Communication, responsibility, leadership and customer-centricity

Did I make a ridiculous fuss about nothing?

Recently,  a reader (pxfast) read this post on Klassic Books and commented:

“You are making a ridiculous fuss about nothing. Leaving feedback is a normal part of online trade so we know whom to trust. It was request, not an order, although the email could have been worded slightly differently so as to be clear it was optional. But is there enough time to consider all nit-pickers? What your list of questions has to do with the email I do not know, but you seem to be super-sensitive about your own affairs. They were simply confirming your order and politely requesting an optional acknowledgment in return, not a surly reply.”

I like to think of myself as a learner so I revisited this post and the memory of my experience. Then I went and looked at instances where I had been complimentary about the communications of book companies.  Three instance  came to mind:

If you look through these three cases of communication and compare them with case of Klassic books, I am confident that you will notice the following regarding the communications:

a)  Better World Books and the RocketSurgery Crew are being of service to me – making my life easier and/or enriching my life.  Whereas the Klassic Books communication is focussed on its needs and asking/expecting me to make the time/effort to fulfil their needs.

b)  The tone of the Better World Books and the Rocket Surgery Crew communications lands as human/warm – human talking to a fellow human being possible across a cafe table.  Whereas the tone of Klassic Books shows up as corporate/cold – lacking that human touch.

I say it is possible that I misinterpreted the intent of Klassic Books.  I say it is possible that I read into their email to me what was not in the email.  I say it is quite possible that I have been ‘unfair’.  And the issue is that my experience is not as such.  My head may speak this way, my heart does not.

My experience is that Klassic Books expected me to provide them a good customer review simply because they delivered a book on time.  Something that shows up as ‘table stakes’ of being an Amazon partner and getting my business.  And when I did not provide them with the review they sent me a second email and told me off for being a ‘naughty customer’: We once again request you to leave your valued feedback on this purchase.”

What stance can you take regarding your communications to your customers?

Before I dive into this I wish to point out that the lack of communication (including none at all) is powerful in itself. Why? Because, no communication communicates!  I hope that you get that.  Now let’s dive into the matter of communication and its relationship to customer-centricity and leadership.

When it comes to communication it is worth remembering the following:

– the communication will land/be experienced in a specific way e.g. helpful, unhelpful, warm, cold, relevant, irrelevant…;

–  the communication will make an impact leaving the customer thinking more or less highly of you and feeling closer or more distant towards your organisation; and

–  the communication will elicit a response – a non-response is a powerful response if you listen for it.

Which is my way of saying that when you communicate – and you cannot help communicating because you are always communicating – you act on your customers.  And when you act on your customers they respond, they communicate to you.

Now my question is this, who is responsible for the response that your communication calls forth from your customers?  It occurs to me that you can stand in one of two places.

1. You can make the customer responsible for his/her response to your communication.  This often leads to labelling and blaming when customers don’t respond as expected.  Customers are labelled ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’ and so forth.  And they are blamed for not responding to requests, filling in forms incorrectly, asking ‘stupid’ questions, wasting company time…. This the default stance of many/most folks and organisations.  Why? The charitable view is that we are blinded by our intentions and not the consequences of our communication.  The less charitable view is that we will do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad”.

Notice that this is what pxfast – the reader who triggered this post – is doing.  He is criticising me and other customers like me as ‘nit-pickers’.  Have you noticed the negative labels being applied?  “Ridiculous fuss” and “nit-picker” If a customer is labelled a “nit-picker” and “causing a ridiculous fuss” then the logical thing to do is to ignore that customer.  I call that a ‘get out of jail’ card being played.

2. You can take responsibility for the customer’s response to your communication.  This is taking responsibility as in I am the author of this response.  Or I am the ’cause in the matter of’ the communication that I have received from the customer.  This mode of being is rare at the individual, group or organisational level.

If you want to show up as a leader and/or as a customer centric organisation then embrace responsibility as opportunity

I say that if you want to show up as a leader then it is necessary for you to own up to your communication: how it lands, what impact it makes, and what response/s it generates.

I say that if you want your organisation to show up customer-centric then all the people, especially those who communicate with your customers, must take responsibility for their communication and the communication of your whole organisation: how it lands for your customers, what impact it makes in/on your customers, and the responses it generates from your customers.

Why take responsibility?  Because, it is the most powerful place to stand if you wish to be effective.  When you take responsibility you let go of the option/luxury of labelling/blaming customers.  Instead you listen for how your communication lands, what impact it makes, and what responses it generates. And where there is a difference to what you expected you say to yourself “How interesting!  I wonder what I did to cause that?  I wonder what I need to do more of?  And what do I need to do less of?  And what do I need to do differently to show up the way that I want to show up in the lives of my customers and generate the kind of response that I am up for generating?”

