On Self, The Customer & Leadership Blog, and Cultivating Loyalty With Employees, Partners, and Customers

Cancer, the impending arrival of death for my friend and later myself, concentrates one (at least me) on that which matters.  Today’s conversation is around that which has been unconcealed for me: about myself and the purpose/contribution of this blog.  So now is the time to leave if this is not the conversation for you.  I don’t even know, right now, how long this conversation is going to be.

Purpose of The Customer & Leadership Blog

Why did I create this blog back in 2010?  Was it to be recognised as a thought leader, a guru, in the Customer space?  Was it to get on the speaking circuit and make money? Maybe it was to sell my services e.g. paid for content and/or advertising as a result of having a thriving web presence?  Some folks think so. Enough people contact me to speak as a thought leader. More contact me about writing advertorials and passing them off as my conversations. Others contact me to search maximise this blog (as it is crap from a search perspective enough though it has great content – that is what I have been told). Then there are others that offer to write stuff, for free, that I can publish on this blog.

I decline all the content stuff. Occasionally, if the speaking stuff appeals to me I speak.  The rule is that I speak that which I speak – for that is the only way that the speaking shows up and expresses itself through me.  Once boundaries are putting up, the speaking dries up.  That is simply so and I work with that – life as it is and is not.

So what got me started?  Allow me to share the following quote:

“I had a vivid imagination. Not only could I put myself in the other person’s place, but I could not avoid doing so. My sympathies always went to the weak, the suffering, and the poor. Realising their sorrows I tried to relieve them in order that I myself might be relieved.” – Clarence Darrow

In short, I found myself identifying with particular folks in organisations: those with affinity for the customer, seeking to simplify/enrich the lives of their customers AND get a fair reward (money) for the difference they make in the lives of customers.  It occurred to me that these folks were being misled or duped by those with influence: academics, consultancies, thought leaders, and gurus.  I found most of their advice BS in the sense that Harry Frankfurt uses this term.

It occurred to me that these high priests (thought leaders, gurus, academics, consultancies) were sitting in the stands and at best sharing that which they saw from the stands. Few had/have substantive (many different trials over many years) experience in the arena. Yet, the game is played in the arena – always! The insight / truth that matters is the truth that arises from and makes a difference in the arena!  Not the commentary that comes from those sitting comfortably in the stands – spectators.

I have been in that arena playing many roles in many types of Customer games: salesforce automation, CRM, 1to1 marketing, CX, web design & commerce, digital strategy, marketing automation, sales & account management, customer service & contact-centres…

It occurred to me that I could/should make a contribution by sharing that which I had learned through many years in the arena; there is both success and failure in the arena, each provides learning opportunities, oftentimes the learning from failures is more powerful than the learning from successes.  This logically led me to this choice: the choice to share my perspective/learning/experience for those who find themselves in the arena or are about to enter the arena. Hence, the genesis of The Customer & Leadership Blog for the business domain.

The joy of self-expression and contribution through this blog, The Customer & Leadership Blog got me thinking. Why not make a similar contribution to folks on the personal (non business) side of human existence. This led to the birth of a second blog: Play BIG: Live A Life Worth Living.

Still why did I do this and why do I continue to do this. Is it to be a thought leader or to establish myself as a guru thus win lucrative speaking gigs?  Talk to my wife. Talk to my great friend  Lonnie Mayne: you might find that I prefer to be in the background as a catalyst: coaching, educating, enabling/facilitating, and provoking original thought &/or action.  I wish to conclude this portion of the conversation with this quote:

There is a basic difference between the leader and the organiser. The leader goes on to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield power for the purposes both social and personal. He wants power for himself. The organiser find his goal in creation of power for others to use. – Saul Alinsky

I leave you to decide whether I fit the description of the leader or the organiser.

What Has The Process That Keeps The Customer & Leadership Blog In Existence Unconcealed To Me About Myself?

