How do you transform customer service? 7 lessons from Undercover Boss: npower

npower is supplies gas and/or electricity to some 6.5 million residential and business customers based in the UK.  It is a well know brand.  It is also a brand that is known for over charging customers and is facing fines of up to £2m if it does not comply with Ofcom’s order to stop silent and abandoned calls.  And according to the Undercover Boss that I watched this evening it has (or had) the worst customer satisfaction score according to Which?

In this post I simply want to share with you the stuff that struck me as being noteworthy as a result of yesterdays Undercover Boss programme that was shown on UK tv.

“Perfect for getting that insight that I just would not have seen in any other way”

Kevin McCullough, the COO of npower, who went undercover to work in and experience some of the key customer touchpoints (call centre, replacing meters, boiler services) and work in one of the coal-fired power stations made the following statement at the end of undercover stint: “This has been perfect for getting that insight that I just would not have seen in any other way”.

This is key insight and one that is not acted upon by most executives for most of the time.  Data and reports can be useful if they are used correctly yet too often they are used incorrectly.  Take the instance where Kevin accidentally deleted the customer record.  How would that experience be captured in a report?  That experience had the impact that it did have because Kevin experienced it – he lived it: he did not simply read about. What is likely to have happened if he had read about it?  It would probably have gone through one ear and immediately out of the other ear.  It might even have been coated with a particular attitude: people in the call centre whining again / they just don’t know how to use the system.

Lesson 1:  there is no substitute for walking in the shoes of your employees and customers.  Data and reports can be used to complement that experience yet they can never replace it.  Looking at the world of the customer and the employee simply through the data lens is like trying to capture a 360 panoramic view with a 35mm lens.  If you are a photographer you know exactly what I mean.

“Human element to it all”

When Kevin, the COO, was talking about decision making in Head Office and specifically about when the management team will close the coal fired power stations he because made the statement that the senior management tend to forget that there is “a human element to it all”.  Business is game between people: a game between flesh and blood human beings who have hopes, ambitions, fears, hardships, frustrations…..  And if organisations are going to be customer-centred or simply customer-friendly then these senior executives and all the managers who report into them need to get (at an experiential level) that customers are human beings.  And their staff – front office and back office – are human beings too.  Why?

If you fail to take into account this simple fact then you tend to do all kinds of dumb stuff like treating human beings as objects.  And this has consequences.  It means that most employees do the minimum they need to do.  It also means that customers do not feel any connection with the company because connection is an emotional bond.  And that is the very thing that executives are not present to because they live in a world of  ‘management by Excel’ where emotions are forbidden.

Lesson 2: the ‘age of the customer’ is the age of ‘human centred business’ – they are one and the same.  If you don’t  get that or that fills you with dread then you are better of playing a different game perhaps cost reduction or the next killer product.

“Impressed by the people”

In summing up his undercover experience the npower COO said that he was “Impressed by the people”.  He was impressed by the lady in the Complaints dept that was getting one call after another, day after day, from upset and emotionally charged customers.  Let me blunt – many of the customers are frustrated and angry and the dump that on the call centre staff.  You and I struggle if one person dumps on us.  Yet the Complaints folks experience endless dumping. Yet they are not responsible and in fact can only do so much to fix the problem.

Lesson 3: most employees want to do a good job even a great job – they want to matter, to make a difference.  If your employees are not doing that then take a good hard look at the management style and environment you have created.  Behaviour is a function of the context in which people are embedded.  And the strongest influence on that context is management style. Deming made this point brilliantly when he separated the performance of the worker from the structure of the system in which the worker worked.

Lesson 4: most failures in performance are the failures of senior management not employees.  As the npower COO said “I have seen it, I have lived it. It is my job to put anything wrong right.”  So stop looking toward customer facing staff as convenient scapegoats and take a good hard look at management practices and their impact on employees and customers.

“Most customers need a hero”

The npower chap who was replacing old meters with new meters made a great statement “Most customers need a hero”.  Most of us most of the time take our world for granted: it is a black box and that is fine because it works.  However when it does breakdown then we not only experience the breakdown as a disruption we also experience being powerless.  That puts us in a vulnerable position and we look for help: we look for a hero.

