Why Innovation Is Rare: The Problem of Knowledge & The Curse Of Expertise

Do We Know It All?

I’d like to start this conversation by getting us mindful to a definition:

ignorance

ˈɪgn(ə)r(ə)ns/

noun

lack of knowledge or information.

“he acted in ignorance of basic procedures”

I say that our ignorance is vast.  And we are not present to our ignorance because we are convinced that we have an accurate grasp of the world: we know it all!  Our hubris blinds us that which history makes vividly clear: each age is deluded in its conviction that it has accessed the truth of what is so.  Does this remind you of Socrates? The Oracle claimed that Socrates was the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing.  On that basis we are not wise – nowhere near close to wise.

Do You Remember This Starbucks/’Milk’ Story?

Why have I launched into this conversation?  If you read this blog then you may remember this post and this narrative:

Last week, while on an average holiday shopping trip, my mother and I decided to stop by Starbucks to get a quick snack…..

When we got up to the counter, my mother placed our simple order, at which point she asked for a “tall” cup of two percent white milk. This is how the conversation played out:

“Mocha,” said the barista.

“No. Milk,” my mother repeated.

“Mocha?”

“No. Two percent white milk.”

“Oh… Milk!”

….. I attempted to withhold my personal thoughts. Milk. You know, that white stuff you pour in the coffee? Yes, well, we want an entire cup full of that. Minus the coffee, of course.

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out, but not without a few stifled giggles.

Making Sense Of This Story Through The Insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein

You may also remember the follow up post where I made use of the insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein. And in so doing attempted to point out that:

  • every human being is always a being-in-the-world  – which is to say that the human being and the world are so interwoven that they are one not two;
  • every human being finds himself, at every moment, situated-embedded in a particular world e.g. the business world, the academic world, the public world, the world of home etc and that world ‘takes over’ the human beings working-living in that world;
  • a word such as ‘milk’ does not point at a specific object rather it, and every word-utterance, is a social tool for coordinating social action in a specific world – think for a moment what ‘milk’ means to a woman that has just given birth and compare that to what ‘milk’ means to a supermarket;
  • that the confusion that occurred at Starbucks and with the barista was due to the narrator’s mother turning up in the Starbucks world of coffee and using the word ‘milk’ inappropriately – akin to you turning up at your friend’s home for a meal, enjoying the meal and then asking for the bill; and
  • to really understand a world (e.g. the advertising world) one needs to live in that world by taking up a role in that world and doing that which goes with the role taken up.

After reading this follow up post, Adrian Swinscoe commented (bolding is my work):

I really like your exploration of this issue from a philosophical angle and learnt a lot from it…. 

However, at the end of the post I found myself wondering if the heart of the problem was something quite humdrum and that the barista just didn’t listen. She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

As you point out, if we don’t get out of our way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.

Now I want to address the points that Adrian is making. And that means grappling with the problem of knowledge and the curse of expertise.  Let’s start with Adrian’s statement “if we don’t get out of our own way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.”

Is It Possible To Get Out Of Our ‘Heads’?

If I was to get out of my own ‘head’ then whose ‘head’ would I use to be able to make sense of the world in which I find myself? Besides we are almost never in our heads, we are mostly on automatic pilot immersed in cultural practices and taken over by our habits.  If this was not the case then thinking, genuine thinking, would not be so effortful for us.  Let’s listen to Charles Guignon:

If all our practices take place within a horizon of vague and inexplicit everyday understanding , then even the possibility of something obtruding as intelligible is determined in advance by this understanding …….. the questions that I can ask and the kind of answers that would make sense are always guided by my attuned understanding of “ordinary” interpretations …. Without this understanding, nothing could strike me as familiar or strange.

For this reason Heidegger says that all explanation presupposes understanding…… The legitimate task of seeking explanations is always conducting within a horizon of understanding that guides our questioning and establishes procedures for attaining clarity and elucidation. Through our mastery of the shared language of the Anyone, we have developed specific habits and expectations that enable us to see things as obvious or puzzling...

