Erich Fromm On The Central Challenge Of Cultivating Meaningful Relationships With Customers

What Is The Central Challenge Of Building Meaningful & Profitable Relationships With Customers? Is this challenge about opening up 24/7 access to your business through any and all channels?  Is it about coming up with new products and services that attract customers like bright lights attract moths at night-time?  Is it about taking out costly, unpredictable, unreliable human beings and replacing them with technology?  Is it about collecting and mining all the data you can get your hands on to generate insight to customers and entice them with the right offer, at the right time, through the right communication channel?  Is it about redesigning processes and gluing up all the interaction channels so that the customer experience across the customer journey is an effortless one?

Perhaps. Or maybe this is simply thinking inside the existing way of showing up and travelling in the world.  What way am I referring to? The technological way. What kind of way is that?  It is the way that refers to human beings as human resources. It is the way that refers to customers as assets. It is the way that thinks that listening to the voice of the customer is the same as reading statistics and text which summarises and details the survey responses coming in from some customers. It is the way that seeks to replace human beings and human to human conversations with automated interfaces and self-service…..

I invite you to listen to the speaking of Erich Fromm written in the 1940s (bolding mine):

The insignificance of the individual in our era concerns not only his role as a business man, employee, or manual labourer, but also his role as a customer. A drastic change has occurred in the role of the customer in the last decades. The customer who went into a retail store owned by an independent business man was sure to get personal attention: his individual purchase was important to the owner of the store; he was received like somebody who mattered, his wishes were studied; the very act of buying gave him a feeling of importance and dignity.

How different is the relationship of the customer to a department store. He is impressed by the vastness of the building, the number of employees, the profusion of commodities displayed; all that makes him feel small and unimportant by comparison. As an individual he is of no importance to the department store. He is important as “a customer”; the store does not want to lose him, because this would indicate that there is something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers. As an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant. There is nobody who is glad about his coming, nobody who is particularly concerned about his wishes. 

– Erich Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom

It occurs to me that many (if not most) organisations struggle to cultivate meaningful-profitable relationships with customers despite spending significant sums on the likes of customer analytics, CRM, marketing automation, and VoC. Why?  My experience of the last 15 years working in the Customer space is that action has been at the abstract level of customer and customers. And almost nobody has paid attention to the experience of the concrete flesh and blood customer as a human being.  As such technology has been used to remove rather than enhance what little was left of the human to human relating.  Technology can do many useful things including increasing access and reducing effort. What it cannot do well is this: create, enliven, enrich human relating.

What I Took Away From CXDay In London, UK

CXDay organised by the CXPA took place yesterday. At the invitation of Marco Rodrigues, I found myself at the CXDay event taking place in London. Here is what I took away from that event:

The terms customer-centric, Customer Experience, and innovation are empty. They are so empty that each person can fill them up whatever meaning they wish. And they do. Then the debates occur as to what customer-centric means, what customer experience is and is not, what counts as innovation or not. Some academics see an opportunity here: to define Customer Experience as a set of capabilities backed by empirical data and thus put in a place an established framework for assessing Customer Experience maturity and benchmarking.

Life is difficult/frustrating on those who find themselves either preaching and making a living from Customer Experience. And it is perhaps even more difficult for those who find themselves part of the Customer Experience team within a large corporate. One such person told me that she found it frustrating to make sense of what Customer Experience involves. Dive into it and you realise it is a many headed monster. There are many questions and no ready made silver bullets. To deal with the Customer Experience challenge you have to get pretty much everyone else in the organisation to work with you to tame the monster. And these folks are not interested. To them Customer Experience is irrelevant to what they have to do on a day to day basis. And for them the folks in the Customer Experience show up as an irrelevant annoyance.

Customer Experience has been and continues to be a blessing for one set of folks: the VoC vendors.  These folks cannot believe their luck: listening to the voice of the customer has become a mandatory exercise for just about every organisation and their is an endless appetite for what the VoC vendors are selling. Yet all is not as great as it sounds. The more intelligent VoC folks (at VoC vendors) are concerned. Why? Because they are wondering when someone is going to wake up, notice and call it as it is. How is it? Corporations may be listening to VoC, they certainly aren’t doing much about it. And so from a practical perspective they are not listening to their customers. So the most rational course of action is to put a stop to their relationship with VoC vendor and scrap their Customer Experience team.

