On Customer Experience, Brand Values, and a “Sense of Honour”

Let’s start today’s conversation with the following passage:

By strategy, Bourdieu… does not mean conscious choice or rational calculation. The strategies employed by the Kabyle are not based on conscious, rational calculations but on a “sense of honour” that guides complex manoeuvres of challenge, riposte, delay, aggression, , retaliation and disdain.

The sense of honour derives from sets of dispositions that internalise in practical form what seems appropriate or possible in situations of challenge, constraint, or opportunity. Thus, choices do not derive directly from objective situations in which they occur or from transcending rules, norms, patterns, and constraints that govern social life; rather they stem from practical dispositions that incorporate ambiguities and uncertainties that emerge from acting through time and space. 

– Culture & Power, The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David Swartz

Look at the organisation that you find yourself leading or working within and for.  Is there such a thing as a “sense of honour” present in this organisation? If there is then who and what is honoured? Is it the customer?  Is it the humanity of the folks that work in your organisation? Your partners in the value chain? The shareholders? Making the numbers, getting ahead, becoming the largest, beating the competition? VW is not the only organisation – just the latest one to be exposed for what the modern organisation is centred on.

So you have customer experience centred digital transformation vision. And associated programme plan. If you are going about this in a ‘best practice manner’ you have defined the objectives, listed the business capabilities you will need, identified the data and content you will need, the information technology applications (CRM, marketing cloud, e-commerce, CMS…) and the IT infrastructure. Oh, and I forgot, you have a bunch of folks busy on mapping and possibly even redesigning business processes. You may even be enlightened and looking at the people part of the puzzle / architecture.

What about the critical question? The “sense of honour”.  Who is busy generating the “sense of honour” required to genuine show up and travel (as experienced by the customer) as a customer experience centred organisation that consistently does right by customers: like produce/deliver the product you are actually selling (like Apple, unlike VW), like treat the customer as s/he wishes to be treated – with attention, with courtesy (like Zappos or John Lewis, unlike your ISP/telecoms provider),  like create a platform for customers to access critical information and tools so that they can help themselves when it makes sense for them to do so (like Amazon)?

 

It is at this point that somebody will come up with brand values. Or corporate values. This somebody will state that these constitute the organisation’s “sense of honour”. But do these constitute that customer-experience centred “sense of honour” I am talking about here?

Let’s be straight with one another. You know and I know that the brand values are stuff that is cooked up by the marketing folks usually to differentiate where really there is no differentiation. You know and I know that these brand values are primarily driven for image making purposes. You know and I know that these brand values are seen as fictions outside of the marketing department.

What about the corporate values plastered on mission, values, purpose statements and usually on the walls?  Let’s be straight with one another again: they are empty aren’t they?  The fact is that they are not embodied in the organisation by most of the folks in the organisation. And rarely are they embodied by the Tops that pronounce these corporate values. Most of  us see these for what they are: propaganda, delusion, or simply aspiration.

So what is my point? My point is that almost all of the organisations that I have ever encountered (worked for, consulted for, been a customer of) lack  a “sense of honour”. And certainly they lack a sense of honour that values genuine care and loyalty for the folks that do business with your organisation. What this means is that you can make all the changes you want in communication channels,  technologies, data, and business processes and you are unlikely to attain your desired outcomes: genuine engagement, genuine loyalty. Loyalty is born of sacrifice. Sacrifice does not come easily beyond the family. Which is why tribes and communities (usually numbering in the tens to hundreds) go to great lengths to cultivate a “sense of honour” and practical dispositions attuned to the “sense of honour”.

My advice? If you are the leader and you wish your organisation to be genuinely customer experience centric and call forth loyalty then embody the “sense of honour” that necessarily goes with such a stance.  And work on infusing all the people in your organisation with this “sense of honour” such that this sense of honour become a set of practical dispositions where anyone in the organisation will naturally do what is right for the customer in any given circumstance. If you are not up for this then I wish to highlight one of my key learnings over the last 25+years:

Old Organisation + New Technology = Old Org. + Trauma – Money

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. A la procaine.

What have I learned after 25+ years at the coalface: marketing, selling and serving customers

“You have been playing the game of business for 25+ years and most of that has been at the coal face – intimate contact with the customer.  In addition, as a customer you have had many encounters with many companies.  How would you sum that up?” That is the question that was posed to me recently.  As I grappled with that question two passages came to my mind that pretty much sum it up.  The first is a passage from EM Standing’s book Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work and the other is from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov.  Allow me share those with you starting with the latter one.

