Is This The Answer to Collaboration, Creativity, and Innovation?

I met up with a ex-colleague today who is passionate about customers, about service, and about the customer experience. He showed me the NPS charts and figures and lamented that so little real change is occurring in the organisation and so the NPS scores are static. He even went to a call-centre, sat with call-centre agents, and observed them responding to customer calls.

What did he notice? He noticed that these agents were not picking up on the customer’s emotional state and responding creatively to generate a meaningful connection. They were too busy on the task of working many screens-systems, finding information, and relaying this information to customers.  He noticed that the call-centre agents were going about their customer conversations (and work) in a robotic way. I detected a hint of complaint towards the call-centre agents.

This got me thinking about organisations and work places. In my 20+ years of experiences I have worked with-for many organisations and I have noticed that most organisations are dead. Only a handful of organisational environments are alive. I have also noticed that robotic behaviour and dead organisations go together. Have you noticed that when people finish work and leave the building they sigh with relief – relief that they are out of prison. Have you experienced the same?

I ask you how likely is it that collaboration will show up in dead organisational environments? How likely is it that creativity and innovation will show up? How likely is it that the people working in dead organisational environments will show up in a way that leaves customers feeling happy?

Which begs the question, how do we turn dead organisations into alive organisations where empathy, collaboration, connection, creativity and innovation flourish?  I have noticed the there are plenty of people providing answers to collaboration, creativity, innovation and employee engagement. There are all kinds of tip, tricks, techniques and frameworks – some simple, most complex. If they worked then collaboration, creativity, innovation and employee engagement would be flourishing; the tips, tricks, techniques, and frameworks have been around for a long time.

So what is the answer to this riddle? How do we turn dead organisations to organisations that are alive with empathy, with collaboration, with creativity and innovation? I share with you a profound insight, from a radical thinker, that gets to the heart of the matter:

People who are without creativity build dead organisations.

– Krishnamurti

 

Customer Experience in the UK: what is really going on?

What’s really going on the UK contact-centre industry?

Yesterday, I met up with a friend who works in the VoC and contact-centre space and we discussed the whole customer thing.  This is what showed up for me in our conversation:

– There has been a huge surge in people with Customer Experience titles. And mostly it is people in contact-centres taking on these titles.

– The customer experience is not the fundamental driver of how contact-centres operate.  The contact-centre industry is permeated through and through by a focus on processing transactions (calls) as cheaply as possible. This was so before Customer Experience titles became fashionable and it is still the case.

– Whilst some brave souls in the contact-centre industry (like my friend) are up for and focus on the customer experience in contact-centres.  The big outsourced contact-centre providers who dominate the industry are focussed on bums-on-seats, costs and meeting their transactional SLA.  They have no listening for customer experience.

– VoC has become the new black, just about everyone is doing it.  And there is big question mark over the value of this given the lack of genuine passion for the customer and the customer experience in the organisation.

– There is a lot of talk about social customer service and the reality is that very little is going on.  There is a tsunami of calls coming in from customers and only a trickle of contacts through social. This works for the people in the business because they are terrified of social and its impact on the carefully scripted brand image and messages.

Customer Experience: what is the cause of the gulf between the words and the reality?

What is going on here?  Why is there such a big difference between the words and the reality?  Why is it that whilst the words have changed from CRM to CEM, the indifference to building emotional bonds with customers continues?  Is it a lack of understanding?  Are people in business simply ignorant and so they need more education from the likes of customer experience gurus?

My passion is the being of human beings especially how we show up in groups and organisational settings.  And what it takes for us to shift our being-doing.  So allow me to share a story with you that I say sheds light on what is going on.

A holy man was meditating beneath a tree at the crossing of two roads. His meditation was interrupted by a young man running frantically down the road toward him.

“Help me,” the young man pleaded. “A man has wrongly accused me of stealing.  He is pursuing me with a great crowd of people. If they catch me, they will chop off my hands!”

The young man climbed the tree beneath which he sage had been meditating and hid himself in the branches. “Please don’t tell them where I am hiding,” he begged.

The holy man saw with the clear vision of a saint that the young man was telling the truth.  The lad was not a thief.  A few minutes later, the crowd of villagers approached, and leader asked, “Have you seen a young man run by here?”