A handful of people get it and are living it. What do they get? They get what the whole Customer Experience thing is all about. Renata Wallace, the owner and managing director of Wallacespace gets it. As soon as I walked into Wallacespace (the venue for the CXDay event) I found myself saying “This is a meeting space with soul!”. Then I listened to Renata share her story and I got that Renata embodies the soul that is so manifest in the look+feel of Wallacespace. What struck me most forcefully about Renata is how she is so different to just about every senior person in meet in big corporate land. What makes her distinct for me? She oozes the kind of humanity that is rare in corporate environments.

It’s great to meet up with people in person. I enjoyed meeting up with Marcio Rodrigues – who reminded me of the event and encouraged me to attend. I enjoyed meeting up with Ian J. Golding  a customer experience evangelist and consultant. I enjoyed meeting Nadine Dyer, a Customer Experience Manager, who shared with me how that which I speak her lands for her. I enjoyed meeting Renata Wallace……. For me nothing takes the place of face to face encounters with human beings. And in that respect I thank the folks from Wallacespace who supplied us with drinks, canopies, and friendly service.

I wish you a great day and thank you for making the time to listen and in some cases share that which I speak here.  Live well, be a source of positive difference in the world. Be a Renata Wallace! A human being in touch with his/her humanity and revelling in it. This is an invitation you can accept or reject – as human beings you and I are ‘condemned to be free’ to always be the chooser who chooses, even choosing not to choose and just going with the way that it has been set up for us.

 

 

 

How To Succeed In The Game Of Experience Design? The Six Essentials Courtesy of Amanda Burden

This is a long post. You will only get value out of it if you find yourself genuinely interested in human beings and experience design.

What Comes Before Customer Experience Management?

More and more I come across the term Customer Experience Management. As I sit with this term, this thought occurs to me: “You must have something in place before you are in a position to manage it!”  Put differently, before I am in a position to manage the operation of a building, the building must exist – be in place.

I get there is a different sense of manage as in project management: where one oversees the planning and execution of a project.  Yet, I do not see Customer Experience as a project say like a marketing campaign is distinct project with a start and a finish.  Customer Experience shows up for me as a way of showing up and doing business with customers which emphasises the critical important of the customer’s holistic experience of your business.

For me the word that rightfully occurs after Customer Experience is design. It occurs to me that this is the first and foremost challenge of Customer Experience: designing customer experiences that speak to customers and leave them feeling great at being associated with your business – association includes yet is not limited to buying from your business. Let’s use the analogy of a rocket launch. It occurs to me that Customer Experience Design is the equivalent of doing that which is necessary to actually get the rocket off the ground.  If the rocket does not get off the ground all else is superfluous.

Now I ask you to ponder this, why is there so much talk of voice of the customer and Customer Experience Management and almost nobody talks about Customer Experience Design?  Really dive into this question with an open-inquisitive-questioning mind and you may just see why it is that so many have achieved so little in the domain of Customer Experience.

What Does It Take To Design Great Customer Experiences?

My short answer to this question is that all that you/i need to know is disclosed-shared by Amanda Burden in the TED talk below.  I urge you to watch it, and watch it again. Here is the talk:

I share with you aspects of the talk which resonate most deeply with me and my lived experience of business and in particular the domain of Customer including Customer Experience.

1. Seeing What Really Matters, What It Is All About?

“When people think about cities, they tend to think of certain things. They think of buildings and streets and skyscrapers, noisy cabs. But when I think about cities, I think about people. Cities are fundamentally about people, and where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work…

My take? The game of life, of business, of performance, of Customer Experience is about people!  In our obsession with strategy, with operations, with processes, with data, with technology (do we love technology!) we are oblivious to fact that these games are fundamentally about people and in particular the human (existential) dimension.

2. Direct Observation Into The details Of Human Behaviour 

” ….. enjoyable public spaces are the key to planning a great city….. But what makes a public space work? ……. One of the first spaces that I studied was this little vest pocket park called Paley Park in midtown Manhattan…. what was it about this space that made it special and drew people to it? Well, I would sit in the park and watch very carefully, and first among other things were the comfortable, movable chairs. People would come in, find their own seat, move it a bit, actually, and then stay a while, and then interestingly, people themselves attracted other people, and ironically, I felt more peaceful if there were other people around. And it was green. This little park provided what New Yorker’s crave: comfort and greenery …”

My take? Great experiences are designed. The design follows detailed observation of human behaviour. Can anyone do this work? No, it takes people like Amanda who are both trained in the field of human behaviour AND are in touch with their own humanity. Notice, Amanda noticed that she felt more peaceful in that park when there were other people around. And being in tune with her own experience (bodily state, feelings, thoughts, mood) she was able to guess that this park met the New Yorker’s craving for comfort and greenery.  Put differently, direct observation AND lived experience led to inductive thinking – the kind of thinking that does not show up when one is process mapping in the office or poring over VoC reports.

