On The Centrality Of Ethics And Practical Wisdom To The Workability Of Our Lives, Our Organisations, Our Institutions

This is a conversation about ethics and wisdom.  As such it is unfashionable – not in tune with the cultural context amidst which we live our lives.

This conversation will not make you a smarter-more cunning marketer. Nor will it increase your close rate and drive up your sales effectiveness. It definitely will not help you to talk lyrically about the customer whilst doing everything in your power to reduce the level of service your provide to your customers after they have become customers.  If this is why you find yourself here then I suggest you leave now. 

Do Ethics and Wisdom Matter In A ‘Scientific’ Age?

On my LinkedIn profile I have written the following:

Inspired by the possibility of a world that works for all, none excluded. Committed to being a source of workability-performance-transformation. And travelling through life in a manner that elevates-honours all. Enjoy conversations of the authentic-human kind.

What is the scientific basis for this freely chosen way of showing up and travelling in this world?  What is the ROI?  The first question can only be asked by a man of ‘reason’ – one working in a laboratory, with no worldly entanglements, and a limited, possibly non-existent, moral horizon.  The second question is probably the fundamental question that every Taker asks himself: what is in it for me, personally?

I find neither of these questions relevant as I strive to show up and operate from an ethical stance. Not a scientific stance. Nor a ROI stance.  Does ethics and moral wisdom matter?  Can we live well, given that living well always involves living well with others, by embracing ‘reason’ and ROI?  Put differently, is ethics and moral wisdom mere superstition and as such can be jettisoned?  Let’s leave aside the theory and look at the phenomena.

Shambles and Lack Of Empathy At Gatwick Airport

Yesterday, Ian Golding wrote the following:

In all my years travelling to and from the UK, I have never witnessed a queue for passport control quite like it. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were snaking around the airport building. Everyone looked rather bewildered….

….. for the 50 minutes I battled through the queue, I heard not one announcement, and not one member of staff from either Gatwick Airport or the border force bothered to make themselves visible to help or advise passengers……..

The experience was not made any better by finally arriving at a desk. As my passport was taken out of my hand, I was not greeted by an apology, or even an acknowledgement of the wait. Instead, I was told that ‘this is not my fault, it’s the system’…..

I do not hold them responsible for there clearly being no contingency plan in place. However I do expect that they should be able to empathise with the people they are serving.

Now here is something that speaks volumes for those who have the listening for it:

Credit should be given to the thousands of customers who quietly and diligently stood in line. I personally did not witness a raised word despite the shambles – there was almost a sad acceptance that this happens in the UK

If you can read the following article and pay particular attention to the language of the several officials:

A government spokesman said: “We are currently experiencing temporary IT problems which may add to the time taken to conduct passport checks…. We are working to rectify this issue and are providing extra staff to get passengers through the controls as quickly as possible. Our priority remains security of the border. We apologise for any additional time this adds to passengers’ journeys.”

A Heathrow spokesman said: “There are some longer queues than normal in the terminals but we have spoken to border force and they are putting on extra staff… Obviously we want to sort the issue out but not risk the integrity of the border controls.”

Ask yourself if these words could be spoken by a robots. Better still ask yourselves whether these words are more befitting of robots or human beings?  Ask yourself where, in these words, there is any care-concern-empthy for the human beings who found themselves amidst the shambles, trying to figure out what was going on. And many of who will have missed their onward connections and found themselves fending for themselves.

How Did The Staff At Sports Direct Treat A Young Mother?

Yesterday, I came across this article about a protest by mothers at a Sports Direct store. What led to this protest?

.….. staff members allegedly told Wioletta Komar that she could not breast feed her baby because it was “against company policy”.  She was then made to leave the store and continue feeding her child in the rain while she waited for her husband, according to the Nottingham Post.  Mrs Komar claims she has complained to the store five times since the incident, but has received no response…

Do we have so little regard-love for our own mothers so that we can accord no consideration-respect to this mother?