Lesson 5: most executive suites, despite the customer rhetoric, do not get (or do not care) that when customers are ringing customer service or waiting for the field service guys to arrive are looking for a hero – a competent and compassionate human being that will help them out with their problem so that the ‘glitch in the matrix’ can be fixed and everyday life restored.  Oddly enough, many employees on the front line do get that – at least before they reach the stage of ‘learned helplessness’.

Call centres are a key touchpoint and ‘failure’ is built into these call centres

The lady in Complaints (call centre) made three interesting comments.  Firstly, that one experienced (knowledgeable) person is worth hundreds of novices.  Second, that one of the most frustrating things for her was knowing what needed to be done to fix customer problems but not having the authority to do so.  Third, the customer care IT system had a glitch – badly designed.

This fits in with my experience.  Most call centres are staffed with people who have the absolute bare minimum knowledge/expertise.  Companies pay the bare minimum and there is a high turnover of staff.  Because there is a high turnover of staff call centre management do not invest in training.  After all why invest if the agents will be leaving you.  Furthermore classroom based training is not enough – most of the knowledge and skills you need come from on the job experience and you can only get that if you stay there long enough and many don’t.       The systems that call centre agents have to use are inadequate at best and woeful at worst.  In any case they are often a hindrance rather than help to the time pressed call centre agent who is being monitored on AHT.  Finally, you would be amazed at how much the call centre agents actually have on what matters to customers and what stuff is broken in the enterprise – from a customer perspective.  Yet, this knowledge is rarely tapped by the senior management suite.

Lesson 6: if you really want to improve the customer experience then take a radical look at one of your critical touchpoints – the call centre.  Don’t change what you are doing instead completely rethink and transform this focal touchpoint. 

Unrealistic performance targets

One of the points that became clear was that the boiler service guys were given some 45 minutes to do the job.  Yet even a simple job took over an hour.  Furthermore, travelling a distance of some two miles could take well over an hour due to the London traffic.  Yet, this reality clearly had not been factored in by the managers who had set up the 45 minute performance target.

Over 20+ years have experience have taught me that the vast majority of performance targets are ‘pie in the sky’ or ‘aspirational’ – choose whichever term you like.  The reality is the same: people who have to live with these targets either ignore them like the field engineer was doing as he was putting quality and safety first or people game the system.  When customer facing staff game the system then the person that suffers is the customer and if he is like me then he terminates the contract and looks for another supplier: The curse of the functional-activity-efficiency mindset: my British Gas experience

Lesson 7: the functional-efficiency orientated metrics are one of the key drivers of poor customer experience.  There is world of difference between efficiency and effectiveness: too many performance metrics drive efficiency (doing things right) and in the process drive out effectiveness (doing things right).  The impact is felt by the customer and incentivizes him to find another supplier – one that cares (more) about the customer.

Do you want to improve the customer experience? Wondering where to start? Start here

Where do I start with my Customer Experience programme?

One of the questions that comes up again and again is where do I/we start on improving the customer experience?  Well you can put in place a VoC platform and wait for the results to come in and then act.  You can mine the VoC gold mine that exists in your contact centres if you have call recording in place and if you are adventurous then you can listen to social media.  Or you can map/assess the entire customer experience and then start making changes.

Why not start by making it easy for ‘customers’ to buy from you?

I have a different suggestion: why not start with the broader purchase process.  What do I mean by that?  Here is what I am thinking:

  • Do your target customers know about you?  [Advertising / WOM]
  • Do your target customers want to buy from you?  Have you given them a good reason to buy from you? [Think Nokia and smartphones right now due to OS issue]
  • Do you help your customers to make the right choice: product, price, payment…?  [Options, Configurators, Customer reviews…]
  • Do you make it easy for your customers to buy from you?
  • Do you make sure that your customers get what they bought when they are expecting to get it and the goods are in the right condition?
  • Have you made sure that your product is easy to set-up and use?  [Design, Training, Instructions, Helpline]
  • Does you product actually do what it says on the tin?  [Marketing, Selling, Quality]
  • Have you given the right thought to the returns process?  [Monitoring, Impact, Ease/Difficulty, Cost, Relationship to earlier steps in this purchase process]

I am sure you can figure out the benefit of starting here: by making this process effective you will be helping your company to increase its revenues and profits.  Better still it works for both parties: nothing annoys a potential customer more than visiting your store, making the decision and then finding he cannot buy because you have put hurdles in the way.