Let me be clear, I started with what occurs to me as altruistic motive.  I continue with the same altruistic motive – declining opportunities to write paid for content and pass it off as my work, to accept advertising, refusing speaking opportunities which are paid for PR/marketing for some business or other.

Despite or because of my altruistic motive, I have gotten a HUGE amount out that has left me enriched:

First and foremost, The Customer & Leadership Blog saw me through some of the darkest times of my existence. Where the world that constituted my world slowly disappeared. I am talking about the world of sports/activity: Paragliding, trekking in the mountains, going backpacking in third world countries, cycling, tennis, badminton, even something as simple/joyful as table tennis.

Second, In the process that is the Customer & Leadership Blog my image of myself shifted.  I start out thinking that I was a pygmy in the land of giants – that I had nothing to say that was worth listening to. Further, I was convinced that I could not write. Today, without hesitation nor doubt I say that I show up for myself as a thinker-writer-speaker who is worth listening to by those who know who/what to listen to.  It doesn’t stop there, I learned much more about myself.

Only as a result of these two blogs did I realise that I am more than a thinker.  I realised, that I create (these original conversations) therefore I have the capacity to be creative. What joy this realisation / experience brings!  What is the experience that I am seeking to share with you?  Allow me to point you towards that direction by sharing this quote:

Curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humour, a free and open mind, an acceptance of the relativity of values and of the uncertainty of life, all inevitably fuse into the kind of person whose greatest joy is creation. He conceives of creation as the very essence of the meaning of life. In his constant striving for the new, he finds that he cannot endure what is repetitive and unchanging. For him hell would be doing the same thing over and over again.  – Saul Alinsky

Yes, fundamentally I am curious, I have that free and open mind, and accept the relativity of values/positions/theories and the inherent uncertainties that come with finding oneself in living in a complex non-linear world where prediction/certainty is for those who are either naive or fools.  Which kind of explains how it is that I have deliberately sought to make friends with folks from different countries, different faiths, different ages. It also explains how it is that my interests/thinking spans science, philosophy (eastern, western), history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, ecology, systems thinking, chaos/complexity….

Is it possible that it is irreverence that lies at my core?  It hasn’t escaped my notice that the subtitle of this blog is: “provocative conversations: questioning conventional wisdom / stimulating original thinking.”

They say you remember the moments in your existence that really matter. I must have been between 8 and 10 years of age.  Unhappy. Perplexed. Desperate to figure this thing out. What thing? Why is it that the stuff the (white) folks teach me at school about good/bad, right/wrong differs from and contradicts that which my parents (and their relatives) insist is good/bad, right/wrong?  Then one day, one moment, outside walking, a thought/insight arises and hits me.  It does not leave me the same person – it changes me fundamentally and forever.  Which thought/insight? Here it is:

Its ALL made up!

Once I got that, I started pushing the boundaries – at school, at home. I became the person who questions that which is taken for granted.  The one that asks the difficult questions like “Why be a team player in a competitive individualistic culture and economic system? Do you think I am stupid? What is a team player – one who censors self to fit in with the powers that be – you?  Why should I be that kind of person?  Anyway, why should you get to define what constitutes team playing?” Or”What makes you certain that your religion is the only true religion, that your way of life is the right one?”

There is a Chinese saying which goes something like “Beware, every stick has two ends, when you pick up a stick you get both ends!” I can vouch for the truth of that.  Curiosity, open mindedness, acceptance of relativity of values/perspectives, and especially irreverence have brought me great learning, memorable experiences, and joy.  That is one end of the stick.  The other end is that almost always I find myself the Outsider. And folks do not like that which they hold dear questioned. They don’t even like the opinions/prejudices/’facts’ they picked up from their media to be subjected to Socratic questioning or my blistering critique.

My professional existence is been that of a traveller: travelling from one employer to another, moving from domain to another.  History suggests that I tend to last about two years in an organisation. At about that time I usually find myself bored – having learned that which there was to learn. And/ or I find myself facing a ‘superior’ who shows up for me as ignorant/stupid/arrogant or just a bully.

