Time to Hit Refresh on Customer and Employee Experience Design Efforts?

What Matters And Is Missing In Those Who Are Working On Improving The Customer/Employee Experience?

I’ve worked with folks working on improving/transforming the Customer Experience.  I’ve also worked with folks working on improving/transforming the Employee Experience. In the process, I have come across personas, customer journeys, voice of the customer surveys, design thinking, service design, process mapping…. Yes, I have come across plenty of stuff.  Yet, I say that I have not come across that which gives life to the work of designing/orchestrating experiences that touch human lives as lived.

What is it that I am pointing at?  Let’s listen to Satya Nadella talk in his book Hit Refresh:

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Richard didn’t give me an engineering problem to solve on the whiteboard or a complex coding scenario to talk through. He didn’t grill me on my prior experiences or educational pedigree. He had one simple question.

“Imagine you see a baby laying in the street, and the baby is crying. What do you do?” he asked.

“You call 911,” I replied without much forethought.

Richard walked me out of his office, put his arm around me and said, “You need some empathy, man. If a baby is laying on the street crying, pick up the baby.”

Yes, that sums it up well.  Most of the folks that I have encountered are intelligent like Nadella and have about the same emotional intelligence (empathy) as he had when this event occurred many years ago.

How Important Is Empathy in Experience Design?

Great design necessarily has to be human centred as only human beings can appreciate the presence/absence of great design.  Is any kind of empathy sufficient?  Or is a particular kind of empathy necessary?  Lets listen to the folks at IDEO:

Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for…..

In the Inspiration Phase you’ll learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs..

Notice, that IDEO folks speak of “deep empathy” – the kind of empathy that arises only after one has spent enough time immersed in their lives.  It is that immersion (living in the arena in which life occurs) that leads to the deep understanding of their needs.

Yet, time after time I see folks ‘study’ their target (customer, employee) from a safe distance (sitting in the stands) through a variety of means – surveys, focus groups, interviews. Then use their intellect to come up with personas, journeys etc.  All intellect, zero empathy.

Can you just take these ‘intellectuals’ and turn them into empaths with some classroom training?  Or maybe an empathy app.  Is it this simple?

The Right Kind of Life Experiences Are Essential To The Presence of Empathy

I say that suffering is essential to empathy.  It is my own (personal) suffering in the arena of cancer that has led me to accept a request from a friend to reach out and talk with her friends father who is dying of liver cancer.  How about Satya Nadella?

I discovered Buddha did not set out to found a world religion. He set out to understand why one suffers. I learned that only through living life’s ups and downs you can develop empathy….

It’s just that life’s experience has helped me build a growing sense of empathy for an ever widening circle of people. I have empathy for people with disabilities. I have empathy for people trying to make a living from the inner cities and the Rust Belt to the developing countries …. I have empathy for small business owners working to succeed. I have empathy for any person targeted with violence and hate because of the color of his or hers skin, what they believe, or who they love.

My passion is to put empathy at the centre of everything I pursue – from products we launch, to the new markets we enter, to the employees, customers, and partners we work with.

So how did an ‘intellectual’ like Nadella turn into such an empath.  The clue is in the line “It’s just that life’s experiences …”  Is there a particular life experience that was the turning point?

Little did I know then how profoundly our lives would change. Over the course of the next couple of years we learned more about the damage caused by utero-asphyxiation, and how Zain would require a wheelchair and be reliant on us because of sever cerebral palsy. I was devastated.

Something awful like this happens. It brings your world to a halt and suddenly you ooze with empathy.  Right?  Not necessarily. Let’s listen to Nadella:

I was devastated. But mostly I was sad for how things turned out for me and Anu.  Thankfully, Anu helped me understand that it was not about what happened to me. it was about deeply understanding what had happened to Zain, and developing empathy for his pain and his circumstances while accepting our responsibility as his parents.

What Are The Implications For Your Customer/Employee Experience Efforts?

Empathy is central.

