Customer Experience: What Can We Learn From An Organisation That Kills It’s Customers?

I am coming out of my self imposed August retirement to write about something that calls to me, deeply. And to share with you insights and learnings which show up for me as being valuable if you are up for improving service, orchestrating a caring customer experience, and improving organisational effectiveness.

What can we learn from an organisation that kills its customers?

The NHS is more than an organisation it is an institution. Like the BBC, it used to be an institution that was held in affection and even revered. It was an organisation and institution to be proud of. It is also an institution that has been draining resources and has been subjected to the management mindset obsessed with targets, measures and an obsession to drive down costs.  The result? This institution has been killing its customers and driving out employees (managers, doctors, nurses) that raised concerns about the functioning of the organisation and the treatment of customers – the patients.

The Berwick report on patient care and patient safety in the NHS

How does the Berwick Report on patient care and safety begin?  It begins with this assertion:

Place the quality of patient care, especially patient safety, above all other aims.

Engage, empower, and hear patients and carers at all times.

Foster whole-heartedly the growth and development of all staff, including their ability to support and improve the processes in which they work.

Embrace transparency unequivocally and everywhere in the service of accountability, trust and growth of knowledge.

How is this relevant to business and the customer experience?

When I read this opening passage it struck me that the same is true for organisations who genuinely want to compete with the likes of Amazon, USAA, and John Lewis.  As such I have modified this opening passage so that it speaks to business:

Place the quality of customer care, especially the customer experience, above all other aims.

Engage, empower, and hear customers and customer facing employees at all times

Foster whole-heartedly the growth and development of all staff, including their ability to support and improve the processes in which they work.

Embrace transparency unequivocally and everywhere in the service of accountability, trust and growth of knowledge.

Who killed the customers? And what can we learn about what drive organisational behaviour and performance?

When breakdowns occur our temptation, those of us who live in the West and speak the English language, attribute agency and cause to people.  Put differently, we blame people for the breakdowns. In the world of business the blame gets placed on the employees. In the NHS the politicians, the managers and the media have placed the blame on doctors and nurses.

What does the Berwick report say? It says “NHS staff are not to blame.”.  It goes on to say:

Incorrect priorities do damage: other goals are important and the central focus must always be on patients. 

In some instances……clear warning signals abounded and were not heeded, especially the voices of patients and carers. 

Fear is toxic to both safety and improvement.

In the vast majority of cases it is the systems, procedures, conditions, environment and constraints that the NHS staff faced that led to patient safety.

As I read these words my experience working in and consulting with many businesses comes to mind. And I say that these sage words apply equally insightfully to the world of business.

I draw your attention to the assertion “Incorrect priorities do damage”.  And the recommendation that “the central focus must always be on patients.” Now I ask you, is the central focus of your organisation on the needs/concerns of your customers?  And how do the real priorities of your organisation match the talk about customer focus and customer experience?  Is there a big gulf?  That has been the case with the NHS for many years now. The Tops speak the right words, their actions have not been alignment with their words.

What are the recommendations? 

Recognise with clarity and courage the need for wide systemic change.

Abandon blame as tool and trust the goodwill and good intentions of the staff.

Make sure pride and joy in work, not fear, infuse the NHS.

Reassert the primacy of working with patients and carers to achieve healthcare goals.

Use quantitative targets with caution. Such goals do have an important role en route to progress, but should never displace the primary goal of better care.

Recognise the transparency is essential and expect and insist on it.

Let’s rewrite that for business and private sector organisations which genuinely want to excel at the Customer Experience game:

Recognise with clarity and courage the need for wide systemic change if you are to orchestrate and deliver experiences that work for customers and call forth their loyalty.

Abandon blame as tool and trust the goodwill and good intentions of your staff. 

Make sure pride and joy in work, not fear, infuse your workplace even the call-centres. 

Prioritise working with your customers and customer facing staff to achieve your business goals.

Use quantitative targets – like first call resolution, AHT, NPS etc.- with caution. Such goals do have an important role en route to progress, but should never displace the primary goal of taking care of your customers. 

Recognise the transparency is essential and expect and insist on it.

