Revisiting Strategy: Does Effective Strategy Involve More Than Strategy?

Is Strategy Purely An Exercising In Thinking?

Is strategy an analytical exercise where one collects useful data, crunches this data, finds where the opportunities lie, and then selects the most promising opportunity? Is it merely a matter of ‘scanning the landscape of opportunity’ and selecting the most suitable opportunity?  Put differently, is the job of the strategist to select which table to play at?

It occurs to me that this is pretty much the view articulated by Michael Porter – the person who really put strategy on the corporate landscape.  Arguably, it is also what Tony Hsieh is getting at when he writes the following in his book Delivering Happiness (bolding mine):

 I noticed so many similarities between poker and business that I started making a list of the lessons I learned from playing poker that could also be applied to business:

Evaluating Market Opportunities

  • Table selection is the most important decision you can make.
  • It’s okay to switch tables if you discover it’s too hard to win at your table.
  • If there are too many competitors (some irrational or inexperienced), even if you’re the best it’s a lot harder to win.

Is There More To Strategy Than Table Selection?

There might be.  It may not be as simple at selecting the right table.  Let’s get back to Tony Hsieh, he writes (bolding mine):

Strategy

  • Don’t play games that you don’t understand, even if you see lots of other people making money from them.
  • Figure out the game when the stakes aren’t high.

This is great as far as it goes. As a strategist you can sit in your ‘war-room’ crunch the ‘big data’, create a map of the opportunity landscape. And then select the right table to play at based on the consideration of two factors: the opportunity potential at a specific table, and your competence in playing the game that is played at that table.

Is this all there is to the game of strategy making?  Put differently, now that the table has been selected, can the strategist/s hand over the baton to those who excel at execution-implementation: playing the game that is played at the chosen table?  For me the answer is “No”. Why?

I invite you to consider that what is so is always in flux: change/flow/becoming/birth-death-birth characterise the world in which we find ourselves. One of the central assertions of complexity science is that a small intervention at the right place at the right time can move a stable system over the change and into a radically different state. If you grasp this then you get that there is space to act, to shape the game so as to increase your likelihood of winning.

The Work of Strategy Includes The Work Involved in ‘Tilting The Table’

If the first part of strategy can be likened to ‘selecting the right table’, then I say the second and vital part of strategy involves the work that is involved in ’tilting the table’. What do I mean by ’tilting the table’?  I mean acting on the world – orchestrating the elements of a situation – so as to generate the desired outcome. Notice, here we are in the realms of implementation (execution).

So what levers are available to the strategist who seeks to ’tilt the table’?  Let’s answer that question by imagining a scenario. Let’s assume that as the strategist you have selected the digital table to play at. How might you go about ’tilting the table’ so as to increase the odds of success?  I can think of the following levers:

  1. Actions that destabilise the existing power structure in your organisation e.g. making people changes and shifting the balance of power between business units, functions, products etc;
  2. Actions you take to ‘de-stabilise’ your key competitor/s e.g. luring away their key people;
  3. Who you choose to lead the digital transformation programme;
  4. Governance structure and rules of engagement;
  5. Resources (money, people, information, tools) that you make available to the digital transformation programme;
  6. The timescale you set for the shift to digital to occur and the associated metrics for gauging movement along the digital path; and
  7. Actions you take to make the shift toward digital necessary and attractive e.g. making promotion dependent on digital skills-expertise-projects, and funding digital education-training.

You get the idea. The levers that you can identify are limited only by your imagination, your creativity.  And some will have more leverage than others.

As a strategist, is your work finished once you have done that which you can to ’tilt the table’ in favour of your team, your organisation?  It occurs to me that the answer, again, is no.

Strategy Involves An Ongoing Attunement-Adjustment to The Facts On The Ground

Given the dynamic nature of the world in which we live and in which the game of business is played out, it occurs to me that strategy making cannot be a one-off exercise.  It occurs to me that effective strategy, in a dynamic context, is alive. What do I mean by that?  What is the core characteristic of living organisms? They are attuned to their environment. Why? Because attainment is essential for timely adjustment to occur; adjustment promotes survival.

What does this mean for the strategist? Here are the words of Tony Hsieh in Delivering Happiness (bolding is mine):

Strategy

  • You need to adjust your style of play throughout the night as the dynamics of the game change. Be flexible.

