Dialogue on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity

Colleague: So much money has been spent and continues to be spent. On CRM. On CX – voice of the customer, journey mapping etc. In the name of customer-centricity – whatever that means.  Yet, there is little to show for it.

Me: Seems that way.

Colleague: Which big company, as in the kind of company that we end up consulting to / working with, has anything to show for the time-effort-money that has been spent on the whole Customer thing?

Me: I am not aware of a single one. Maybe there is big company out there that has become customer-centric as seen through the eyes of the customers. And If there is I am not aware of it. I distrust whatever the folks who go to the Customer circus (conference circuit) say about themselves. What matters is what the customers say.

Colleague: What’s your point of view on what’s going on?  You’ve always got a point of view on pretty much everything! Let’s hear it then.

Me: Have you come across a philosopher called Heidegger?  His thinking provides a good clue as to what’s going on.

Colleague: Never heard of him. What’s he got to say that’s relevant.

Me: He introduces the distinction between “in order to” and “for the sake of”. This distinction sheds light on the failure of the whole Customer thing. And what it will take to generate success.

Colleague: Explain then!

Me: Imagine a man in a workshop working on wood.  He happens to be sawing a piece of wood.  Why is sawing this piece of wood? In order to make a cabinet.  Why is he making a cabinet? In order to sell it?  Why is he looking to sell the cabinet?  In order to get money / make a living. Why do that? In order to care for / feed his family? Why do that? For the sake of his own conception of what it is to be a good father/husband.  Why does that matter to him? It just does!  Here the chain of in order to comes to an end.  There is no in order to. Showing and travelling as good father/husband is the sake of which he gets up in the morning and works/lives.

Colleague: There you go again not answering the question. What the fork has this to do with the whole Customer thing?

Me: Let me explain it another way.  Imagine that there are two spherical round hollow cylinders. The walls are quite thin, and of the same size.  It is possible to fit/slide into the other one by squeezing it as the cylinders are made of flexible material.

Colleague: OK.

Me: One is labelled “Revenue & Profits”, the other is called “Customer-Centricity”.  You are told that you need to slide one of these cylinders into/inside of the other cylinder.  Which one do you slide inside? Which one has to fit inside the other one?  Do you fit/slide the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder? Or do you choose to do the opposite: squeeze/fit the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder inside the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder?

Colleague: No question, the ‘Customer-Centricity” cylinder goes inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder. That’s the whole purpose of CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer -Centricity – to boost revenues, increase profit margins, and so boost profits. And to keep on doing this year after year.  Isn’t it?

Me: As a philosopher I say that purpose does not inhere in the things itself. Purpose is a human construction. And as such the speaker who speaks of purpose gets to say what the purpose is. And sure, pretty much everyone that has taken on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity has done so for the sake of ambition/greed: for revenue growth, raising profits margins usually by cutting the costs of serving customers, and for profits and profit growth.

Colleague: What’s wrong with that!

Me: Wrong is not found in the world.  Wrong is a human construct. It’s wrong if you say it’s wrong and get enough other folks to agree with you.  I’m not saying there is something wrong with it. I am saying that when we choose one course of action over another there are always consequences.

Colleague: I think you are saying that there is little that big companies have to show for the time-money-effort they have spent on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity because they have been squeezing “Customer-Centricity” inside of “Revenues & Profits”.  Is that what you are saying?

Me: That is exactly what I am saying!  Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Almost every big company has gone about it that way. The prime, unquestioned directive, is to make the numbers, and grow the numbers. The latest magical recipe is CRM, Customer Experience, or Customer-Centricity. So lets hire a bunch of consultants to fit these magical solutions into our organisation so that these solutions help us deliver on our sake of: sake of making the numbers, sake of “Revenues & Profits”. And this approach has generated that which it has generated: limited benefits, incremental improvements in cultivating genuine loyalty.

Colleague:  The alternative?  Squeezing/fitting “Revenue & Profits” inside of “Customer-Centricity”, how does that work?

Me: As members of the senior leadership team you show up & travel in a way that makes it clear to all that you, and the company, that you represent is there for the sake of enriching the lives of your chosen set of customers.

You can do that as Zappos does through it awesome customer service.  You can do it as Apple does by creating great (as in cool, high quality, unique) products for folks who are willing to pay a premium. You can do it as Amazon does – attractive prices, huge product range, ease/convenience of shopping, and next day delivery.

Amazon, in particular Jeff Bezos, sets a clear example.  You choose to be customer-centric, to build that long term customer loyalty, to play for the long term, and you take the hit to “Revenues & Profits” over the short and even medium term. And you tell your shareholders that this is what you are about.  If they don’t like it then they should sell their shares and move on to other enterprises.

