In The Age Of Technology Do People Still Matter?

Why Not Replace People With Technology?

In the second half of the 90s I was involved in consulting in the area of shared services.  Being a sidekick I got to witness the sales pitch.  What was the sales pitch?  No human beings.  Everything in the back office was subject to business rules. The business rules could be codified, programmed and back office work could be automated.  No human necessary. Nirvana: 24/7/365 nirvana of efficiency guaranteed to deliver the same outcome each and every time.

Today, I notice the same love of technology as regards the front office: where the customer meets the enterprise.  In this age of technology do people still matter?  Do we need sales people given that content marketing will generate the interest, product demos can be put on the web, and the ‘inside sales’ people can take the orders?  Do we need to have any people in marketing given that big data will generate the insights, decision engines will contain the heuristics, market resource management systems will hold the marketing assets, and marketing automation will take care of the execution of marketing campaigns?  Do we need people in the call-centres taking calls given the extensive self-help that can be enabled through digital channels and every customer would prefer to interact via Twitter?  Do we need people in the stores? Why not rebuild the stores so that they resemble a combination of a website and a vending machine?

What Do These Two Women Say On The Matter?

Allow me to share a conversation that I overheard the other day between two women.  Before I do that let me set some context.  Waitrose is supermarket chain in the UK and it is owned by The John Lewis Partnership.  The John Lewis Partnership has been and continues to do well despite tough times for retailers. Tesco used to be the darling of the CRM press and used to be the dominant supermarket chain. It has not been doing so well since austerity hit.  Morrisons is the fourth largest chain of supermarkets in the UK.

As promised here is the gist of the conversation (between two women) that I overheard at the weekend:

Mrs A: “Waitrose is known for their great customer service and rightly so. It’s easy to find someone to help you. And when you ask for help in finding something, the Waitrose person walks you across the store and takes you right to the item you are looking for.  They are so helpful.”

Mrs B. “I was in Waitrose this week and wasn’t sure what ingredients I needed for eggs Benedict; I haven’t cooked them before. So I asked for help. The Waitrose man didn’t know either but he told me that he would find out. I saw him walk to one of his colleagues. Then he came back and told me what I needed and how to cook eggs Benedict. He was so helpful: he made my problem his own. That’s such good service.”

Mrs B. “The staff in Morrisons don’t walk with you to the item you are looking for. Yet, I always find them  warm, friendly and helpful.”

Mrs A. “I don’t like Tesco. It is hard to find people in the store to help you. And when you do find someone to help they tell you where you can find the item, point towards it, and then leave you to it. They don’t walk with you and show you where it is.  They don’t care – not at all like the Waitrose people.”

Mrs B. “I used to do all my shopping at Tesco. Then Tesco got greedy – pushing up prices and cutting down on the customer service. Now, I shop for the basics at Morrisons and the rest from Waitrose.”  

My Take On The Situation 

I’ll leave you decide whether people matter or not in the age of technology.  For myself, I am clear that humans are simply more at ease in dealing with other human beings. And there is no substitute for great customer service – the way that the folks in Waitrose (and John Lewis) stores interact with their customers, and amongst themselves.

Before you rush off to revamp your customer service remember that one ingredient does not a dish make.  A great dish always consist of the insightful application of a recipe – and the recipe requires a mix of ingredients, in the right measure, and sequence, cooked for just the right amount of time.  How does one generate such insight? Through experience: on the battlefield of life.  What is the recipe?  The business philosophy and organisational design: what matters, who matters, the operating principles, how conflict is handled, how rewards are shared, how people are structured into groups, and how interactions-relationships-differences-conflicts are handled…

Please note: I am not in the business of giving advice (in this blog). So you shouldn’t take anything in this blog as constituting advice. In this blog I find myself involved in sharing my thinking and experience.  That is all. Then you make of it what you make of it.

Does marketing deserve a seat at the Customer Experience and Customer Centricity tables?