3. Designers Who Have The Requisite Grasp Of Human Beings AND Find Themselves Called To Enrich Lives

“…  one of the more wonky things about me is that I am an animal behaviorist, and I use those skills not to study animal behavior but to study how people in cities use city public spaces…  For me, becoming a city planner meant being able to truly change the city that I lived in and loved. I wanted to be able to create places that would give you the feeling that you got in Paley Park, and not allow developers to build bleak plazas like this….. I was determined to create places that would make a difference in people’s lives.

My take? When I see an organisation using the lean-six sigma-process guys to staff their Customer Experience effort, I know it is doomed.  These folks lack that which it takes to craft experiences that speak to customers. What do they lack? Humanity – they are not sufficiently in tune with their humanity so how can they be in tune with the humanity of others?  Process folks are focused on efficiency/throughput. Not comfort, not connection, not beauty… What they are not called to do nor determined to do is to create experiences (and ways of doing business) that make a difference in people’s (customers, frontline personnel) lives.

4. Great Experiences Need To Be Lived-Experienced Before They Are Implemented; Details Make The Difference

“…. just to make sure, I insisted that we build a mock-up in wood, at scale, of the railing and the sea wall. And when I sat down on that test bench with sand still swirling all around me, the railing hit exactly at eye level, blocking my view and ruining my experience at the water’s edge. 

So you see, details really do make a difference. But design is not just how something looks, it’s how your body feels on that seat in that space, and I believe that successful design always depends on that very individual experience. In this photo, everything looks very finished, but that granite edge, those lights, the back on that bench, the trees in planting, and the many different kinds of places to sit were all little battles that turned this project into a place that people wanted to be.

My take? To design customer experience one needs to be clear on what actually constitutes an experience. And in the domain of customer experience one has to experience-live the customer experience (on more than one occasion) in order to grasp the critical importance of the little details – the kind that are not on the minds of those redesigning processes and/or experiences in the comfort of the office.

 5. Cultivating Customer Trust Starts With A Deep ‘Listening’ In The Deepest Sense of Listening

“So how was I going to get this done? By listening. So I began listening, in fact, thousands of hours of listening just to establish trust. You know, communities can tell whether or not you understand their neighborhoods. It’s not something you can just fake. And so I began walking. I can’t tell you how many blocks I walked, in sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year, just so I could get to understand the DNA of each neighborhood and know what each street felt like. I became an incredibly geeky zoning expert, finding ways that zoning could address communities’ concerns.”

My Take?  Consider what it takes to generate customer insight (and trust). Consider what listening actually involves: listening to the voice of the customer directly (thousand of hours) and listening by experiencing that which the customer experiences by walking in his/her shoes in “sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year…”. Now compare that with what the big brand consultants peddle, and what VoC offers.  As I have stated in a previous post: “There is ALWAYS a price. It is ALWAYS paid. We only get to choose whether we pay the price right up front, during the middle, or at the end.” Notice, Amanda paid the price right up front. Which is why her work turned out to be a success when implemented.

6. To Design Great Customer Experiences Tap Into Your Humanity, Not Your Design Expertise

“So what’s the trick? How do you turn a park into a place that people want to be? Well, it’s up to you, not as a city planner but as a human being. You don’t tap into your design expertise. You tap into your humanity. I mean, would you want to go there? Would you want to stay there? Can you see into it and out of it? Are there other people there? Does it seem green and friendly? Can you find your very own seat?

My take? I do not have any design expertise. Yet, I find myself well fitted to the challenge of experience design. Why? Because I find that all it has taken for me to design customer experiences (and the associated changes in the frontline experience) is the capacity and willingness to tap into my humanity: to put myself in the place of the customer (and the frontline) person – to experience that which they experience and a burning desire-commitment to making a difference in their humanity as lived-experienced.  Which is to say, I find myself in total agreement with Amanda. And, design expertise-tools have their place, can come handy – just as a saw has its place can come handy in the hands of a carpenter who loves working wood to create beauty.

Customer Experience: What Can We Learn From An Organisation That Kills It’s Customers?

