CX: Are You Speaking The Customer’s Language?

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

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

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

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

DBahn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To you dear reader I extend my thanks – I thank you for listening to my speaking. Until the next time….

 

Sales Effectiveness: What Does It Take To Make A Sale?

Does sales effectiveness require process – following a particular process in a particular manner?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness necessitate using the right technology/tools – say like a CRM system? Perhaps.  Does sales effectiveness require  a deep insight into the customer’s industry / business?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness require great negotiating skills. Perhaps.

Last week I presented a sales proposal. It was well received and we were awarded the work.  Several members of the client team mentioned that the proposal was spot on – exactly what they were looking for. A member of the proposal team stated that we had been successful because I had rapidly built a rapport with the client team – by honing in on their core need and talking to that. Another member of our (sales) team attributed success to the “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

To whom and to what do I attribute the success of this sales proposal?  First, let me say that I do not attribute it to killer insight to the client’s industry. I had little understanding or insight into that industry – a highly specialised industry.  Second, I neither followed a sales process nor used a CRM system.  Third, I did not put the solution together – others much more technical than me did that work. Lastly, the occasion to use negotiating skills never arose.  If there is a clue it lies in the comment “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

What I did do was a number of things. I recommended that the first cut presentation (put together by the technical folks) be presented to a key member of the client team. On that call, whilst the technical folks, presented that deck, I listened intently to the client. Where anything was fuzzy (to me, to the client) I asked clarifying questions. Following the presentation I talked extensively with the technical folks to understand the solution, implementation plan, assumptions they had put together.  This was not a comfortable discussion – I asked question after question to get from the abstract to the concrete.  Finally, I did desk based research.  After all this work, I cut down the presentation deck from 20+ slides to less than 10; I did my very best to make sure each slide spoke  to the client – relevant to the client’s problem/desired outcome, and written in language that the ordinary business person can easily understand.

Does that mean that I attribute success in ‘closing’ this opportunity to myself? Before I answer that question allow me to share some relevant information with you.  I/we (sales team) turned up on time but at what turned out to be the ‘wrong’ building. Sorting this matter out took something like 30 minutes. In the meantime the technical team via conference call had been asked to deliver the sales proposal. Having no choice they commenced delivery using the original presentation deck – ignoring the one that I had put together. By the time I/we (sales team) turned up the client team (about ten people) looked baffled and somewhat annoyed.  Then we (sales team) apologised and I delivered the sales proposal.

I attribute our success in being awarded the work to the client.  The client gave us (the sales team) a second chance: to wipe the slate clean and represent the sales proposal.  The client has a pressing need with a fixed deadline.  The client was looking to and in fact had to buy from someone – someone competent. The client considered us to be competent based on prior experience.  Put differently, the client was fertile soil for our sales proposal.

Summing up, I say that sales effectiveness comes ultimately comes down to a client that is sold on you (reputation, personal chemistry, word of mouth recommendation), has the necessary authority to influence/make a purchase, and most importantly has an urgent need to get started today to put in place something for the not to distant future. Now ask yourself how much of this is under the influence of the sales guy. Or how a sales process, a CRM system, or negotiating skills are going to make much of an impact on these dimensions.

I thank you for your listening. I wish you the very best and look forward to the next conversation.

 

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Experience Centric Business: A Bridge Too Far For Many?

I experience, you experience, s/he experience, they experience, we experience.  That is what is so.  Yet how deeply are you (and me) conscious of the quality (or the lack of it) of the experiencing that is occurring? Further, where does the quality of experience sit on the business priority ladder?  Let’s shine a light on these questions by looking at a recent experience.

