Customer Experience as an access to & source of business disruption and transformation

What do the failures of three high street chains disclose about Customer Experience?

Over the last week or so, three brand name high street retailers – Blockbuster, HMV, and Jessops – have failed.  What do these retailers disclose about the Customer Experience?

I say that these retailers disclose that Customer Experience is both an access to business transformation. And at the same time, a source of business disruption.  Yes, digital technologies often enable a superior Customer Experience. Yes, someone has to figure out a viable business model. And yet, it is the superior Customer Experience that attracts customers and thus enables business disruption and transformation.

I also say that the demise of these retailers shows something else.  What? It shows that most of the companies that are talking about / using Customer Experience are using it as a tactical tool. And that is a mistake.  How can I point this out clearly? Let’s take the airline industry.  I say that as and when a company invents a ‘teleporter’ (think Star Trek, Blakes 7) it is the end of the airline industry no matter how much money the airlines spend on improving the Customer Experience associated with flying. And even with a ‘teleporter’ the people who go on sea cruises will continue to go on sea cruises.  I hope you get that which I am pointing at.  Just in case, I have failed to communicate, I am going to take a look at the demise of Blockbuster.

What lesson does Blockbuster disclose?

Why did I turn to Blockbuster?  To do a job.  What job?  The job of entertaining myself and/or my family.  What role did Blockbuster play?  Blockbuster provided the means for me to get that job done?  What was ‘the means’?  The video.

What did I have to go through to get the job of entertaining myself and my family done? I had to drive 12 minutes to the nearest Blockbuster store only to find that the car park was full. Then I had to drive around and find somewhere to park – not easy. Once I parked the car, I had to walk to the store. Then hope the right video was in store.  Select a video, queue and pay. Then walk back to the car and drive home. Watch the video. Tell myself to remember to take the video back. Next day, drive to the store, find somewhere to park, walk to the store, return the video.

Do you notice something?  The Blockbuster Customer Experience imposed costs – time, effort, worry – on me.  I did not want to drive.  I did not want to find somewhere to park. I did not want to turn up at the store and find Blockbuster had no more copies of the movie I wanted to watch.  I did not want to have the threat of late fees hanging over my head. I did not want to go back to the store to return the video.  These were the costs imposed on me by the Blockbuster Customer Experience.  I put up with them because I did not have a better alternative.

When the better alternative came – a better Customer Experience – I left Blockbuster. With Netflix and/or Lovefilm I select the movie I want to watch and I can watch it instantly on TV, on the PC, on the iPad, on the iPod. And if I don’t like that movie? I stop it and instantly start watching another one. All for a flat monthly fee which is better value than Blockbuster ever was.  Actually, it is better than that because I don’t watch many movies, my family does. Now, they do it themselves and I have no work to do!

What are the fundamental insights/lessons here?

It occurs to me that there are two lessons.  First, digital is disruptive. Digital technologies, used imaginatively, used courageously, hold the potential and promise of business disruption. Why? Because they enable companies to craft and offer superior customer experiences.  How?  They collapse time-distance-effort-worry. And thus enable smart companies to come up with value propositions and customer experiences that customers value. Which probably explains why the bulk of my work over the last two years has been concerned with digital strategy and digital customer experience.

Second, the real leverage in Customer Experience is not tinkering with what it is – which is what most companies are doing.  The real leverage is using insight and imagination to design fundamentally new and disruptive customer experiences.  The ones that enrich the lives of customers (by delivering unexpected benefits) and at the same time take out costs – time, effort, delay, worry  – and deliver greater value for money.

And finally

It occurs to me that if you want to get strategic value out of Customer Experience then go back and read/study The Experience Economy.  The point is not merely to improve the experience associated with a product, service or solution.  It is more than that.  What it says is that you can choose to compete at a completely different level – the experience level.  What are you selling?  An experience.  What kind of experience? The kind of experience that Build-A-Bear has come up with for bears for children.  The kind of music experience that Apple has created through iPods, iTunes, iCloud.  Or the membership experience that the MVNO giffgaff has put together for mobile telecommunications.  The kind of experience that Netflix and Lovefilm deliver for movies.

