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

Are we living in an age of inhumanity, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy?

It occurs to me that we live in an age of greed, inhumanity, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy.  I say that this inhumanity and moral bankruptcy both enables and is enabled by the doctrine of management.  I say it is folly of the highest degree to be applying the practices of scientific management in the 21st century. I say it is folly to expect an authentic customer-orientation when the name of the game is greed: making as much money as possible, today, irrespective of the cost as long as the cost is paid by someone else – today or tomorrow.

I am clear that the cancer of greed, inhumanity, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy has spread from the world of big business into just about every institution – the government, the civil service, the police, the NHS – in the UK. And into society itself.  Today we got a wake-up call, will we listen?

The NHS Mid Staff scandal: 400 – 1,200 human beings died as a result of poor care over 50 months

Let’s first get present to what has occurred.  According to the Guardian:

“An estimated 400-1,200 patients died as a result of poor care over the 50 months between January 2005 and March 2009 at Stafford hospital, a small district general hospital in Staffordshire. The report being published on 6 February 2013 of the public inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC will be the fifth official report into the scandal since 2009, and Francis’s second into the hospital’s failings.

The often horrifying evidence that has emerged means “Mid Staffs” has become a byword for NHS care at its most negligent. It is often described as the worst hospital care scandal of recent times. In 2009 Sir Ian Kennedy, the chairman of the Healthcare Commission, the regulator of NHS care standards at the time, said it was the most shocking scandal he had investigated.”

What was the customer experience like?

Julie Bailey says head must roll. Why?   Let’s listen to her describe the customer experience:

“You only had to open a ward door at the hospital to smell the stench of urine, hear patients screaming in pain and see staff being bullied, and know that the care was appalling

My mum died in that hospital terrified of the people that should have cared for her. She was recovering from an operation when nurses dropped her and hurt her. After four days in the hospital I could see that unless I was there to feed and wash her she would have just been left without care. Even with me at her side, a nurse refused to administer a life-saving drug. My mother died a few hours later, eight weeks after going into hospital. She was a strong woman. She should never have died in there. In 2002, Dr Peter Daggett, a former senior doctor at the hospital, had already raised concerns that the hospital was out of control…”

Does this sound dramatic to you?  Not to me. My father went to hospital with a stroke.  Like Julie, I found myself at the hospital feeding and taking care of my father.  I had to threaten to go to the media to get the care that my father needed.

What led to such shocking disregard for patients – their humanity, their wellbeing?

As one trained in systems thinking and modeling it is rather easy to figure out the what kind of system structure would cause that which occurred:

– start with an inefficient system that is just about coping with existing demand;

– inject increasing unrelenting demand including an ageing population;

– cut budgets significantly whilst insisting on higher levels of service;

– demand instant improvements which are most likely to be made through headcount reductions and other simplistic cost reduction measures;

– apply pressure through targets and leave targets open to being gamed;

– introduce a management philosophy and practices that are detrimental to an ethos of care, of public service;

– ensure that there is political pressure to provide a misleading/flattering image of the beneficial effects (better patient care, more efficient NHS) of the cuts and changes to the NHS.

Viola, you have a system that will look healthily on the surface, whilst killing customers – the patients in this case.

What does Julie Bailey say?

“This shift away from patient care started to happened under the Labour government. It destroyed the culture of care in the NHS by replacing it with a top-down, target-driven culture. Former health secretary Andy Burnham contributed to this. He wouldn’t even meet the grieving relatives at Stafford hospital and he only gave us a secret inquiry so that the NHS’s dirty linen wouldn’t be aired in public.

In 2007, I set up Cure the NHS, a patient campaign group formed to highlight the poor care at Stafford Hospital, following the death of my 86-year-old mother, Bella, after she went in for a routine hernia operation. While we were campaigning outside, Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, visited Stafford hospital. He wrote to our local newspapers saying what a good hospital it was, with good management and good staff...”

