Customer Experience: a personal insight into people and organisations (part I)

Over the last four weeks or so I have touched and been touched by the ‘medical system’ in the UK – in particular my doctor’s medical practice and the NHS (national health service).  I want to share with you the key insights that opened up for me on people and organisations.

Women show up as being more caring than men

Women as a whole whether in the role of receptionist, ‘blood taker’, nurse, trainee nurse or doctor simply show up as being more caring.  In their being and in their doing they transcend the merely functional – the task.  They put their humanity into the encounter – they smile, they strike up a conversation beyond the merely functional, they reassure, they do more than is necessary.  The men, as a whole, focussed on their area of expertise and the task at hand.  They are distant.  They stand farther away (afraid to get close), they don’t smile, they are matter of fact, they focus on the task, time is clearly of the essence as they are keen to move on to the next person, the next job.     There are exceptions.  One female receptionist was particularly cold, clinical and showed up as being disconnected from even a thread of humanity. On the other hand Dr Jeremy Platt is almost always smiles and greets me warmly and takes the time that is necessary.

Insight.  If we genuinely want our organisations to ‘touch’ our customers so that we show up as caring and thus create a space for emotional bonds to show up and form then this challenge has to be addressed.  Men, as a whole, are one dimensional – functional.  Either they are emotionally illiterate – that is to say that they are not in touch with their caring emotions or the cultures/communities they are embedded in do not give them permission to express their caring emotions.  I suspect it is combination of these two factor – their is a lack of permission to show caring as this shows up as ‘soft’ and over time men lose touch with these soft emotions.

Question/Challenge.  If the Tops got to the top by being ‘macho’ and ‘functional’ then how likely is it that these people will undergo a transformation and embody the softer emotions, values and associated practices which are the key to showing up as caring?  Perhaps they will take the Steve Jobs approach – build that caring into the product.  Or they will take the Amazon approach: build that ‘caring’ tone into the design of the operations.  Yet, these approaches are not enough in services heavy industries where people (the employees) are the product, the experience and there is intimate contact between the customer and the employees.

The people on the front line can show up as ‘robotic’ and ‘inhuman’ because they perceive themselves to be powerless

I turn up at the scheduled 8am appointment for the endoscopy.  Pain is present – that is the reason that I am there, to figure out what is the cause of the pain.  The nurse ‘sells’ me on taking the right course of action – taking the sedative as it will relax me.  I agree, I tell her I am in pain and so the sedative is the right way to go.  Then she asks me who will be coming to pick me up and take me home.  I tell her that my wife cannot pick me up until 3pm and that if I am well enough to go home earlier then I plan to use my favourite taxi firm to get me home.  She responds by saying that she cannot offer me a sedative unless I have a family member to take me home and look after me for the next 24 hours – that is the hospital policy.  I say “If you are not going to give me a sedative then you are not going to give me sedative. I am ok with that.”  Except that I am not really OK with that.

Later the Consultant- the specialist who is going to do the endoscopy – comes to see me with the nurse trailing behind.  He asks me some questions, I answer.  Then he asks me why I have chosen not to have the sedative.  I tell him that I want the sedative and I have been told that I cannot have it.  And I tell him the reasoning.  He tells the nurse that he will be giving me the sedative as that is the right course of action given the pain I am in and the procedure involved.  He tells her to find me a bed.

Instantly the whole being of the nurse changes.  It is clear that ‘God’ has spoken and his command must be obeyed without question, no excuse will suffice.  She tells the doctor that she will ring around several wards and that she is confident that she can find me a bed in a specific ward.   There is no doubt in her voice, absolute confidence.  She leaves and several minutes later she comes back and tells me that she has found a bed for me.  I am amazed at the instant/profound change in this nurse.  It occurs to me that she is happy/proud at what she has accomplished; she has a big smile on her face and her tone of voice is different.

What is going on here?  For the better part of 20 minutes or so this nurse showed up as robotic – going through the motions, following the script and preaching policy, ignoring my needs and the right thing to do, even changing her advice 180 degrees.  Then the Consultant shows up, tells her what she needs to do and instantly there is a new human being in front of me: confident-resourceful-helpful as opposed to helpless and robotic.