There’s an ancient story of The Oak and the Reed. According to this tale, the smart choice is to be the flexible/supple reed. I am the reed when it comes to means to accomplish ends. When it comes to values/ends and the way I have chosen to show up and travel in this existence I am the Oak. Why?  Because these matter – these are what I choose to orient/navigate my existence by.  How important are they to me?  This quote says it all:

“A man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Hemingway, The Old Man & The Sea

What Has This To Do With Customers and Leadership?

Good question.  Allow me to respond with a few questions of mine:

Do you identify with the customer (see the Clarence Darrow quote at the beginning of this conversation) and so are committed to simplifying/enriching the lives of your customers? Or are your in it purely for yourself – to make a name for yourselves, to get rich?

Are you playing the Customer game because it is THE game that you want to play because it is THE game that calls you – your deepest self?  Is playing this game the expression of your deepest self?

Do you have or are you cultivating the curiosity, the open mindedness, the awareness of the relativity of perspectives, and the inherent uncertainty of existence to get out of your existence (your default existence) and really enter into / live the lives of your customers? And thus to generate original insight, and cultivate empathy, for your customers?  How can you simplify/enrich their lives if you do not truly understand them – not as mere personas nor statistics – but as concrete human beings?

Do you get all that is – you, your organisation, the economic model, society as such – is all made up?  And are you up for unmaking that which is necessary to unmake to become a giant in the Customer arena – as seen through through customers’ eyes?  Is this a mission that appeals to you – calls forth intellectual interest and emotional passion? How do you know that passion is present?  Passion brings boundless energy and it does not get stopped by obstacles that appear on the path.

Are you willing to pay the price that comes with questioning the status quo and threatening the powerful who seek to lose by the changes you are proposing to make or making? Are you willing to be that Outsider?  Are you willing to accept Hemingway’s truth that a man is not made for defeat, that he can be destroyed but not defeated?

If you answer these questions honestly you may get why it is that few are successful in calling forth genuine loyalty between themselves and employees, between themselves and their value chain partners, between themselves and their customers, between themselves and the communities in which they operate.

Thank you for your listening, I wish you the very best, until the next time.

 

Why do only a handful of companies excel at cultivating customer loyalty?

The story state of Customer Experience

Dave Brocks latest post (selling disguised as relationship management) and Beyond Philosophy’s Global Customer Experience Management Survey (2011) which made the point that a lot of stuff that is not Customer Experience is being badged as Customer experience got me thinking about this sorry state: lots of talk, lots of people with the right titles, lots of spend on technology and yet the same old organisational behaviour.   Which begs the question: why it is that only a few companies truly excel at Customer Experience and customer-centricity?  Now I can list all the usual candidates: spaghetti like systems, silos, channel proliferation, organisational design, conflicting agendas & metrics and so forth.  That is exactly what I am not going to do because I believe that these are red herrings that are used to paper over what is so.  So let’s take a skeptical look at business and see if this sheds any light.

The smuggler, the border guard and the wheelbarrow

Every day a man turns up at the border with a wheelbarrow and some stuff in it.  Every day the border guard examines the stuff in the wheelbarrow convinced that the man is smuggling something.  Some days the stuff is clothes, other days footwear, sometime watches, sometime blankets yet none of the stuff in the wheelbarrow is contraband and so the border guard reluctantly allows the man across the border.  This goes on and on until the border guard retires.  Shortly after that the border guard and the man meet accidentally and the border guard asks him to say what he was smuggling.  The man replies “Wheelbarrows!”

Let’s stop for a moment and look at the whole customer stuff: customer satisfaction, customer focus, customer loyalty, customer relationship management, customer experience and customer-centricity. And ask the question: what is right in front of us that we are missing?  What is our ‘wheelbarrow’?