If you think you have this sorted then think again

You might be tempted that you have this cracked – that this process (from the customer perspective) is as good as it can be.  As a customer and as a business consultant I can assure you that the vast majority of organisation can do better – a lot better.  Allow me to share two examples with you.

I popped into my local grocery store on Saturday morning at around 8am to buy some milk.  I arrived and was delighted that there was no one there except me and the lady behind the counter.  The only issue is that by the time I had picked up the milk and walked up to the counter ( 1 – 3 minutes) she was no longer at the counter.  I looked around and saw that she was outside arranging the fresh produce.  She saw me looking for her and yet she continued with her stacking. I left the milk on the counter and went to her competitor.  He didn’t leave his counter so I was able to pick up the milk, pay and be out of the shop within two minutes or so.

You might be thinking that this issues is limited to the small ‘Mom and Pop’ stores.  I assure you it is no – as my next example will show.

On Saturday afternoon I was on a mission to get my mother’s house insured and so I turned to Google to find price comparison engines.  The first one I tried is a well known brand.  It looked easy to use so I dived in and started entering all the details.  Once that was complete it went off to find and rate the insurers for me.  The problem was that it seemed to take forever – Internet time forever.  I assumed that something was wrong and opened up another tab (on the browser) and started tapping in the details into another well known price comparison site.    I got to a certain stage where I had to enter my credit card number.  Yet, it would not accept my credit card number – it kept telling me it was wrong.  Why?  The designers had clearly put in a business rule that says that the credit card owner (Maz Iqbal) had to be the same as the person who was taking out the insurance (my mother).  They had not thought that my old mother might not be using the Internet.  Or that she might not have a credit card.  Or that I arrange and pay for her insurance every year as a gift.

By this time I decided simply to go and check out what price her existing house insurer was quoting.  So I went the website and start entering her details so that I could get a quote.  I got to a certain stage and decided to check out the terms and conditions.  Once I had done this I found that I could not go back to the quote process and where I had been.  I had to go back to the start again!  Thinking I had made a mistake I entered the details and this time ‘the system threw me out’ when I started playing around with the options to see the impact on the quote.  So I gave up here and went on to another site.

This site was well designed and the designers had done their homework.  When it came to payment the site spotted that the credit card owner (me) did not match with the person taking out the insurance (my mother).  And the site gave me the option to tick a box that in effect said “I confirm that the owner of the credit card has given me permission to use it”.  And then it went on to ask a number of security questions to confirm that was so.  I ended up buying here because the designers had made it easy to do so.

To sum up: two well know brand name comparison sites and a well know insurance brand  that spend money on expensive TV advertising ‘selling’ how great they are lost out on my business because they made it hard for me to buy.  Instead I went and made my purchase from someone that did make it easy for me to buy.  Which begs the question: How much of their TV advertising is wasted simply because the purchase process has not been designed to make it easy for the customer to buy?

Are you still confident that you have done all that you can do to make it easy for people to buy from you?  Sure?

Easy ways for smaller businesses to improve the customer experience

Over at Focus Courtney Sato asked the following question:  “What are easy ways for small businesses to (almost) instantly improve the customer experience?”  To answer that question it is worth getting clear on what constitutes ‘customer experience’.

One way of looking at Customer Experience Management: effectiveness of interactions

Here is how Richard Snow (VP & Research Director at Ventana Research) defines ‘customer experience management‘:  Customer experience management is the practice of managing the effectiveness of customer interactions so the outcome meets the customer’s and the company’s expectations.