Where is our sense of decency, of fellow feeling, of moral wisdom?  What would it have taken for a member of staff to go up to Wioletta, invite her into the staff room, offer her a chair?  And in the process connect with her as a fellow human being.

What does the law say on this matter?  According to the article:

Breastfeeding in public is protected by the Equality Act 2010, which states that businesses must not discriminate against a woman who is breastfeeding.

The Nonsense of Scientific Management: What Gets Measured Gets Done, Really?

I can think of no better example of the folly of mere ‘scientific’ thinking-acting than the exclusive focus on metrics, incentives (rewards) and punishments. Some are so lacking in practical wisdom that they loudly proclaim: what gets measured gets done!

Successive UK government’s have made a big play of how crime is coming down. Metrics driven crime recording and performance management systems have been put in place. And the figures have consistently showed a drop in crime.

What does the first official inquiry into the accuracy of the crime figures provided by the police have to say?  Here are the highlights from this article:

The police are failing to record as much as 20% of crime – equal to three-quarters of a million offences – including 14 cases of rape and some serious sexual offences…..

The interim report also shows that some offenders have been issued with out-of-court fixed penalty fines when they should have been prosecuted instead…

…… police failure to record crime properly may stem from poor knowledge of the rules or workload but adds that he can’t rule out that it might be the result of discreditable or unethical behaviour by officers.

Well are the crime figures being deliberately fiddled or is it just pure incompetence?  One way of answering this question is to ask how did this official inquiry come about?  According to the same article:

The interim report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, was ordered by the home secretary following claims of widespread fiddling of the police recorded crime figures by a whistleblower which have been endorsed by MPs.

Let’s take a moment to get present to what is happening here!  The very people who are charged with upholding the law are not.  Why not? I say that the ethical foundation and moral wisdom that is the essential ground for effective policing and the just rule of the law is no longer present: if it not dead then surely it is on it’s deathbed.

Does this fiddling of crime figures matter?  Does it really matter?  It seems rather academic doesn’t it?  What is the big deal if the police are failing to record up to 20% of crime.  Now I invite you to step away from the deliberately bland language of academic-managerial-political speech and look at the phenomena: the human impact. What is the human impact? Here are examples that bring the human back into the conversation:

Among the cases HMIC cites as wrongly written off are:

• An allegation by a 13-year-old autistic boy who told his parents he had been raped by a 15-year-old male friend which was wrongly written off by the police as sexual experimentation.

• A report to the police of rape by a doctor on behalf of a female patient who had consented to sex but told the man to stop when it began to hurt. A supervisory officer ruled that no crime had occurred.

This is not the only case of unethical behaviour, lack of integrity, and the lack of moral wisdom.  Just this week I came across this article: Department for Work is government’s worst at providing a living wage.  Why is this a big deal?  Because it is the government department that pays taxpayer funded top ups for those of our fellow human beings on low pay. And this government department was the first one to ‘commit itself to paying a living wage, a voluntary scheme under which employers pledge to supplement the legally binding national minimum wage.’

Case after case suggests that the lack of integrity, unethical behaviour and the lack of practical-moral wisdom is now the norm: the default setting at all levels of society. 

What Is The Cause Of The Loss Of Moral Wisdom And Lack Of Ethical Thought-Behaviour?

In the age of enlightenment where ‘reason’ and science were being embraced and the old world order was collapsing some saw the perils down the road.  Let’s listen:

What conclusion is to be drawn from this paradox so worthy of being born in our time; and what will become of virtue when one has to get rich at all costs. The ancient political thinkers forever spoke of morals and virtue; ours speak only of commerce and money.

– Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discourses on the Sciences and Arts

I get that you may not have the same interest-passion for dead philosophers as I do. So allow me to share with you the voice of Barry Schwartz – a psychologist and professor of sociology.

Barry Schwartz On The Loss of Practical And Especially Moral Wisdom

Barry Schwatz has delivered a number of TED talks. This talk was delivered in 2009 and TED describes it as follows:

Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.

And Finally

I leave you with these final thoughts:

First, as Heidegger pointed out we do not live-operate in a scientific laboratory an ‘objective’ observers looking at the world.  No, we are an intrinsic part of the world: a human being is ALWAYS a being-in-the-world even when s/he dies.