The name of the game is neither Customer Experience nor customer-centricity

Is it easy to do well in a truly competitive industry?  No, it is hard work.  What is the ideal scenario for every company in a competitive space?  To become the monopoly supplier.  Why is this appealing?  Because, you can dictate terms to the customers and they have to play ball.  When you are in that position you do not have to bother with all this nonsense about customer focus: customers are difficult, being customer focussed is hard work and besides it stops you from making monopolistic rents.  If you cannot have a pure monopoly then you can get something like it – and oligopoly.  This is where a small bunch of companies control the market: they sell similar products, at similar prices, in similar ways and have the same business models.  In effect, they ‘agree’ to carve up the market and the profits.  Often these industries have high barriers to entry and so there is no real competition: think banks, utilities, telecoms…….The last thing that any CEO, Board of Directors or shareholders want is a truly competitive market.  Why? Because you have to fight for customers and their wallet.  Which brings us to an important point.

What has changed is that the traditional means of attaining this outcome no longer work as well as they used to.   Originally there was control over valuable natural resources and distribution channels. Later, control of intellectual property and shaping the mind of the consumer through advertising, branding and PR. Since the rise of the internet the traditional means (resources, distribution, IP, advertising..) have not been working that well.  Just think of the disruptive power of the internet: you no longer need stores and all the capital that goes with that; your market is the whole world and you do not even have to setup a website – you can pitch your tent at ebay and sell to the whole world; and customers are awash with useful information that makes them better informed, smarter decision makers and more discriminating buyers.  This is why we have heard and read so much talk about targeted marketing, relationship marketing, permission marketing, personalisation, customer focus, customer service, customer experience, customer-centricity.

Does that mean that there has been a wholesale transformation of the heart (love of the customer) or of the head (change in worldview)?  I am think that there has been no such change.  The game is still the same: to orchestrate the levers of power to become monopolistic suppliers and thus extract monopolistic rents.   And if that is not possible then many businesses do the utmost to get the better of customers (too many option, complicated pricing, misleading advertising, dumbing down customer service etc) to maximise short term profits.  If it is the ‘age of the customer’ (IBM says it is) then we are talking about many businesses being dragged kicking and screaming into the ‘age of the customer’.  Many if not almost all would prefer the good old times when customers had no voice, no power and simply put up with what they were given.  Take a good look at the laggards (you know who they are) and you will notice that they still hold monopoly type positions, accrue monopolistic rents and continue to pay lip service to customer service and ‘the customer is king’.

If you see this then you can see the ‘wheelbarrow’ that is right in front of us and which we may have been missing: the vast majority of businesses want and strive to become monopolistic suppliers so that they can monopolistic rents without the hard work of being customer-centred.   If you accept this then you can understand that whilst the titles of changed from “Sales” to “Relationship Manager” the hidden objective is the same: sell more, increase “share of wallet”.   You can also understand why business process management, lean, cost-cutting via self-service technology, customer service, marketing etc  have all been rebadged as Customer Experience – changing labels is the easy part and Drayton Bird has an excellent/witty post on this.   Put differently, all the talk of customer focus, customer service, CRM, Social CRM, customer experience and customer-centricity is simply the bric-a-brac in the ‘wheelbarrow’ that prevents us from seeing the ‘wheelbarrow’ for what it is.   Any real form of customer-centricity (as opposed to the talk) is being brought on by new entrants to the battleground.  And by the power wielded by customers who now have the technologies and platforms to be better informed, make smarter decisions and make their voices heard

To excel at customer-centricity, Customer Experience and customer loyalty you have travel along the road less travelled

Which bring me back to my original question: why do only a handful of companies excel at cultivating customer loyalty?  Because by design or by accident the people who started these companies  operate from a customer centred paradigm and have built customer-centred business models, cultures and organisations.  And the leaders of these companies were willing to play the long term game.  How long did it take for Amazon to become profitable?  What about Zappos?   Is USAA simply a vehicle for churning out profits for shareholders or an organisation with a mission to service members of the armed forces?  Starbucks is a great example of a company that made it fortune by understanding customers human needs and delivering them (“the third place”)  and then got itself into trouble by forgetting this mission (and associated values, operating practices) and chasing growth and profitability targets set by the analysts.  Starbucks had to go back to the basics to connect with their customers and win them bac