I attended a training course in London not that long ago. Here are the facets of this experience that are still with me:

  • Cramped. The train room showed up as small for the size of the audience. No – small is not the right word. It lacks the flavour of experience. The experience-full word is cramped. There was not enough space for the most basic/normal of human needs. Example: whenever I needed to leave the training room I had to ask people to move their chairs into the tables so that I’d have just enough room to slide past them.
  • Hot. Stuffy. Hot. Stuffy. Due the room being packed with bodies and the lack of an adequate ventilation system the room got hot.  Not true. If we are going to stick to experience then it is more accurate to say that I got hot as in hot/uncomfortable. By the end of the first day of training I had a headache and felt so exhausted.
  • No internet!  We all needed good quality internet access in order to do the exercises. Some of us got good enough access. Others didn’t – I was one of those that didn’t. By the end of the second day of the three day training course the internet access issue had not been sorted out. Given that some 50% of the classroom time was given to doing the exercises I found myself to be frustrated and bored. It really took willpower to stay in the training room on the second day.
  • Long sessions, no breaks.  Imagine starting at 8:30 and having to wait until 12:30 for the first formal break – break for lunch. A computer may be totally ok with that. A brain in a vat – a purely cognitive being – may be totally ok with that. I was not. I got restless. I longed to stand up, stretch, walk… That is what goes with being an organism designed for movement.
  • Poor visuals.  What is the point of splashing something on the screen if the folks in the room cannot read it because the font size is too small?

Why was my learning experience so poor?  Was it because the folks who did the training lacked intelligence? No. Was it because there is a lack of knowledge about what kind of environments are conducive to learning? No. Was it because the folks who delivered the training had no personal experience of being learners in a training room?  No.

 

I draw your attention to the distinction between training and learning experience. I say that my learning experience was so poor because the focus of the training makers and doers  was on the training.  Notice, that when you focus on training you focus on the functional – activities (tasks, resources, materials) that go into training. Whereas when you focus on the learning experience you are focusing on the human – the experience of the learners.

Is that all there is to the matter? No. I suspect that the drivers that shaped the training were cost and time.  Not experience.  Why not hire a better-larger training room-venue? Because it would have cost more.  Why not break the training down into two smaller groups thus giving more attention to each learner?  Because it would have cost more.  Why not schedule more breaks during the day and reduce the learning day to a more humane one?  Because then it would take more days to get through the training. More days for the learners to take off to do the learning. And more time for the trainers to do the training. In business time is money – in this case a bigger cost.

Now I wish to draw your attention to what I found most interesting. During the course of the first day of training most of the experience issues were voiced by the learners. And brought to the attention of the trainers. Yet no effective action was taken – to deal with any of these issues.

 

Summing up, there is huge gap between the talk of Customer Experience and the customer’s experience.  It occurs to me that this is largely because of the following:

  1. Revenue and Cost are the primary drivers of business not Experience.
  2. The default and pervasive way of showing up and travelling in organisations is Function (processes, activities, tasks, resources…) and not Experience. Further, the folks who often play pivotal roles in Customer Experience efforts are pervaded through and through with Function. And they automatically assume that improving Function improves Experience.
  3. Experience requires Flexibility of response to this particular customer in this particular context yet the organisational default is Standardisation on the one best way to carry out this function.
  4. The language of experience  is a human kind of language. That poses a challenges in organisational contexts because the human is unwelcome in organisations.  Organisations prefer a rational / scientific language – the language of the engineer, the economist, the technician.  Notice, how I have had to correct myself in my speaking a few times just to be true to my experience.  Language matters – as a famous philosopher said “Language is the house of being.”
  5. The work that is necessary to generate the kind of experiences that customers desire is simply work that folks in organisations are unable or unwilling to take on. Maybe it shows up as unnecessary. Maybe it shows up as merely ‘nice to have’. Maybe it shows up as too much hard work for little benefit – lack of ROI. Maybe it shows up as disruptive.

This may show up as bad news. I am clear it is good news. Why?  Because the rewards of Experience excellence are only open to those few willing to make sacrifices today to harvest the promise of reward in the future.  Put differently, the route of Experience excellence is available only to those who truly believe in the value of Experience centred business.   For the majority, I say that experience centric business will continue to be a ‘bridge too far’.

I thank you for your listening and wish you a great day. Until the next time….