Yet, time after time, I come across Experience ‘teams’ full of Nadella’s – intelligent, hardworking, and self-centred.  Folks who treated everything an engineering (process, technology) problem. These folks even when they think/speak ‘walking in the shoes of the customer/employee’ are doing nothing of the kind. Mostly they are projecting themselves (their mindset) into the shoes of their customers/employees.  Worse, these folks are blind to this – so blind that when someone like me points this out it simply does not show up on their radar.

What’s missing is the Anu’s of this world – people who naturally feel/think and show up/operate in terms of the needs/suffering of the other – fellow human being.

Until the Nadella’s are teamed up with the Anu’s of this world, and listen – really listen, most of the experience design/improvement efforts will yield little of value.

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

Maz Signature

What Does It Take To Delight This Customer?

Story: The Customer Experiences Sadness & Delight

Last week, Friday, it’s 10:00 and I am working from home.  Andy’s not arrived yet.  I’m wondering if he is OK or if he has forgotten. Neither of these thoughts occurs as a pleasant experience. Then I hear myself speaking: “It’s Andy, most likely he’s simply running late – its who he is. Relax. He’ll probably be here in the next 30 minutes.” I relax, and get back to work.

The doorbell rings. I open the door and see Andy standing there with his smile. I notice that I am happy to see him. I tell him that I am pleased/happy to see him. And invite him into my home whilst asking if he wants a drink. Andy says “A tea would be nice!” I ask him how he likes it and get busy making that tea.  The tea is brewing as Andy likes his tea strong; both of us are standing up in the kitchen.

Andy says “Sorry about contacting you amidst your cancer. What’s the news?”  I thank him for the discreet ways (email, SMS) that he kept in touch and reminded me that the vents had arrived and he was ready to install them when it worked for me.  I tell him that sorting out the condensation problem in the loft (the job to be done from my perspective) continues to be something matters and I am happy that he is here to do that for me. Then I answer his question around my cancer.

After listening patiently Andy shares his (relevant) experiences. His health, the blood tests he has to undergo, the medicines he has to take, and the way this has impacted his existence.  He also talks about his late mother and her cancer journey. We talk a while. Then I excuse myself as nature calls.  Andy gets busy with that which needs doing in the loft.

A little while later Andy comes down and finds me working on my laptop. And says something like “Sorry for disturbing you and I’ve finished”.  We get talking again. In the process he tells me that he noticed that the insulation in the loft is minimal. He tells me that his house had been in a similar situation and that he had managed to get a grant for extra insulation. He gives me the name of a website.  I thank him.

We move into the kitchen and he sets about writing me an invoice. I notice that the labour charge is a fraction of that which Andy had quoted. I point this out.

Andrew Laney Carpentry

Andy says in a matter of fact “It was a lot easier than I thought. It only took half an hour. So that’s the labour charge.”

I say let me pay you now and set about logging into my mobile banking app. Turns out that I no longer have Andrew Laney Carpentry and Maintenance set up. So I ask for Andy’s bank details. He gives me his bank card and make the attempt to pay him. Problem: there is fault in the mobile banking app that does not allow me enter his full name (somebody has not done good enough UX testing on the banking app).

I say, “Let me take a photo of your bank card. That way I’ll have your details and can punch them into the website using the laptop.  I will text you once I make the payment. Please text me back to confirm that you have received the payment.”

The outside door is open and Andy is in the midst of stepping out.  I say “Thank you Andy. Give my regards to John when you next see him. And remember that I work from home on Fridays. If you’re in the area then come around for a tea. You’re welcome.”  Andy tells me that is in the area from time to time, on a Friday, and will take me up on my offer.  I shake his hand and we part company.

I get present to my state of being  – noticing that I find myself experiencing both sadness and delight.

Who/What Is The Cause of Customer Sadness & Delight?

I look into my sadness and delight.  What is going on here?  Why the sadness?  What is the cause of delight?