Many years earlier, the holy man had taken a vow to always speak the truth, so he said that he had.  “Where did he go?” the leader asked.

The holy man did not want to betray the innocent young man, but his vow was sacred to him. He pointed up into the tree. The villagers dragged the young man out of the tree and chopped off his hands.

I say that a shift to an authentic customer orientation, one where the focus of the company is to come up with value propositions and customer experiences, that enrich the lives of their customers (and all the people who have to play their part in making this happen) requires transformational change.  It requires a complete break with the past and operating from a radically different context. It is the kind of break that the caterpillar makes in order to show up as a butterfly.  And that is a big ask for almost all of us especially large companies that are doing ok.

Transforming the Customer Services Function (Part I)

What is missing in most organisations? Genuine insight

Walk along the corridors of business for 25+ years, usually as an ‘outsider’, and you are likely to get that genuine insight is rare.  I know this sounds outlandish and I say it again: contextual-deep-actionable insight is rare.  Coming across such insight is like coming across gold on the streets of London or coming across genuine thought leadership in an ocean of content.

Yes, almost everyone has opinion.  More accurately opinion has its tentacles into just about everyone in the organisation.  Or is it prejudice based on one’s station in the organisation? Whether we call it opinion or prejudice, it is a clever fellow.  Why? It disguises itself as fact – what is so, what is obvious to anyone smart enough to see it.  Which people are the ones that are most gripped by opinion, prejudice, tradition masquerading as fact/truth?  The people who are the most isolated from the world – the ones whose hands are not dirty in the doing of the work of the organisation.  The people who do not: speak with customers, interact with customers, listen to customers, serve customers…

Yes, in largish organisations there are plenty of reports and documents.  These documents tend to have lots of numbers and some of lots of graphs and other striking visuals. Almost always these documents assert authoritative sounding views on the world.  I have looked at them closely and many times found them wanting.  The trouble usually starts when I start asking questions like, “What is the basis of this number or assertion?” and start digging for answers.

No, genuine penetrating insight is about as common as an honest politician or genuine thought leadership in an ocean of content.  What kind of insight am I talking about?  Insight into customers and their lives.  Insight into the way the organisation works and how it impacts the customer’s experience of the organisation.  Insight into competitors.  The kind of insight that one needs to develop strategies to improve the relevance – in the lives of customers – and performance of the organisation.

Using the Customer Services function as a source of insight

When I am looking to get a richer understanding of customers and the organisation where do I head to?  I head to the Customer Services team which usually means the call-centre.  What do I do there?  Do I look at call-centre reports?  Yes, but not straight away.  Do I dive into the call-centre systems where call centre agents make notes and classify calls? Almost never.  Why?  The coding is ambiguous at best, downright misleading often.  And the notes are written in a secret code – it is one way the call-centre agents make their targets, time to close the call targets.

Almost always I head to the call centre put on a headpiece and listen to calls.  Why?  Because I am listening to real flesh and blood customers.  And by immersing myself in this listening I get access to rich insight.  Insight into what?

Insight into customers.  Their circumstances, their lives, their hopes, their concerns, their fears, their orientation/attitude/stance/affiliation towards the company, what they are hiring the companies products for. And, insight to their unmet needs.

Insight into the organisation itself and its impact on customers. I get access to: which products are failing which customers and how exactly they are failing; which automated touchpoints are not working and how exactly they are not working; which policies and practices are leaving customer frustrated, angry, or delighted; which functions – Marketing, Sales, Logistics etc – are the cause of pain or delight in customer lives; and  what it is that these functions are doing, or not doing, that leaves customers angry, frustrated, disappointed, indifferent or delighted.

Insight into competitors.  Customers interact with competitors and if you listen to what they are saying along with asking the right questions you can get access to what competitors are up to and how they are perceived by your customers.

Insight into the true level and nature of complaints. Most customer complaints never get recorded as complaints.  When I listen into calls I get present to three aspects of complaints. First, the volume of complaints is much higher than what the official figures shows. Second, the causes of complaints are broader than what shows up in the official complaint logs.  Three, the root causes of complaints are not necessarily the same as what would show up if I looked at the complaint logs and talked with the complaints team.

The title of this post suggests that I will disclose to you the secret to transforming the Customer Service function. And I have focussed on insight. What is going on here?

