Revisiting Strategy: Does Effective Strategy Involve More Than Strategy?

Is Strategy Purely An Exercising In Thinking?

Is strategy an analytical exercise where one collects useful data, crunches this data, finds where the opportunities lie, and then selects the most promising opportunity? Is it merely a matter of ‘scanning the landscape of opportunity’ and selecting the most suitable opportunity?  Put differently, is the job of the strategist to select which table to play at?

It occurs to me that this is pretty much the view articulated by Michael Porter – the person who really put strategy on the corporate landscape.  Arguably, it is also what Tony Hsieh is getting at when he writes the following in his book Delivering Happiness (bolding mine):

 I noticed so many similarities between poker and business that I started making a list of the lessons I learned from playing poker that could also be applied to business:

Evaluating Market Opportunities

  • Table selection is the most important decision you can make.
  • It’s okay to switch tables if you discover it’s too hard to win at your table.
  • If there are too many competitors (some irrational or inexperienced), even if you’re the best it’s a lot harder to win.

Is There More To Strategy Than Table Selection?

There might be.  It may not be as simple at selecting the right table.  Let’s get back to Tony Hsieh, he writes (bolding mine):

Strategy

  • Don’t play games that you don’t understand, even if you see lots of other people making money from them.
  • Figure out the game when the stakes aren’t high.

This is great as far as it goes. As a strategist you can sit in your ‘war-room’ crunch the ‘big data’, create a map of the opportunity landscape. And then select the right table to play at based on the consideration of two factors: the opportunity potential at a specific table, and your competence in playing the game that is played at that table.

Is this all there is to the game of strategy making?  Put differently, now that the table has been selected, can the strategist/s hand over the baton to those who excel at execution-implementation: playing the game that is played at the chosen table?  For me the answer is “No”. Why?

I invite you to consider that what is so is always in flux: change/flow/becoming/birth-death-birth characterise the world in which we find ourselves. One of the central assertions of complexity science is that a small intervention at the right place at the right time can move a stable system over the change and into a radically different state. If you grasp this then you get that there is space to act, to shape the game so as to increase your likelihood of winning.

The Work of Strategy Includes The Work Involved in ‘Tilting The Table’

If the first part of strategy can be likened to ‘selecting the right table’, then I say the second and vital part of strategy involves the work that is involved in ’tilting the table’. What do I mean by ’tilting the table’?  I mean acting on the world – orchestrating the elements of a situation – so as to generate the desired outcome. Notice, here we are in the realms of implementation (execution).

So what levers are available to the strategist who seeks to ’tilt the table’?  Let’s answer that question by imagining a scenario. Let’s assume that as the strategist you have selected the digital table to play at. How might you go about ’tilting the table’ so as to increase the odds of success?  I can think of the following levers:

  1. Actions that destabilise the existing power structure in your organisation e.g. making people changes and shifting the balance of power between business units, functions, products etc;
  2. Actions you take to ‘de-stabilise’ your key competitor/s e.g. luring away their key people;
  3. Who you choose to lead the digital transformation programme;
  4. Governance structure and rules of engagement;
  5. Resources (money, people, information, tools) that you make available to the digital transformation programme;
  6. The timescale you set for the shift to digital to occur and the associated metrics for gauging movement along the digital path; and
  7. Actions you take to make the shift toward digital necessary and attractive e.g. making promotion dependent on digital skills-expertise-projects, and funding digital education-training.

You get the idea. The levers that you can identify are limited only by your imagination, your creativity.  And some will have more leverage than others.

As a strategist, is your work finished once you have done that which you can to ’tilt the table’ in favour of your team, your organisation?  It occurs to me that the answer, again, is no.

Strategy Involves An Ongoing Attunement-Adjustment to The Facts On The Ground

Given the dynamic nature of the world in which we live and in which the game of business is played out, it occurs to me that strategy making cannot be a one-off exercise.  It occurs to me that effective strategy, in a dynamic context, is alive. What do I mean by that?  What is the core characteristic of living organisms? They are attuned to their environment. Why? Because attainment is essential for timely adjustment to occur; adjustment promotes survival.

What does this mean for the strategist? Here are the words of Tony Hsieh in Delivering Happiness (bolding is mine):

Strategy

  • You need to adjust your style of play throughout the night as the dynamics of the game change. Be flexible.

