Musings on customer-centricity, customer experience and social: not your usual perspective

In this post I want to share my take on three items of news that caught my attention recently: Stephen Hester’s insights into the banking industry; Apple’s iOS6 maps fiasco; and the Madrid barman who has became a hero in Spain.

The culture of greed is not limited to the banking industry, it is an inherent feature of ‘business as usual’

Stephen Hester the CEO of the bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland gave a speech on rebuilding banking at the London School of Economics on Monday.  This quote in particular got my attention as it gets to the heart of the matter:

We cannot afford to just fix Libor, to just fix money laundering controls, or to just fix the way we market our products. We have to address the root cause of the industry’s failings…”

What are the root causes of the banking industry’s failings?  Let’s listen to what Mr Hester said:

“It is possible to look at the many scandals that have hit banking in recent years and see them as individual episodes of bad judgment or wrong behaviours….. In fact, I think it’s more accurate to say that most of them are related to one big scandal: banks have simply not been good enough servants of their customers in the recent past.”

“The banking industry in the decade preceding the crisis was focused on income, it expanded too fast, prioritised sales over service and failed to properly balance the interests of its customers and shareholders with those of its managers.”

I say that the push for sales, income and profits is central to many companies, many industries, many economies and is in fact central to ‘business as usual’.  And within the context of ‘business as usual’  where ‘bad profits’ are pursued because it is too much work to come up with products, services, experiences that create genuine value for customers (and thus generate ‘good profits’) authentic customer-centricity cannot take root and flourish.  So the challenge is culture change.  Not just culture change at the organisational level, nor at the industry level, nor at the business level. No, the culture change has to happen at the societal level.

Apple: Tim Cook, iOS6 and the Maps application

I notice that Apple has been under pressure and Tim Cook has done the right thing by apologising.  Within that context, the following got my attention:

“At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

How many CEOs can get up and say that with conviction?  How many CEOs would be believed?  Which tells me that the number of companies that are committed to making world-class products that deliver the best experience possible for customers is rare.  Which kind of explains why Apple shows up as Apple as opposed to the multitude of other companies.

The other thing that occurs to me is that making that apology is a wise move: as human beings we tend to ‘forgive’ those that apologise.  And I suspect that the Maps saga will not dent the Apple brand provided that it is just a one-off occurrence.

What can we learn about social from the Madrid barman?

You can say that I am not a fan of social.  Why?  It occurs to me that is so much chatter on social and so little understanding of social.  Yes, the human being is social being.  Yet, that does not mean that we can collapse social with socializing.   Social is more than idle chit chat over social media.  Social is more than meeting up with friends at a cafe or restaurant.  Social is more than meeting up with folks that you like (or are interesting in) for drinks after the end of the conference day.  Social is more than sticking in some social technologies in the work place.

In its fullest/truest sense social is ‘care and concern for our fellow human beings.  It is about moving from a place of ‘exclusion to inclusion’.  It is about collapsing the distance from ‘me’ and ‘you’ and becoming ‘us’.  It is putting into practice our humanity – the best of our humanity.  It is being up for and delighting in the well being of our fellow human beings.  And acting when that well-being is at stake.

With that in mind I share the following story about the Spanish barman that put his well-being at stake to protect demonstrators.  And here is the video:

It occurs to me that if you watch this video, really watch this video, then you will get a flesh+blood for what social is, what social takes, and why social is so powerful.   And if you do not get it then it occurs to me that you can do all that you want on social media and it matters not, you are not social, you are just being selfish through social channels.

And finally

Without genuine care for our customers all the customer talk is just that talk.  And genuine care for our customers means a concern for humanity. To paraphrase the words of the Spanish barman, “There is excessive focus on short-term profits. I am for companies being profitable, but above the profitability, there is humanity. Let’s make enduring profits by playing the long-term game of people-profits-planet.”

That is what I say, what do you say?