A detective trying to make sense of how a crime was committed …. might take even the most mundane item in the room and ask how it came to be there ….. great advances have come about in the sciences through the ability of individuals to step back and question what had been taken as obvious and self-evident. But such cases of departing from established habits and expectations make sense only against a background of shared understanding which remains constant through such shifts. In other words, we can make sense of unintelligibility and a demand for explanation only within a horizon of intelligibility which is not itself thrown into question …..

– Charles B. Guignon, Heidegger and the Problem of Knowledge

To sum up we are always in our ‘head’ and that head arises and is kept in existence through our shared cultural practices. A particular potent cultural practices is language.  Notice that to operate in society we must speak the language of that society – everyday language.  And to operate in particular world (e.g. world of business, world of finance, world of advertising, world of healthcare ….) we must be fluent in the language of that world.

Adjustments can be made to our ‘head’ and it is not easy to make these adjustments. Why?  Adjustments are not made through thinking – not made through cognitive means.  As ‘head’ is given by roles, habits and cultural practices it is necessary to make a shift in these. How? By moving into and inhabiting-living new worlds. This is what occurs when the CEO leaves the world of the CEO and takes on-lives the role of the frontline employee for five days; Undercover Boss is all about this shift.  If you find yourself interested in that which I am speaking about here then I recommend watching the movie The Doctor (starring William Hurt) – it is instructive in a way that my words cannot instruct.

The Curse Of Expertise

How does Adrian interpret the Starbucks/’Milk’ story?  The same way that many of us interpret it:

She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

Why this conviction that ‘that which occurred’ is the fault of the barista? Why this insistence on the incompetence of the barista?  I say that this explanation is so easily forthcoming and attracting (rather like a magnet) because it is the cultural practice to see fault in front line staff, especially as these jobs are low paid, and thus lay blame on them.

What if the barista was not fatigued, not tired, speaks the language well, has no agenda?  What if, on the contrary, the barista is highly skilled in her role of serving coffee to Starbucks customers?  Is it possible expertise, not ignorance, is the cause of the snafus?  Let’s listen to a zen master and see what we can learn:

In Japan we have the phrase “shoshin” which means “beginner’s mind”. The goal of practice is to always keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose your recite the Prajna Paramitra Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it….

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

– Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

The curse of expertise is that the expert only sees that which s/he has been conditioned to see; hears that which s/he has been conditioned to listen to; makes sense of that which shows up through her already given horizon of understanding (see Guignon above). Put differently, the expert is stuck in a rut: all that shows up, including the anomaly, is interpreted in times of the taken for granted.  Which is why altruistic acts are made sense of in terms of selfishness given the Darwinian frame. Or the necessity to postulate ‘dark matter’ given the need to keep the existing model of the universe intact. Or the collapsing of Customer Experience with Customer Service in the business world.  Or the insistence of seeing CRM as technology and business process change rather than a fundamental change in the ‘way we do things around here’.

As a consultant/coach/facilitator what do I bring to the table?  At my best I bring to the table a beginner’s mind where everyone on the ‘inside’ is an expert. Which is why I am often able to see that which my clients cannot see.  The challenge always is to convey that which I have seen to my clients such that they do not reinterpret it into their existing way of seeing-doing things.  Often I fail: despite my best efforts to ‘ask for milk’ I find that my clients interpret as ‘mocha’.  And when I say “No, milk!”, they respond “Surely, you are asking for Mocha!”.  And even if I strike up the courage to insist that ‘milk’ is not the same as ‘Mocha’ I find that they often confuse ‘Two percent white milk” with ‘steamed milk’.  They are not at fault, it is the curse of expertise. And it inflicts us all!

And Finally A Quote

I leave you with a quote that sums up the situation and the challenge beautifully:

Create your future from your future not your past.

– Werner Erhard

Revisiting Integrity: Why Do All Human Systems Lack Integrity?

Setting the context for this conversation

In an earlier post, I wrote:

When you take a look at the system that generates outcomes you will find that all human systems lack integrity; at the level of the person, the family, the organisation, the community, the nation and even the world what there is is the lack of integrity.

James Lawther upon reading the post commented:

Sorry Maz, I don’t understand. Why do all human systems lack integrity?