Sadness. I notice it is the kind of sadness I experience when parting company with a friend. Interesting, at some deeper level than my conscious/rational mind, Andy is showing up for me as a friend.  Makes sense, he is friendly and we do have history together in the sense that some months back he did some work on my home. He was recommended by the fitter that i was using for a major refurbishment – I wrote a conversation on that here.

The delight. Why am I delighted? What is the source of the delight?  I notice that there are several dimensions:

  1. The job to be done (fix condensation problem in loft) occurs as done and is no longer on my mind – I had been carrying this problem for over a year;
  2. I enjoyed my interactions/conversations with Andy – genuine human to human relating had occurred where I found myself with a richer picture of Andy including knowing stuff that I would never have guessed unless he had shared it with me e.g. his military service, his mother’s cancer etc;
  3. The whole thing had turned out to be less troublesome and less costly than I had thought it would be; and
  4. Andy had done right by me all along validating my decision to put my problem (job to be done) in Andy’s hands and trust him.

Which might explain why it is that immediately after Andy left I logged into my Mac, paid him electronically, and texted him to tell him that I had done so, and asked him to confirm that he had got the payment. Doing otherwise, did not occur as an option – not even delaying it to the afternoon.

How Has Andy Laney Done Right By Me?

Looking into my experience of delight, it struck me that the defining factor in my experiencing delight is the thought-feeling “Andy’s done right by me; I made the right decision to trust this man!”  So I got busy looking into that – to see finer detail of doing right by me is made up of in this instance.  Here’s what shows up for me:

  1. I shared the problem with Andy and I proposed the solution – that of replacing some of the roof tiles with vented roof tiles;
  2. Andy looked into the matter and came up with a much cheaper/easier solution that of using internal vented tiles;
  3. My focus/priority to switched from this job to be done to dealing with cancer – and in the process I neglected this job to be done;
  4. Andy had kept in touch discreetly and minimally via non-intrusive means – mostly email about the job e.g. “The vents have arrived,” and SMS to ask about my cancer;
  5. Andy had seen the job through and been honest/straight all the way to the end – he could easily have played around for 2 to 3 hours, made the job look more complex, and charged me that which he quoted or more as I would have paid; and
  6. Andy had also been on my side (helpful) to the end – by pointing out that I do need to improve the insulation in the loft (work that he does not do) and telling me where I could get a government funded grant to cover all/most of the cost.

What Was The Real Gift That Andy Laney Left Me With?

Looking deeper still it hits me that Andy Laney gave me a gift. What gift? A gift that really matters to me!  What gift?  Evidence/experience of folks (in the world of business) who are decent/good.  Folks for whom money is not the measure of all things. Folks who embody a certain kind of old fashioned human dignity. And show up/operate with a sense of dignity/honour.  Folks for whom cheating customers does not occur as an option – even to consider this seriously would be to sully one’s self-esteem.  Thank you Andy for this gift.

I thank you for the listening. I wish you the very best.  Until the next time…

Maz Signature

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

CX: Using Intelligent Generosity To Cultivate Customer Delight

Certain businesses deal with products that perish or become useless if not used by a certain date/time.  This is often seen as a problem – a problem of generating demand to drive sales, and a problem of inventory management. I have yet to see this viewed, by Tops, as an opportunity to delight customers, and cultivate gratitude / loyalty between the customer and the business.

What am I talking about? Allow me to illustrate using a recent experience.

Recently, I booked a double room at the local Hilton (St. Annes Manor) hotel via Hotels.com.  I made a mistake – I booked it in my name, and for only one adult. So when time came for my wife and daughter to go to the hotel I rang the hotel. The voice on the other hand was professional and warm. The young lady didn’t just change the booking. Once she learnt that the room was for two adults, she took charge, and without me asking, found a room with two beds. I found myself pleased and grateful.  Later that evening my wife sent me a photo of the room – it was a room with two double beds.  Delight – my wife was delighted, my daughter was delighted, and I was delighted.  Along with this kind of room came four towels – ideal for those of us who needed access to that room merely to shower – until the major renovation work is finished in our home.