Book 2, Chapter 4 – A lady of little faith, The Brothers Karamazov

“I heard exactly the same thing, a long time ago to be sure, from a doctor,” the elder remarked. “He was then an old man, and unquestionably intelligent.  He spoke just as frankly as you, humorously, but with a sorrowful humour.

‘I love mankind,’ he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long to eat his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose.  I become the enemy of the people the moment they touch me,’ he said, ‘On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.'”

Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work 

One day Dr. Montessori was called in to attend two small babies – twins – who were so near death’s door that their father had said, “Why trouble to get a doctor; they are already dead.” The parents were very poor and unable to afford either household help or nursing. On her arrival the young lady doctor took in the whole situation in a glance.  Taking off her coat, she lit the fire, sent the mother to bed, heated some water, bathed the two babies, “holding them in a special way,” prepared their food, and thus little by little, hour by hour, brought them back to life – servant, cook, nurse and doctor in one.

In later years when this same mother with her children met the Dottoressa in the street she would push them towards her saying, “Go and salute that lady, my dear, she is your real mother, not I: she gave you your life.”

Summing it up

Summing it up I’d say that in the vast majority of organisations ‘management’ talks a great story : about the customer; about brand values like quality, innovation, excellence, customer focus; And internal organisational values like teamwork, collaboration etc.   The talk is marvellous; I remember two CEO’s in particular who were great at that talk.

The issue for this majority of organisations is that the talk just does not translate to substantive interventions that create value for the customer, nor the people in the organisation that actually do the work that directly/indirectly impacts the customer in the form of the product and the customer experience.

Yet, this does not stop the talk.  The less substantive the change and/or the willingness to do what is necessary, the more the talk.  It is as if the urgency/degree of talk is a substitute for acting – of making changes that improve  the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of the organisation.

Looking into this I have become convinced that these organisations – the majority of organisations – lack faith.  They lack faith in their customers – that customers will reward them for doing the right thing by customers.  They lack faith in their people (management, employees, marketing, sales, customer service etc) to do what is necessary.  They lack faith in themselves – to effect personal changes and orchestrate/lead organisational changes.  So talking takes the place of acting. Which is why the passage (lady of little faith) from The Brothers Karamazov came to my mind.

Yet there are a small, very small, number of organisations where the people in the organisation get on with what needs to be done: to create value for customers; to engender good relationships between the various tribes in the organisation; to work collaboratively with suppliers and channel partners….

The people in these organisation are moved-touched-inspired by: the mission of their organisation; the quality of their working relationships – they actually like and respect each other; the thrill of creating a future worth creating; and the anticipation of taking on challenges worth taking on.  Which is why the passage from Maria Montessori:Her Life and Work came to my mind and which I shared with you.

What is your experience?

Howard Schultz/Starbucks: 18 insights and lessons from a customer experience master

It is worth learning from the masters

You may have noticed that I am an avid student of all things customer.  Over the last few months I have been reading Onward by Howard Schultz and I have found it to be an insightful and inspiring read – I recommend you buy it and read it!

Perhaps, I love the book because it validates my point of view (bias) on customer-centricity and customer experience – as a philosophy rather than a strategy or simply tactics (I’ll get into that distinction in a follow up post).  For today I simply want to share with you some stuff in the book that resonated with me in the hope that you may find it useful too (any stuff in bold is my doing).

18 insights / lessons from Howard Schultz

“A well built brand is the culmination of intangibles that do not directly flow to the revenue or profitability of a company, but contribute to its texture. Forsaking them can take a subtle, collective toll.” (p23)

“I always say that Starbucks is at its best when we are creating enduring relationships and personal connections. It is the essence of our brand, but not simple to achieve. Many layers go into eliciting such an emotional response.  Starbucks is intensely personal.” (p23)

“Unlike other brands, Starbucks was not built through marketing and traditional advertising.  We succeed by creating and experience that comes to life, in large part, because of how we treat our people, how we treat our farmers, our customers, and how we give back to the communities.  Inside the company, there had always been an unspoken level of trust….” (p27)

“I suggested something to the group as the ideas began to percolate. “The only filters to our thinking should be: Will it make our people proud? Will it make the customer experience better? And will it enhance Starbucks in the minds and hearts of our customers?”” (p75)

