Honda & Jaguar: customer experience, management and organisational effectiveness

There is a pervasive assumption that management (managers and the control oriented practices that they put in place) – is useful and necessary.  And that the issues to do with the customer experience and organisational effectiveness centre in the people who work in the organisation – the employees. The specific issue being that these ‘lowly employees’ have to ‘whipped into shape’ and once they are then all will be fine.  That is the assumption that I  challenge in this post.  I say management is the true root cause of poor customer experience and organisational ineffectiveness.  If that interests you then read on, if it doesn’t then go and do something that does – life is too short to do that which does not inspire you.

Why am I delighted to be in possession of my Honda Accord?

Trusted Honda AccordThis week I drove up to Preston (in a Jaguar) to take possession of this beauty.  It is a Honda Accord, it is 12 years old, it has done over 172,000 miles.  And it works marvellously; my latest annual service/MOT/repair bill came to £250.  OK, my brother is rather generous to me, so I’ll double it to £500.

Why is it that I love this car?  Because it works consistently.  Because it is easy to fix – just about any mechanic can fix it without specialist tools or diagnostic computers.  Because, my annual service/repair bill is around £250.

Put differently, in building this car Honda has put in technology that works.  And this is not the only car for which this applies.  I also drive a 1995 Honda Accord Estate which works perfectly, consistently!  And is easy/cheap to service.

Why is it that these ‘old’ Honda Accords work so well?  The simple answer is that Honda designed/built these Accords such that they work and as such are reliable.  Dive into it deeper and you will find that Honda put their time and effort in the technology and functioning of the car and not the look & feel.  Put differently, Honda put workability and performance before looks.  I find it interesting that Honda prides itself on its technology and that is what it emphasizes.  I also find it interesting that Honda cars are consistently at the top of reliability tables.

To sum up, I love this Honda Accord because it shows up as a trusted friend.  It does the job that I hire it to do: get me from A to B, reliably and with no fuss.  And, like a good friend it is low maintenance – it is easy/cheap to keep in good shape.  Which is why I have stuck with it for such a long time.  It also happens that this Honda Accord has a bigger-older-more powerful brother that shows up in exactly the same way.  And that is why I like the Honda brand: in my world Honda shows up as a company that makes cars that work, reliably and relatively cheaply.  True, driving a Honda does not confer status.  And that suits me just fine as I am not that into status.

Why was I happy to hand the Jaguar back?

For a little while I was driving a Jaguar.  At the start I loved driving it: it was more spacious, the driver’s seat showed up more comfortable, I could adjust the steering while such as to get a more comfortable driving position, my kids loved the look/feel of the car and truth be told it did grow on me…  Then this great customer experience fell off a cliff: from great to poor.  How/why?

I had just parked the Jaguar and switched off the engine whilst I waited for my son to return from the shops.  When he did, the Jaguar would not start.  Listening to the noise I was clear that there was nothing wrong with the battery.  And I knew that there could not be anything wrong with the spark plugs etc – because my brother had serviced it a week or so before.  I tried again, then again, then again.  The engine management light was on and the car just would not start!  So I called the AA out.  Half an hour later, I tried again and the Jaguar started perfectly.  And I cancelled the AA patrol.

Next day, it is the morning and I have somewhere to get to.  What happened?  The Jaguar didn’t start.   I waited a little while and tried again – no luck.  Forty minutes Vince from the AA turned up.  What happened?  He sat in the driver’s seat, turned the key and viola – the Jaguar started perfectly.  So Vince plugged in the diagnostics (as the engine management light was on) and there were some 7 faults.  He cleared 5 of them easily – something to do with some “software” in the engine management system being out of date.  That left two faults, which turned out to be the same fault – an O2 sensor playing up.  And Vince advised me to take the car in and get it sorted out.  Which is exactly what I did.

A day or so later I took possession of the ‘sorted out’ Jaguar – one without the engine management light on.  And the car started straight away and continue to work fine for several days.  It was the evening, I had to take my son to his Karate, and once again the Jaguar didn’t start.  The issue?  the engine management light!

