If you are not working on dismantling the walls of separation then you are wasting your time

One picture can say more than a shelf full of books.  When it comes to forging a mutually beneficial relationship between companies and customers here is the picture that says it all – at least to me.

This picture was put together by David Armano and is part of his visual archive on his Logic + Emotion blog.   It is a blog that I rate highly and have listed under my “Worth Checking Out” links.

Why am I drawing attention to these walls of separation today?

Too much of what passes for Customer Experience is simply customer interaction management (the engineering mindset) or customer interaction design (the digital design mindset).  If the Customer Experience movement is to make any impact then the people working in it, leading it, have to rise several levels above interaction and deal with the stuff that really stands in the way of organisations and their customers: the deeply ingrained, taken for granted, walls of separation.

Put differently, if you are not willing to dismantle the walls of separation then you are wasting time, effort and money on Customer Experience, CRM and Social Media.  If you disagree then please do write and share your point of view and the reasoning behind it.

Why organisations will continue to struggle to get close to their customers

I am not well, I think it is the flu.  So today I am going to keep my writing short – please excuse me if it is a little light.

I love learning especially stuff that challenges the dominant ways of thinking about stuff.   As a result I regularly visit TED and in my last visit I came across this video:

It got me thinking and I asked myself the question: is it that simple?

If you read the articles on CRM, on Customer Experience, on Social Business then time and again the writers mention the need to get commitment from the Tops, the need for leadership from the Tops, the need for cultural change – which, no surprise, needs agreement and leadership from the Tops!

Who are the Tops?  Almost always men.  The language that men speak is the language of warfare; the language of the impersonal; the language where the end often justifies the means.  And men love technology – we love our toys.  We love command and control. And in the process we make toys of human beings.  That applies to employees, it applies to suppliers and I argue that it also applies to customers.  We seek to manipulate customers adeptly as they are the more important pieces on the chessboard – yet they are just another piece on the chess board.   Can I dare assert that the men that are most adept at playing this game of chess end up at the Top?

Yet the social, relational and experience paradigms are predominantly feminine.  It is soft stuff. the stuff that has been neglected for a long time and often handed over to the HR folks.   If you are struggling with this then I have a question for you?  How is that in business we refer to getting customers as ‘conquesting’, as hunting; keeping customers is referred to as ‘farming’; and hunters are the hero’s that get the lion share of the rewards  whereas the farmers are looked down upon and get meagre rewards.

Is it that simple?  That organisations are struggling to become customer centric because this is  relationship centred paradigm which is natural for many women and unnatural for many men and especially the Top.  That the Tops prefer to play generalship (the art & science of warfare) then to play midwife to the relationship centred organisation and economy?

If it is not that simple then why is it that whilst the Tops profess customer focus and customer centricity their lieutenants claim that these very same Tops are the main obstacles to bringing customer centred initiatives to fruition?

I do not claim sole access to  ‘truth’ so do let me know what you think.

Voice of the Customer: following in the tracks of CRM?

I am noticing that there is a lot of buzz around Voice of the Customer (VoC).  There are lots vendors out there who will supply you with the frameworks and the technology to get access to the VoC.  There are even companies out there that will do it all for you.

To my skeptical mind the promise and the buzz sounds remarkably like that of CRM in its early days: heaven on earth or put differently profitable and enduring relationships out of the box.  So what is my concern, what is my issue, what is keeping me awake?  In a nutshell, the hype, the overblown expectations.

The digital world is overflowing with data.  The first challenge is to gather the data from the various fields in which it grows and bring it together in a useful way.  Having been involved in data mining and predictive analytics I can tell you that it is not as easy as it sounds.  The next challenge is to find patterns in this data.  The bad news is that technology alone will not cut it: notice that Google has just changed its algorithm to deal with the loophole found and exploited by Vitaly Borker.  So human being are required.  Human beings who understand the process; who understand the technology including it’s limitation; who understand the business; and who understand customers.  Then the fun really starts.

Having found the patterns and interpreted the patterns from the VoC these wonderful human beings have to convert these patterns, these insights, into a language that the people in the business can understand.  Believe it or not this is not as simple as it sounds.  The people who are often best at finding the patterns in the data really struggle to convey their insight in a way that the business people get. Incidentally, finding people who are good at turning data into insight is not easy.

Now we get to the really serious problems.

