DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (3)

This is the third of a series of ‘conversations’ centered on avoiding failure when it comes to Digital Customer Experience and/or CRM.  The first ‘conversation’ dealt with articulation-understanding-ownership of requirements.  The second ‘conversation’ dealt with the challenge of integration.  This third conversation deals with the matter of thinking/collaboration that necessarily comes with a transformation programme.

Thinking & Collaboration: Christmas Day

Yesterday was Christmas Day and we (our household) celebrated it.  The day turned out great and it didn’t just happen. For the day to turn out as it did (workable, enjoyable) required thinking/collaboration: the five members of the family had to think, make decisions, and collaborate in making happen that which we decided upon.

Let’s start with thinking/decision making.  We had to decide (as a family of five) where we wanted to spend Christmas. With the children’s grandparents in France in their main home in the country?  With the children’s grandparents with their winter home in the Alps? With the children’s uncle Ralf (and his family) in France? With my sister in the New Forest?  At home?

Where did these series of conversations centered on this question/decision take place?  Around our dining table – as that is the place where we sit, eat, talk things through ever since the children were toddlers.  After listening to one another and thinking things through we came to a mutual decision: we will do Christmas at home!

Next decision: Do we do Christmas as a family or do we invite guests?  Once we had made the decision that we wanted guests for Christmas, we had to agree upon who and how many people to invite given the demands on shopping-cooking-seating-sleeping that necessarily comes with inviting guests.  How did these decisions get made? Through a series of conversations. Where did these decisions get made? Around the dining table.

Did the thinking and decision-making stop here? No. Next, we had to decide (as a group) what it is that we wanted to eat/drink and the dietary requirements of our Christmas guests.  The challenge? To come up with the minimum number of dishes as some wanted to eat meat, others fish, others had vegetarian/vegan requirements.  And ensure that these dishes are the ones that folks want to eat.  Where did this thinking through (as a family) and decision making occur? Around the dining table.

Once the thinking through/decision making) had happened it was time to formulate a plan of action: Who would do the food shopping and by when? Who would go and buy the wine/drinks and by when? Who would prepare the food? Who would do the cooking? Where did these matters get thought through and decisions get made? Around the dining table.  Then on the day itself, we collaborated with one another to make happen that which needed to happen: setting the table up, clearing up the table, doing the washing up etc.

Thinking & Collaboration: DCX/CRM Transformation Programmes

Now think of your transformation programme (DCX/CRM): the elements, the actors, the interplay between the various elements/actors, the sequencing of work, the design of the end-to-end solution, orchestrating dependencies, dealing with the arrival of the unexpected – challenges, opportunities… Ask yourself these questions:

1-Is thinking (and decision-making) required?

2-Is this thinking (and decision-making) a one-off event or an ongoing series (a process)?

3-Is the thinking (and decision-making) that is called for, simple/easy – as in here is a round block of wood, here is a round hole, insert that block of wood into that hole?

4-Is the thinking deep, intricate, multi-dimensional – the kind of thinking that comes up with options, thinks through these options, considers the advantages/disadvantages of promising options, and identifies the impact of an option on the wider transformation programme?

5-Is the thinking (and decision making) an exercise for one omnipotent person? Or does the ‘nature’ of the thinking, decision-making, action planning, and execution necessarily require the active participation/contribution of a group of people?

6-If the thinking is not superficial/simple and cannot be done (or should not be done) by a single person then ask yourself this: Have we created a suitable context & space for the kind of thinking/collaboration that needs to occur in order for this programme to deliver on the promise?

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Context’?

What is it that I mean by ‘context’?  Imagine that you open your mail and find a wedding invitation for someone who matters to you.  What happens? You automatically know the context by having attended (or seen if it is via the movies) the context that goes with a wedding: the mood, the music, the place (most likely a church for the wedding service), the actors, clothing, the sequence of events, what actions are expected etc.  Now imagine you open your mail and learn that a friend has died and you are invited to his/her funeral.  Again, you know (almost immediately) the context that goes with a funeral – for example, the mood (and setting) will be dramatically different to that of a wedding and the expected behaviour/clothing will also be radically different.

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Space’?