Summing Up

I leave you with the following thought: the effective strategist is one who not only has experience of the arena but is in the arena where the game is being played.  And it is this involvement and mastery of the game, along with reflection and creativity, that allows him/her to be effective in strategising.  I get that this is unconventional.

Thanks for listening, I invite you to share your thoughts-experience on the matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is The Access to Transformation And Authentic Customer-Centricity?

What Is Transformation?

For the purposes of this conversation, when I speak ‘transformation’ I am pointing at a radical shift in one’s way of being – as in one’s way of showing up and travelling in this world.  If you are Christian, and know your Bible then think of the transformation (often called conversion) of Saul to Paul.  What was intrinsic to this transformation?  Was it not a letting go, a complete letting go, and embracing the unknown?

What Has Transformation To Do With Customer-Centric Business?

What has this conversation to do with all things Customer and especially customer-centric business?  Everything.  As I have said many times before a shift to showing up and doing business in an authentically customer-centric way requires a transformation: personal (Tops, Middles, Bottoms) and business (policies, practices, processes, tools).

a. What is the access to transformation?

What is the access to transformation at the individual (personal), and business (organisational) level?  Allow me to share the following with you:

In some Asian countries there is a very effective trap for catching monkeys. A slot is made in the bottom of a coconut, just big enough for the monkey to slide its hand in., but not big enough for the hand to be withdrawn when it is clenched. Then you put something sweet in the coconut, attach it to a tree, and wait for the monkey to come along. When the monkey slides its hand in and grabs the food, it gets caught. What keeps the monkey trapped? It is only the force of desire and attachment. All the monkey has to do is to let go of the sweet, open its hand, slip out, and go free – but only a rare monkey will do that.

– Joseph Goldstein, A Heart Full Of Peace, Best Buddhist Writing 2008

OK, this Buddhism stuff shows up for you as ‘other worldly’ – unrealistic.  So allow me to make it real for you.

b. The Transformation of Zappos Occurred in March 2003

Listen to Tony Hsieh talk about the early days of Zappos when the leadership team was struggling to find funding to keep Zappos going – the cash had run out (bolding is my work):

A month later, we still weren’t profitable. We still couldn’t raise funding.

But we had a decision to make.

How serious were we about this idea of making the Zappos brand be about the very best customer service? We had discussed the idea internally with our employees, and everyone was excited about the potential new direction.

But was it all talk? Or were we committed?

We hadn’t actually changed the way we did anything at Zappos yet. We did a lot of talking, but we weren’t putting our money where our mouths were And our employees knew it…..

For 2003, we were projecting sales to double, with about 25 percent of our overall sales coming from our drop ship business. The drop ship business was easy money. We didn’t have to carry inventory so we didn’t have any inventory risk or cash-flow problems with that part of the business. But we had plenty of customer service challenges.

The inventory feeds ….. from our vendors for our drop ship business were 95 percent accurate at best …. On top of that, the brands did not ship as quickly or accurately as our own WHISKY warehouse, which meant we had plenty of unhappy and disappointed customers. But it was easy money.

We all knew deep down inside that we would have to give up the drop ship business sooner or later if we were serious about building the Zappos brand to be about the very best customer service. We also knew that the bigger we grew, the more reliant we would be on the cash from drop shipping. There would never be a good time to walk away……

So we made what was both the easiest and hardest decision we ever had to make up until that point. In March 2003, with the flip of a switch, we turned off that part of the business and removed all of the drop ship products from our web site.

We took a deep breath and hoped for the best…..

We had to deal with our first test of our new direction right away. With a drop in revenue, cash was even tighter than before.

Now we had to figure out how to make next week’s payroll.

– Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness

Not easy is it?  Which kind of explains why many organisations which talk about customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity are playing at the periphery: making process changes, buying-implementing technology etc.  Which CEO or leadership team looks forward to taking a deep breath and hoping for the best?

Summing Up

If you are serious about cultivating genuine-meaningful loyalty between yourself and your customers then you have to open up your clenched fist. And let go of all the policies-practices-products-people that generate bad profits – profits made at the expense of your customers.

