels of society. 

What Is The Cause Of The Loss Of Moral Wisdom And Lack Of Ethical Thought-Behaviour?

In the age of enlightenment where ‘reason’ and science were being embraced and the old world order was collapsing some saw the perils down the road.  Let’s listen:

What conclusion is to be drawn from this paradox so worthy of being born in our time; and what will become of virtue when one has to get rich at all costs. The ancient political thinkers forever spoke of morals and virtue; ours speak only of commerce and money.

– Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discourses on the Sciences and Arts

I get that you may not have the same interest-passion for dead philosophers as I do. So allow me to share with you the voice of Barry Schwartz – a psychologist and professor of sociology.

Barry Schwartz On The Loss of Practical And Especially Moral Wisdom

Barry Schwatz has delivered a number of TED talks. This talk was delivered in 2009 and TED describes it as follows:

Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.

And Finally

I leave you with these final thoughts:

First, as Heidegger pointed out we do not live-operate in a scientific laboratory an ‘objective’ observers looking at the world.  No, we are an intrinsic part of the world: a human being is ALWAYS a being-in-the-world even when s/he dies.

Second, a human being is never just a being-in-the-world. S/he is always and necessarily a being-in-the-world-with-others. Ask yourself in what sense you could possibly be a human being if you were magically born into a world without human beings. Ask yourself where you would be if upon birth there was no human being there to care for you.

Third, a human being is being whose being is to necessarily take a stand on his being. Another way of saying this is to ‘existence is our essence’ or ‘custom is our nature’. Which is to say we collectively make ourselves through our vision of what it is to be a human being. Each age is characterised by a particular vision of what it is to be a human being.

Fourth, we have, on the whole and for the most part especially in organisation and institutional settings, become heartless, self-interested, calculating-manipulative, creatures because we have bought into and been conditioned into this way of thinking and operating as human beings..

Fifth, look around and get present to that which is so. The flowering of the scientific view of man and the world has not brought us to lived experience of nirvana. What it has brought us is longer lives and more comfort.  And on the whole and for the most part we do not find ourselves happier. We do not find ourselves experiencing aliveness-fulfillment-joy.  We find ourselves living in a world devoid of the basics (compassion, empathy, kindness, brotherhood) that make a human life truly worth living. 

Sixth, you and I have a choice to bring ethical living and practical-moral wisdom back into the worlds in which we show up and travel. How? Be expanding our definition of ‘reason’ to include ethics and practical-moral wisdom.  And by so doing we will be giving back to the term ‘reason’ to its original fullness – that which was so before the modern age reduced ‘reason’ to its current understanding-practice

If you have made it this far, I thank you for the generosity of your listening. And I invite you to show up and travel as a leader in life by taking the lead in embodying ethical practices and moral wisdom.

 

Transformation: Brief Exploration Of Two Radically Distinct Customer Experience Paradigms

What Is The Context For This Conversation?

I am following the lead taken by Dawna MacLean in her recent post on encouraging businesses to become more human. It occurs to me she is a brave lady worthy of admiration and respect. I dedicate this post to her, in service of the stand she is taking and the possibility that she is living from and into.

There are many actions that I regret. Few bring me shame. One in particular is etched within me despite it occurring ‘a lifetime ago’.  I reckon I was 14 at the time, walking, alone, on my way into the town centre. I am stopped by an old lady, she has a walking stick, she tells me she is lost, she asks for directions. I draw closer to hear-understand what she is saying. She smells! I tell her that she need to turn around. I tell her she is only ten minutes walk from her destination. And I spell out the directions – twice.

A voice speaks to me along the following lines: “Take her hand, walk her there, it is even on your way somewhat. Without your help she will struggle.” Another voice speaks: “She smells awful! You are in a hurry and it will take ages to take her there. You have given her what she asked for. She’ll be fine.” I listen to the second voice, leave her to make her own way, and I walk into town.  I cleaned up a lot of history whilst participating in Landmark Education. And that is one that I never got to clean up.  If that old lady were here today, I’d ask for her forgiveness.

Why am I sharing this with you?  So that you have the context from which to make sense of what I speak-write.  I write is not to help you make it: sell more, be more successful, obtain higher status, live happily ever after.  I write to open eyes, unblock ears, touch hearts. I write to encourage-facilitate a shift of worldview. I write from the possibility of meaningful-fulfilling human lives and the possibility of a ‘world that works for all, none excluded’.  Arguably a world that works must include meaningful-fulfilling human lives.  And such a world has plenty of space for businesses that do great by doing good: enriching human lives, and life as a whole.

