Why an authentic customer orientation requires a transformation (Part I)

Are we living in an age of inhumanity, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy?

It occurs to me that we live in an age of greed, inhumanity, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy.  I say that this inhumanity and moral bankruptcy both enables and is enabled by the doctrine of management.  I say it is folly of the highest degree to be applying the practices of scientific management in the 21st century. I say it is folly to expect an authentic customer-orientation when the name of the game is greed: making as much money as possible, today, irrespective of the cost as long as the cost is paid by someone else – today or tomorrow.

I am clear that the cancer of greed, inhumanity, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy has spread from the world of big business into just about every institution – the government, the civil service, the police, the NHS – in the UK. And into society itself.  Today we got a wake-up call, will we listen?

The NHS Mid Staff scandal: 400 – 1,200 human beings died as a result of poor care over 50 months

Let’s first get present to what has occurred.  According to the Guardian:

“An estimated 400-1,200 patients died as a result of poor care over the 50 months between January 2005 and March 2009 at Stafford hospital, a small district general hospital in Staffordshire. The report being published on 6 February 2013 of the public inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC will be the fifth official report into the scandal since 2009, and Francis’s second into the hospital’s failings.

The often horrifying evidence that has emerged means “Mid Staffs” has become a byword for NHS care at its most negligent. It is often described as the worst hospital care scandal of recent times. In 2009 Sir Ian Kennedy, the chairman of the Healthcare Commission, the regulator of NHS care standards at the time, said it was the most shocking scandal he had investigated.”

What was the customer experience like?

Julie Bailey says head must roll. Why?   Let’s listen to her describe the customer experience:

“You only had to open a ward door at the hospital to smell the stench of urine, hear patients screaming in pain and see staff being bullied, and know that the care was appalling

My mum died in that hospital terrified of the people that should have cared for her. She was recovering from an operation when nurses dropped her and hurt her. After four days in the hospital I could see that unless I was there to feed and wash her she would have just been left without care. Even with me at her side, a nurse refused to administer a life-saving drug. My mother died a few hours later, eight weeks after going into hospital. She was a strong woman. She should never have died in there. In 2002, Dr Peter Daggett, a former senior doctor at the hospital, had already raised concerns that the hospital was out of control…”

Does this sound dramatic to you?  Not to me. My father went to hospital with a stroke.  Like Julie, I found myself at the hospital feeding and taking care of my father.  I had to threaten to go to the media to get the care that my father needed.

What led to such shocking disregard for patients – their humanity, their wellbeing?

As one trained in systems thinking and modeling it is rather easy to figure out the what kind of system structure would cause that which occurred:

– start with an inefficient system that is just about coping with existing demand;

– inject increasing unrelenting demand including an ageing population;

– cut budgets significantly whilst insisting on higher levels of service;

– demand instant improvements which are most likely to be made through headcount reductions and other simplistic cost reduction measures;

– apply pressure through targets and leave targets open to being gamed;

– introduce a management philosophy and practices that are detrimental to an ethos of care, of public service;

– ensure that there is political pressure to provide a misleading/flattering image of the beneficial effects (better patient care, more efficient NHS) of the cuts and changes to the NHS.

Viola, you have a system that will look healthily on the surface, whilst killing customers – the patients in this case.

What does Julie Bailey say?

“This shift away from patient care started to happened under the Labour government. It destroyed the culture of care in the NHS by replacing it with a top-down, target-driven culture. Former health secretary Andy Burnham contributed to this. He wouldn’t even meet the grieving relatives at Stafford hospital and he only gave us a secret inquiry so that the NHS’s dirty linen wouldn’t be aired in public.

In 2007, I set up Cure the NHS, a patient campaign group formed to highlight the poor care at Stafford Hospital, following the death of my 86-year-old mother, Bella, after she went in for a routine hernia operation. While we were campaigning outside, Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, visited Stafford hospital. He wrote to our local newspapers saying what a good hospital it was, with good management and good staff...”

To be continued in Part II – coming soon.

 

‘Shoddy customer treatment’: does the banking scandal unconceal the rottenness at the centre of capitalism and ‘business as usual’?

Welcome to the 21st century desert.  The  desert of nobility, neighbourliness, honesty, decency, integrity, responsibility and accountability. Welcome to the desert of moral purpose, moral leadership, moral values and moral conduct.

Given the recent revelations regarding the UK banks  you might be tempted to assume that I am talking about the banking industry.   After all the banks have been shown to:

And the Governor of the Bank of England has asserted the following

  • ‘shoddy customer treatment’;
  • ‘deceitful manipulation’
  • ‘excessive levels of compensation’;
  • bank staff have been ‘let down’; and
  • banks need ‘leadership of an unusually high order’.