As Tony Hsieh says there is NEVER a good time to do this. So the best time to do that which goes with showing up and travelling the authentic customer-centric path is NOW! Why now?  Get this, everything that ever happens, happens NOW. I know that this is not how it shows up for you, or me. And look into this, deeply, and you will see the truth of it. All action occurs in the present, NOW.

Here is where it gets interesting. There cannot be an organisational transformation unless it is preceded by individual/personal transformation; this individual/personal transformation has to start with the Tops – it is called leadership.

What is the subtitle of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness book? “A path to profits, passion, and purpose”.   It occurs to me that the many with whom I speak show an avid interest in profits – increasing profits.  Few show any interest in any purpose other than ego: self enrichment in its many disguised. Passion?  Passion for great customer service, passion for great Customer Experience, passion for the genuine well-being of customers as fellow human beings?  If you come across it then please share it with me.

 

What does it take to generate/deliver great service?

It is Christmas time and I want to give you, my fellow human beings and the readers of The Customer Blog, a gift.  What kind of gift?  The kind of gift, which if embraced, will give you access to great relationships – with your family, with your friends, within your community, at work, with your customers…

The gift of ‘service’: is this the greatest gift that you can give?

It is Christmas time and what I notice is that it is a time of concern – a concern with gift-giving.  And this year as I think about gift giving I am immediately taken to Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I am confronted with this question: what is the greatest gift one human being can give to another?  It occurs to me it is ‘service’.  What?   When I speak ‘service’ I am pointing at the kind of service being pointed at in the following quote:

“My notion about service is that service is actually that kind of relationship in which you have a commitment to the person. What I mean, in fact, is that for me what service is about is being committed to the other being. To who the other person is.

To the degree that you are, in fact, committed to the other person, you are only as valuable as you can deal with the other person’s stuff, their evidence, their manifestation, and that’s what’s service is about. Service is about knowing who the other person is and being able to tolerate giving space to their garbage. What most people do is is to give space to people’s quality and deal with their garbage. Actually, you should do it the other way around. Deal with who they are and give space to their garbage.

Keep interacting with them as if they were God. And every time you get garbage from them, give space to garbage and go back and interact with them as if they were God.”  Werner Erhard

Which business brands provide this kind of service?

In the business world there is one brand in particular that gets the kind of service that Werner Erhard is pointing at and illuminating.  Can you guess who it is?  It’s Zappos.  Which is why I am not at all surprised to read that Zappos Set An Insane Record For The Longest Customer Service Phone Call Ever.  How long did this phone call take?  9 hours and 37 minutes!  Here is what, in particular, caught my attention:

On July 16th I received a call from Lisa about 2 hrs. into my shift. We talked for 9 hours, 37 min. I took one bathroom break about two hours in. Kara Levy [another team member] took care of me by bringing me food and drinks. We talked about life, movies and favorite foods.”   Shaea Labus, the Zappos Customer  Loyalty Team member:

“Sometimes people just need to call and talk,” she [Shaea] said. “We don’t judge, we just want to help.”

What does it take to generate/deliver great service and make a difference?

The question that calls to me and asks for an answer is this one: what does it take to generate/deliver great service – the kind Werner is pointing at and which is being delivered by Zappos?  What is your answer?  Is it technology – the latest state of the art CRM/customer service system?  Is it CX blueprint that sets out the ‘process/script’ that the Customer Loyalty Team Members have to follow?  Is it the KPIs that Zappos’s management team have set?  Is it perhaps the people – the special people that Zappos employs?  Is it the pay/rewards that Zappos gives to its employees?

Let’s listen to a master of the human condition, one who strips away our rationalizations. What does this master have to say on the matter of service, of making a difference?

“All it takes to make a difference is the courage to stop proving I was right in being unable to make a difference… to stop assigning cause for my inability to the circumstances outside of myself …… and to see that the fear of being a failure is a lot less important than the unique opportunity I have to make a difference.” Werner Erhard

Summing up

Zappos generates/delivers great service because the Tops (starting with Tony Hsieh) are committed to delivering great service.  Great service is not something that they do.  No, great service is who they are in the world.  Did you get that?  The folks at Zappos ARE great service; their being – how they show up for themselves, each other, customers, the world at large – is great service!  Put differently, for the Zappos folks great service is not a question of doing it is a question of existence.  And, yes, existence does require a viable ‘business model’.  That is something that the folks at Zappos figured out after they formulated their commitment to being the brand  that is synonymous with great service.  And they kept tinkering and tweaking to get the business model right.