Dancing With Customers: Rodolphe Renwart And The Art Of Hospitality

What is it to be a human being?  There are many answers. I find myself attracted to the answer provided by the philosopher Martin Heidegger.  A human being is necessarily a being-in-the-world.  One of the key characteristics of human worlds is the presence / absence of others. So one can say that a human being is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

What kind of withness characterises the ‘with-others’ for folks living-working in western cities?  I invite you to relive your ordinary day and come up with your own answer.  Is it primarily detachedness, aloneness even in the midst of others, even indifference?  Are not most of the encounters transactional where the feel and form of the encounter would be the same even if the parties to the encounter were replaced by other parties – even automatons lacking soul?  Which is to say that the primary character of withness of ‘with-others’ is one of a certain coolness as opposed to the warmth of genuine human relating and human connection.

Some folks, maybe even the majority, are ok with such withness. Some folks even prefer it as it leaves them unencumbered by the demands of other people. Not me.  I miss genuine human relating and connectedness. I miss smiling, talking, sharing, laughing with my fellow human beings.  I especially miss this when I find myself away from home like I was earlier this week.

Now allow me to introduce Rodolphe Renwart.  Here he is at work at Natural Caffe on Boulevard Ansbach in the centre of Brussels.

Rodolphe_Renwart

 

This week I walked into Natural Caffe and came across Rodolphe.  On a cloud dull morning I was looking for someplace quiet, clean, and spacious to get a breakfast. I got exactly that. But that is not the reason that I returned the following day for breakfast.

Why did I return given that there are so many cafes and restaurants in central Brussels and I like to try out new places?  I returned because Rodolphe provided that something that few provide.  Rodolphe did more than take my order or serve me.  He made me feel welcome. He brought me an English newspapers without being asked. He took up my invitation to enter into a conversation. He shared some things about himself like is German ancestory and the way he has been treated when travelling in England.  He invited me to return the following morning. And when I did return he recognised me and looked pleased to see me.

It occurs to me that Rodolphe is at home, in his very being, in that cafe ‘dancing’ with customers.  Notice, that dancing implies a certain kind of intimacy that is absent in merely serving customers.  Put differently, at the cafe, the quality of Rudolphe’s kind of withness with customers is the differentiator.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because I notice the addiction with data, information systems, and business process redesign. And a neglect of the human  – people, conversation, helpfulness, sharing, caring, smiling, laughing…. In a world saturated with the withness of indifference, detachedness, and superficial politeness, some of us yearn for folks like Rodolphe who embody the withness of genuine humanity, warmth, and connection. They leave us feeling good about ourselves and the world. They provide what technology does not provide: genuine hospitality.

I thank you for listening. Until the next time….

On Technology In Experience Design: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Brussels Airport: Human Beings and Technology Complement One Another to Deliver A Good Experience

It’s Monday morning, early, as we are about to land at Brussels airport I decide to take the train rather than the taxi.  On landing I look for and follow the signs for the train. I arrive at level -1. Now I am presented with choice: to get my ticket from the ticket machines (many of them, all of them available for use) or queue up at the ticket office and be served by a human being.  I choose to queue up and be served by the human being.

To the lovers of technology and its promise to reduce friction and bring about nirvana my decision does not make sense. Surely it would be faster and easier.  So why did I not use the machines? I lacked prior experience with these machines. I lacked the kind of contextual knowledge needed to figure what ticket I needed. And importantly, previous bad experiences – like the refusal to accept my credit card, or being told by the inspector that I had purchased the wrong ticket….

Further, and please make a note of this, I knew that the automated ticket machines do not have the same kind of being as a human being.  What am I getting at? I am talking about flexibility, intuitive contextual understanding born from a shared humanity, and a natural inclination towards helpfulness.  How best to illustrate?  Follow my story and you will see.

Within 2 to 3 minutes of queuing up I am face to face with middle aged man behind a glass screen. Do I speak French or English?  I notice that this man had been speaking in Flemish to his colleagues. So I speak English and ask him for a ticket to Bruxelles-Nord.  He flexes: he switches to speaking English fluently. He flexes: he asks me if I want a single or a return. I tell him that I need a return. He tells me the price and issues the ticket.

Time to pay. I get out my credit credit and look at the card processing machine. I haven’t come across this type before. I cannot figure out where the card goes and which way it goes. So I ask the man. He flexes to meet my need: he shows/tells me the correct place and way of inserting the card. I am grateful as I had not seen that slot in the machine.  I think bad design! Great that there is a human being to make up for the poor design of the credit card machine.  I pay. I thank the man and make my way through automated barriers to the train.

