What’s THE Critical Matter That Gets In The Way of Business Transformation Efforts?

Accurate Real-Time Communication & Information Are Critical in a Time-Sensitive Game That Involves Many Actors

My local airport is London Heathrow. On average, 30 airplanes are landing and another 30 are taking off every hour.  Put differently, one airplane is landing or taking off every minute. Now consider that mishaps – crashes where people are injured/die and/or property is damaged/destroyed – are rare.  So rare that mishaps make the national news, usually the front page.

Who/what is responsible for that which occurs: 30 airplanes landing and another 30 taking off every hour using two runways?  Read this Wikipedia article especially the section: “Operations”; and the sub-sections “Facilities” and “Flight movements”.  So what’s  your answer to the question that I posed just a moment earlier?

Yes, the folks responsible have put in place a ‘tried and tested’ collection of facilities, practices, and rules that work. Is that all there is to it?  I say there is more. I say there has to be more – as the world we find ourselves embedded and constituting is dynamic: the drama/pattern we call life/world is forever changing, not static like stone.  What is the more?  I say it is communication/information.

Before we continue, let stop to consider what it is that we are talking about here – lets look at the etymology (origins) of these words:

Communication (n.)

late 14c., from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication), from Latin communicationem (nominative communicatio), noun of action from past participle stem of communicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” related to communis “common, public, general”

Information (n.)

late 14c., informacion, “act of informing, communication of news,” from Old French informacion, enformacion “advice, instruction,” from Latin informationem (nominative informatio) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from past participle stem of informare “to train, instruct, educate; shape, give form to”

I say that one of the busiest airports in the world, with an aeroplane taking off / landing every minute, works (as in crashes are rare) because in addition to the system of rules and practices (static) there is the dynamic process of communicating/informing occurring between the players in the system; the primary players are air traffic control (air traffic controllers, practices, systems) and the aeroplanes (pilots, practices, systems).

Notice, the effectiveness of this communicating/informing is a function of honest (accurate) communicating/informing occurring between the parties on an continuous basis – the trigger being the arrival/departure of the aeroplanes from/towards Heathrow. Consider, that in this game (where lives are at stake, and people face public consequences for negligence or dishonesty) the human players communicate/inform that which matters honestly – as in accurately.  The players are not telling outright lies, not leaving out that which is essential because it is convenient for one player (in this drama) even though it imposes a cost on the other player.

What happens when miscommunication/informing occurs?  Crashes, and near misses. Here is an instructive example from TravelMole (bolding is mine):

Two passenger aircraft were reportedly just 600 feet from colliding because an air traffic “holding stack” became so congested… the controller, who could not distinguish the two plane’s call signs on his screen, “mistook another aircraft at 12,000 feet for the BA aircraft, which was at 13,000 feet”. “He then ordered the United aircraft to descend to 13,000 feet, into what he wrongly believed was empty airspace. Within 40 seconds the vertical distance between the two planes had reduced to only 600 feet, breaching the minimum safety gap of 1,000 feet.”

The misunderstanding occurred because there was too many planes in the holding stack waiting to land. That is to say too much information to digest. Information that was overlapping. Thus confusing to the human mind.  Notice, there was no deliberate intention by the pilots or the aeroplane systems to misinform.  Which is one reason it was only a near miss as opposed to a calamity that would have cost 500 lives.  Who/what saved the day: an intelligence that used the accurate information to guide intelligent action. Again, according to TravelMole:

The aircraft would have reportedly come much closer if it had not been for the BA jet’s collision avoidance system, which ordered the pilot to dive.

My Experience of Transformation Programmes in Large Organisations

Almost all of my work on the Customer side of business occurs within/from the context of enterprise wide transformation programmes that usually span multiple business units, many countries, many teams/players, many business processes, many information technology systems….. I say that these transformation programmes are operating within/from complex as opposed to complicated domains (Cynefin). The difference there is an inherent and significant uncertainty/unpredictability in large business organisations as opposed to complicatedness in the dealings that go with the safe take off / landings at Heathrow Airport.

