All posts by Mike Bird

Dream Business

Ellendene detailEverything that surrounds us was once a dream that someone made real. What do we call the people who turn such dreams into reality? Leaders.

When we bought our house, our lawyer found an old envelope in the conveyancing paperwork. In it was an ordnance survey map of the local area. On the map, someone had drawn a small block and an ‘X’, in pencil, in a field, by a farm lane.  In the margin, they had written a word: “Ellendene”.

In 1938, the original owners had marked where they would build their house. They imagined it enough to give it a name.

It had been their dream. Someone made it real. And now, after many years, their dream was now our house.

All houses were once dreams.  Not all of them have such stories, but for every house ever built, someone had to imagine what it would be.

Then someone had to build it and turn this dream into reality.

For every house, someone did.

It’s not just houses.

Unless we are standing naked in the wilderness (and, perhaps, even then) everything about us was once someone’s dream.

The office I am sitting in? Someone dreamt what it should be like.

The shoes I am wearing? Someone dreamt these up.

The coffee I am drinking? Someone dreamt how it would taste and how they would serve it.

The electricity that lights the room in which I am writing this? Someone dreamt how to generate it. Someone dreamt how to distribute it.  Someone dreamt the design of the lamp that lights my desk.

We are surrounded by dreams made real.

Sometimes, our dreams are world-changing. Eradicate polio. Create the iPhone. Replace horses with automobiles. Stage the Olympics.

Sometimes, our dreams change our own lives and those around us. Build a house. Open a restaurant. Choose a university. Launch a fund-raising campaign.

Most of the time, however, our dreams are pretty mundane. Remodel the store-room.  Grow sales revenues next year.  Launch a product in a new way. Treat more patients than last month. Have our team work better.

It’s ok if they are.

They are still dreams. We have to imagine them. And then we need to make them real.

What do we call the people who make dreams real?

Leaders.

Leaders envisage what could be.

Perhaps what should be.

Then they help the people who work with them to understand the dream, to have them want to make it real, and to understand what they can do to help turn the dream into reality.

Because dreams are about what could be, they are about the future. Leaders help others to shape that future.

Most of us may do so only in small ways, but when we do, we are leading.

When we don’t, we let other people’s dreams shape our future.

If we want our dreams to happen, we need to work to achieve them.

Perhaps we all need to be leaders.

If so, maybe the first step is to ask ourselves: “what dream do I want to start making real today?”

We Need To Talk About Metrics


Cart-before-horseThe cult of metrics can get in the way of delivering value.

A little while ago – 1988, according to the OED –  people started using the word ‘metrics’ in the way we use it today.  Businesses took up the term, motivated by a belief that they needed to measure things if they were to manage business performance.

Of course, businesses have always measured what they do. But the advent of lean thinking, global competition and, most of all, the growing adoption of computers and spreadsheets all about this time meant that an organisation that lacked firm control of their business would be (and were) killed off by competitors who had learned to run tighter ships.

So, metrics.

And since then? On the back of Kaplan and Norton’s balanced scorecard (a good thing), Key Performance Indicators (KPIs*) (via Mack Hanan in 1970), Statistical Process Control (SPC) (also a good thing), Six Sigma (a good thing in the right place), Management Information Systems (MIS), Business Intelligence (BI), data analytics, dashboards and now, Big Data, metrics have become an industry. Many businesses employ phalanxes of analysts and banks of computers to ‘crunch the numbers’.

Now in many organisations, the first response to a proposal to do something new or better is “…how will you measure it?” (And not, you’ll notice, “…why do we want to do this?”)

This is a shame.

In business, the things we do, we do because they are important and will make a difference: to our organisation, to our customers, to our people. What we want to achieve, the value we are aiming to get, is much more important than how we choose to measure it.

Yet too many organisations put the metrics cart before the value horse.

Important things get slowed down – or stopped – because we can’t agree on what metrics to use, or we need to wait to set up a reporting mechanism, or we are waiting for our technical people to “…set up the system” so it can measure and report.

The effect is that important things get lost, or are delayed, and the cost of doing business goes up.

Worse, we end up delivering projects that meet their metrics but miss their goal.

In extreme cases, metrics can become a madness that infects almost every business conversation. I once found myself working in an organisation that had 43,000 metrics in place.

Yes, they had the madness so badly that they had measured their metrics.

*Sigh*

Yet here’s the thing.  The purpose of metrics isn’t to measure something. Their purpose is to give decision-makers a way to pay attention to something important in our business, over time.

But people can only pay attention to about seven things at a time. Any organisation has a core of a few things to which it needs to pay attention just to keep things going. Money, for example, or customers, or the amount of work we need to do, or quality, or risk.

If we can only pay attention to seven things, we have only a little room to pay attention to anything else: the things we need to change or make better. We need to pick these things to which we want to pay attention very carefully if we want them to succeed.  They need to be important.

And if we have to pick our way through hundreds or thousands of metrics, then we can’t focus on these one or two important things.  Or if, by some monumental effort of concentration, we can focus on these one or two things, we can only do so for a moment, before we are distracted by something else.

This is one reason why so many important initiatives hit the sand; why ‘Top Management attention’ is so transitory; why we lose sight of our goals in the middle of projects – because too many things are competing for corporate attention.

This is not to say that we don’t need metrics. On the contrary, having the right metrics against good standards with effective, practical and timely mechanisms for reporting them, is more of an imperative than ever.  The argument for keeping tight control of business essentials is much stronger now than it ever was in 1988.

We have to begin the conversation about metrics differently. Perhaps we should start by asking what do we need to pay attention to, and why do we need to do so? If we can only play attention to seven things, what are the seven in which we want to invest our time and attention?

The dirty little secret of metrics is this: if they don’t help us to pay attention to the things that are important, then they are a distraction, and are stopping us from running our business properly.

For the key to getting things done in business isn’t to measure things – it is to pay attention to them.

 

*(For those of you interested in this kind of thing, the first recorded use of the term “Key Performance Indicator” (KPI) that Google can find is in a book called Wholesaling Management: Text and Cases, edited by Richard Marvin Hill in 1963 – then nothing until 1974…  (Google Ngram Viewer: cool or what?))

No-one Knows How

suit-673697_1280 reverseIn Toulouse on a quick, one-day assignment to work with the WW management team of a tech company. I dined out last night when I arrived at an open-air bistro by the leafy cobbles of the Place Wilson. Outstanding food, a half-bottle of a ’98 Medoc: a pleasant evening – even if I was dining alone.