What Is The Experience That Goes With Transformation?

The last post ended with “So the challenge of Customer Experience is the challenge of a transformation in worldview.”  When I speak transformation, what am I pointing at?  Look at the following picture, keeping look at it until a shift occurs in what you see.

Gestalt Shift Cuble

 

What occurred? If you are like me then you probably started out seeing a small cube sitting inside of a an ‘open box’ and then came a moment when you saw a big cube from which a small cube (left hand corner) was cut-out, missing.

Please notice, the reality (that which is) has not changed. It is the same picture – nothing about the picture itself changed. Yet, that which you perceived-saw changed and you had something like a surprise: an ‘aha’ experience.  Why?  Because the perceptual switch that occurred was not simple a change-adjustment-variation of what you saw originally. What you saw was distinct from what you had seen earlier. Put differently, a transformation occurred in your seeing.

What can we learn from this?  Given the same ‘that which is so’ you made sense of it in two distinct ways.  And, this is important, each way of seeing ‘that which is’ occurred as natural, correct and absolute whilst is was occurring the way it was occurring for you. Only by looking at the picture for a sufficient period of time, in a specific manner, did the gestalt like shift in your seeing occur. And when it did occur, it occurred in an instant.  Transformation is like that.

Now think of business and organisational life and apply that which you have experienced here. And learned. Ask yourself this question: is the way that the business world is ‘pictured and talked about’ the only way of picturing and talking about it?  Is it possible that there are many ways of picturing, talking about, and showing up in the business world?  I say that there are numerous ways of seeing-interpreting the business world – that the number of ways is only limited by our imagination AND the influence-strength of the dominant paradigm of seeing.

Customer Experience: Two Radically Distinct Paradigms

Let’s take a brief look at each in turn.

CX Model 1: The Dominant Way of Seeing-Using Customer Experience

It occurs to me that a lot has been written about Customer Experience. For me most of it shows up as shallow, or simply putting ‘lipstick on the pig’.  What am I pointing at when I speak that which I have spoken. Take a look at the following picture:

Dominant Model of CX
Dominant Model of CX

In this way of seeing, Customer Experience is viewed-treated simply as a means of:

  • Increasing revenues
  • Reducing or containing costs e.g. through using lower cost channels to ‘serve’ customers; and
  • Risk management given that every customer has access to a smartphone and social media and thus is in a position to damage brand-corporate reputation.

The goal of business within this dominant paradigm is that which it has been since the ascendency of shareholder value and ‘greed is good’ ethos. This goal is characterised by a focus on self (oneself and one’s tribe), and greed: to extract as much value as possible in the short-term. Any value created for the customer is the minimum that it is necessary to create in order to extract as much value for ‘Self”.

Within the dominant paradigm, CRM (including social CRM) is simply a technology that is used to augment-strengthen the existing business logic: getting as much money out of the customer as possible whilst giving away the minimum; and getting as much value (productivity) out of employees whilst giving back the minimum.

Finally, in this model (as practiced) the deep business logic stays the same. Competition rather than collaboration. Self at the expense of others. Efficiency rather than effectiveness…… Importantly, people are neither trusted nor treated with respect and accorded the dignity that goes with being a full human being; threat, fear, and game playing are pervasive.

CX Model 2: A World Waiting To Be Invented, And Mastered By Few

I call the second model ‘A World Waiting To Be Invented’ because it is only practiced-mastered by a few. The rare few that come to my mind include: John Lewis/Waitrose, USAA, and Amazon/Zappos.  What constitutes this second model? Here is a picture:

 

A World Waiting To Be Invented
A World Waiting To Be Invented

In this model Customer Experience is a subset of Experience. Experience encompasses the experiences of all the participants-actors-stakeholders: customers, ‘partner’s (the people who actually work in the organisation and create value for customers), value chain partners (suppliers, channel partners, outsourced partners…), and the community.

The ‘Goal’ of the business within this paradigm (way of seeing the world of business) is one of creating value for and sharing this value with the whole system (all the participants, all the stakeholders). Such a business is focussed on making a contribution and serving: enriching the lives of all participants. And usually takes a stand and operates from-into a specific possibility. Take a good look at the John Lewis constitution and you will see the stand and the possibility spelled out. Read Jeff Bezos’ annual letters or Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, and the possibility-stand is clearly articulated.

