Customer-Centricity: a lesson or two on what it takes to influence change

My situation and my experience (as lived)

Unless there is some unforseen dramatic change I am going to be popping pills in the morning to help my metabolism (under active thyroid) and popping pills at night (genetic lottery means my liver produces to much cholesterol) until I drop dead.  Being into zen I totally get that is what is so and I am totally ok with that, now: without thinking I pop the pills in the morning and the evening.  Now and then I get a surprise: running out of the pills then I get that I need to go and get a repeat prescription.

The prescription is for 56 tablets and I need to give a minimum notice of 48 hours to get my prescription.  What does that mean practically?  About every 50 days I find my prescription, walk to the doctor’s surgery (during opening hours), find the prescription box and slot my prescription into it, come back usually three days later, wait for someone to serve me, ask for my prescription, wait for someone to find it, take the prescription, walk to the pharmacy, sign and hand in the prescription, wait another 10 – 20 minutes and viola, I finally have the medicine I need.

The whole thing shows up in my world as ‘hassle’ and ‘wasted time/effort’ leading me to think there must be a better way to get the job done.

Spock says it just does not make sense, it is not logical Captain!

Let’s look at the situation through Spock’s rational mind:

  • The doctor has told me that I need these medicines for the rest of my life;
  • Every 50 days, work is created for me, the receptionist at the surgery, the person dealing with the repeat prescription, the sales assistant at the pharmacy and the chemist dispensing the medicines;
  • Why does this ritual have to happen every 50 days or so?  Why not do this once a year when I typically have an annual assessment to see if my dosage has to go up for down?
  • If it was done once a year then the workload (for all concerned) would go down by a factor of 6!

I make a request to do things differently and an interesting conversation occurs

Yesterday I turned up at the doctor’s surgery (medical practice) and asked to speak to the person dealing with repeat prescriptions.  In a couple of minutes I am face to face with the lady that does the ‘dispensing’.  I make my request: “Right now the medicines don’t even last me two months.  Please prescribe me enough medicine so that I only have to come back every three months.”  Here is the exchange that follows:

She:   “That is what we do here.  It is our usual practice to dispense enough medicine for two months.”

Me:  “Sorry, but the tablets do not even last two months”

She:  “Yes, they do! Our usual practice is to dispense medicine that lasts two months.”

Me:  “Let’s say that the average month is 30 days.  Two months make 60 days.  You prescribe 56 tablets.  That is less than two months.  You do not even prescribe enough medicine to last two months.”

She:  “A month for us is 4 weeks.  Two months are 8 weeks.  That makes 56 tablets and it is our usual practice to prescribe enough medicine for two months!”

Me: “OK you prescribe enough medicine for two months.  Why?  For what reasons is it just two months?”

For the first time the lady facing me stops to think – to reflect on what is so.  Then we continue our conversation:

She: “That is just what we do.  It is our usual practice to prescribe for two months.”

Now I stop and think.  The zen aspect of me wakes up and realises that I have constructed and engaged in a futile discussion.  Our conversation, our encounter is not about the subject matter at hand.  No, no, no!  I have allowed it to become a matter of will: who is right and who is wrong; who will dominate and who will concede; who gets to win and who gets to lose.   I then continue our conversation:

Me: “Please it will really help me out if you were to prescribe enough medicine for three months.  And if you do that then we will all benefit.  You will only need to deal with my prescription four times a year rather than six times a year.  That will save you time and effort.  So, what is your answer?  Yes or No?”

She: “I’ll prescribe you 84 tablets.  That is enough for three months.”

Me: “Thank you!”

What can we learn from this encounter, this conversation, this experience?

1.  Most people, most organisations are embedded (without even realising it) in an automatic way of being and doing – I call it “business as usual”.

2.  When an awkward customer (like me) turns up and challenges “business usual” the automatic reaction arising out of the context of “business as usual” is to defend “business as usual” and label me (whether spoken or unspoken) as a “difficult customer who should be ignored”.

3.  If you, the customer, get into a battle of wills with the organisation then, like me, you are not likely to get far.  You will just stimulate the organisation’s immune system to more strongly articulate/defend/justify “business as usual”.

4.  You increase your chances of getting people in the organisation to change by showing these people how they will benefit (personally) from any changes that you are suggesting and/or get them to identify (strongly, emotionally) with your situation and thus coax out their humanity – it is there, hidden deep inside.

What has this got to do with Customer-Centricity or Customer Experience?