Perhaps this handful of companies (Amazon, Starbucks, USAA, Zane Cycles, Zappos..) will provide the inspiration for authentic customer-centricity:  O2 (UK mobile telecoms operator who does not think of itself as that) is a company that has embraced customer-centricity with a fervour that is necessary to be an experience services brand and organisation.  In the process it has become the leader in the UK telecoms industry: brand, revenues, subscribers, profits. The recent Ofcom results show that “The least complained about mobile provider….was O2, with 0.02 complaints for every 1000 customers compared to 0.14 in the case of 3UK.”  This is remarkable when you consider that O2 was spun off from a former state monopoly BT in 2001.  And birth O2 was viewed as a second rate player in the telecoms market and some doubted its future prospects.  Maybe more executives will follow the lead of O2 and genuinely orient their companies around customer, customer experience and customer-centricity.

A final word

To excel at Customer Experience and customer-centricity you have to have an affinity for people as human beings.  I will go further and say that you have to connect with and care about your customers as human beings first and wallets second.  Going even further I’d say you have to love your customers and show them that you love them.  In my view this is and has always been the great (hidden) strength of Steve Jobs and Apple:  a deep affinity for the misfits, the rebels, the people out to create a more beautiful world.  If you can see merit in what I am saying then I recommend that you read the following insightful post by Pete Abilla: How to be human

What do you think?

Want me as your customer? Show me love.

Lyn Hunsaker and a particular song got me thinking

I read this opening line – ““How did we make you feel? That’s what really matters.”- from Lyn Hunsaker’s post and a little later the radio played one of my favourite songs.  And that is the genesis of  this post.

Every customer encounter presents you with a choice: ‘I-It’ or ‘I-Thou’

Every time you encounter a customer in business you are faced with a choice.  You can treat that customer as on object that has to be handled/manipulated to fit in with your agenda.  In this case you are treating the customer as an object; in Martin Buber’s terms you are engaged in a ‘I-It’ relationship.  Many companies do that because too many people forget that customers are human beings.

It just so happens that if you want to build enduring relationships with customers you have to be willing to drop the ‘I-It’ relationship and move to the ‘I-Thou’ relationship.  Fundamentally, this means treating your customer as a fellow human being and as such treating the customer as you would like to be treated if you were in her shoes.  Why is this necessary?

Have you noticed how ‘love’ is so much a part of the human landscape?  How many of us strive for it in our personal lives?  How many books and poems have been written about ‘love’?  How many people have decided to end their lives due to the lack of ‘love’?  And then you have the songs – many about love.  So how is it that ‘love’ is missing from the business landscape.  I can only think of one book that deals well with love: “Love is the Killer App”

Now I can write a learned article in the acceptable business narrative and appeal to your left brain.  Or I can share the lyrcis of the following song (“Show Me Love”) and appeal to your right brain.  I prefer the latter as I want to talk to you as a human being rather than an engineer, an accountant or an economist.  Incidentally, listening to the song is even better than reading the lyrics – so if you get a chance listen to the song.

An insight into the human condition through the lyrics of a pop song

“Ahhh… Yeah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

Heartbreaks and promises, I’ve had more than my share
I’m tired of giving my love and getting nowhere, nowhere
What I need is somebody who really cares
I really need a lover, a lover who wants to be there
It’s been so long since I touched a wanting hand
I can’t put my love on the line, that I hope you’ll understand

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love
Words are so easy to say, oh ah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

I’m tired of getting caught up in those one night affairs
What I really need is somebody who will always be there
Don’t you promise me the world, all that I’ve already heard
This time around for me baby, actions speak louder than words

So if you’re looking for devotion, talk to me
Come with your heart in your hands
Because me love is guaranteed

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love
Words are so easy to say, oh ah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

Show me, show me baby
Show me, show me baby
Show me, show me baby
Show me, show me baby