In the model, the business logic of the organisation is designed-operated from the context of creating-generating the kind of ‘Experience’ that is mandated the ‘Goal’.  Put differently, the ‘Business Logic’ now serves as the means of delivering the Experience.  Not the other way around.  Put differently, ‘Experience’ precedes’ Business Logic’.

From where does the design of ‘Experience’ flow?  From the ‘Goal’. Remember the goal is to cater for the needs-welfare of the whole. Which is why ‘Experience’ encompasses all the actors, all the stakeholders.

In this way of looking at the world of business, and according to me, Customer Experience takes it’s rightful place. Rather than dominating the discussion, Customer Experience is seen for what it is, just one component whose meaning-impact comes from how it fits into the other components of Experience. And how it gives life to the ‘Goal’.

What becomes of CRM in this model?  CRM systems are simply tools to give life to the ‘Experience’ that the organisation is committed to creating-generating.  As such CRM systems must take into account the needs of Customers and ‘Partners’ (people who will use the systems) and deliver the kind of experience(s) that these folks are looking for.

Enough for today. I may elaborate on these models in the future. If you find yourself moved to share your thoughts then I invite you to do so.

 

What Is The Access To Cultivating Customer Engagement and Customer Relationships?

My eldest son is in the process of buying a car, his first car.  He knows his budget (£6,0000. He knows the make and model of the car (Ford Fiesta).  Given this he knows that he will buy a used car – couple of years old.  His goal is to have this car in place by the end of this month.  His challenge is that he has never bought a car before.

What comes with this goal and challenge?  Concern. What is he concerned about?  He is concerned that he will get it wrong: that he will buy the wrong car – it is not sound; and or that he will pay too much for the car.  What does he want?  He wants help: he wants someone he can count on, who has his best interests at heart, to take the problem off his hands.  So he turned to me.

I have no experience in buying cars. My youngest brother is into cars, has bought-sold many cars, and so I have used his services.  So when my son asked me for help, I found myself telling him that I was not in a position to help him.  This was his reply:

“You’re not any help, are you!” 

It is the way that he said this that got my attention.  It was a voice of mild anger and strong disappointment.  Why?  Is relationship missing?  No, we have a strong relationship and this has been the case since his birth. Is engagement missing? No, we are engaged in each others lives – sometimes more than I’d like it to be and other times less than I’d like it to be.

Reflecting on that which occurred it hit me that we value those who show up as useful to us given our circumstances and the ‘projects’ we are grappling with.  Put differently, if you show up as useful to me then I am open to entering into a conversation with you. And through a series of conversations-interactions a relationship emerges.

Looked at this way, it hits me that all the talk of, and focus, on generating customer engagement and building customer relationships through a variety of tips, tricks and technology is misplaced.  It is misplaced. It is foolish. It is a red herring – distracting from that which matters.

So where should our focus be? On usefulness! It is when we show up as useful that the gate towards conversation and thus engagement opens.  It is only when mutual usefulness is present, does trading occur.  And it is on the basis of the repeated conversations-interactions-trading that a relationship emerges. Consider that when someone no longer ‘shows up as useful’ and they want to engage with you, have a relationship with you, they show up as clingy-needy. What is it that almost all of us do when this occurs?  We distance ourselves from these people. Why?  The simply do not show up as useful to us given our circumstances and our ‘projects’.

Please note that it is not enough to be useful as in have a useful product, service or solution.  It is necessary that one ‘shows up as useful’ to those whom we wish to trade with.  That means that an essential task is to cultivate awareness of our usefulness – to all who matter.  This was brought home to me in a recent conversation when the lady at the table said something to the effect “Where were you three months ago?  Why haven’t I heard of you? You should make sure you are on the Gartner report.”

In 25+ years of business life, I can only remember a handful of conversations where the people who matter in organisational life (Tops, Middles) grappled seriously with the question of usefulness: how can we be useful and show up as useful in the lives of our customers?

 

Human-2-Human: A Personal Reflection on Service, Experience and CRM

Reflecting On Some Of My Recent Experiences

Be a human, bring out each other’s humanity.

