Meditation on Customer Relationships & Experiences

One might think by now that we would have figured out what makes for great customer relationships & experiences. Ask yourself have we figured this out?  Really, lets stop and really sit with this question.  What comes up for you?  Here’s what comes up for me:

One does not create/build, nor manage customer relationships

That’s right, one does not create/build nor manage customer relationships! News to you?   That just how many folks think about it and thus go about it because they have brought into the sloppy thinking / language which is ubiquitous in business. It is also deliberate play by those who started the CRM bandwagon – language chosen to appeal to managers who buy CRM.  This may explain how it is that the CRM industry flourishes whilst customer loyalty languishes; only a handful of companies, the same companies, are renowned for customer loyalty – I get that you know who they are.

Customer relationships grow over time and this growth is messy

A relationship is formed when two or more human beings interact-communicate-relate over the course of time.  Relationships grow (rather like a plant grows from a seed) and this growth is not linear. The growth is messy – rather like that which occurs in a game of Snakes & Ladders.  One can no more manage the customer relationship than one can manage one’s way through the game of Snakes & Ladder. Only BS artists and idiots can truly believe that one can build/create relationships like one builds/creates a car/house or manage relationships say like I manage my library of books.

A customer can be said to have a customer relationship with a person working in an organisation, or the organisation itself

As a starting point we can segment/categorise customer relationships into two: the relationship between a customer and a person employed by an organisation; and the relationship between a customer and the organisation itself.

There is certain quality in the relating that occurs between one human being and another – sharing of personal information, sadness/sorrow, laughter/joy.  It is like the relationship one has with friends and the relationship I had with my neighbours (Chris, Christine) whilst I was growing up in Lancashire.  Tops, in commercial organisations, do everything in their power to diminish or extinguish these kinds of relationships. Why? Because the bond is between the employee and the customer. And the employee can walk out of the door as easily as s/he walks into it.  Tops want the organisation to own the relationship with the customer. Hence, the rise and continued rise of CRM software.

The relationship between a customer and companies is different. What is a customer relating to when he relates to / has affinity for a company/organisation?  See the absurdity/trap in that question? No, ask yourself which customer is he talking about?  So take me as the customer.  My relationship with Amazon is based on pure self-interest: it is convenient & cheap for me to buy from Amazon than other retailers.  My relationship with the Guardian newspaper (where I choose to be a member and pay as oppose to read the content for free online) is based on an affinity with what this newspaper stands for: we share common values and objectives.  My relationship with the National Trust is based around my love of natural landscapes & beautiful old mansions. As well as my affinity for that which the National Trust stands for.

There is never a Customer Experience!

If you have been paying attention then you will get that there is never a Customer Experience! To talk about Customer Experience is to talk about the singular.  A singular entity that does not exist.  Think! What is so in the world that you & I share?

Always there are customers – plural.  Therefore, and necessarily, there are a multitude of customer experiences.  Each customer experiences – and if you have 1 million customers there is going to be significant variations in the experiences of these customers for the same interaction/touchpoint. I say it is simple minded at best, mostly idiotic, to think in terms of Customer Experience as opposed to customer experiences. Why am I being so assertive/forceful? Because my experience is that sloppy thinking (including use of language which often drives our thinking without our realising it) leads to idiotic actions disguised as visionary genius.

Let me say this one more time: think/speak customer experiences!  Which comes back to one of the most useful things I learned at my time with The Peppers & Rogers Group. At the heart of PRG’s strategy work lay this primary (foundational) principle: treat different customers differently.

I have grown plenty since my time at PRG.  Today, I say it necessary to go further: treat the same customer differently at different times. Why so? Allow Heraclitus to speak on my behalf: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

One cannot create nor deliver a Customer Experience!

There is so much talk about creating the Customer Experience or delivering the Customer Experience. Stop, stop, stop!  Think!  What the fork are you saying?  How is it that you and I can be relatively intelligent when outside of the work environment and idiots within?

What the fork is a Customer Experience?  Well its not a thing is it?  Look, I will pay you £1 million if you go and get me a Customer Experience. Will you ever collect this £1 million. Fork no!  Get it?  Let me spell it out because it is possibly that you have been so brainwashed by business bullshit that your capacity for thinking/reflecting/questioning has became so dormant as to be non-existent – almost.

A customer experiences – always there is experiencing going on.  Experiencing is a kind of relating/communicating that is going on.

The question is, always, what does this concrete customer experience?  This customer experiences a certain kind of relating occurring between herself (importantly her mood which is usually in the background often hidden from the customers consciousness) and the context s/he finds herself . By context I mean environment, situation, actors, interactions, communications..

Can you/i create (as in specify) and/or deliver this relating – as in a specific experience? Fork no!  Its a dance – always a dance between the mood of the customer and the context that the customer finds herself in.

At best you can set-up the context in a way that you think will speak to our customers: pick the right venue, staff it with the right people, pick the right music, and invite our customers to dance with us. Some customers will be thankful (to you) for their experience – of you caring for them and going to all this trouble to create a great spectacle/experience. Other customers will experience you as being pushy, of going beyond acceptable boundaries.  Lets make it even simpler: some will love the music you have chosen, others dislike it, and many will be indifferent.  You get that which I am getting at, right?