Second, a human being is never just a being-in-the-world. S/he is always and necessarily a being-in-the-world-with-others. Ask yourself in what sense you could possibly be a human being if you were magically born into a world without human beings. Ask yourself where you would be if upon birth there was no human being there to care for you.

Third, a human being is being whose being is to necessarily take a stand on his being. Another way of saying this is to ‘existence is our essence’ or ‘custom is our nature’. Which is to say we collectively make ourselves through our vision of what it is to be a human being. Each age is characterised by a particular vision of what it is to be a human being.

Fourth, we have, on the whole and for the most part especially in organisation and institutional settings, become heartless, self-interested, calculating-manipulative, creatures because we have bought into and been conditioned into this way of thinking and operating as human beings..

Fifth, look around and get present to that which is so. The flowering of the scientific view of man and the world has not brought us to lived experience of nirvana. What it has brought us is longer lives and more comfort.  And on the whole and for the most part we do not find ourselves happier. We do not find ourselves experiencing aliveness-fulfillment-joy.  We find ourselves living in a world devoid of the basics (compassion, empathy, kindness, brotherhood) that make a human life truly worth living. 

Sixth, you and I have a choice to bring ethical living and practical-moral wisdom back into the worlds in which we show up and travel. How? Be expanding our definition of ‘reason’ to include ethics and practical-moral wisdom.  And by so doing we will be giving back to the term ‘reason’ to its original fullness – that which was so before the modern age reduced ‘reason’ to its current understanding-practice

If you have made it this far, I thank you for the generosity of your listening. And I invite you to show up and travel as a leader in life by taking the lead in embodying ethical practices and moral wisdom.


Why Not Treat Customers, Employees and Suppliers Badly?

We are not here merely to earn a living and to create value for our shareholders. We are here to enrich the world and make it a finer place to live. We will impoverish ourselves if we fail to do so.

– Woodrow Wilson

I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating customers right are based on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating employees right are based ultimately on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating suppliers right are either missing or when present are also justified on the basis of the impact on revenues and profits.

If we justify action on the basis of revenue and profit then surely it is OK to treat:

  • customers badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
  • employees badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
  • suppliers badly if that will lead to higher revenues, profits or cash-flow?
  • the wider community badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?

If you are a customer how much trust do you put in a company if it treating you well as a means of harvesting high profits? As an employee how much trust do you put in a company that treats you well only because it expects to maximise profits?  You get the idea.

One more point to consider, what was the source of the corporate scandals and the financial crisis of 2008? Was it not the pursuit of revenue, profit and bonus maximisation irrespective of the consequences falling on others?

Is there any other basis, other than revenue and profit maximisation, for treating our fellow human beings well?   I say let’s stop for a moment and listen to the words of Srikumar S. Rao in his book Are You Ready to Succeed?

What a sorry pass we have come to when simple decent behaviour has to be “justified” in terms of some other benefit. What happens if behaving without integrity can get you growth and unparalleled profit?

… you treat the customer right because that is how you like to be treated. You treat your employees well because that is the proper thing to do. You behave with integrity because that is an expression of who and what you are. These are the givens. You DO NOT have to justify or explain or rationalise any of it.

…. if you attempt to link your values with external measures like profit, you cheapen them and you discredit your actions.

As I look around, I cannot help but notice that that the companies which are heralded as exemplars of customer-centricity and employee engagement are not pursuing revenue and profit maximisation. Instead they are pursuing a purpose that calls to their customer and employees, treating people right, and harvesting the benefits in terms of productivity, innovation, engagement, loyalty and advocacy.

What do you say?


Who are the UK’s 2012 Customer Experience Leaders and What Can We Learn From Them?

Why have I been making such a big fuss of leadership, management and employee engagement? 

Some of you – especially those of you that focus on strategy, process or technology – might have noticed that I have increasingly made a big thing of leadership, management, employee engagement and organisational effectiveness.  Why?

