Change Only Works When…..

The shift towards an authentic customer-centred orientation is a huge shift for just about every large organisation.  That means organisational change. At the heart of all effective organisational change lies effective communication.  Effective communication is radically different, I say distinct, from what passes for communication in the workplace.

If you are going to make the kind of organisational shifts that are necessary to cultivate customer relationships, call forth the best from your employees, and excel at the customer experience game, then I advise you to listen to the wise words of Danny Meyer, in his book Setting The Table:

Communication is at the root of all business strengths and weaknesses. When things go wrong and employees become upset ….. nine times out of ten the justifiable complaint is, “We need to communicate more effectively.” I admit that for many years, I didn’t really know what this meant……… I thought I was a pretty good communicator, but then it dawned on me: communicating has as much to do with the context as it does content. ……. Understanding who need to know what, when people need to know it, and why, and then presenting that information in an entirely comprehensible way is a sine qua non of great leadership…..

People who aren’t alerted in advance about a decision that will affect them may become angry and hurt. They’re confused, out of the loop; they feel as though they’ve been knocked off their lily pads.  When team members complain about poor communication, they’re essentially saying, “You did not give me advance warning or input about that decision you made. By the time I learned about it, the decision had already happened to me, and I was unprepared.” Team members will generally go with the flow and be willing to hop over ripples, as long as they know in advance that you are going to toss the rock, when you’ll be tossing it, how big it is, and – mostly – why you are choosing to toss it in the first place. The key is to anticipate the ripple effects of any decision before you implement it, gauging whom it will affect, and to what degree. Poor communication is generally not a matter of miscommunication. More often, it involves taking away people’s feelings of control. Change works only when people believe it is happening for them, not to them.  And there’s not much in between…..

Why Voice of the Customer Lacks Punch And What You Can Do About It?

Rod Butcher’s latest post and my recent experience with my son have got me thinking. And I want to share this thinking with you.

VoC programmes show up as attractive even compelling

I can see the logic. We need to better understand what matters to our customer, what they think of us, how they feel about doing business with us.  We can’t just ask our employees as they are likely to distort the picture. So let’s go and ask customers.  Using this logic, Tops initiate VoC programmes which usually involve some kind of customer survey (e.g. NPS) and may or may not be integrated with other sources that provide access to the voice of the customer e.g. customer calls, customer complaints. In any case the information is tabulated-summarised and published as a report and sent out typically to the people who matter in the organisation – usually Tops, sometimes Tops and Middles, rarely Bottoms.

VoC programmes have a powerful sting in the tail

What is missing from these VoC reports is the actual listening to the voice of the customer. I say that whilst these reports ‘pretend’ to provide access to the voice of the customer they actually serve the function of obscuring genuine listening and connection to the voice of the customer. I say that VoC acts to keep executives in their comfort zone. VoC programmes keep executives disconnected from any direct contact with real flesh and blood customers and the people in the organisation who actually interact with and serve these customers. This is another example of change in organisational content whilst the powerful-hidden organisational context which determines organisational behaviour staying the same.

You might be asking yourself is this an issue?  It is. Why? Because the dominant complaint around VoC programmes is the failure of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer coming through these programmes.  Why might that be?  This is what Rod writes in his post

It’s far too easy for senior executives to be seduced by numbers, graphs, charts, red-amber-green ratings, and generally let their eyes glaze over when they hear the word, customers. Especially if you’re sitting in a conference room up on the 25th floor – customers look quite small from way up in the rarefied air of the corporosphere.

Where is the emotional punch that generates action?

I have ‘listened’ to the voice of the customer through VoC reports. I have listened to the voice of the customer by listening into customers calling into the call-centre. And I have listened to the voice of the customer by talking with customers over the phone or face to face. I have seen my clients do the same.  And based on my experience I say that there is world of difference.  What kind of difference?  Difference in the emotional punch.  I have found that VoC reports don’t pack emotional punch. This matters because it is the emotional punch that drives action.  Put differently, it is what we feel strongly about that gets us to act.

There is no substitute for experiencing what the customer experience, not even listening to the voice of the customer

Allow me to share a recent experience with you. An experience that shows the huge gulf between listening to the customer and getting the experience of the customer.