If I am not talking about banks and the banking industry then who am I talking about when I talk about the ‘desert of moral purpose, moral leadership, moral values, moral conduct’?  I am talking about Anglo-Saxon capitalism.  Yes, the banks and the bankers cheat customers, mislead/deceive customers and the regulatory authorities and pay themselves way in excess of the value that they create.  Yet they are not the only ones.  Take a good look at the telecoms industry where ISPs mislead customer regarding download speeds. Or the deliberate practice of making it hard for customers to be on the right plan.  Take a good look at the gas and electricity suppliers.  Take a good look at the automotive trade especially car repairs. Or the software business where ‘ignorant’ customers are sold sophisticated software that they don’t need and/or will not be able to make good use of……….

Have you ever wondered why with all the talk of customer service, customer relationships, customer focus, customer engagement, employee engagement, customer loyalty, customer obsession there is so little of the genuine stuff?  I have.  And this is what I say:  underneath all this fine talk is a capitalist structure and mindset that does not value people, nor relationships, nor communities, nor the long term.  In this capitalistic system ‘relationship’ is simply moving from one transaction to a series of transactions that line the pockets of the company.  There is no commitment to genuine care for one another.  Engagement is doublespeak for getting the customer to buy more from the company, sell on behalf of the company (word of mouth, word of mouse), conduct customer service or product development on behalf of the company.  Engagement does not involve the company actually listening to customers, getting involved nor standing for the values/outcomes that matter to customers.

It is a system, a structure and mindset devoid of morality and humanity.  Morality and humanity are seen as a brake on money making – revenues and profits.  Money making is the be all and end all – the reason for existence of the company.   Customers, employees and suppliers are resources to be captured and used as productively as possible.  With customers the objective is to extract as much money as possible at the lowest cost.  Which is why customer service is atrocious and product quality is ordinary.  The same is true for suppliers -suppliers are usually set demanding targets and then squeezed for every penny and usually not paid on time especially if they are smaller and weaker.  Employees are unloved and feel unloved – the objective is to get as much out of them for as little as possible. Anglo-Saxon governments do a great job of colluding with big business: if you do not instill fear of destitution in the hearts and souls of employees then how can you get them to work hard for little pay?

Yet business is only a subset of the bigger system – society.  As in family therapy we can focus on the ‘bad child’ point out his flaws and ask/tell him to change or we can look at the bigger picture, the family, and as a more useful question: “what is it about his family that calls forth this ‘bad child’?”    And “What can this ‘bad child’ unconceal about the family?”  So the more useful question is this one:  “What does this behaviour of the banks unconceal about us, about big business, about our institutions, about our society?”  And having seen what we have seen are we willing to courageously face what is so and act?  Or will pretend that it just needs a patch here and there and go back to our seductive sleep like we did after the credit crunch secure in the dream that all is perfectly ok?

If you and I want a ‘world that works’ then each of us must play our part.  That means what we do and do not do matters – as customers, as  employees, as citizens, as voters. If we want companies to treat us better than we have to be ‘better’ customers  – buy only from those companies that merit our custom.  If we want companies to act ethically and treat people right then we have to act ethically and treat people right – including picking and working for the right companies.  If we want our society to work then we have to act and shape our institutions – including those who supposedly govern in our name.

Customer-Centricity: let’s wake up and address the real issue!

Our relationship to reality: the therapist and the patient

Allow me to tell you a story, I promise that you will enjoy it.   Picture a therapist’s consulting room: you have the therapist sitting in in a comfortable chair and the patient sitting in another comfortable chair.  The therapist  has, over many sessions, built up a rapport with the patient.  Today he feels able to discuss the issue at hand and help his patient move on and live well.  Here’s the dialogue:

Therapist: “So, John, am I correct in understanding that you really do believe that you are dead?”

Patient: “Absolutely, I am dead, I died several years ago.”

Therapist: “John, do dead people bleed?”

Patient:  “Don’t be ridiculous, dead people can’t bleed.  They don’t bleed.”

Therapist:  “John, is it ok with you if we did a test?   As you’re dead this test will be easy for you.  I’ m going to come over and cut your hand with a knife to see if you bleed.  Are you ok with that?”

Patient: “Sure go ahead, you’ll find out I’m dead.”

So the therapist takes out a knife and cuts the patients right hand.  Red blood flows – the therapist and the patient look at the blood.  The therapist is delighted, he is savouring his moment of triumph. Let’s get back to the conversation:

Therapist:  “John, I cut your hand and you’re bleeding.  Do you see that you are bleeding?”

Patient:  “Wow, dead people do bleed!”

I, you, we are the patient and you dive into this you will find that the story is reflects a fundamental truth that we are blind to and which when made visible we deny, repress and/or suppress.

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter got me thinking

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter is an internet sensation and it got me thinking about reality and how well we deal with it or not.  We all work in or have worked in organisations.  We know (at an experiential level) the reality of organisations. So, why is this letter a sensation?  It really is not disclosing anything new to us.   We know that the prime directive of big business is to make the numbers no matter what it takes.  Those that make the numbers are hailed as heroes and treated as gods. Those that don’t make the numbers find themselves in the same position as Tesco’s UK chief Richard Brasher who is ‘leaving the company‘ shortly after Tesco announced its first profit warning in decades.