How do you improve the effectiveness of these interactions?

If we accept this definition (and largely I do – there is a piece missing) then the question is what do we need to do to improve the effectiveness of the customer’s interactions with our business?  In his article Richard sets out the four steps:

  • Measure the outcome of all customer interactions (across all media, all touchpoints, all aspects of the customer journey);
  • Identify the reason for the interaction (from the customer’s perspective);
  • Figure out why the outcome was the way it was (root cause analysis); and
  • Make necessary changes to generate more of what works and eliminate/minimise what does not work.

What we can learn from Guy Letts, the founder of CustomerSure and formerly Head of Services at Sage UK

Before he founded CustomerSure, Guy Letts was the Head of Services at Sage UK; Sage describes itself “Sage is a leading supplier of business management software and services to more than 6 million customers worldwide. From small start-ups to larger organisations, we make it easier for companies to manage their business processes.”

As the Head of Services Guy was responsible for improving the customer experience, driving up satisfaction and increasing revenues through repeat and additional business.  This is a goal that Guy achieved and in the process he learned valuable lessons which were the seeds of the business he has founded: CustomerSure.   What are these lessons?

The critical point to make is that the rational approach – the one that is commonly practiced – did not work well.  The response to customer surveys was less than ideal.  The quality of the information that was provided was variable.  Providing statistics – customer satisfaction scores – to his services staff did not leave them inspired to do things differently. And pushing the employees to do more / better / different was exhausting and did not deliver the results.  So how did Guy ultimately improve the customer experience and hit his customer satisfaction and revenue goals?

Guy had an Aha moment when he visited a Richer Sounds store (hi-fi / electronics retailer which won the Which? retail customer experience award in 2011).  What was this Aha?  He noticed that the Richer Sounds customer survey was simple (5 questions) and these questions were focussed on the customer and what mattered to a customer.  Questions like: “Was the item in stock?”; “Did our staff know what they were talking about?”; “Where you served quickly?” etc.

So Guy had cracked the first part of the puzzle: how to assess the effectiveness of the interaction from the customer’s perspective. The answer was cut down the surveys sent to Sage customers down to the essential five or so questions and ask the questions that matter to Sage customer – the key stuff that determined the Sage customer’s experience of the Sage services team.  And to survey these customers immediately after a services engagement or interaction rather than wait for the next annual survey to come around. 

The next challenge was inspiring change within his team.  Here Guy learned that sharing the verbatim (unstructured) customer feedback with his services team made an emotional impact that quoting customer satisfaction scores simply did not do.  Yes, you have to share the customer’s word and emotions with the people who directly or indirectly impact the customer experience.  Why?  Because it is more effective at altering their perceptions, attitudes and ultimately behaviour; numbers simply do not have this effect – they do not touch the Elephant, they they might speak to the Rider.

Sound good so far yet Guy found out that asking the right questions and sharing the verbatim feedback with his services team was not enough.  If any of you have been on any motivational training courses or seminars then you will know how long the emotional high hangs around.  For most people when an emotional high meets resistance (from the powerful) and hard work (of changing ingrained behaviours) that high tends to dive pretty quickly and you arrive back at the status-quo.  So Guy introduced the practice of assigning actions (with specific deadlines) and monitoring to ensure that members of his services organisation did what they had agreed to do / assigned to do. 

Next Guy instigated the practice of sharing and closing the loop.  The first part was sharing with customers: sharing what his team was doing with the feedback provided by customers with a particular focus on actions to address the key issues as highlighted by these customers.  The second part was sharing with his services team: sharing the next round of feedback from customers – thus showing that the actions of the services team were paying off in happier customers and higher revenues through additional business and repeat business.

If you are a small business / medium size business (less than 1000 employees) then check-out CustomerSure

Guy’s customers at Sage UK were small and medium sized businesses and as Head of Services for 4 years he got to know a lot about these businesses – their situation and their needs.  He learned that there was and is plenty of scope for these businesses to improve the customer experience and keep more of their customers.  He learned that these businesses want to keep things simple and were looking for a guiding hand – a simple process and easy to use software tool. And they are only willing to spend so much money on surveying customers to get their feedback.