I’m here because my client, a multi-billion dollar company that led the world in its field, has lost its way and is looking to set a new direction – while trying to make enough money to stay in business while it sorts things out. In short, they’ve been losing money and need to get better at making it. The problem is: they know what they need to do – they just don’t know how.

They are not alone. It’s an epidemic.

No-one knows how.

Cut costs in rational, practical ways that reduce deadwood and improve efficiency? Absolutely. Identify new markets and develop new products to meet the new demand? Damn straight. Create a customer-centric organisation that delivers ever-better products with consistent speed and quality? Ohhh yeah….

Knowing what to do? That’s the easy bit. How to do it? That’s a different question.

If I am the CEO, I can read the books and go to the business schools and pay the consultants their big fees but I’m worse off than when I began because now I know what I should do, I really do. But thinking about how we can do it is much harder – and it’s a wet Monday morning in February and the numbers are down and the Finance director is quitting and the IT guys are telling me that our great white hope of a CRM system is becoming a great white elephant and there’s a quality problem in Kuala Lumpur and I know that my North American Operations Director is bucking for my job and my inbox tells me I have 223 unread emails and I’m late for the plane to Osaka and any hope I have of thinking about how I solve my real problems is washed away by this daily torrent – and I know Tuesday will only be worse.

I don’t need people to tell me what to do – I need them to tell me how, because I don’t have time (or, often, the capacity) to work that out for myself. And almost all the consultants out there offering to help don’t get this.

Most offer ‘solutions’ – like a new computer system has ever saved a company. (Has one, ever? I’d be delighted to hear about it. In my experience, a new system is more likely to kill, not cure).

If they can’t offer me an IT solution, I can always rent their brains, because they’re so much smarter than me about my business, aren’t they? (huh?) After all, I’ve outsourced everything else, why not outsource my thinking? They’ll write the reports, make their slick presentations, then leave me to get on with it (But I still won’t know how, because they don’t know).

And if this doesn’t work, they’ll offer to do the job for me. Good grief, if I’ve outsourced my thinking, I may as well outsource my role while I’m about it. So they flood us with lots of green, smart-suited graduates with condescending smiles who run around analysing here and workshopping there and (if we let them) eventually running the show with their procedures and their metrics and their systems.

And I still won’t know how to change the business to make it better. (And you know what? Neither will they. If they really wanted to run a business, they would be managers, not consultants…)

The only sustainable way for a business to succeed is for its people think better, more efficiently and more productively about the things that matter – and to do so in ways that drive effective action.

It’s hard and it hurts and most people and most organisations will do anything to avoid to doing it. But it is the secret to cutting through the daily noise and stuff.

To think clearly about issues and, even more importantly, about how to resolve them is, I believe, one of the biggest challenges of leadership.

But if we do it and – better – if we help our colleagues to do it, it’s also among the most enjoyable, interesting and valuable things we can do in business.

And today it is Toulouse.

A bientôt.

Image credit: Ryan McGuire (https://pixabay.com/en/users/RyanMcGuire-123690/)

The programme is not the problem

House fire momboleun

Programmes and initiatives are prone to fail. The best way to succeed is through rigorous thinking and relentless attention. This is hard. Getting an organisation do so is the mark of a modern leader.

Management fads. IT systems. Training.

What do these have in common?

Organisations deploy these things when they need to do something better or they need to do something new. Often, these are dressed up as ‘programmes’ or ‘initiatives’.

And they usually fail.

Why?

Two reasons.

First, initiatives lead organisations to stop thinking.

“We don’t have to worry about our problem,” goes the organisational line, “because my new management fad / IT system / training programme is going to fix it for us.”

Wrong. No matter which of these things we do, the problem will still be there.

If we are lucky, our initiative will have given us a tool or an approach or a data set that may make solving the problem easier. that’s all.

Second, they divert attention.

Management fads / IT systems / training programmes tend to be big and visible. Once committed, an organisation’s focus usually shifts from ‘solving the problem’ to ‘delivering the programme’.

This is normal – and almost always a mistake.

The programme is not the problem. These are not the same thing.

When the programme is over, what do you have? Some new management buzzwords or some new IT kit or some nice training materials and a new vocabulary, that’s all. Delivered on time and under budget (if you’re lucky).

The problem? Typically, it’ll still be there.

So what’s the solution?

Only one: an iron will and a relentless focus on solving the problem, not just completing the programme.

THIS IS HARD.

Because it means making our organisations think. Think with rigour. Think deeply. Sometimes for quite a while. This is painful and difficult to do.

And, once we have done this thinking, we need to do the the tough bit. We have to concentrate and pay attention to do the thing we have decided to do. For a long time. Until we solve the problem or we learn that we need to do something else.

This is even harder to do and much more difficult. Hence the need for an ‘iron will’.

Successful, modern leaders are, I believe, those who can get their organisation to do these things relentlessly. They may do other things, sure, but their success stands or falls by their ability to have their organisations think hard and pay attention to the things that matter.

If we don’t think hard, paying attention to a problem is like looking at a house burning down, without working out that the right thing to do is call the fire brigade.

On the other hand, thinking without paying attention to the solution is like knowing we need to call the fire brigade, but allowing ourselves to get distracted before picking up the phone.

Either way, our house burns down.

Yes, of course, we may well need some management tools or some IT or some training.

But let’s not confuse these things with the solution to our problem.

(Image: House Fire in Dillon Beach by Momboleum, https://www.flickr.com/photos/momboleum/3091269507/in/set-72157610892145416, used under creative commons license)

(A version of this article was posted in my LinkedIn feed:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/programme-problem-mike-bird?trk=object-title)

Big Data: the new (snake) oil?

Data DollarIn God we trust.
All others bring data.

J. Edwards Deming

Data, we hear, is “…the new oil“.  It is the next big thing, the new realm of business opportunity, the them thar hills where we can all dig for gold.

Big Data, it is claimed,  shows us flu outbreaks before they happen, tells how the stock market is going to move today and knows if you are pregnant before your father does.

So does this justify the reported $125bn (or $50.1bn) (or $17bn) which is forecast to be spent on Big Data in 2015?  Perhaps, but I doubt it.

