Customers-Employees-Leadership: Distinguishing Between ‘Caring About’ And ‘Caring For’- And Why It Matters

Given that I find myself in the week of Christmas, it occurs to me that today is a great time to diving into caring. And in particular, I wish to make/introduce a distinction. Which distinction? I wish to distinguish between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’. Let’s start with the realm of Customer.

Caring About Customers v Caring For The Customer

I am clear that folks in business care about customers. Specifically, they care about:

  1. Figuring out what makes customers tick – by ‘listening’ to customers through market research, social listening, ethnography, and voice of the customer surveying;
  2. Getting more customers – turning prospects into customers by pushing out the right message, right offer, at the right time and through the right communication channel;
  3. Keeping more of their existing customers buying from them for longer – through a range of techniques including making it easier for customers to do business with the organisation (reducing effort, improving access, improving the customer experience) and through targeted incentives (promotions, discounts, loyalty points);
  4. Selling a wider range of ‘products’ to existing customers – by turning customer data into insight through the use of data mining and predictive analytics or just plain collaborative filtering;
  5. Moving existing customers from lower margin ‘products’ to higher margin customers – through the use of range of techniques and tactics;
  6. Winning back folks that used to be customers – usually through some kind of enticing promotion, discount or, rarely, a new/compelling ‘product’; and
  7. Servicing customers in a smart manner – by using the right combination (digital, telephone) of customer service channels.

Now, let’s turn our attention to caring for the customer. Let’s start with the basic question, who (specifically) cares for the customer?  Let’s make this even more specific, who cares for me?  As a customer, I deal with many companies and I am clear that there is not one company/organisation that cares for me. Not one! I, as a flesh and blood human being, do not show up on the organisational radar. Does anyone in an organisation ever care for me in a business context? When I interact with the organisations that I interact with do I get left with the feeling-experience of being cared for by an organisation? The answer is: No!

Are there any occasions where I, as a customer, feel cared for? Yes. When do I experience this kind of experience? When I encounter a Welcomer. What is a Welcomer? For me a Welcomer is a human being who, in his being, welcomes me as a fellow human being. S/he going beyond the formalised rituals of business and organisational life, beyond the scripts, beyond the transaction, and reaches out to me as one human being to another. I know when this is going on because I notice and experience the English reserve breaking down. There is breaking down of boundaries, whilst still respecting boundary. There tends to be mutual disclosure of the human kind: sharing occurs. And there tends to be smiling, even laughter. As a result of these kind of encounters, I find myself uplifted, smiling, grateful and with a sense of pride in being a member of the human race.  These kind of encounters leave me with hope, with optimism in my footsteps.

I invite you to consider that there is a world of difference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer. Notice the difference: in the realm of ‘caring about’ we are dealing with customers whereas in the realm of ‘caring for’ we are in the realm of the individual customer – that one human being.  There is a vast difference. And it occurs to me that the folks who talk about, evangelise about, preach out all things Customer are not present to this critical distinction.

Does this indifference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer matter? I say it matters – it matters to each customer. You see this is the deepest and most radical meaning of personalisation – speaking to the person of that one person (the customer).  I invite you to listen to the following words:

The general obsession with observing only historical or sociological movements, and not a particular human being …. is as mistaken as a doctor who does not take an interest in a particular case. Every particular case is an experience that can be valuable to the understanding of the illness…….

….. this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

As soon as you speak in psychological terms ….. people act as if you had a lack of interest in the wider currents of the history of man. In other words, they feel able to study masses and consider this more virtuous, assign of a vaster concept than relating to one person. This makes them …. inadequate in relationships, in friendships, in psychological understanding.

– Anias Nin

I invite you to consider that the strongest bonds, usually called loyalty, occurs where one human being experiences himself cared for (as a unique human being) by another human being.  Is it then any surprise that despite the talk of customer loyalty, and all the customer loyalty programmes and tactics, there is so little loyalty between customers and brands.

Caring About Employees v Caring For The Employee

Sure, organisations ‘care about’ employees. It is the employees who do the work – the work that creates value for the the customer. The work that ends up generating revenue and profits. So I find that organisations care a great deal about their employees including but not limited to:

  1. Attracting the right people to become employees of the organisation;
  2. Keeping the most valuable employees;
  3. Getting more out of their existing employees (productivity, collaboration, teamwork, ideas..);
  4. Ranking employees for performance management purposes;
  5. Minimising the costs associated with recruiting, retaining, managing, controlling employees.

Now, who in your organisation actually cares for that individual flesh+blood human being to whom you have given the label employee, and, thus deprived him/her of personhood and turned him/her into a category? Let me ask this question differently, as an employee do I feel cared for? Who do I feel cares for me in this organisation in which I find myself employed?

