What is the purpose of customer experience design and innovation?

Simplicity speaks to me.  Complexity, including fancy ambiguous wording, makes me suspicious.  And it makes navigation in the real world that much more difficult.  With that in mind I share with you my take on customer experience design and innovation.

I say that the purpose of customer experience design and innovation is to enrich lives such that customers are left feeling great about choosing to do business with us.

How can we know that we have enriched lives and left customers feeling great about choosing to do business with us?  I say we can look at the following indicators:

1. What customers are saying about us;

2. How many people are turning up to buy from us without us having to hook them through advertising, promotions and other gimmicks like many ‘loyalty’ programmes;

3. The stickiness of customers in the midst of genuine competition and the unleashing of contractual shackles;

4. The budget that we can cut from marketing, advertising, and sales without negatively impacting the customer experience nor our ability to attract/keep customers.

5. Ease of attracting and keeping talent, the talent that actually comes up with products and powers the customer experience.

Is there a serious issue with the whole customer-brand relationship thing?

I came across this great quote from Anthony Robbins on relationship and I want to share it with you:

The only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place THAT YOU GO TO GIVE and not a place that you go to take.

Coming across this quote has rekindled the struggle that I have had with the relationship thing between the organisation/brand and customers.  Why?

We live in a self-seeking, self-interested, self-centred ideology and context. Customers are expecting companies to reward them for their loyalty. These rewards can be in terms of price discounts, higher levels of service, special privileges etc.  Brands/organisations have engaged in the relationship thing because of promises made by gurus/consultants/marketing professors. What promises?  Promises of  higher revenues, margins and profits.  How? According to these ‘gurus’ customers in a relationship will paying higher prices and buy more from the brand.

Do you see the issue?  From the brand viewpoint it is worth entering into the relationship so that the brand can take more – revenues and profits – from the relationship.  From the customer viewpoint it is worth entering into a relationship if they can get more value (price discounts, higher levels of service, privileges..) out of the brands.

This reminds me of the prisoners dilemma where the ideal course of action is for you to encourage the other party to cooperate whilst you defect.  And as such this occurs to be the use of the word/concept of ‘relationship’ masking a ‘selfishness/greed’ orientation/behaviour.  Which may explain why it is that with all the talk of ‘relationship’ there are so few brands that actually build relationships and cultivate loyalty.

Oh, if you are up for a refreshing take on the customer/brand relationship thing then I recommend the following slide deck from Martin Weigel, head of planning at Wieden+Kennedy, Amsterdam:

This is the deck that brought to the surface my unease with the relationship thing.  And it shows up for me as a great deck – one that speaks uncomfortable/unsettling truths. I’d love to hear your take on this.

On the limits of knowledge and the ubiquity of bullshit in business

On the limits of knowledge and our duty to ourselves and our readers

It is the 1980’s, we are at Brunel University’s physics department.  The philosophically minded physics professor and I are discussing freedom.  Then the subject turns to the limits of knowledge.  He refers to my latest ‘homework’ and we agree that the computation I submitted put forward an answer to three decimal places. He asserts that it is bullshit and proceeds to prove his point.   He takes me through each variable asking me to estimate the degree of accuracy of each variable.  Finally, he prods me to redo the computation that I had submitted in my homework.  I do so and surprise!  I find that instead of giving an answer to three decimal places, I should have just rounded up the number (no decimal places) and added ”+/- 10,000” after it. Why? To honour my obligation – to myself and the reader – of pointing out clearly/visibly the limits of knowledge and my assertions.

An illustrative example of bullshit in business?

It is a lesson I strive to remember and even if I forget it, it tends to remember and find me!  It found me just this week.  I happened to come across this post (How to Be a Beloved Company) by Jeanne Bliss and I was struck by the following three statements:

1. “We are programmed to care. We naturally want to do the right thing.”