I remember another time when data promised us a brave new world. In the olden days of the mid-nineties, the story, cited by sources such as the Financial Times,  was how analysis of shopping baskets for a mid-range US store on Friday nights showed a previously unknown correlation between buying beer and buying diapers.   This story and others like it made the idea of data mining credible as it promised a whole new world of customer insight and understanding.

The beer/diaper story, it turns out, wasn’t true, but it didn’t stop the stampede.

Companies spent fortunes on things called data warehouses, invested in stuff called knowledge management and we were all supposed to make lots of money by having greater insight into customer behaviour.

And did we?

Did we heck.

But who did make money?

Consultants, vendors and the media who were all beating the data mining drum.

The consultants, who told us that this was the next big thing and that we would go out of business without it.

The vendors, who sold us the kit and the software and the maintenance contracts and the patches and who told us that the issue we were complaining about “…was a known bug that would be fixed in the next release…”.

The journalists and the advertisers, who sold ad space and wrote articles about “Making the case for knowledge management” and held conferences with titles like “Data Warehousing: A strategic imperative” or some such.

So we went to the conferences and read the articles and called in the consultants and bought the kit and installed the software and did the management of change and ran the benefits realisation exercises and employed new people with strange job titles and tried, as the dust settled, to see the step change in performance promised to us.

While the drum-majors walked away to do the same thing again with new clients.

Result? Billions of dollars siphoned out from the pockets of companies who were doing real things for customers and into the coffers of these drum-beating companies.

At the time, I recall that the consultants, tech companies and media companies in this space all posting phenomenal revenues.

What I don’t recall is reading so much about the great profits their clients made from all this knowledge management and data mining.

As far as I can tell, the promise of data mining and knowledge management was a promise unkept.

And now we have Big Data.

Perhaps Big Deja Vu might be a better term, because it all sounds very familiar.

Look: I get it. Big Data is a real thing.

The scale, depth, density and timeliness of customer data available to us is magnitudes greater than ever before.   Mobile data, geolocation, behavioural antecedents, digital payments, social media and evolution of the web are streets ahead of the consumer purchasing information upon which the promise of data warehousing used to rely.

I just feel we need to think harder about how we want to take advantage of it.  The same people are beating the drum and more and more companies are falling into step.

But the drum beat isn’t our drum beat. It’s the beat of market hype, of technologists seeking a market, of consultants seeking The Next Big Thing.

It’s not the drum beat of the customer.

What customer insight are we missing? Why does it matter? What could we do better for customers if we had it?

And (this is the kicker) what difference will it make? Really?

If we are to avoid being vendor victims, we should begin – as always – with the customer. And if we can answer these questions properly, then perhaps Big Data may really be of value to customers and to the companies that sell to them – and not just to those who are selling tickets to the Big Data bandwagon.

Ten customer experience predictions for 2015

get-excited-and-change-the-future

A crystal ball (with a pinch of salt)

It’s the time of year when people make predictions about the coming year. Here are my predictions about what customers will see differently in 2015.

I have based these on nothing more than some experience and conversations with interesting people, so take them with whatever amounts of salt you like.

Privacy will matter less than trust.

Customers will increasingly accept that companies will know more about us than we would like. But in return, we will want companies to prove even more that we can trust them with our data.

Mobile payments won’t fly in 2015

The new iPhone 6 includes the ‘Apple Pay‘ mobile payment facility. It is due to launch in the spring of 2015.

But it won’t have us all pay by mobile all at once.

Why?

Because the customer experience for card payments is still better than the mobile alternative.

Card out, put in reader, type in four numbers, done. Easy.

Mobile out, tap button to wake up phone, find payment app, confirm amount, confirm authorisation again, await confirmation of payment on phone, give up, take out cash…

And that’s not all. Not enough shops will take mobile payments, but they all take cards. They will need a compelling reason to change.

And, even if we want to pay by mobile, with dozens of payment apps available, the chances are that a given shop won’t take the specific app that’s on our phone.

As Google and many others have found, and as Apple is about to find, the business of payments is hard. This one is going to be slow, people.

Our buying experience will start to be simpler and more relevant

Want to buy something? There’s too much choice.

Any major decision – holiday, car, house, furniture, white goods, television, PC, phone, school – now needs detailed online research, investigation of reviews and trawling of social media.*  It’s so much work that that buying stuff now feels like it costs as much in effort as our research saves in money.

Many sites, such as those in the travel industry, can ask us for some preferences to simplify our journey by filtering choices, it is still a chore.

It is only a matter of time before some sites simply use our social identity, online behaviour, some statements of preference and history of other purchases to predict the best purchase solutions for us and offer a focused choice that’s right for us, based on who we are.

More than a search based on budget, distance from home, type of hotel preference and preferred flight times, this is a search based on what we genuinely want and like, evidenced by our behaviour.

This is, I believe, the kind of thing that will be enabled through the data gathering and machine learning capabilities of facilities like Google Now or Amazon Echo.  I think we will start to see these services being offered in 2015.

Before long, we won’t be typing in “…washing machine reviews…” when we want to think about replacing our white goods. We’ll simply muse out loud, in our living room:  “Alexa?  What washing machine would be best for me?”

We will start to see fresh food delivery online at scale from non-grocers

Building a distributed, refrigerated real-time supply chain to distribute fresh food is expensive and difficult. This has acted as a major barrier to entry for online players. It has kept traditional grocery supermarkets in the game and let them sell us all the other household stuff we need routinely.

But Amazon are starting to trial fresh food delivery and many consumers will begin to use them for their shopping. I think we will start to see the grocers’ monopoly on our weekly food shop starting to erode in 2015.

At least one traditional supermarket will experiment with a alternative models

Of course, traditional supermarkets are no mugs. They will experiment with new ideas to ‘lock in’ our weekly shop and keep it away from online pretenders. Tesco already have a subscription model for online delivery charges. I would be surprised if they, or their competitors, didn’t come up with an alternative. A single monthly subscription that delivers a weekly food shop, for example?

Health insurers will offer discounts for customers to upload their health data activities.

This one is, I think, already happening. Wearables, and the health monitoring facilities offered by the iPhone 6, all gather data about our long-term lifestyles.

Health insurers are beginning to incentivise us to upload this data to the cloud. Health insurers will analyse this data and give us bespoke cover at tailored premiums. And we will like it. (unless we’re fat, or sedentary, in which case our premiums will shoot up).