When I arrive at Bruxelles-Nord I find myself happy.  I took the road less travelled – I normally take the taxi – there were challenges. And the right combination of humanity and technology allowed me to overcome this challenges, easily, and left me feeling good.  Good!

London Heathrow: Getting Technology and Humanity All Wrong

Same day. It has been a long day. Finally, I am off the aeroplane and making my way to passport control at London Heathrow- later than expected. The taxi driver has just rang me to ask where I am.  So I am keen to get through passport control.

I arrive at passport control along with many others. Two choices – follow the lane for e-passports or the other lane.  Not an easy choice.  There is long queue in the e-passport lane as the demand falling on this lane is greater than the capacity of this lane.  This lane is automated and the technology (the machines) are not keeping up with the human beings.  On the other hand, there are only two lanes open in the other (alternative) lane.

Whilst in the midst of making the decision, I find myself shepherded into the e-passport lane.  I wait. I wait. I wait. Finally, I am near enough to the machines, the technology, to see what is going on.  There are 15 machines, only 10 of them are operational.  Imagine if you ran a call centre and on a busy day one third of your staff were off ill. What kind of an impact would that have on service levels?  OK, that accounts for some of the imbalance between demand and throughput.  What else is going on? I look.

As I am looking, for about ten minutes or so, I notice a few things. I notice that the process of getting through the machines is longer – every time – than with a human being checking passports. So even if everything worked like clockwork, it takes longer to get through these machines. But everything isn’t working like clockwork. It is about as far from clockwork as one can imagine.

I notice that most folks simply do not how to use the machines.  I can see the confusion on their faces. I can see their apprehension as they find themselves face to face with the passport (and facial recognition) machines.  There are no easily (intuitively) understandable instructions. For example, folks don’t know whether to put the passport face up or face down in the scanning area.  The machine does not detect wrong procedure and alert folks. It does its processing and when it is finished a big red cross comes up on the screen. But no useful error message or guidance.

At this point I ask you to think back to my situation at Brussels Airport. Remember me turning to and being served – as in helped out – by a human being?  So you may be wondering what happened to the human beings at passport control. This is where it goes from bad to ugly.  Allow me to explain.

I can only see one human being on my side of the machines – a woman in her late twenties. She is standing in front of machine 11 – only machines 1 to 10 are operational.  She is looking at what is going on.  Her contribution? To look down at the people struggling with the machines and provide useless advice.  The looking down is evident in her face and her tone of voice.  She keeps saying “If you put your passport against the machine and push down then it works fine”.  Folks are doing that and for some of them it is not working out. Clearly, they are at fault given her stance.

I notice that every person who cannot get through the automated passport check  – which is at least one in every three – is instructed by this young lady to go and see the man at the end of the line.  I look and see that there is only one man at the end of the line. He is busy – there is long queue.  The price of cost reduction through technology centred automation is being paid by us – the users.  I look at the faces of the people like me waiting patiently to get through this nightmare. I can see the frustration, even contempt, in their faces. Some of them are voicing this frustration – in a very understated English way.

 

Where I Stand In Regard To Technology

1 – It is my experience that the claims made in regards to technology (in business) are puffery. Or, at best, aspirational – what folks would like to believe. Yes, technology can make things better. But it rarely does especially not for the people who actually find themselves face to face with technology – the users. 

Take Heathrow Airport, I am sure that folks selling the vision and benefits talked about: reducing costs by replacing many people with one machine, the throughput – how it would take less time for the machine to do the work of the human being, the improvement in the customer experience – easier, quicker, better, the reduction in risk as machines don’t get tired….  Now you compare my experience with the vision/promise.  Notice the gap.

2 – Making technology work (for users) requires a deep connection with our own humanity (our way of being_in_the_world). And with the humanity of our fellow human beings through empathy.  Yet this is THE quality that is lacking in the people who purchase technology (managers) and those implement technology.  Further, neither party really cares for the users of technology.  The users are pawns who are to be ‘change managed’ in order for the benefits of automation to be harvested. What are those benefits?  As I mentioned in the last conversation they are almost always cost reduction.

