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’.

 

Why Not Treat Customers, Employees and Suppliers Badly?

We are not here merely to earn a living and to create value for our shareholders. We are here to enrich the world and make it a finer place to live. We will impoverish ourselves if we fail to do so.

– Woodrow Wilson

I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating customers right are based on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating employees right are based ultimately on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating suppliers right are either missing or when present are also justified on the basis of the impact on revenues and profits.

If we justify action on the basis of revenue and profit then surely it is OK to treat:

  • customers badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
  • employees badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
  • suppliers badly if that will lead to higher revenues, profits or cash-flow?
  • the wider community badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?

If you are a customer how much trust do you put in a company if it treating you well as a means of harvesting high profits? As an employee how much trust do you put in a company that treats you well only because it expects to maximise profits?  You get the idea.

One more point to consider, what was the source of the corporate scandals and the financial crisis of 2008? Was it not the pursuit of revenue, profit and bonus maximisation irrespective of the consequences falling on others?

Is there any other basis, other than revenue and profit maximisation, for treating our fellow human beings well?   I say let’s stop for a moment and listen to the words of Srikumar S. Rao in his book Are You Ready to Succeed?

What a sorry pass we have come to when simple decent behaviour has to be “justified” in terms of some other benefit. What happens if behaving without integrity can get you growth and unparalleled profit?

… you treat the customer right because that is how you like to be treated. You treat your employees well because that is the proper thing to do. You behave with integrity because that is an expression of who and what you are. These are the givens. You DO NOT have to justify or explain or rationalise any of it.

…. if you attempt to link your values with external measures like profit, you cheapen them and you discredit your actions.

As I look around, I cannot help but notice that that the companies which are heralded as exemplars of customer-centricity and employee engagement are not pursuing revenue and profit maximisation. Instead they are pursuing a purpose that calls to their customer and employees, treating people right, and harvesting the benefits in terms of productivity, innovation, engagement, loyalty and advocacy.

What do you say?

 

How Well Are You Positioned to Make The Shift to Being a “Customer Company”? Answer these 10 Questions to Find Out

It takes something to run a marathon.  It takes something to orient your organisation around the customer.  It takes something to be a “Customer Company”.  And it takes a lot more than technology or changing some processes here an there.

What does it takes to be a “Customer Company”?  It takes passion.  It takes steadfast commitment. This passion and commitment has to reside in the hearts of your senior management (“Tops”). And this passion and commitment has to be visible and experienced throughout your organisation.

Why does it take this level of passion and commitment from your Tops?  Because an authentic shift toward customer-centricity requires changes at multiple levels: priorities, policies, practices, processes, people, and platforms. This kind and scale of change only occurs when there is genuine passion, commitment and leadership from the people at the very top of your organisation.

How can you work out if the Tops in your organisation have this kind of passion and commitment to creating a “Customer Company”?  There are dreams. There are intentions. There are fine sounding words. And then there is how people show up in the world: their being and their doing. Which is my way of saying that you should pay attention to how people show up in the world, not what they say.  With that in mind, I propose that you ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do the Tops know how many customers we have gained over the last month, how many we have lost, and the impact on our business?

2. How much time and effort did the Tops expend last month serving our existing customers – in the stores, in the call-centres etc?

3. What actions have the Tops taken, over the last month, to walk in the shoes of our customers? Have they bought one of our products? Have they attempted to assemble-use our product? Have they called customer services to return a product? Have they read our marketing literature etc?

4. When was the last time the Tops called our customers to thank them and learn what enticed them to choose us over our competitors?

5. When was the last time the Tops rang up customers who have chosen to stop doing business with us to find out what caused them to leave us?  And what it will take to win them back?

6. When was the last time that the Tops met with a cross-section of our frontline people, individually and/or collectively, to get access to their experience and their thoughts on what is and is not working for them, for our customers? Is this type of meeting a regular event or a one-off?

7. Have the Tops ever been undercover to experience the reality of being on the frontline?

8. Do the Tops know how many of our frontline employees have left us, why, and the impact of this turnover on our customers, and our business?

9. How much time do the Tops devote per week, per month, per quarter on discussing what they have learned/experienced by talking with our customers, and our frontline employees?

10. What changes are the Tops making in terms of priorities, policies, practices, processes, people and platforms?

At Your Service and With My Love

This is personal post and a philosophical one. If you consider yourself a hard-headed business type focussed on the bottom line, nothing but the bottom line, then I suggest that you stop reading now.  If you are open minded then it is possible that this post will find a listening in you.  Let’s start.

Shopping with my mother

My mother is elderly.  She finds it hard to get up, she finds it hard to move about, she finds it exhausting to go up  stairs, she has to be careful coming down the stairs…. She needs help buying the weekly groceries.

This week, I was with my mother for a day and took her on her weekly shop to her favourite grocery store. Whilst there, I had to put patience into the game. Let her walk slowly, let her take her time.  Some of the products were to low for her so I bent down picked them up and let her touch them to see if they were good enough for her.  Her eyesight is not that good and she struggled to read the prices. So I read out the prices for her.