Summing Up

I leave you with the following thought: the effective strategist is one who not only has experience of the arena but is in the arena where the game is being played.  And it is this involvement and mastery of the game, along with reflection and creativity, that allows him/her to be effective in strategising.  I get that this is unconventional.

Thanks for listening, I invite you to share your thoughts-experience on the matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Customer loyalty and advocacy: what can we learn from Jonathan Ive and Zappos?

Customer focus: no progress in ten years?

In a recent post on CustomerThink, Bob Thompson shared his experience with AT&T and Colin Shaw made the following comment:

“No progress in ten years…

I am sorry to say Bob but this doesn’t surprise me. I used to work for BT before setting up Beyond Philosophy ten years ago. In that ten years I don’t see a lot of progress on being more Customer focussed.

We have recently undertaken new research in Telecoms. The biggest surprise to me was when we asked Telecoms companies “Which Telecoms company do you most for CE ?” There was a deafening silence.

I can totally appreciate your feeling of ‘doubt’. This, unfortunately is a common emotion that organizations generate. Do you think this is what they want to generate? Obviously not, but their actions have led you to feel this way. In my view there is a massive opportunity for someone to get the CE right in the CE space. But they will need to look outside of their industry for examples.”

Why has there been no progress?

I say that the reason so little progress is due to the lack of genuine care for people (customers, employees, suppliers, community…) as fellow human beings.  When we label a customer as an asset we have turned our fellow human being into an object, equipment, a resource for our purposes.  HR tells us all that you need to know about the relationship between the Tops and everyone else in the company: human resources – equipment, tools, resources that come in a human form.

Human existence, being-in-the-world, is characterised by CARE. We care about how our lives turn out – we are designed to survive and we strive to flourish.  Care gives rise to and is tied up with CONCERN – we have concerns that we have to address if we are to survive and flourish.  John Bowlby pointed out that we  need ‘SECURE BASES’ – people, places, organisations, communities where we matter, where we feel cared for, where we can count on others to care for us and what matters to us.

What can we learn from Jonathan Ive of Apple?

I was reading this article on Jonathan Ive (Apple’s design guru) and the following jumped out at me:

“I think subconsciously people are remarkably discerning. I think that they can sense care.”

One of the concerns was that there would somehow be, inherent with mass production and industrialisation, a godlessness and a lack of care.”

“I think it’s a wonderful view that care was important – but I think you can make a one-off and not care and you can make a million of something and care. Whether you really care or not is not driven by how many of the products you’re going to make.”

“We’re keenly aware that when we develop and make something and bring it to market that it really does speak to a set of values. And what preoccupies us is that sense of care, and what our products will not speak to is a schedule, what our products will not speak to is trying to respond to some corporate or competitive agenda. We’re very genuinely designing the best products that we can for people.”

Is there any doubt that the people who run Apple care, deeply, about making great products that generate a great user experience?  And if care is the access to breakthroughs then why is it that more companies do not care the way that Apple cares?  Is it because it really takes something to genuinely care when we swim in a culture that does not embrace and encourage caring?

Lets just get present to what ‘care’ involves and why it is so important

We use words automatically and without really getting present to what they signify, what they point at/towards, what they make present/available to us.  So here is definition that I find particularly useful as it is a rounded definition:

care/ke(ə)r/

Noun:
The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
Verb:
Feel concern or interest; attach importance to something: “they don’t care about human life”.
Synonyms:
noun.  worry – concern – attention – solicitude – trouble
verb.  mind

Zappos: a great example of a company based on and operating from a context of authentic CARE for people as fellow human beings

The results that show up in the world are always in line with and bounded by the context which gives rise to these results. If your organisation operates from a context of ‘not caring’ or plain ‘indifference’ then this will shape what occurs and how it occurs.  With this kind of context it is possible that people who do care may from time to time do stuff that is characterised by care and shows up as care in the world of the customer.  Yet, this will not cultivate loyalty between the customer and the organisation.  Why?  Because this act of caring will been seen as an exception when compared with the lack of caring in all the other interactions with the company and its people.

