Is Experience Blindness The Default State of The Business World?

Is the default condition of showing-up and operating in the business world that of experience blindness?  Is the reason that so little progress has been made by so many on customer experience due to this experience blindness?  Is experience blindness the cause behind so many workplaces having the same feel as hospitals?

Let’s make this personal.  Did you drink coffee? No, did you drink tea?  No, did you drink water or some juice? Yes. Ok. Now go back to the last occasion that you drunk something and ask yourself what your experience was.  What was the sensation of drinking?  What was the texture of the container that touched your lips? What about  the liquid itself?  How did the liquid travel from the container and through you?  What thoughts were present as you were drinking?  What kind of mood were you in: relaxed, sad, anxious…? If you are like most people that I see-encounter, you drink in an experience blind manner. Why?  We have not been taught to be mindful and present to the experience that is occurring right now.  Given our blindness to our own-lived experience, how present-receptive can we be to the experience of others: customers, employees….?

Allow me to illustrate, bring life to, this conversation with two examples.

Example 1: Conversation With A Customer Experience Consultant

I found myself working with someone whom I like-respect, someone who has operated as a customer experience consultant. On a joint engagement we were planning a workshop session. The challenge was to devise a way to help the people who would be in the room choose between the various alternatives.

As we were talking, this able consultant was going through the various methods that were available for use. He talked about which methods tend to work. And he talked about the method that his latest employer recommends using.  What he did not talk about was the ‘customers’ – the people who would actually take part in the workshop.

Then I was asked for my opinion. My response was immediate and it went along the following lines.  We are designing this workshop for the benefit of the people who will attend the workshop and make the decision.  Why don’t we ask these people which framework-method-process they tend to use, in their organisation, to make this kind of decision?  And if they don’t have one method then lets run them through the most promising methods and see which one speaks to them.

What really surprised me was this: what showed up for me as the obvious way to look at and deal with the situation at hand (bring the voice of the customer into the discussion-decision) had clearly not occurred to my colleague.  And this is no ordinary business person. He is customer savvy: he has been doing customer for a long time.

The only way that I can explain this to myself is that doing customer experience is not the same as being customer experience. Doing is like going to a party and putting on the proper mask and playing the proper role.  Then it is time to leave the party and put on another mask and play a different role.  Whereas, being is that which is embodied in the way that you show up – being lives in every fibre of your organism.  It is what you are, naturally.

Example 2: Phone Call From The Director of The Building Company

Over a month ago, I arranged with the Steve, the director of a building company for work to be done on the house in which I live. We agreed the start date: Thursday 10th April (today).  As I need to be around the house, I took the day off as a holiday.

Yesterday, around 18:30 I got a call from Steve. Why was Steve ringing? Steve was ringing to ask if I had emptied the room out. I told him that I hadn’t as I had just finished work for the day. And I had set aside the evening to do the clearing out.  He asked me if I had taken the shelves off. I told him that his firm was responsible for doing that under the agreed schedule of work.

Then Steve got to the point. He told me that the guy that was supposed to come to the house, around 8 am, would not be coming.  Why?  Because he is still finishing the work he is doing for another customer. The Steve told me that he would have someone else come over to the house, after lunch, to remove the radiator and the shelves.  This was just the preparatory work to enable the room to be plastered and then painted. What became clear is that the room would not get plastered even though that is what we had agreed. And what I had expected to occur. I did not need to take a day off for someone to come and do two jobs that collectively took 45 minutes.

Have you noticed what I noticed?  I noticed that the conversation was all about Steve and his needs, his concerns, his priorities, his situation.  Not once did Steve ask about me, ask about my concerns, or even ask how I felt about Steve not keeping his word.

Is Steve a bad person or a rotten business man?  I don’t know the answer to that. All I can share with you is that Steve does not show up for me that way. How does he show up for me? Steve shows up for me as a great example of business as usual.  What do I mean about that:

  • Showing up and operating from an ‘inside out’ view of the world and not evening being present to any other way of operating e.g. ‘outside-in’; and
  • Concerned only with the job/tasks to be done and being blind to the human being he is dealing with and thus blind to the concerns, needs, expectations, and experiences of these human beings.