I believe that the marketing function has a valuable role to play in customer experience and customer-centricity

In the Customer Experience and Customer Centricity communities I have noticed a certain dismissive attitude towards the role and contribution that the marketing (and advertising)  folks can and do make.  To some extent this is not a surprise as some of the most visible proponents of Customer Experience come from a customer services background. Others who share this dismissive attitude tend to come from an operational improvement background and are deeply embedded in process thinking – the engineering mindset.

Whilst I can see the shortcomings, I can also see the value of the marketing function and the contribution it can, does and needs to make: to the customer centric orientation and to the customer experience in particular.   Recently I made my point of view clear on a Linkedin conversation:

“The companies that have marginalized the marketing function are making a big mistake. In my experience, the folks working in the marketing and advertising arena are one of the few tribes that truly get the emotional nature of human beings. The best marketers get the impact of standing for something that resonates with human beings. They get the importance of symbols and how these move human beings. And they get the importance of beauty. They know how to touch upon the emotional, engage and move human beings. Customer Experience requires the harmonious integration between the rational and the emotional.”

There are plenty of people who disagree with my point of view

I was not at all surprised that my comment on Linkedin resulted in the following response – a response that I believe is representative of many working in the CE and customer-centric communities:

“Regarding marketing losing its place at the table in customer-centric companies, had marketing exhibited the skills and behaviors you describe often enough, marketing still would be at the table. However, as an overall profession, marketing is far better at promoting to people than communicating with them. “Understanding” customers isn’t sufficient. In customer-centricity, companies have to see through customer eyes, rather than understand how to look at customers.”

Does this response raise a valid issue?  Absolutely.  Is it an accurate description of marketing?  Let me share an example with you and then you can decide for yourself.

Lets examine the issue through a concrete example: my wife and Tesco

My wife used to shop regularly and almost exclusively at Tesco (the biggest supermarket chain in the UK) and made frequent use of their online shopping and home delivery service.

Over the last three months she has shopped less frequently, bought less and spent less with Tesco.  In part this is simply because she is travelling more and finds other supermarket chains (Sainsburys, Morrisons, Asda) more convenient.  It is partly because she is being more frugal.  And it is partly because she had a disappointing experience at a Tesco store: Why my wife will not be relying on Tesco….

On the 24th March 2011 my wife received the following email (I have extracted some information from this email to shorten its length) from the Tesco.com marketing team:

www.tesco.com
If you haven’t shopped online for weeks. 

Don’t worry.

All your favourites are still here.

So you can fill your basket in minutes.

 

£7.50 off
Start Shopping >> e
Dear Mrs Iqbal,  

We’ve noticed that you haven’t placed a grocery shop with us for a while, and we hope that we haven’t let you down.

Please don’t forget how easy and convenient it is to shop online.  All the purchases you’ve made online and in-store are still kept in ‘My Favourites’.

And because we’d really like to welcome you back, we’ll give you £7.50 off your next grocery order when you spend £75 or more.

eCoupon code:
Valid on deliveries up to and including 2nd April 2011.

So why not let us do your shopping for you again soon?

Best wishes,

Kendra Banks
Kendra Banks
Marketing Director
Tesco.com

 

Browse Tesco.com
Double Clubcard points still on; Spend £1, Collect 2 points, Every 150 points = £1.50
Award Winning Service

What impact does this email have on you?  Does this piece of marketing produced by the marketing function improve or degrade your experience, your perception, your attitude towards Tesco?

How has my wife experienced this communication from the Tesco marketing team?

My wife is pleasantly surprised that Tesco noticed that she has shopped and spent less with Tesco. How is she left feeling towards Tesco as a result of this marketing communication?

She says “It makes me feel valued as a customer.  I matter to them and they want me back.  And Tesco is providing value to me as their customer by giving me £7.50 off my next order.  I know it is not a huge amount, yet it does matter that they are giving me this discount.”

What other impact has this email from the marketing function made on my wife?  She is left thinking that Tesco:

  • Is a professional company that is on top of things because they noticed a change in her shopping behaviour;
  • Is proactive because Tesco has taken the first step to recover / ignite the previous shopping behaviour; and
  • Tesco is simple (as in easy to do business with) and straight with its customers because the email is written in that way – no fluff, no gimmicks, no tricks.