In my head I knew that no silver bullet would transform Starbucks overnight, but in my heart I was on the lookout for a big idea – what would be the next Frappucino, the most successful new product in Starbucks’ history?” (p75)

“But there was an even more important reason that I chose to eliminate comps from our quarterly reporting. They were a dangerous enemy in the battle to transform the company…….The fruits of this comp effect could be seen in seemingly small details. Once I walked into a store and was appalled by the proliferation of stuffed animals for sale.  “What is this?”  I asked the store manager in frustration…..The manager didn’t blink. “They’re great for incremental sales and have a big gross margin.” This was the type of mentality that had become pervasive. And dangerous.” (p89)

“In any well run retail business, there is, by definition, a maniacal focus on details……..In 2008 I felt very strongly that many of us had lost our attention to the details of our business…..Like a doctor who measures a patient’s height and weight every year without checking blood pressure without checking blood pressure or heart rate, Starbucks was not diagnosing itself at a level of detail that would help ensure its long-term health….We thought in terms of millions of customers and thousands of stores instead of one customer, one partner and one coffee at a time. We forgot that “ones” add up.” (p97

Their instruction at this “seeing” exercise was to consider each retail experience not as a merchant or an operator, but from the point of view of the customer. What did they witness, smell and hear? What non-verbal cues enhanced the experience? ……That journey helped put our leaders back in customers’ shoes, providing an enlightening and for some emotional exercise that underscored how important it was to put the customer at the centre of every meeting and business decision.” (p107)

“Starbucks coffee is exceptional, yes, but emotional connection is our true value proposition.  This is a subtle concept, often too subtle for many businesspeople to replicate or cynics to appreciate. Where is emotion’s return on investment? they want to know. To me, the answer is clear: When partners like Sandie feel proud of our company – because of their trust in the company, because of our values, because of how they are treated, because of how they treat others, because of our ethical practices – they willingly elevate the experience of each other and customers, one cup at a time.” (p115)

I have always believed that innovation is about rethinking the nature of relationships, not just rethinking products and as Michael explained how Ideastorm was helping Dell listen to customers and improv its products and services…..Thee was definately something here for Starbucks.  A chance to reconnect with customers we had lost touch with.” (p120)

“..one of the most important pieces of advice I’d heard upon my return…….”Protect and preserve your core customers.”…..”The cost of losing your core customers and trying to get them back in a down economy will be much greater than the cost of investing in them and trying to keep them.“” (p129)

“Some corporations are built, or rebuilt, on data driven business plans and hired guns with formulaic strategies. They may succeed, but they lack soul.  Starbucks is, by its founding nature, different……..transformation was not only about tightening nuts and boltsIf we did not also feel, if we did not have conviction in our values and believe that we really were in the business of human connection – on our farms, in our offices, in our stores, in our communities – then we were doomed.  We had to preserve our humanity.” (p131)

“But what many or our people had in spirit they lacked in business acumen and tools…….We also observed too much waste…….Something subtler was being wasted: our people’s time and energy……The fault did not lie with our people in the stores.  They were doing the jobs they had been asked to do with the resources and training they’d been given.  For all the brand’s marketing success, Starbucks needed a more disciplined operations system…..” (p145)

Growth had been a carcinogen. When it became our primary operating principle, it diverted attention from revenue and cost saving opportunities, and we did not effectively manage expenses……..Then as consumers cut their spending, we faced a lethal combination – rising costs and sinking sales – which meant Starbucks economic model was no longer viable.” (p149)

“As I stared at the list of 600, a lesson resonated: Success is not sustainable if it’s defined by how big you become.  Large numbers that once captivated me – 40,000 stores – are not what matter. The only number that matters is “one”. One cup. One customer. One partner. One experience at a time. We had to get back to what mattered most.” (p152)

“Kristen summed up Lean’s benefit well: “We were spending too much of our time fixing moments , but not actually solving problems. But fixing moments, like mopping a dirty floor, only provides short-term satisfaction.  But take the time to understand the problem – like how to keep a floor from getting so dirty in the first place – solves, and maybe eliminates a problem for the long term.”” (p278)

“At it’s core, I believe leadership is about instilling confidence in others..” (p302)

“There are companies that operate huge global networks of retail stores, like us.  Others distribute their products on grocery shelves all over the world, like us.  And a few do an extraordinary job of building emotional connections with their customers, as we have learned to do.” (p311)

My recommendation

Buy the book – it is a great read and has lots of real world lessons and insights.  For most business people it is likely to be a challenge because Starbucks is Starbucks because it is not built on nor operates on conventional business wisdom and practices.