Zappos is the poster child for the customer-centric orientation and great customer service.  Why?  Because the Tops have intentionally created and operate from a context of caring: caring about their people; caring about their customers; caring about suppliers; caring about what they do; caring about what they stand for.  What is this context?  “Delivering Happiness”.  Two words, they say it all, and for many companies these would simply be empty words.  Not for Zappos because they were not crafted for brand messaging nor for brand positioning.  No, these words, are an expression of the philosophy of Tony Hsieh and the founders/senior leadership team of Zappos.  The other point worth noting is this: how many of us would stand up and argue against a philosophy and a stand centred on “Delivering Happiness”?   Do this not meet/ address a fundamental need of human beings?

Zappos and Tommy Walker: an awesome experience of caring for the customer

Tommy Walker, host of “Inside The Mind” a show about online marketing strategy.  Here is his story, in his words:

Just over a year ago I bought a pair of sneakers from zappos and was very excited to get them in the mail.  However, after about a month and a half they fell apart.  After wearing other inferior footwear, I settled upon wearing my indestructible work boots for the rest of the year, and while they did make me a little taller, they weren’t terribly comfortable and started to cause me pain.   And just when I thought I had enough, I got an email from Zappos that essentially said:

“Hi Tommy, you bought these shoes a year ago and we wanted to say thanks, and remind you that we have more of the same. If there’s anything we can do to improve our service, please don’t hesitate to let us know!”

To which I responded:

“Hey there, thanks for reminding me :-).  Though I have to admit, these shoes only lasted me a month and a half.   I’m not overly hard on my shoes but for some reason, these just fell apart.””

What happened next?  How did things turn out?  What was Tommy’s experience?  If you want to find out then click here.

In a world of indifference, authentic caring is the difference that makes the difference

You want your customers to care about you.  Do you really care about your customers?  If you don’t genuinely care about your customers, as human beings, then how/why do you expect them to care about you?  What is so remarkable about Zappos other than the genuine context/culture of caring about people  and “Delivering Happiness”?  What is so special about Apple other than the care that goes into envisaging and making products that customers will love and find useful.

And finally you may wish to consider and act on the following:

CARE:  Customers Always Remember Empathy

CARE:  Customers Are up for Reciprocating Empathy

CARE:  Customers Always want to Reward Empathy

Customer Experience: are you sitting at the right table?

The politics of experience: burn this quote into your heart/mind

“We cannot be deceived.  Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  We are not self contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  Each of us is the other to the other.  Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.”  RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

I will come back to this quote later in this post, right now just burn it into your heart/mind.

What is the most important decision you make?

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh is a great read.  It is littered with nuggets of gold if you have the ears to listen to what Tony writes.  One of the most valuable nuggets of gold is that it really matters what table you sit at.  If you study the work of Michael Porter you will find the same.  They are both talking about the same thing just using different languages.

What do I mean when I say that it really matters what table you sit it.  I am pointing out that one of the most important, if not the most important decisions, is what table to sit at. This is of no importance if your interest is operational effectiveness. If, on the other hand, you see yourself as a strategist (which is what I declare myself to be) then it is essential that you get to grips with this.  Let’s explore this through the eyes of Tony Hsieh and Michael Porter.

In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh writes:

“In a poker room in a casino, there are usually many different choices of tables.  Each table has different stakes, different players, and different dynamics that change as the players come and go, and as players get excited, upset or tired. 

I learned that the most important decision I could make was which table to sit at.  This included knowing when to change tables……. an experienced player can make ten times as much money sitting at a table with nine mediocre players who are tired and have a lot of chips compared with sitting at a table with nine really good players who are focussed and don’t have that many chips …..

In business, one of the most important decisions….. is what business to be in. It doesn’t matter how flawlessly a business is executed if it is the wrong business.…..”

What does Michael Porter – the man who invented the field of strategy – have to say?  He says that the source of superior performance can be attributed to the following two factors:

  • the structure of the industry in which which the game of business is being played and competition taking place; and
  • the company’s relative position within its industry.

If you look at financial returns then you will find that the returns of players (as a whole)  in the technology industry have been consistently at the top.  If however you look at players as a whole in the US airline industry then the financial returns have consistently towards the bottom of the league.  That is due to the structure of these industries.  Yet, even in the airline industry, Southwest Airlines has made super returns because of its relative position – which has come about because of its consistent and prolonged commitment to its strategy.

Customer Experience: which table to sit at?