One access to transforming the Customer Service function is to turn it into a fee charging internal research agency / consultancy.  A consultancy that provides valuable insight to various constituencies – Strategy, Marketing, Sales, Product Development, Operations – and charges market rates for these insights.

This is not the only access to transforming the Customer Services function.  I will share the others with you in the follow up post – Part II of this series will be coming forth soon.

Bad customer experience: power to the people?

This is a guest post from Karl Indigne – a marketing professional that specialises in services marketing.

We have a choice, we can do something to effect change

Thanks to social media, you and I, can have an impact on bad customer service.  I agree, it can take a while, before things actually change in a structural way. But we have a choice, we don’t have to stay indifferent, we can do something to effect change.  We all know, it is not always the people that “help” us that are the problem. It is more like the procedures of the company and lack of good alternatives. But sometimes, somebody stands up and than it is not just a company that responds, but a society. Youp van’t Hek is a well known Dutch comedian and he almost, accidentally,  initiated a crusade against bad customer service.  The story starts in Holland in October 2010.

T-Mobile angers the wrong person

van’t Hek Junior (“vKJunior”) the son of Youp, has his mobile phone stolen. So he goes out and buys a new phone signing up to a new long term contract with T-Mobile. This new phone breaks and he sends it to be repaired; he was paying an additional monthly insurance to cover these kind of events.  vKJunior does not get his phone back.  So after a few weeks vKJunior rings the T-Mobile call centre to find out when he is likely to get his phone back.  After a long wait (several hours) he learns that T-Mobile couldn’t repair it and they will not replace it nor pay for vKJunior to buy a replacement.   Why?  Because the mobile phone they have on the system is vKJ’s old phone – the one that had been stolen.  He goes to the store (where he bought the phone) and asks for help – they say they cannot help.  He rings the call centre (again)….  At some point the call centre agent tells him to write into the company and make a complaint if he is not happy with the situation.   All of this takes place over a period of several months and is rather messy – I have given you the simple version.

Eventually, the son calls his dad (Youp) and asks for his help.  Youp, who is preparing for a show in Flanders, calls T-Mobile in an angry mood and asks to speak to the manager in charge of the call centre. They call centre agent refuses – the company policy states that they can’t put through angry customers . In a rage, Youp tweets: “The terror of T-Mobile is funny. For every mistake they apologize and they refer you to the customer service. Wait time 4 hours…” Minutes after his tweet he gets a call by a guy from T-Mobile, with a melodious voice, who wants to settle the matter. This manager tells Youp that vKJ (the son) can get a replacement phone, immediately, from the store. The son flies to the store, gets his replacement and thanks his dad.

The T-Mobile voice calls Youp back to ask if everything is ok now. Youp is furious. “Why can’t you treat all of your customers like this? Why is it that I, who happens to be famous, can settle such a matter so quickly”. He keeps on tweeting, gains 5.000 new followers and hits the news – national television and newspapers cover the story. People start complaining about all kinds of bad customer service especially in the areas of telecoms and energy in the Netherlands. And this spreads to Belgium – the country which shares a border, language and culture with The Netherlands.

“Hello, is it me you are looking for?”

In Belgium, Radio 1 (a national Flemish Radio Station), starts a program inviting people to talk about their bad experiences with call centres. Now, two nations are talking about the subject. Why are customers treated that way? Are call centre employees trained to embarrass customers? Why does the sales story seems like a fairytale and the customer service so awful? Shouldn’t advertising have some truth in it?

Some Belgian comedians play a practical joke. They have a large lorry size container dropped in front of the Mobistar (a Belgian Mobile Operator) car park in the early hours of the morning.  Result: the employees arriving for work cannot get into the car park.   On the outside of the container is a contact number -put there deliberately by the comedians. The security officer of Mobistar calls that number to get the container removed.  Call after call the comedians take the calls, invent excuses, stall, give the security guard the run around, hang up on him and so forth.  In total they stall him for 3 hours and 20 minutes.  Every time the security guard rings they put him on hold and play Lionel Ritchie’s”Hello, is it me you’re looking for”.  You can watch the joke being played here (English subtitles!) – it is funny!  By the way, the guard was congratulated because he stayed calm and polite despite the run around he was given call after call.