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening which creates the context for my speaking. Until the next time…

Maz Signature

Want to Make a Success of Your CRM/CX/Digital Initiative? Listen to Montaigne

I’ve read many times that something like 70% of CRM initiatives fail to deliver the goods?  What about CX. marketing automation, and digital transformation initiatives? I don’t remember reading any statistics on the success / failure of these. Yet, I have been involved in these areas. My experience is that the process tends to be painful, and failure is more likely than success.

What Accounts For The Dominance Of Failure?

Success is an option. So what accounts for the dominance of failure in change / transformation initiatives? This is the question I found myself confronted with this week.  So what is my answer?

Before I provide you with an answer, I want you to know that over the last 30 years I have been involved in many kinds of projects-programmes-initiatives: accounting systems, management information systems, business process re-engineering, ERP systems, shared services, lean, CRM, website design & development, ecommerce design and implementation, customer loyalty, customer experience design, marketing automation, digital transformation….

Montaigne’s Insight Provides The Answer

Back to the question. What is the primary reason that many, if not most, change / transformation initiatives fail to delivery on the promise?

I say that THE primary cause of failure is a certain blindness/arrogance in those who initiate-shape-lead-manager such initiatives.  Blindness to what?  Blindness to the workings of human beings – as individuals, as groups, as the crowd. Arrogance?  The arrogance of the powerful in assuming that they can ignore the working of human beings and treat people like widgets.

Allow me to bring home that of which I am speaking by sharing the following with you  by sharing the following:

“His Scepticism makes him celebrate imperfection: the very thing Pascal, as much as Descartes, wanted to escape but never could. To Montaigne, it would be obvious why such escape is impossible: however high we ascend, we take that humanity with us.… He wrote:

It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek others conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.”

Sarah Bakewell, How To Live, A Life of Montaigne

Now let’s make this real by looking at some examples.

Customer Relationships.  Take a moment look around you. How do human beings do when it come to relating and relationships?  Are we masters at this? No. Most of us struggle most of the time when it comes to relationships: unhappy husbands, unhappy wives, unhappy parents, unhappy children, broken marriages, affairs/cheating, unhappy teachers, bored/unhappy students, dissatisfied bosses, resentful employees….

Customer Loyalty. In the world as lived do we reward loyalty?  Yes? Then consider that parents spend a great deal of their lives caring for their children and in the process making many sacrifices. What happens when these parents get old? Do the children exercise loyalty – make sacrifices and look after their elderly parents?  Or is the reward of such parents a place in a nursing home – out of the way with strangers?  How about that employee who has worked for you for 20+ years when you make his job redundant by moving it offshore?  Or the employee who can get a similar/better job with a competitor with higher pay? If we do value loyalty then why it is that the new customer gets a better deal than an existing-loyal customer?

Customer Experience.  Walk in the shoes of the customer! That is the mantra which few really step into and live. Yet even if I did step into your shoes I wouldn’t necessarily experience that which you experience?  I am not you! It may be that when you step in your shoes they pinch whereas I find them comfortable. How can man experience what it is like to be a woman?  Or youngsters what it is to be elderly?  Or a English person what it is to be French?

Cooperation & Collaboration.  There is much talk about the need/importance of cooperation and collaboration. What is the reality?  In my home there has been fierce completion between siblings to be the first/best.  In the classroom there is completion to be the best. When it comes to school plays each actor wants the prominent/leadign role. In the corporation, employees are force ranked so that only a small percentage come out as high performers, and most come out as merely ok. Why? Rewards and honours are reserved for the few so as to encourage competition at all levels.  In the context of competition what will most people do most of the time? Compete!

CRM and Marketing Automation.  Look at the way that these technologies are implemented and you are likely to find that there is minimal time-effort-money given over to educating and training the people who will be expected to use these systems. Further, the folks are expected to go from novice to expert instantly.  The reality?  These systems are not intuitive – they require time, effort and even certain kind of dedication. Time, effort, and dedication that most users are simply not willing to put in – this shows up as extra burden on a back that is just about carrying the existing burden.

Summing Up

If you wish to make a success of your change / transformation initiate then you have a choice: to work with the ‘human nature’ or not. Remember, if you are not actively working with ‘human nature’ then it is almost certain that you are working against ‘human nature’. If you work against ‘human nature’ then you are likely to end up where most folks do end up when they take this route: failure.

 

 

Sales Effectiveness: What Does It Take To Make A Sale?

Does sales effectiveness require process – following a particular process in a particular manner?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness necessitate using the right technology/tools – say like a CRM system? Perhaps.  Does sales effectiveness require  a deep insight into the customer’s industry / business?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness require great negotiating skills. Perhaps.

