Good Strategy and Effective Execution Necessarily Involves a Sound Appreciation of the Context

I find myself in the midst of an ocean of generalities: frameworks, models, recipes, formulas, 10 steps to…. Every one promising easy/quick arrival at the promised land merely by following the authors secret/revolutionary formula/recipe.

Folks even turn to me, as a subject matter expert, for advice on how to craft a customer-centric strategy, create a customer-centric culture, build meaningful engagements with customers, call forth the very best of the employees.  Sometimes, vanity get the better of me and I do offer an approach.  When reflection sets in I realise my arrogance/stupidity. Why?

Consider deeply, you may just get that the question is not how does one motivates human beings. No! The question is what motivates this flesh & blood human being right in front of me. The question is not how does one build a customer-centric culture. No! The question is how to go about shifting this particular organisation, these particular people, towards a customer-centric way of showing up and travelling. The question is not how one calls forth customer engagement. No! The question is what calls forth engagement in this particular customer.

Put differently, effective strategy, effective execution, effective change require a sound (even intuitive) grasp of the nuances of this particular person, this particular group of people, this particular culture, this particular technology.  Why?  Allowing me to illustrate through the following:

“If a house caught fire, intervention would require an understanding of the type of fire and the strategy required to extinguish it. Clearly and electrical fire cannot be doused with water, and a chemical fire will require will require a specific type of retardant.”

-Dr Eric C. Amberg, The Five Dimensions of The Human Experience

It’s even more complicated than that, the nuances are deeper. You turn up and find it’s an electrical fire. You search for water but there are no water sources nearby. Or there simply is not enough water.  Maybe it is even more complex, it is a chemical fire yet from a distance you cannot determine which chemical is involved. Or you have to persuade some person / group of people to do what they are doing AND make some chemical retardant especially for you.

You get the idea: the nuances present in the concrete, yet always absent in the abstract, have the determining influence on how things turn out. One must be sensitive to these nuances – detect them, and know how to deal with them.  This kind of understanding can only come through a certain repertoire of lived experience. In days gone by this kind of familiarity with the particular was achieve by becoming an apprentice /disciple of a master for many years.

Today we have taken the easy route. Too many folks treat the realm of human beings – a realm of contingency, of approximation, of probability – like the realm of mathematics where 2+2 always equals 4. The price to paid for taking this path is ineffectiveness.  Ask yourself what the telcos have to show for the fortunes they have invested in CRM, customer experience……

You can ask me to advise you on how to craft a strategy right for your organisation, or how to cultivate good relationships with your customers, or how to effect culture change. Please don’t expect me to provide an answer from a distance. I am not a seer nor am I a charlatan. To help you answer the question I have to get a feel for your particulars: you, the people in your organisation, it’s history, the kind of work that occurs, how folks show up and travel in your organisation, the kind of people who are your customers and how you / your products / your competitors occur to them.

I say to you, if you wish to be effective in devising strategies, influencing people, effecting change then it is necessary to give up the easy paths, the short cuts, and take the road less travelled.  To get to grips with the particulars – not just intellectually. This getting to grips must be at a deeper level – an intuitive feel for that which you are dealing with.

Why go to this effort?  Werner Erhard summed it up beautifully: “The context is decisive.”

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best in your living. Until the next time…

 

 

 

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.

Are Your Sure You See The World Through Your Customer’s Eyes?

From CRM to CEM: is it as easy as it sounds?

With CRM’ organisations took an’ inside-out’ approach to doing business with customers, though I doubt they knew that is what they were doing when they were doing it.  When this didn’t work out as planned, some shifted to advocating  an ‘outside-in’ approach and called it Customer Experience Management.  I get that when it comes to writing or talking it is easy to shift from ‘inside-out’ to ‘outside-in’.  What is it like in practice?  What does it take to truly see the world through the eyes of our customers?