This is the third year of the Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Index in the UK and here is what the 2012 report says:

“For many of the Top 10 it is their focus on employee engagement, training, development and motivation even for seemingly mundane jobs that differentiates the service experience.”

“There is generally a movement to empower front line staff to step outside procedure and make sensible decisions in favour of the customer.”

“The role of the retail in-store employee is moving from transactional to information, education and building a relationship.”

What else does the  Nunwood CX 2012 report tell us?

Aside from the critical importance of employees and employee engagement engendered through the right leadership and management practices, the following four points caught my attention:

1. In a price dominated shopping context, many companies are looking to non price based factors to compete;

2. Companies have focussed on making it easier for customers to do business with them by “removing time and effort from business processes as firms seek to get the basics right”;

3. Increasingly attention is shifting to the human/emotional factors that “make a deeper connection with consumers”; and

4. “The leaders achieve consistently excellent delivery of the basics but also deal with the unusual – unusually well.”

Who are Nunwood’s UK Customer Experience Excellence leaders?

Amazon stays in top place followed by John Lewis (multichannel retailer) and First Direct (non branch bank).  Green Flag (car breakdown service) and The Co-operative Bank are the two brands making the biggest improvement since 2011. Here are the Top 10:


What can we learn from these CX leaders?

I have gone through the Nunwood report to figure out what made each of these companies/brands stand out.  And to list the key characteristics that contribute to them being CX leaders. Here is the table – please click on it to see it more clearly:

Nunwoods CX2012 Top 10 MastersAnd finally

In the top 10 there is only one company/brand where marketing as in ‘promotion’ (which sadly is what marketing has become in too many organisations) has contributed significantly to the customer’s experience. And as such is mentioned by the Nunwood report.  If you read the table above you will find that it is the the £10 dine for two promotion from M&S Food that spoke to / found favour with customers.

Have you noticed something deeply significant?  These companies are actually operating from a powerful context (‘do right by the customer’) and thus putting in place the people, the cultural norms, the processes, the metrics and the technology that enables them to do ‘right by the customer’.  I am clear that requires leadership from the top (walking the talk).  And the right management practices: recruiting the right people; encouraging them to delight customers by rewarding them for building relationships/delighting customers; listening to customers as people of integrity; allowing employees the space to bypass policies, processes and procedures when it is necessary to do so; encouraging employees to own the resolution of customer problems; and putting in place the process and technology that enables customer facing people to quickly/easily deal with and resolve stuff that matters to customers.

If you still don’t get it then I will spell it out.  I say a genuine commitment to service in the broadest sense of service is what drives customer experience excellence and generates customer advocacy/loyalty. And marketing can contribute provided marketing shifts its focus from ‘spin’ to genuine service to customers through information, education and seduction – seduction that is based on the ability of the organisation to deliver the promise that is used to seduce the customer.   If this speaks to you then I recommend that you read a post I wrote a little time ago:  Transforming Service through the radical reconceptualisation of Service

Apple: a practical human inquiry into service, customer experience and customer-centricity

Is Apple customer-centric?

I notice that I and You often talk about and collapse customer service, customer experience, customer loyalty and customer-centricity.  Should we?  How are these related?  What is the distinguishing feature of customer centricity?  Apple – is Apple customer-centric?  Come walk with me and lets’ use our imaginations to conduct an experiment.

Imagine this scenario: you walk into your favourite bar

Imagine that your drive to your favourite bar in your shiny new sports car.  The car park is spacious, it is well lit, there are plenty of spaces, your park and head for the entrance.  You happen to enter the bar at the same time as a stranger – you are a regular and you have never seen this person before.  Upon entering one of the people working in the bar (employee) recognises you, call out your name and tells you it is great to see you.  Fantastic, you feel great you have been recognised as an individual.