In this post, I honour the promise I made: to think on the matter and share that which has showed up for me. Before we start I am compelled to warn you that this is a long conversation and you will only get value out of it if you really are interested in grappling with the question of integrity.  Let’s start.

First, let’s be clear on ‘integrity’

In order to speak about and grapple with the phenomena of integrity it is essential to be clear on what it is that I am pointing at when I speak ‘integrity’. When I speak ‘integrity’ I am not talking about ‘integrity as morality’: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles/practices.  So what is this conversation about?

It is about integrity as the condition/state of being whole, complete, cohesive, unified’. Let’s be clear on this:

  • If I promise ‘To come over to your house and smash your car with sledgehammer” and I turn up at your house and do exactly that then  my actions are in a state of integrity with my words;

  • If you gathered together all the parts that constitute a car and throw them together without ensuring that they interconnect with one another and are in tune with one another then the car is not in a state of integrity – it may work yet it is highly unlikely that the car will generate high performance, it is highly likely that it will fail far short of the ‘ultimate driving machine’.

Second, let’s consider the phenomena

Now look into your lived experience devoid of theory-opinion-dogma and ask yourself if the individual human being shows up as being in a state of integrity?  What about the family – is there a state of integrity operative at the level of family?  The organisation – is there a state of integrity operative here? The community? The nation?

Is there a state of wholeness-completeness at the level of the individual human being? Sure? Ask yourself if the values you profess are the values that you embody-live?  What about the family, is there wholeness there?  Ask yourself how many families work well? In how many families is there respect, consideration, love and communication?  How many families are happy families?  At the organisational level ask yourself how well management and the workers work together?  How about the interplay between the front office and the back office?  What about the fit between the talk (espoused values) and that which is in play on a day to day basis (lived values)?

If after this you are still convinced that integrity (whole-complete-unified) is the default condition then take a look at the education system, the healthcare system, the financial system, the legal system, the political system.  How well are these working in your country?

Having so looked at the phenomena – ‘that which is as it is and is not’ – I am clear that the default condition of ALL human systems is a lack of integrity.  If you disagree then I ask you to consider

What is the explanation for the pervasive lack of integrity in human systems?

Let me say that I do not have the one answer to this question.  And that which I share here is simply my thinking on what may be the threads of an explanation.

1. Design of the human-being at the level of the system

It occurs to me that at the level of the design of the system that we call ‘human being’ there is a lack of integrity.  Rather than there being one unified self it appears that there are a multiplicity of competing selves.  Do you find yourself doubting my assertion?

Look at the phenomena. What do you see?  Do you see that there is a self that is keen to be slim. And there is the self that loves all the ‘wrong foods’ from a ‘being slim’ perspective.  What about the  self that wishes to be athletic and gets the value of exercising. And then there is the self that is addicted to being comfortable, sat on the sofa watching tv for hours.  Is there not a self that yearns to speak its truth. And then there is the self that ensures that only that which is politically acceptable is spoken…..

Yet this is not an excuse and not the whole picture. After all we are not designed to fly and yet do so safely, through the inventions and practices of aviation. So let’s continue the exploration and ask ourselves why it is that we have not put in place practices that call forth integrity.

2. Not being present to the importance of integrity and the impact of being out of integrity

“Our way of being and our actions are a correlate of the way in which the circumstances we are dealing with occur (show up) for us”.

– Werner Erhard

Do you/i/we truly get (at the experiential level not the cognitive level) the value of operating in a state of integrity and the impact of lapses in integrity?  It occurs to me that the answer for most of us – as expressed through our living – is that we are blind to the true impact of violations of integrity. This became clear to me on a driving awareness course.

All of us on this course were on the course because we had been caught breaking the speed limit.  Did any of us feel guilty?  No. Why? For my part, I found myself feeling sorry for myself and blaming the police for focussing on folks like me rather than the proper villains. Why? Because I had been only doing 36mph in a 30mph zone: “What’s the big deal! What difference does 6mph make?”  

