What does it take to be a customer-centric enterprise?

What is it to be a customer-centric enterprise?

When I started my journey in the land of customer-centricity (2000), the answer to this question, according to the leading theorists and proponents, was this: an enterprise that organises itself by customer segments rather than products; and where one starts with the needs/wants of the customer segment/s and works back to the ‘products’ that meet these needs/wants.

There is another answer and it usually comes from those working in, or selling to those working in, the Customer Services arena. As far as I can see, an enterprise is customer-centric if it provides good/great customer service.

Today, I provide you with my point of view and it is informed by my recent experience with Bergli Books . First let me tell you my story.

I Order a Book From Bergli, I Never Get My Hands On It

I saw an add on Facebook for a book on Switzerland. I ordered that book by clicking on that ad and paid by credit card. Then I waited for the book to arrive. It didn’t. And, after some four weeks I contacted Bergli via email. The folks at Bergli looked into the matter and told me that the book had been delivered weeks ago. And, asked me to talk with my neighbours – to see if one of them has taken delivery. I responded that I have 15 neighbours and I was not going to chase all of them up on the basis anybody who has the book and didn’t hand it over to me is not likely to own up to have ‘stolen’ a book meant for me.

The folks at Bergli were great as in they agreed to send me another copy. And, the told me when it was going to be delivered. When I did not receive the book I emailed the folks at Bergli. Once again, they were polite and responsive. They looked into the matter and told me that their distributor had delivered the book. And, provided proof. Given that I had not received the book, they told me to ask my neighbours.

What is being communicated here by Bergli? Is it not something like, “Hey, you ordered a book, we sent it out, our logistics partner states that the book has been delivered. So over to you – it’s not our problem but yours if it was delivered or taken by one of your neighbours. And, don’t bother us as we have done our job!”

My definition of a customer-centric enterprise

I say: “A customer-centric enterprise takes the customer’s problem, makes it it’s own, and solves it in a way that leaves the customer happy and grateful.”

Allow me to illustrate, there is huge chasm between my experiences with Amazon (in the UK) and Bergli. If I had been dealing with the folks at Amazon they would solved my problem as in made sure that I got my hands on the product that I had ordered. If a second delivery had failed to make its way into my hands, the Amazon folks would have gone all out to make sure that the third delivery did end up in my hands.

What does it take to be a customer-centric enterprise?

What would have happened if Bergli had sent me an alert (email, sms) to let me know that the book had been despatched? Another one to tell me when the book was being delivered? And, one when the book was delivered? As I have been working from home for months, I would have gone downstairs to my postbox and retrieved the book.

Alternatively, what if Bergli books had allowed me to choose the day/date that I wanted the book to be delivered? There are online operations in Switzerland that do just that: I place the order on the website, and in the process of checking out I choose which day I want the item to be delivered. And, I always choose the day when I know I will be at home. This way, I have never missed a delivery.

Why did Bergli not allow me to choose the delivery date and/or provide the alerts? I suspect that Bergli has not put in place the requisites: the technology infrastructure; and choosing a delivery partner that has the requisite technology infrastructure. One that holds my customer details. One that tracks the progress/status of the delivery. One that sends out timely alerts as the delivery makes it way to the customer.

Which brings me to this conclusion: if your enterprise wishes to show up as customer-centric (as perceived by your customers) then it is essential that effective use is made of digital technologies.

Please note that effective use of digital technologies is necessary but not sufficient.

Putting The Customer At The Centre of Your Business

Now and then a question comes along that provokes my thinking. Here’s a question that I came across recently expressed in different ways:

  • What does putting the customer at the centre of the business look like?
  • What does it mean to put the customer at the centre of the business?
  • What are the implications (for us) of putting the customer at the centre of the business?

Stop. Hold the automatic weapons fire – the hail of ready made generic and almost always abstract and theoretical answers.


Many years ago I came home after a long difficult day. Upon entering our flat my two year old rushed towards me with a huge smile and with both his arms held up. As I lifted him up and gave him a hug, I found myself making a decision: to put him at the centre of my life.

Grappling with that question it became clear to me (over some weeks) that it meant that his wellbeing came first. That my decisions and actions had to be mindful of the impact on his well being. It also became clear to me that his wellbeing was tied to the wellbeing of his mother – he spent most of his waking life with his mother.