I invite you to consider that there is world of difference between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person to whom you have given the label employee.  Does this difference matter?  Of course it matters!  Until this difference is recognised and acted up organisations will continue to grapple with the challenge of ’employee engagement’.  Why should I engage with you and your organisation when I do not feel myself cared for – as a unique human being?

What Has This To Do With Leadership?

I invite you to consider that this distinction between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person whether under the label ‘customer’ or the label ’employee’ can be used to distinguish between management and leadership.  Leaders must dwell in the human real, the personal realm: ‘caring for’ the person.  Here I share the following wise words with you:

My lack of faith in the men who lead us is that they do not recognize the irrational in men, they have no insight, and whoever does not recognize the personal, individual drama of man cannot lead them.

– Anais Nin

Something to Consider And Play For At Christmas?

As you head into Christmas and the festivities where hopefully you will be in amidst people who are family and friends, I invite you to be present to the distinction between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ the folks that you will be meeting up with and celebrating Christmas with.  It occurs to me that making the shift from ‘caring about’ the folks you find yourself with, to ‘caring for’ each person that is there will transform your (and their) experience of Christmas.

If you play this ‘game’ you might just find that ‘caring about’ is easy, ‘caring for’ is really difficult. This might just explain why it is that all the folks who speak Customer and Employee make ‘caring about’ masquerade as ‘caring for’.  The interesting thing is that whilst we can hoodwink ourselves in the management suite, our customers and our employees are not hoodwinked that easily: they experience and detect the difference between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ – which is why they are not loyal to us and rightly so.

Who are the UK’s 2012 Customer Experience Leaders and What Can We Learn From Them?

Why have I been making such a big fuss of leadership, management and employee engagement? 

Some of you – especially those of you that focus on strategy, process or technology – might have noticed that I have increasingly made a big thing of leadership, management, employee engagement and organisational effectiveness.  Why?

This is the third year of the Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Index in the UK and here is what the 2012 report says:

“For many of the Top 10 it is their focus on employee engagement, training, development and motivation even for seemingly mundane jobs that differentiates the service experience.”

“There is generally a movement to empower front line staff to step outside procedure and make sensible decisions in favour of the customer.”

“The role of the retail in-store employee is moving from transactional to information, education and building a relationship.”

What else does the  Nunwood CX 2012 report tell us?

Aside from the critical importance of employees and employee engagement engendered through the right leadership and management practices, the following four points caught my attention:

1. In a price dominated shopping context, many companies are looking to non price based factors to compete;

2. Companies have focussed on making it easier for customers to do business with them by “removing time and effort from business processes as firms seek to get the basics right”;

3. Increasingly attention is shifting to the human/emotional factors that “make a deeper connection with consumers”; and

4. “The leaders achieve consistently excellent delivery of the basics but also deal with the unusual – unusually well.”

Who are Nunwood’s UK Customer Experience Excellence leaders?

Amazon stays in top place followed by John Lewis (multichannel retailer) and First Direct (non branch bank).  Green Flag (car breakdown service) and The Co-operative Bank are the two brands making the biggest improvement since 2011. Here are the Top 10:

nunwood_CX202_Top10

What can we learn from these CX leaders?

I have gone through the Nunwood report to figure out what made each of these companies/brands stand out.  And to list the key characteristics that contribute to them being CX leaders. Here is the table – please click on it to see it more clearly:

Nunwoods CX2012 Top 10 MastersAnd finally

In the top 10 there is only one company/brand where marketing as in ‘promotion’ (which sadly is what marketing has become in too many organisations) has contributed significantly to the customer’s experience. And as such is mentioned by the Nunwood report.  If you read the table above you will find that it is the the £10 dine for two promotion from M&S Food that spoke to / found favour with customers.

Have you noticed something deeply significant?  These companies are actually operating from a powerful context (‘do right by the customer’) and thus putting in place the people, the cultural norms, the processes, the metrics and the technology that enables them to do ‘right by the customer’.  I am clear that requires leadership from the top (walking the talk).  And the right management practices: recruiting the right people; encouraging them to delight customers by rewarding them for building relationships/delighting customers; listening to customers as people of integrity; allowing employees the space to bypass policies, processes and procedures when it is necessary to do so; encouraging employees to own the resolution of customer problems; and putting in place the process and technology that enables customer facing people to quickly/easily deal with and resolve stuff that matters to customers.

If you still don’t get it then I will spell it out.  I say a genuine commitment to service in the broadest sense of service is what drives customer experience excellence and generates customer advocacy/loyalty. And marketing can contribute provided marketing shifts its focus from ‘spin’ to genuine service to customers through information, education and seduction – seduction that is based on the ability of the organisation to deliver the promise that is used to seduce the customer.   If this speaks to you then I recommend that you read a post I wrote a little time ago:  Transforming Service through the radical reconceptualisation of Service