So what is absolutely critical to the success of these business transformation programmes? Effective – as in timely, accurate, complete – communicating/informing occurring between the many actors/players and the business equivalent of Air Traffic Control – those who are charged with leading and managing the transformation programme.

Recently, I was brought in as a consultant to lead a significant work-stream within a larger programme which itself sits within a larger global transformation initiative.  One of my responsibilities is to communicate/inform those who are impacted by that which I know and they do not know.  I did just that sending out an email and copying in a key member of Air Traffic Control. This did not go down well, I was reprimanded. Why? Because I had honestly communicated information that a person did not wish to be communicated. His concern? The information, whilst accurate, may make the work-stream look bad in the eyes of those that matter: the ‘Air Traffic Controllers’.  I was told that in the future ALL outbound communications had to be direct to him. And he will choose who is informed of what, when, and how.

There are so many work-streams that have to come together for transformation initiatives of this kind/scale to work out well: generate the desired outcomes by the desired time, within the desired budget.  So many players involved who have to co-operate and collaborate. So it is no surprise to find that there is a complicated, experienced as burdensome, governance framework/structure in operation to manage the many interlocking dependencies.  Yet, the efficacy of this governance framework/structure/ organisation rests on effective communicating/informing occurring between the players and other players,  and  between the players and ‘Air Traffic Control’, and between ‘Air Traffic Control’ and the players.

Now it really hit me. Wow! How many other actors/players playing a leadership role in this transformation initiative are not communicating the information that needs to be communicating?  How many are delaying bad news?  How many are spinning the truth with falsehoods including false optimism? How many are aware of bad news and choosing to hide it from those in positions of power in ‘Air Traffic Control’?

Given this – that which is so – how effective is the burdensome/expensive governance framework?  Not that effective? This led to this thought arising: “Is it possible that the governance framework (people, practices, forums) is expanding because those in  ‘Air Traffic Control’ perceive that the process/journey of guiding the transformation programme is friction-full and unwelcome surprises pop up? And they think more people, more structure, more formal communication will fix the problem?”  Upon getting present to this thought, the absurdity of it all hit me: one part of my laughed uproariously, the other part cried.

Digesting this it occurs to me that traditional thinking and practices around large scale change transformational change are the obstacle not the solution. Why? I say effective leadership is missing: the fundamental platform upon which effective communicating/informing/teaming occurs is weak or absent.  

What is this fundamental platform?  Psychological safety: do I/you/we/us feel safe speaking truth to power?

As this conversation has been going on for a while and we may be at a point that you are no longer willing to listen to my speaking, I leave you with these resources if you wish to dive deeper into that which I am pointing at:

5 Traits of Effective Teams at Google

I thank you for your listening, and I wish you the very best until our next conversation.

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

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

Purpose of The Customer & Leadership Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its ALL made up!

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

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

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

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

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

What Has This To Do With Customers and Leadership?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is The Customer and/or Employee Experience Your Priority?

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

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

The Critical Importance of Priority

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

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

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

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

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

The Central Question Regarding The Customer/Employee Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Story Told As Briefly As I Can Tell It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Finally

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

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

What’s The Impact of a Shitty Employee Experience on the Customer Experience?

Can you deliver a good-to-great customer experience without paying attention to the employee experience?  If you forget theory and look at the practice in large organisations you might just see that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  There is so much talk about the customer experience and in the process a lot of extra work is put on to the shoulders of the employees. There is almost zero attention to the employee experience. Almost nobody that matters grapple seriously with improving the lives/experience of the employees who face the customers. Especially not the folks in call-centres.

I say that if you provide your call-centre agents with a shitty employee experience then the costs (of this shitty experience) are inevitably passed on to the customers. First the customer experiences a lack in the interaction with the call-centre agent: something just doesn’t feel right. Second, the customer is left with an inadequate outcome whether s/he is aware of this or not: the question isn’t really answered; the advice given is less than optimal; or the advice is plain wrong.