My experience is that really takes something to see the world through the eyes of another.  My experience is that it is a huge ask to experience the world as another experiences it.  My experience is that it is all to easy to be persuade oneself that one has shifted from an ‘inside-out’ view to an ‘outside-in’ view and yet be firmly stuck in an ‘inside-out’ view.

Aravind Eye Hospital: where ‘free’ costs 100 rupees!

What does it really take to see the world through the eyes of our customers?  Allow me to share this example which I came across in a wonderful book, which I throughly recommend reading, called Infinite Vision:

While giving away free services might appear to be easy, Aravind’s experience proved to the contrary. “In the early days, we didn’t know better,”……”We would go to the villages, screen patients, and tell those who needed surgery to come to the hospital for free treatment. Some showed up, but a lot of them did not. It was really puzzling to us. Why would someone turn down the chance to see again?” Fear, superstition, and cultural indifference can all be very real barriers to accessing medical care, but Aravind’s leaders were convinced that there was more to it than that. After a few more years and several ineffective pilots of door-to-door counseling, they arrived at the crux of the issue. “Enlightenment came when we talked to a blind beggar,”….. When pressed on why he had not shown up to have his sight restored, the man replied, “You told me to come to the hospital. To do that, I would have to pay bus fare then find money for food and medicines. Your ‘free’ surgery costs me 100 rupees.”

…….. The research found that transport and sustenance costs, along with lost wages for oneself and accompanying family member, were daunting consideration for the rural patient. Aravind learned a valuable lesson: just because people need something you are offering for free, it does not mean they will take you up on it.  You have to make it viable for them to access your service in the context of their realities.

Aravind Eye Hospital: it is not enough to see the world through customer eyes, you have to be moved to act

So that is the first step, genuinely seeing the world through the context of the lives of your customers.  And it is makes no difference at all unless your organisations acts on what it has learnt.  What did the folks at Aravind do?  Let’s  read some more from the book:

So Aravind retrofitted its outreach services to address the chief barriers. In addition to the free screening at the eye camps, patients were given a free ride to one of its base hospitals, where they received surgery, accommodation, food, postoperative medication, return transport, and a follow up visit in their village, all free of charge……

What difference did this make?  Once more from the book:

“Once we did that, of course, our expenses went up,”…… “But more importantly, our acceptance rate for surgery went up from roughly 5 percent to about 80 percent.” For an organisation aspiring to rid the world of needless blindness, this was tremendously significant….

Aravind: two things are critical

What do the folks at Aravind say about this experience of theirs? Let’s listen and learn:

“In hindsight, we found two things are critical,”…..”You have to focus on the nonuser, and you have to passionately own the problem. You can address the barriers only when you own, not shift, the problems.” Paradoxically, that mindset led to what is perhaps the most collaborative outreach system the world of eye care has ever seen.

And finally

How does your organisation measure up?  Do you really get how your organisation, your offer, shows up for your prospects?  Do you really get how your customers experience your organisation across the customer journey?  Is your leadership committed to doing what it takes to make it easy for prospects to buy from you? And for customers to keep doing business with you?  Is your organisation up for passionately owning the problem or is it designed to hide and/or shift the problems on to customers and others?

 

Customer Experience: a personal insight into people and organisations (part I)

Over the last four weeks or so I have touched and been touched by the ‘medical system’ in the UK – in particular my doctor’s medical practice and the NHS (national health service).  I want to share with you the key insights that opened up for me on people and organisations.

Women show up as being more caring than men

Women as a whole whether in the role of receptionist, ‘blood taker’, nurse, trainee nurse or doctor simply show up as being more caring.  In their being and in their doing they transcend the merely functional – the task.  They put their humanity into the encounter – they smile, they strike up a conversation beyond the merely functional, they reassure, they do more than is necessary.  The men, as a whole, focussed on their area of expertise and the task at hand.  They are distant.  They stand farther away (afraid to get close), they don’t smile, they are matter of fact, they focus on the task, time is clearly of the essence as they are keen to move on to the next person, the next job.     There are exceptions.  One female receptionist was particularly cold, clinical and showed up as being disconnected from even a thread of humanity. On the other hand Dr Jeremy Platt is almost always smiles and greets me warmly and takes the time that is necessary.