What does it take for you and me to make a difference in our showing up in the world – to our family, our friends, our community, our fellow employees, our customers?  A reconceptualization of ‘service’ along the lines set out by Werner Erhard AND the courage to stop proving that you/I are unable to make a difference. Put more simply and bluntly: you and I need to stop playing small!  Look around you and you will find that many businesses generate poor/indifferent service because the people in them – starting with the Tops – play small.

What is the ‘secret sauce’ of success?

What is the ‘secret sauce’ of this company’s success?

I was at a gathering where the topic of ‘secret sauce’ came up in the context of the ‘secret sauce’ of the company’s success.  After the main forum I ended up in a conversation with two colleagues  – one of whom (D) had posed the ‘secret sauce’ question and other of whom (J) has been working with me on a recent consulting engagement.  Talking about ‘secret sauce’ J pointed out what he sees as my secret sauce: analytical skills, financial skills, workshop facilitation skills, consulting skills, being straight with clients, articulating my point of view, getting along with people……

What is my ‘secret sauce’? Is it what it seems to be?

Does my secret sauce come down to a bunch of skills, behaviour, frameworks and tools?  Is it possible that what J is pointing at are simply the visible aspects of the iceberg and the ‘secret sauce’ is hidden from view especially from those with a scientific orientation which neglects the inner dimensions of the human being? If I have a ‘secret sauce’ then it lies in my inner dimension – my being, my stance, the context from which I operate, how I see myself.

What if I told you that my ‘secret sauce’ is CARING?  I care deeply about this client – the people who have placed their trust in me. I care deeply about the what we (the client and I) are up to – the project we have taken on, the outcome which we wish to manifest in this world. I care deeply about the impact this will have on the lives of prospects and customers who touch this business.  I care deeply about how it will impact/improve the lives of the people who work within this business;.  And I care deeply about excellence – doing great work impeccably.

What if I told you that my ‘secret sauce’ is the conscious choice to operate from a context of service and of contribution – of making a difference to the quality of our lives and the ‘workability’ of the world that we share?  Yes, I am straight with people and that includes sharing/disclosing what they do not necessarily want to hear.  What J does not see is that I can only be straight because this being straight arises out of this context of service.  What J does not see is that when it does not matter, when it does not contribute to the game I am playing, I strive to keep my mouth shut.  Furthermore, what J does not see is that in my consulting work I operate from the  educational/coaching paradigm:  I help clients see, explore and get to grips with the options that are available to them and once this is done I make it clear that the responsibility for choosing the path lies with them as it is ‘their baby’ and I am simply the ‘midwife’ – they have to live with the consequences of their choices whereas I can walk away.

Lessons

Am I sharing this with you because I am on an ego trip today?  Possibly and I hope not.  I am sharing this with you to point out the following:

  • We live in a culture where the default is to look for success recipes that take away the inherent uncertainty, unpredictability, messiness of life and replace it with certainty, security, guarantees;
  • The number of explanations for anything that shows up is limited only by the number of worldviews / ideologies / perception filters that are available and used to make sense of the ‘situation/data at hand’;
  • We live in a culture where our search for these recipes is often only on the outside – that which is visible to the naked eye;
  • Often the recipes don’ work out because we only looked at the surface and did not dig deeper to get at the true ‘secret sauce’.

This probably occurs as ‘abstract and intellectual’ to you so let me share some example with you to make it more concrete.  Lets start with Honda to show how smart people can come up with multiple interpretations based on their worldview or the secret-sauce they want to promote (because they have a vested interest in promoting it).

Honda: what was the secret sauce behind Honda’s successful entry into the US motorbike market?

What accounts for Honda’s successful entry into the US motorbike industry back in the 60s/70s?  The answer depends on the worldview that you hold, the lens that you use to pose that question and dig around for answers.  Here are three different answers due to three different lenses:

“The first is the BCG Report [1975] story of Honda’s cost advantage, developed (the story goes) by the successful exploitation of scale and learning, and of the “segment retreat” response of British and American competitors. Anyone who received an MBA between 1979 and 1985 was almost certainly exposed to this version of history.