Wearable tech will cause at least one Big Data / privacy scandal

Wearables are probably the first tech innovation designed from the ground up to enable ‘Big Data. Just by wearing a watch or wristband, our movements yield long-term telemetry data.

Where we go, what we do, who we meet, what we are interested in, when we do things, how we get there, what we buy, how we pay and who we tell – this so-called ‘digital exhaust’ trails behind us as we live.

This data is so complex, so large and so intimate that it will not be possible to protect it fully, certainly not at the start. Sometime in 2015, we will have the first leakage of such data and what it will reveal about what is known about us will be scary.

Buyers of customer experience management software will get wise to the idea that there is no such thing

The notion of customer experience has become polluted by vendors selling ‘customer experience software’. There ain’t no such thing.

Leading, managing and operating an organisation to offer a good customer experience is not about software. It is a matter of principle, strategy, practice and attention. I expect that more companies will understand this in 2015.

Banks will claim to be customer-centric but scandals will continue to disprove this idea

Banks will continue to try and show that they have genuinely changed their stripes. That they have,learned the error of their ways and are driven by the interests of their customers.

But I fear that this hope will founder, for two reasons. First, a typical bank IT system is a messy legacy stack that is hardwired around products, not customers. These systems are too big and too complex to change without eye-watering expense.

Second, the majority of banks continue to reward their people to focus on short-term revenues for the bank, regardless of the interests of the customer. Because these rewards are so big, they will continue to distort banker behaviour away from the customer.

This toxic culture is so ingrained that it will take a generation to fix – so while I have little hope of customer-centred progress in 2015, I feel sure that more banking scandals will emerge.

Some brands will begin to function as marketing algorithms

The lines between ‘pure’ marketing and customer experience continue to blur. Marketers have been trying for years to personalise their messaging to individual consumers. I think this year, we will start seeing the first marketing content, bespoke for individual customers, automatically generated by what marketing systems know about each customer.

What will make these communications different? They will be driven by specific parameters that properly reflect the intent of the brand.

The content of marketing emails may be different, depending on what else they know about us. (Depending on the ethics of the company, this could  be much more than just the information we gave them when we opted in for their marketing – assuming we did at all).

While the content of all these emails may be different for EVERY customer, each will reflect the presentation, tone of voice and content of the brand. The brand will have become an algorithm, driving content.

What are your predictions?

So these are my predictions for the year. Things will, I think, get better in incremental ways for the customer as more companies recognise the competitive advantage this gives them.  We’ll see a few new things, and some ideas will fail (and that’s ok, failure is the overhead of innovation and the cost of progress) and a number of things will surprise us.

What do you think? What do you predict customers will see differently in 2015?

*The link takes you to a cool interactive tool by Google that shows how the purchase journey varies for customers in different market segments and countries. Fun to play with (if you like that kind of thing).

54 ways to make the customer experience better

Happy customer

We were snowbound at a corporate retreat in Princeton, New Jersey.  We had exhausted the formal agenda and were waiting to hear if the snowploughs had freed the I-95 so that we could get to the airport and go home.

So we were having a few beers and having a general discussion about what works for us in business when Kevin, an experienced colleague who worked in our manufacturing practice, said something so true and so simple that it has stuck with me at every step of my career since.

We were talking about creating and keeping customer relationships, and he said: “Every time I’m going to meet someone for business, before I go in,  I ask myself, ‘how can I create value for them in this meeting?’  If I can do this, I know they’ll want to meet me again.  They’ll learn to trust me.  And, when the time is right, they’ll buy from me.”

The snowploughs came and we put down our beers and caught our planes home, but his simple mantra – ‘how can I create value for my customers each time we meet?’ – has served me well since then.

Because this is the secret of customer experience.

If we want to make the customer experience better, it’s simple. We make every customer encounter something that our customer values. Then we repeat for every step of the encounter.

Find this value and maximise it. If the encounter doesn’t add value, don’t do it.  That’s all.

What’s value?  It’s whatever the customer thinks it is. Things like:

Treating them like a person

  1. Displaying courtesy and good manners
  2. Smiling when we see them
  3. Pitching things in their  terms, not ours
  4. Treating the customer as someone who  is valued and not a potential thief or fraudster (Banks, are you listening?)
  5. Recognising them when we see them again
  6. Recognising them and rewarding them for coming back
  7. Apologising (and not with the weaselly “I’m sorry you feel that way”)
  8. Understanding their problem before offering a solution
  9. Making the customer look good (always a good thing to do)
  10. Showing we are thinking about them, and what matters to them,  even when they aren’t there
  11. Being respectful – of the customer, of our colleagues, of the competition
  12. Being kind.

Making it easy

  1. Taking away something that is inconvenient for them
  2. Simplifying the transaction (or better, simplifying the customer’s situation)
  3. Offering control to our customer (of the conversation, of the transaction)
  4. Making it so that there is only one way for the customer to do something – and it’s always good
  5. Being patient
  6. Making it easy to pay
  7. Making it easy to get money back
  8. Pricing fairly
  9. Being consistent
  10. Making it easy to talk to a person (if that is what our customer wants)
  11. Making it easy not to have to talk to a person (if that is what our customer wants)
  12. Making it easy for the customer to change their mind
  13. Welcoming returns with a smile
  14. Improvising if the customer needs it
  15. Anticipating their questions (nicely)
  16. Listening to them. REALLY listening.  (Note: this one is hard).

Being honest

  1. If we can’t do it, saying so
  2. If someone else can do it better or cheaper, saying so
  3. Pricing things in ways that are clear and easy to understand
  4. No surprises – being up front with bad news and what we are doing to fix it
  5. If there is a quick or cheap fix for their problem, solving it for them
  6. Refusing to sell them the wrong thing
  7. Keeping our promises, no matter how small (especially the small ones)

Being interesting

  1. Being funny (but not offensive)
  2. Speak about their problems more than our solutions

Helping

  1. Explaining what is happening and what will happen next
  2. Putting ourselves in their shoes
  3. Giving them meaningful choices
  4. Tailoring what we do to what they want
  5. Keeping their anonymity (if that is what they want)
  6. Reassuring them
  7. Taking responsibility for sorting things out, even if it is not our fault
  8. Solving their problems quickly and consistently

 Giving them something

  1. Offering something extra (a lagniappe, for example)
  2. Giving away  insight or knowledge because the customer needs help
  3. Letting them take the credit
  4. Giving them things because we think they might like them
  5. Making it cheaper because they’ve come back
  6. Accepting that if they have got things wrong, it’s our fault for allowing it to happen

Speed

  1. Being fast
  2. Being instant
  3. Letting them be slow. Waiting for them. Patiently. And with a smile.
  4. Being convenient in ways that matter to them
  5. Asking them how quickly they want it and getting it to them whenever they say

Each of these will make the customer experience better.  Better, customers will value dealing with us. And if there’s value, they’ll be willing to buy from us.  And they’ll want to do it again. And this is the bottom-line reason why customer experience matters.