You might say great, but has she actually made any behaviour changes?  The answer is yes – she is once again shopping and spending more with Tesco.  And all because of a single email from Tesco’s marketing team.

So what is the lesson?

Marketing matters, the marketing function matters because it touches the customer in so many ways.  And if your marketing function is not making the kind of impact that the Tesco marketing function is making then it is time to learn from Tesco (and others who practice good marketing).

Disclosure: I am a member of the Institute of Direct Marketing and thus possibly biassed!

Who says you have to be customer centric to thrive?

Is it feasible that companies are not customer centred because it is possible to thrive without being customer centric?  Before you dismiss this out of hand consider the following examples.

Mary Portas: Secret Shopper – last nights episode on the furniture industry

On Wednesday I watched the tv program Mary Portas: Secret Shopper which took a look at the furniture retailing category and found that it was anything but customer centric.

The marketing across the category is either misleading or downright deceptive.   There is one kind of sale or another on almost around the year.  The discounted prices on the furniture are nothing of the kind.  And the price guarantees are absolutely worthless because the retailers know that it is simply not possible for the customer to buy the same product from another retailer.

The focus of the sales staff is selling irrespective of whether the furniture meets the needs of the customers.  The sales folks even convinced themselves that they were customer centric when it was blatantly clear that they simply did not get what it means to be customer centric: to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and thus help the customer to make smart purchasing choices that they will be happy with – no buyers remorse when they got home. In fact it can be argued that the sales folks were doing rather well by not being customer centric: one of them claimed to have earned £57,000 in commission just through standard selling.

Management simply wrote off the people who felt aggrieved about poor quality of the furniture and the poor customer service.  Yet despite the negative reviews on the internet on CSL (the furniture retailer featured on Mary Portas: Secret Shopper) I do not see it closing down because customers are running to its competitors.  Why is that?

Because all the furniture retailers are at it.  They are all misleading customers with their marketing and price promises.  They are all getting customers to buy whatever makes the most commission for the sales folks.  And they are all offering poor customer service.  I believe that I wrote about how easy it is to become customer centric by disrupting category practices

Tesco comes 8th in the latest Which? customer satisfaction survey

Tesco is the UKs most successful supermarket brand.  You might then assume that it would rank highly in any customer satisfaction survey.  Well Which? polled 12,000 consumers and placed Tesco 8th with a customer satisfaction rating of 48%.  Aldi scored 65%, Lidl scored 64%, Morrisons scored 59%.  You can find the full details here.

Does this mean that you can thrive without being customer centric?  Or does it mean that there is little or no correlation between customer satisfaction and financial success?  Perhaps it means that the Which? survey is flawed.  You decide.

BSkyB goes from strength to strength

As far as I am aware BSkyB is not a brand that is loved by consumers.  My own experience of dealing with BSkyB was less than positive.  And yet BSkyB keeps going from strength to strength.  Recently it announced that at the end of 2010 it had over 10m customers (thus hitting one of the key targets) and half-year profits were up 26% on last year.

Is it possible that BSkyB is thriving because it has an effective monopoly on pay tv?  So if you want what Sky has then you have to go and buy it from Sky.  That is to say that BSkyB owns strategic assets that allow it to deliver less than great customer service.  I believe I wrote a post on the value of strategic assets.

Is it because it has branched into adjacent areas: telephony and broadband?  Is it because it offers bundles (pay tv, telephony, broadband) that other players find hard to match?

Or am I wrong and BSkyB is a great example of a customer centric organisation?

TalkTalk continues to be the second largest broadband provider.

TalkTalk is the UKs second largest broadband provider.  The negative reviews posted on this company by customers are legion.  It is a company that was investigated twice by Ofcom (the industry regulator) last year as a result of customer complaints.   And Ofcom found it guilty of breaching telecoms regulations when it charged customers for cancelled services.

If customers are so dissatisfied then why is it that TalkTalk has not collapsed?  Or at least shrivelled significantly?

Is it because they are locked into existing contracts?  Or is it because far too many customers simply are not willing to go through the inconvenience of switching broadband suppliers because they consider them to be pretty much the same.  Does this remind you of the furniture retailing example that I started this post with?