Guy put together this insight with what he learned leading/managing his service team (described above) and then put his 10+ years of software development experience to work and created CustomerSure – a platform designed to enable small / medium size business to replicate his success.  The CustomerSure platform enables the small business owner or a departmental head to easily survey customers, share that feedback with staff, set up / assign and monitor actions and then share feedback on what is being done and the results of actions taken. Furthermore, CustomerSure has put in place a platform where customer feedback and the actions that the company is taking to address customer issues is displayed and available for the world to see.

If you are are a small / medium sized business and you are looking to improve the customer experience then I wholeheartedly recommend that you give CustomerSure a test.  You cannot lose out as you get a 30 day trail period – at least that is what I got when I tried it out.

A final point: answering the question I started with

I am not sure that there is quick – instant – way of improving the customer experience.  In my world excellence is more like marathon than a sprint.  Excellence in customer experience involved playing the long term game.  It involves the kind of approach the Guy Letts used at Sage UK: open to insight, trial and error, selecting what works and revisiting what did not work, it involves passion and commitment to the longer term – engendering customer loyalty by doing the right things by your customers.  If you want to play the longer term then you can learn a lot from Guy Letts and if you are a small business then the CustomerSure platform will help you to play that game.

Disclosure:  I have absolutely no financial or commercial interest in CustomerSure.  I have no financial or commercial interest in Guy.  Guy and I are not friends – we have never met.  Guy is a reader of the CustomerBlog – actually he was one of the first readers.  Yet we are connected because we are customer evangelists.

Four interesting and useful perspectives on ‘Customer Insight’:

There is lots of talk about ‘customer insight’ rightly so because ‘customer insight’ is the foundation for creating value.  So let’s take a deeper look.  Before I dive in I want to make two points.  First, ‘market research’ is market research it is not necessarily ‘customer insight’.  Second,  ‘customer analytics’ is ‘customer analytics’ and not necessarily ‘customer insight’.  If you have grappled with ‘customer insight’ for long enough you will know this.   Now lets move on and explore four different perspectives related to/on ‘customer insight’

Bruce Temkin’s view

Bruce wrote an interesting post on market research. According to Bruce, market research is not generating ‘actionable customer insight’ and the few glimmers of  insight are not being acted upon.  If you read the entire post Bruce gives the impression that ‘customer insights’ are lying around just waiting to be tapped.  In his words “There’s a wealth of information available about customers beyond periodic surveys from sources like call center records, interaction data, employee feedback, and social media.” And he concludes his post by writing “The bottom line: Customer insights are an under-tapped asset”.

To sum up Bruce’s view: stop making things complicated, stop wasting money on market research (and surveys) and simple tap into the customer insights and take action.  It is as simple as that.

Dave Trott’s view

Dave Trott is an advertising guy and his blog is worth checking out because he has interesting things to say.  In this recent post (which I encourage you to read) Dave makes an interesting observation:  the disconnect between the customer and the folks in advertising and marketing seeking to influence that customer’s behaviour.  He also recognises that this does not have to be so because the folks working in advertising and marketing can step into the customer’s shoes.  Let me share Dave’s words with you (just in case you cannot get to his blog):

We work in advertising.
We work in mass communication to ordinary people.
We could choose to experience what that feels like, how it really works, anytime we want.
We could go back to being ordinary people, because we are ordinary people.
When we leave work and go into a supermarket to buy something, we aren’t marketing experts.
We’re people shopping.
We could watch ourselves from the inside.
And when we experience ourselves like ordinary people we can see how little most advertising affects our choices.
We can see how irrelevant and silly all the subtleties and details we argue about are.
But we don’t do that.
We observe ordinary people through a microscope.
As if we are scientists and they are bacteria.
We have research groups and planners to tell us how ordinary people behave, and what they think.
We have marketing people to tell us the nuances of the meanings.
We have creatives to tell us which executions will win awards and be seen as creative breakthroughs.
And all of that is an illusion.
Try an experiment.
Be an ordinary person for just a minute.
We are told everyone is exposed to 1,000 advertising messages a day.
Quick, name ten you remember from yesterday.
(Because ten would be 1% unprompted recall.)
Can’t do ten, okay name one.
(One would be 0.01% unprompted recall.)
The difficulty in remembering even a single ad from yesterday gives you an insight into the real problem.
When we are ordinary people it’s blindingly obvious.
But when we revert to being advertising experts it somehow isn’t.
So that’s the real problem.
The problem is we don’t behave like ordinary people.
So we never see the problem.