The turning point came when I learned the impact of that extra 6mph. That 6mph is the difference between life and death. Turns out even an extra 3mph is the difference between a pedestrian walking away relatively unharmed and spending the rest of his life badly damaged.  To bring the point home, in the only way it can home, we were shown a film showing the human impact of speeding. This had such an impact on me that I left this course with the commitment to drive safely and that is what I do. If I catch myself exceeding the speed limit, guilt is present, and the presence of this guilt is enough to get me mindful and respectful of the speed limit.

We assume that it makes no difference if we turn up five minutes late for a meeting. Yet it does.  We assume it makes no difference if we tell ‘little lies’ to customers. Yet it does. We assume that it makes no difference if we push employees around and take advantage of their weakened position to get more out of them. Yet it does. We assume that it makes no difference if we push around our suppliers and squeeze them to drive up our bottom line. Yet it does make a difference.

3. Lack of willingness to put in place mechanisms and listen to feedback that points out a lack of integrity

It starts in the family.  The child points out of the lack of integrity between what the parent is preaching and what the parent is embodying-living.  One response is “Do as I say not as I do”.  Another kind of response is a slap on the face or some kind of punishment like that.  The third kind is to ignore the child, to pretend that you have not heard anything, and continue as before.  In all three cases the child learns the message. Be quiet, don’t rock the boat, don’t upset the authority figures.  And so the child muddles through as best as s/he can.

Put bluntly there is an unspoken agreement not to ‘speak truth to power’.    Breaking this agreement is no easy matter and as such only a few brave souls do so.  When you break the unspoken agreement not to threaten the status and power of those in power then you put yourself in a vulnerable position. The powerful and their allies turn their guns on you and target your livelihood, your reputation, your social status, your freedom and even your life.  

There is an excellent example of this unwillingness to listen to feedback and the consequences for those who speak ‘truth to power’ pointing out the lack of integrity of the system.  Listen to this piece on the NHS:

The NHS will “go bust” without radical change to drive up standards and rid hospitals of a “toxic” bullying culture that damages patient care, the head of its official regulator has warned.

David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), says the safety of the most vulnerable patients is being jeopardised by a “dysfunctional” rift between NHS managers and clinical staff…..

He discloses that one in four staff have reported bullying, harassment or abuse from colleagues and managers, while whistleblowers are ostracised……

Mr Prior highlights the treatment of whistleblowers, saying the NHS is failing to listen to those who challenge poor care and champion the rights of patients. He says those who try to speak out are too often “ostracised” by their colleagues and managers.

He writes: “Too often, it delights in the ritual humiliation of those deemed to fail, tolerates and institutionalises outdated working practices and old-fashioned hierarchies and can almost encourage “managers” and “clinicians” to occupy opposing camps…..

Soon after Mr Prior took up his post as CQC chairman last year, the regulator’s previous management was accused of a “cover-up” and failing to properly investigate hospital scandals because it was too close to the last Labour government…..

Perhaps most crucially, we need to change the culture.”

Even when there is no power to speak truth to, we do not speak truth: we don’t call people on their lack of integrity. Why not?  There is another unspoken agreement: “You don’t call me on mine, and I won’t call you on yours!”.  We are socialized into this early on with instructions to mind our own business and not to poke our nose into the affairs of others.  Furthermore, from an early age we are actively pushed to tell people what they want to hear and/or what will ‘save face’.  This becomes so much a part of us and our way of showing up in the world that we don’t even notice how much of social life, in all its favours, is based on this way of showing up.

4. The powerful ensure that they are immune from the impact of systems that lack integrity

As I reflect on the impact of systems that lack integrity I am struck by what is so: the powerful almost always profit and worst walk away unscathed and the powerless are struck with the impact-costs-wound arising from the lack of integrity. 

Who suffers most from the impact of poor teaching and poor schools?  The powerless – the children. Who has suffered most from the lack of integrity (through and through) in the NHS?  The powerless, the vulnerable – the patients.  Who has suffered as a lack of integrity in the world of finance?  The powerless – those who have the lowest incomes and the least politics clout.  Who is most likely to suffer from our way of living and the impact on the world that is our home?  The powerless – the unborn, the future generations.