3 – In service contexts, great experience design requires the right blend of the human beings and technology. Why?  Technology is great where something can be reduced a technique – a logical sequence of invariant steps – and thus automated.  Yet an intrinsic and persuasive feature of human worlds is unpredictability, novelty, variance.  These are characteristics of living and life – especially intelligent life like ours. Technology sucks at dealing with this. But human beings don’t. Human beings have the capacity even an inclination to be flexible in an instant. Humans can get an intuitive grasp of the context (the background) and the user and her situation (the foreground). And we can flex to address the specific needs of this user in this context.

4 – It is easier to design and implement technology badly – from a user experience standpoint – then it is do it well. To turn around this situation requires a substantial investment in service designers and ux designers.  As well as prioritisation of the user experience. For all the talk of Design Thinking there is little of it actually occurring – perhaps a drop in the ocean.  As someone in an important position said to me recently “I don’t care about their feelings. I have a deadline to meet!” Further, most organisations are not willing to really get into Design Thinking – it requires a different mix of people, it involves getting out of the office and entering new worlds, it takes time, it takes effort, it requires experimenting and iteration.  None of this appeals when the focus is implementing technology ‘out of the box’ this month using agile.  Were speed and efficiency is of the essence the ground/soil necessary for human centred design is simply not there.

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

What Does The Doublespeak of Customer Love Disguise?

Looking beyond the doublespeak of customer-centricity, customer engagement, customer love to see what is truly there.

In his latest post Andrew Rudin questions the advice of customer experts and provides his take on the language that has come to pervade marketing, sales, service – business in general.  Allow me to share a passage or two from his post:

“We’re bombarded with messages from experts about getting close to customers. How close? Really close! Lustful words like embrace, love, and passion have migrated from romance novels into business blogs. Marketers freely infuse love as a marketing schtick, with buyers as the intended objects. But when sellers get amorous, I remember the words to Are You With Me Baby? by the LeRoi Brothers: “At least tonight, you know that I’m in love with you.” Explanation, not needed.”

In this conversation I wish to look beyond the fashionable language and see what shows up.  Let’s start with the role of the customer in business.

What Is The Role Of The Customer In Business?

Let’s look at business as a system for creating value.  The first question is this one, who truly matters? Look into the very constitution of company and company law. You will find it is the shareholders – specifically the shareholders who individually or collectively control the voting rights.  Next question, what is the ONLY concern of shareholders?  Wealth.  Shareholders of the business are looking for the Tops (at the helm of the business) to generate wealth for them .

Which brings us to the role of customers. What is the role of customers in business?  I say it is to enable the business to survive and thrive by feeding the business.  What do I mean by feeding the business? I mean to provide the money that the business needs. Put differently, customers are the source of cash that flows into the business and keeps the business going.

What can we conclude?  How about this, a customer is only of importance (valuable) if s/he is source of cash flowing into the business.

What Is The Extrinsic Value Of A Customer To A Customer-Centric Business?

Anyone who truly understands the genesis and true meaning of customer-centricity will be familiar with Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).  How does one calculate CLV? Be estimating a figure for the lifetime (years, months), then estimating the value (revenue, contribution..) that this customer will generate for the business over the lifetime.  The smarter folks will discount the value to take into account the time aspect of money.

Here, I draw your attention to a critical point. The past does not count, only the future counts.  What the customer has contributed to the business in the past is irrelevant.  It is only his value to the business in the future that counts.

Why calculate CLV?  To differentiate between customers. In my days at Peppers & Rogers it was the done thing to perform the calculation and then put customers into three buckets: MVCs (most valuable customers), MGCs (most growable customers), and BZs (below zero). And the corresponding ‘strategies’ were to retain MVCs through great service / preferential treatment, increase the value of MGCs by persuading them to buy more at higher prices (x-selling, upsetting), and get rid of the BZs as they were taking value away from the business.

What is going on here?  Pure self-interest.  As Tops we wish to enrich ourselves – earn and walk away with the greatest wealth for ourselves. To do that we must please the shareholders.  To please the shareholders we have to generate as much as value as we can. To do that we need to focus on customers – those customers who hold the promise of generating the most value for us ‘today and tomorrow’.

