What Is There To Be Loyal To?

It was my birthday recently and during the course of it I got birthday cards.  I want to share one that I got from one of my sons:

To Papa

I wish you a happy birthday. Love you lots and thank you for all the things you have done for me over the years especially taking me back and forward to college.

Thank you for being a great, caring and loving papa.

As I read this card I got present to the “…especially taking me back and forward to college.”  Why is it this matters so much to him?  Why is it that this leaves him feeling cared for and loved?

To make sense of this it is worth pointing out that my son is responsible for getting himself to college and back home.  Most of the time (90%+) this works out great.  And there are times it does not.  There are times that the bus does not turn up on time. He rings me and if I can do so then I drop everything and take him to college. There are times when there is simply is not enough time to get from college to work.  When this is likely to occur he asks me if I would be willing to collect him from college and drop him off at his place of work. And, when I am working from home, I say yes and help him out.  There is the odd occasion he gets up late and asks me to take him to college and I take him to college and start the day 15 minutes later than I had planned.

This got me thinking about business and customer loyalty.  What is it that businesses do to cultivate customer loyalty?  What is it that businesses do beyond ‘business as usual’ to generate goodwill with their customers?  Where do business go the extra mile when it matters to the customer?

I want to share with you with this assertion by Matt Watkinson in his book The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences:

Customers churn between suppliers to find the best deal, not because we are all extremely price sensitive, but because there is nothing to be loyal to.

Let’s look beyond customers and consider employees and ask the same question.  What is that businesses do to cultivate employee engagement and loyalty?  Where and in what ways do businesses go the extra mile to enrich the lives of their employees? What is it that businesses do to generate goodwill with their employees?

I say let’s not stop here. Let’s look further and consider suppliers and ask the same question.

As I reflect on the question of loyalty and ask what is the equivalent of “…especially taking me back and forward to college.” I find no compelling answers. Yes, there are a handful of businesses that come to mind. And, they are only a handful.

Why aren’t customer experiences improving?

I have been reading Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences by Matt Watkinson.  What Matt writes and how he writes it resonates with me.  It may resonate with you as well. So in this post I want to share some passages that particularly speak to me

Companies keep getting it wrong

There is a widespread view that there is a lack of understanding on the customer experience. That the reason the customer experience is so poor is that executives just don’t get it.  It does not seem like Matt agree with this view.

Despite widespread understanding that the customer experience is critically important …… Products are too complex to use, small print leaves us feeling cheated, adverts bear little resemblance to reality, customer service is often rude……….

Is the cause the Vulcan death grip? 

I am delighted to find that Matt and I are on agreement that the obsession with people and organisations as machines leaves no space for humanity and a feel/respect for the most human of human to show up: emotions.

Businesses primarily follow the Vulcan model, seeing their enterprises as a supremely rational endeavour….. As the doyen of design Don Norman concludes ‘Business has come to be ruled by logical, rational decision makers…. with no room for emotions. Pity!”

Clearly the more in touch a business is with with our emotional wants and needs, the more its products or services will resonate with us.

…. while Kirk is captain, Spock serves as his first officer….. This should serve as an excellent model for business to emulate when making decisions: a total understanding of the consumer – their thoughts, feelings and experiential requirements – balanced by rigorous analysis… In most cases, however, the rational and analytical have become substitute for a more empathic, human understanding rather than the other side of the coin…

Out of touch with the customer and addicted to measurebating?

There is no substitute for empathy. And empathy requires us to be in direct contact with their customers: to see their faces, to look into their eyes; to hear their voices, the tone of their voices….  Yet, that is not the way that businesses work, especially not the Tops who make the decisions.

….’Companies have become so dependent on models that many organisations have started to lose touch with reality. Without personal connection to the people they serve, companies lack the context, immediacy, or experience they need to make good decisions. Far too many leaders make critical decisions without any personal feel for the territory.

When working on website projects I’ve often been asked to make the phone number for customer services less prominent. ‘We have a strategic objective to reduce traffic to our call centres’…. This demonstrates a tendency for people to advocate decisions that can degrade the customer experience when numbers and analytics work against empathy.

What is the impact of our addiction to numbers, measures and calculations?

After covering the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt coined the term the ‘banality of evil’. As I understand it her point was that Eichmann was ordinary and most of the people who were directly and indirectly involved in the evil of the concentration camps were ordinary. What allowed them to do what they did? In part it was by replacing people with numbers.

What does Matt Watkinson say? He points out that when we reduce human beings to mere numbers, statistics, it’s hard to see them as people.  And that has consequences, it allow us to treat people badly.

Numbers and calculations can rob people of their humanity with truly harrowing consequences. In his deeply thought-provoking paper ‘Accounting in the Service of the Holocaust’, Warwick Funnel argues that ‘Accounting numbers were substituted for qualitative attributes of individuals thereby denying them their humanity and individuality…. (Accountability) was not only a means of expediting the annihilation of the Jews but was also one of the means by which people who had no direct involvement in the murder of millions of Jews were able to divorce themselves from the objectives and consequences of their work.’

Worshipping at the altar of efficiency has a price?

The modern organisation violates a fundamental principle of organisms that have been adapting-evolving-surviving for millions of years.  What is that principle?  It is the principle of redundancy.  Have you noticed that you and I can do with only when kidney if we need to yet we have two.  And if one fails then we can still get along, survive. What does Matt Watkinson say?

..the optimisation and standardisation of processes to reduce waste and maximise efficiency has dominated the focus of many organisations…… Computers and machinery are mercilessly replacing humans…… in their zeal for efficiency, some of engineered out all the slack … at the expense of agility. The consequences for customer experience can be severe: hyperefficient companies are usually unable to respond to customer expectations, and any customer issue that does not fit neatly into the optimised solution cannot be dealt with satisfactorily.

Lack of vision driven by an obsession with the short-term

One of the most remarkable aspects of business is the disconnect with reality.  I am fond of comparing what it takes to make a safe flight happen. That is to say in the real world of flying one has to deal with reality as it is. And when one doesn’t planes fall out of the sky.  Yet, it occurs to me that the business world, especially Tops, are often deluding themselves. Here is how Matt puts it:

… its no good getting on a late plane and telling the pilot to just fly faster. If you want it sooner, you need to start earlier, and that means looking further into the future. Therein lies the rub. Too much of what business undertakes is driven by short-term thinking. A poor customer experience is often symptomatic of a bigger problem: a lack of vision at the top or a programme structured around quarterly profit statements.

The empty chair of Customer Experience

Matt points out that in almost all organisations the Customer Experience chair is empty. And that has consequences.

In the business that you work for, who is responsible or indeed accountable for the customer experience? …. Getting the customer experience right necessarily involves coordination of almost every part of the business, but if no one person is ambiguously calling the shots then failure is almost certain…

I have only touched a little of the great, easy to read, book that Matt Watkinson has written.  If you have any interest in Customer Experience then I recommend buying and reading it.