Imagine that you are charged with staging a soccer game, in a foreign country,  between two well-known soccer teams. On the day of the match, you, the soccer teams, and the fans turn up to the venue What do you find?  The pitch, the space, is set-up for cricket! There are no goal posts. There are none of the markings that a game of soccer requires e.g. half-way line. Instead, the space has been set-up and thus calls forth (supports) a game of cricket as there are wickets. And there are the markings that go with a game of cricket e.g. the crease.

Avoid Failure By Cultivating a Context-Space That Calls Forth Deep Thinking and Collaboration

Time after time I come across transformation programmes where the space in which the actors show up and operate is that of a large call-centre.  Have you spent time in a large call-centre?  If you have, it cannot have escaped your notice that the environment is like that of a large warehouse. What is warehoused?  The people who answer calls!

The kind of space that one finds in a large call-centre operation is suited to the context of almost all call-centres. Why?  Because the context is one where ZERO original thinking is required. And ZERO collaboration is required.  Everything of significance has been thought through and turned into a script: for call type X follow script X, for call type Y follow script Y.

If you wish to avoid failure in your transformation programmes then it is essential that you create a context that signals, to all actors, that here we have to think (deeply) and collaborate – this is the default.  And, you have to create the space to support this signaling and enable this deep thinking/collaboration to occur.  Specifically, this means:

1-Plenty of meeting rooms – where the availability of these meeting rooms is kept up to date and made visible (electronically) to all working on the programme;

2-Range of meeting room sizes – from four people working on a challenge through to 20 people working on a challenge;

3-Each of these meeting rooms equipped with the equipment that goes with the kind of thinking/collaboration that the meeting room is designed for e.g. whiteboard/s, pens, ‘erasers’, sticky notes, audio-visual equipment…

Heed My Warning For The Transformation ‘Game’ Is An Unforgiving One!

I consider this to be a MINIMUM requirement.  Since 2016, I have worked on (and or witnessed) four transformation programmes.  Of these, only one company (global Oil & Gas operator) has provided the context and space I have set out here.  The rest, in my view, failed – the degree of failure varied from one company to another.   Allow me to end by saying this:

1-If you fail to provide a context-space for deep thinking to occur then I guaranteed you that your transformation programme will end up with superficial thinking;

2-If you fail to provide a context-space for collaboration to occur then I guarantee you that you will get silo-based thinking (and actions) and you will end up with requirements that do not gel across the elements of the programme, solution components that will not fit/integrate with another, and dependencies that are not identified early enough nor orchestrated effectively;

3-Where there is lack of context-space for deep thinking and collaboration there you will find a lack of effective leadership and programme management; and

4-The transformation ‘game’ is unforgiving as in failures in effective leadership and programme management will be punished through missed milestones, rework, escalating costs, demotivated actors, finger-pointing, scapegoating, and a sub-optimal ‘solution’ from the perspective of end users – your prospects/customers, your distribution partners, and the people on the front line of your organisation dealing with prospects, customers, and distribution partners.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019.  Until the next time….

How to deal with the ROI obstacles to Customer Experience innovation

Innovation, flops and experimentation

To understand how ROI prevents innovation from flowering you need to understand innovation.  When we try something new and it bears commercial fruit (that is to say we find a market for it and make money) then we call that innovation.  The other side of the innovation is the flop – ideas, products, services that fail to find fertile ground and flower.   The process that results in either innovation or a flop is experimentation: trying out something new.

We can sum that up by saying that experimenting is the process of trying out the ‘new’ and this process generates both flops and innovations.

What happens when you ask the ROI question?

When your boss asks the ROI question he is asking for certainty – he wants to minimise his risk of loss.  Yes, he is asking you for a guarantee that the course of action that you are proposing will produce a predictable outcome – success (innovation) and not failure (flop).  How can you meet his demand given that you cannot predict the future especially if what you am proposing is something truly new?  Here are the courses of action open to you:

a) Ditch the radical (new) ideas and suggestions and instead go for safe ground – brand extensions, product enhancements – in short, incremental changes to what exists;

b) Do lots of research (including trials) to support your proposal and hope that this will convince your boss and protect you if the experiment delivers a flop and not an innovation.

The problem with the first course of action is that it kills the process that delivers innovation and the source of future revenues and profits.  The problem with the second approach is that it is costly, it introduces significant delays, the majority ( some 70%+) of new products fail despite all the time, trouble and cost associated with the research: remember New Coke?