(Photo credit: adapted from ‘Happy Customer’ by Dan Taylor, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/, modified under Creative Commons license) 

Five things Game of Thrones can teach us about customer experience

game-of-thrones-logoThis is a bit of shameless puffery on the back of the Game of Thrones (GoT) season finale tomorrow. But I make no apologies: GoT offers a number of useful lessons for those who want to make the customer experience better.

1 What customers like is not necessarily what customers need.

197kv319iaqtcjpgGoT kills off lots of people, including many characters we like. The death of the Red Viper two weeks ago at the end of Tyrion’s trial by combat has left fans reeling, with howls of outrage echoing across the internet.

But this is, of course, one of the reasons we keep watching: because we know that no-one is safe. We may not like it when a character dies, but it makes the show more compelling.

In business, also, we need to concentrate on giving people what they need, and sometimes this comes at the cost of what we want. Virgin media, for example, has designed its business to deliver broadband services at competitive prices.  When something goes wrong, they will do their best to fix it. Drop them an email and they will respond quickly.

But not by phone.

Apparently there are numbers with which to contact Virgin media by phone for support, but I’ve never found them.  And I understand why.  It would add a layer of complexity and cost which would compromise their business model.  Virgin gets it. They give us what we need, but not everything we want.

2 How you do it matters as much as what you do.

game of thrones mainGoT is magnificently shot.  Recent scenes have featured Tyrion languishing in the dungeon while awaiting trial.  Typically, these scenes have opened with a slow shot revealing Tyrion lit from the side, one half of his face in light, the other in darkness; a perfect photographic study and (I daresay) a visual metaphor for his uncertain fate between light and darkness.

Detail.

Richness.

The GoT team are plainly thinking not just of getting through the words that are on the pages of the script, but on how the scene is to be experienced by the viewer.

A relatively recent phenomenon is the rise of YouTube videos which show the unwrapping and unpacking experience of new pieces of (usually) technology.  Luxury goods companies have known this for ever (jewellery is always sumptuously packaged).  Apple is the tech company that pioneered taking this thinking to their products, so now their competitors are doing so as well.

Why? Because packing things nicely makes unpacking them a pleasurable part of the customer experience? Yes, but also because it shows that they care about the details. ‘If they think this much and put so much effort into packaging my product,’ thinks the consumer, ‘the product must be good. They must be good.’

3 Inject some personality and, if possible, fun.

GoT is many things, but fun?  Well…yes.

Earlier this season,  a Meereenese rider was challenging Daenerys’ champion. He shouted an intimidatory, bloodcurdling set of insults in one of the invented GoT languages, Low Valyrian. What he was saying was, in truth, borrowed from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when the French knight pours scorn on King Arthur from the castle walls, saying things like: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

Meerenese insultWas doing so essential for the customer experience? Not a whit. But fun and enjoyable for the cast, crew and writers (and now the fans)? Of course.

As, for example, Virgin Group demonstrates, if your employees enjoy their jobs then your customers will have a better experience. Happy employees = happy customers.

4 Use lean storytelling:
make your story do some work

A GoT season is only ten episodes long.  For those of us raised on television seasons that last thirteen or twenty-six episodes, this isn’t enough. We want more.

But with only ten episodes to cover the many, many stories typically developed in a GoT season comes discipline: tight editing, quick plot progression and rapid character development. Each scene does at least two tasks – to progress the story but also to deepen (or sometimes end) character.

For example, in episode eight of Season four, Ser Barristan confronts Ser Jorah about a letter that pardons him as a reward for spying on Daenerys. The scene contains little explanation, instead directing the characters’ attention (and ours) to the consequences of the revelation and so helping us to understand what is going on. Not a word is wasted in flabby exposition.

got-game-of-thrones-34466376-500-250

Explaining things to customers is boring for us and for them.  But we often need to do so.  Perhaps we should take a leaf out the GoT writers’ handbook and see what extra value we can add to the message make it more valuable, like Virgin America do here – boosting their brand while explaining the boring stuff.

5 Use a long story arc

GoT has several LOOOONG story arcs working in background at any time. The opening scene – even before the credits – of Episode 1, Season 1, reveals white walkers doing bad things to people.  “Winter,” we hear, “is coming.”Winter is coming

Well, it’s the end of season four and there’s not much sign of snow south of the Wall.

As I said: long.

This means that behind every story line and scene is our understanding that some longer stories are playing out.  It makes for a richer experience and means that if, sometimes, some scenes don’t excite as much as others, we accept it, because we know more is coming.

The holy grail of customer experience so to create an enduring relationship with a customer, where both we and our customer knows that each transaction is part of a bigger story.   This what drives Zappos’ success. They demonstrate complete trust in the customer – help when choosing, unlimited free returns and pretty much endless telephone support. Why? Because Zappos don’t want to sell you a pair of shoes.  They want to sell you lots of shoes. And tell your friends.  So if one pair doesn’t work out, that’s ok: they’re with you for the long haul.

The season four finale is tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what happens and I know I will enjoy it.

Wouldn’t it be great if our customers felt like this when they think about buying from us?

Enjoy the show.

Image credits:

Game of Thrones logo: Geek News Network – http://geeknewsnetwork.net/2013/11/21/rumor-telltale-games-is-working-on-game-of-thrones-game/

Game of Thrones death map: Via Jesus Diaz at http://sploid.gizmodo.com/all-the-killings-in-game-of-thrones-in-one-gigantic-glo-1472181613

Tyrion picture: Via http://nerdapproved.com/misc-weirdness/a-new-game-of-thrones-trailer-means-the-season-premiere-is-coming/

Meereenese rider: Timelord at http://timelord903.tumblr.com/post/85416706750/have-you-planted-any-easter-eggs-in-the-show

Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan: Via http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/game-of-thrones/images/34466376/title/barristan-selmy-jorah-mormont-fanart

White walker: http://imgur.com/gallery/zahDJCr

 

How to transform the customer experience without a transformation programme

Welder

Make it better

In my last post, I described ten ways we can make the customer experience better.