Brand values and the customer experience – a perfect match?

There is value in marketing, advertising and brand values

Unlike many, I totally get the value of great marketing and advertising: it activates the Elephant (emotions) bypasses/speaks to the Rider (reason) and shapes behaviour.

I can see the value of brand values.  They can be used to guide and, where necessary, constrain the actions of the people developing products and conducting marketing activities.  They also help to give put clothes on ordinary products and services and thus give them personality and appeal.  I can also see the value of going further and having all the front line people live those values so that they are not simply marketing slogans.

Yet most organisations struggle to live the brand values

Anyone who has an interest in organisational behaviour will understand the distinction between espoused values and lived values.  If you look into the mirror you will probably see that our company and most companies struggle to live their brand values in their day to day behaviour.  It does not help if the brand values have been cooked up in the marketing dept.  My experience is that many in the organisation listen to marketers in a certain way; I have heard the marketing folks described as “the department of coloured pencils” or “the spend spend spend folks” or “the folks that lie for a living” or the “party people” and so forth.   So is it a surprise that few people in the organisation actually live brand values cooked up the marketing folks?

So the first challenge is coming up with values that speak to the hearts and minds of the people that work in your organisation.  The second challenge is translating those brand values into specific behaviours that everyone in the organisation is expected to embody.  The third challenge?  Getting the Tops to model these behaviours on a daily basis so that the Middles model these behaviours and onwards to the Bottoms.  Fourth, to implement the values within the organisation whilst honouring those values!  If one of your values is “innovation” then living your values means coming up with an innovative way of infecting hearts and minds with that value.  If one of your values is collaboration then taking a ‘command and control’ approach and telling people they have to collaborate is probably not the right way to foster collaboration.

If you want to use brand values in designing the customer experience then you have to translate them

I, the customer don’t care about your brand values – honestly I don’t.  I do care about what others  (the journalists, influential bodies, my social circle) say about you.  I care about how you treat me, my family, my friends, my social network.  And I have a strong interest on what to expect from you?  Put differently, what can I count on from you?

So if you accept the line that goes something like “design the customer experience” around your brand values then you have some work to do.  You have to take values (that are general) and translate them into specifics – what can your customer expect and count on from you when she is interacting with you and using your products and services?   And you have a potential problem – your brand values may not reflect the totality of customer needs.  Lets make this real by briefly looking at Virgin’s brand values: Fun, Value for Money, Quality, Innovation, Competitive Challenge, Brilliant Customer Service.

  • As a Virgin customer what can I expect from your online presence?  What does fun, value for money, quality, innovation, competitive challenge and brilliant customer service mean to me?
  • Brilliant customer service – does that mean I can quickly, easily contact you at any time, any day, through any channel and get an instant, insightful, relevant and quick response?  Does that mean that you assure me of 100% satisfaction?
  • How about your ‘product’ – what can I count on here?  By the way, I like products that are simple to understand and easy to use.  Oops it looks like your brand values don’t cater for all my needs and expectations – there is no mention of simplicity in your stated brand values.  What are you going to do about that?  Are you going to change your brand values or simply factor in my need/expectation and design the customer experience to take that into account?

I hope you get the point that I am making:  a lot of work has to go into designing the customer experience and you cannot automatically assume that you can use your brand values as a shortcut.  Brand values have to be translated into specifics: specific customers, specific customer scenarios, specific customer touchpoints…….

How about converting brand values into specific promises to customers?

Too much of business is littered with buzzwords and abstract concepts and this is a problem as the devil is in the detail.  One way I have found of translating brand values into customer terms is to start with promises. Lets imagine that you are creating a customer charter.  What will you put in this customer charter?  What are the truths that should be self-evident to you, your organisation and your customers?  What are the promises that you are making to your customers?  And what specifically do you expect from your customers?   This is hard work primarily because buzzwords and brand values lose their appeal when they have to be translated into publicly visible commitments to customers.  Yet there are organisations that go beyond the fear and make meaningful promises to customers.

Take John Lewis as an example.  John Lewis has made a commitment to customers – the John Lewis Price Pledge – and recently that has hurt profits.  This is what the chief executive says “Absolutely it’s costing us money, but it is really important we stick to it.”  Is it any surprise that John Lewis regularly comes towards the top for customer satisfaction and loyalty?