I also found myself protecting her. How exactly? There were many people in this small supermarket and they were in their own worlds: busy focussing on their tasks, rushing by, and oblivious to the needs of an old lady.  More than once I stood between my mother and someone’s trolley or brisk – shoving – walk.  Finally, we got to the cashiers till and stood in line.

An old man struggles with his shopping

There was an elderly man in front of us. His hand-held shopping basket was full. He found it hard to carry so he placed it on the floor while he waited for his turn. When his turn came  he bent down and started taking one item at a time from the basket and putting it on the conveyor belt. Just watching him I got his situation. I felt for him as one human being for another fellow human being.

So I walked up to him, looked him in the face, smiled and said “Allow me to help you with this!” Then I picked up his basket from the floor and placed the contents on the conveyor belt.  The old gentleman had a huge smile on his face whilst saying “Thank you!” Someone standing in the queue, came up to me and said “It’s great of you to help out this old man. This just does not happen anymore.”  I replied, “Thank you. I was brought up to help those who can do with help.  This is my mum, she’s the one that bought me up that way.”

Now here is what gets me: the cashier saw the old man’s struggle and did nothing; many others standing around queuing saw the old man’s struggle and did nothing.  Where is our humanity?  Have we disconnected from our empathy – our natural way of being?  Have we locked up our natural compassion and thrown away the key? Is all our talk about service, experience, relationship simply empty talk?

Some questions to consider about business, about our lives

I have a deeper questions for you, me, us.  What are our lives about?  What are our businesses about?  What are our organisations about?  What is our society about?  Is selfishness, greed, and money-making the best that we can aspire to?  Is “profit maximisation” the most noble purpose that we can aspire to? Is that how we want ourselves and our age to be remembered?

If business, if Customer Experience, is merely the pursuit of profit maximization then count me out.  I am not inspired by that game.  And, I doubt that many people in your organisation are inspired by that game. How many people do you know that get up in the morning fired up by the idea of filling the pocket of nameless-faceless shareholders with gold?

I yearn to live a noble life: to make a contribution; to generate connection and touch lives; to contribute to co-creating a world that shows up as a kinder world – a world that works for all.  How about you?  Are you happy with a life, a tombstone, that reads “Here lies X s/he did a great job of maximising profits for shareholders.”

If you find yourself called to life a noble life, like the one that I have described then I’d love to hear from you, to know you better, to connect with you, to work with you if that is a possibility.

At your service and with my love

Maz

(e: maz@maziqbal.com)

Is This The Fundamental Quality of Effective Leadership?

“I am not a human resource; I’m a human being.”

It occurs to me that there is no outside without an inside. It occurs to me that there is no hot without cold. It occurs to me that there is no high without low.

You might be wondering what my point is. My point is that there is no customer experience without an employee experience.  My point is that it is futile to strive for engagement with customers without striving to engage employees. My point is that it is pointless to strive for access to the Voice of the Customer and disregard the Voice of the Employee.

A couple of quotes that Bruce Temkin shared in his latest post, speak to me.  Quotes on the critical importance of treating employees as human beings. And engaging them in a worthy purpose. First, is a quote from a young worker. I say this quote goes to the heart of the matter when it comes to employee engagement and organisational effectiveness. Here is what this young worker says:

…give employees a voice… create a place where people want to shine… I’m not a human resource; I’m a human being.

It occurs to me that business is run as if it is manufacturing operation, or a game of chess. What is forgotten is that human beings are not chess pieces nor widgets. Human beings are conscious. Human beings are amazing With this exquisite complexity come complex needs.   And these needs go beyond mere survival and power over others.  These needs include a powerful need to have a voice, to be listened to, to matter, to be involved in something noble/worthy of a human life.

Does the prevailing management need to change?

What does Bruce Temkin have to say? He says that the prevailing approach to management must change.  Here are his words:

Rather than imposing layers of strict controls over employees in an attempt to ensure financial success, companies need to engage employees and reap the benefits. While this may seem like a subtle difference, it leads to a profoundly different approach to management—from controlling to leading.  Employees aren’t a fungible commodity that you burn through on the way to success, they are your critical assets.

A leadership parable

After 25 years in business, I am struck by this, in our organisations we pay little or no real attention to what really matters, what drives organisational effectiveness, what generates workability and enables high performance, what really makes the world wonderful for us.  I say the key quality of effective leadership is to listen for, hear, and act on what really matters.  Allow me to share this leadership parable with you, it was provided by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgine back in the 1990s.

The Sound of the Forest

Back in the third century A.D., the King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest. After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest.

When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already?

For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens. The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.”

And finally

I leave you with this quote from Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, a quote that Bruce Temkin shares in his post:

“If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.”

It occurs to me that this quote and the leadership parable point at the true nature of what constitutes a social orientation in business.  Social as in co-operating with one another, to get our human needs met, and co-creating a world that works for us all. What do you say?