What Is The Access To Customer-Centricity and Innovation?

I have been reflecting over 20+ years of experience centred on enabling, effecting, facilitating business change and improving business performance. During this time I have been involved with a whole range of management panaceas:

  • business process re-engineering;
  • management information systems;
  • ERP systems;
  • shared services
  • knowledge management systems;
  • kaizen, lean and six sigma;
  • quality;
  • the internet;
  • database marketing;
  • permission marketing;
  • relationship marketing;
  • 1:1 marketing;
  • customer relationship management;
  • data mining and predictive analytics;
  • organisational development;
  • change management;
  • leadership development;
  • strategy and strategic planning;
  • scenario planning;
  • balanced scorecard;
  • zero based budgeting;
  • matrix organisations;
  • customer experience;
  • customer loyalty schemes;
  • employee engagement;
  • teamwork;
  • corporate social responsibility;
  • social business;
  • digital transformation …

What shoes up for me when I reflect on this experience?  

I am present to the gulf between the promise of each of these ‘tools’ and the reality of that which showed up when these tools were introduced-applied in business settings.  Rarely did the reality match up to the promise of these ‘tools’.  Why?  Were these ‘tools’ defective?

It occurs to me that few of these ‘tools’ are fundamentally flawed in themselves. The one that comes to mind is the area of knowledge management. There a huge gulf between information and knowledge.  Knowledge management systems are great at holding information. They cannot ever hold-distribute knowledge. Knowledge is contextual, largely tacit and embodied.  If you get this then you get that the premise of knowledge management systems is fundamentally flawed.

If most of these tools are sound then why has there been such a gap between the promise and the reality?

Take just one example: CRM. Why is it that whilst CRM systems have become essential part of the corporate infrastructure, they have not fulfilled on their promise: to drive marketing, sales and service effectiveness; and generate sound relationships thus contributing to higher revenues and profit margins?

Before I provide my answer to this question, I pose another question. Why is it that whilst so much is known about Steve Jobs (the way he went about doing what he did at Apple) there will never be another Steve Jobs?  Why is it that you can copy Steve Jobs’ techniques and not generate the results that Steve Jobs generated?  Why is it that pretty much all one needs to know about Zappos is widely available yet there is only one Zappos? For that matter, why is it that USAA is still in a league of its own?

Here’s my pointer to solving this riddle:

All we have is who we ‘are’, and this in turn shapes what we do. Being is sometimes though of as something intangible, abstract, or even ineffable, but it is actually quite real ….. Being is the context from which all of our thinking and actions spring, as opposed to doing, which is just a content that flows from the context.

Robert Hargrove, Masterful Coaching

The access to empowerment, customer-centricity, and innovation lies in being

Let me put this bluntly, the access to customer-centric organisations lies in being. Not in the ‘tools and techniques’ (the doing, the content). The same applies to cultivating a loyal, motivated, engaged, high performing workforce.  And it is no different when it comes to innovation.

If empowerment, customer-centricity and innovation is not your being then all the ‘tools and techniques’ will make little difference. On the other hand if empowerment, customer-centricity, and innovation are your being then you will find or create all the ‘tools and techniques’ that you need as you need them.

There are people in leadership positions whose being is in tune with talk of enlightened leadership, customer focus, and empowerment.  I dedicate this post to my friend Lonnie Mayne. I am clear that Lonnie’s being is a clearing for the best of our humanity and our greatness to show up. And as such I find Lonnie to be a source of inspiration.

What does it take to make an impact as the Chief Experience Officer?

Allow me to introduce you to Lonnie Mayne , Chief Experience Officer at Mindshare Technologies. As his bio says “Lonnie Mayne influences each and every interaction involving Mindshare’s valued clients—from front-desk greetings to printed marketing materials to everyday sales calls to impromptu gifts of friendship.”  Mindshare is in the business of providing companies (and their executives) valuable customer insight gleamed from tapping into the Voice of the Customer.

Just before I went on my holidays I had an interesting conversation with Lonnie and in this post I want to share some of  points/learnings I took from that conversation.

Why focus on the customer and the customer’s experience? 

Lonnie’s answer to this question is simple: at some point the customer will be faced with a choice and if you have not created value for the customer, made his/her life better, then the customer will switch to another supplier.