The second, explicated by Pascale [1984], offers a revisionist account of Honda’s motorcycle success.’ According to Pascale’s interview with six Honda executives, the company’s early scale in Japan came from its having a better product, flowing from design skills. Furthermore, Honda did not “target” specific market segments in the U.S., but rather showed an ability to experiment, to learn quickly from mistakes, to rapidly revise design problems, and thereby to discover opportunities.

The third, described by Prahalad & Hamel [1989, 1990], couples Honda’s success in motorcycles with its successful entry into the U.S. automobile market. Here the center of the story is Honda’s remarkable ability to go from “nowhere” to prominence despite the earlier entry of very efficient competitors like Toyota and Nissan. Prahalad and Hamel have given the names “intent” and “stretch” to the processes which underlay this success and the name “core competence” to the central skills and abilities that Honda built upon.”

If you want to read more then check out / download the following:  HONDA Enters Into US

Zappos: what is the secret sauce?

If you read about Zappos the taken for granted answers are: culture and wow service.  One or more astute observers have also noted logistics – Zappos wow service is enabled in part because Zappos has a finely tuned logistics operation that can get goods quickly to customers.   So is that the secret sauce?

I say that these are simply the visible manifestations of the secret sauce.  I say that if you read “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh you will find that the secret sauce is Tony Hsieh.  Tony has a particular philosophy: living a meaningful life, an affinity for people, an affinity for fun, strongly family ethos, a desire to get into and be a part of the nuts and bolts of business, getting that when you create happiness you are the first one to be lifted by this happiness.  And everything that is visible at Zappos is a manifestation of Tony Hsieh.

Starbucks: what is the secret sauce?

Is it the quality of the coffee?  Is it the location of the stores?  Is it the layout / feel of the stores?  Perhaps it is the baristas that serve customers?  Maybe it is the machinery and the processes?

From where I stand I am clear that the secret sauce is Howard Schultz.  Go read “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At a Time” and “Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul”.  Read deeply enough and you are likely to find that Starbucks is simply the manifestation of Shultz’s love of coffee, the coffee experience and his stance/relationship towards ordinary people.

Schultz knows first hand what happens to people and families when people are not treated well, recognised, acknowledged, not given an opportunity to develop, to progress, to shine.  So is it a surprise that he fought so hard to give the barista’s – part time employees – pay and rights (including medical coverage) that were unheard of in the retail industry?

What happened when he handed over the reins?  Starbucks did lose its soul – the person who replaced Shultz was not Schultz and did not live Shultz’s philosophy  when it came to the quality of the coffee, the coffee experience, how people should be treated…..  Incidentally, I do know that Howard Behar and is philosophy about people and relationships complemented and made a big impact on Schultz and how he ran Starbucks.

Final thought

Be skeptical of any and all ‘secret sauces’ that are put forward.  Why?  For any phenomenon a multiplicity of stories can be constructed to explain and give meaning to that phenomenon.  The number of stories is limited only by the imagination and the number of voices that get to speak and be heard.  Furthermore, perhaps the challenge is to come up with, create, construct ‘secret sauces’ rather than find existing ones.  Where would Apple be if it had looked for the ‘secret sauce’ rather than invented it?  Where would Starbucks be?  Where would Facebook be?  Where would Google be (remember that Yahoo was the master of the online universe then)?

Customer Experience: are you sitting at the right table?

The politics of experience: burn this quote into your heart/mind

“We cannot be deceived.  Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  We are not self contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  Each of us is the other to the other.  Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.”  RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

I will come back to this quote later in this post, right now just burn it into your heart/mind.

What is the most important decision you make?

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh is a great read.  It is littered with nuggets of gold if you have the ears to listen to what Tony writes.  One of the most valuable nuggets of gold is that it really matters what table you sit at.  If you study the work of Michael Porter you will find the same.  They are both talking about the same thing just using different languages.

What do I mean when I say that it really matters what table you sit it.  I am pointing out that one of the most important, if not the most important decisions, is what table to sit at. This is of no importance if your interest is operational effectiveness. If, on the other hand, you see yourself as a strategist (which is what I declare myself to be) then it is essential that you get to grips with this.  Let’s explore this through the eyes of Tony Hsieh and Michael Porter.