Let me say this again: fine sounding words like customer focus, respect, empathy, customer-centricity, customer delight are not enough. On their own they represent icing on a turd.  I go further and assert this: if you recruit the right people and get the employee experience right then your customer facing agents will deliver good-to-great customer experiences without the need for the fine sounding words.

What happens when you have an environment in which the fine sounding words are in place and the call-centre agent experience is shitty?  Allow me share some experience:

  • The agent is aware that time it ticking and his performance is being monitored so he is keen to get on with the call and close it;
  • The agent is so busy navigating / accessing / viewing / updating many applications (that do not talk to one another) including spreadsheets and Word documents that s/he is not in the state necessary to really listen to the customer, to empathise, to make the customer feel valued;
  • The agent is dealing with a complex issue – which is what customers tend to ring in for increasingly – and he doesn’t know the answer. Under the pressure of the clock the agent finds the first plausible answer and gives this to the customer;
  • The agent is speaking jargon whether he s/he knows it or not. The agent is speaking to a sixteen year old who does not get the jargon. This sixteen year old asks for clarification on some of the jargon. The agent explains this jargon with more jargon all the time his/her tone implies that the customer is stupid;
  • This customer, this call, requires flexibility yet the agent is being monitored and managed on his/her ability to stick to the script. So that agent sacrifices the customer experience and his sense of what is appropriate in order do that which is clearly not appropriate – stick to the script. The customer pays the price in that s/he feels that s/he is talking with an idiot and dealing with an inhuman organisation.

Let me sum it up: If you provide your customer facing employees with a shitty employee experience then the best you can expect these folks to deliver is shitty-to-ordinary customer experience.  And no amount of find sounding words will make any difference. These fine sounding words are as effective as putting cream on a turd and serving it in a restaurant.  Nobody does this in the restaurant business, but this practice is common in large organisations.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

A ‘Fresh’ Look At Customer Retention and Loyalty (Part I)

It isn’t just Donald Trump that mixes tidbits of fact with much fiction to appeal to those eager to believe. This is also the case when it comes to the business world. Especially so when we get to customer-centricity, customer experience, customer loyalty….. Whilst some folks can tell that Trump is talking nonsense, in the Customer arena it is that much harder to separate fact from fiction, and useful advice from nonsense.  So, today, let’s take a fresh look at customer retention and loyalty.

What Is The Central Assertion of Customer Loyalty?

No, I am not talking about the often mentioned statistic that goes along the lines of “A 5% increase in the customer retention rate can increase business profits by 25% to 125%.” That is just greed that has driven many to go for customer loyalty without a deeper appreciation of what is involved in generating this kind of financial outcome.

I am inviting you to do something that is rather extraordinary in these times: look beyond the surface, go deeper, and think.  What lies behind this statistic?  Consider that the central assertion is something along this line:

“…doing business with people you trust and understand is more predictable and efficient, and thus more profitable than doing business with uninvested strangers.”

Where Do Employees Fit Into The Picture?

As I understand it, Wittgenstein pointed out that a lot of nonsense is spoken due to language itself. One of the major defects is our habit of speaking-thinking in terms of either/or.  Another defect is simplistic cause-effect thinking which looks for only one major cause for any effect. Which might explain why there is so much opinion offered on where employees fit into the Customer Loyalty picture. Some say employees come first. Some say customers come first, employees second. Others ‘say’ employees aren’t all that important just one factor amongst many. Where do you stand?

Listen to this:

“…we could not progress beyond a superficial treatment of customer loyalty without delving into employee loyalty.….. there was a cause-and-effect relationship between the two; that it was impossible to maintain a loyal customer base without a base of loyal employees; and that the best employees work for companies that deliver the kind of superior value that builds customer loyalty…. our concern with employee loyalty entangled us in the thorny issue of investor loyalty, because it is hard to earn the loyalty of employees if the owners of the business are short-sighted and unreliable….. investor loyalty was dependent on customer and employee loyalty, and we understood that we are dealing not with tactical issues but with a strategic system.”