A smarter way to think about and deal with the ROI question

What if we let go of evaluating each proposed Customer Experience initiative on its own?  What if we bundled Customer Experience initiatives into a portfolio such that the risk of the radical proposals (leading to either innovation or flop) was offset by the predictable returns of the safe, predictable, proposals?   If we were to take this approach then we would be doing what the professionals (VCs) do.  They invest in a portfolio of companies knowing full well that some of these companies will deliver huge returns, some will flop, and others will give meagre returns.

My advice to those asking for funding for Customer Experience initiatives and for those making the decisions on whether to give the funding is to take the portfolio approach.  Why?  Because it enables the experimentation process that delivers innovation whilst managing the risks associated with flops.

What do you think?

Why the majority of customer experience efforts will fail

The entire ethos of this blog is to take a questioning look at the Customer field.  On that basis, I confidently predict that the majority of customer experience efforts will follow the CRM cycle and fail to deliver on the promise of higher customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenues and profits.  Why?

The theory is fine

Is there something wrong with the theory?  Not that I can see.  The theory is robust  in that the companies that consistently create superior value for customers tend to do well in the long run.  These companies tend to companies that have put good profits – those made by creating value for the customer – at the heart of their business models.  And behind this business model lies a distinct ethos: that of not taking advantage of, exploiting and letting down their customers.  It is an ethos that gets that trust and loyalty is earned by being trustworthy and being loyal.

The critical importance of ethos and culture

Before we go further it is worth defining ethos:  the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, a nation or an ideology.  Ethos gives rise to culture.  Specifically, the taken for granted attitudes, values, priorities, thinking and behaviours.  I like to think of cultures in terms of natural landscapes: mountains, deserts, jungles, rainforests, savannah…Each culture supports certain types of people, certain types of behaviour and rules out many others.

All customer experience initiatives are embedded within a specific cultural landscape.  And most of them are busy working on eliciting customer feedback, redesigning customer interactions, redesigning business processes, changing systems and working on the front line staff who interact/serve customers.  Very few are paying any attention to the cultural aspects – of the organisation or the wider society.

How does culture play out?

When Katrina struck the USA the enterprising American business folks got busy on making money out of the misery of their fellow americans.  So motel and hotel room prices doubled, tripled, quadrupled.  So did the prices of food and drink and so forth.  This behaviour is a direct result of the American culture and particularly the business culture.

When financial services industry was deregulated in the UK, the financial services folks got busy on working out clever ways of exploiting the ignorance of  non-financial people be they business folks or consumers.  And frankly, it was culturally OK – after all the motto is “Buyer beware” – the responsiblity is for the buyer to make sure that the seller is not taking him for a ride.

Now compare that with what is happening in Japan right now.  The north of the country is devastated and thus the Japanese have an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the fellow countrymen who are suffering and in no position to take care of themselves.  Yet, there is no looting.  Nor are the Japanese businessmen taking advantage of their countrymen.  On the contrary, supermarkets are cutting prices and vending machine owners giving out free drinks.  You can read more here.

Why the majority of Customer Experience efforts will fail

The majority of Customer Experience efforts will fail especially in the USA and the UK.  Why?  Because Customer Experience efforts can only take hold and flourish in cultures where loyalty and the long term is valued both by society at large, by businesses and by customers.  This may be the case in Japan (and hence no looting and price hikes), it is definitely not the case in the USA and the UK.  Here only growth and profits matter.  Why bother to go the extra mile to make ‘good profits’ when you can take the short cut and make ‘bad profits’?  Put differently, we have Katrina, we have folks who are desperate for our products, so it would be stupid of us not to double, triple, quadruple our prices!

What I find really puzzling is that companies are busy taking actions that will, in the longer term, result in poorer customer service.  Yet, somehow, the companies persuade themselves that they are improving the customer experience.  When I look at it, I see cost reduction disguised as customer experience improvement.  Which reminds me of the way that the UK government is spinning the massive cost cutting: ‘savings’ and ‘efficiencies’.

If you disagree then please comment and share your perspective.  I am open to being challenged, to being shown the error of my ways.

PS: Here is the Forrester Perspective

Paul Hagen wrote an interesting post on the gulf between the hype and the reality.  Click here to read it.



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