Abdul Sattar Edhi

Recently, I went to a new hairdressers and a young lady ‘worked’ on me.  Whilst she worked on me I noticed a difference.  What did I notice?  It occurred to me that here is person who cares: cares about me and cares about the work that she is doing. When she finished her work, I looked her in the face, smiled and said something like this “You care! You care don’t you?  I can tell that this is not just a job for you. I can tell that you care about hairdressing and that you care for people like me – your customers. Thank you.”

What showed up, how did she respond?  Despite being English, she was not embarrassed at this acknowledgement.  Instead, I noticed a light go on inside of her: she beamed a smile, her eyes lit up and it occurs to me that, at least for a moment, she had wings.  She told me that I had made her day and thanked me.  The experience, this experience of the human to human connection, left me at least two feet of the ground.

I saw my Chiropractor and she worked on my neck. In order to work on my neck I had to lie down on the ‘couch’ and rest my head in her hands. Whilst she supported my head and worked on my neck I felt the manifestation of love: she was totally present in the moment, totally with the work that she was doing, she was patient (not in a hurry to get it over with), she was gentle.  I found myself to be deeply touched by this. It occurred to me that I had just been given a gift, one that I have rarely experienced. At the end of our session, I told her exactly that and thanked her.  Once she got over her initial surprise, a smile came over her face and she thanked me.  I left with joy being present in my being.

I did some consulting work for a client.  And I put all that there was to put into the work. One could even argue that I went ‘above and beyond’ that which was stipulated in the statement of work.  The work was well received by the senior managers who received it. At the end of the final presentation, the Sponsor left the conference room without any acknowledgment of my existence.  No thank you. No shake of hands. No meeting of eyes and all that can be conveyed through the eyes and the face – without any words.

Why Am I Sharing These Experiences With You?

It occurs to me that there is so much talk of Customer Service and so little understanding of what service really is.  It occurs to me that I hear so much about Customer Experience and there is so little understanding what it is and what it takes to generate a great customer experience. It occurs to me that business folks are so addicted to ‘data-technology-process’ in CRM that they are not present to that which creates-consitutes customer relationships, and keeps them in existence: the genuine caring, respect and affinity that occurs between two or more human beings.

I notice that the Customer conversation – whether Service, Customer Experience or CRM – ignores the voice of those who actually serve the customer: the sales rep on the ground, the account manager, the call-centre agent taking the calls, the store clerks ….  What would show up if these people were the one’s writing on ‘all things Customer’?  Being one of them and knowing some of them, it occurs to me that we would say that it really takes something to render great service when those who we are serving (‘Customers’) treat us as mere objects.  It also occurs to me that we would say that whilst the job, itself, is hard and can suck (from time to time), human kindness makes all the difference: the kindness of our colleagues, the kindness of managers, and the kindness of customers.

Does kindness require a lot from us? I say “No!”.  It simply requires a return of a value that is commonly neglected. Which value?  The value that I grew up with and which became a part of me:

courtesy

ˈkəːtɪsi/
noun
the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others.
“he treated the players with courtesy and good humour

I Invite You To Think On This

Everyone wants to know why customer service has gone to hell in a handbasket. I want to know why customer behaviour has gone to hell ..

— I do know how it feels to be an invisible member of the service industry. It can suck.  When the customers were kind and respectful, it was ok, but one “waiter as object”moment could tear me apart. Unfortunately, I now see those moments happening all of the time. I see adults who don’t even look at their waiters when they are speaking to them. I see parents who let their children talk down to the store clerks. I see people rage and scream at receptionists …….

When we treat people as objects we dehumanise them. We do something really terrible to their souls and to our own. Martin Buber ….. wrote about the differences between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat as objects – people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterised by human connection and empathy. 

Buber wrote “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” 

…. I can say for certain that we are hardwired for connection – emotionally, physically and spiritually. I am not suggesting that we engage in a deep, meaningful relationship with the man who works at the cleaners or the woman that works at the drive through, but I am suggesting that we stop dehumanising people and start looking them in the eye when we speak to them. 

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Where Do I Stand? 

It occurs to me that I care little about customer strategy. Little about relationship marketing. Little about customer service. Little about Customer Experience. And little about CRM.  It occurs to me that I care little about B2B or B2C.  It occurs to me that I care little about Process, Data, Technology or Metrics.  So what do I care about?