To make an meaningful headway the Tops and Middles have to create a context where:

a)  Customers are listened to in a specific manner – people who can provide information and insight that allows the organisation valuable insight into what matters to customers and what aspects of the organisation are and are not working for customers;

b) “Difficult customers” are actively sought out and listened to respectfully to see what opportunities to improve ‘workability and performance‘ open up;

c) The existing way of doing things “business as usual” is both open to being challenged and is actively challenged – by listening to customers, by listening to staff, by listening to suppliers…..; and

d) Mechanisms exist to get all involved present to what practices have been changed and the impact of these practices in terms of ‘workability and performance’

And finally

Sometimes people ask me what I actually do as a consultant/coach.  My answer is that being an outsider I clearly see “business as usual” as “business as usual”.  As such I can point that out and thus make visible that which is invisible to the organisation.  I ask stupid questions that are designed to: wake people up so that they can see what is so’; get people to reflect on what they are doing  and how they are doing it; help people to look at what is and is not working; and importantly to see how, specifically, they, personally, are contributing to the performance or the lack of it.   Finally, I make suggestions on what can be done to enhance ‘workability’ and ‘performance’.

Put bluntly I do not know more about you, your team or your business.  It is not that I am more intelligent or more clever then you. I grant you that you know more about your business than I do.  I grant you that you know about your role than I do.  I grant you that you are more intelligent than I am…..And I assert that I can make a valuable contribution to you and your organisation. Actually that is inaccurate.  I do not assert, I make a commitment and that commitment is that I will make a valuable contribution to you and your organisation.  Given that I am your ‘inferior’ how can I state that with the confidence that I am stating it with?

It is simply that I am standing in a different position to you and so I can see what you cannot see.  You, by being you, are the ‘fish in your tank’ and you do not have access to that.  I, by virtue of being me, stand outside that tank and can see it for the tank that it is and if you are willing to listen then I can describe it for you.  Whether you listen or not depends both on you and me.  Yes, it depends as much on me as it depends on you.  There is no such thing as resistance: when you resist it is simply that I am failing to converse with you in a way that works for you.  So both the organisation and customers share responsibility for the way the world is and the way that the world is not. That is a great way to finish the post: zen – take responsibility for the world as it is and as it is not!

I thank you for your listening, it makes my speaking possible and worthwhile.

Awesome people deliver awesome experiences: 3 tales of customer experience delight and a Christmas message

Panic – where is my medicine?

I have been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid.  That means that I start my day by popping a Levothyroxine Sodium tablet into myself. There is nothing good or bad about it – it is just so if I want my metabolism (and body/mind) to function properly.  This morning I woke up and found that I had used up the tablets in the kitchen.  No problem.  I headed up to my bedroom where I keep the ‘spare’ supply.  There should have been a box of 28 tablets there and I did not find them.  Panic!  Its Christmas, the doctors surgery will be closed.  How am I going to make it through the next five days?

The first delightful customer experience

Given that I need my medicine I rang the doctors office around 8:15 this morning.  Sure enough – the voicemail comes through and announces that the surgery is closed for the next five days.  Then the system puts me through to the out of hours service.  Within a couple of minutes I am talking to friendly lady and she takes down my details.  When I hand over my postcode she tells me that she used to live here – on my road.  Wow!  I ask her when she lived here and she replies “35 years ago”.  She did not know of my house because back then it was not there – it was simply a field with a rundown old abandoned house.  She goes on to tell me that they used to sneak in as they thought it was spooky.  I am totally immersed in the story and loving being on the phone to this lady.   Awesome!  I am left smiling and laughing.

After we finish sharing and laughing she asks me a few more questions and tells me that she cannot authorise a repeat (emergency) prescription.  The doctor has to do that and he will call me.  I ask her if I can get it from my local chemist.  She tells me that I should give it a go – they may be able to help me out.  I thank her, wish her a great Christmas.  I make my mind up to go the chemist as I do not believe that the doctor will ring me anytime soon and I need/want my medicine now.

Second delightful customer experience

Its around 9:15 and I am getting ready to go to the local chemist and try out my persuasion skills.  The phone rings, I pick it up and a calm, relaxed, good natured and humorous voice asks “Mr Iqbal what is the emergency?”  It is the doctor calling.  I tell him that it is not an emergency and I need to get the Levothroxine tablets today.  He tells me that he has already prescribed seven tablets and I can collect the prescription from my local hospital.  What really gets me is the being of this man as evidenced in the tone of his voice and his language.  Here is a man at ease.  It is clear that he has a way with people:  I bet he loves his job and in doing his job he is coming from the context of ‘being of service – taking delight in being of service’.  Awesome!  I am left smiling and inspired.