Insight.  If we genuinely want our organisations to ‘touch’ our customers so that we show up as caring and thus create a space for emotional bonds to show up and form then this challenge has to be addressed.  Men, as a whole, are one dimensional – functional.  Either they are emotionally illiterate – that is to say that they are not in touch with their caring emotions or the cultures/communities they are embedded in do not give them permission to express their caring emotions.  I suspect it is combination of these two factor – their is a lack of permission to show caring as this shows up as ‘soft’ and over time men lose touch with these soft emotions.

Question/Challenge.  If the Tops got to the top by being ‘macho’ and ‘functional’ then how likely is it that these people will undergo a transformation and embody the softer emotions, values and associated practices which are the key to showing up as caring?  Perhaps they will take the Steve Jobs approach – build that caring into the product.  Or they will take the Amazon approach: build that ‘caring’ tone into the design of the operations.  Yet, these approaches are not enough in services heavy industries where people (the employees) are the product, the experience and there is intimate contact between the customer and the employees.

The people on the front line can show up as ‘robotic’ and ‘inhuman’ because they perceive themselves to be powerless

I turn up at the scheduled 8am appointment for the endoscopy.  Pain is present – that is the reason that I am there, to figure out what is the cause of the pain.  The nurse ‘sells’ me on taking the right course of action – taking the sedative as it will relax me.  I agree, I tell her I am in pain and so the sedative is the right way to go.  Then she asks me who will be coming to pick me up and take me home.  I tell her that my wife cannot pick me up until 3pm and that if I am well enough to go home earlier then I plan to use my favourite taxi firm to get me home.  She responds by saying that she cannot offer me a sedative unless I have a family member to take me home and look after me for the next 24 hours – that is the hospital policy.  I say “If you are not going to give me a sedative then you are not going to give me sedative. I am ok with that.”  Except that I am not really OK with that.

Later the Consultant- the specialist who is going to do the endoscopy – comes to see me with the nurse trailing behind.  He asks me some questions, I answer.  Then he asks me why I have chosen not to have the sedative.  I tell him that I want the sedative and I have been told that I cannot have it.  And I tell him the reasoning.  He tells the nurse that he will be giving me the sedative as that is the right course of action given the pain I am in and the procedure involved.  He tells her to find me a bed.

Instantly the whole being of the nurse changes.  It is clear that ‘God’ has spoken and his command must be obeyed without question, no excuse will suffice.  She tells the doctor that she will ring around several wards and that she is confident that she can find me a bed in a specific ward.   There is no doubt in her voice, absolute confidence.  She leaves and several minutes later she comes back and tells me that she has found a bed for me.  I am amazed at the instant/profound change in this nurse.  It occurs to me that she is happy/proud at what she has accomplished; she has a big smile on her face and her tone of voice is different.

What is going on here?  For the better part of 20 minutes or so this nurse showed up as robotic – going through the motions, following the script and preaching policy, ignoring my needs and the right thing to do, even changing her advice 180 degrees.  Then the Consultant shows up, tells her what she needs to do and instantly there is a new human being in front of me: confident-resourceful-helpful as opposed to helpless and robotic.

What made the difference?  I say she was given permission from THE authority figure to bypass policy and put her knowledge, her resourcefulness, her caring into action.   I say that the Consultant showed up and instantly changed the context from which the nurse was operating from:  from be a good robot/ follow the script/procedure to here is challenge/make it happen.  Furthermore, the nurse was absolved from responsibility and blame – she was simply following orders.  Which reminds of the Miligram experiments in obedience to authority.