Did it stop there with that abstract realisation?  No. Looking at the way of my living it became clear to me that work came first in the way I showed up and travelled. My son and his mother, got what was left for me to give after I had given all to work. As I was often away from home during the week this meant that he got to spend time with me only at the weekends.

I made a decision – to do just enough at BigConsultingCo whilst actively looking to move to a smaller more local employer. Within a year, I left BigConsultingCo and moved over to a software company which was five minutes drive from home. And for which I did not have to travel….

Let’s be clear on one thing: putting my son’s wellbeing first meant, for me, giving up chasing the promotion to partner in BigConsultingCo.  It also meant leaving a world with which I was familiar/comfortable and walking into a new industry / new company and having to learn a new way of doing business.


Back to the question of putting the customer at the centre of your business – your particular business.  What are your answers to the questions I shared earlier?

It occurs to me that you can put the customer at the centre of your business in at least two ways. You can take the busy road where you will find many: you can put the customer at the centre of your business with a view to learning all you can about that customer, and using that knowledge to influence, shape, manipulate customer behaviour so as to enrich you.  Which may account for the fact that customer loyalty has been declining even whilst big brands have been spending a fortune on their IT armoury.

Alternatively, you can take the road less travelled. You can focus your efforts on gaining a deep understanding of your customer and using this insight to enrich the life of your customer.  How do you enrich the life of the customer?  No generic answer will do.  You have to generate this answer for your customer, your business.  It requires insight – insight into the life of your customer, the expressed needs, and the hidden unexpressed needs/wants.

Apple has enriched the life of their customers through compelling/superior products, a distinctive/superior in-store experience, and premium image.  Amazon has done it through an effortless convenient shopping experience and value for money pricing.  John Lewis has done it through a combination of good products, outstanding service provided by friendly knowledgeable human beings, and a culture of integrity.

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

 

What Is The Access to Transformation And Authentic Customer-Centricity?

What Is Transformation?

For the purposes of this conversation, when I speak ‘transformation’ I am pointing at a radical shift in one’s way of being – as in one’s way of showing up and travelling in this world.  If you are Christian, and know your Bible then think of the transformation (often called conversion) of Saul to Paul.  What was intrinsic to this transformation?  Was it not a letting go, a complete letting go, and embracing the unknown?

What Has Transformation To Do With Customer-Centric Business?

What has this conversation to do with all things Customer and especially customer-centric business?  Everything.  As I have said many times before a shift to showing up and doing business in an authentically customer-centric way requires a transformation: personal (Tops, Middles, Bottoms) and business (policies, practices, processes, tools).

a. What is the access to transformation?

What is the access to transformation at the individual (personal), and business (organisational) level?  Allow me to share the following with you:

In some Asian countries there is a very effective trap for catching monkeys. A slot is made in the bottom of a coconut, just big enough for the monkey to slide its hand in., but not big enough for the hand to be withdrawn when it is clenched. Then you put something sweet in the coconut, attach it to a tree, and wait for the monkey to come along. When the monkey slides its hand in and grabs the food, it gets caught. What keeps the monkey trapped? It is only the force of desire and attachment. All the monkey has to do is to let go of the sweet, open its hand, slip out, and go free – but only a rare monkey will do that.

– Joseph Goldstein, A Heart Full Of Peace, Best Buddhist Writing 2008

OK, this Buddhism stuff shows up for you as ‘other worldly’ – unrealistic.  So allow me to make it real for you.

b. The Transformation of Zappos Occurred in March 2003

Listen to Tony Hsieh talk about the early days of Zappos when the leadership team was struggling to find funding to keep Zappos going – the cash had run out (bolding is my work):

A month later, we still weren’t profitable. We still couldn’t raise funding.

But we had a decision to make.

How serious were we about this idea of making the Zappos brand be about the very best customer service? We had discussed the idea internally with our employees, and everyone was excited about the potential new direction.

But was it all talk? Or were we committed?

We hadn’t actually changed the way we did anything at Zappos yet. We did a lot of talking, but we weren’t putting our money where our mouths were And our employees knew it…..

For 2003, we were projecting sales to double, with about 25 percent of our overall sales coming from our drop ship business. The drop ship business was easy money. We didn’t have to carry inventory so we didn’t have any inventory risk or cash-flow problems with that part of the business. But we had plenty of customer service challenges.