Human beings have a strong tendency to discount anything that does not fit in with their view of the world, their values, their goals, their self-interest.  This is particularly so when these people have been completely divorced from the process of gathering, integrating and making sense of the data. So it is not at all guaranteed that the wisdom that has been gathered from VoC will actually be accepted by those who have the power to act on it.

Next we come to the central problem and it is this: knowing really does not make the difference.  Think of all the obese, unfit, people in rich societies and then think of all the mountains of ink that has been written on eating the right foods, in moderate amounts and the need for exercise.  I have known for many years that I need to exercise more, yet I did nothing until I had a blood test that frightened me a lot.  Now I exercise for at least half an hour a day, every day.

So where am I going with this?

First, all the work and cost associated with VoC is only worthwhile if there is real hunger in the organisation (started with the Tops) to use it to improve the lot of the customer and to improve the effectiveness of business operations.  I have worked in an organisation which spent considerable amount of money and effort on conducting NPS surveys.  Whilst one set of people were passionate about the process, the bulk of the European organisation (at all levels) was not.  As a result, nothing significant changed from one survey to the next.

Second, there is absolutely no substitute for the Tops (the Csuite, the elite) getting away from their offices and walking in the shoes of their customers and of their people who have to interact with and serve these customers. I believe that was the lesson of the Undercover Boss tv series.  So by all means do VoC but not at the expense of having senior and middle managers walk in the shoes of customers and front line staff.  If I absolutely had to choose between the two, I would drop VoC and insist managers work on the front line regularly.

What do you think?

How the world has changed: TeleTech buys The Peppers & Rogers Group

I was a part of The Peppers & Rogers team here in the UK at the turn of the century.  That is where I met some of the people who I find to be the most passionate about advising and assisting companies in creating sustainable competitive advantage through customer-centricity.

At the height of the dot com collapse I left Peppers & Rogers – as did some of my colleagues.  Yet, I have continued to follow the company as I have fond memories and am in agreement with what the company stands for: a customer centred approach to doing business.  So it is with interest that I read that TeleTech have bought 80% of The Peppers & Rogers Group.

What I find it interesting is that Peppers & Rogers has not been bought by a marketing agency. It has been bought by a company that specialises in outsourcing including Customer Management Outsourcing.  How times have changed!

When I worked at Peppers & Rogers (200 – 2001) I would never have imagined that things would turn out this way.  Those were the days of CRM.   At that time we did almost all of our consulting for the marketing function – typically the marketing director or the CMO.  Occasionally we did work for the Commercial Director and even the odd CEO.  Yet, the people who were in the driving seat were the marketing folks.

At that time I always envisaged that if anyone would buy Peppers & Rogers it would be a marketing agency.  And at the end of the dot-com collapse the UK arm of Peppers & Rogers was sold to Carlson Marketing – they used to own the Peppers & Rogers brand name in the UK but now it is branded Carlson 1to1.

CRM fell flat on its face because too many people in business are looking for the quick fix – the silver bullet – and the software companies (like Siebel) were happy to provide it.  Out of the ashes of CRM arose Customer Experience.

Today we live in the age of Customer Experience and in this age the marketing function is not the most important one.  Not by a mile – customers rarely decide to continue doing business with a company as a result of the advertising nor the direct mail pieces that land in the letter box.  In the age of Customer Experience the Customer Services function (and contact centres in particular) play a primary role: depending on which survey you read, some 70 to 80% of respondents claim their decision to stick with or leave a supplier is based on the service that they receive.  And a significant part of that service comes out of the contact centres. So it makes perfect sense that TeleTech has purchased The Peppers & Rogers Group.

I want to make it clear that I am not against marketers, the marketing function or even advertising.  Whilst I passionately believe that marketing and marketers have to embrace a completely new paradigm I also get the value that good marketing creates.  Good marketing contributes to the customer and adds to the bottom line.

One role of marketing – indeed advertising – is to add stuff that customers want and which is not in the product itself.  Think about the classic USA adverts for the Volkswagen Beetle – they took an odd-looking car and made it sexy.  Think about the Avis advertising – it took a number 2 position and made it into a virtue: we are No 2, we try harder.

Some brands – especially luxury brands – depend critically on good marketing: customers are buying status and the marketing has to continue to create that status.  Automotive insiders tell me that the quality of Honda cars is just as good as anything on the market yet no-one looking for status buys a Honda, they buy Mercedes, Audi, BMW….