It occurs to me that this is simply what goes along with living into-from a worldview that sees and thus uses human beings as resources – to be used for one’s purposes, efficiently and effectively, for largest profit/benefit for oneself.  So the challenge of Customer Experience is the challenge of a transformation in worldview.

 

Can Insight into the Human Condition Help Us With Leadership, Employee Engagement, and Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that “outside in” is being approached with an “inside-out” way of being in the world.  And the people that are doing this are blind to it.  What do I mean by that?  It is best to illustrate it through behaviour.  As such I urge you to read this post by Wim Rampen that points at the gulf between customer-centric rhetoric and company centred behaviour.

Why is it that so many are doing “outside-in” through an “inside-out” lens. And are blind to it?  Why is it that so many talk about employee engagement and collaboration and yet there is so little of it?  Why is it that we talk about social and yet social media used by business folks is anything but social? Why is it that we talk about service and yet so little service is experienced?  How is it that there is so much talk about relationship yet authentic relationship is so rare?

To get at the root, I say one needs to get present to the human condition.  It is the most obvious reality and yet the hardest for us to see, and be truthful about – to ourselves, and to others. Here, I call on the wisdom of David Foster Wallace.  A man who understood existence in a way that so few of us do and shared his profound insight in the following talk which is 23 minutes long.

Here are some nuggets from the speech:

1. “The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about..”

2. “The exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience.”

3. “Plus there is the matter of arrogance…. Blind certainty – a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up…”

4. “To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties because a huge percentage of stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, as it turns out, totally wrong and deluded…”

5. “Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence…….It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.”

6. “….it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.”

7. ““Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

8. “… How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.”

9. “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration…”

10. “But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us….”

11. “….. I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations.”

12. “Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.”

13. “But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer…”

14. “The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it.….You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…..Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

15. “If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.”

16. “Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.”

17. “Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

18.”On one level we all know this stuff already…… The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.”

19. “The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

20. “The really important kind of freedom is involves attention and awareness, and discipline, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them in a myriad petty little unsexy ways every day.”

Customer Experience and Organisational Change: Reflections on the Limits and Folly of Outside-In

The genesis of this post is a conversation that I had recently with Rod Butcher, a man who has been at the coal face of Customer Experience in a large organisation.

Standing outside of an organisation, as a bystander, it is easy to espouse the value and importance of the outside-in approach to Customer Experience. It seems so easy; just about everything is easy when seen from a distance.  If on the other hand you have spent time in the ‘belly of the whale’ you get a visceral appreciation for the huge importance of inside-out: what matters in the organisation, what doesn’t matter, what works, what doesn’t work, what gets done, what does not get done, what the people who really matter are willing to do and not to do….

Why are so many large companies struggling with genuinely taking a customer-centric approach?  Why is the dominant issue with VoC the inability of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer?  Why is it that despite all the talk of collaboration and social business there is so little genuine collaboration?  Allow me to share two stories with you.

When I moved into my new home over 10 years ago gardening called to me; I had no experience of gardening. One day I found myself in a garden centre and a number of plants called to me. So I bought these plants home and set about gardening.  That is when the obstacles arose.  The soil in my garden didn’t match that required by the most expensive plants. Then there were issues to do with sunshine: some required lots of sunshine other liked shade; some needed lots of watering, others little….

Most of the plants struggled to thrive and many of these eventually died.  Why? Because I was not willing to do what it took to provide what the plants needed.  I had rather hoped that the I could just buy then, find a spot in the garden where I thought they looked good, plant them there, and water them time from time.  That is to say I was looking for the plants to fit into my priorities, my way of doing things.

I recently visited friends who took great interest and pride in taking care of their precious plants: young olive tree, young lemon tree etc.  I was shocked to find that both of these plants looked withered, dry, dead.  Why? What happened?  Clearly, they had not been looked after.  Why? Because both of my friends had turned their attention to stuff that showed up for them as being more important.  Put differently, my friends had failed to sustain their commitment to these trees. Why? Because they were not central to their lives; they were merely hobbies and or decorations.