It occurs to me that I care about being a decent human being: customer strategy, relationship marketing, customer service, Customer Experience and CRM are simply vehicles for me to ‘be a decent human being and calling forth the best of our (you and me) humanity’.

Want to improve the Customer Experience?  Start with yourself in your role of Customer.  Listen to Brene Brown’s advice and stop dehumanising the people that serve you: the sales person, the store clerk, the call-centre agent, the field service guy that shows up at your home/office.  Treat these fellow human beings with respect, start by looking them in the eye when you speak with them.

If you up for being bold, then step up and genuinely thank the person that makes your coffee. And if that person is confused with your request for “milk” don’t assume that s/he is stupid, lazy, difficult, incompetent: this says more about you as a human being than it does about the person standing behind the bar serving coffee.  When Brene Brown was waiting tables she was doing so to pay for her bachelors degree.  I leave you with the words with which I started this conversation:

Be a human, bring out each other’s humanity.

Abdul Sattar Edhi

Why Innovation Is Rare: The Problem of Knowledge & The Curse Of Expertise

Do We Know It All?

I’d like to start this conversation by getting us mindful to a definition:

ignorance

ˈɪgn(ə)r(ə)ns/

noun

lack of knowledge or information.

“he acted in ignorance of basic procedures”

I say that our ignorance is vast.  And we are not present to our ignorance because we are convinced that we have an accurate grasp of the world: we know it all!  Our hubris blinds us that which history makes vividly clear: each age is deluded in its conviction that it has accessed the truth of what is so.  Does this remind you of Socrates? The Oracle claimed that Socrates was the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing.  On that basis we are not wise – nowhere near close to wise.

Do You Remember This Starbucks/’Milk’ Story?

Why have I launched into this conversation?  If you read this blog then you may remember this post and this narrative:

Last week, while on an average holiday shopping trip, my mother and I decided to stop by Starbucks to get a quick snack…..

When we got up to the counter, my mother placed our simple order, at which point she asked for a “tall” cup of two percent white milk. This is how the conversation played out:

“Mocha,” said the barista.

“No. Milk,” my mother repeated.

“Mocha?”

“No. Two percent white milk.”

“Oh… Milk!”

….. I attempted to withhold my personal thoughts. Milk. You know, that white stuff you pour in the coffee? Yes, well, we want an entire cup full of that. Minus the coffee, of course.

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out, but not without a few stifled giggles.

Making Sense Of This Story Through The Insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein

You may also remember the follow up post where I made use of the insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein. And in so doing attempted to point out that:

  • every human being is always a being-in-the-world  – which is to say that the human being and the world are so interwoven that they are one not two;
  • every human being finds himself, at every moment, situated-embedded in a particular world e.g. the business world, the academic world, the public world, the world of home etc and that world ‘takes over’ the human beings working-living in that world;
  • a word such as ‘milk’ does not point at a specific object rather it, and every word-utterance, is a social tool for coordinating social action in a specific world – think for a moment what ‘milk’ means to a woman that has just given birth and compare that to what ‘milk’ means to a supermarket;
  • that the confusion that occurred at Starbucks and with the barista was due to the narrator’s mother turning up in the Starbucks world of coffee and using the word ‘milk’ inappropriately – akin to you turning up at your friend’s home for a meal, enjoying the meal and then asking for the bill; and
  • to really understand a world (e.g. the advertising world) one needs to live in that world by taking up a role in that world and doing that which goes with the role taken up.

After reading this follow up post, Adrian Swinscoe commented (bolding is my work):

I really like your exploration of this issue from a philosophical angle and learnt a lot from it…. 

However, at the end of the post I found myself wondering if the heart of the problem was something quite humdrum and that the barista just didn’t listen. She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

As you point out, if we don’t get out of our way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.

Now I want to address the points that Adrian is making. And that means grappling with the problem of knowledge and the curse of expertise.  Let’s start with Adrian’s statement “if we don’t get out of our own way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.”

Is It Possible To Get Out Of Our ‘Heads’?

If I was to get out of my own ‘head’ then whose ‘head’ would I use to be able to make sense of the world in which I find myself? Besides we are almost never in our heads, we are mostly on automatic pilot immersed in cultural practices and taken over by our habits.  If this was not the case then thinking, genuine thinking, would not be so effortful for us.  Let’s listen to Charles Guignon:

If all our practices take place within a horizon of vague and inexplicit everyday understanding , then even the possibility of something obtruding as intelligible is determined in advance by this understanding …….. the questions that I can ask and the kind of answers that would make sense are always guided by my attuned understanding of “ordinary” interpretations …. Without this understanding, nothing could strike me as familiar or strange.