The customer experience lesson is straight forward and I fear not sufficiently understood/grasped.  ‘Design’, as in the look and feel is great as long as it compliments the proper functioning of the ‘product’.  Why?  Because customers hire ‘products’ to do jobs.  Put differently, you don’t look cool nor have high status in a Jaguar if the damn thing does not start.  You show up as a fool – for yourself and for others!  Which is my way of saying that designing the customer experience starts with being clear about the core job/s that customers hire your product to do.  And ensuring that your product does those jobs.  That is the core of the customer experience.  That is the customer experience that drives advocacy and loyalty.  Everything else is a making it easy/fun for your customers to get to, learn about, experience and buy your ‘product’.  That matters but only as long as you have put forth a product that is worth getting to, learning about, experiencing and buying!

Lets, turn our attention to management, control and effectiveness

What can we learn about management from my experience with the Honda’s and the Jaguar?

Getting present to my experience it occurred to me that the Honda Accords I drive do not have sophisticated engine management systems (and the associated sensors) to monitor and control the functioning of the car.  What there is, is the ‘car itself’.  And Honda designed the ‘car itself’ to work by paying attention to the ‘technology’ that gives being to that car.  This attention is in the form of: using the right technology – that is robust/reliable over the longer term; and taking pains to ensure that the various technologies work together in harmony.  Given that, Honda did not need to put in place a sophisticated engine management system.  Put differently, and this is the key point: the Honda cars have less management.  They have (and need) less management because the ‘car itself’ was designed right – to work, to be reliable – to not need management!

Now compare that with Jaguar.  What is stopping the car from starting consistently?  Management in the form of the engine management system.  Look, there is not an issue in the ‘car itself’: when the engine management system lets the Jaguar start, the Jaguar starts and works perfectly – short and long distances.  My brother has confirmed that the ‘car itself’ is fine, it is the O2 sensor that is playing up and needs to be replaced.  Put differently, it is management itself (the engine management system) that is degrading workability and performance of the Jaguar.  I say that if Jaguar had focussed on the ‘car itself – designing it to be robust and reliable – then Jaguar would not have needed to put in such a sophisticated engine management system.  Which is my way of saying that Jaguar have taken the traditional short cut: too much reliance on control because of lack of ‘quality’ built into the design of the ‘car itself’.

Which brings me to the central point: stop focussing exclusively on the employees (‘the car itself’) and focus also on managers and management.  Put bluntly, the root cause of poor customer experience and poor organisational functioning is often the managers and the management practices that they enact.  Managers whose ‘map of the territory’ is mismatched with the territory that they put in place and enact practices that degrade the workability and performance of the organisation.  In the same way that the O2 sensor in the Jaguar provided a distorted ‘map of the territory’ to the engine management system which enacted a fault practice ‘stop the engine starting’.  I believe my thinking here is in alignment with Gary Hamel – the management ‘guru’ who says the biggest issues in organisations is management.

My next big point is this – and this goes with the former point as they complement/work together –  design your organisation so that it works without management control and oversight!   That is right.  Put in place a context that draws the right people to show up in your organisation and behave in the right way by themselves, of their own accord.  That is to say that the purpose and values are the music that call forth the right type of dance.  And signal to all when one or more people are dancing the wrong dance – a dance that does not fit the music.  If you have doubts I ask you this: does the CEO, the management team, have a more intimate understanding of the customer or the people who interact daily with customers – speaking to them, listening to them, selling to the, serving them?  And who has the best grasp of what really does and does not work within the organisation: management who are divorced from actual work or the people who do the work?  Finally, who has the best insight into what they could accomplish if they put their hearts into it: the people who do the work or the managers?

Summing up

Create a context and design an organisation that does not require managers and management.  Instead create a context and design an organsiation that works by itself – because that is simply what goes with the design.  And from time to time ‘service/repair’ the organisational context and design to ensure that all is in alignment with the mission and values. Robert Greenleaf coined the term ‘servant leadership’- itt is not quite what I am pointing at and yet it is pointing towards the right direction.