What made the difference?  I say she was given permission from THE authority figure to bypass policy and put her knowledge, her resourcefulness, her caring into action.   I say that the Consultant showed up and instantly changed the context from which the nurse was operating from:  from be a good robot/ follow the script/procedure to here is challenge/make it happen.  Furthermore, the nurse was absolved from responsibility and blame – she was simply following orders.  Which reminds of the Miligram experiments in obedience to authority.

Insight.  When we look at poorly performing front line employees the tendency of managers, management consultants and the training industry is to assume that the fault, the deficiency, lies in the front line employees.  In short we have an automatic bias.  This reminds me of the story of the drunk looking for his lost car keys under the street lamp when he had lost them somewhere else.  The smarter place to start looking for performance issues is in the context/the environment/the ‘system’ in which the front line employees are embedded and operating from.  That means facing the reality:  in about 95% of cases ‘poor employee performance’ shows up because it is the natural, inevitable, result of the assumptions/prejudices of the Tops and the ‘system’ that they have designed, actively or passively, to cater for those assumptions/prejudices.  Let me put it bluntly, if you want to drive up performance and the customer experience then focus on the managers, the management style, the organisation design.  That is where the real leverage is for step changes in organisational performance, customer experience and customer loyalty.

And finally

I will continue to share my insight with you in the follow up post – part II will be coming soon.  If you are up for it then I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Some of you have been kind enough to enter into a conversation with me by commenting.  You will have found me wanting – I have been lax in responding to your comments.  I ask for your forgiveness, my excuse if there is one is simply that the last four weeks or so have been a struggle:  the body, my health is not showed up as being my own.


Transforming Service through the radical reconceptualisation of Service

We are trapped in out-of-date limiting unhelpful concepts

In my last post I asserted that dead concepts are limiting how customer service, customer experience, customer-centricity show up.  My point was that what we see, how we see it, what we focus on, what we do and the results that show up cannot be ‘greater than’ the concept we live/act from.  I say that service sucks because our concept of service sucks.  Put differently given the existing concept of service that holds us prisoner it is enviable that service sucks.

In this post I want to put forth into the world radically new conceptualisations of service.  My intention is that these reconceptualisations will jolt you out of being prisoner to the existing conceptualisation of service that his holding your prisoner – even if you do not know that you are being held prisoner.

My intention is not only to shock you, it is also to give you openings to transform your relationship to service and thus transform the way that you and your organisation think about and act when it comes to service.  If you do that then there will be a transformation in the way that your service shows up for your customers.  Are your ready for this jolt?

Radical reconceptualisation 1: Maz Iqbal on Service

Service is a gift that one human being bestows on a fellow human being.  The fundamental basis and the desired outcome of Service is human dignity itself: honouring our shared humanity – the best of our shared humanity as in when we move-touch-inspire and elevate one another. The kind of humanity that can move us to tears of joy.

Service requires the calling forth of my humanity and putting it into the world.  And as such Service is founded on vulnerability.  My vulnerability in the sense of putting myself at risk for the sake/benefit of my fellow human being – I may be ignored as if I am an object and not  human being, I may be misinterpreted, I may be criticised, I may be rejected…  And my recognition of the vulnerability of the person I am serving: he could be out of his depth, place his trust in me to do the right thing by him; he could be in a bind and expose his vulnerability by asking me to bend the rules, to make an exception; he could be in a bind that he needs the job done and I know he will pay any sum I demand; he could be and often is vulnerable in so many ways.

Service necessitates that I be totally present in the present and to the presence of the person I am serving.  Only when such presence is present is it possible for me to be responsive to the need of the person I am serving – modulating my being, my actions, my speaking and my listening such that I show up as ‘caring’ and ‘trustworthy’ in the world of the person I am serving.

Service comes forth most easily from those of us who get joy, fulfilment, satisfaction out of reaching out and touching the lives of our fellow human beings, for the better.