Eventually, the Belgian Federal Minister urges companies to do something about the matter. He finds it unacceptable that too much time is lost before getting to speak to a real person. In June 2011 the companies with the largest contact centres in Belgium signed up to a charter: to limit the waiting time to 2,5 minutes and to use a minimum service level. It is not a law, it is an intention.

 Conclusions

Consumers have more power than ever before, a complaint can go viral now, but the transition from bad service to good customer service does not happen overnight.

As a marketer it strikes me that it is very hard to break through silos within a company and put the customer experience first.  In the case of Telecom operators, most customers only have a choice between bad and worse. Consumers have long term contracts, companies are organized in a specific way.

Is improving the service at the contact centre level enough? In my opinion, the issue of good service is too focussed on the management of contact centres.  For example, why can’t the mobile operators select the right, best, call plan for me?  The giffgaff example on this blog, shows the advantage of a more holistic approach.  My point is this: the customer experience goes far beyond the contact centre only – it is the whole chain of the service across all touchpoints on the customer journey.

The core of the problem is that call centres are too often considered as a cost. The whole telecom industry is managed by the same mantra. This means that contact centres have to work efficient and should process a number of calls within a specific timeframe, I’m afraid we have to wait for new entrants to the market… or keep shouting it out on social media.

Final words

In his book Delivering Happiness, Tony Shieh, CEO of legendary Zappos, explains that for them logistics management and the call centre are considered as the core competences of the business. The call centre doesn’t use any script. They are trained to make people happy on the phone by helping them, even if that means they have to refer a customer to a competitor. And that message goes viral too.

How do you transform customer service? 7 lessons from Undercover Boss: npower

npower is supplies gas and/or electricity to some 6.5 million residential and business customers based in the UK.  It is a well know brand.  It is also a brand that is known for over charging customers and is facing fines of up to £2m if it does not comply with Ofcom’s order to stop silent and abandoned calls.  And according to the Undercover Boss that I watched this evening it has (or had) the worst customer satisfaction score according to Which?

In this post I simply want to share with you the stuff that struck me as being noteworthy as a result of yesterdays Undercover Boss programme that was shown on UK tv.

“Perfect for getting that insight that I just would not have seen in any other way”

Kevin McCullough, the COO of npower, who went undercover to work in and experience some of the key customer touchpoints (call centre, replacing meters, boiler services) and work in one of the coal-fired power stations made the following statement at the end of undercover stint: “This has been perfect for getting that insight that I just would not have seen in any other way”.

This is key insight and one that is not acted upon by most executives for most of the time.  Data and reports can be useful if they are used correctly yet too often they are used incorrectly.  Take the instance where Kevin accidentally deleted the customer record.  How would that experience be captured in a report?  That experience had the impact that it did have because Kevin experienced it – he lived it: he did not simply read about. What is likely to have happened if he had read about it?  It would probably have gone through one ear and immediately out of the other ear.  It might even have been coated with a particular attitude: people in the call centre whining again / they just don’t know how to use the system.

Lesson 1:  there is no substitute for walking in the shoes of your employees and customers.  Data and reports can be used to complement that experience yet they can never replace it.  Looking at the world of the customer and the employee simply through the data lens is like trying to capture a 360 panoramic view with a 35mm lens.  If you are a photographer you know exactly what I mean.

“Human element to it all”

When Kevin, the COO, was talking about decision making in Head Office and specifically about when the management team will close the coal fired power stations he because made the statement that the senior management tend to forget that there is “a human element to it all”.  Business is game between people: a game between flesh and blood human beings who have hopes, ambitions, fears, hardships, frustrations…..  And if organisations are going to be customer-centred or simply customer-friendly then these senior executives and all the managers who report into them need to get (at an experiential level) that customers are human beings.  And their staff – front office and back office – are human beings too.  Why?

If you fail to take into account this simple fact then you tend to do all kinds of dumb stuff like treating human beings as objects.  And this has consequences.  It means that most employees do the minimum they need to do.  It also means that customers do not feel any connection with the company because connection is an emotional bond.  And that is the very thing that executives are not present to because they live in a world of  ‘management by Excel’ where emotions are forbidden.

Lesson 2: the ‘age of the customer’ is the age of ‘human centred business’ – they are one and the same.  If you don’t  get that or that fills you with dread then you are better of playing a different game perhaps cost reduction or the next killer product.