Summing up

It occurs to me that all human systems exhibit a lack of integrity. And that the reason that this lack of integrity continues to persist is because we have not put in place cultural practices to call forth integrity and keep it in existence: detecting lapses in integrity and correcting course promptly to put the system back into a state of integrity.

Why haven’t we put these cultural practices into place?  It occurs to me that despite the lack of integrity in human systems we have successfully muddled through. In so muddling through, most of us do OK, and the powerful do great most of the time. Look at the business world: despite all the scaremongering (by those who hope to profit by selling their products-services) most organisations have muddled through all the ‘challenges and dangers’: they are doing OK.  Look at the banking crisis: we have muddled through. Look at the Euro crisis: we have muddled through.  Every time we muddle through we reinforce our addiction to muddling through.  Look under the hood of ‘business transformation’ and most and on on most occasions you will find plain old fashioned incremental change.

We do not put integrity into our way of being-showing up in the world because like thinking, genuine thinking, it is hard work. More importantly it is hard work that never ends. Why? Because integrity is always flowing out and so we have to be always putting it back in.  Then there are people like Jobs who set out to make a dent in the universe and accept nothing less. Or people like Gandhi who set out to set India free and accept nothing less. Or people like Mandela……

Customer Experience in the UK: what is really going on?

What’s really going on the UK contact-centre industry?

Yesterday, I met up with a friend who works in the VoC and contact-centre space and we discussed the whole customer thing.  This is what showed up for me in our conversation:

– There has been a huge surge in people with Customer Experience titles. And mostly it is people in contact-centres taking on these titles.

– The customer experience is not the fundamental driver of how contact-centres operate.  The contact-centre industry is permeated through and through by a focus on processing transactions (calls) as cheaply as possible. This was so before Customer Experience titles became fashionable and it is still the case.

– Whilst some brave souls in the contact-centre industry (like my friend) are up for and focus on the customer experience in contact-centres.  The big outsourced contact-centre providers who dominate the industry are focussed on bums-on-seats, costs and meeting their transactional SLA.  They have no listening for customer experience.

– VoC has become the new black, just about everyone is doing it.  And there is big question mark over the value of this given the lack of genuine passion for the customer and the customer experience in the organisation.

– There is a lot of talk about social customer service and the reality is that very little is going on.  There is a tsunami of calls coming in from customers and only a trickle of contacts through social. This works for the people in the business because they are terrified of social and its impact on the carefully scripted brand image and messages.

Customer Experience: what is the cause of the gulf between the words and the reality?

What is going on here?  Why is there such a big difference between the words and the reality?  Why is it that whilst the words have changed from CRM to CEM, the indifference to building emotional bonds with customers continues?  Is it a lack of understanding?  Are people in business simply ignorant and so they need more education from the likes of customer experience gurus?

My passion is the being of human beings especially how we show up in groups and organisational settings.  And what it takes for us to shift our being-doing.  So allow me to share a story with you that I say sheds light on what is going on.

A holy man was meditating beneath a tree at the crossing of two roads. His meditation was interrupted by a young man running frantically down the road toward him.

“Help me,” the young man pleaded. “A man has wrongly accused me of stealing.  He is pursuing me with a great crowd of people. If they catch me, they will chop off my hands!”

The young man climbed the tree beneath which he sage had been meditating and hid himself in the branches. “Please don’t tell them where I am hiding,” he begged.

The holy man saw with the clear vision of a saint that the young man was telling the truth.  The lad was not a thief.  A few minutes later, the crowd of villagers approached, and leader asked, “Have you seen a young man run by here?”

Many years earlier, the holy man had taken a vow to always speak the truth, so he said that he had.  “Where did he go?” the leader asked.

The holy man did not want to betray the innocent young man, but his vow was sacred to him. He pointed up into the tree. The villagers dragged the young man out of the tree and chopped off his hands.

I say that a shift to an authentic customer orientation, one where the focus of the company is to come up with value propositions and customer experiences, that enrich the lives of their customers (and all the people who have to play their part in making this happen) requires transformational change.  It requires a complete break with the past and operating from a radically different context. It is the kind of break that the caterpillar makes in order to show up as a butterfly.  And that is a big ask for almost all of us especially large companies that are doing ok.