Zappos is also an instructive example.  The leadership team of Zappos started out putting the “Customer Centricity” container within the “Revenues & Profits” container. At a critical point when the Zappos was on its last legs the leadership team had to make a choice: to continue providing a lousy customer experience or do the opposite.  And it looked like doing the opposite changing the operation model so that “Revenue & Profits” had to squeeze into / fit into “Customer-Centricity” would leave to ruin faster.  The choice they made? To make “Revenues & Profits” subservient to, and for the sake of “Customer-Centricity” as in delivering an awesome customer experience.  It so happened that this change worked out for Zappos. And there is no guarantee that another company in the same situation as Zappos taking the same course of action will generate the same result.  You have to be a particular kind of idiot to believe that taking the same course of action in a open/dynamic/non-linear/uncertain/unpredictable world will yield the same results as you got last time.

Colleague: But CEOs of big listed companies cannot do this. They have to make the numbers – that’s what the analysts want, that’s what the shareholders want.

Me: Which is why I say that big listed enterprises will continue to make incremental improvements at best when it comes to the customer experiences (as viewed through the eyes of the customers) and customer loyalty.  And the field for creating an awesome customer franchise belongs to outsiders – the Zappos, the Amazons, the Apple’s of the future.

 

 

Customer Experience: Beware The Data Trap

Data. It is being made out to be sexy – really sexy. Many folks even think that collecting mountains of data and stuffing it into CRM and/or marketing automation systems is the access to delivering great customer experiences.  They are mistaken. Collecting mountains of data can be useful to marketers in helping them achieve higher direct marketing ROI through better targeting. It may allow the folks in operations to tune aspects of operations. That is about it.

What is the basis of the assertion that I am making? Lived experience. I invite you to ponder the following:

To describe me as weighing a certain amount is …. to “disregard the existential state of being-in”. It is to describe me  in a way in which one may describe any physical object. I can weigh x pounds as a living Dasein or a corpse, it makes no difference.

So, if we disregard a person’s existentially and treat him or her simply as a physical object, we can describe that person in terms of his or her factual determinations. In doing so, however, we are missing what makes his or her life the life it is. People do not just weigh x pounds: they live such a weight as being overweight or underweight or as being indifferent to their weight. Weight, as a way of being-in-the-world, is not an indifferent physical property, but rather an existentiall condition. We may similarly between biological sex and gender, between physical height and stature.

– William Blatner, Heidegger’s Being and Time

I say that if you are to excel in the domain of designing and staging great customer experiences then it is not enough to collect masses of data. Collecting data can actually be a distraction from the real task. What is the real task? The real task is to get a handle on the facticity of your customer’s life: a gut level grasp of his/her life and in particular what makes his/her life the life it is.  Data of the kind that ends up in databases cannot and will never provide this kind of insight.

Does this kind of insight into your customers matter? Yes.  This is the kind of insight that allows you to come up with business models, value propositions, products, services, and customer experiences that attract and retain the customers you have chosen (intentionally or accidentally) to serve. It is also the kind of insight that you need to call forth the very best from the people that work for you and work with you. This requires a level of humanness that is rarely given space in established large organisations.

If you do not get the passage that I have quoted above then I say you are wasting your time in the Customer Experience sandbox. You’d be better off in the direct marketing, CRM, or operations optimisation. If you do not get this passage and choose to continue playing in the CX sandbox then know that is perfectly OK. Why? Because you will find many like you in the CX sandbox – you are in the majority.

Thanks for listening. I wish you a great day.

“Oh … milk!”: Is This The Solution To The Customer Interaction Puzzle?

What Occurred and the Experience of What Occurred

In the last post I shared with a customer interaction that took place at Starbucks. If you are to get value out of this conversation it is necessary for you to go and read that last post. Before we proceed, I feel compelled to issue a warning: this post is not for those whose attention span is limited to 30 seconds.

How are we to make sense of what occurred?  Let’s start with how the author (Anna Papachristos) makes sense of the interaction between her mother and the Starbuck’s barista

I’m not sure what was more baffling–the fact that no one in the coffee shop listened, or that they’ve become blissfully unaware of the basics. I understand that Starbucks stands as a status symbol more than anything, but have we really distanced ourselves from the simple things in life that badly? This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Making Sense of This Customer Interaction: Multiple Perspectives

Two people took up my invitation, in the last post, to put intellect-expertise into action and generate-share an explanation of what occurred.  First, lets listen to Gord Demers:

I can’t help but wonder if this could be an English as a Second Language (ESL) situation were one of the parties didn’t have English as their first language…… Maybe the music was too loud and the customer spoke softly and the employee never truly heard the correct order?

James Lawther shares a different take on what occurred:

My guess, though difficult as I wasn’t there…  The barista was bored out of her mind, waiting for her shift to end and was in a world of her own. How’s that?

Finally, lets just remind ourselves as to how Don Peppers choose to interpret this interaction:

Starbucks, like the roadside diner and any other business, tries to maintain quality and control costs by standardizing processes and operations. Routine tasks, if they can’t be automated, are at least handled in the same way by every employee.

My Take On What Occurred

It occurs to me another way to look at the situation and what occurred is to make use of the insights of two philosophers: Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

Wittgenstein on Language

Let’s start with Wittgenstein and his insight into language.  Wittgenstein starts his book, Philosophical Investigations, by sharing a quotation from St Augustine in order to put on the table our taken for granted understanding of language.  This is what Wittgenstein says about this account of language:

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language.  It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Wittgenstein does not see language in this way.  Wittgenstein sees words and language as tools.  What kind of tools?  Social tools for social purposes in specific domains of social life:

A common summary of his argument is that meaning is use—words are not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they are used……

He shows how, in each case, the meaning of the word presupposes our ability to use it….