Here I wish to add that the drive to automate interactions between the customer and the business saw its genesis in the promise of technology to cut down the cost of customer interactions by replacing employees with technology.  By cutting down the costs the value generated by customers, as in CLV, could be increased – sometimes substantially.  The fact that automation of interactions led to benefits to customers was an added bonus – not the primary motive. Disagree? Then answer this question, why have IVRs proliferated rather than being ripped out?  Customers hate IVRs and have hated IVRs for years.

What Value Does Business Place On The Intrinsic Value Of A Customer?

Look beyond the label of customer. What do you see?  I see a human-being – a flesh and blood human being.  Is there any intrinsic value to a human being.  Let’s take a look at that by examining real life examples.

When I see a pregnant woman, a fellow human being, standing on a train, I offer her my seat. Usually I don’t even get to do that. Why? Because some other man or woman has offered her a seat by the time I open my mouth.

When I see an elderly wo/man with what looks like heavy luggage I offer to carry that luggage up and down the stairs – usually at train stations. I do so without being asked.

Once I was in a Deli – some 10-15 years ago. Whilst ordering lunch (sandwiches, drinks…) I notice a young lady. She was not dressed well. She had a handful of coins and she was counting them.  She looked hungry – I saw her face looking at the product. Yet she ordered a tea. I calculated that this was the case because she could only afford a tea. All this happened in seconds, maybe a minute or two.  Immediately, I took out £20 and gave it to her.

When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, I ask folks not to give me presents. I tell them if they wish to contribute to me then they should do so with cash.  Do I need the money? No. So why do I ask for it? Because I get joy out of putting that money into Kiva and then using it to fund folks around the world, who have ideas but lack the money, to build better lives for themselves and their loved ones.

Am I the only one doing these things? No. One of the people I value highly is the President of a leading player in the VoC market. He travels a lot. When he travels he helps folks put their luggage in the overhead compartments. It is not an option for him to not help those who need help. And he gets joy out of this.

I suspect you, also, have at some point in your life carried out an act of kindness. If not, then I suspect you have read about, seen or witnessed an act of genuine human kindness and been moved by it.  Why?

Here is my answer. We ‘know’ at some deep level that there is intrinsic value in a human being – a human life. Why? Because, for the most part, most of us are brought up that way: to value human life, to treat folks right….. To be helpful members of society.  What is heroism but the sacrifice of oneself for the wellbeing of our fellow human beings?

What about the business world?  Does the business world of largish corporations recognise and honour the intrinsic value of a customer as a fellow human being?  Look into this and you will find that aside from small scale community based ‘mom and pop stores’ there is no genuine relating between the business and the customers. A small ‘mom and pop store’ where mom and pop work will get to know their customers: their backgrounds, their family, their hopes and dreams, their challenges…. their intrinsic value.  Not so the case in corporations where the roles remain but the folks that fill those roles is like hotels: the rooms are the same but occupied for short periods of time by many guests.  Further, and this is important, genuine human relating is not permitted in corporations.  What is permitted, even encouraged, is fake relating: scripted interactions, scripted smiles…

When is the last time that a largish corporation paid for life-saving treatment for one of its customers? Or took actions that take time and money to make a customer’s dream come true?  Yet some celebrities have done exactly that for their fans. And folks in communities get together to do that if one of their own is in need.

No, the business world of corporates is blind to the intrinsic value of a customer, any customer.  The only value that counts is the extrinsic (CLV) of the customer – however this is arrived at, whether by intuition or by making complex calculations.  I, the corporation, do something for you if and only if the calculations shows that you will do something for me which is of higher value so that there is good ROI for me.

Summing Up

Without friendship life is hollow which is why almost all of us seek and cherish our genuine friends.  Without love for some person or some activity life is missing something essential. Without being loved by someone or some community life is missing something that is essential to our well being.

So relationships do matter. Love does matter.  However, it would be foolish to expect this kind of relating occurring between a customer and a corporation.  And experts/gurus encourage companies to love customers is pure BS.

Yes, the language that folks in business and those who make a living from pandering to businesses (the media, business gurus, consultants, professors…) has changed.  It speaks of customer engagement, customer relationships, loyalty, customer love….