Third delightful customer experience

I don’t want to spend 40 minutes driving to the local hospital and back.  So I make my way to the local chemist – only two/three minutes walk away.  Its almost empty and so I walk straight into the arms of a beautiful smiling face.  I say “I’d like to speak with the dispensing chemist please”.  She smiles back and get the dispensing chemist.  I share my predicament and make a request “Please give me seven tablets to get me through until the doctors surgery opens” and I show her the paperwork that shows that I am authorised to take this medicine.  She says “That’s fine, you can have your medicine, it will take two minutes. By the way we can take care of getting the paperwork done at your GP and have your 56 tablets ready by next Friday.  Would you like us to do that?”  WOW! I say “Yes, please”.  Two minutes I have the medicine in my hand and am looking at two smiling faces.  I thank them both and wish them a great Christmas.  I walk out of the pharmacy with wings.  How awesome people (our fellow human beings) can be!

Lesson: I, You, They, We, Us are awesome even if our behaviour does not show up that way all/most of the time

That is right I totally get that I, You, They, We, Us are awesome.  Really we are awesome.  That is not the same as saying our behaviour occurs as awesome all of the time.  This is where context and environment come in and play a huge part.  When I, You, They, We, Us operate from supportive environments and the right (motivating, inspiring) contexts our behaviour tends to be awesome and we leave people feeling/saying “WOW”:  we are elevated and we elevate all who come into contact with you. When the environment and/or the context are not threatening, invalidating, uninspiring (not touching the human ‘soul’) our behaviour shows up and occurs as “Yuck” – the people who come into contact with us are left disgusted to some degree.

I thank you for listening and taking part in the conversation

I thank you for listening and taking part in the conversation that is The Customer Blog – without you I could ask the question “Is there a sound when the tree falls down and there is no-one there listening?”.   If you do not know what that means then let me spell it out:

I thank the people who inspired me to write this blog.  I am thinking of you – Stefanie O’Meagher and Kevin Smith – old colleagues and friends.  I am also thinking of my wife, my brother in law and my sister.  You are the people who are responsible for this blog – you are the ones that told me that I had something to contribute to the conversation.

I thank the person who spent two-three hours with me showing me how to set-up a blog in WordPress.  I am thinking of you Alex – my old colleague and friend.  You may not realise this but you are the foundation of this blog.  Without you it is quite likely that my voice would never have been expressed and there would be no conversation called The Customer Blog.

I thank each and everyone of you that subscribes to this blog. Each of you has inspired me to continue to write. How/why?  Often I think that I have nothing new to add to the conversation and why the heck would anyone want to take part in this conversation.  Yet what is so is that there you are – you subscribe, you read and you comment.  You make it possible for me to see what I can so often not see – that I have something to contribute.  With you I know that as a result of your listening my speaking is worthwhile.  You say to me “I see you; you exist”.  Thank you.

I thank each and every person that has reached out to me, told me that he/she likes what I have to say and invited/enabled me to make a contribution.  In particular, I am thinking of you Bob Thompson.

I thank each and every person who has recommended The Customer Blog on Twitter.  In particular I am thinking of Colin Taylor the first person who got me present to the significance of the #FF tag.  I am also thinking of you Nancy (of Vovici).

I thank each and every person who follow me – I mean really follows me as opposed to follows me – on Twitter.

Make it an awesome Christmas conversation and experience

You are awesome – really you are.  Be awesome.  Make it an awesome Christmas conversation and experience for you and all the people that you will meet and interact with this Christmas.  Need a powerful context?  How about operating from the following context: love of yourself and love of the people around you.  Love is letting people be just as they are and just as they are not.  Love occurs when you give up your point of view on how people should be, how the situation should be, how the relationship should be, how the world should be.

From a zen perspective, don’t believe what I say, don’t discuss it, don’t argue against it, don’t just accept it, don’t file it away in your mind.  Do try it out in a spirit of lightness, fun, experimentation and experience what shows up for you and for others.  If it works use it, if it does not work then discard it.

What is there to say?   I am beautiful, you are beautiful, they are beautiful, we are beautiful.  This is a beautiful world – we really can experience it if we give up “shoulding” and see, really see, what is there.

I love you and I thank you for taking part in the conversation that is The Customer Blog.  I wish that you be great this Christmas and create a great Christmas conversation and experience for yourself, your loved ones and our fellow human beings you come into contact.