2. “Pfaff’s findings tell us altruism is a hardwired function of the human brain. We take altruistic actions because a neural mechanism leads us naturally down this path. This creates a tendency for serving the best interest of others.”

3. “Pfaff tells the story of a man who saw someone fall onto the tracks of a New York City subway. On instinct, the man jumped into the well of the tracks, hoisted the stranger onto his back, and carried him to the edge of the platform to be lifted out.”

Upon reading these statements, that conversation with my physics professor came back to me. It occurs to me that these assertions are bullshit!

Let’s take the first two statements which are assertions about the way human beings are. Notice there is no doubt in these assertions, they are the case!  Now, take a moment and think of the Newtown shooting in the USA.  And of the particularly horrific gang rape by six men of the 23 year old women who they left for dead.  Now please look me in the face and tell me, again, that we are programmed to care, we naturally want to do the right thing and that altruism is hardwired function of the human brain.

Now let’s address the third statement which is a story used to back up the assertions.  In a universe filled with data and stories you and I can always find some data, some event, some story to back up our favoured point of view.  So let’s play that game.  I say that we are not programmed to care and that altruism is not a hardwired function of the brain.  Want me to give you a story to back up my assertions? Here is such a story and it happened several days ago:

“A woman accused of pushing an Indian-born man to his death in front of a New York City subway train told police she did it because she blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and because “I thought it would be cool,” prosecutors said at a court hearing.”

If you are the ‘executive summary’ type then you might want to stop here.  If you are more like me and enjoy / get value with grappling with stuff to truly understand stuff then you might want to read on.

Why bullshit is corrosive to business effectiveness and our way of life

You might be wondering why I am being so pedantic.  I am being pedantic because bullshit has become ubiquitous and it has serious consequences for us, for our organisations, for our institutions, for our way of life. Why/how?  Allow me to share with you some key points arising out of an essay that  the philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote on bullshit.

“One of the salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.  Everyone knows this.  Each of us contributes his share.  But we tend to take the situation for granted.  Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it….

In the old days, craftsmen did not cut corners. They worked carefully, and they took care with every aspect of their work.  Every part of the product was considered, and each was designed and made to exactly as it should be.  These craftsmen did not relax their thoughtful self-discipline even with respect to features of their work which would ordinarily not be visible. Although no one would notice if those features were not quite right, the craftsmen would be bothered by their conscience.  So nothing was swept under the rug.  Or one might perhaps also say, there was no bullshit.

Is a bullshitter by his very nature a mindless slob?  Is his product necessarily messy or unrefined?…….

The notion of carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain.  Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity. It entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim. It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all. The realms of advertising and public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics are replete with instances of bullshit….. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who – with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing and so forth – dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they product exactly right. 

It is for this mindlessness that Pascal’s Wittgenstein chides her.  What disgusts him is that Pascal is not even concerned whether her statement is correct.… Her statement is not “wrought with greatest care”.  She makes it without bothering to take into account at the question of its accuracy.  

The point is rather that …. Pascal offers a description of a certain state of affairs without genuinely submitting to the constraints which the endeavour to provide accurate representation of reality imposes.  Her fault is not that she fails to get things right, but that she in not even trying …..  This is important to Wittgenstein because….. he takes what she says seriously… He construes her as engaged in an activity to which the distinction between what is true and what is false is crucial, and yet as taking no interest in whether what she says is true or false …  It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are – that I regards as the essence of bullshit.  

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it … For the bullshitter….: he is neither on the side of truth nor on the side of the false.  His eyes are not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose. 

Each responds to the fact as he understands them …… The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether.  He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and opposes himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is the greater enemy of the truth than the lies are. 

…. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can only have two alternatives.  The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertions whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything but bullshit. 

….. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to the topic…..”