We turned off our brains when we became advertising experts.”

To sum up Dave’s view (as I understand it) is that people working in marketing and advertising are disconnected from the reality of the customer’s world.  And that getting access to the customer’s world is as simple as connecting with themselves and observing their own lives and shopping behaviour.

Mohan Sawhney’s view

Mohan Sawhney has lots of useful views on marketing, new media and technology.  This is what he says on ‘customer insight:

To create value for customers (and yourself) you need to get a better and deeper understanding of customers – ”customer insight’

‘Customer insight’ is a fresh and non-obvious understanding of customer needs, behaviour and especially frustrations.  And this understanding can become the basis of a business opportunity.

A ‘non-obvious’ way of looking is a way of looking that others have not seen or have not considered because it is counter-intuitive.  That is to say that the herd is moving in one direction and you move in the other direction.

  • One example is Sam Walton who put large stores in sparsely populated locations – the opposite of retail orthodoxy – because he ‘understood’ that the vastly improved highway system had made it easy for shoppers from the larger urban areas to travel to these stores and for the suppliers to deliver goods cheaply.
  • Another example is Steve Jobs insisting that the iMac was launched with four colours because he got that colour is a way that people express themselves and makes the computer personal.  This did not go down well with the left-brained people who could say the negatives: delayed launch, higher inventory, more pressure in forecasting etc.

‘Customer insight’ never comes from quantitative research so don’t look for it in your surveys.

‘Customer insight’ involves going deep into customer lives in a empathetic manner so that you really  get (physically and emotionally) your customer’s life and her point of view. As such ‘customer insight’ involves qualitative, exploratory, research using electic methods and empathetic design.

‘Customer insight’ often comes from anomalies.

  • He gives the example of Kodak moving into the digital camera market.  Upon studying the market Kodak learned that 75% of the analogue photos were taken by women but only 25%.  Upon studying this Kodak realised that women had 3 issues with digital cameras.  Kodak came up with the Easyshare camera and gallery to fix these 3 issues – to make the camera and the photos easy to use.

‘Customer insight’ can come from the intersection of trends.

  • He gives the example of the Apple ipod.  Apple looked at two trends: personal music (Walkman) and digital music (Napster).  By asking why the convergence of the two had not taken off Apples learned that people wanted to take all of their music with them unobtrusively and wanted a simple and legal way to download music.  This insight led to 3 innovations: size of ipod, storage (10,000 songs) and iTunes.

Let’s sum up Mohan’s view.  ‘Customer insight’ involves a “penetrating view of the obvious, looking at things differently and doing this by getting into the lives and minds of the customer.” And “it involves moving your blinders – that means walking in your customer’s shoes but first you have to take off your own!”

My view

There is ‘truth and value’ from learning and acting on each of the three perspectives (Bruce, Dave and Mohan).  To build a new business you can help yourself by listening and acting on what Mohan Sawhney has to say.  To do better marketing and advertising you can really benefit from listening to Dave Trott.  And to simply get started on improving the customer’s daily experience of doing business with your organisation – to make things easier, to take out the effort, to fix what is broken – it pays to listen to and act on what Bruce Temkin has to say.

I leave you with the following quote from a Zen master and an incredibly wise man:

“if you want the truth to stand clear for you, never be for and against. The struggle “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease”    — Sent-ts’an (zen master c, 700 CE)

Why companies are wasting time and money on the Voice of the Customer

I have an issue with the VoC thing

Many large companies are busy tapping into the VoC.  In principle this is a great thing to do because the majority of companies do not have a good enough understanding of their customers.  In practice, I am left feeling that we will see a repeat of the technology centred CRM love fest:  these companies will collectively spend billions, the software companies will get fat and customer satisfaction will stay pretty much the same.   So what is my issue with the VoC thing?