What have a I learned about gardening? I have learned to start with a good understanding of my garden and then choose plants that will thrive in my garden. I have learned that if I really want acid loving plants in my garden, which does not support them naturally, then I first need to do the work of digging out a specific part of the garden and putting the right soil.  And I have learned that I have to be love these plants so much that I am happily provide them with the regular care they need.

I’ll leave you to figure out the organisational lessons.  For my part I agree with Rod Butcher: outside-in is not enough, what really matters is the willingness of the organisation to change, or not, from the inside-out.

Good Strategy and Bad Strategy: What is the kernel of a strategy? (Part I)

Vision and/or “fluff” masquerading as strategy?

I have been getting ready for my next strategy assignment thus grappling with strategy.  And I also happened to be reading Outside In by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine.  All was well until I got to Table 4-1 which spells out the 6 disciplines that ‘mature customer experience organisations’ excel at: strategy practices; customer understanding practices; design practices; measurement practices; governance practices; and culture practices.

I don’t have an issue with these practices, they occur to me as valuable.  Yet, I stopped in my tracks.  What stopped me in my tracks?  Take a look at what the authors write regarding strategy practices:

“STRATEGY PRACTICES

  • Define a customer experience strategy that describes the intended customer experience.
  • Align the strategy with the overall company strategy.
  • Align the strategy with the organisation’s brand attributes.
  • Share the strategy with all employees (e.g., distribute documentation, conduct training sessions).”

Do you see the issue?   No.  Ok, let me rewrite what Harley/Kerry have written by substituting ‘vision’ for ‘strategy’:

“STRATEGY PRACTICES

  • Define a customer experience vision that describes the intended customer experience.
  • Align the vision with the overall company strategy.
  • Align the vision with the organisation’s brand attributes.
  • Share the vision with all employees (e.g., distribute documentation, conduct training sessions).”

So what is it that the authors are pointing at?  It could be ‘vision’, it could be ‘strategy’.  Does it matter?  Yes.  Why?  As I have written before vision, objectives, strategy are distinct according to Richard Rumelt, I agree with him.

Now lets go a step further and just strip out the terms ‘customer experience strategy’ and ‘strategy’ (shorthand for customer experience strategy) and replace them with ‘intended customer experience’.  If I do this then we end up with:

“STRATEGY PRACTICES

  • Define the intended customer experience.
  • Align the intended customer experience with the company strategy.
  • Align the intended customer experience with the organisation’s brand attributes.
  • Share the intended customer experience with all the employees (e.g., distribute documentation, conduct training sessions”

Do you notice that by rewriting it this way nothing has been lost?  If anything there is greater clarity.  If that is actually the case, and I say it is, then ‘customer experience strategy’, as used by the authors, is fluff.  If you are wondering what I am talking about, when I talk “fluff”, then you will benefit from reading this post.

Yet a customer experience strategy is necessary

Does that mean your organisation does not need to craft a customer experience strategy?  No.  Your organisation does need a customer experience strategy.  Why?  Because crafting and communicating your intended customer experience is not enough.  You have to bring about a ‘state of affairs within your organisation’ such that this state of affairs generates/delivers the intended customer experience as a natural expression of your organisation.    Bringing about this ‘state of affairs’ may involve bringing in changes in the leadership team, hiring more staff, refitting your stores, redesigning your website, develop a smartphone app, changing performance measures…….

So what should your customer experience strategy contain?  What should be the contents?  For that matter, what should be the contents of any strategy for it to count as a strategy?

The kernel of a strategy, any strategy, is made up of three parts

If we strip away all the difference (frameworks, methods, processes) from strategy are we left with a meaningful/useful core that can help you and I develop a strategy, any strategy?  Richard Rumelt says we are and he calls this ‘the kernel of a strategy’: the core content that constitutes the hard nut inside the concept of strategy.   What is this core content?  This is what Rumelt says in his book Good Strategy Bad Strategy:

“The core content of a strategy is a diagnosis of the situation at hand, the creation or identification of a guiding policy for dealing with the critical difficulties, and a set of coherent actions.”

I will dive into, explore, each of these three components in follow up posts.  Whilst you may think that the most difficult part is the formulation of the guiding policy, my experience suggests that it is the diagnosis that matters the most and is the most painful.  So the next post will deal with diagnosis.