And finally

I set up this blog back in 2010. Why? Because it occurred to me that there was an ubiquity of bullshit when it came to the Customer domain.  So I make a request of you: if you find that I am contributing to the omnipresence of bullshit in the domain of business then please let me know!  For my part, I say that I will strive to remember and practice the lesson that my physics professor taught me – being aware of and pointing out the limitations of my knowledge and in particular the accuracy of my knowledge.

My advice to you: start from the assumption that all business writing is marketing/PR and as such the default setting is that of bullshit. Then from that context investigate it and if you find value in it then use it.  How do you find value? First by thinking critically. Specifically, if someone asserts “all swans are white” then look for instances of black swans – the opposite of what is being asserted. And once you  are confident that this test has been passed then try it out – run a pilot, learn from experience, revise where necessary.

Why marketing should not lead the drive towards authentic customer-centricity

Should the Marketing function be leading the drive towards customer-centricity?

The accepted wisdom is that the marketing function and marketers have the best grasp of customers – their lives, their desires, their concerns…..   Along with this is another piece of accepted wisdom: that the marketing function and marketers are customer-centric or they are the function/people who are the most customer-centric in the organisation.  If you accept “accepted wisdom” then it is natural to say and expect the marketing function (and marketers) to take the lead, even take charge, in moving your organisation to become a customer-centric organisation.

I say don’t assume.  I say don’t accept “accepted wisdom”.  I say check and challenge the “accepted wisdom”.  I say try on Karl Popper’s dictum that instead of looking for evidence to prove your hypothesis, and/or your taken for granted view of how the world works, look for evidence the shows your hypothesis is wrong.  Here is how the concept of “falsification” (which is what I am talking about here) is described on Wikipedia:

“The classical view of the philosophy of science is that it is the goal of science to prove hypotheses like “All swans are white” or to induce them from observational data. Popper argued that this would require the inference of a general rule from a number of individual cases, which is inadmissible in deductive logic. However, if one finds one single black swan, deductive logic admits the conclusion that the statement that all swans are white is false. Falsificationism thus strives for questioning, for falsification, of hypotheses instead of proving them.”

Looking at my experience I say that it is quite possible that the existing conversations and practices around marketing and the role/function of marketer it is almost certain that the marketing function (and marketers) are “not customer-centric”.  I can spout theory or I can share experience.  Allow me to share experience with you.

My recent experience with Amazon

I buy regularly and often from Amazon: I buy books (physical and electronic) and electronics.  This week I placed at least six orders for various items.  And I am happy to be do business with Amazon because it works out well for me: it is easy to place the order from the PC, the Kindle, the iPhone; the prices are reasonable; the items are delivered promptly; and on the rare occasion there has been an issue it has been easy to sort out.  If you asked me “Would you recommend Amazon?”  I’d say “Yes, and I have done so many times.”

So why am I displeased, to put it mildly, with Amazon?  A more accurate statement is that the emotion of disgust/contempt is present right now when I think Amazon.  Why?  Because of the recent email I received that offers me a “£10 promotional gift certificate”.  You might be wondering why I am not grateful with receiving a £10 promotional gift certificate?  Take a look at the email:

Thank you for purchasing from Amazon.co.uk.Your recent order 203-9422174-0673902 entitles you to a promotional credit which we have added to your account. This credit can be applied to your next qualifying purchase.

Promotion details:

Additional information on this offer can be found here.

A £10 promotional gift certificate has been added to your Amazon account to spend on Amazon Fashion.

To redeem this promotional gift certificate, add at least £40 worth of eligible clothing, shoes, jewellery and/or watches sold by Amazon.co.uk to your basket from the selection in the link above. Checkout and £10 will be deducted from your order total.

The promotion code must be used by 09 December 2012. This offer is subject to Terms and Conditions.

Thanks again for shopping with us.