My son had his sociology homework to do. It needs to be done by the end of this week. He had been complaining about it being too hard for him to do for over a week. Please notice, my use of the word “complaining”. My son had told us that the homework was too hard, that he could not make sense of what he had to read, that he had tried several times, and that he had given up.  I didn’t hear that. I made a judgement and the judgement was that his teachers could not possibly have given him work that was beyond his capability. And so my son was making a big deal of nothing. Just finding a way of getting out of doing his homework.

One day I actually sat down to help him do his homework.  That involved reading all the papers he had to read and answering his questions. What showed up as I sat in his seat? I experienced what he had experienced!  I ended up saying “Wow these are hard.  These papers assume you have an understanding of the world like I do yet you are only 16 years old. And they use really complicated language. Specialist even academic language. No wonder you have found it hard, I am finding it hard!”

As a result of this experience affinity between us showed up. And I made myself available for 1.5 hours a day to sit side by side with him and help him read and understand all the papers that he needs to read and understand.

My advice

Listen to the advice offered by Rod Butcher in his latest post.  Listen to the experience I have shared with you.  Get your Tops and Middles out of their offices and directly in contact with your customers.  And bring the voice of the customer home to the people in your organisation in way that packs an emotional punch.  Video is a great way of doing just that.  Bringing real customers into your organisation and talking with them at a human to human level is a great way to do that.  I leave you with the Rod’s wise words:

Talk to the customer – yes, I know, it’s not rocket science is it? As I shared in a recent post, SouthEastern does it in person – they regularly hold “meet the manager” events at London Bridge station in the rush hour, where 10 or so senior directors gather with their clipboards, listening to their customers’ tales of commuting nightmares. Others do it over the phone. Virgin Media are strong here – resisting the temptation to just have managers passively listen to calls, and for a day only (when, let’s face it, the urge to check in with the day job will still be strong), they have every manager spend a week back on the floor, being trained up, then manning the phones and at the end of it all, reflecting back on what they’ve seen and learned.

VoC: what’s wrong with VoC and how do you get it right? (Part I)

I like the folks at Mindshare Technologies – specialists in customer surveys and enterprise feedback.  We share a philosophy, YOLOMAD: you only live once, make a difference.   From what I can tell they are passionate about helping companies to get access to the Voice of the Customer and use that to improve the customer experience and cultivate customer loyalty that delivers revenues and profits.

With that context in mind  reached out to Erich Dietz, VP of Business Solutions to get his view on VoC stands – the reality and not hype or commentary.  Before I do that let me tell you a little about Erich.   Mindshare started up in Nov 2002 and Erich joined in January 2003; Mindshare has over 250 clients and around 105 employees –  Erich was employee no 7.  And he runs on of the key verticals:  the contact centre vertical.  He has a degree in industrial engineering and so has a penchant for finding a better way to do stuff.  When he worked as a barman he had intimate contact with people so you could say that he understands people – perhaps better than some of us.

What’s the big issue with how companies are going about Voice of the Customer?

You may have noticed that has been a backlash about customer survey.  It appears that customers and people who write about customer related topics like customer service and customer experience have had enough – it has got to the state where requests for customer surveys are having a negative impact on the Customer Experience!

What does Erich say about that?  Erich gets the issue.  He is also clear that VoC, done right, can and does create value for customers and the enterprise – Mindshare has the data to prove it.  Which begs the question: what is the key issue with VoC?  Why are so many companies not doing it right?  Here’s what Erich says:

“No-one is really doing VoC surveys with the customer in mind!”  

By this he is pointing out the following:

1. Customers are not given an incentive to take part in the surveying process.  Put differently, the question “What would entice our customers to give up their time and provide us with valuable feedback?” is not being addressed.  Erich’s view is that a monetary incentive should be provided to kick start ‘engagement’ with the customer.

2. The customer surveys are too long, asking unnecessary questions and so asking too much of customers in terms of the effort and customer time.  I pointed out this issues in this post, ‘The Coppid Beech Hotel: are you asking the right questions?’

3. Companies are not showing customers what they are doing / have done with the feedback.  Customers want to know that they are not wasting their time providing their feedback.  Customers also want to see the changes that have been made – that their feedback can/does make an impact in the way that the company does business.  Enterprises are not providing this feedback – not at the individual customer level nor at the aggregate level – and as such not meeting a vital customer need.

Why is this happening?  What is the root cause?

OK, I get the issue now tell me what is giving rise to this behaviour? That is the question I posed and this is Erich’s answer: companies do not get VoC is about engaging customers in a meaningful dialogue (around the customer experience) and not simply surveying customers! 