It is critical to get that Service is a mode of being in the world, a certain state of consciousness, it cannot be faked: if I am in this state of being then the majority of techniques and tricks that are usually imparted through training are unnecessary; if I am not in this state of being then all the techniques and tricks will not make enough of a difference for me to show up as being caring in the world of the person I am serving.”

Radical reconceptualisation 2: Werner Erhard on Service

“My notion about service is that service is actually that kind of relationship in which you have a commitment to the person. What I mean, in fact, is that for me what service is about is being committed to the other being. To who the other person is.

To the degree that you are, in fact, committed to the other person, you are only as valuable as you can deal with the other person’s stuff, their evidence, their manifestation, and that’s what’s service is about. Service is about knowing who the other person is and being able to tolerate giving space to their garbage. What most people do is is to give space to people’s quality and deal with their garbage. Actually, you should do it the other way around. Deal with who they are and give space to their garbage.

Keep interacting with them as if they were God. And every time you get garbage from them, give space to garbage and go back and interact with them as if they were God.”

My question of you

Are you up for transforming service?  Are you up for being a leader when in the area of service and through service generating the kind of loyalty you crave?  If you are then I have provided you with two openings.  I can hear you thinking that it is not easy, it is a BIG ask.  Yes it is.

Let me share a secret with you: one of the keys to Jobs success was the ‘reality distortion field’ – not being bound by people’s existing concepts of ‘reality’ and ‘what is possibility’.  Jobs was a master of inventing, projecting, living into and from the possibilities that he created in the face of no agreement from just about everyone around him.  Do you have that kind of passion, that kind of courage?  Leadership requires both the ability to invent radical-inspiring possibilities and the passion-courage to act, to make them real.

A brief (personal) point of view on the state of customer-centricity

Is it possible for a man/woman to have a lot of wealth and do lots of stuff that generates wealth and yet for that man/woman to be ‘not wealthy’?  If you read that without pausing for thought you might say “That is nonsense, he’s gone nuts!”  I am not going to argue the point with you.  I simply ask you read that again.  Now I pose a related question: is it possible for a man/woman to have no wealth and yet be wealthy?  Before you answer “No!” I ask you think about the tales travellers tell about the remarkable hospitality and generosity of the poor – who happily share the little that they have.

Now I am ready to share my observation on customer-centricity with you.  As I look at the world of business and especially all things Customer I am stuck by the following:  just about everyone wants the fruits of customer-centricity (higher revenues, higher profits, higher profit margins) and plenty of organisations are doing lots of Customer stuff (customer insight, customer engagement, customer experience, CRM, customer strategy, customer marketing…) yet remarkably few are actually BEING customer-centric at the level of the organisation.

Does that matter?  Yes it matters a huge amount.  In zen there is the concept of “effortless effort” or “actionless action”:  being customer-centric (starting with the Tops) is the source of this “effortless effort”.  Does this strike you as a bit abstract.  Think about it this way: when you genuinely care that caring effortless expresses itself in the most appropriate way in the circumstances at hand.  On the other hand if you do not care then you have to go to a lot of effort to learn techniques to come over as being caring and hope that the other person does not notice.  The issue is that this tends to wear you out (pretense takes its toll).  Also the mask tends to fall off when you are under pressure.  Finally, the persons on the other end aren’t always taken in by the techniques – there is certain quality that comes across with genuine caring.

Take a good look at people like Chris Zane, Tony Hsieh, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs – you might find that their BEING is or was the ‘difference that makes/made the difference’.  When I read about the transformations that Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs brought about in their organisations I am struck by their BEING – as human beings, as professionals, as CEOs and as leaders.  They bought a certain quality to their organisations that set their organisations alight – to create and deliver stuff that enriched the lives of their customers.  People who did not want to play that game left.  The people who stayed were the people who were up for playing the game that these guys orchestrated: customer-centricity, excellence, customer experience…