I also invite you to consider that just about every organisation that has jumped on the Customer bandwagon has done so tactically, not strategically.  And almost all the advice on Customer, that I came across, is tactical – which is to say it is centred on tactics even if these are given strategic clothing.  Which is to say that these folks have taken a superficial approach to loyalty.  Still wondering why most if not almost all large organisations have failed to make a meaningful dent in customer or employee loyalty?

Should Marketing Own Customer Retention and Drive Customer Loyalty?

Who should be responsible for cultivating customer loyalty? Who should be keeping a firm eye on customer retention?  Should it be the marketing function as many who serve the marketing function argue?  What is your stand on this?  Now listen to this:

Loyalty has implications that extend to every corner of every business system..… Tempting as it may be to delegate customer retention to marketing, what can marketing do to stem the outflow of employees and investors?  Retention is not simply one more operating statistic, it is the central gauge that integrates all the dimensions of a business..”

Ok, so the marketing function is not in a position to the do the job.  So, should you go out and hire yourself a Chief Customer Officer?  You know someone who sits in the staff function with little authority over the line functions of marketing, sales, service, logistics, finance…?  Will that do it?  Listen to this:

“..customer loyalty is too important to delegate. It has a crucial effect on every constituency and aspect of a business system….The responsibility for customer retention or defection belongs squarely on the CEO’s desk, where it can get the same kind of attention that is lavished on stock price and cash flow.”

Enough for today. Let’s continue the conversation another time and look into what it actually takes to cultivate loyalty and generate the kind of increase in customer retention that results in superior growth, profits, and cashflow.  In the meantime I thank you for your listening and I wish you great living.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Endangered Customer by Richard. R. Shapiro

I enjoyed reading Richard Shapiro’s first book: The Welcomer’s Edge.  In this book Richard set out a 3 step model (the greet, the assist, the leave-behind) for making a human connection with customers through every customer interaction.

In his latest book – The Endangered Customer – Richard expands the 3 step model into eight steps in the customer’s journey from the initial encounter to making a repeat purchase. The book is relatively short (less than 150 pages), easy to read, and each of the eight chapters addresses one of the eight steps.

What Is The Endangered Customer About?  

It’s about retaining customers through superior service.  Superior service necessarily involves seeing customers as persons and striving to cultivate a human connection with them. Here’s how Richard puts it (bolding mine):

“Poor service followed by poor service – that’s how you endanger your customers into becoming someone else’s customers.”

Why bother going to the effort of generating good/great service?  After 28+ years spent working in the customer service industry, Richard makes the following assertion (bolding mine):

“.. companies of any size and in any consumer channel, can survive and thrive in the Switching Economy by making human connections that build sustainable customer relationships…..”

“As automated transactions become faster, easier, and more reliable, making human connection will become increasingly rare – and therefore increasingly more valuable. The greatest differentiator for any company will be how well it makes that human connection with its endangered customers.”

What Are the 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business Through Human Connection?

In the Endangered Customer Richard sets out the 8 steps for cultivating human connection, delivering personalised service, and inviting-cultivating lasting relationships with customers.  These steps and associated nuggets of wisdom are:

1 – Make me feel welcome

“Human beings come to you with hope in their hearts. They need or want something they haven’t found elsewhere, and hope you have the answer…. Your job is to give them hope that they’ve come to a place where their problem or desire will be addressed in a helpful, friendly manner....”

“Offering hope beings with a welcoming smile.”

“The goal is not to create a relationship with every interaction. The goal is to invite a relationship…. This is why it’s important to faire the right people for customer-facing positions.”

2 – Give me your full attention

“Customers carve attention. They want and need to feel that you’re interested in them.”

“Fundamentally, giving your full attention requires an ability to acutely listen.”

“Joe Girard, the Guiness Book’s world record-holder for retail sales: “People may have had to wait for an appointment, but when I was with them, I was with them body and soul.

3 – Answer more than my question

“Questions are the customer’s way of inviting you to become a valuable guide in his or her journey. A sales associate accepts that invitation by taking the time to anticipate the “detours” and other obstacles that might lie ahead. That’s often the information that has the most profound effect on the customer. “

4 – Know your stuff

“There is no sales tool as powerful as knowledge. When we were shopping with Rochelle, we knew we were in good hands. Her expertise, coupled with a smile and an uplifting attitude, made all the difference.”