“Impressed by the people”

In summing up his undercover experience the npower COO said that he was “Impressed by the people”.  He was impressed by the lady in the Complaints dept that was getting one call after another, day after day, from upset and emotionally charged customers.  Let me blunt – many of the customers are frustrated and angry and the dump that on the call centre staff.  You and I struggle if one person dumps on us.  Yet the Complaints folks experience endless dumping. Yet they are not responsible and in fact can only do so much to fix the problem.

Lesson 3: most employees want to do a good job even a great job – they want to matter, to make a difference.  If your employees are not doing that then take a good hard look at the management style and environment you have created.  Behaviour is a function of the context in which people are embedded.  And the strongest influence on that context is management style. Deming made this point brilliantly when he separated the performance of the worker from the structure of the system in which the worker worked.

Lesson 4: most failures in performance are the failures of senior management not employees.  As the npower COO said “I have seen it, I have lived it. It is my job to put anything wrong right.”  So stop looking toward customer facing staff as convenient scapegoats and take a good hard look at management practices and their impact on employees and customers.

“Most customers need a hero”

The npower chap who was replacing old meters with new meters made a great statement “Most customers need a hero”.  Most of us most of the time take our world for granted: it is a black box and that is fine because it works.  However when it does breakdown then we not only experience the breakdown as a disruption we also experience being powerless.  That puts us in a vulnerable position and we look for help: we look for a hero.

Lesson 5: most executive suites, despite the customer rhetoric, do not get (or do not care) that when customers are ringing customer service or waiting for the field service guys to arrive are looking for a hero – a competent and compassionate human being that will help them out with their problem so that the ‘glitch in the matrix’ can be fixed and everyday life restored.  Oddly enough, many employees on the front line do get that – at least before they reach the stage of ‘learned helplessness’.

Call centres are a key touchpoint and ‘failure’ is built into these call centres

The lady in Complaints (call centre) made three interesting comments.  Firstly, that one experienced (knowledgeable) person is worth hundreds of novices.  Second, that one of the most frustrating things for her was knowing what needed to be done to fix customer problems but not having the authority to do so.  Third, the customer care IT system had a glitch – badly designed.

This fits in with my experience.  Most call centres are staffed with people who have the absolute bare minimum knowledge/expertise.  Companies pay the bare minimum and there is a high turnover of staff.  Because there is a high turnover of staff call centre management do not invest in training.  After all why invest if the agents will be leaving you.  Furthermore classroom based training is not enough – most of the knowledge and skills you need come from on the job experience and you can only get that if you stay there long enough and many don’t.       The systems that call centre agents have to use are inadequate at best and woeful at worst.  In any case they are often a hindrance rather than help to the time pressed call centre agent who is being monitored on AHT.  Finally, you would be amazed at how much the call centre agents actually have on what matters to customers and what stuff is broken in the enterprise – from a customer perspective.  Yet, this knowledge is rarely tapped by the senior management suite.

Lesson 6: if you really want to improve the customer experience then take a radical look at one of your critical touchpoints – the call centre.  Don’t change what you are doing instead completely rethink and transform this focal touchpoint. 

Unrealistic performance targets

One of the points that became clear was that the boiler service guys were given some 45 minutes to do the job.  Yet even a simple job took over an hour.  Furthermore, travelling a distance of some two miles could take well over an hour due to the London traffic.  Yet, this reality clearly had not been factored in by the managers who had set up the 45 minute performance target.

Over 20+ years have experience have taught me that the vast majority of performance targets are ‘pie in the sky’ or ‘aspirational’ – choose whichever term you like.  The reality is the same: people who have to live with these targets either ignore them like the field engineer was doing as he was putting quality and safety first or people game the system.  When customer facing staff game the system then the person that suffers is the customer and if he is like me then he terminates the contract and looks for another supplier: The curse of the functional-activity-efficiency mindset: my British Gas experience

Lesson 7: the functional-efficiency orientated metrics are one of the key drivers of poor customer experience.  There is world of difference between efficiency and effectiveness: too many performance metrics drive efficiency (doing things right) and in the process drive out effectiveness (doing things right).  The impact is felt by the customer and incentivizes him to find another supplier – one that cares (more) about the customer.