Amazon.co.uk


Have you noticed the issue?  “The promotional gift certificate” does not show up as such in my experience.  My experience is rather like the experience of my sister and her husband when they moved into their flat in a manor house.  Shortly after arrival several of their neighbours knocked on their door, smiled, engaged in chit-chat and handed them a “Welcome Pack”.  Upon opening the “Welcome Pack” my sister and her husband found no welcome.  What they found was a list of all the things they were not allowed to do.  And a list of what they were expected to do.  In short, there was a mismatch between what the language of their neighbours had set them up to expect and what actually showed up.  Furthermore, they felt a sense of the neighbours being “dishonest” and “manipulative”.  That is exactly my experience.

What exactly is the issue? A gulf between the marketing orientation and the customer-centric orientation

I say that if Amazon’s marketing function was operating from a context of authentic customer-centricity then they could/should have done the following:

  • Thanked me – which they do in their email;
  • Let me know of the £10 promotional gift certificate – which they do in their email’;
  • Given me the choice of how I want to use it; and
  • Entice me to check out the Fashion section perhaps by making the £10 promotional gift certificate count a £20 if spent in the fashion section.

Now if Amazon had done that then I would have been delighted and grateful.  That would have occurred as a gift, as generosity, as recognition that Amazon get that I spend a lot of money with them.  And that would have occurred as a “Thank you for doing business with us through action/generosity and not just words”.  It is also possible that with that approach I would have checked out the Fashion section and maybe bought something.

Instead, the email communication has left a sour taste in my being.  Why?  I am clear that Amazon wants me to spend money with them in the Fashion category.  And this is their way of making me do what they want me to do.  As such it occurs to me that Amazon is treating me as “an object”, a “resource” to be milked.   Yes, I know that I am putting my interpretation on an email, I am making a story of it.  That is what we do!   Human beings swim in language and practices.  And one thing is for sure: in our existing practice a “gift” does not tend to show up as a “gift” if there are strings/conditions attached.

So we come to the core point.  The function of the marketing function, given the existing conversation/practices around the role/contribution of marketing, is to get customers to try out stuff and spend money on the categories that are of interest to the business at a particular point in time.  Put differently, it is to shape customer demand to meet the revenue/profit demands of the business; it is to shape the customer to sing to the ‘organisational tune’.  And this context/stand/mode of being and operating is the antithesis of the customer-centric orientation.  I remember joining Peppers & Rogers many years ago.  On the first day, the IT manager sat down with me, told me what budget I had to spend, what laptops were supported, and asked me to let him know what laptop I wanted him to purchase and set-up for me.  To this remember the thought/feeling “WOW”: these guys practice what they preach!  That is authentic customer-centricity in action.

And finally,

A simple thank you (with no “promotional gift”) that showed up as genuine would have left me delighted.  Many years ago Amazon sent me a “cheap plastic” coffee mug that I did not care for much.  The letter that came with it left me delighted.  What was great about it?  The UK MD of Amazon thanking me for being one of Amazon’s most valuable customers and wishing me a great Christmas.  It showed up as authentic and that left me feeling great about being an Amazon customer.

If you are the CEO then my advice to you is this: if you are serious about your organisation being/becoming authentically customer-centric then think carefully and skeptically about putting the marketing function and the marketing folks either in charge of the effort or even leading it! 

7 dimensions of the branded customer experience and other interesting insights from the latest research

According to the CIM: “Over the last fifteen years, the concept of branding has evolved from merely a design and communications-led ideal to one which runs far deeper into the DNA of an organisation. Today’s CMO has little choice but to acknowledge that whilst brands are built on promises, it’s the experience delivered that makes the difference between a myth and a reality.”  So how are marketers and the organisations they work for/within getting on in making this shift?

According to the research/report put out by CIM there are 7 key dimensions at the heart of the branded customer experience: strategic vision, leadership, customer-centricity, culture, operations, measurement and marketing clout.  Here’s what caught my attention under each of these dimensions:

Strategic Vision

The priority is making the short-term profits.  How have I come to this conclusion?  Only 20% of the respondents say that their organisation is willing to sacrifice short-term profits to adhere to the brand promise.  Which means that 4 out of 5 organisations are NOT willing to adhere to the promises they make to their customers if this means sacrificing short-term profits.