In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh writes:

“In a poker room in a casino, there are usually many different choices of tables.  Each table has different stakes, different players, and different dynamics that change as the players come and go, and as players get excited, upset or tired. 

I learned that the most important decision I could make was which table to sit at.  This included knowing when to change tables……. an experienced player can make ten times as much money sitting at a table with nine mediocre players who are tired and have a lot of chips compared with sitting at a table with nine really good players who are focussed and don’t have that many chips …..

In business, one of the most important decisions….. is what business to be in. It doesn’t matter how flawlessly a business is executed if it is the wrong business.…..”

What does Michael Porter – the man who invented the field of strategy – have to say?  He says that the source of superior performance can be attributed to the following two factors:

  • the structure of the industry in which which the game of business is being played and competition taking place; and
  • the company’s relative position within its industry.

If you look at financial returns then you will find that the returns of players (as a whole)  in the technology industry have been consistently at the top.  If however you look at players as a whole in the US airline industry then the financial returns have consistently towards the bottom of the league.  That is due to the structure of these industries.  Yet, even in the airline industry, Southwest Airlines has made super returns because of its relative position – which has come about because of its consistent and prolonged commitment to its strategy.

Customer Experience: which table to sit at?

So what are the tables (to sit at) in the fashionable restaurant called “Chez  Customer Experience”?   Lets take a look:

  • Social media – being pushed hard by the ‘social gurus’;
  • Mobile (smartphones and tablets) – becoming increasingly prominent and sexy;
  • Big data & analytics – being pushed hard by vendors who have spent a fortune on developing / buying the software;
  • Ecommerce and multi-channel integration – especially for offline retailers who face a blood bath;
  • Marketing automation – integrating marketing resource management (assets), analytics and campaign management;
  • Customer Services – cost reduction through automation, self-service, six sigma and outsourcing’; and
  • Content marketing – recognition that we live in a world that you have to earn attention by being useful.

Now if we go back to where we started, the question is this: which table/s should you sit at?  More specifically: if you want to lead / differentiate yourself / build that personal connection with your target customers then what table/s should you sit at?   Have you chosen your favourite/s?  OK, let’s move on and discuss a table that for the most part is empty – there are plenty of chairs available at this table.

The table of humanity: it is vacant and represents a great opportunity

When I look at and play in the domain of Customer Experience I am present to a cosmic joke being played out.  What am I saying?  I am saying that it strikes me that most of the players involved in the game of Customer Experience have little or no understanding of human beings as human beings.  They have little understanding of experience as experience and the role it plays in human living.  Please notice that I am not saying experience as theory, as talk, as writing about it!  I am being specific: experience as experience and the experience of interexperiencing which is the ground of human existence.

I grant that many Customer Experience (Gurus, Practitioners, Students)  might be great at process design, six sigma, implementing technology, mining data, capturing the VoC, customer journey mapping etc.  I do not grant that most of these people naturally like being with people, learning from/about people, being of service to people.  Furthermore, I assert that most business folks are blind to people as social beings who are always immersed in relationship and thus interexperiencing.  Which is why they do not see the table that matters the most when it comes to crafting a great experience and cultivating a person emotional connection with customers that shows up as customer loyalty.

To be 100% clear I am advocating that if you are serious about Customer Service / Customer Experience / Customer Loyalty / Customer-Centricity then you (and your entire organisation) play full out at the table called HUMANITY.  Why?  It is the most powerful differentiator there is.    I am going to share a profound quote with you from someone who spent a lifetime in intimate contact / conversation with people and as such gets human beings as human beings.  My question is do you have the ‘ears’ to listen/get what he is saying?  Back to the quote I started this post with:

“We cannot be deceived.  Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  We are not self contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  Each of us is the other to the other.  Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.”  RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

We live in an age where we have and continue to destroy the humanity of other men – our customers, our colleagues, our suppliers, our partners?  How do we do that?  Simple, in the game of business we treat people as objects that exist to create dollars; Martin Buber described this as the “I-it” orientation as opposed to the “I-Thou” orientation.