Insight.  When we look at poorly performing front line employees the tendency of managers, management consultants and the training industry is to assume that the fault, the deficiency, lies in the front line employees.  In short we have an automatic bias.  This reminds me of the story of the drunk looking for his lost car keys under the street lamp when he had lost them somewhere else.  The smarter place to start looking for performance issues is in the context/the environment/the ‘system’ in which the front line employees are embedded and operating from.  That means facing the reality:  in about 95% of cases ‘poor employee performance’ shows up because it is the natural, inevitable, result of the assumptions/prejudices of the Tops and the ‘system’ that they have designed, actively or passively, to cater for those assumptions/prejudices.  Let me put it bluntly, if you want to drive up performance and the customer experience then focus on the managers, the management style, the organisation design.  That is where the real leverage is for step changes in organisational performance, customer experience and customer loyalty.

And finally

I will continue to share my insight with you in the follow up post – part II will be coming soon.  If you are up for it then I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Some of you have been kind enough to enter into a conversation with me by commenting.  You will have found me wanting – I have been lax in responding to your comments.  I ask for your forgiveness, my excuse if there is one is simply that the last four weeks or so have been a struggle:  the body, my health is not showed up as being my own.


Customer loyalty and advocacy: what can we learn from Jonathan Ive and Zappos?

Customer focus: no progress in ten years?

In a recent post on CustomerThink, Bob Thompson shared his experience with AT&T and Colin Shaw made the following comment:

“No progress in ten years…

I am sorry to say Bob but this doesn’t surprise me. I used to work for BT before setting up Beyond Philosophy ten years ago. In that ten years I don’t see a lot of progress on being more Customer focussed.

We have recently undertaken new research in Telecoms. The biggest surprise to me was when we asked Telecoms companies “Which Telecoms company do you most for CE ?” There was a deafening silence.

I can totally appreciate your feeling of ‘doubt’. This, unfortunately is a common emotion that organizations generate. Do you think this is what they want to generate? Obviously not, but their actions have led you to feel this way. In my view there is a massive opportunity for someone to get the CE right in the CE space. But they will need to look outside of their industry for examples.”

Why has there been no progress?

I say that the reason so little progress is due to the lack of genuine care for people (customers, employees, suppliers, community…) as fellow human beings.  When we label a customer as an asset we have turned our fellow human being into an object, equipment, a resource for our purposes.  HR tells us all that you need to know about the relationship between the Tops and everyone else in the company: human resources – equipment, tools, resources that come in a human form.

Human existence, being-in-the-world, is characterised by CARE. We care about how our lives turn out – we are designed to survive and we strive to flourish.  Care gives rise to and is tied up with CONCERN – we have concerns that we have to address if we are to survive and flourish.  John Bowlby pointed out that we  need ‘SECURE BASES’ – people, places, organisations, communities where we matter, where we feel cared for, where we can count on others to care for us and what matters to us.

What can we learn from Jonathan Ive of Apple?

I was reading this article on Jonathan Ive (Apple’s design guru) and the following jumped out at me:

“I think subconsciously people are remarkably discerning. I think that they can sense care.”

One of the concerns was that there would somehow be, inherent with mass production and industrialisation, a godlessness and a lack of care.”

“I think it’s a wonderful view that care was important – but I think you can make a one-off and not care and you can make a million of something and care. Whether you really care or not is not driven by how many of the products you’re going to make.”

“We’re keenly aware that when we develop and make something and bring it to market that it really does speak to a set of values. And what preoccupies us is that sense of care, and what our products will not speak to is a schedule, what our products will not speak to is trying to respond to some corporate or competitive agenda. We’re very genuinely designing the best products that we can for people.”

Is there any doubt that the people who run Apple care, deeply, about making great products that generate a great user experience?  And if care is the access to breakthroughs then why is it that more companies do not care the way that Apple cares?  Is it because it really takes something to genuinely care when we swim in a culture that does not embrace and encourage caring?