Please remember that if your business is open to digital disruption then it will be disrupted.  You can choose to do that yourself. Or you can wait for someone else to do it.  Blockbuster and HMV could see the disruption, they chose not to act.  As for the folks at Jessops, hindsight says that they should have got out of the camera business and into the business of selling smartphones.  What do you say?

Extreme Trust: can honesty be a means of competitive advantage? (part 1)

I enjoy reading what Don Peppers and Martha Rogers write.  In fact their point of view spoke to me in such a way that it called me to join up and become a part of  The Peppers & Rogers Group, for a while, back in 2000.  Don and Martha have published a new book Extreme Trust.  In this series of posts on trust I am going to share with you, comment upon and explore topics that are addressed by Don and Martha in their book.

Does trust matter?

Why don’t you take the salesman at his word and buy what he is selling you?  Because you have learnt that what is in the interests of the salesman, to make a sale and take our money, is not necessarily in your interest.  Why don’t you accept the advertising put out by companies?  Because you have learnt that advertising, as a whole, is not truthful – you know that it has been designed carefully, purposefully, to push your buttons so that you buy.  Put differently you simply don’t trust the advertising.

Trust matters.  Why?  Because our lives are tied up with each other.  Heidegger pointed out that the fundamental being of human being is being-in-the-world – we are not spectators in the stands, we are right there in the midst the world.  Who is there right with us and an essential component of the world?  Our fellow human beings!  Our experience of living and how our lives turn out depends on how we conceive of one another (selfish, co-operative, selfless) and how we treat each other (help one another, look out for one another, indifferent towards one another, exploit one another).  Whether we trust one another or not matters, what we trust another with or not matters, who we trust and who we do not trust matters.

How will you compete against the likes of USAA?

Don and Martha start Extreme Trust by sharing a great story and asking a powerful question that gets to the heart of the matter. Let’s start with the story. It is about USAA a financial service company that consistently comes out as the most trusted financial services organisation in the USA.  The culture at USAA if based on a single yet profoundly powerful statement: treat the customer the way that you’d want to be treated if you were the customer.

After the first Gulf War (1991) USAA  sent out refund checks to several thousand “members” (customers).  Why?  USAA figured out that men and women (armed forces) serving overseas weren’t driving their cars in the USA, suspended the premiums for those months, and sent out unsolicited refund cheques when these men and women got back to the USA.  USAA did not have to do this and no-one asked them to do it.  How did this turn out?  Nearly 2,500 of these refund cheques were sent back to USAA by grateful customers who told USAA to keep the money and simply be there “when we need you.”

Now, here is the question that Don and Martha pose: “How will you compete against a financial services institution that customers love so much they sometimes refuse to accept refunds and are loyal into the third generation and counting?”

What makes USAA (and other companies like USSA) so different from competitors?

I have repeatedly asserted that most of what passes for customer-centricity is simply a sham.  Specifically, the philosophical base, the moral grounding, the fellow feeling, that is necessary for customer-centricity to show up as customer-centric, in the eyes of the customer as a moral being is absent.  This is what Don and Martha say on the matter:

“Most businesses and other organisations operating today think that they’re already customer-centric and they are basically trustworthy, even though their customers would disagree……. Being “trustworthy” is certainly better than being untrustworthy, but soon even “trustworthiness” won’t be sufficient. Instead companies will have to be trustable.

..trustability is a higher standard still.  Rather than working to maintain honest prices and reasonable service, in the near future companies will have to go out of their way to protect each customer’s interest proactively, taking extra steps when necessary to ensure that a customer doesn’t make a mistake, or overlook some benefit or service, or fail to do nor not do something that would have been better for the customer”

In short, USAA and companies like USAA (Amazon, Zappos, Apple, Google…) are trustable and as such they practice are built on the three pillars of trustability.