How to shape customer behaviour and create delight at no extra cost

Anna: the difference between despair and delight

My heart sank when I saw the queue in the bank and I mentally calculated that I could expect to be waiting some 10 – 20 minutes before I got served.  Is it worth waiting that long simply deposit £200 into my bank account because I do not like to carry cash around in my wallet?  Just as the two parts of me (The Rider, The Elephant) were tussling over that question something caught my attention.  One of the three cashiers (Anna) left her seat behind the glass cage, opened the secure door and became a part of us – the customers.

She went up the first person that was waiting and asked her if she was waiting to deposit cash into her bank account.  The old lady mumbled and said she wanted to wait in line.  Then Anna went to the next person – an old man – and asked the same question.  He told her that he was waiting to withdraw cash from his account.  Anna told him that if he had his cashcard then he could withdraw it from the ATM and she would show him how.  The old man made some excuse.  Then Anna went on the next person and the next and after some eight refusal she faced me.  When Anna was facing me I took her up on her offer to show me how to quickly deposit the £200 into my account.

Anna told me that the they (I assume the cashiers) had noticed that customers do not like waiting.  She also told me that most customers turn up and simply want to pay money into their accounts or withdraw money from their accounts.  So they had decided that the best way of reducing the waiting time and educating customers was simply to ‘hold the customer’s hand’ and guide them through the task of depositing or withdrawing money.  She showed me which ATM to use.  Then she turned the work over to me yet standing beside me she guided me through the five simple steps.  In less than two minutes I had completed my task and was simply delighted: delighted with Anna, delighted with Santander, delighted with the self-service technology; and delighted with myself for ‘being open to the new’ and ‘learning a useful shortcut’ that will make my life easier in the future. I thanked Anna and left the Santander branch.  On the way back I pondered some questions and came up with some thoughts that I want to share with you.

Thoughts on customers, customer facing staff and the customer experience

Telling is not the difference that makes a difference. I can remember at least four instances when a Santander cashier has deposited my money into my bank account and then proceeded to tell me that I would do that myself by using the ATM.  Nonetheless, I did not change my behaviour.  In fact I have lost count on the number of time I have been given advice and not acted on it.  Telling is our default mode when we want to remodel human behaviour and it is spectacularly ineffective.  Telling speaks to the Rider (the neocortex) and yet you need to ‘speak’ to the Elephant (limbic brain) to shape behaviour.

Knowing is not the difference that makes a difference.  This is a corollary of the previous point.  The simple fact is that The Rider knew that I could use the ATM to deposit cash into my account.  Yet, the Elephant discounted this knowing.  Why?  Because the Elephant is risk averse. I had not changed my behaviour because my Elephant had taken an emotional position: risky might lose my money; probably will not know what to do and will make a mess of it in public and so lose face; and it is not likely to work so I am going to have to take time to figure out how to make it work and/or go the cashiers to sort out the mess.

If you want to remodel customer behaviour then build a ‘scaffold’Lev Vgotsky who studied cognitive development pointed out that effective learning and development depends on the right scaffold – one that the learner can use to climb higher safely one step at a time.   Think about construction work: the scaffold is a structure that enables the workers to build the building more effectively whilst feeling safe.  One form of  ‘scaffold’ is a ‘more knowledgable other’ (MKO) – someone who has mastered the domain and can act as empathetic guide and coach.  This is why Anna was so effective in changing my behaviour.  She led the way by literally walking to the ATM and then she led the way by guiding me through the process – one step at a time.  If you want customers to use self-service technology then you have to do what Anna did: train them to use it in a safe supportive environment.  And here is a key point: behaviour (doing, the experience) shapes learning much more than learning shapes behaviour.

Design self-service to create value for your customers.  Part of the delight of my customer experience was actually experiencing how easy it was to use the ATM to deposit cash into my account.  That is to say that the designers had cracked the usability of it: it was intuitive and it addressed the kind of concerns that may come up like I deposit £200 and the ATM thinks it is £160. Furthermore, the process consisted of only five steps and could be completed in less than two minutes thus saving me time which many customer value as we never seem to have enough of it as so much occurs as being spent on drudgery.  Simple tasks are great candidates for self-service provided you save the customer time and/or effort and the customers is embedded in the right context.