I am coming out of my self imposed August retirement to write about something that calls to me, deeply. And to share with you insights and learnings which show up for me as being valuable if you are up for improving service, orchestrating a caring customer experience, and improving organisational effectiveness.

What can we learn from an organisation that kills its customers?

The NHS is more than an organisation it is an institution. Like the BBC, it used to be an institution that was held in affection and even revered. It was an organisation and institution to be proud of. It is also an institution that has been draining resources and has been subjected to the management mindset obsessed with targets, measures and an obsession to drive down costs.  The result? This institution has been killing its customers and driving out employees (managers, doctors, nurses) that raised concerns about the functioning of the organisation and the treatment of customers – the patients.

The Berwick report on patient care and patient safety in the NHS

How does the Berwick Report on patient care and safety begin?  It begins with this assertion:

Place the quality of patient care, especially patient safety, above all other aims.

Engage, empower, and hear patients and carers at all times.

Foster whole-heartedly the growth and development of all staff, including their ability to support and improve the processes in which they work.

Embrace transparency unequivocally and everywhere in the service of accountability, trust and growth of knowledge.

How is this relevant to business and the customer experience?

When I read this opening passage it struck me that the same is true for organisations who genuinely want to compete with the likes of Amazon, USAA, and John Lewis.  As such I have modified this opening passage so that it speaks to business:

Place the quality of customer care, especially the customer experience, above all other aims.

Engage, empower, and hear customers and customer facing employees at all times

Foster whole-heartedly the growth and development of all staff, including their ability to support and improve the processes in which they work.

Embrace transparency unequivocally and everywhere in the service of accountability, trust and growth of knowledge.

Who killed the customers? And what can we learn about what drive organisational behaviour and performance?

When breakdowns occur our temptation, those of us who live in the West and speak the English language, attribute agency and cause to people.  Put differently, we blame people for the breakdowns. In the world of business the blame gets placed on the employees. In the NHS the politicians, the managers and the media have placed the blame on doctors and nurses.

What does the Berwick report say? It says “NHS staff are not to blame.”.  It goes on to say:

Incorrect priorities do damage: other goals are important and the central focus must always be on patients. 

In some instances……clear warning signals abounded and were not heeded, especially the voices of patients and carers. 

Fear is toxic to both safety and improvement.

In the vast majority of cases it is the systems, procedures, conditions, environment and constraints that the NHS staff faced that led to patient safety.

As I read these words my experience working in and consulting with many businesses comes to mind. And I say that these sage words apply equally insightfully to the world of business.

I draw your attention to the assertion “Incorrect priorities do damage”.  And the recommendation that “the central focus must always be on patients.” Now I ask you, is the central focus of your organisation on the needs/concerns of your customers?  And how do the real priorities of your organisation match the talk about customer focus and customer experience?  Is there a big gulf?  That has been the case with the NHS for many years now. The Tops speak the right words, their actions have not been alignment with their words.

What are the recommendations? 

Recognise with clarity and courage the need for wide systemic change.

Abandon blame as tool and trust the goodwill and good intentions of the staff.

Make sure pride and joy in work, not fear, infuse the NHS.

Reassert the primacy of working with patients and carers to achieve healthcare goals.

Use quantitative targets with caution. Such goals do have an important role en route to progress, but should never displace the primary goal of better care.

Recognise the transparency is essential and expect and insist on it.

Let’s rewrite that for business and private sector organisations which genuinely want to excel at the Customer Experience game:

Recognise with clarity and courage the need for wide systemic change if you are to orchestrate and deliver experiences that work for customers and call forth their loyalty.

Abandon blame as tool and trust the goodwill and good intentions of your staff. 

Make sure pride and joy in work, not fear, infuse your workplace even the call-centres. 

Prioritise working with your customers and customer facing staff to achieve your business goals.

Use quantitative targets – like first call resolution, AHT, NPS etc.- with caution. Such goals do have an important role en route to progress, but should never displace the primary goal of taking care of your customers. 

Recognise the transparency is essential and expect and insist on it.

Summing up

Excellence in customer experience is no easy matter for most organisations. What is required is courageous leadership and wide systemic change that involves the entire organisation. It is easy to work on the people. And it is also stupid because organisational performance is driven by the priorities, structure, systems, processes and practices that exist and are maintained by the Tops.

How much VoC work-investment-feedback will it take for your organisation to get off its backside and act?  Honestly, how much of VoC is really eye opening as opposed to already known within the organisation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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