The three pillars of trustability

According to Don and Martha (in Extreme Trust) the three pillars (they use the term ‘principles’) of trustability are:

Do the right thing.  Essentially this is about the distinction between ‘good profits’ v ‘bad profits’.  Doing the right thing involves giving up practices (like exploiting customers) that generate ‘bad profits’.  And it involves coming up with a business model that generates ‘good profits’ by creating genuine value for customers by aligning with the needs and interests of customers and getting a fair return in exchange. Doing the right thing lies in the realm of leadership and strategy.

Do things right.  This is all about operations and operational excellence.  It is about the domain of management and concerns itself with functions, processes and details so that you make it easy for your customers to do business with you across the entire customer journey and generate the right kind of customer experience at each touchpoint that matters.

Proactively.  In Don and Martha’s words “Knowing that a customer’s interests is not being well served and doing nothing about it is untrustable.  Not knowing is incompetent…. A company might be scrupulous in its ethics, completely honest in its brand messaging, and highly involved in tracking its customer satisfaction, but will it be proactively watching out for its customers interests?  If it wants to succeed in the age of transparency, yes.

What gets in the way of being a “trustable” enterprise?

Why aren’t more companies, even most companies, like USAA, Apple, Amazon, Zappos and the like?   This is a domain I have tackled several times and I say it is addiction to ‘bad profits’.  What do Don and Martha say?

“The fact is that far too many businesses still generate substantial profits by fooling customers, or by taking advantage of customer mistakes or lack of knowledge, or simply by not telling customers what they need to know to make an informed decision.”

Why become a “trustable” enterprise?

Don and Martha are clear that companies don’t have a choice – the tide has turned, customers have the power, and by wielding this power customers will force companies to become “trustable” or die.  This is how they put it:

“.. lots of traditional, widely accepted, and perfectly legal business practices just can’t be trusted by customers and will soon become extinct, driven to dust by rising levels of transparency, increasing consumer demand for fair treatment, and competitive pressure…… Things that companies, governments, and other organisations never meant for people to know they will know.”

“Transparency will increase because of technological progress, and progress is inevitable.  It cannot be avoided or slowed down.….. As important as our social nature is.. social media and other interactive technologies have injected it with steroids.”

What is my take on this?

My thinking and philosophical orientation is in line with that being shared by Don and Martha in their new book Extreme Trust.  As such it is no surprise to me that I am enjoying reading it.  Nonetheless, there are areas in which I find that I am not in agreement with Don and Martha.  They make the distinction between “trustworthy” and “trustable” and in my world that occurs as contrived.

In my world you are either pregnant or you are not pregnant you cannot be half pregnant.  In my world, either I can trust you because I know that your care for me and are looking after my interest or I know that I cannot trust you.  In my world most companies do not merit my trust – I, the customer, simply show up as a wallet to be emptied.  And then there are companies that I do trust because they have done the right thing.  How does the right thing show up as the right thing in my world?  When the company takes a course of action that leaves me better off and it costs the company money. When I hear about what the company is doing to contribute to a ‘good world’.  When I hear about the postive experiences of other customers.

I am 100% in agreement with the power of transparency.  The potential for the kind of disruptive change that Don and Martha are speaking about lies in us wielding technologies that unconceal that which has been concealed from us.  Great example in the UK are the MPs scandal.  Once UK politicians used to lecture the world on honesty, moral uprightness and look down on less developed countries on the account of their corruption.  For many years the UK politicans got away with being corrupt and then the bubble burst.  UK politicians are not in a place to lecture anyone.  Another example is Rupert Murdoch and the News of the World phone hacking scandal.  For many years Rupert, some would claim, was the Kingmaker and pretty much got what he wanted.   He even got the Conservatives to hand him BSkyB on a plate.  Then came the disclosure that a dead girls phone was hacked and the moral revulsion of the ordinary folks forced a public enquiry on a reluctant prime minister, the closure of a newspaper and the abandonment of the BSkyB takeover.

In the next post in this series I will share more of what I learn as I progress reading through Extreme Trust.  I will conclude the series of posts with a review of the book as a whole so that you can decide if you want to read it for yourself.