Treat different customers differently.  Anna offered to help some eight people all of whom refused before she made the same offer to me which I took up enthusiastically.  The interesting thing to note is that all of these customers were older than me.  They struck me as being the kind of people that trust people more than technology and the kind of people who prefer the human touch to hi-tech.  These people are never likely to be the early adopters so the right thing to do is to find the early adopters – the younger people, the busy professionals, the young mums with children – and remodel their behaviour.  Put more simply,  scatter the seeds where they are most likely to grow with the least effort.  Then wait for the followers to adopt this practice by social osmosis.

Being precedes doing so focus on the being.  There is something special in Anna’s being – it is the first thing that I noticed last time we interacted and this time.    Of the three cashiers she was the youngest.  Of the three cashiers she was the only one that smiled and looked happy.  When she came into the customer den – to where we were standing – she was totally calm.  Her whole being exuded the air of caring, helpfulness and competence.  She was not pushy: she was not in a rush to get any of the customers to do anything in particular.  Her totally being was an invitation: “I can make your life easier if you will allow me to do that, will you allow me to do that?”  It was her being( the way she was being) that got my trust and why I took up her invitation to use the ATM.  What am I saying?  You can’t fake caring it is simply who you are or who you are not: if you genuinely care for your customers it comes through and the Elephant (subconscious) picks it up and if you do not care the Elephant picks that up as well.  My advice: hire more people like Anna and create an environment that supports and nourishes their natural being.

Your customer facing staff have valuable insights into your customers.  The Santander cashiers spend their professional lives observing, talking with and serving customers.  So is it any surprise that the Santander cashiers know that that the most frequent service that they are asked to deliver is either to bank cash or withdraw cash for customers.  Is it any surprise that they also know that customers hate waiting?  What else do your customer facing staff know about your customers and your business that if you tapped into would make a difference to your customers and your business results?  Have you created an environment that calls forth these insights from your staff?

If you want your customer staff to improve the customer experience then create clearings for insight to be acted upon.  Have you ever played paintball?  What is it like to move around in a densely wooded area?  Difficult, tedious, painful and slow right?  Well in many organisations it is the same experience for customer facing staff to do the right thing by your customers.  So if you want them to do more of the right things then you have to create ‘clearings’. What is possible in a clearing?  A lot because the space is not cluttered, it is empty.  I am clear that the Santander management at my local branch had enabled the cashiers to act on their insights by creating a clearing: permission to step out of the glass cage and help customers by walking them to the ATM and showing them how easily they can help themselves.

Treat different employees differently.  The employees that are most ingrained in the existing way of doing things are the ones that are most likely to stick with the existing way of doing things.  It is the younger employees those that have not been assimilated into your existing culture that are the most promising candidates for trying out new ways of doing things.  I could not help but notice three things: Anna was the youngest of the three cashiers; she had only been with Santander for a relatively short amount of time; and she is not English.  So it makes perfect sense that the other two cashiers stayed within their glass cage where they are comfortable and Anna walked out of it.  Yet, if all three had stepped out of the glass cage then there would have been no cashiers to serve the older customers who expect cashiers to sit behind glass cages and do stuff for them.

Improving the customer experience and delighting customers need not cost any more.  What extra costs did Santander occur by allowing Anna to leave her glass cage and help me to serve myself?  None at all. The customer experience was improved by simply redeploying the existing resources in a more imaginative / more valuable way.    Incidentally, if you spend much time in a call centre you will find that the bulk of the incoming demand for attention from customers is ‘failure demand’: the call centre is being asked to rectify ‘defects’ introduced into the customer experience by marketing, sales, logistics, finance…… So by improving the customer experience you can take out as much as 80% of the cost of your call centre operations.  How many millions is that in savings?    And in the process your create customer delight simply because your organisation gets it right first time.  To paraphrase Philip Crosby ‘quality customer experience is free’.