Yes, it is possible to be doing well financially if you have created enough value for the customer through your product/service without asking/involving/focussing on your customers and what matters to them.  However, sooner or later this situation will change and when that happens your business will pay the price.  Put differently, the price of not listening to your customers and not keeping in tune with them is often paid further down the line.  As I write these lines I cannot help but think of Tesco in the UK.

What is the central challenge facing the Chief Experience Officer?

As a result of 20+ years of business experience, Lonnie is clear that CEO’s tend to be focussed on profitable growth. And in pursuing profit it is easy for the CEO to ‘lose sight of the customer along the way’.  How exactly?  The CEO doesn’t consider the impact of decisions deeply enough when it comes to the impact on the customers.  Put differently, too much focus on profit leads to poor decision making: decision making which favours short term efficiency and cost reduction over long term effectiveness in meeting/addressing customer needs.

Therefore, the central challenge for the Chief Experience Officer, according to Lonnie, is to ensure that the customer is present at the leadership table.  How?  By asking the following question: what is the impact of this decision on the customer?  Clearly it is not enough to ask the question.  The Chief Experience Officer (or Chief Customer Officer) also has to provide an answer.  In practice this means ‘applying science to the Voice of the Customer’ to deliver a sound business case that speaks to the CEO.

What does it take to make a meaningful impact as the Chief Experience Officer?

Moving from talking about customer focus and customer experience to actually orienting a company around customers and generating the right customer experience is not easy.  Some say it requires a transformation in mindset, culture and organisational design.  What does Lonnie say and how has he gone about it?

1. Ensure you have the wholehearted support of the CEO and build a good working relationship.  Lonnie is clear that to be successful in his role he needs the wholehearted support of his CEO.  That means reporting into/working with a CEO that gets the importance of the customer and the customer experience.  It helps if the KPI’s of the Chief Experience Officer align with the CEO.  Lonnie tells me that his success metrics are identical with those of his CEO.  So what is the difference between Lonnie and his CEO?  Lonnie’s focus is first on the customer and then on profitable growth whereas the CEO’s focus is first on profitable growth and second on the customer.  You can say that they complement each other.

2. Have real clout within the organisation.  As Chief Experience Officer, Lonnie is not simply heading up a staff function with no line authority or responsibility.  He used to lead the sales and account management function.  Now, as the Chief Experience Officer, Lonnie has direct responsibility for marketing, sales and client retention.

3. Broaden the definition of customer to include internal customers.  Time and again Lonnie referred to internal customers as well as external customers when he talked about customers.  It occurs to me that Lonnie gets that to serve/make an impact on external customers he has to serve/make an impact on the internal customers: the employees of Mindshare.

4. Involve the people in the organisation in grappling with the key questions.  There is considerable value in having the right people grapple with the right questions.   When it comes to designing/generating the right customer experience, the right people are the employees.  Which questions? Lonnie mentioned two questions that he posed: “How would you ever know, if you were outside the organisation, what we stand for as an organisation?”; and “What do we want the ultimate Customer Experience to be?”  The value/beauty of taking such an approach is that you do not have to get ‘buy-in’ later, the ‘buy-in’ is built in right from the start.

5. Access and use of the Voice of the Customer. Lonnie has been able to influence decision making by tapping into and making good use of the Voice of the Customer.  He calls that ‘practicing what we preach’ given that this is the core business of Mindshare.

6. Speak the language of the business.  It is not enough to access the Voice of the Customer.  Why?  If the Voice of the Customer does not speak the language of business then it falls on deaf ears.  What is the language of business?  Finance.  Specifically and in practice this means making a sound economic case for acting on the Voice of the Customer.

7. Get the CEO in front of customers regularly.  Given that CEOs are disconnected from and tend to lose sight of customers and what matters to customers it is essential to the get the CEO in front of real flesh and blood customers. Put differently, facts and figures can never replace face to face encounters: there is nothing like being there, seeing/hearing/experiencing the customer first hand.

8.  Respectfully challenge the CEO as and when necessary.  Clearly, this is only possible if and only if you have confidence.  It is easier to be confident if you have built a good working relationship with the CEO, you have access to the Voice of the Customer and you know how to use it effectively – to make a sound business case.

I dedicate this post to Cathy Sorensen.  Cathy I thank you for your words of kindness:  it is great to know and to feel that my writing makes a contribution to you and that you missed me during August.