Wittgenstein’s point is not that it is impossible to define “game”, but that we don’t have a definition, and we don’t need one, because even without the definition, we use the word successfully. Everybody understands what we mean when we talk about playing a game……

Wittgenstein argues that definitions emerge from what he termed “forms of life”, roughly the culture and society in which they are used. Wittgenstein stresses the social aspects of cognition; to see how language works for most cases, we have to see how it functions in a specific social situation. It is this emphasis on becoming attentive to the social backdrop against which language is rendered intelligible that explains Wittgenstein’s elliptical comment that “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”

Source: Wikipedia/Philosophical Investigations

Heidegger: human being as being-in-the-world

In grappling with the question of being Heidegger chooses to look at the being who has an understanding of being: human being.  In so looking, Heidegger asserts that a human being is a being-in-the-world. It is tempting to interpret this as meaning that the world is a container, say a glass, and the human being is in the world, as water is in a glass. Wrong!  A more accurate representation is to see a tapestry and a human being is one thread in the tapestry. Notice, there is not a thread isolated from the tapestry – the two are one!

Not only is a human being a being-in-the-world, it is also so that a human being is situated within specific worlds. What kind of ‘worlds’?  The world of academia.  The world of business. The world of politics. The world of education-schooling. The world of Christianity.  The world of Islam. The world of the high-tech start up. The VC world. The world of finance …… 

What constitutes a world?  A world consists of human beings, their concerns, roles, interactions between human beings, tasks and equipment (stuff). 

“Oh … milk!”: the solution to the riddle?

In our average everydayness what is closest to us is our environment (Umwelt) in which we are caught up in our concerns and activities.

– Heidegger

Situated in a world, busy with the concerns-activities-equipment, we approach each encounter from a particular understanding. What kind of understanding?  The automatic-default understanding of a particular world.  For example, in the world of dining at restaurants you automatically ask for the bill, pay, leave a tip. Do you do the same after enjoying a delicious meal at a friends house when you have been invited as a guest?  What would happen if you did ask your hostess for a bill? Or insist on paying for the meal?  

It occurs to me that the author (Anna Papachristos) committed the same kind of blunder (asking your host for a bill at the end of the meal) when the authors mother walked into Starbucks and asked for “Milk”.  In the world of Starbucks, the world of coffee and coffee drinkers, one does not walk into a Starbucks, stand in line, get to the barista and ask for milk.

The barista is in the world of coffee and in a dance with customers who show up and ask for a coffee. In this world the request for milk is puzzling. It is nonsensical in the sense that one cannot automatically make sense of it.  How does the barista make sense of it?  Probably by looking for the coffee word that sounds closest to milk: “Mocha?”  Notice, that the barista did not get milk until the authors mother said: “No. Two percent white milk.”. What was the barista’s response? “Oh … milk!” Finally, the barista has made sense of the nonsensical request for “milk”.

What makes me confident of my interpretation?  The author writes (the bolding is my work):

This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Yes, the barista was confused. She was as confused by the request for milk as a hostess would be by a guest’s request for a bill!

Let’s move on and consider why it is that even when the barista got the demand for milk, Starbucks delivered steamed milk and not cold milk:

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out.

Think back to Wittgenstein: the meaning of a word is the use to which it is put within a particular social world.  What is the meaning-use of the word ‘milk’ in Starbucks?  Milk that goes into coffee. What kind of milk is that? Steamed milk.  Put differently, in a game of chess ‘castle’ does not mean a castle as in a castle where a lord lives. Nor does castling in chess mean moving between castles in real life!

Why Have I Made Such An Effort With This Challenge?

Think research: how can you be sure that the question that you asked is the question that the customer answered?

Think Voice of the Customer feedback: how can you be sure that what you took the customer’s feedback to mean is what the customer meant?

Think requirements gathering: how can you be sure that you have understand the requirement that the customer is actual communicating?

Think experience design: how can you be sure that you have gotten the experience of the customer that you talking to, right now?

Lessons: 

To truly understand our fellow human beings we have to immerse ourselves in them. How? By living in their worlds. Which is why it takes a nurse to understand a nurse, a doctor to understand a doctor, a CEO to understand a CEO, a woman to understand a woman, a person with back pain to understand a person with back pain, an immigrant to understand an immigrant.

If you do want to understand another then learn from Undercover Boss.  Get out of your office.  Dive into a particular world by fulfilling a particular role in that world.  Dress for that role, train for that role. Dive into the activities that go with that role by actually doing the activities – not as a simulation but for real. And spend enough time, at least five days, living that role.

It takes a woman to understand a woman, a CEO to understand a CEO, an immigrant to understand an immigrant, a teenager to understand a teenager, a person with back pain to understand another person with back pain …….. How do you know when you have arrived at this level of understanding?  You live-breathe-speak the same language! And it speaks you.  Enough for today ..