Lets just get present to what ‘care’ involves and why it is so important

We use words automatically and without really getting present to what they signify, what they point at/towards, what they make present/available to us.  So here is definition that I find particularly useful as it is a rounded definition:

care/ke(ə)r/

Noun:
The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
Verb:
Feel concern or interest; attach importance to something: “they don’t care about human life”.
Synonyms:
noun.  worry – concern – attention – solicitude – trouble
verb.  mind

Zappos: a great example of a company based on and operating from a context of authentic CARE for people as fellow human beings

The results that show up in the world are always in line with and bounded by the context which gives rise to these results. If your organisation operates from a context of ‘not caring’ or plain ‘indifference’ then this will shape what occurs and how it occurs.  With this kind of context it is possible that people who do care may from time to time do stuff that is characterised by care and shows up as care in the world of the customer.  Yet, this will not cultivate loyalty between the customer and the organisation.  Why?  Because this act of caring will been seen as an exception when compared with the lack of caring in all the other interactions with the company and its people.

Zappos is the poster child for the customer-centric orientation and great customer service.  Why?  Because the Tops have intentionally created and operate from a context of caring: caring about their people; caring about their customers; caring about suppliers; caring about what they do; caring about what they stand for.  What is this context?  “Delivering Happiness”.  Two words, they say it all, and for many companies these would simply be empty words.  Not for Zappos because they were not crafted for brand messaging nor for brand positioning.  No, these words, are an expression of the philosophy of Tony Hsieh and the founders/senior leadership team of Zappos.  The other point worth noting is this: how many of us would stand up and argue against a philosophy and a stand centred on “Delivering Happiness”?   Do this not meet/ address a fundamental need of human beings?

Zappos and Tommy Walker: an awesome experience of caring for the customer

Tommy Walker, host of “Inside The Mind” a show about online marketing strategy.  Here is his story, in his words:

Just over a year ago I bought a pair of sneakers from zappos and was very excited to get them in the mail.  However, after about a month and a half they fell apart.  After wearing other inferior footwear, I settled upon wearing my indestructible work boots for the rest of the year, and while they did make me a little taller, they weren’t terribly comfortable and started to cause me pain.   And just when I thought I had enough, I got an email from Zappos that essentially said:

“Hi Tommy, you bought these shoes a year ago and we wanted to say thanks, and remind you that we have more of the same. If there’s anything we can do to improve our service, please don’t hesitate to let us know!”

To which I responded:

“Hey there, thanks for reminding me :-).  Though I have to admit, these shoes only lasted me a month and a half.   I’m not overly hard on my shoes but for some reason, these just fell apart.””

What happened next?  How did things turn out?  What was Tommy’s experience?  If you want to find out then click here.

In a world of indifference, authentic caring is the difference that makes the difference

You want your customers to care about you.  Do you really care about your customers?  If you don’t genuinely care about your customers, as human beings, then how/why do you expect them to care about you?  What is so remarkable about Zappos other than the genuine context/culture of caring about people  and “Delivering Happiness”?  What is so special about Apple other than the care that goes into envisaging and making products that customers will love and find useful.

And finally you may wish to consider and act on the following:

CARE:  Customers Always Remember Empathy

CARE:  Customers Are up for Reciprocating Empathy

CARE:  Customers Always want to Reward Empathy

What is the most potent way of creating an unforgettable customer experience? Sandy Carrannante shows the way

PwC has a point of view on how to go about generating customer loyalty

I have been reading an article by PwC  titled “The Key to Customer Loyalty: The Total Shopping Experience” and in this article one particular paragraph caught my attention:

“The most potent way to create an unforgettable customer experience is by investing  in knowledgeable staff and making the most of front-line employees. In fact, PwC found that staff members’ product knowledge and recommendations accounted for almost one third of all good experiences related to service support. Contrastingly, only 1% of the shoppers surveyed ranked rewards programs alone as the top influencer of purchase.

How do you make the most of front line employees?

My experience shows me that my most potent (memorable) customer experiences have ALWAYS involved effective front line staff.  In these encounters I have noticed something that stands out: it really helps if the customer facing staff (that have served me) are knowledgeable and yet that really is a secondary factor.