To be continued in Part II – coming soon.


Musings on customer-centricity, customer experience and social: not your usual perspective

In this post I want to share my take on three items of news that caught my attention recently: Stephen Hester’s insights into the banking industry; Apple’s iOS6 maps fiasco; and the Madrid barman who has became a hero in Spain.

The culture of greed is not limited to the banking industry, it is an inherent feature of ‘business as usual’

Stephen Hester the CEO of the bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland gave a speech on rebuilding banking at the London School of Economics on Monday.  This quote in particular got my attention as it gets to the heart of the matter:

We cannot afford to just fix Libor, to just fix money laundering controls, or to just fix the way we market our products. We have to address the root cause of the industry’s failings…”

What are the root causes of the banking industry’s failings?  Let’s listen to what Mr Hester said:

“It is possible to look at the many scandals that have hit banking in recent years and see them as individual episodes of bad judgment or wrong behaviours….. In fact, I think it’s more accurate to say that most of them are related to one big scandal: banks have simply not been good enough servants of their customers in the recent past.”

“The banking industry in the decade preceding the crisis was focused on income, it expanded too fast, prioritised sales over service and failed to properly balance the interests of its customers and shareholders with those of its managers.”

I say that the push for sales, income and profits is central to many companies, many industries, many economies and is in fact central to ‘business as usual’.  And within the context of ‘business as usual’  where ‘bad profits’ are pursued because it is too much work to come up with products, services, experiences that create genuine value for customers (and thus generate ‘good profits’) authentic customer-centricity cannot take root and flourish.  So the challenge is culture change.  Not just culture change at the organisational level, nor at the industry level, nor at the business level. No, the culture change has to happen at the societal level.

Apple: Tim Cook, iOS6 and the Maps application

I notice that Apple has been under pressure and Tim Cook has done the right thing by apologising.  Within that context, the following got my attention:

“At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

How many CEOs can get up and say that with conviction?  How many CEOs would be believed?  Which tells me that the number of companies that are committed to making world-class products that deliver the best experience possible for customers is rare.  Which kind of explains why Apple shows up as Apple as opposed to the multitude of other companies.

The other thing that occurs to me is that making that apology is a wise move: as human beings we tend to ‘forgive’ those that apologise.  And I suspect that the Maps saga will not dent the Apple brand provided that it is just a one-off occurrence.

What can we learn about social from the Madrid barman?

You can say that I am not a fan of social.  Why?  It occurs to me that is so much chatter on social and so little understanding of social.  Yes, the human being is social being.  Yet, that does not mean that we can collapse social with socializing.   Social is more than idle chit chat over social media.  Social is more than meeting up with friends at a cafe or restaurant.  Social is more than meeting up with folks that you like (or are interesting in) for drinks after the end of the conference day.  Social is more than sticking in some social technologies in the work place.

In its fullest/truest sense social is ‘care and concern for our fellow human beings.  It is about moving from a place of ‘exclusion to inclusion’.  It is about collapsing the distance from ‘me’ and ‘you’ and becoming ‘us’.  It is putting into practice our humanity – the best of our humanity.  It is being up for and delighting in the well being of our fellow human beings.  And acting when that well-being is at stake.

With that in mind I share the following story about the Spanish barman that put his well-being at stake to protect demonstrators.  And here is the video:

It occurs to me that if you watch this video, really watch this video, then you will get a flesh+blood for what social is, what social takes, and why social is so powerful.   And if you do not get it then it occurs to me that you can do all that you want on social media and it matters not, you are not social, you are just being selfish through social channels.

And finally

Without genuine care for our customers all the customer talk is just that talk.  And genuine care for our customers means a concern for humanity. To paraphrase the words of the Spanish barman, “There is excessive focus on short-term profits. I am for companies being profitable, but above the profitability, there is humanity. Let’s make enduring profits by playing the long-term game of people-profits-planet.”

That is what I say, what do you say?