Last week I presented a sales proposal. It was well received and we were awarded the work.  Several members of the client team mentioned that the proposal was spot on – exactly what they were looking for. A member of the proposal team stated that we had been successful because I had rapidly built a rapport with the client team – by honing in on their core need and talking to that. Another member of our (sales) team attributed success to the “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

To whom and to what do I attribute the success of this sales proposal?  First, let me say that I do not attribute it to killer insight to the client’s industry. I had little understanding or insight into that industry – a highly specialised industry.  Second, I neither followed a sales process nor used a CRM system.  Third, I did not put the solution together – others much more technical than me did that work. Lastly, the occasion to use negotiating skills never arose.  If there is a clue it lies in the comment “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

What I did do was a number of things. I recommended that the first cut presentation (put together by the technical folks) be presented to a key member of the client team. On that call, whilst the technical folks, presented that deck, I listened intently to the client. Where anything was fuzzy (to me, to the client) I asked clarifying questions. Following the presentation I talked extensively with the technical folks to understand the solution, implementation plan, assumptions they had put together.  This was not a comfortable discussion – I asked question after question to get from the abstract to the concrete.  Finally, I did desk based research.  After all this work, I cut down the presentation deck from 20+ slides to less than 10; I did my very best to make sure each slide spoke  to the client – relevant to the client’s problem/desired outcome, and written in language that the ordinary business person can easily understand.

Does that mean that I attribute success in ‘closing’ this opportunity to myself? Before I answer that question allow me to share some relevant information with you.  I/we (sales team) turned up on time but at what turned out to be the ‘wrong’ building. Sorting this matter out took something like 30 minutes. In the meantime the technical team via conference call had been asked to deliver the sales proposal. Having no choice they commenced delivery using the original presentation deck – ignoring the one that I had put together. By the time I/we (sales team) turned up the client team (about ten people) looked baffled and somewhat annoyed.  Then we (sales team) apologised and I delivered the sales proposal.

I attribute our success in being awarded the work to the client.  The client gave us (the sales team) a second chance: to wipe the slate clean and represent the sales proposal.  The client has a pressing need with a fixed deadline.  The client was looking to and in fact had to buy from someone – someone competent. The client considered us to be competent based on prior experience.  Put differently, the client was fertile soil for our sales proposal.

Summing up, I say that sales effectiveness comes ultimately comes down to a client that is sold on you (reputation, personal chemistry, word of mouth recommendation), has the necessary authority to influence/make a purchase, and most importantly has an urgent need to get started today to put in place something for the not to distant future. Now ask yourself how much of this is under the influence of the sales guy. Or how a sales process, a CRM system, or negotiating skills are going to make much of an impact on these dimensions.

I thank you for your listening. I wish you the very best and look forward to the next conversation.

 

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Erich Fromm On The Central Challenge Of Cultivating Meaningful Relationships With Customers

What Is The Central Challenge Of Building Meaningful & Profitable Relationships With Customers? Is this challenge about opening up 24/7 access to your business through any and all channels?  Is it about coming up with new products and services that attract customers like bright lights attract moths at night-time?  Is it about taking out costly, unpredictable, unreliable human beings and replacing them with technology?  Is it about collecting and mining all the data you can get your hands on to generate insight to customers and entice them with the right offer, at the right time, through the right communication channel?  Is it about redesigning processes and gluing up all the interaction channels so that the customer experience across the customer journey is an effortless one?

Perhaps. Or maybe this is simply thinking inside the existing way of showing up and travelling in the world.  What way am I referring to? The technological way. What kind of way is that?  It is the way that refers to human beings as human resources. It is the way that refers to customers as assets. It is the way that thinks that listening to the voice of the customer is the same as reading statistics and text which summarises and details the survey responses coming in from some customers. It is the way that seeks to replace human beings and human to human conversations with automated interfaces and self-service…..

I invite you to listen to the speaking of Erich Fromm written in the 1940s (bolding mine):

The insignificance of the individual in our era concerns not only his role as a business man, employee, or manual labourer, but also his role as a customer. A drastic change has occurred in the role of the customer in the last decades. The customer who went into a retail store owned by an independent business man was sure to get personal attention: his individual purchase was important to the owner of the store; he was received like somebody who mattered, his wishes were studied; the very act of buying gave him a feeling of importance and dignity.

How different is the relationship of the customer to a department store. He is impressed by the vastness of the building, the number of employees, the profusion of commodities displayed; all that makes him feel small and unimportant by comparison. As an individual he is of no importance to the department store. He is important as “a customer”; the store does not want to lose him, because this would indicate that there is something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers. As an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant. There is nobody who is glad about his coming, nobody who is particularly concerned about his wishes. 

– Erich Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom

It occurs to me that many (if not most) organisations struggle to cultivate meaningful-profitable relationships with customers despite spending significant sums on the likes of customer analytics, CRM, marketing automation, and VoC. Why?  My experience of the last 15 years working in the Customer space is that action has been at the abstract level of customer and customers. And almost nobody has paid attention to the experience of the concrete flesh and blood customer as a human being.  As such technology has been used to remove rather than enhance what little was left of the human to human relating.  Technology can do many useful things including increasing access and reducing effort. What it cannot do well is this: create, enliven, enrich human relating.

What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.