What is the key takeaway of this post?

 We live in an age where customers rave appreciate employees who appreciate customers – customers are fellow flesh and blood human beings.    That should tell you all that you need to know. Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out as I see it.  We experience ourselves living in an age of inhumanity.  Many people working in the Customer Experience field are increasing that inhumanity whether they realise it or not.  That means that more and more organisation show up in our worlds as being inhuman.  Which in turn means that the field is wide open to play at the table that matters and which is practically empty: the table called Humanity.  Don’t believe this then just take a look at Zappos – they are not simply selling, they are delivering happiness!  Or think of USAA, SouthWest Airlines or Rackspace.

If you are still not with me then I leave you with the following statement:

Service had become “a backoffice cost center, focused on reducing expenses and executing transactions.  We were effective and efficient… but we were missing an opportunity to establish bonds with [our customers] and build more meaningful relationships.”   Jim Bush, Executive, American Express

What he is saying is that American Express decided to put Humanity back into the game of service after the engineers drove it out with their relentless focus on effectiveness and efficiency.  Put differently, as a customer, as a fellow human being, effectiveness and efficiency only matter if you turn up in my world as caring – as humane.

Disagree with me?  Please share your views I am happy to listen and learn.

A brief (personal) point of view on the state of customer-centricity

Is it possible for a man/woman to have a lot of wealth and do lots of stuff that generates wealth and yet for that man/woman to be ‘not wealthy’?  If you read that without pausing for thought you might say “That is nonsense, he’s gone nuts!”  I am not going to argue the point with you.  I simply ask you read that again.  Now I pose a related question: is it possible for a man/woman to have no wealth and yet be wealthy?  Before you answer “No!” I ask you think about the tales travellers tell about the remarkable hospitality and generosity of the poor – who happily share the little that they have.

Now I am ready to share my observation on customer-centricity with you.  As I look at the world of business and especially all things Customer I am stuck by the following:  just about everyone wants the fruits of customer-centricity (higher revenues, higher profits, higher profit margins) and plenty of organisations are doing lots of Customer stuff (customer insight, customer engagement, customer experience, CRM, customer strategy, customer marketing…) yet remarkably few are actually BEING customer-centric at the level of the organisation.

Does that matter?  Yes it matters a huge amount.  In zen there is the concept of “effortless effort” or “actionless action”:  being customer-centric (starting with the Tops) is the source of this “effortless effort”.  Does this strike you as a bit abstract.  Think about it this way: when you genuinely care that caring effortless expresses itself in the most appropriate way in the circumstances at hand.  On the other hand if you do not care then you have to go to a lot of effort to learn techniques to come over as being caring and hope that the other person does not notice.  The issue is that this tends to wear you out (pretense takes its toll).  Also the mask tends to fall off when you are under pressure.  Finally, the persons on the other end aren’t always taken in by the techniques – there is certain quality that comes across with genuine caring.

Take a good look at people like Chris Zane, Tony Hsieh, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs – you might find that their BEING is or was the ‘difference that makes/made the difference’.  When I read about the transformations that Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs brought about in their organisations I am struck by their BEING – as human beings, as professionals, as CEOs and as leaders.  They bought a certain quality to their organisations that set their organisations alight – to create and deliver stuff that enriched the lives of their customers.  People who did not want to play that game left.  The people who stayed were the people who were up for playing the game that these guys orchestrated: customer-centricity, excellence, customer experience…

Incidentally, BEING customer-centric at the ORGANISATIONAL level is the source of superior performance.  I stress the importance of the organisational component:  think how easy it is to snap a twig, not put a hundred twigs together (aligned) and snap them – hard isn’t it.   Yet even this is sometimes not enough – sometimes change comes along (economic, regulatory, new competitors) that so changes the playing field that the dominant players stumble.  Think of it as the fire that tears through the forest and gives life to the dormant seeds.  Even Apple will one day lose its crown just like Tesco is on its way to losing its halo of invulnerability and customer-centricity through data mining. If you have not heard of Tesco then it worth knowing that Tesco has been the dominant grocery retailer in the UK for many years.  Its success was put down to the loyalty card and the way that data was used for segmentation, customer marketing and product selections at Tesco stores.  This Christmas Tesco has stumbled signficantly.