Incidentally, BEING customer-centric at the ORGANISATIONAL level is the source of superior performance.  I stress the importance of the organisational component:  think how easy it is to snap a twig, not put a hundred twigs together (aligned) and snap them – hard isn’t it.   Yet even this is sometimes not enough – sometimes change comes along (economic, regulatory, new competitors) that so changes the playing field that the dominant players stumble.  Think of it as the fire that tears through the forest and gives life to the dormant seeds.  Even Apple will one day lose its crown just like Tesco is on its way to losing its halo of invulnerability and customer-centricity through data mining. If you have not heard of Tesco then it worth knowing that Tesco has been the dominant grocery retailer in the UK for many years.  Its success was put down to the loyalty card and the way that data was used for segmentation, customer marketing and product selections at Tesco stores.  This Christmas Tesco has stumbled signficantly.

TeamSnap: everything that you need to know on being customer centred

In my travels across the internet I came across TeamSnap and in particular this post:  Who Is Helping Whom? How Our Customers Are Using Support To Help Us

I have mentioned this post as it captures the true essence of customer centricity.  As I have written before, customer centricity is fundamentally about the Being mode: reason for existence and the stand you take in life.  Yet far too many people talk about customer centricity solely in terms of the Doing mode – usually in terms of capabilities, technologies, processes.

One way of thinking about this is to distinguish between character and personality.  Character is who you really are, what you really care about, what you stand for in life, how you behave when your up against the ropes.  Personality is the show, the mask, that you put on for others and sometimes for yourself too.

Now back to TeamSnap and their post.  Here are the characteristics of TeamSnap that led me to write “Congratulations. You totally get what it means to be customer centric. I shall be using you as an example of customer centricity in my blog”:

  1. TeamSnap’s reason for being is to make life easier for those who organize and participate in team and group activities.
    Note that the reason for existence is not to be the biggest, the best, to dominate the world, to provide a great return for shareholders, to deliver a growth rate of 20% and all that stuff.
  2. We do everything we can to make the application über-intuitive, so obvious that any user can pick it up and use it.
    Many companies do not focus on making their products easy to use.  The people who build the products often have knowledge, skills and ability that the user will not have.  And they are blind to this fact: I remember listening to a famous e-commerce software company demonstrating their suite and wondering why they expected the users – marketers – to be comfortable writing if then queries!
  3. With that kind of product philosophy, you might expect Customer Support to be a second-class function. A place outside the “cool” functions like new feature development, or marketing. You would be wrong. Support is a cornerstone of the company.
    Too many companies that claim to be customer centric (or headed in that direction) put most of  their money and time into the cool functions of marketing, sales and product development.  And the Customer Services (Support) function is often seen as a drain on company money and company profitability.  As a result it has about the same status and welcome as someone who has Aids or in past times, someone who was a leper.
  4. Why? Because TeamSnap isn’t perfect. It doesn’t work the way that everyone assumes it will. It doesn’t have all the capabilities that everyone expects. It even has, horrors!, bugs.
    How refreshing!  My experience is that in the many companies management is convinced that the company makes perfect products and deliver perfect service.  And the customers who are not happy are either trouble makers, stupid or lazy in that they have not taken the time to learn what they need to learn.
  5. We decided if we were going to make the investment, we were going to go whole hog. We were going to put top notch people in the support role; we were going to back them up with our best software developers; we were going to have everyone in the company, even yours truly, in the Support trenches on a regular and ongoing basis.
    Now compare this with the standard situation where the Customer Services function is seen as a necessary evil – a drain on customer profitability – and the focus is on cutting costs.   How many companies can claim that they put top notch people in Customer Services?   And how many CEOs spend time – regularly and often – in taking calls from customers, serving customers?  You are a customer, what is your experience?  Do you look forward to interacting with Customer Service?  No, why not?

A last word:  it will be interesting how well TeamSnap fares as it grows.  History suggests that as companies grow and especially when they tap the capital markets their reason for existence becomes making the quarterly figures that the analysts expect.

Please note that when I say this I am NOT making a moral judgement, I am simply stating that there is a structure to the capital markets and that structure gives rise to specific behaviour: you have to make the quarterly figures if you want to keep your job, keep your company.