So what are the tables (to sit at) in the fashionable restaurant called “Chez  Customer Experience”?   Lets take a look:

  • Social media – being pushed hard by the ‘social gurus’;
  • Mobile (smartphones and tablets) – becoming increasingly prominent and sexy;
  • Big data & analytics – being pushed hard by vendors who have spent a fortune on developing / buying the software;
  • Ecommerce and multi-channel integration – especially for offline retailers who face a blood bath;
  • Marketing automation – integrating marketing resource management (assets), analytics and campaign management;
  • Customer Services – cost reduction through automation, self-service, six sigma and outsourcing’; and
  • Content marketing – recognition that we live in a world that you have to earn attention by being useful.

Now if we go back to where we started, the question is this: which table/s should you sit at?  More specifically: if you want to lead / differentiate yourself / build that personal connection with your target customers then what table/s should you sit at?   Have you chosen your favourite/s?  OK, let’s move on and discuss a table that for the most part is empty – there are plenty of chairs available at this table.

The table of humanity: it is vacant and represents a great opportunity

When I look at and play in the domain of Customer Experience I am present to a cosmic joke being played out.  What am I saying?  I am saying that it strikes me that most of the players involved in the game of Customer Experience have little or no understanding of human beings as human beings.  They have little understanding of experience as experience and the role it plays in human living.  Please notice that I am not saying experience as theory, as talk, as writing about it!  I am being specific: experience as experience and the experience of interexperiencing which is the ground of human existence.

I grant that many Customer Experience (Gurus, Practitioners, Students)  might be great at process design, six sigma, implementing technology, mining data, capturing the VoC, customer journey mapping etc.  I do not grant that most of these people naturally like being with people, learning from/about people, being of service to people.  Furthermore, I assert that most business folks are blind to people as social beings who are always immersed in relationship and thus interexperiencing.  Which is why they do not see the table that matters the most when it comes to crafting a great experience and cultivating a person emotional connection with customers that shows up as customer loyalty.

To be 100% clear I am advocating that if you are serious about Customer Service / Customer Experience / Customer Loyalty / Customer-Centricity then you (and your entire organisation) play full out at the table called HUMANITY.  Why?  It is the most powerful differentiator there is.    I am going to share a profound quote with you from someone who spent a lifetime in intimate contact / conversation with people and as such gets human beings as human beings.  My question is do you have the ‘ears’ to listen/get what he is saying?  Back to the quote I started this post with:

“We cannot be deceived.  Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  We are not self contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  Each of us is the other to the other.  Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.”  RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

We live in an age where we have and continue to destroy the humanity of other men – our customers, our colleagues, our suppliers, our partners?  How do we do that?  Simple, in the game of business we treat people as objects that exist to create dollars; Martin Buber described this as the “I-it” orientation as opposed to the “I-Thou” orientation.

What is the key takeaway of this post?

 We live in an age where customers rave appreciate employees who appreciate customers – customers are fellow flesh and blood human beings.    That should tell you all that you need to know. Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out as I see it.  We experience ourselves living in an age of inhumanity.  Many people working in the Customer Experience field are increasing that inhumanity whether they realise it or not.  That means that more and more organisation show up in our worlds as being inhuman.  Which in turn means that the field is wide open to play at the table that matters and which is practically empty: the table called Humanity.  Don’t believe this then just take a look at Zappos – they are not simply selling, they are delivering happiness!  Or think of USAA, SouthWest Airlines or Rackspace.

If you are still not with me then I leave you with the following statement:

Service had become “a backoffice cost center, focused on reducing expenses and executing transactions.  We were effective and efficient… but we were missing an opportunity to establish bonds with [our customers] and build more meaningful relationships.”   Jim Bush, Executive, American Express

What he is saying is that American Express decided to put Humanity back into the game of service after the engineers drove it out with their relentless focus on effectiveness and efficiency.  Put differently, as a customer, as a fellow human being, effectiveness and efficiency only matter if you turn up in my world as caring – as humane.

Disagree with me?  Please share your views I am happy to listen and learn.

Bad customer experience: power to the people?

This is a guest post from Karl Indigne – a marketing professional that specialises in services marketing.