The inventory feeds ….. from our vendors for our drop ship business were 95 percent accurate at best …. On top of that, the brands did not ship as quickly or accurately as our own WHISKY warehouse, which meant we had plenty of unhappy and disappointed customers. But it was easy money.

We all knew deep down inside that we would have to give up the drop ship business sooner or later if we were serious about building the Zappos brand to be about the very best customer service. We also knew that the bigger we grew, the more reliant we would be on the cash from drop shipping. There would never be a good time to walk away……

So we made what was both the easiest and hardest decision we ever had to make up until that point. In March 2003, with the flip of a switch, we turned off that part of the business and removed all of the drop ship products from our web site.

We took a deep breath and hoped for the best…..

We had to deal with our first test of our new direction right away. With a drop in revenue, cash was even tighter than before.

Now we had to figure out how to make next week’s payroll.

– Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness

Not easy is it?  Which kind of explains why many organisations which talk about customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity are playing at the periphery: making process changes, buying-implementing technology etc.  Which CEO or leadership team looks forward to taking a deep breath and hoping for the best?

Summing Up

If you are serious about cultivating genuine-meaningful loyalty between yourself and your customers then you have to open up your clenched fist. And let go of all the policies-practices-products-people that generate bad profits – profits made at the expense of your customers.

As Tony Hsieh says there is NEVER a good time to do this. So the best time to do that which goes with showing up and travelling the authentic customer-centric path is NOW! Why now?  Get this, everything that ever happens, happens NOW. I know that this is not how it shows up for you, or me. And look into this, deeply, and you will see the truth of it. All action occurs in the present, NOW.

Here is where it gets interesting. There cannot be an organisational transformation unless it is preceded by individual/personal transformation; this individual/personal transformation has to start with the Tops – it is called leadership.

What is the subtitle of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness book? “A path to profits, passion, and purpose”.   It occurs to me that the many with whom I speak show an avid interest in profits – increasing profits.  Few show any interest in any purpose other than ego: self enrichment in its many disguised. Passion?  Passion for great customer service, passion for great Customer Experience, passion for the genuine well-being of customers as fellow human beings?  If you come across it then please share it with me.

 

What I Took Away From CXDay In London, UK

CXDay organised by the CXPA took place yesterday. At the invitation of Marco Rodrigues, I found myself at the CXDay event taking place in London. Here is what I took away from that event:

The terms customer-centric, Customer Experience, and innovation are empty. They are so empty that each person can fill them up whatever meaning they wish. And they do. Then the debates occur as to what customer-centric means, what customer experience is and is not, what counts as innovation or not. Some academics see an opportunity here: to define Customer Experience as a set of capabilities backed by empirical data and thus put in a place an established framework for assessing Customer Experience maturity and benchmarking.

Life is difficult/frustrating on those who find themselves either preaching and making a living from Customer Experience. And it is perhaps even more difficult for those who find themselves part of the Customer Experience team within a large corporate. One such person told me that she found it frustrating to make sense of what Customer Experience involves. Dive into it and you realise it is a many headed monster. There are many questions and no ready made silver bullets. To deal with the Customer Experience challenge you have to get pretty much everyone else in the organisation to work with you to tame the monster. And these folks are not interested. To them Customer Experience is irrelevant to what they have to do on a day to day basis. And for them the folks in the Customer Experience show up as an irrelevant annoyance.

Customer Experience has been and continues to be a blessing for one set of folks: the VoC vendors.  These folks cannot believe their luck: listening to the voice of the customer has become a mandatory exercise for just about every organisation and their is an endless appetite for what the VoC vendors are selling. Yet all is not as great as it sounds. The more intelligent VoC folks (at VoC vendors) are concerned. Why? Because they are wondering when someone is going to wake up, notice and call it as it is. How is it? Corporations may be listening to VoC, they certainly aren’t doing much about it. And so from a practical perspective they are not listening to their customers. So the most rational course of action is to put a stop to their relationship with VoC vendor and scrap their Customer Experience team.

A handful of people get it and are living it. What do they get? They get what the whole Customer Experience thing is all about. Renata Wallace, the owner and managing director of Wallacespace gets it. As soon as I walked into Wallacespace (the venue for the CXDay event) I found myself saying “This is a meeting space with soul!”. Then I listened to Renata share her story and I got that Renata embodies the soul that is so manifest in the look+feel of Wallacespace. What struck me most forcefully about Renata is how she is so different to just about every senior person in meet in big corporate land. What makes her distinct for me? She oozes the kind of humanity that is rare in corporate environments.