Summing up

Excellence in customer experience is no easy matter for most organisations. What is required is courageous leadership and wide systemic change that involves the entire organisation. It is easy to work on the people. And it is also stupid because organisational performance is driven by the priorities, structure, systems, processes and practices that exist and are maintained by the Tops.

How much VoC work-investment-feedback will it take for your organisation to get off its backside and act?  Honestly, how much of VoC is really eye opening as opposed to already known within the organisation?

Customer Service, Customer Experience, Customer-Centricity: Just Fluff?

Is Customer Experience just fluff?

Is all this talk of customer service, customer-centricity and customer experience merely fluff? That is the question that someone put to me recently. Allow me to answer that question from a practical perspective – lived experience at the coal face.

Imagine you are in this situation

Imagine that you review your Top 10 accounts and find that one of these accounts has been one of your longest  customers. And this customer makes up a significant portion of your revenues and profits.  You are grateful for the contribution that this customer makes to your business. And you have a problem to deal with and a decision to make.

Looking into this customer it occurs to you that if you can persuade this customer to move from their existing solution to one of your latest solutions you can cut the customer’s monthly bill by half.  The cost of doing this is obvious: substantial loss in revenue and profitability. The benefit?  There is no obvious benefit.  So the question is what to do? Should you leave the situation as it is and hope for the best? Or do you choose to contact the customer and spell out how the customer can save money?

Being unsure about what to do you consult with your customer strategy consultant. Together you look more deeply at the situation and you come up with following:

1. The customer got a significant saving when the customer switched to your business many years ago. Since then the market has changed mainly through new technology that has made available lower cost solutions.

2. The customer has not complained nor asked you to come in and give advice on how to save costs or help decide which solution best meets the customer’s needs.

3. The customer is ‘out of contract’ and has been for sometime now. You are not sure that the customer even knows that this is the case.

4. Another supplier could approach this customer and offer to cut the customer’s costs by half. If that were to happen then you might lose this customer. Or you might have to re-bid for the business to keep it.

5. Right now your business needs as much revenue and profit as it can produce. And talking to this customer and offering a solution that cuts billings by 50% does not show up as smart.  You are not sure the Finance Director will support such a move.

What choice would you make?

Given this information, what is the smart thing to do? What is the right thing to do? What would you do if you were the CEO of this business?

Are you tempted to continue just as you are?  Are you tempted to let things be? Are you tempted to take the least risky route?  Are you tempted to do that which shows up as being the least hassle, and the most comfortable course of action?

Would you say to yourself something like “Now is not a good time to make revenue and profit sacrifices. Besides the customer is responsible for looking after his own interest and finding the best solution for his needs. In any case the customer has not made any complaints or asked for any price reductions which means that the customer is happy. It’s best to leave things as they are. I am sure that we can match the offer any other supplier makes. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”?

Context-structure drives behaviour: why there is plenty of talk and little real action

Now you know how it is that there is so much talk about customer-centricity, customer relationships, customer experience, customer service, and customer obsession and so little real-effective action. Now you know what Robert Fritz is pointing at when he says “Structure drives behaviour”. Put differently, we are always embedded in a specific context-situation and this context-situation has powerful impact on the choices we make. To go against the prevailing context-situation requires profound courage especially when you have taken over and are running a sound established business. You do not want to be the one that fails and is ridiculed, the one that loses his reputation, his status.

Please note that rather than blame people – Tops, Middles, Bottoms – it is more ‘profitable’ to look at the context-situation that is shaping the behaviour of Tops, Middles, and Bottoms. And it is true that Tops have more leverage over influencing-shaping changes, even transforming, the context-situation and thus enabling breakthroughs in performance.

The critical importance of courage: daring to be different, to take the road less travelled

Some do put courage into the game of business and life. They are the ones, if successful, build great companies. Look behind the scenes of customer experience exemplars (John Lewis, USAA, Amazon, Zappos, Apple, Zane’s Cycles) and you will find one or more people that went against the taken for granted rules of the game.