What do you say?

What does it take to generate ’employee engagement’? (Part IV)

Let’s recap. ‘Employee engagement’ is sought after because engaged employees generate a multitude of benefits that translate into higher revenues and profits.  And I can categorically say that the road to great customer experience travels through the gate of employee engagement.  Yet research shows that only 20% of employees report being engaged the rest are alienated.  This is despite all the talk of empowerment and social business.  What I have argued so far is that the for employee engagement to show up organisational leaders need to create organisational contexts which call forth employee engagement.  And that means letting go of the dominant/ubiquitous ‘concept of persons’ as primarily economic objects and resources and adopting a fuller/richer ‘concept of persons’.  To illustrate kind of results show up when one adopts such a fuller/richer ‘concept of persons’ I shared with you the example of Maria Montessori.

The purpose of this post is to come up with a fuller/richer ‘concept of persons’, one that provides access to generating contexts that allow employee engagement to show up.  If you and I are going to arrive at such a concept, and you are to get value out of this post, then I suggest pondering the following insightful statement:

“To ignore the fact that each thing has a character of its own and not what we wish to demand of it, is in my opinion the real capital sin, which I call the sin of the heart because it derives its nature from lack of love.  There is nothing so illicit as to dwarf the world by means of our manias and blindness, to minimise reality, to suppress mentally fragments of what exists.  This happens when one demands that what is deep should appear in the same way as what is superficial…”  Ortega Y Gasset

‘Concept of persons’: what kind of being is a human being?

I say the being of human being is shaped by the kind of answer that you and I come up with and act on to the question “What kind of a being is a human being?”  Pascal summed it up well when he wrote in his Pensees:

  • “Custom is our nature..” (89)
  • “What are our natural principles but principles of custom?” (92)
  • “Custom is a second nature which destroys the former. But what is nature?  For is custom not natural?” (93)

Ortega Y Gasset said the same thing differently “I am I and my circumstance”.   If you find this goes against the grain of your taken for granted ‘concept of persons’ then I invite you to take a look at the 10 modern cases of feral children.

Why is it the case that the being of human being is so plastic?   Because of a truth that the modern ‘concept of persons’ as rational, autonomous, self-willed individuals does not wish to face:

“..individual selfhood is meaningfully related to others from the beginning.  At the deepest level, human being is relational…… the human spirit arises and develops via the nurture of empathic relationships”  John Firman  and Ann Gila, The Primal Wound

I want to emphasise the central/critical importance of empathic relationships.  There is so much talk about relationships and so little real understanding of the power of relationships – in particular the positive power of empathic relationships and the destructive power of non-empathic relationships.  Think back to the story of the millwright and the question that the folks at Herman Miller ask themselves “Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?”

I say that the millwright showed up as poet for those who related to him as a poet and thus called him forth as a poet.  And he showed up as a millwright who related to him as a millwright and called him forth as a millwright.  If you have a background in physics you may know of the issue of wave-particle duality:  when the experiment is set up to detect electrons as waves then electrons show up as exhibiting the properties of waves; and when the experiment is set-up to show electrons as being particles, they show up as particles!

What kind of a context calls forth engagement from employees?

Let me be blunt:  command and control or employee engagement? choose!   Yes, I know a whole bunch of ‘charlatans’ have promised you the silver bullet – that you can generate employee engagement in the context of command and control.  How is that working for you?   Not great, if my experience and the research provides an accurate picture of what is so.  Bradford and Cohen have even written a book that indirectly deals with the matter of engagement.  It is called Power Up and its fundamental assertion is that leaders/followers/organisations have to move from a taken for granted ‘heroic leadership model’ to a ‘shared leadership model’ if organisations are to access and make breakthroughs in organisational performance.  That’s right: leadership-power-responsibility-accountability of the whole is shared by all, at all levels in the organisation, in all functions and teams.