Which brand management tool is considered useful and yet the least used?  Employee brand behaviour guidelines.  How are employees going to live the brand if there are not clear brand behaviour guidelines?  And even that is not enough in itself, the brand guidelines have to be embodied/enacted.  What do the marketing folks excel at?  Issuing brand values and identity guidelines – strikes me that we are in the land of messaging/design/PR.

Leadership

I suppose the critical question here is whether the Tops (the leadership team) embody/live the brand through their decision making and their behaviour. Here’s what the research throws up:

  • 6 out of 10 leadership teams do NOT use the brand positioning/brand promise to guide their decision making;
  • 7 out of 10 leadership teams do NOT know what the brand means for their part of the organisation;
  • Only 1 out of 2 leadership teams embody/enact behaviours that are in line with the brand positioning/brand promise.

How does that show up for you? For me it speaks volumes as to how leadership teams see and relate to the brand.

Customer Centricity

Given all the talk about generating customer insight and acting rapidly/effectively on this insight to both improve the customer experience and to develop/introduce new products/services to address unmet customer needs I found it instructive to look at the reality as viewed/shared by the marketers.  According to the research the issue is not with the lack of insight nor the sharing of this insight within/across the organisation.  The issue is in the organisation’s failure to act on that insight:

  • For 9 out of 10 businesses customer insight and research are NOT the main drivers of decision making in the business.
  • At least 8 out of 10 businesses do NOT anticipate customer needs with new products and services; and
  • Only 4 out of 10 businesses understand and track customer preferences.

Culture

It is fashionable to say that ‘culture eats strategy for lunch’.  I’d like to modify it and say ‘culture eats brand for lunch’.  If I am correct then the fit between the culture and the brand promise/positioning really matters.  Here are the key point coming out of the research: “brand values are well represented during recruitment and on-boarding, but lacking translation to the customer experience.”  This suggests that there is no strong linkage between espoused values (the brand values, the brand promise, the brand positioning) and the behaviour of the people within the organisation.  Put differently it appears that brand values/brand promise is all talk in most organisation.  Here are a couple of stats:

  • Only 3 out of 10 organisations empower everyone regardless of department or level to build the brand and work to protect it;
  • In 8 out of 10 organisations employees do NOT understand their role in creating/delivering a branded customer experience.

Operations

A promise is a promise whether made by marketing or sales and this promise is made real by operations.  What does the research say on this?  It says “Operations and internal support services aren’t supporting the customer experience”  Here are some stats that go along with this conclusion:

  • Only 2 out of 10 organisations have put in place operations and internal support services that support the delivery of the branded customer experience;
  • Only 2 out of 10 organisations have employee policies and processes that are in line with the brand promise/positioning;
  • Only 2 out of 10 organisations insist that their suppliers and partners be compatible with the brand promise.

Measurement

The key highlights here are:

  • Only 3 out of 10 organisations consistently measure brand and customer related non-financial metrics;
  • Only 2 out of 10 organisation reward/value brand and customer related non-financial measured of success; and
  • Only 2 out of 10 organisations are able to link the quality of the branded customer experience to business value.

Marketing Clout

How powerful is the marketing function within the organisation?  Is this even a function that is listened to with respect?  It doesn’t seem so, the report says “respect and influence under pressure, but positive signs of input into cross business initiatives”.  This claim is supported by the following:

  • In 7 out of 10 organisations the brand/marketing function is NOT well respected throughout the organisation;
  • In 7 out of 10 organisations the marketing function does NOT have a strong influence on what other departments do; and
  • In only 3 out of 10 organisations do other business functions/teams freely invite the marketing folks to their project teams and workshops.

Want to get hold of a summary infographic? You can get hold of a pdf by clicking on the following:  Branded Customer Experience 2012 infographic