This led me to ask this question, why are companies approaching VoC as customer surveying rather than a meaningful dialogue around the customer experience? Here is Erich’s answer:

1.  There is an existing strong tradition of surveying customers. This traditions comes for the marketing world – that of surveying customers and/or holding focus groups.  In both cases the research is expensive to set-up and do and so companies are intent to get the most out of this research. As such companies (and researchers) see customers as a valuable captive audience and want to get as much out of them as possible – hence the battery of questions that strive to ask about anything and everything that might be useful.

2.  There is no tradition and accepted practice around engaging in a genuine dialogue with customers.  Exploring this further, Erich and I agreed that there isn’t even any genuine dialogue within the enterprise – between the manager and the people that report into him, between colleagues, between one department and another….. In short companies run on a ‘command and control’ mode and in that mode there is no room, no space, no opening for dialogue, discussion, batting things back and forth.  In ‘command and control’ the Tops decide, the Middles relay the orders, the Bottoms execute.  And this is exactly what is happening with VoC.

Part II coming next

In Part II (coming next and soon) I will share with you Erich’s views on the second critical issue with VoC – getting value out of it!  I will close this series with Part III, where I will set out Erich’s recommendations on how to do VoC right and get value out of it.  I thank you for listening to my speaking.

What does it take to get value out of customer feedback / VoC efforts?

Before you embark on VoC program you might want to ponder this question

If you are embarking upon or in the midst of a VoC program then you might be wondering what it takes to get value out of this investment, this effort.  If your are not wondering this then I advise you to wonder – deeply and seriously.  Why?  Because soliciting and collecting customer feedback is the easy bit.  Turning that into a coherent course of action that creates value for the customer and for the enterprise is a signficant challenge especially for large organisations.  Don’t believe me?  Here is what Bruce Temkin is quoted as saying:

“Customer feedback is cheap, actionable insight may be valuable, but taking action on insight is precious. VoC programs are useless unless you act on what you find.”

Read that last sentence again.  Do you notice a particular word?  The word is USELESS.  Unless there is the will and the associated mechanisms in place to turn feedback into a coherent action plan, embraced by the people within your organisation who are going to have to change what they do and how they do it, you will find your VoC program a fool’s errand.

What does it take to get value out of VoC programs?

Here is what I have noticed based on my experience of all kinds of organisational change programs.  It is not a recipe.  Yes, I know that you are looking for / addicted to recipes and solutions.  I don’t provide recipes and solutions.  Why?  Because the real world does not work that way.  What I can do is provide pointers, pillars, foundations that you can use to make your VoC ‘pay’ – create value. These pointers are:

1. VoC feedback has to matter

Something matters if and only if its presence contributes to / enhances the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of a system or if its absence degrades the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of the system at hand. Think about the wheels on a car.  If one of the tyres gets a puncture then what happens to the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of the system?  And when you replace that tyre?  You get the idea.

For VoC to matter it has to provide information that contributes to design and execution of the organisations purpose, mission and strategy.  Sounds right, sound like what you would read in a textbook?  Well its wrong!  For VoC to matter it has to provide actionable insights that meet the needs of the Tops (CEO, VPs, Directors) and Middles (middle managers).  Specifically, these VoC  insights must enable the Tops and Middles to better / more easily achieve their desired outcomes.  If the Tops and Middles can attain their desired outcomes without VoC then that it exactly what they will do.  If the effort involved in making sense of and using VoC is too much then the Tops and Middles will not use it: organisational life is hard enough no need to adding extra weight and stress!

Put succinctly, VoC feedback will be used if and only if “It is the difference that makes the difference (to the Tops) and it is easy to use this difference!”

2. Reward the people who use / act on VoC insights

As human beings we excel at actions that result in immediate rewards.  If we take an action or a series of actions (like say eating better/healthier) and the expected results don’t show up pretty quickly we quit taking the action.  Put differently, results have to be visible and noticeable for us to persist in the actions that generated these results.  Therefore, the design of every VoC program has to grapple with how to feedback meaningful results to the people who are expected to take action based on the VoC insights.   And that includes altering the relationship people in your organisation have with time – particularly timescales.  One of the easiest ways to provide this kind of rewarding feedback (my actions are making an impact) is look for, feedback and celebrate small wins as well as big wins.