If you are to generate the kind of context that calls forth engagement from employees then you need to get, really get, the following:

“Throughout his life a person will experience himself as a cohesive harmonious firm unit in time and space, connected with his past and pointing meaningfully into a creative-productive future, but only as long as, at each stage of his life, he experiences certain representatives of his human surrounding as joyfully responding to him, as available to him as sources of idealised strength and calmness, as being silently present but in essence like him, and, at any rate, able to grasp his inner life more or less accurately so that their responses are attuned to his needs and allow him to grasp their inner life when his is in need of such sustenance.” Kohut

Now compare that with the reality of organisational life which is best summed up by the following statement: “empowerment and trust are the rhetoric… the centralisation of power and control are the reality.”   That gives you an idea of the scale of the challenge and why none of the silver bullets have worked despite empowerment coming on the scene back in the 1990s.  Incidentally, it also explains why organisations have put in place ‘social technologies’ and very few employees are actually using them or being social. 

 How are you doing on delivering these five fundamental human needs?

As Kohut says above, if your employee is to function effectively to make the kind of contribution that he is capable of making then s/he needs to get that you show up as a person/organization “able to grasp his inner life more or less accurately so that their responses are attuned to his need”.  Which begs the question, what are human needs above and beyond mere survival? I say that they are:

  1. The need believe in something and to have hope for the future (meaning/purpose);
  2. The need to be loved (attachment);
  3. The need to belong (home, family, organisation…);
  4. The need to be heard (empathy);
  5. The need for self-expression / achievement (fulfillment).

How many of these needs are even on your radar?  How well are you doing on delivering on these needs? And you wonder why your employees are not engaged with their jobs and the organisational goals!

The Quakers got the kind of employee engagement that we are searching for

If you still haven’t gotten it, really gotten it then I leave you with this quote by Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop:  “I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently… This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”

I throughly recommend that you check out this article on the Quaker way of doing business.  Why?  Because if you have the listening then you will get a lot of value out of it.  Once upon time the most successful businesses in the UK were run by Quakers!  Why? The Quakers got and practiced the true meaning of ‘social’: they literally saw each human being as a manifestation of God like themselves and they treated each human being decently: the kind of decency that is deserved by a human being fashioned by God in the image of God!  Which is why they got the kind of engagement they got from their employees, their suppliers, their customers…..

And finally

No human being wishes to see himself or relate to himself merely as a resource or a tool at the command of another.  Each of us has a deep need to live a life that matters.  And to be in an empathic relationship with our fellow human beings.  So the challenge for you and your organisation is to a) stand for something noble rather than being in the game to line your pockets and those of your absent/invisible/illusory shareholders; and b) to treat your people decently respecting the dignity that is so fundamental to the health of the human being.

2011: what is likely to stay the same?

Right now there are lots of people putting forward there views on what will be hot /new / different in 2011.  As I do not have a crystal ball and because I believe in the fundamentals, I am going to focus on the key themes that are not going to change in 2011.

Customer will continue using trusted resources to find information and make decisions

Customers live in a world that is full of suppliers, brands, products and services.  Choosing between them is difficult and there is always the concern around making the right choice.  So for low consideration products (the basics of food, drink, utilities, retail banking..) customers will simply continue using the brands that they use today. Some customers will continue to be tempted by ‘specials’ – to try other products, other brands, other suppliers.

For high consideration purchases, customers will turn to trusted sources: the internet, Google search, social network, other customers and independent sources.  Customers will particularly value trusted resources that take out or cut the hassle associated with doing all the research and coming to a decision.

Companies will continue to shoot themselves in the foot as the content and tools are often created by marketing.  And too many marketers are disconnected from the real lives of customers and their real needs.  Too often the need for spin outweighs the need to provide useful, informative, honest content.

Customers will continue to have the same needs around products

Most customers will continue to look for products that are easy to understand, easy to set-up, easy to use and which work as they expect them to work.  Some customers will pay a premium for products that are novel, beautiful and/or well designed.

