Why an authentic customer orientation requires a transformation (Part II)

In this post I continue the conversation that I started in the last post.  I am almost never at a loss to write as the words write themselves.  And indeed I have just deleted forty minutes of writing.  Why?  It occurs to me that they add nothing to what Robert Francis QC says.  Before I share his words with you let me set the scene, the context, such that his words have significance for you.

What occurred, how were the customers – the patients – treated?

“The evidence gathered by the Inquiry shows clearly that for many patients the most basic elements of care were neglected. Calls for help to use the bathroom were ignored and patients were left lying in soiled sheeting and sitting on commodes for hours, often feeling ashamed and afraid. Patients were left unwashed, at times for up to a month. Food and drinks were left out of the reach of patients and many were forced to rely on family members for help with feeding. Staff failed to make basic observations and pain relief was provided late or in some cases not at all. Patients were too often discharged before it was appropriate, only to have to be re-admitted shortly afterwards. The standards of hygiene were at times awful, with families forced to remove used bandages and dressings from public areas and clean toilets themselves for fear of catching infections”

What is the profound truth that Robert Francis QC unconcealed and discloses about us and for us?  

This is the ugly truth.  What drives organisational policies and practices is the obsession with making the numbers.  And for as long as our companies, our organisations, our institutions, our political system is focussed on making the numbers all this talk about customer focus, the customer experience, citizen charters, the patient experience is bullshit.  Or as Werner Erhard would say it is simply “icing on a mud pie”. You may prefer “putting lipstick on a pig”.  An authentic customer orientation requires one to stop with the icing, with the lipstick. And deal with the mud pie, the pig.

Now is the time for me to share with you the profound truth that Robert Francis QC has unconcealed and disclosed as a result of his investigation and report:

People must always come before numbers. Individual patients and their treatment are what really matters. Statistics, benchmarks and action plans are tools not ends in themselves. They should not come before patients and their experiences. This is what must be remembered by all those who design and implement policy for the NHS.

What else does Robert Francis QC say that is worth listening to?   When I say listening to, I mean really listening to – the kind of listening that shakes and rattles our bones.

I heard so many stories of shocking care. These patients were not simply numbers they were husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandparents. They were people who entered Stafford Hospital and rightly expected to be well cared for and treated. Instead, many suffered horrific experiences that will haunt them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives.”

By now your internal dialogue will have kicked in. And if you go by the standard rules then you are most likely pointing the finger at the nurses and doctors. That is to say that you are pointing the finger at the people who actually do the work.  This is fashionable – it is the ‘rogue agent’, the ‘rotten apple in the barrel’ reasoning/defence.  Only those who are not versed in the ways of systems thinking and modeling jump to this conclusion. And the politicians. When I say politicians I point at the Tops wherever they are and in whichever organisation they reside.  What does Robert Francis QC say?

“It is now clear that some staff did express concern about the standard of care being provided to patients. The tragedy was that they were ignored and worse still others were discouraged from speaking out.”

When a system does not generate the kind of behaviour that we want it to generate then who should we hold responsible?

I say that there is no such thing as a dysfunctional system. Every system works perfectly. Every system is perfectly functional.  A system’s behaviour is determined by its structure and its rules.  Hence, the responsibility and accountability for the performance – that which shows up in and as a result of the system – ALWAYS lies with the designers: the people who get to say what the pieces are, who the players are, what the roles are, and what the rules are.  These people almost always sit either outside the system ‘pulling the strings’ and/or at the top of the system.  What does Robert Francis QC say?

A number of staff and managers at the hospital, rather than reflecting on their role and responsibility, have attempted to minimise the significance of the Healthcare Commission’s findings. The evidence gathered by this Inquiry means there can no longer be any excuses for denying the scale of failure. If anything, it is greater than has been revealed to date. The deficiencies at the Trust were systemic, deep-rooted and too fundamental to brush off as isolated incidents.”