Here they are again, framed from the customer’s point of view.

  1. You’re quick.
  2. You are easy to deal with.
  3. You get it right.
  4. You care if something isn’t right.
  5. You prove that I can trust you.
  6. You trust me.
  7. You are honest about what you can’t do.
  8. You act in my interests.
  9. You are professional.
  10. You are honourable.

*Sigh*

That’s a big list.

Let’s get real. We can’t fix everything.

But we do need to make things better.  Customers expect it. Our competitors are doing it.  We need to act quickly, sustainably and now.

And here’s the thing.  It costs very little to make each of these better. Without investing in technology. Without employing expensive consultants.

It just requires our attention.

Our people are already busy. They have to pay attention to the day job and to keep the lights on.  Most folk (and most organisations) can pay attention to no more than two or three things over and above this.

The trick is to choose the things to which we pay attention.

How?

Here is an approach I have found useful. I use it to make a difference quickly for customers. I find it especially helpful when I don’t want to wait for the promised new IT system to fix everything (which it can’t) or for the consultants to transform our processes for the better (which they don’t) or for the programme office to get its act together to deliver its big ‘transformation programme’ (which it won’t).

We talk to our customers. Better yet, we have our people (you know, the folk who actually do stuff for customers) talk to them.

We find out from our customers the things they would like us do better. We prompt them with questions drafted from the set above.  Keep the questions as open and simple as possible.  We’ll get a big list.

It’ll feel bad to see all the things we do badly for customers.

But that’s ok. Because now we can start to make things better.

We talk to our people who are responsible for the things that customers would like us to get better. Have them pick one or two or three things from the list.  No more than three.  Picking one or two is fine.

The criteria for they should use to pick out things from the list are these:

  • We can make it better.
  • We can make it better in ways that make a noticeable difference to the customer.
  • We can make it better within 30 days
  • We can make sure it stays better

Once they have made their choice,  we stand back and give our people license to do what they need to do. We help them when they need it, especially to remove sources of delay. Speed is the key, because we want to pay attention to this to make sure it gets better, and to keep paying attention is hard.

So: speed.

After thirty days, we (or better, the people doing the work) check back with customers about the difference they see.  We share this with everyone.

We test with our people that they can sustain the improvements they have made.  The only real test is this question:  if all our people changed jobs or moved on and were replaced, how do we know that our service would stay improved? If we can’t be sure, then let’s fix it so that we can be sure.

Go back to the list.  Ask customers again.

Repeat the next month. Pay attention to the new thing.

Repeat, repeat and repeat again.

Watch things get massively better for your customers. Let’s give it a go.

What I’m saying here is not original.  It’s just a version of continuous improvement, or Kaizen, or Agile or Lean.

Nor is it intellectually difficult.

And it won’t fix everything (so yes, sometimes, we do need that big IT system or a process redesign, but less often than we think).

But over (say) a year, it will make a huge difference.

And that’s what it’s all about.

So come on.  Let’s make things better for our customers.

(Image credit: USAF photo by Kurt Gibbons III) 

Ten ways to make the customer experience better

two on the beach LomoYou can’t control the customer experience.

You can’t control customers’ feelings, or their personal circumstances, or how much attention they are going to pay to you.  Their experience of your brand, or your product, or your service is down to how they feel. And you can’t control their feelings.

But you can make it better

You can control how you maximise the chances that the experience is positive.

Here are ten examples of what I mean, described, of course, from the customer’s perspective. If you make any of these better, your typical customer’s experience will improve.

  1. You’re quick.  Waiting is a cost to me, the customer. It’s a cost that I don’t want to incur.  Whatever I want, I want it now. The more you can get me what I want straightaway, the more I like it. (Delay also makes it more likely that things will go wrong, and I don’t like that).
  2. You are easy to deal with.  Whatever I want to do is so easy I don’t have to think about it.  I get the information or the product or the service or the support I want in the ways that I want it.
  3. You get it right. What you sell me is what I want.  And what I want is what I get. And it doesn’t go wrong.
  4. You care if something isn’t right.  If it does go wrong, I want you to know before I do. I want you to fix it with no inconvenience on my part. And I want you to put right anything that went bad because your product went wrong, before I have to ask.
  5. You prove that I can trust you. I want to know, before I buy, that I can trust you. You give me value anytime I engage with you, whether I am buying from you or not. If every encounter with you provides insight, advice or help in ways that matter to me, then I’ll trust you with my money when it’s time to buy.
  6. You trust me. You don’t behave as if I am a thief or a fraudster. You acknowledge, listen and act on what I tell you. If you need to do things to make things secure, you explain why and you do your best to make it easy and trouble-free.  You take my side.
  7. You are honest about what you can’t do.  If you can’t help me then you let me know so I don’t waste time or have incorrect expectations. And then you help me in whatever way you can.
  8. You act in my interests.  If something is better for me than what you are offering or what I am requesting, you let me know and you help me with it.
  9. You are professional. You treat me with respect. You show courtesy and good manners. You treat your employees with respect and courtesy as well, as they represent you (and, of course, it is the right thing to do).
  10. You are honourable.  You don’t hide things from me in small print. You make promises and you keep them.  You don’t make promises you can’t keep.  And you do what’s right, regardless of policy.

Improve any one of these things and you will make the customer experience better. In addition, you will cut your costs of sale and service and make your people happier. Improve all ten, and the experience you offer may well become the stuff of legend.

(I wrote this and then discovered Seth Godin’s wonderful post: Your call is very important to us which covers related ground, but with added goodness (I love the idea of routing delayed calls to the CEO’s spouse…)  Enjoy).

Image credit: Mike Bird

Is transformation doomed?

Embed from Getty Images

The very nice folk at HP Business Value Exchange asked to me write a piece on transformation.  What emerged wasn’t really what they (or I) expected – but, very sportingly, they posted it anyway.

Transformation – to take advantage of Big Data or introduce cloud-based CRM or adopt Lean thinking or any of the other fashionable buzzword bingo terms –  is big business.  If we embark on a transformation initiative, we should be clear about whose agenda we are following if we are not to enter a world of pain.

Read more here. I’d really like to know your thoughts, so please add your comments there when you read it.