Think about it. What did the hotel lose by giving us that bigger (deluxe) room?  Nothing!  It was late in the day, the room was free, and if it had not been used it would have created no value for anyone.  Through intelligent generosity the lady on the front desk did create value: for us (the customers) and also for that hotel. How so for the hotel? I am writing about the hotel right now am I not?  Also, it was the first time any member of the family stayed there – those that got to experience it (wife and daughter) love it and have been talking about it – recommending it to others: the room, the peaceful / beautiful location, the spa…..  I also suspect that sooner or later my wife will check us in there for a quiet weekend away from the children.

It occurs to me that every business that deals with ‘perishable’ inventory has an opportunity to exercise intelligent generosity:

If you are an airline then you can offer seats (that your analytical models show will go unfilled) to some of your customers for free – as a thank you;

If you are a hotel you can do as our local Hilton did and/or offer some / all of the rooms likely to go unfilled to some of your customers for free – as a thank you or as taster;

If you are a supermarket, you have an opportunity to give food that is reaching its sell by date to certain customers (you choose which ones) or to local community organisation / charity that supports those in need…..

I know that some organisations do something this  e.g. airlines which offer free upgrades to certain customers.  I know that some hotels do this also. What I am talking about here is this and more than this – in some instances giving perishable product away to customers for free – free flight, free hotel stay, free train ticket, free concert ticket……

The question I am posing is this one: what opportunities does your business have to exercise intelligent generosity – the kind of generosity that causes customer surprise / delight / gratitude, holds the promise of increased revenue and/or brand reputation over the longer term, yet costs you little or nothing today?

Before you dismiss the question that I have posed, I ask you to consider that if ‘perishable’ inventory is not used by its sell-by date then it is waste. Is waste a better outcome / way of showing up and traveling in life than intelligent generosity?  All I can say is that the field of intelligent generosity appears large and largely unoccupied.

I thank you for your listening, until the next time…

Calling Forth The Best From Folks Working For You

 

“I like coming here!”  was confessed with a smile. The speaker?  A highly skilled professional who is undertaking a major refurbishment project for me in my home.

 

It hit me that this is the fundamental ask. Every professional including those who deal directly with customer and shape the customer experience is looking to feel-think “I like coming here!”

I say that this is the most fundamental ask because only those folks who as they show up for work AND find themselves confessing to themselves “I like coming here!” are likely to give of their best. It is necessary to feel good – about oneself, about one’s colleagues, about one’s manager/leader, about one’s work – if one is going to find oneself doing great work.

How is it that we arrived at this stage: “I like coming here!”? I can tell you that I did not turn to HR specialists. Nor did I make use of the kitbag of tools/tricks called employee engagement.  I didn’t even set up a reward and punishment framework – commonly labelled performance management.  So how did this come about?

Here’s my contribution:

  1. Made sure that my drive was free so that John (the skilled professional) could park is van without any hassle;
  2. Welcomed John each day when I found myself at home;
  3. Asked my wife to do that which I would do if I were home;
  4. Gave John a key to get in the house when nobody was at home;
  5. Asked John and his assistant what they wished to drink – each day, every few hours;
  6. Made John a tea (his favourite drink) and poured the assistant his favourite drink – an orange juice – at least four times a day;
  7. Occasionally, took up slices of cake and some biscuits – without being asked;
  8. Offered to make John and his assistant a sandwich lunch – which they declined;
  9. Regularly checked in with them to see how they were doing and if they needed anything from me;
  10. Actively looked for the opportunity to strike up a human conversation and create a human relationship with John and his assistant;
  11. Listened to John’s point of view when tricky matters came up, discussed the matters, and jointly came up with an appropriate solution that worked for both of us; and
  12. Jumped into my car to go to the store and buy urgently needed supplies that John had forgotten to buy; and
  13. I did not make John wrong (including in my speaking of him to myself) for forgetting / not doing that which he was supposed to do.