When you have that kind of listening then you have all that you need to become a master of communication; every leader has to be/become a master of communication; and every customer-centric organisation has to be a master of communication.  And if you have not noticed then ‘social’ is all about effective communication between you, your people (employees), your customers.

‘Integrity’, leadership, communication and performance: the most valuable post you will read this year?

This post is associated with and follows on from the previous post: Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012?  Start with ‘Integrity’.  This post clarifies what I wrote in the earlier – some people did not get what I was getting at and I take responsibility for that – and extends ‘Integrity’ into the domain of leadership and business performance.  If you are up for being customer-centric and improving the performance of your organisation then you absolutely have to grapple with the domains of ‘Integrity’ and leadership and connect the two together.  So let’s take a deeper look at these and how they fit together.  This is a long post AND you can get a lot of value out of it if you take the time to really read it and digest it.  Some of you are going to find all kind of issues (too long, too boring, too preachy…) with this post.  How do I know?  Because we ‘resist’ that which ‘confronts’ us and spoils the picture of the world that we are attached to – especially if it means giving up some of our self-serving habits. 

When I speak/write ‘Integrity’ I am not pointing at morality and virtue!

If you take a look at the dictionary you find the following definitions for integrity:

  • The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness –  e.g. he is known to be a man of integrity
  • The state of being whole and undividede.g. upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty
  • The condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in constructione.g. the structural integrity of the novel

When I use the term ‘Integrity’ I am NOT talking about, not pointing towards, nor interested in the first definition.  I am talking about and pointing towards the second and third definitions.  Why?  Because I am concerned with the domains of ‘workability’ and ‘performance’.   Allow me to illustrate this through a personal experience and a concrete example.

Recently I jumped into my Honda Accord and drove fours hours to spend some time with my parents.  I noticed that the car was ‘dirty-messy’ on the outside and on the inside.  I also noticed that when I pushed the accelerator down hard there was a delay of several seconds before the car responded and when it did the response was sluggish and the engine made a noise that suggested that I was asking it do more work than it was able/ready to do.  Finally, I noticed that at certain speeds the steering wheel vibrated suggesting wheel balancing and tracking issues.  Whilst I was at my parents I shared my experience of driving the car with my brother (who runs a car business) and asked him to fix the issues and get the car back into ‘Integrity’.  After examining the car he replaced the spark plugs, he topped up the fluids, balanced the wheels, took care of the tracking to make sure the wheels were in alignment and cleaned the car – inside and out.  When I drove the car back home my driving experience was completely different: instant response from the car when I hit the accelerator, no noise from the engine, no steering wheel vibration, crystal clear windscreen, sparking interior…..

Why the difference in performance of the car as I experienced it?  When I was driving to my parents my car had been out of ‘Integrity’.  It was not whole and complete.  It was not a condition of being unified, unimpaired or sound in construction: the spark plugs were not working, the power transmission was less than it needed to be, the wheels were not balanced, the wheels were not aligned…. When I drove back to my parents my car was in ‘Integrity’:  all the components that had to be there for the car to be whole and complete (sound, unimpaired) were there and so the performance of the car was transformed.

Now is the time to address the question: why are you ignoring the first definition of integrity that of moral uprightness?  Different people have different ideas about what is moral.  Different groups of people have different ideas on what is and is not moral.  Morality is simply a social agreement between a group of people: is some groups of people (Christians say) it is moral to eat pork, in others (Muslims say) it is immoral to eat pork; in some groups of people it is moral to make use of all the latest technology (most of us), in others (e.g. the Amish) it is immoral to make use of electricity, phones etc.  Now here is the thing to get no matter what we decide is ‘moral’ regarding my car, in the real world having in place faulty spark plugs or unbalanced and misaligned wheels degrades the workability and performance of my car – that is simply what is so in the real world no matter what I, you, they, we believe about it.   Get it?

What would be present in your life (including your organisation) if ‘Integrity’ was present?

Werner Erhard has done great work on ‘Integrity’ and I cannot explain it any better than he has written it.  So I am going to use his words (I hope that is ok with you Werner and I thank you for putting this into the world):

“What would your life be like, and what would your performance be, if it were true that:

You have done what you said you would do and you did it on time.

You have done what you know to do, you did it the way it was meant to be done, and you did it on time.

You have done what others would expect you to do, even if you never said you would do it, and you did it on time, or you have informed them that you will not meet their expectations.

And you have informed others of your expectations for them and have made explicit requests to those others.

And whenever you realised that you were not going to do any of the foregoing, or not going to do it on time:

You have said so to everyone who might be impacted, and you did so as soon as you realised that you wouldn’t be doing it, or wouldn’t be doing it on time, and

If you were going to be do it in the future you have said by when you would do it, and

You have dealt with the consequences of not doing it on time, or not doing at all, for all those who are impacted by your not doing it on time, or not doing it at all.