“… in a retail environment, I believe that the greatest cost of employee turnover is the one that is rarely quantified or even discussed: the diminished capacity in terms of customer relationships and institutional knowledge.”

5 – Don’t tell me no

“Never saying no is all about trying your best, because people will always come back to do business with a company that gives them the feeling that it is there for your.”

“…. many companies have standard practices that needlessly leave their customers feeling disappointed and uncared for.”

6 – Invite me to return

“The leave-behind represents any number of little things that associates can do and say to make customers want to visit again…. The point of every leave-behind is to make it easy for the customer to stay in touch.”

“When you are invited to return, it makes you feel wanted and accepted.”

“I can’t emphasise enough that feelings of loyalty naturally develop towards a person and not the business.”

“Relationships are cultivated on a person-to-person basis, not through impersonal automated “thank you” emails.”

7 – Show me I matter

“We are all innately suspicious of someone who seems to lose interest in us after money has changed hands. People just hate feeling seduced and abandoned. People like feeling important and special.”

“… demonstrating genuine concern and care after the conclusion of the interaction is something that many companies do not consider. When it does happen, it’s just an accident.”

“Take a good look at any company that is known for being “loved” …… You will discover that the company has instituted any number of consistent procedures and practices that assure customers of their importance….”

“Everything about the customer experience has to be genuine or it loses its punch.”

8 – Surprise me in good ways

“Customer satisfaction is a minimal standard; loyal customer relationships are built around surprise and delight. Customers crave human interactions that leave them with the experience of feeling special, and nothing conveys specialness better than surprise. “

 

The Heart of Customer Loyalty: Paying It Forward?

Richard has some interesting things to say when it comes to the implementation of the 8 steps, and the cultivating of long term relationships with customers.  Lets listen to his speaking:

“Of the eight steps…. the final three are perhaps the most difficult ones to implement because acknowledgement, appreciation, and delight have noting to so with closing sales and raising short-term revenues….”

Pay it forward is really the ultimate expression of customer service, because it’s a practice that puts people before profits….. A pay it forward culture …. will naturally reap dividends in terms of customer loyalty and repeat patronage because customers will naturally keep returning to anyone capable of giving them this feeling. And they in turn will tell their friends about you ….. as a way of paying it forward.”

Concluding Remarks

I enjoyed reading The Endangered Customer. I am clear that Richard Shapiro knows his subject matter – building enduring bonds with customers by cultivating the human connection between the customer-facing employees and the customers. I am also clear that Richard provides valuable advice if you have the listening for this advice.

My concern is that the very people who are in the position to effect change in organisations – especially big corporations – do not have the listening for that which Richard Shapiro speaks. The human connection seems antiquated in the age of worship at the altars of process and technology.

Please note that this review is necessarily biassed. To be human is to be biased – always and forever.  In my case, my bias is that I consider myself to be a friend of Richard R. Shapiro even though we have never met / nor talked.  Finally, I offer my thanks to Richard for sending me signed copy to read.

I thank you for listening and I wish you the very best. As the French say: until the next time….

 

 

CX and the Art of Getting & Keeping Customers

The Story: How I Ended Up Moving On From My Favourite Cafe

I walked in to my favourite cafe and greeted the fellow behind the counter by his first name. He was so happy to see me that he smiled a huge smile, welcomed me, and came around the counter to shake hands with me.  Delight – what a welcome!

Then I ordered my usual: fresh orange juice, hot chocolate, a croissant, and a pain au chocolate.  My ‘friend’ behind the counter pointed at his orange juice making machine: no oranges, no fresh orange juice – his supplier hadn’t delivered the oranges on that day.  I find myself disappointed – really disappointed.  That is when something important is unconcealed to me: of the breakfast what really matters is the fresh orange juice.

I eat my breakfast noticing all the time the absence of the fresh orange juice.  I pick up my bag, put on my overcoat, say goodbye and leave for work: the client’s offices.