The primary factor (for me) has been the being of the front line staff: being present, being patient, being considerate, being generous with their time and knowledge, being helpful.  I have noticed that my most delightful customer experiences have occurred in the presence of front line people who LOVE people – they are people people.  And my most disappointing customer experiences have occurred in interacting with front line staff who have occurred as being indifferent, inhuman – treating me as any object and not as a fellow human being.  I have also noticed that there is vast difference in the context from which front line staff operate and therefore how I, the customer, show up in their world and how they treat me.

We are always operating from a specific context and often we are simply not present to the context which gives us being and thus determines what we do and importantly how we do what we do.  Sounds abstract, right?  So allow me to make this concrete by showing you an example – please take a look at the following picture:

Do you notice that the central ‘figure’ in the ‘ABC’ sequence and the ‘121314’ sequence is ambiguous?  The interesting thing to note is that when we are embedded and operating in the context of the alphabet the central, ambiguous, figure automatically shows up for us as B – we do not have to think about, it happens automatically.   What happens when we are embedded in or coming from the numeric context?  Then the central, ambiguous, figure shows up for us as 13 – automatically.   Context is like hidden magic – it determines what we perceive, how what we perceive is interpreted by our minds,  gives us being and shapes/drives our behaviour.

In my experience front line staff that have delivered delightful customer experiences (for me) have been coming from the context of ‘being of service to their fellow human beings‘.  That really should not be a surprise for any of us.  If you are the kind of person who comes across as ‘loving people’ then you are likely to operate from the context of ‘being of service to my fellow human beings’ – they go together like two sides of the coin.  More accurately they are one and the same.

What does that mean for business?  Go to great lengths to make sure that ALL your customer facing staff ‘love people’ and operate from the context of ‘being of service to my fellow human beings’.  AND make sure that you put in place a organisational climate (management style, business policies, HR practices, environment, tools…) that calls your customer facing staff to operate from the context of ‘being of service’ and put into play their love of people – their customers, their fellow employees…

Sandy Carrannante delivers another delightful experience

I drove my son to Edgbarrow Sports Centre this morning, like I do just about every Saturday morning so that he can do Archery and Karate. As it is the first day of the ‘new term’ I needed to pay for his archery lessons for this term and it was my good fortune to be served (again) by Sandy Carrannante – the Deputy Manager.  As soon as I saw Sandy I found myself to be in a great mood why?  Because I remember that about a year ago I turned up around 8:30 was greeted by Sandy and she helped me out.  You might be wondering what is exceptional about that?  allow me to illustrate:

1) Sandy’s eyes sparkle, her face glows and she smiles.  Her whole being says “I am happy to be here doing what I am doing including being right here to help you. How can I help you?”  When I say ‘being’ I am referring to the total condition – physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual – the whole person is present and all the parts are congruent.

2)  The way that Sandy makes eye contact, asks questions, talks with me and goes about doing her job shows that she cares about people and nothing is too much when it comes to serving / helping her customers out.  She likes her customers.  She likes serving her customers.  Even more – she is open to striking up a conversation with customers (if they are so minded) and if customers enter into the dance of conversation then Sandy is a great partner to dance with.  She keeps the customer informed and apologies if something is not working or taking to long.

3)  Sandy has high standards.  She insists on doing the job at hand right.  When I am with Sandy I can tell that whatever task Sandy takes on it will be done right by Sandy.  There is a certain attitude and commitment about how this work and that they should be done perfectly.

4)  Sandy is knowledgeable.  That is to say that Sandy knows what there is to know.  How do I know?  Because when I ask her questions she provides credible answers first time and without hesitation.  She knows how the sports centre operates, she knows how the IT systems that she needs to use (to serve customers) operate.  Even more delightful she know me – she remembers our previous interactions.

5)  Sandy knows (at an intuitive level) what matters to us customers – that extra that creates the human bond / generates delight.  She is attentive.  And today she blew me away by sharing her point of view on my son.  I left our encounter thinking “Sandy sees and know my son.  And that was great compliment that she made about my son!”