No, the game of business has not changed.  The game is the same as it has always been – causing ‘surplus rents’ for Tops (in the form of pay, bonus, shares) and Shareholders.  All the Customer talk is doublespeak – it disguises the transactional orientation, it disguises the lack of morality and ethics in big business.

I leave you with this thought / assertion: It is easier to change the words, the images, the slogans, the story than it is to change the system (purpose, values, priorities, people, roles, relationships, practices, tools…).  Therefore, in the absence of a catastrophic breakdown, only the words, image, slogans, and stories change.

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

How Do Insurance Companies Treat Loyal Customers?

Who Benefits From Customer Loyalty?

Back in December 2015 Annette Franz in her post titled So, What Exactly is Customer Loyalty? made the following statement:

I had a situation recently that caused me to call on a provider to whom I’ve paid thousands and thousands of dollars by way of monthly premiums for the last 20+ years. I’ve never filed a claim, but I did six weeks ago. It’s not been a good customer experience since that day.

Annette went on to question the concept of Customer Loyalty.  Does it refer to the customer being loyal to the organisation? Or to the company being loyal to the customer?

This was my response to her question:

Hello Annette, I have been and continue to be clear that customer loyalty is a marketing concept. As such it is consists of a bunch of tools and techniques for getting the customer to stick with the organisation as long as the customer is generating handsome revenues and profits for the organisation. It is certainly not the organisation being loyal to the customer. Put differently, customer loyalty is a company centric concept.

I assert that as a customer you either have to be naive or stupid to think the organisation is loyal to you. Take insurance, if you are loyal customer you will be worse off. How so? When it comes to renewal time you will pay higher premiums. Why? You will accept the renewal premium without shopping around.

What Is The Cost of Customer Loyalty When It Comes To Insurance?

Want an example of how insurance companies penalise loyal customers?  Thanks to the Guardian newspaper, I have an example for you.  Allow me to share some passages from How Halifax penalises its insurance customers for their loyalty (bolding mine):

How much should the buildings insurance be on a £250,000 terrace house in Redcar, north-east England? It probably wouldn’t be difficult to find quotes for less than £200.

Mrs Laurie (I’ve changed her name) had always been good with managing her money. She dutifully paid the home insurance premiums demanded by Halifax every year, even though it kept going up. But when it hit £450 she could no longer afford to pay it.

What was Halifax’s response? Did it review the premium and reduce it to reflect the prices that other people were paying in the market? Oh no. What Halifax appears to have done is reopen her former mortgage account with the bank, then charge the insurance premiums to that account. Halifax then continued jacking up the price every year, to a vastly inflated £800 at the time of her death – a figure her son says is around six times the going rate. The final insult was that Halifax charged interest on the unpaid premiums, making ever more profit out of its elderly, loyal and vulnerable customer.

When Does It Make Sense To Stick With Your Insurance Company?

If you are a customer then here is my advice: never ever take the renewal quote offered to you by your insurance company. Why? Because from an insurance company perspective the most logical course of action is to offer you an inflated premium. Why? To take financial advantage of those folks who are either ignorant (of how companies work) or lazy (cannot be bothered to shop around).  When you have millions of customers, even a mere 20% of customers renewing automatically can generate £millions in extra revenues and profits.

Having said the above, I wish to point out that the insurance premium should not be the only factor that you consider. Why?  Because one takes out insurance just in case one needs to make a claim.  Which implies that you should, at a minimum, consider other factors including:

  1. Coverage – what is and is not covered?
  2. Time and Effort  involved in making a claim;
  3. Claims track record – how good is the insurer at dealing with and paying out on legitimate claims?

For example, for the last two years running I chose to stick with my home insurer even though I get a cheaper premium from other insurers. Why? Because for the first time (2 years ago) in 20+years I had to make a claim. The process of making the claim showed up as effortless. The claim was dealt with quickly by the insurer and in full. And, when I was dealing with the loss adjuster he told me that my insurer is among the best insurers when it comes to paying out legitimate claims.

If you are regular subscriber to this blog then I thank you. And take this opportunity to wish you the very best for this year.