For this reason Heidegger says that all explanation presupposes understanding…… The legitimate task of seeking explanations is always conducting within a horizon of understanding that guides our questioning and establishes procedures for attaining clarity and elucidation. Through our mastery of the shared language of the Anyone, we have developed specific habits and expectations that enable us to see things as obvious or puzzling...

A detective trying to make sense of how a crime was committed …. might take even the most mundane item in the room and ask how it came to be there ….. great advances have come about in the sciences through the ability of individuals to step back and question what had been taken as obvious and self-evident. But such cases of departing from established habits and expectations make sense only against a background of shared understanding which remains constant through such shifts. In other words, we can make sense of unintelligibility and a demand for explanation only within a horizon of intelligibility which is not itself thrown into question …..

– Charles B. Guignon, Heidegger and the Problem of Knowledge

To sum up we are always in our ‘head’ and that head arises and is kept in existence through our shared cultural practices. A particular potent cultural practices is language.  Notice that to operate in society we must speak the language of that society – everyday language.  And to operate in particular world (e.g. world of business, world of finance, world of advertising, world of healthcare ….) we must be fluent in the language of that world.

Adjustments can be made to our ‘head’ and it is not easy to make these adjustments. Why?  Adjustments are not made through thinking – not made through cognitive means.  As ‘head’ is given by roles, habits and cultural practices it is necessary to make a shift in these. How? By moving into and inhabiting-living new worlds. This is what occurs when the CEO leaves the world of the CEO and takes on-lives the role of the frontline employee for five days; Undercover Boss is all about this shift.  If you find yourself interested in that which I am speaking about here then I recommend watching the movie The Doctor (starring William Hurt) – it is instructive in a way that my words cannot instruct.

The Curse Of Expertise

How does Adrian interpret the Starbucks/’Milk’ story?  The same way that many of us interpret it:

She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

Why this conviction that ‘that which occurred’ is the fault of the barista? Why this insistence on the incompetence of the barista?  I say that this explanation is so easily forthcoming and attracting (rather like a magnet) because it is the cultural practice to see fault in front line staff, especially as these jobs are low paid, and thus lay blame on them.

What if the barista was not fatigued, not tired, speaks the language well, has no agenda?  What if, on the contrary, the barista is highly skilled in her role of serving coffee to Starbucks customers?  Is it possible expertise, not ignorance, is the cause of the snafus?  Let’s listen to a zen master and see what we can learn:

In Japan we have the phrase “shoshin” which means “beginner’s mind”. The goal of practice is to always keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose your recite the Prajna Paramitra Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it….

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

– Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

The curse of expertise is that the expert only sees that which s/he has been conditioned to see; hears that which s/he has been conditioned to listen to; makes sense of that which shows up through her already given horizon of understanding (see Guignon above). Put differently, the expert is stuck in a rut: all that shows up, including the anomaly, is interpreted in times of the taken for granted.  Which is why altruistic acts are made sense of in terms of selfishness given the Darwinian frame. Or the necessity to postulate ‘dark matter’ given the need to keep the existing model of the universe intact. Or the collapsing of Customer Experience with Customer Service in the business world.  Or the insistence of seeing CRM as technology and business process change rather than a fundamental change in the ‘way we do things around here’.

As a consultant/coach/facilitator what do I bring to the table?  At my best I bring to the table a beginner’s mind where everyone on the ‘inside’ is an expert. Which is why I am often able to see that which my clients cannot see.  The challenge always is to convey that which I have seen to my clients such that they do not reinterpret it into their existing way of seeing-doing things.  Often I fail: despite my best efforts to ‘ask for milk’ I find that my clients interpret as ‘mocha’.  And when I say “No, milk!”, they respond “Surely, you are asking for Mocha!”.  And even if I strike up the courage to insist that ‘milk’ is not the same as ‘Mocha’ I find that they often confuse ‘Two percent white milk” with ‘steamed milk’.  They are not at fault, it is the curse of expertise. And it inflicts us all!

And Finally A Quote

I leave you with a quote that sums up the situation and the challenge beautifully:

Create your future from your future not your past.

– Werner Erhard