It’s mid-morning and I’m thirsty. I head down to the ground floor where the cafes and restaurants are.  I notice a small place that I had not noticed before.  Why do I notice it? It seems to be like a fresh juice bar! I head over there and sure enough there are various freshly squeezed juices including orange, orange and banana, orange and mango…. A little later I find myself drinking the orange and banana juice. Delicious!

The next day I find myself at this juice bar for breakfast. I help myself to the fresh juice, a croissant, a pain au chocolat, and pay. Whilst paying I strike up a conversation with the lady serving me. Then I take a seat and enjoy my breakfast.

I do the same the next day, and the next day, and the next day.  I find that despite my intentions to go back to my favourite cafe I do not go back. Yes, I think fondly of the fellow who works there. I wonder how he is doing and I wish him the very best. I even think of popping in after work… Yet, I find that I never go back there for breakfast.  I stick with the fresh juice bar.  Why?

It is convenient – on the ground floor of the client’s offices. It always has the products I am looking for. By being a regular customer and willing to initiate conversation I have gotten to know Anne – and she has gotten to know me. The place is clean and there is always plenty of room to stand or sit down and have my breakfast in peace.

What Might This Unconceal About Winning & Keeping Customers?

1 – What happened happened yet I did not intend it to happen. Neither did the fellow working at my favourite cafe. Indeed, if you had told me that things would have worked out this way  I would have argued against it. I would have found many reasons to back up my position. Which makes me wonder how much you/i can trust what customers/prospects say in surveys.

2 – Great customer service was not enough to keep me as a customer.  I am clear that every time I turned up at my favourite cafe I received great customer service. In part this was because I had established a personal connection with the chap behind the counter who served me.

3 – Great personal relationship with the customer facing front line employee was not enough.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter was, to use Richard Shapiro’s language, a Welcomer.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter and I had cultivated a personal relationship with one another such that both of us were genuinely pleased to see one another.  Yes, it was great to be greeted by my first name, with a smile, and asked about what I had been up to since the last visit.  No, this level of relatedness did not turn out to be enough to keep me as a customer.

4 – As a customer I did not realise what really mattered in my ‘eating breakfast’ experience until what really mattered was not present.  In my case what really mattered was freshly squeezed orange juice – the experience (taste, pleasure) associated with drinking this particular product.

5 – The customer’s experience is holistic and it necessarily involves the ‘product’. Put differently, the customer’s experience is more than how you treat the customer when s/he is ‘dancing’ with your organisation.  It is more than having a Welcomer welcoming.  It necessarily involves the ‘product’ that the customer came in search of.

Further Reflections on The Customer’s Experience and Customer Loyalty

Based on my experience of being a customer, it occurs to me that the customer’s experience can be broken down down into the following components:

A.  Desired Outcome: Did I ‘get’ the outcome I was after?  The answer to this question is binary: yes or no.  There is no in between.  Think pregnancy – you are pregnant or you are not pregnant, you cannot be somewhat pregnant.

B.  Treatment: Was I treated the way I desire/expect to be treated whilst in the pursuit of my desired outcome?  The answer to this question is not binary when treatment is taken as a whole across my ‘customer journey’.  There may be elements of the journey where I was treated well. Other elements where I was not treated well.

C.  Effort-Time: How much effort-time did it take for me in working with you/your organisation to generate my desired outcome? I am clear that if you are the supplier that is the least effort-time consuming one to deal with then you have an advantage when it comes to winning my business and keeping me as a customer.

When I look at my transition from using my favourite cafe to using the on-site juice bar I notice that the juice bar won because:

  • It generated my desired outcome – every time without fail;
  • I was not treated as well as I was treated at my favourite cafe bar yet I was treated well enough. And I was able to cause improvements in my treatment by cultivating a more human / intimate relationship with Anne who usually staffed the juice bar; and
  • Doing business with the juice bar saved me time-effort because it was on my path-route to work. Whereas my favourite cafe was a 5-10 minute detour.  So it ended occurring up as convenient.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best in your living.  Until the next time….