We have a choice, we can do something to effect change

Thanks to social media, you and I, can have an impact on bad customer service.  I agree, it can take a while, before things actually change in a structural way. But we have a choice, we don’t have to stay indifferent, we can do something to effect change.  We all know, it is not always the people that “help” us that are the problem. It is more like the procedures of the company and lack of good alternatives. But sometimes, somebody stands up and than it is not just a company that responds, but a society. Youp van’t Hek is a well known Dutch comedian and he almost, accidentally,  initiated a crusade against bad customer service.  The story starts in Holland in October 2010.

T-Mobile angers the wrong person

van’t Hek Junior (“vKJunior”) the son of Youp, has his mobile phone stolen. So he goes out and buys a new phone signing up to a new long term contract with T-Mobile. This new phone breaks and he sends it to be repaired; he was paying an additional monthly insurance to cover these kind of events.  vKJunior does not get his phone back.  So after a few weeks vKJunior rings the T-Mobile call centre to find out when he is likely to get his phone back.  After a long wait (several hours) he learns that T-Mobile couldn’t repair it and they will not replace it nor pay for vKJunior to buy a replacement.   Why?  Because the mobile phone they have on the system is vKJ’s old phone – the one that had been stolen.  He goes to the store (where he bought the phone) and asks for help – they say they cannot help.  He rings the call centre (again)….  At some point the call centre agent tells him to write into the company and make a complaint if he is not happy with the situation.   All of this takes place over a period of several months and is rather messy – I have given you the simple version.

Eventually, the son calls his dad (Youp) and asks for his help.  Youp, who is preparing for a show in Flanders, calls T-Mobile in an angry mood and asks to speak to the manager in charge of the call centre. They call centre agent refuses – the company policy states that they can’t put through angry customers . In a rage, Youp tweets: “The terror of T-Mobile is funny. For every mistake they apologize and they refer you to the customer service. Wait time 4 hours…” Minutes after his tweet he gets a call by a guy from T-Mobile, with a melodious voice, who wants to settle the matter. This manager tells Youp that vKJ (the son) can get a replacement phone, immediately, from the store. The son flies to the store, gets his replacement and thanks his dad.

The T-Mobile voice calls Youp back to ask if everything is ok now. Youp is furious. “Why can’t you treat all of your customers like this? Why is it that I, who happens to be famous, can settle such a matter so quickly”. He keeps on tweeting, gains 5.000 new followers and hits the news – national television and newspapers cover the story. People start complaining about all kinds of bad customer service especially in the areas of telecoms and energy in the Netherlands. And this spreads to Belgium – the country which shares a border, language and culture with The Netherlands.

“Hello, is it me you are looking for?”

In Belgium, Radio 1 (a national Flemish Radio Station), starts a program inviting people to talk about their bad experiences with call centres. Now, two nations are talking about the subject. Why are customers treated that way? Are call centre employees trained to embarrass customers? Why does the sales story seems like a fairytale and the customer service so awful? Shouldn’t advertising have some truth in it?

Some Belgian comedians play a practical joke. They have a large lorry size container dropped in front of the Mobistar (a Belgian Mobile Operator) car park in the early hours of the morning.  Result: the employees arriving for work cannot get into the car park.   On the outside of the container is a contact number -put there deliberately by the comedians. The security officer of Mobistar calls that number to get the container removed.  Call after call the comedians take the calls, invent excuses, stall, give the security guard the run around, hang up on him and so forth.  In total they stall him for 3 hours and 20 minutes.  Every time the security guard rings they put him on hold and play Lionel Ritchie’s”Hello, is it me you’re looking for”.  You can watch the joke being played here (English subtitles!) – it is funny!  By the way, the guard was congratulated because he stayed calm and polite despite the run around he was given call after call.

Eventually, the Belgian Federal Minister urges companies to do something about the matter. He finds it unacceptable that too much time is lost before getting to speak to a real person. In June 2011 the companies with the largest contact centres in Belgium signed up to a charter: to limit the waiting time to 2,5 minutes and to use a minimum service level. It is not a law, it is an intention.

 Conclusions

Consumers have more power than ever before, a complaint can go viral now, but the transition from bad service to good customer service does not happen overnight.

As a marketer it strikes me that it is very hard to break through silos within a company and put the customer experience first.  In the case of Telecom operators, most customers only have a choice between bad and worse. Consumers have long term contracts, companies are organized in a specific way.