And finally

If you want to excel at the game of service, customer experience, of customer loyalty then I say listen to these word such that they shake your very being and thus transform you:

People must always come before numbers. Individual patients and their treatment are what really matters. Statistics, benchmarks and action plans are tools not ends in themselves. They should not come before patients and their experiences. This is what must be remembered by all those who design and implement policy for the NHS.”

Let me put it bluntly.  If you do not love people, yes LOVE people, LOVE being of service, LOVE contributing to creating a world that works for all, then you are wasting your time on customer service, on customer experience, on customer focus, on customer-centricity.  Go and do something else. Go and do something that you can be great at. At the Customer thing you will be mediocre at best: at the level of the individual, the team, the department, the organisation as a whole.  Go and play the least cost route: Ryanair.  Or, go and play the great product route: Apple, Dyson…

Which of these 3 orientations are you taking towards customer experience and customer-centricity?

Job, Career, or Calling?

For some time I have been grappling with how to accurately convey the various ways that a person, a team, an organisation, can orient towards the customer experience and customer-centricity.  In the past I have thought about it in terms of tactics, strategy and philosophy.  And I am not sure that I have been able to convey what I wished to convey.  Given our taken for granted listening I suspect most of you tuned out philosophy as soon as you heard it – philosophy has no place in business right?   Today I wish to share with you another way of viewing the orientation, the stance, that you can take towards customer experience and customer-centricity.

I came across this passage from Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage which opened a new horizon for me and I wish to share it with you:

“Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski …….. has found that employees have one of three “work orientations” or mindsets about our work.  We view our work as Job, a Career, or a Calling. People with a ‘job’ see their work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward.  They work because they have to …… By contrast, people who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed….. Finally, people with a calling view work as an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose.  Unsurprisingly, the people with the calling orientation not only find the work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people who are generally more likely to get ahead.”

What orientations have I encountered on my travels across the business landscape? 

It occurs to me that many, if not most, approach customer experience and customer-centricity as a chore/burden that has been placed upon them through the customer revolution.    These folks would prefer, at the fundamental emotional level, if business went back to the good old days when customers were powerless and businesses had the upper hand.  So they act grudgingly and minimally – to do the minimum that they think they have to to do to stay in the game of business.  Put differently, the extent of their ambition is to be on par with their competitors.  Why?  Because customer experience and customer-centricity shows up as effort and they have no desire to do more than that which is necessary.  This orientation smacks of the Job orientation and the key driver/motivation is fear.  Fear of declining revenues, smaller profit margins, a tanking share prices.  And ultimately the fear of irrelevance and what that brings with it.

There are a much smaller number of folks (people, teams, organisations) who approach customer experience and customer-centricity in terms of the Career orientation.  These are the folks that think/act strategically.  They take the time to think about what customer experience means to them, their customers, their organisation, their industry.  And they are  committed to being ahead of the pack, their competitors.  The driver is a combination of greed & ambition: to be the most successful and reap the rewards, especially the financial rewards, that come with being the leader of the pack.  Would it be fair for me to characterise American Express this way?  I suspect that Apple, under Tim Cook, has fallen into this category.  And certainly, Jeff Bezos/Amazon show up that way for me.  Does Virgin also fall under this category?

Who is approaching customer experience and customer-centricity as a Calling?  I have yet, personally, to come across a leadership team/organisation where customer experience and customer-centricity shows up as a Calling.  Reading through the literature it occurs to me that Tony Hsieh and Zappos fall into this category.  And so does USAA.  Did Apple under Steve Jobs (the second time around) also fall under this category?  And is it possible that John Lewis is to be found here?

And finally

For me, personally, the work that I do on customer experience, customer-centricity and leadership occurs as a Calling.  The blogs that I write, including this one, occur as  manifestations of this calling.  How does the whole Customer thing show up/occur for you?  Job, Career, Calling?

And if you are intimately familiar with the companies that I have mentioned in this post then I would love to hear your thoughts.  Have I classified them correctly or incorrectly?