Shiny Objects and Stupid Practices Won’t Make You a Customer Loyalty Leader

Imagine coming across a car that grabs your attention – in particular you are taken with the handling and performance of the car.  So you take a look at this car and identify the features that contribute to or help shape the performance of this car.  Having done so, you set about adding those features – bigger tyres, different exhaust system, different engine – to your car. How likely is it that you car will generate the kind of performance that you are after?  How likely is it that your car won’t even start and if it does the performance will be less than it was before you added the ‘shiny objects’?

Given that so few of us would be this stupid in the domain of cars why is it that so many are this stupid when it comes to the organisational domain?  Why is it that so many organisational people take ‘shiny objects’ or ‘best practices’ and start adding them to their organisation in the expectation that they will replicate the success of high performing organisations?

Can you take this cherry picking approach to Customer Experience and customer loyalty? Can you just tack on a veneer of Customer Experience to your organisation and thus cultivate customer loyalty? Can you tack some Customer Experience ‘shiny objects’ (almost always these involve technology) and ‘best practices’, here and there in your organisation, and reap the benefits that come with a loyal customer base?  No!

I want to take you back to 1993 and the wise word of Frederick Reichheld:

Building a highly loyal customer base cannot be done as an add-on. It must be integral to a company’s basic business strategy. Loyalty leaders like MBNA are successful because they have designed their entire business systems around customer loyalty. They recognize that customer loyalty is earned by consistently delivering superior value ….. Designing and managing this self-reinforcing system is the key to achieving outstanding customer loyalty.

When a company consistently delivers superior value and wins customer loyalty, market share and revenues go up, and the cost of acquiring and serving customers goes down. Although the additional profits allow the company to invest in new activities that enhance value and increase the appeal to customers, strengthening loyalty generally is not a matter of simply cutting prices or adding product features. The better economics mean the company can pay workers better, which sets off a whole chain of events. Increased pay boosts employee morale and commitment; as employees stay longer, their productivity rises and training costs fall; employees’ overall job satisfaction, combined with their knowledge and experience, leads to better service to customers; customers are then more inclined to stay loyal to the company; and as the best customers and employees become part of the loyalty- based system, competitors are inevitably left to survive with less desirable customers and less talented employees.

Does Your Business Emanate the Warmth of a Cool Fluorescent Light?

I recently read Setting The Table by Danny Meyer. This book shows up for me as inspiring, useful and entertaining. In this post I want to share with you a few passages from this book and my thoughts on these passages. In the process I question the value-power of Customer Experience.

What gave rise to Danny’s way of showing up in the world?

In France we usually stayed in low-key, family run inns where the welcome felt loving and the gastronomy was exceptional.  Those trips left a lasting impression. The hug that came with the food made it taste even better! That realisation would gradually evolve into my own well-define business strategy……..

Take a look at your business, your organisation and ask yourself whether your welcome occurs as loving and your ‘product’ as exceptional as experienced by your customers. How did you fare? I say many, if not most organisations, have huge room for improvement here.

Does genuine customer-centricity lie at the heart of Danny Meyer’s business strategy?

The heart of Danny Meyer’s business strategy is being on the customers’ side. Here is how he puts it:

Hospitality is the foundation of my business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side……. Hospitality is present when something happens for your. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions for and to – express it all.

I invite you to take a look at the policies and practices of your organisation and assess how your organisation rates on the for and to dimensions. If your organisation is like the multitude of organisations you are likely to find that your organisation is not hospitable. Put differently, you are likely to find many instance of to and few of for if you look at your organisation through your customers’ eyes.

Is there power in distinguishing between hospitality and service?

When we make new distinctions new worlds of possibility open up for us. Danny Meyer has generated such a distinction and living it has been the source of his success.

Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of the product makes its recipients feel…… To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.

My question for you is this, has your organisation invented new distinctions that open up new possibilities? Or are you stuck in the taken for granted and common distinctions of your industry?  I say that everything starts with inventing new distinctions. Lets take the area of customer service. What happens when you invention the distinction ‘customer love’ and contrast it with ‘customer service’? Notice ‘customer love’ cannot be collapsed into ‘customer service’. Why? Something new-fresh is born with ‘customer love’.  The distinction ‘customer love’ calls forth a very different way of being-showing up in the world to ‘customer service’.