Why our customer experience is damned

Hellfire and Damnation

You can please some customers all of the time.
You can please all customers some of the time.
But you can’t please all of your customers all of the time.

(With apologies to Abraham Lincoln and John Lydgate)

Here’s the thing: I hate to be helped in shops. I don’t like it when an assistant approaches and asks “Can I help you?”  That’s just me. Maybe it’s because I live in England.  I want to make up my own mind and seek help from an assistant when I want it.

My friend, on the other hand, likes an assistant to help him. He resents it when he sees staff standing around, not offering to help. He wants them to come up and ask.

What’s a shop to do? The customer experience they offer is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Many companies try to please everyone. They try to cover all the bases. They attempt to offer an experience that handles their main set of target customers and the others, the exceptions. Result? The experience they offer is confusing. They serve neither set of customers well and both groups of customers become unhappy and leave.

In our businesses we want to avoid this. We must analyse customer data to get insight into what matters to our target customers. We must combine this insight with our own understanding of what we are good at, to think about the experience we want to offer.

Then we must choose to provide the experience that works best for the customers we want to get and keep.

When we do, we know that such an experience won’t work for all customers. But we accept this because we will be confident that it will work for the majority of those we want to serve.

The customers we lose are the price we pay to enable us to offer a great experience for our target market. Why is it worth paying?

Because if we can truly offer a great experience for their target market, then we have a real edge over the competition. We will secure a greater market share. And we can seek higher margins as our customers accept that higher value justifies higher prices.

Even better, we save money. We won’t waste time, resources and attention on exceptions and variations for customers whom we are not targeting and from whom we will get little return.

Of course, the bright reader (and all my readers are bright) will have spotted what has happened here. The quality of customer experience we offer corresponds directly with the quality of our business strategy.

If we have made clear strategic choices about the customers we want to serve, we can confidently provide an experience that they will value.

If our strategy is unclear? Then we can only offer a confused or ambiguous customer experience.

So yes, our customer experience is damned. But it can happen in two ways. It can be damned because we choose to serve our target customers brilliantly and with confidence because we know who they are. By doing so, we are willing to accept that some current customers won’t value the experience we offer and may leave. And we accept this cost, because the payoff for our core customers – and for us – is so great.

In this case, our customer experience is a clear expression of our organisation’s strategic intent.

But the second path to damnation is far, far worse. It happens when we try to please everyone, because we don’t know (or are unwilling to choose) which customers we want to serve. Then we can’t offer a winning customer experience because we have to compromise to try to keep everyone happy.

In this case, the customer experience we offer is equally an expression of our organisation’s strategic intent. But what it expresses is ambiguity and confusion.

Keeping everyone happy may be a good intention, but it is also the road to Hell.

So maybe we have to accept that our customer experience is damned. But let’s choose how we want it to happen. For when we do, we give ourselves a chance to give our customers an experience that will make a real difference to them and to us.

(Image credit: Hellfire and Damnation by Jocelyn under Creative Commons License)

The art of customer experience

Jete - statue at Millbank, London

“Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

(Steve Jobs’ pitch to John Sculley, then CEO of Pepsi,
to persuade him to become CEO of Apple in 1983).

Every day for the past few months, I have walked past this statue of the dancer, David Wall, by Enzo Plazzotta. You can find it outside a block of upmarket flats on Millbank in London. The title of the piece is Jeté, a ballet term that refers to a leap.

Honestly, for about a month, I hated it.

David Wall’s face is set almost in a pout and his hair – well, it would do well in American Hustle.

But I am a sucker for excellence. It grew on me.  I noticed the precision that the sculptor used.  I started to look at the figure of the dancer himself. 

The sculpture, magically, captures the dancer in the air.  His leading foot turns, just so, to maximise extension and clarity of line.  His rear foot also turns, but differently.  

His fingers, at the end of his immaculately extended arm, are all where they need to be. His trailing hand makes the line of his leap perfect.

This figure in metal, like, I imagine, the figure in the flesh, transforms from something lumpen and heavy to something free, elegant and apparently effortless.

Which, I know, is the exact opposite of the truth.

EVERYTHING about this leap is deliberate. The turn of the ankle, the angle of the leg, even the spacing between the fingers.

Everything.

Deliberate effortlessness like this is only possible through untold hours of training, development of technique, feedback and coaching, just to produce an instant in the air which, were it not been captured in sculpture, might go unnoticed.

The purpose is not just to make the leap, but to strive to make it perfect, even if the only person who knows that it is perfect is the dancer himself.

This is, I suppose, what art means: to conceive of what might be right and then set oneself to achieve the impossible standards that it demands.

And the same applies to business. The best businesses, the ones we love, the ones we welcome into our lives, exist because the people behind them want to do something, to achieve something, to make a difference.

They focus on doing the right things, as well as they can, to the best of their ability.  They might be making cars or phones, or flying planes or driving trains, or making television programmes – or the ads that come in between.  What we perceive, as customers, as buyers, as people, is a sense of excellence.

And so we buy.

And we enjoy buying.

And we keep buying.

Because these companies exist to make things better for their customers and they, and we, succeed when they do.

Do these companies make money? In the main, yes.

But that is not what they are in business to do. (and which is why, sometimes, their investors get grumpy).

The money they make is a side-effect.  They make money because they are doing the right things.  Because they (and their customers) in what they do.  They believe that taking infinite pains to get things right; taking deliberate care about every last detail; and striving for a vision that has meaning, are things worth doing in themselves.

But, like an artist who prostitutes himself for money, as soon as a company forgets this, its art suffers.

I was once asked by the CEO of a multi-national tech company what I thought might be the difference between a ‘good’ company and a ‘bad’ one.  I said that I thought I could see one core difference.  A ‘good’ company’s primary concern is its business and how it can do better; a ‘bad’ company’s primary concerns are ‘the numbers’ and how it can make them better.

And companies that focus on their numbers aren’t focused on the customer.

Customers don’t buy numbers.  They don’t experience numbers. They don’t want numbers.  They want the stuff that a company does that solves their problems, gives them value and makes them feel good.

My months of walking past Enzo Plazzotta’s sculpture have taught me something about business. The simple delivery of business, doing it better and making some cash – this is the craft of business.  But striving to create and run a business which customers enjoy, which employees want to drive to greater heights and which makes a genuine difference to people’s lives – this is the art of business.  This makes being in business worthwhile.