3. Create a safe space – a learning and execution laboratory

How likely are you to walk the tightrope if it is 100 feet high and there is no net underneath to support / cushion your fall and assure your safety? How likely are you to attempt that feat if the net is there and you know that if you struggle and/or fail you will be laughed at, criticised, condemned, sent to live with the lepers or simply lose your job?  Not that likely right?

Please get the VoC is the stimulus/trigger for personal and organisational change.  Change that is imposed is NEVER welcomed – it is scary, it is frightening, it threatens our safety even our existence.  So if you want people and groups to behave differently then you have to create a safe environment.  An environment where people and groups are acknowledged and rewarded for taking the right course of action irrespective of the actual results.  If someone / some group takes the right action, plays in the spirit of the game, then they must not be blamed, criticised, condemned.

One other factor that you should bear in mind.  We overestimate what we can do in the short term say 0 -6  months and underestimate what we can do in the longer term say 12 – 36 months. Therefore one aspect of creating this safe space is to ask a lot of people in the organisation over the long term (stretch goals) and be much less demanding so as to build in success and allow for learning over the shorter term.  Yes, I am asking you to do the opposite of what is the default setting in most organisations.

The closest management concepts to what I am talking about here are “drive out fear” as espoused by Deming or “The Learning Organisation” espoused by Senge.

4. Turn data and information into engaging/actionable stories and tell these vividly and dramatically

I once took over the responsibility of a failing planning & budgeting team.  The first action I took was to ask the team to stop sending their standard reports out to the many managers in the organisation.  Guess what happened? Only 10% of the managers rang up to ask where their reports were!  Please get present to this: we, human beings, suck at relating to and making sense of data.  Our naturally way of being is such that data and reports require effort – conscious effort – to understand, to interpret, to make sense of.  Most of us are simply not willing to make the effort.  Yes, pretty graphs help but not that much.

If you want you VoC customer feedback to be acted upon then tell actionable stories.  Stories work because they work they way we work.  There are heroes, there are villains, there is plot, there is cause and effect and they provide lessons / pointers towards how to live, what do do, how to do it differently….  That means that having a team of business savvy people who can turn data into actionable stories is a must.  When I ran a Customer Analytics practice I played this role – to complement the work done by the staticians and data miners; they were great at data mining (I sucked) and I was great at using their data to tell stories (they sucked at telling stories).

5. The CEO must own the play, be committed to the play and be in the play with both feet

Did your read my last post?  Kristin Zhivago has been involved in this game for 20+ years and this is what she says:

“If the CEO isn’t speaking up for your customers, there’s nothing that anyone else can do – regardless of their position – that will turn the company into a customer-centric organisation.”

As you know I totally agree with her.  If your CEO does not see the VoC as critical ingredient in the game then I guarantee that your VoC program will not deliver any fruit no matter how much, time, money and effort you put into VoC.  The people who need to commit resources will not commit resources.  The people who need to act will not act.  Even if people agree to do stuff you will find that they drag their heels.  If they take action then many people will act half-heartedly.

Want to learn more?  Then consider attending one of these seminars hosted by Mindshare, in the UK, on the 17th and 18th April

If you have any interest in VoC – particularly how to get value out of it – and you live near London or Manchester then you might want to attend.  Here are the details:

“Mindshare Technologies to Host Seminars in UK to Help Companies Realise and Implement Customer Experience Best Practices

  •  Two Free Seminars to Take Place in London and Manchester
  • Seminars Will Provide Attendees with Customer Experience Thought Leadership Using the Latest Techniques to Drive Action from Insights

The seminar series begins in London on April 17, followed by a second offering in Manchester on April 18. Registration for these two free events is now open, and information can be found at”

 The customer service best practices seminars will be held at Liberty House, 222 Regent Street, in London and Pall Mall court, 61–67 King Street, in Manchester and will be headed up by three members of Mindshare’s leadership team, each lending their expertise in VoC and enterprise feedback management (EFM) solutions: Lonnie Mayne, chief experience officer; Shane Evans, vice president of business solutions-retail; and Rachel Lane, director of Europe, Middle East and Africa development.

Topics to be covered at the seminars include:

  • Planning the Perfect Customer Experience Strategy
  • The Right Modes for Invitation and Feedback
  • Obtaining Non-Purchaser Feedback
  • Tactical Use of Feedback
  • Correlation to Financial Improvement
  • Making Feedback Actionable at All Layers of Management”

Disclosure and request

Disclosure:  whilst i have been tracking Mindshare and have spoken to several people there (who I like) I have NO financial relationship with Mindshare.  Put differently, I am not getting paid to advertise this nor do I get a fee or any other reward if you attend.  Incidentally, the seminars are FREE.