Incidentally, I say that there is no power, no vitality, no freshness, and no possibility in the distinction ‘Customer Experience’. This distinction has been made empty and meaningless by the way that it has been embraced. I’ll let you chew on that and get back to me if you disagree.

Do most businesses delivery plenty of light but no warmth? 

I love the way that Danny Meyer uses concrete metaphors to make instructive points.  Here is one that is particularly valuable and in line with the lamentations of Colin Shaw:

Imagine if every business were a lightbulb and that for each lightbulb the primary goal was to attract the most moths possible. Now what if you learned that 49% of the reason moths were attracted to the bulb was for the quality of its light (brightness being the task of the bulb) and that 51% of the attraction was to the warmth projected by the bulb (heat being connected with the feeling of the bulb).

Its remarkable to me how many businesses shine brightly when it comes to acing the tasks but emanate all the warmth of a cool fluorescent light. That explains how a flawless four-star restaurant can actually attract far fewer loyal fans than a two or three star place with soul.

How does your organisation fare on the light-warmth scale?  And in your Customer Experience efforts are your  business cases and people focussed on improving the light or the warmth?  From what I have seen, and what Colin says, it occurs to me that the bulk of Customer Experience efforts are focussed on the light.

Does your organisation lack soul?

It occurs to me that the distinction ‘with soul’ is worth savouring. I invite you to ask yourself how many businesses show up in your experience as showing up ‘with soul’?  When was the last time you experienced a product ‘with soul’? Or the last time you were served ‘with soul’? What about the last time you came across marketing literature ‘with soul’? When was the last time you came across a salesperson ‘with soul’?

I say that most workplaces and most brands lack soul. And the challenge is for these organisations to put soul back into workplaces and brands. It occurs to me that even that is not enough. It occurs to me that the true challenge is for us to show up ‘with soul’ each and every day and collectively put soul back into the game of business.  What do you say?

Are These the 7 Key Difference Between Effective and Ineffective Leaders?

In light of my experience and the continuing scandals – NSA/Prism and Lloyds PPI complaint handling – I have been reflecting-grappling with the leadership, accountability, and integrity. As such I wish to share with you my  take on the seven key differences between effective and ineffective leaders.

1. Effective leaders are clear on what matters, communicate what matters, and model the desired values and behaviours. Ineffective leaders are either not clear on what matters or simply not able to able-willing to rule some stuff out. Ineffective leaders suck at communicating what matters. And they don’t live-model-embody the fine sounding values, beliefs, and behaviours that they talk about.

2. Effective leaders name and insist on dealing with the most important issues no matter how unpleasant these issues are. Ineffective leaders find all kinds of reasons and excuses for not dealing with the real issues and instead spend their time on what they are comfortable with.

3. Effective leaders focus on getting a rounded-realistic-fact based picture of reality. And as such they give real thought to who needs to take part in the conversation, and how to create a context that calls forth the ‘truth of each participant’.  Please note that feelings are facts! Ineffective leaders are drunk on their own importance and thus push their views, their agenda, on to the favoured few that they invite to the conversation.

4. Effective leaders deal with the thorny issues in a way that tends to build the self-esteem, confidence, learning, and goodwill of their people. Ineffective leaders issue orders, discount the concerns-views of their people, and make threats thus rupture one of the most critical pillars of an effective organisation: relationship and emotional affinity and loyalty.

5. Effective leaders think about the well-being of the wider system – all stakeholders inside and outside the business.  Ineffective leaders focus on what matters to them and their favoured constituency.

6. Effective leaders first hold themselves accountable. And by doing so they create the powerful access to holding their people accountable. Ineffective leaders hold others to account but not themselves. And sometimes they don’t even hold others accountable for fear of being confronted with their own lack of accountability.

7. Effective leaders get the critical importance of integrity. As such they put in place powerful ‘instruments’ that will: detect any ‘out of integrity’ ways of showing up in the world; and call the effective leader to get back into integrity quickly and clean up any mess s/he has made. Ineffective leaders don’t get that integrity is essential to ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ and as such there is little fit between what they say and what they do.  For ineffective leaders, integrity is optional.

How does this resonate with your experience? Please note the word ‘experience’ and specifically the phrase ‘your experience’.