In a sentence, you have done what you said you would do or you have said you are not doing it; you have nothing hidden, you are truthful, forthright, straight and honest.  And you have cleaned up any mess you have caused for those depending on your word.

And almost unimaginable: what if others operated this way with you?”

‘Integrity’ and communication go together

If you read what Werner has written you get that ‘Integrity’ and communication go together – think of them as two sides of the same coin.  Being ‘in Integrity’ means ‘being in communication’.  How?  Why?  We live in relationship with one another and we progress our ‘projects’ (and an organisation exists to progress specific ‘projects’)  by making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests of one another – these requests can be implicit (implied) or explicit as is clearly set out by Werner.  Making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests how is this done?  Surely it is done through language – right?  That is to say through speaking and listening – whether that is face to face, on the phone, email, SMS…

Let me put it more bluntly when you are part of a group – and we are always part of a group as we exist in relationship – not ‘being in communication’ with the group is being ‘out of Integrity’.  That is simply so even if you did not promise to be in communication.  Why?  Because it our normal functioning to expect the people in our group to ‘be in communication’ – to let us know what is going on.  How do you feel when your son or daughter does not let you know what is going on his/her life?  How does your mother feel if you turn up and tell her that you have been experiencing a really difficult time for the last year?  Does she berate  you for not sharing?  Does she say that you should have called her and shared your pain?  I hope you get what I am saying.

‘Integrity’ and leadership

One of the people who read my last blog on ‘Integrity’ made the comment that his organisation (he is the CEO) relies on a contract manufacturer and fulfillment partner to honor its promises to its customers. He also pointed out that this contract manufacturers is out of ‘Integrity’: this organisation has committed never to be out of stock and to despatch order within one day and it is regularly out of stock and often takes up to five days to despatch orders to my readers customers.  Bob (the reader) also stated that whilst the CEO of the contract manufacturer is in ‘Integrity’ the people in his organisation are out of ‘Integrity’ – else the organisation would honour the agreements around stock and fulfillment.  My response: bull***t!

What goes with being the CEO (the leader) of an organisation?  When I or you step into the CEO role you automatically become responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the whole organisation!  That is what is so.  The CEO is the top dog and rightly or wrongly we (customers, partners, employees, suppliers, regulators) expect the CEO to make sure that his organisation works:  it does what it says (keeps promises) and says what it does (honesty, authenticity).  So the hallmark of effective leadership is taking the stand: I am responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation that I lead.  What goes with this stand?  It involves setting up an ‘existence structure’ that regularly gets me present to where the organisation is out of ‘Integrity’ and another (or perhaps the same) ‘existence structure’ for taking action to get the organisation back into ‘Integrity’.  Any fool can take responsibility for his own (personal) integrity it takes a special fool to take responsibility for the group of people – family, organisation, community, society.

Does you CEO relate to himself as the person who is responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation he leads?  And when the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation is out does he/she ask the question: who am I being such that the ‘playing field’ that I have created (upon which the organisation plays the game of business) gives rise to the organisation that I lead being out of ‘Integrity’?   Or does he/she simply point the finger of blame at other people in or outside the organisation?   Why do I say outside of the organisation?  Because the CEO is also responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of value chain partners!  When I, the customer, order from Amazon I expect Amazon to be accountable for getting what I have bought to me by the promised date.  I do not care if Amazon has outsourced part of the value chain to another party e.g. the end delivery to a fulfillment company like Yodel – I hold Amazon responsible!

‘Integrity, leadership, communication and performance – how are they connected?

By now you should be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ can only occur if you are also ‘being in communication’.  You should also be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ for the organisation as a whole is related to leadership.  And you should know that ‘being in Integrity’ is desirable because when any ‘system’ is not in ‘Integrity’ then workability and performance of that ‘system’ degrades.  So I’d sum it up as follows:

  • Leaders are responsible for the performance of their organisations;
  • Performance (the output) is correlated with the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation (the ‘system’) – ‘Integrity’ gives rise to workability and performance;
  • Leadership is fundamentally about being a stand for the ‘Integrity’ of the entire organisation (including value chain partners) and setting up ‘existence structures’ to quickly detect where the organisation is ‘out of Integrity’ and then taking prompt, effective action to put the organisation back ‘into Integrity’; and
  • Communication is essential to ‘Integrity’ and so leadership about effective communication – communication that tilts the table towards the organisation being ‘in Integrity’ rather than being ‘out of Integrity.

I have covered a huge amount here.  If you take the time to digest it you should get it.  And if you get it then you can dispense with a library of books on leadersip, organisation development and business performance.   Really you can!  You don’t agree with me?  OK where have I gone wrong?  Please educate me – I am listening and everything that I can do today is because someone took the time to educate me.