Request:  if you are reader of this blog and you are going to go along then please let me know as I’d love to meet you, learn more about you and buy you a coffee.

Three reasons why converting data into valuable business results is no picnic!

Nancy Porte knows what she is talking about

I have been reading a PR release on the latest Verint-Vovici voice of the customer survey.   The key finding is “organizations hailing from a wide range of industries and company sizes are catching on to the value of the Voice of the Customer”.   And the conclusion is “research shows that as long as companies aim to enhance the customer experience, improve customer loyalty and increase profitability, the VoC will always fill a mission-critical role”.   It is good to see that an ex-employer, The Peppers & Rogers Group, has been involved in this study.  Let’s move on to the part of the press release that did catch my attention:

“People are amazing at collecting data, but they’re often less skilled at creating insights out of it and spreading them throughout the whole organization,” adds Vovici’s Porte. “Data is great, but it rarely means anything unless you’ve figured out exactly what that data is saying and what you’re going to do about it.”

What happens when you give a budding Alexander the Great a fleet of stealth bombers?

Imagine that you turn up at the residence of a budding third world ‘Alexander the Great’ – a dictator with dreams of empire.  You offer him a fleet of stealth bombers with all the associated armaments.  You are excited, the dictator is excited – you see yourself as rich and the dictators sees the world at his knees.  What you have both forgotten is that it takes highly skilled pilots to fly these stealth bombers.  And you need to put in place a whole ‘infrastructure’ (hangars, airstrips, fuel, missiles, technicians) to enable highly skilled pilots to make use of these stealth bombers.  You might be wondering what this has to do with VoC and Customer Analytics.  Everything.

There are plenty of vendors offering analytics stealth bombers (advanced data mining and analytics platforms, packages and ‘solutions’).  Before you embrace your dreams of ‘world domination through analytics’ you might want to consider and prepare for the following:

  • The fuel (data) that powers analytics is typically missing, insufficient and/or ‘dirty’;
  • The pilots (statisticians) that need to fly the stealth bombers (the analytics packages) are in short supply – there simply are not enough of them to go around to fulfill the dream that is being aggressively communicated;
  • The infrastructure (leadership, mindset, culture, practices, processes….) that is required to ‘make use of the skills of the pilots’ and ‘exploit the potential of the stealth bombers’ is simply not present in the vast majority of organisation and putting it in place is a BIG ask, which requires patience (think long term) and commitment (to face and overcome the hurdles – big and small).

What is so in the real world?

What is the state of affairs in the real world?  I cannot answer that question as I have not sampled the whole world of business.  Yet, I can share my lived experience with you when it comes to the analytics front.  Allow me to illustrate with two examples.

As a customer based strategist I need and generate insights in order to construct viable strategies.  In one consulting engagement I asked a question: how many customers did you sign-up last year over channel X?  Sometime later I was handed a report.  I got a different answer depending on which page I looked at.  There was only a small difference between the numbers and the point is that there should have been no difference!  Either the definition of ‘customer’ was not consistent over the enterprise.  Or the definition of the ‘channel X’ was not consistent.  Or the enterprise systems and/or people were not able to add up properly.  Sound bad enough?  What if I told you that the managers in this enterprise prided themselves on the quality of their management information?

In another consulting assignment (involving the formulation of a customer strategy) I was in the process of getting to grips with the customer base – specifically, customer profiling and segmentation.  I needed to understand who was buying a particular product.  So I asked a helpful member of the client organisation to come back with the answer.  I was handed a small document and it clearly stated that the buyers were male, in their thirties and living in the larger cities.  Having been burned more than once, I asked to see the actual figures.  Upon reviewing the figures I found that the buyers (customers) were indeed in their thirties and living in larger cities.  However, there was no statistical difference in gender: the buyers was just as likely to be female as male.  You might be wondering how someone who is trusted (and whose job it is) to interpret data get it wrong so badly?  I can tell you that this is no exception – misinterpretation of data is the norm rather than the exception.  Why?  Because we are not statistically minded.  Thinking statistically is arduous and is a skill that has to be learned and continually practiced.

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