By the time you arrive at the bar, Joe, the bartender has your favourite drink ready for you at your favourite seat.  You great each other, you catch up on stuff – work, vacations, sports, friends, family – whilst you are sitting there at the bar drinking.  Whilst you are doing that you cannot help but notice that the stranger has ordered the same drink (that you are drinking) and he is being a charged less for his drink.   You ask Joe: “What is going on?  Why is the stranger getting a better deal than me?”.  Joe, in his friendly voice and caring manner tells you that as you are a loyal customer and company policy is not to offer ‘discounts’ to loyal customers.  Why? Because the loyalty guru’s have told management that loyal customers will pay more and should be charged more.  You counter: “But Joe I’m a loyal customer!  Shouldn’t I get the same or even a better deal than this stranger?”  Joe gets your position and says “Yes.  And my hands are tied.  It’s company policy. Sorry!”  You don’t like what is so (the policy on not offering the same deals to loyal customers like you) yet you do like Joe.   Joe cares about his customers, he cares about the job he does and he is great at what he does including connecting with customers. You are willing to overlook that policy largely because of the way that the bar staff treat you (‘service’) and your experience – all of it.

As you sit there drinking you look around and you get why this is your favourite bars: it is to do with all of the experience.  It is easy for you to get to this bar – it is in the right location.  It is easy to park and your car is safe.  The bar is attractive from the outside, so attractive that it draws you in.  The layout of the bar appeals to you – the space, the way that the space is structured, the colour/designs, the furniture, the seating etc.  And this bar seems to play just the right music and at the right volume level.  Furthermore, this bar attracts your kind of people – you feel comfortable, you feel at home here.  Last but not least, the bar staff are welcoming – they remember you, they are pleased to see you, you know them and they know you.  Yes, a great experience!

It just so happens that you have a hard day.  Life is not working out as you expected – there is trouble at work and you have just got some bad news about your health.  The alcohol and the bar – the entire experience – is helping you to relax.  So you order one drink after another and throw them back.  Joe’s paying attention and he politely asks you to slow down as you’ve just got your shiny new sports car and you have a bit of a drive to get back home to your wife and three children.  You pay no attention to Joe.  Your order another drink and then another drink.  You don’t notice it but Joes does notice – you are drunk.  The next time you order a drink, Joe refuses to give it to you – he tells you that you are drunk, that he does not want you to drive home drunk – he knows that you will drive home .  You don’t like this, your protest, you demand and still Joe does not budge.  No problem you have a smartphone and you are ready to do take on this pesky employee who is not giving you want you want.

It so happens that this bar is part of a franchise owned by a big enough company that is social media savvy.  You know that and so you take out your smartphone and tweet about the lousy service that Joe is delivering to you.  Delight: your tweet is picked up.  The Customer Service team rings you back immediately.  You tell them about how you are a regular, loyal, high spending customer.  You tell them that Joes is refusing to serve you the drinks that you want.  They ask you to pass your phone to Joe.  The company policy is to be responsive to customer needs when it comes to selling and making money.  So Joe gets a telling off – he is breaking company policy – and is reminded about what is expected of him in his role.  Joe hands you back your smartphone and gets busy giving you your next drink.  You’re happy.  Then Joe tells you  that this drink and the next one, if you want that next one, is on the house – to compensate you for the poor service.  Now you are delighted.  You think: “Wow, this company really cares. What great service.  Not only did the company sort out your problem immediately, it also said sorry by giving you free drinks.”

Whilst Joe was on the phone and being reminded about company policy – he was reminded on the need and importance of upselling and cross-selling.  So after you have had your two free drinks, Joe notices that you are particularly happy.  That is his moment to execute the company policy.  He invites you to order drinks for all the people in the bar, pointing out that this will make you popular.  That is exactly what you do as it occurs as a great idea.  You’re happy so why not share your happiness.  And it is so easy to pay – this bar is advanced the payment is automatically charged and deducted via your mobile phone!  No need to bother with money or credit cards.  So you drink some more and some more until it is closing time.