What does it take to generate breakthroughs in performance and the customer experience?

Why do almost all change initiatives fail to deliver?

I have been involved in all kinds of organisational change initiatives whose ultimate purpose was to power performance. These change initiatives have come in many flavours: strategy, people, process, and technology.  They have encompassed the front office, or the back office, or both.  These change initiatives included: BPR, Kaizen, shared services, quality, ERP-CRM-Ecommerce technology, customer service excellence, strategy…

What is it that is I found common pretty much across all of these change initiatives:

  • They were mostly initiated by people gripped by a fad of that time;
  • Each of these initiatives was going to deliver substantial, even breakthrough, improvements in performance; and
  • Almost all of them failed to deliver on the promise.

I see the pattern being repeated with Customer initiatives that are focussed on improving the customer experience and thus engendering loyalty and advocacy.  Why?  Because what is being changed is the content and not the context.  Working on the content whilst leaving the context intact is liking rearranging the music, the dining hall, the food & wine, say on the Titanic.  Great stuff and ultimately it is merely a distraction from the inevitable.  The inevitable (destiny) is always shaped/determined by the context.

Differentiating between the context and the content

Let’s start with the dictionary definitions of context:

con·text

  1. Background, environment, framework, setting, or situation surrounding an event or occurrence.
  2. Words and sentences that occur before or after a word or sentence and imbue it with a particular meaning.
  3. Circumstances under which a document was created, including its function, purpose, use, time, the creator, and the recipient.

con·tent

  1. The things that are held or included in something.
  2. A state of satisfaction: “the greater part of the century was a time of content”.

Are you struggling with distinguishing between context and content and why this distinction is of profound significance? Let me help out.  Let’s use the analogy of computer software. The context can be likened to the operating system.  The content to the software programmes that you are using say Word, Excel, Outlook.

Or think of work and home.  The context of work is radically different to the context of home. Or the context of a wedding is radically different to the context of a funeral. Do you see how the content – people, talk, behaviour – whilst the same is/can be radically different in the differing contexts.  You talk at work, you talk at home, yet the way you talk and what you talk about is likely to be very different between work and home.

Shifts in context are the access to transformation and breakthrough results – for customers, for the organisation

Let me say this bluntly, most of the work that is taking place in the customer space in the name of customer focus, customer experience, customer-centricity, customer obsession is wasted money and effort. It is merely the equivalent of arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Or if you prefer behaving like Blockbuster or HMV – both of which have gone into administration and are busy closing or selling their stores.

I say that excellence in the customer domain, and the business benefit this excellence generates, is only available to a particular set of organisations.  Which organisations?  The organisations whose leaders exercise courage. What kind of courage?  The courage to shift the context.  Allow me to give you some dimensions along which you can shift the context that powers your business:

Slide3

If you want to get a better grip of context and how it applies to the customer experience then read this post.

Great examples of shifts of context: from Amazon to Zane’s Cycles

Examples of Contextual Shifts

 

Kuhn called this contextual shifts “paradigm shifts”.  Every paradigm shapes/limits that which shows up including human relations and performance.  Some paradigms create more space and generate more energy to empower high performance. If you want to transform your customer experience then pay attention to the context.  Context comes first, content second. Only the fool, or one who has time-money to burn, focuses only on the content.

How to transform the Customer Services function (Part II)

In this post I continue the conversation I started in the previous post. To recap, this conversation is about transforming the Customer Services function.  When I say transform I am pointing at something different to change. Take a good look at change and you will find that change often deals with changing the content rather than the context which gives rise to the context. Transformation deals with the context.

What does Customer Services really do? 

Step outside of the content of handling calls, emails, or providing agents to respond to ‘click to chat’ requests and look at the Customer Service function.  What do you see?  I see the bigger picture.  I see the powerful functions of Marketing, Sales, Ecommerce, Operations, Logistics, Finance creating ‘garbage’.  This garbage lands in the lives of customers and the customers don’t like it.