A simplified look at the VoC process and issues

First, let’s take a look at the VoC process:

  • Determine listening posts;
  • Set up listening posts (platforms, tools, people);
  • Collect and consolidate the data;
  • Interpret (make sense of) the data;
  • Sell the interpretation of the data to the various Barons inside the enterprise;
  • Get the Barons to take action in their respective areas; and
  • Monitor/assess the impact on customers (and the business).

If you take a deep look into this you will notice an array of issues:  First, when it comes to surveys how do you know that you are asking the right questions and not ‘leading the witness’?  Second, how do you get access to all the customers that don’t want to complete surveys and make complaints?  Third, how can you be sure that the data you have collected is information and not noise?   Fourth, how do you know that your customer insight team is interpreting the data correctly?  And so on…..

The real issue: VoC can act as a barrier to connecting and empathising with the customers

These issues hide a much more important issue that VoC is a rational solution to an emotional issue.  What do I mean?  The challenge is to get the Baron’s out of their offices and shoes and experience the world  by walking in their customer’s shoes.

Put differently, the challenge is to get the Baron’s to emotionally connect with their customers by experiencing what these customer experience.  And if you accept this  then you will get that VoC programme gives these Baron’s the illusion that they can and do understand customers by reading the reports produced by the customer insight teams.

The problem with this intellectual understanding is that it is purely intellectual.   Intellectual understanding is dangerous because it leaves us thinking we have got it when we have not got it.  What do I mean?

I mean that we have not get it emotionally. That we are not touched, moved, inspired to take action because of having experienced our customer’s lives.  There is a whole body of neuroscience research that shows that the seat of all human action is the emotions and that we can feel/experience what other human beings feel/experience through mirror neurons.  To empathise with our fellow human beings we simply have to connect with them in the context of their day-to-day lives and then let the mirror neurons do the work.

What happens when an industry has no empathy for its customers

Why is that important? Frankly, if the Baron’s cannot or do not empathise with their customers then you end up treating your customers the way that the UK banks treat their customers.  Upon reading this article two paragraphs caught my attention:

“The fine reflects BOS’s serious failure to treat vulnerable customers fairly,” said Tracey McDermott, the acting director of enforcement at the FSA. “The firm’s failure to ensure it had a robust complaint-handling process in place led to a significant number of complaints being rejected when they should have been upheld.”

“We have fallen short of the high standards of service our customers should be able to expect of us and we apologize,” said Ray Milne, the risk director at Bank of Scotland. “We are in the process of contacting affected customers and will pay compensation where it is due.”

It is not hard to treat customers fairly.  The failure to do so by the banks and hide behind platitudes is simply a reflection of the gulf between the Baron’s who make policy and the customers who are impacted by the policy.

How do you cultivate empathy?

Empathy is the route to the human soul and any person who strives to get a meaningful insight into customers lives has to excel at empathy.  So how do you cultivate empathy?  I urge you to watch and listen attentively to the following TED video:   http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy.html

Just in case you do not have the time here is a key extract from this presentation:

“Step outside of your tiny little world.

Step inside of the tiny little world of somebody else.

And then do it again, and do it again, and do it again.

And suddenly all of these tiny little worlds they come together in this complex web.

And they build a big complex world.

And suddenly without realizing it

you’re seeing the world differently.

Everything has changed.”

To sum it al up

To exaggerate I would say that an ounce of empathy is worth a mountain of VoC data.  Yet, I do not have fame to my name so I will let one of the worlds renowned business strategists (Kenichi Ohmae) say the final words:

“Personally, I would much rather talk with three homemakers for two hours each on their feelings about, say, washing machines than conduct a 1,000 person survey on the same topic.  I get much better insight and perspective on what customers are really looking for.”