As you are leaving the bar Joe is thinking to himself “He’s drunk – he’s totally drunk and in no fit state to drive”.  At the same time Joe knows you and is certain that you will attempt that 30 minute drive back home.  Joe is thinking about taking your keys from you so that you cannot drive.  He is thinking about ordering you a taxi and putting it on the company’s tab.  Then Joe remembers the telling off that he got earlier in the evening for breaking company policy.  Joe is also present to the fact that he needs this job – he cannot afford to lose it.  And Joe knows that the company policy is not to intrude on customer’s lives and liberty – certainly not when it costs money e.g. taxi fare.  So Joe, being fully aware of the fact that you are a family man and fully aware that you are too drunk to drive home says nothing.  He stands at the door wishes you good night, watches you fumble into your car and drive away.

In the middle of the night your wife gets a call, she learns that she is now a widow: you had a crash and no-one made it out alive, not you and not the three folks in the other car.

Questions to consider

Did the organisation orchestrate/deliver great service – from the folks in the bar, the folks manning the Twitter account and the Customer Services folks that rang you back and sorted out your issue with Joe?

Did your organisation design and deliver a great customer experience – location, car parking, exterior design, interior design, recognising and greeting a loyal customer, responsive/personalised service, speedy service reovery, making it easy for you to pay?

Did the organisation act in a customer centric manner – knowing your needs/wants as an individual, acting on your needs/wants to deliver what you want, not putting obstacles in the way of you getting your needs/wants met, making it easy for you to buy the drinks, enriching your life by supplying all the drink that you wanted to drink?

I have a finally question for you.  If you widow and your children (all three of them) knew (see, hear, experience) what had occurred in the bar – the whole of it, everything – what would they say?  Would they say that the organisation that runs this bar is customer-centric?

My take on service, customer experience and customer-centricity

Customer-centricity, in the sense in which the man on the street understands this, is in a completely different category to service and customer experience.  For customer-centricity to show up as customer-centricity in the world of the ordinary human being we have to consider our relationship, our obligation, to our fellow human beings.  In short we have to consider and grapple with Ethics: right and wrong; our rights and obligations when it comes to conscious beings as opposed to stuff.  Is it ok to enrich ourselves at the expense of another?  When is it necessary to submit to the demands of our customers?  When is it necessary to refuse the demands of our customers?    Notice that whilst Ethics may play a role in customer service and customer experience it does not have the same significance.  Ethics is secondary here (customer service, customer experience) whereas it is primary when grappling with the question of ‘customer-centricity’.  Put differently, when you are grappling with the notion of ‘customer-centricity’ you absolutely have to grapple with Ethics; it is possible to grapple with customer service and customer experience without grappling with Ethics.

Apple, whilst a master of customer experience, is not customer-centric

I am clear that Apple makes great products.  What makes those products great?  Apple has grasped the importance of the user experience when it comes to using consumer products and designed these products to provide an easy / delightful user experience.  I am also clear that Apple is great at service especially when it comes to the Apple stores.  Furthermore, I am clear that Apple gets the importance of the Customer Experience and is great at crafting and orchestrating a good/great customer experience for most if not all of its customers.

Is Apple customer-centric?  For my part, I have never thought of Apple as a customer-centric organisation.  As I have argues above, to the ordinary wo/man, the question of customer centricity brings along with it, like the two sides of a coin, the question of Ethics, of morality, of right and wrong.  Apple is a great organisation and it fails greatly when it comes to Ethics.  First we have the issue the around Foxconn and the treatment of workers (fellow human beings) in Foxconn factories.  And now we have a lawsuit filed by US department of justice claiming that Apple ended price competition after seeing success of Amazon’s $10 ebooks.  How?  By colluding with five book publishers: Hachette SA, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster.  Let’s be clear about this:  price fixing breaks the law and price fixing so as to increase prices is not what most customers would think of as ‘customer-centric’.  If you are thinking that I have got this all wrong then please enter into a conversation with me and help me understand where I have gone wrong.

Final thoughts

“If Apple can do so fantastically well without being customer-centric then is it necessary for companies to be customer-centric?”  That is the kind of question an economist or strategically minded business executive will ask.  I ask a different question: “Do you and I want to live in a world that is dominated by the Apples of this world for whom we are simply wallets to be emptied?”

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