Heartbreaks and promises, I’ve had more than my share
I’m tired of giving my love and getting nowhere, nowhere
What I really need is somebody who will always be there
This time around for me baby, actions speak louder than words

If you’re looking for devotion, talk to me
Come with your heart in your hands
Because me love is guaranteed

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love
Words are so easy to say, oh ah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

There’s nothing that you can tell me
You’ve got to show me love
There’s only one key to my heart
You’ve got to show me love

Show me, show me baby
You’ve got to give it to me, give it to me, give it to me yeah
I don’t want no fakes, don’t want no phoney
I need you love
Show me, show me, show me baby
Give it to me, give it to me
I am not a toy, I’m not a play thang
You’ve got to understand

If you’re looking for devotion, talk to me
Come with your heart in your hands
Because me love is guaranteed
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah”

Does this strike you as idealistic?

If showing customers love strikes you as being idealistic then that is because it is idealistic.  That does not mean that it does not work.  I know of a young man who started a car business 8 years ago with £4,000 pounds that I gave him and who, today, continues to expand his business with a loyal customer base whilst many of his competitors have gone out of business.  His secret: he shows his customers love.  The details I will leave for a later post.

PS: I thank each and every one of you for reading the stuff that I write.  Through your reading and commenting you leave me feeling loved!  And that in turn gives me the motivational food I need to continue writing in my voice.

Why you should not confuse ‘personalisation’ with ‘personal’

There is value in personalisation

By personalising content on websites you provide me with content that is likely to be relevent to me.  And that saves me time.  It tends to make me think that you have your act together.  That you are competent and possibly sophisticated in your use of data and technology.  Because of your personalisation, you make it that much more likely that I will purchase from you.

When you send me direct mail then it may or may not be personalised.  Simply putting my name on it does not constitute personalisation.  Doing that and taking my situation and/or my past behaviour into account when you talk to me in your direct mail does constitute personalisation.  And by personalising your direct mail to me it is that much more likely that I am going to read it.  Whether I act on it or not depends largely on your timing – did your personalised direct mail catch me when I have the need for what you are offering?

Why personalisation is not enough

The big issues with personalisation as it is practiced is that it addresses the rational / functional needs.  I’d argue that the kind of personalisation that I have described is a hygiene factor.  The thing about hygiene factors is that if they are present they do not build positive emotion, engagement or loyalty.  When hygiene factors are not present then they do build dissatisfaction.

Why the personal touch matters

Customers are people – human beings.  For most human beings there is nothing more nourishing than the personal touch.  The personal touch is always a human to human encounter.  It is one human being taking the time to acknowledge, validate and uplift another human being emotionally.  I can talk about this in many ways and sometimes an example is much more direct and useful.  Please take a  look at the image below.

I have an inquisitive mind and I read widely.  As a result I tend to buy quite a few books from Amazon and it’s partners.  Most of the time the books arrive and there is absolutely no emotional impact.  This time I am really touched.  Why?  Simply because of one personal sentence written by a fellow human being who works at RocketSurgery:

“Thanks for your order, hope you enjoy this excellent book and find it useful.  Best wishes. RocketSurgery Crew”

Now the interesting thing is that this sentence would not have had the same impact if it had been typed up.  It occurs as personal because it is handwritten and it lands as authentic – as heartfelt.

The net impact of this personal touch is that RocketSurgery is imprinted on my mind (and heart) and next time I am choosing between ANother or RocketSurgery, I know who will get my business.

Research validates the impact of the personal touch

I am not alone in being moved (influenced) by the personal touch.  The impact of the personal is described in the following book: “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”

You can download an extract of the book  and relevant secret (secret 10) by clicking on the following: Yes_Book_Extract

So what is the lesson we can take away from this?

Personalisation is necessary because it delivers on the functional (hygiene) need.  Yet it is not enough to build an emotional connection with your customers and grow loyalty.  To do that you have to be personal: leaving your customer feeling acknowledged and valued at an emotional level.