It’s great to meet up with people in person. I enjoyed meeting up with Marcio Rodrigues – who reminded me of the event and encouraged me to attend. I enjoyed meeting up with Ian J. Golding  a customer experience evangelist and consultant. I enjoyed meeting Nadine Dyer, a Customer Experience Manager, who shared with me how that which I speak her lands for her. I enjoyed meeting Renata Wallace……. For me nothing takes the place of face to face encounters with human beings. And in that respect I thank the folks from Wallacespace who supplied us with drinks, canopies, and friendly service.

I wish you a great day and thank you for making the time to listen and in some cases share that which I speak here.  Live well, be a source of positive difference in the world. Be a Renata Wallace! A human being in touch with his/her humanity and revelling in it. This is an invitation you can accept or reject – as human beings you and I are ‘condemned to be free’ to always be the chooser who chooses, even choosing not to choose and just going with the way that it has been set up for us.

 

 

 

Why I Prefer Not To Do Business With Customer-Centric Businesses

Why is it that I prefer not to business with a customer-centric business? Allow me to share my answer by referring to the UK grocery market.  Which supermarket chain was applauded, by many, for its customer-centred way of doing business? Tesco.  What was held responsible for fuelling this customer-centred way of doing business? The Tesco Club Card. Through this loyalty card, Tesco captured and made effective use of customer shopping data to grow revenues and optimise profits.  In the process Tesco came from nowhere to became the world’s second largest retailer.

Where is Tesco today? Here is what The Economist said back in July 2014:

… on July 21st Tesco abruptly announced that Mr Clarke would be leaving his job, apparently prompted by a warning that profits in the first half of 2014 would come in “below expectations”. In June Tesco revealed a drop in same-store sales that Mr Clarke admitted was the retailer’s worst performance in 40 years….

Recession taught middle-class shoppers that discounters like Aldi and Lidl were cheap but not nasty; they spent some of the money they saved at higher-end grocers, such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer……

Tesco is faring badly. Its sales dropped by nearly 2% in the year to June while those of its closest rivals, Asda (which is owned by Walmart) and Sainsbury’s, rose by 3% or better. Despite his exertions, Mr Clarke failed to persuade consumers that Tesco offers better value than the discounters or quality to match the upmarket merchants.

Is this as bad as it gets? No. Here is what the Guardian newspaper stated in on the 22nd of September this year:

Tesco has suspended the head of its UK business and called in independent accountants and lawyers to investigate after discovering that its guidance to the City overstated expected first-half profits by about £250m….

Tesco shares fell almost 8% on Monday morning to an 11-year low of 212p, making them the biggest faller in the FTSE 100 index and wiping £1.5bn off the retailer’s market value. More than £6bn has been wiped off share value since 21 July, when the previous chief executive, Phil Clark, was ousted.

Why is it that Tesco is in such deep trouble? I say that Tesco has arrived at where it is at due to its customer-centric way of doing business.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that the Tops got fixated into harnessing the data yielded by the Club Card to get customers to part with more of their money in Tesco stores.

Was this done by offering customers superior products as in higher quality products? No.  The products were middle of the road yet ways were found of selling these at higher prices through clever marketing and merchandising.

Was this done by providing superior customer service in the stores? No. Tesco cut back on the number of people working in the stores so it was not unusual for the customer to find that there was nobody around to help when help was needed or find long queues at the checkout tills.

Was this done through a superior shopping experience? No. Management chose not to invest in the stores or the shopping experience in the stores. As a result the stores become less and less attractive over time.

I prefer not to do business with a customer-centric business because the management of such a business is more likely to be focussed on extracting value from their customer base through a variety of clever manoeuvres than earning its keep through superior products (Apple, Waitrose), superior service (John Lewis, Zappos), low prices (Lidl, Aldi), or a combination of service and low price (Amazon).

If you are a customer and your supplier is touting customer-obsession then  you might want to think about whether that is a good thing. Is the obsession with providing you with a superior product, superior value,  and/or experience? Or is it an obsession with with finding clever ways of getting you to buy more, pay more for what you buy, and get less in return? You might want to keep in mind that which many remind me of: business is not altruistic.