Within the current context it is taken for granted that organisational functions will create garbage. Perhaps it is more accurate that this creation of garbage is hidden in the background and not even noticed.   Marketing creates waste by misleading customers, or not providing them with the information that they need.  Sales creates garbage by selling the wrong product or promising and not delivering.  Operations creates garbage by making/sourcing products that don’t do what they are supposed to do. Or are difficult to setup and use.  Logistics creates  garbage by not delivering the products on time. Or not even providing a date when the product is going to be delivered.  Finance creates garbage by getting the billing wrong or not explaining the charges adequately.  The Ecommerce unit creates garbage by not designing the website so that it is both useful, usable and responsive.

This garbage lands in the lives of customers and the customers don’t like it.  So they turn to the people in the business who can help with cleaning up this garbage: Customer Services. Put differently, within the current context the Customer Services function deals with/addresses/cleans up the garbage created by the rest of the organisation.

The access to transforming the Customer Services function is to focus on what is outside of the Customer Service function

It occurs to me that it is madness to focus on improving efficiency and reducing the cost of the Customer Services function.  Why?  Because that is simply finding more efficient ways of dealing with the garbage.  If we use the manufacturing analogy then we have a whole bunch of people creating waste.  This waste lands in the lap of the Customer Services folks to fix.  The Customer Services folks are fixing it as best as they can whilst the rest of the organisation is hell bent on cutting their resources and expertise.  Is this not insanity?

Surely, the lever for transforming the Customer Services function lies outside of the Customer Services function.  Who is the cause of the garbage in customers’ lives that drives calls into the Customer Services function?  Marketing, Sales, Operations, Logistics, Ecommerce, Legal, Finance etc.  If these functions did not create the garbage in the first place then there would be a huge reduction in the call volume coming into Customer Services. And accordingly a huge reduction in the cost of the Customer Services function.

I say that the access to transforming the Customer Services function is eliminating the garbage that the rest of the organisation is creating in the lives of customers.  Put differently, learn from manufacturing and build quality into the system so that the default functioning of the system is quality.

Which begs the question, how to do build quality into the system.  I say you start by disturbing the complacency of the existing system.  And a great place to start is to:

– Analyse the demand coming into Customer Services into ‘value demand’ and ‘failure demand’ where ‘failure demand’ is the demand falling onto Customer Services because of the garbage created in the lives of customers by the rest of the organisation;

– Code the ‘failure demand’ into buckets where the buckets represent the organisational functions (Marketing, Sales, Logistics…) that are the source of the ‘failure demand’; and

– Charge each of these organisational functions – on a monthly basis – 200% of the cost of dealing with the ‘failure demand’ generated by that functional silo.

Please note that for this to be effective, the charge has to be a real charge.  It has to hurt by reducing the money that the organisational functions have to spend whilst being held accountable for meeting their objectives.

Why charge the organisational functions 200% of the cost. To get these organisational functions present to the hidden cost of creating garbage.  When an organisation creates garbage in customers’ lives there are two costs. The first cost is the cost of cleaning up the garbage – the cost incurred by Customer Services.  The second, hidden cost, is the damage done to the relationship and thus the lifetime value of the customer.

You might be wondering how this would transform the Customer Services function.  Here is how I see it.  If that which I am proposing was implemented rigorously it would disturb the system.  The organisational functions feeling the most pain would be motivated to produce less garbage. And to do this they are likely to seek out the Customer Services folks to get a helping hand in better understanding the issues from the customer perspective.  Together they would reduce the ‘failure demand’ falling on Customer Services and take the Customer Services function out of the business of ‘cleaning up the garbage’ thus freeing up capacity some of which could be used to focus on stuff that genuinely adds value to customers and leave them surprised and delighted.

Notice that within this context, Customer Services shows up as a valuable function. One that acts as an independent check on the health of the organisational functioning. And acts as a catalyst for keeping the various organisational actors ‘honest’ and ‘in sync’ with the needs/expectations of customers. Doesn’t that constitute a transformation?

And finally

Clearly for this transformation to occur it has to be led by the CEO and supported/enabled/enforced by the CFO. And their commitment or lack of commitment discloses all that one needs to know about the importance of the customer.