Is improving the service at the contact centre level enough? In my opinion, the issue of good service is too focussed on the management of contact centres.  For example, why can’t the mobile operators select the right, best, call plan for me?  The giffgaff example on this blog, shows the advantage of a more holistic approach.  My point is this: the customer experience goes far beyond the contact centre only – it is the whole chain of the service across all touchpoints on the customer journey.

The core of the problem is that call centres are too often considered as a cost. The whole telecom industry is managed by the same mantra. This means that contact centres have to work efficient and should process a number of calls within a specific timeframe, I’m afraid we have to wait for new entrants to the market… or keep shouting it out on social media.

Final words

In his book Delivering Happiness, Tony Shieh, CEO of legendary Zappos, explains that for them logistics management and the call centre are considered as the core competences of the business. The call centre doesn’t use any script. They are trained to make people happy on the phone by helping them, even if that means they have to refer a customer to a competitor. And that message goes viral too.

The three pillars of customer-centricity

There are countless articles and viewpoints on what constitutes customer-centricity. I find most of the published viewpoints simplistic, confusing, contradictory, lopsided or simply self-serving.   Which is why I am pleased to have rediscovered Professor Mohan Sawhney.   I urge you to watch the following video. 

Here are the key points that I have taken away from this video and others (by Prof. Sawhney) when it comes to customer-centricity:

To grasp customer-centricity it is important to visit product-centricity

A product-centric organisation is one that thinks in terms of products.  Focusses it efforts on making and selling products.  Organises itself around products e.g. product centred business units.  And it measures and defines it success in product terms including product sales (units), product revenues, product market share etc.

There is a good reason for product-centricity.  Many great companies are founded on a great product e.g. Dyson and Apple.  The downside is that product-centricity lures the company into building better mousetraps rather than looking at it from the customer’s perspective: no mice.

Customer-centricity is founded on a belief and rests on 3 pillars

The foundation of customer-centricity is a belief.  The belief is that the organisations reason for being (existence) and it’s success if based on three pillars:

  • Superior understanding of customers needs, wants, desires, motives and behaviours;
  • Converting this customer insight into superior (compelling) value propositions; and
  • Crafting and delivering a superior customer experience.

A customer-centric organisation puts customers ahead of it’s products and priorities

What are the defining features of a customer-centric organisation?  Prof. Sawhney highlights three features:

  • Values and actively solicits customer input – to get better understanding of customers, to co-create better value propositions and to improve the customer experience;
  • Puts customers ahead of the organisations products and priorities; and
  • Continuous focus on improving the experience that customers have with the organisation and its partners.

The challenge of being customer-centric comes down to leaders being customer-centric

So what does it take to be customer-centric?  This is what Prof. Sawhney says:

  • “Ingraining these beliefs and acting and thinking on this central mission is what customer-centricity is about”;
  • “But perhaps what is most important …. is a culture and a leadership that really puts the customer first”;
  • “And believes that the customer is at the centre of what we do”; and
  • And if it ever comes to a choice between what is right for the company and what is right for the customer you will always choose and put the customer first.”

What does this kind of leadership look like? 

In March 2003, with a flip of the switch the Zappos leadership team terminated a part of the business (‘drop ship’) that accounted for 25% ($16m) of revenues and was “easy money”.  What makes this amazing is that Zappos was fast running out of money and this 25% of the business was the bit of the business that was easy money!  It was easy money in the sense that it did not tie up Zappos cash because Zappos simply took the order and the shoe suppliers fulfilled the order.  What was the immediate impact of making this move?  In Tony Hsieh’s words: “Now we had to figure out how to make next week’s payroll”.  If you are interested that sentence is on page 124 of “Delivering Happiness A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose”

Taking this decision did not deliver ROI.  It took guts to flip that switch and make a bleak situation that much more difficult.  So why did the Zappos leadership team do that?  Because of their commitment to a bold vision of having Zappos be the brand that is renowned for the very best service.    The drop-ship business whilst keeping Zappos afloat was also the business that resulted in unhappy and disappointed customers.

Customer-centric businesses are rare

Prof.  Sawhney points out that customer-centric businesses are rare – they are the exception.  Why?  Because people like Tony Hsieh (the CEO of Zappos) are rare.