In short, I sought to transcend the conventional role based performance (customer – supplier, employer – employee, manager – subordinate) that folks so easily fall into.  Instead, I focussed on cultivating a genuinely human to human relationship: a relationship of equality of dignity whilst recognising inequality of expertise and power.

Whilst all of the above has been necessary in calling forth great work from John it is not sufficient. It is a new age myth and fashionable nonsense that folks will do right by you if you treat them right. Some folks will simply walk over you if you take this approach with them – they will see your generosity / friendliness as a weakness that they can exploit.

Perhaps, the most important thing that I did is to take my time in selecting the right person. I asked around to find a true professional. Then I met the professional and experienced how he worked. Finally, I waited – I waited six weeks for him to come free despite the fact that the work needed to be done urgently.

Summing up, I say:

If as a manager you are not receiving great work from the folks that work for you then you either recruited the wrong folks and/or you are not treating them right – as fellow human beings worthy of equality of dignity.

If as a customer you are unhappy with the performance of your supplier then I say the same to you: you didn’t select/recruit the right supplier and/or you are not treating this supplier right.

Transcend the default roles (customer – supplier, employer – employee, manager – subordinate) and plays. Instead strike up a genuine human to human relationship – its the key to calling forth the best, including loyalty, for human beings no matter which role they are playing.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s The Impact of a Shitty Employee Experience on the Customer Experience?

Can you deliver a good-to-great customer experience without paying attention to the employee experience?  If you forget theory and look at the practice in large organisations you might just see that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  There is so much talk about the customer experience and in the process a lot of extra work is put on to the shoulders of the employees. There is almost zero attention to the employee experience. Almost nobody that matters grapple seriously with improving the lives/experience of the employees who face the customers. Especially not the folks in call-centres.

I say that if you provide your call-centre agents with a shitty employee experience then the costs (of this shitty experience) are inevitably passed on to the customers. First the customer experiences a lack in the interaction with the call-centre agent: something just doesn’t feel right. Second, the customer is left with an inadequate outcome whether s/he is aware of this or not: the question isn’t really answered; the advice given is less than optimal; or the advice is plain wrong.

Let me say this again: fine sounding words like customer focus, respect, empathy, customer-centricity, customer delight are not enough. On their own they represent icing on a turd.  I go further and assert this: if you recruit the right people and get the employee experience right then your customer facing agents will deliver good-to-great customer experiences without the need for the fine sounding words.

What happens when you have an environment in which the fine sounding words are in place and the call-centre agent experience is shitty?  Allow me share some experience:

  • The agent is aware that time it ticking and his performance is being monitored so he is keen to get on with the call and close it;
  • The agent is so busy navigating / accessing / viewing / updating many applications (that do not talk to one another) including spreadsheets and Word documents that s/he is not in the state necessary to really listen to the customer, to empathise, to make the customer feel valued;
  • The agent is dealing with a complex issue – which is what customers tend to ring in for increasingly – and he doesn’t know the answer. Under the pressure of the clock the agent finds the first plausible answer and gives this to the customer;
  • The agent is speaking jargon whether he s/he knows it or not. The agent is speaking to a sixteen year old who does not get the jargon. This sixteen year old asks for clarification on some of the jargon. The agent explains this jargon with more jargon all the time his/her tone implies that the customer is stupid;
  • This customer, this call, requires flexibility yet the agent is being monitored and managed on his/her ability to stick to the script. So that agent sacrifices the customer experience and his sense of what is appropriate in order do that which is clearly not appropriate – stick to the script. The customer pays the price in that s/he feels that s/he is talking with an idiot and dealing with an inhuman organisation.

Let me sum it up: If you provide your customer facing employees with a shitty employee experience then the best you can expect these folks to deliver is shitty-to-ordinary customer experience.  And no amount of find sounding words will make any difference. These fine sounding words are as effective as putting cream on a turd and serving it in a restaurant.  Nobody does this in the restaurant business, but this practice is common in large organisations.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

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.