Given this big business context is it surprising that the customer is seen/treated as a wallet to be emptied and the contents transferred into the company’s treasury?  If this was not the case then a handful of companies like Zappos, Zane’s Cycles, USAA, Chick-fil-A… would not stand out.  And all the billions spent by big business on CRM and related Customer initiatives would have delivered customer loyalty and the rewards that go with that.  We know that it hasn’t.

So back to my question, what is the fuss?  Could it be that the  BBC has got it right when it writes:

“Many of us have imagined writing a letter of resignation that shakes our bosses to the core, but few have actually done it, and rarely even then has the letter been read by millions. Greg Smith, who quit Goldman Sachs this week, has realised our fantasy.”

It is my point of view that Greg Smith’s letter is a sensation because it gives voice to our voices and our experiences.  If the resignation had showed up as as one man’s fantasy then it would never had become the sensation it is.  It is became a sensation because it is our fantasy: to tell the truth of our experience, to walk away from the filth that we find ourselves to be mired in, to be noble in our conduct and work for noble causes.

Most of us know that the “Emperor has no clothes” yet few of us the financial security or the courage to say publicly that the Emperor has no clothes. That is why few of us are ‘whistleblowers’, just take a look at the price Linda Almonte has paid for doing the right thing: fired, no other bank would employ her, real struggle to survive – to make ends meet for the last two years or so.  So I totally get that why Greg Smith collected his bonuses before departing,  I believe that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of Black Swan fame) called this “f**k you money”.  It is only when we don’t have to worry about money that most of us can do the right thing – follow the dictates of our conscience.

What has this got to do with customer-centricity and customer loyalty?

Do you remember my post on good strategy bad strategy (part III – failing to face the problem)?  The key point is that formulating a sound strategy (think back to the story of the therapist and the patient) requires us to acknowledge reality as it is and address the key problem/s that have to be faced.  The question is how good are we at facing reality?  Jack Welch didn’t think at the people at GE were adept at facing reality and so he made it his mission to change that situation:

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch

As I walk around the halls of business and look at / talk with the people walking on Customer initiatives and read the stuff that is written on customer-centricity, customer loyalty, customer service, I find myself getting present to the following:

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Anybody who knew their ass from a hole in the ground could stand up and tell me how they know when something’s real.”  Werner Erhard

All the time-money-effort being put into Customer initiatives will continue to be wasted (from the customer loyalty, customer experience perspectives) until and unless we deal with reality: what is so rather than what we pretend is so.  We pretend that the customer matters, that the customer is the king/queen, the master of our hearts and drives our actions.  The reality is that within the current system (they way it really operates) Customers (as fellow human beings) don’t matter.  What really matters is getting our hands on customers wallets – quickly, easily, repeatedly and taking out as much money as we can and transferring it into the company treasury.   The problem is that digital technologies and social media have made it that much harder to do that.  

We have a choice to make.  We can stick with the existing context (misrepresentation, manipulation, extraction, greed, me, me, me),  relating to these customers as muppets and embracing anyone who promises the latest ‘shiny object’ that will allow us to get the better of our customers. Or we can choose to operate from a radically different context.

I assert that we need to get real.  The days of fooling and fleecing customers easily and cheaply have come to an end. In my last post, I pointed out that the IBM study suggested that there is a social transformation is in progress and big business has to get with that.  Specifically, we have to go from talking about caring for our customers to actually caring for our customers.  It is only when we connect with ‘our heart and what is noble’  can we rule out anything and everything that contributes to “bad profits”, making money at the expense of the customer.  Specifically, that means:

  • being truthful and providing the complete picture in our marketing;
  • designing, making, source quality products – quality as perceived through the eyes of the people who will be using these products;
  • matching the right products to the right customers, refusing to sell products that enrich us at the expense of our customers;
  • ensuring that the contract between the customer and the company is written in plain English and is fair to both parties;
  • investing  in the service dimension of the customer experience as opposed to push relentlessly to reduce the costs associated with serving customers, whether that is in the retail store, the call-centre, the logistics function or in billing;
  • getting the balance right between human and digital channels / interfaces such that, taken as a whole, these interfaces simplify and enrich the life of our customers.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your point of view.  Better, still I’d love for you to share your lived experience.  Are you up for that?

Final words

Before I, you, we get righteous about the people at Goldman Sachs (or any other organisation eg. News International) it is worth getting present to the fact that it is only because I, you, we participate in the current system that allows this morally bankrupt and socially evil system continues to operate. Don’t believe me?  Think you are not responsible for what is so?  I invite you to read this piece – warning, it is not for the faint hearted.   I thank you for your listening.