Lesson

People matter especially the people on the front line serving customers.  Make sure that recruit people like Sandy to do the front line role and then do EVERYTHING in your power to let them be great with customers.  And one thing that you should definitely do is to thank them (now and then) for being great (day in, day out) and making a positive contribution to the lives of your customers, their customers.

Question

How many Sandy’s joined your organisation and then wilted due to the management style, business policies, pay and working environment that you have put in place?

What you are failing to do is much more important than what you are doing?

There are two kinds of errors that you can make: errors of commission and errors of omission.  An error of commission involves doing something that you should not have done.  A good example of this is the money that large companies invested in implementing complex CRM systems on the assumption that these would engender customer loyalty and drive revenues and profitability.  Closing down Napster and thus allowing the likes of BitTorrent to rise was an error of commission made by the music labels.  If you take a look at mergers & acquisitions you find that the research shows that these almost always destroy value and are not a good idea: the AOL and Time Warner merger is the one that sticks out for me.  If you look at this at a global level then the deregulation of the financial services industry was the big mistake that has brought the western economies to their knees.  Errors of commission are easy to spot in hindsight.

Errors of omission are the more important ones.  These errors occur when you fail to do something that you should have done.  Did Nokia indulge in an error of omission in sitting on smartphone technology (insiders tell me Nokia had this technology) and not introducing it and thus letting Apple steal the show?  Did the music industry make an error of omission in not setting up online music stores allowing customers to download individual songs? Did the offline book stores make an error of omission in not embracing the internet aggressively and thus allowing Amazon the premier seat at the table?

So where is this leading?  In the Customer field there is a whole bunch of stuff that companies should be doing right now and yet they are not doing it.  As such these companies are making errors of omission.  Allow me to give you some examples.

The words have changed yet the mindset is the same.  The mindset continues to be about finding clever ways of getting customers to do what we want and reducing costs.  The mindset has not shifted to a relentless focus on creating superior value for customers and figuring out how we get a fair reward for doing; time after time I hear something to the effect “How do we make more money out of our customer base or reduce the cost of servicing our customers?”  I rarely hear “How do we create more value for your customers?”.  Yes, it really does matter which comes first because what comes first determines the whole context for what happens.  It requires one kind of mind, one kind of organisation, to ‘extract’ value and grow this years financials.  It requires a fundamentally different mind and organisation to create value for customers, cultivate relationships and secure a lifetime income stream.

Effectiveness is doing the right things.  Efficiency is doing things right.  To cultivate long term relationships organisations have to focus on effectiveness: doing the right things as viewed from the customer perspective.  Yet the organisational focus continues to be on efficiency.  The relentless focus on efficiency means that I had to spend ten minutes or so hunting around for a telephone number to contact Sky.  It is also the reason that after four phone calls to BMI I was not able to pay my bill because my call was important to them yet they could not answer it even after five minutes.  It also means that human-human encounters are being replaced by human-technology interactions and so the opportunity to build emotional bonds is being sacrificed.  As a famous systems practitioner pointed out “The righter you do the wrong things the wronger you become!”

The organisational design is the same.  The functional organisational design and the associated management system was and is designed for a manufacturing centred organisation operating within a command and control operating system.  To be a customer centred organisation requires a fundamental change to the way that the organisation is designed.  It requires recognising that the front line people (those interacting with customers) are the most important actors in the organisation and the role of managers is to support these ‘actors’ in putting on the best performance they possibly can.  If you take segmentation seriously then it requires operational changes and not just sending some communications via email, others through SMS and the rest via direct mail.

I could go on and on and I am sure that if you put your thinking hats on then you can complete the list yourself.

Is your organisational focus on errors of commission?  Then who is looking out for errors of omission?  Please remember that the errors of commission rarely kill you.  Yet, errors of omission do exactly that even if it takes a little while for the results to show up.