Many products will fail to live up to customer expectations either because the marketing communications are misleading, or the product has not been well designed or because the customer has unrealistic expectations.  And this will result in calls into the contact centre and negative comments offline and online.

Customers will continue to look for, be attracted to, special offers

Direct marketers are the masters of special offers – they know that the right offers will drive purchases.  Human beings are drawn to all kinds of  special offers.  The offer can be around membership of an exclusive club, or a special edition product or simply one of a price discount.

Businesses will continue to offer attractive ‘specials’ to get new customers.  In the process they will continue to cut loyalty from existing customers and thus encourage them to move to competitors to get their special offers.

Customers will continue to look for and value good service

Customers live in a complex world where they have a lot more to juggle and less time to do it; a world where choosing the right products and solutions can be a tricky and time consuming task; a world where they need help in setting up and using products effectively.  For example, one time you could just go and buy a tv, try doing that now with the latest HD tvs.

As a result customers will continue to cry out for good service in the form of correct and informative marketing material, customer centred sales advice, convenient product delivery, ease of product set-up and use, accurate billing, easy access to the right people in the company to deal with problems and issue and responsive caring customer service.

Many companies will continue to give less than good service because of the internal, silo centred, efficiency oriented metrics, processes and culture.

Companies will continue to focus on the shiny new stuff and neglect the basics

Time and again companies are attracted to the shiny new stuff, the silver bullets, the miracle cures etc.  Social media, mobile, location-based services, group buying (Groupon), customer experience – are examples of the latest shiny objects

In the process, companies will neglect the basics such as making good easy to use products, easy to use websites, improving the delivery process so you don’t have to take a full day off work, sorting out issues that prevent sales and customer service staff delivering the kind of service that customers expect etc. Here is an example of neglecting the basics: Toyota Just Doesn’t Get It

Companies will continue to focus on the sell side of the business at the expense of the service side

The majority of companies will continue to focus their best people and the bulk of their money on the areas of the business that generate or promise to generate revenue. Revenue and market share growth are the top priorities of the C-suite in most companies.

These companies will also continue to spend money on products and services that promise to cut operating costs – thus boosting profits.  That means more investments in technology and less in people – especially those that actually interact with and serve customers.

It also means that companies will continue to focus on getting new customers than on keep existing customers through good service and fair treatment. This is partly because the it is easy to show the return on getting customer and difficult to show the return on retaining customers.

Companies will continue not to embrace and make effective use of social technologies

The philosophy – transparency, openness, interaction, connectivity, sharing, participation, co-creation etc – of social is fundamentally at odds with the command and control philosophy that is at the heart of almost all businesses.  The powerful love to exercise power – this applies to all kinds of institutions including corporations.  And it applies to the C-suite executives.

This clash of idealogies and operating practices will stop the majority of companies from harvesting the true promise of social technologies:  transforming the way that work is done – collaboratively between employees, customers, suppliers, partner etc – within the enterprise.

Instead companies  will continue to dabble in social media treating this as simply another marketing and customer research channel.  Does this remind you how digital marketing and ecommerce operations were treated?  And how some are still treated today?

Companies will continue to talk about innovation and customer experience tranformation and yet fail to deliver

Whilst every company wants to the fruits of innovation very few are willing to go through the birthing process and experience the pains of giving birth to these innovations.

It is no easy matter to make the silo’s work together.  It is no easy matter to change the technology infrastructure – most companies still do not have a single customer view despite the mountains of ink on that subject over the last ten years.  It is no easy matter to change the culture of the company.  It is no easy matter to give up the practices that are resulting in ‘bad profits’ and recapture these profits by creating products and services that customers value.  And there is absolutely no incentive when you are the category leader or the market is dominated by up to four big companies.

The task of category level innovation will continue to fall on companies that specialise in this (e.g. Apple, Virgin) or newcomers that have no investment in the existing way of doing things (e.g. Metro Bank, Groupon).