It’s open to all of us. If we can conceive of greatness, if we take deliberate pains to get it right, and if we set and meet impossible standards, then we too might create something wonderful.

I believe that, if it wants to, any business can achieve wonder.  Can make customers want to be part of their adventure. Can have their people achieve amazing things just to be able to say, “…we did that”. Can have customers enjoy, and value, what they buy.

This is why I spend my time with organisations to make the customer experience better. Because it is at the point when customers experience what we say and what we do, that, perhaps, we make masterpieces.

Say it with deeds.

Chicken rhyme

The Language of Love

Words need to match expectations if we want our relationships to succeed.

Valentine’s Day reminds me how much the language of love corresponds to the business of engaging with customers.

Love is about building enduring relationships, where both parties feel like equals, where they each give and get something from the relationship. It is about two-way communication.  It is about trust. It is about wanting to invest our time in the relationship, because doing so rewards us now and because we want it to do so in the future.

For most organisations, this also describes the relationship we would like to have with our customers (and more importantly, the relationship we would like them to have with us).

But, as many of us have learned to the cost of our broken hearts, this isn’t easy.

Chores vs Candlelight

While people can say the right things, what we say through the candlelight over dinner with a nice wine can be very different to what we do on a wet Wednesday evening when the chores need doing and we’re both tired after a long day at work.

And if we can take out the rubbish without being asked, or do the dishes and still smile because we want to cheer our partner up and maybe feel a little better ourselves, then – while candlelit dinners are all very nice – it is when we stand in the rain by the bin or at the sink up to our elbows in dishwater that we don’t just talk about love, we show it.

And showing our love is what counts.

Caring is Doing

We can love our customers during the sale, as we smile and show them our brochures and we give them the pitch and they get excited that maybe the thing we are offering might be the one, the thing that they are seeking.

But are we ready to work at this relationship? To show our love rather than just talk about it?

We do so when we let them call us for help and we answer in person, not with a computer; when we design our website to make it easy for them to do what they want, rather than just get what we want to tell them; when we remember their name and know what they have bought from us and recognise that even the smallest thing can cause frustration; and when we say “don’t worry about it” and give them their money back with a smile when they tell us they aren’t happy.

The experience we offer our customers shows how we care about them much more than any words we use.

Real relationships don’t happen just because we dress up nice and say we care, they happen because the things we do in the weeks and months and years after that first date show we care.

It’s true for our partners.  It’s true for our customers.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

(Image credit: Quickmeme.com at http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3pf2)

Cure is as important as care

Mennonite Board of Missions. Dr Rutt: looking for a new hospital. Slave Lake, Alberta, 1965.I am fortunate enough to be invited to write guest posts on occasion on HP Business Value Exchange, a site for CIOs.  The latest one tells three stories about the dangers of taking quick, decisive action that only addresses the symptoms of problems.

In customer-land this is akin to enabling your agents to go the extra mile to solve your customer’s problems – without doing anything about why they have the problem in the first place.  It may seem obvious, but it is a logic more pervasive than you might think…

The link is here.

(Image credit: Mennonite Board of Missions. Dr Rutt: looking for a new hospital. Slave Lake, Alberta, 1965).

Ignoring millions of pounds – a lesson for 2014

Hugh Laurie's priority seat

Free money

A few years ago, a client told me this story.  She was the European financial director of a large global technology company. The company had a factory in a deprived economic area in the UK.  New legislation to boost employment meant that her company was now entitled to claim government grants worth £5 million.

Getting the money would involve much bureaucratic palaver and a lot of my client’s time as well as much effort from her team.

But still….

Free money?

£5 million?

Her boss, the global financial director, got wind of this jackpot and sent an urgent email to the effect of…

”…Free cash? £5m?  This has to be your top priority.  Please advise me on the actions you are taking immediately…”

To which my very capable, but very overworked, client responded:

“Delighted to make this my top priority.  Please let me know which activity I should downgrade instead: the £150 million pound organisational restructuring or the £50 million tax negotiations?”

She heard no more about it being a ‘top priority’…

Don’t do it

Most organisations are rubbish at prioritisation. This is because most people think that prioritisation is about deciding which things are most important.

It isn’t.  Any fool can do that – and I’m sure that most people reading this have worked for such a person.

Prioritisation is, instead, about moving the less important stuff to the bottom of the list and then choosing not to do anything about it.

Doing this allows us to  apply our finite time and resources on the things that make the biggest difference, rather than frittering away our time – and more importantly, our attention – on the stuff that is, yes, important, but not as important as the big stuff.

As my client showed, we don’t want to waste time on £5m if we have £150m and £50m to worry about.

The price of success in 2014

In this, I am with Tim Ferriss, author of the Four-Hour Work Week.  As he points out in his article, The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen:

“…oftentimes, in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.”

Most of us are terrible at letting bad things happen.  We worry that important stuff doesn’t get done, that key things will get missed, that we will disappoint some customers.

But the alternative is that we continue to muddle through, to try to do everything, to keep wading through the corporate treacle – and end up doing the really important stuff badly, because we can’t give it the time and attention it needs.

But if letting bad things happen is the price we have to pay to deliver the really critical stuff, if this means that the big, big breakthroughs happen, if this is what it takes to transform the experience of all our customers – then isn’t it worth it?

Many of us are thinking now of our goals for 2014. Perhaps we should also be thinking about the things that are indeed important but which we won’t deliver this year – so that we free ourselves instead to work on the big things that will really make this year a success.

What won’t you do this year so that you meet your most important goals for 2014 ?

(Image credit: Karva Javi  under a creative commons license. His Flickr stream is excellent.)

What if our customers wrote to Santa?

Santa in a chair

A Customer Christmas Experience

It is the week before Christmas and all through the store

Run thousands of shoppers seeking presents galore.

But in the B2B office, few carols are singing;

the email’s gone quiet; the phones have stopped ringing.
 

We have time to reflect; to review – with some cheer? –

When customers bought, or did not, or promised: “next year.”

Some of them stayed, for that, let’s be festive.

Others, they left us, they churned or were restive.
 

Let’s picture a scene. What would they have said

If sending letters to the man dressed in red?

So let us wonder – what’s on their Christmas list?

What would they like? What have we missed?
 

Some savings? Of course, but we think that we’ll find

That customers come to us with more on their mind.

Customers know that what’s often lost

Is value, if you focus only on cost.
 

Innovation, perhaps? Thinking out of the box

Could be the thing that blows off their socks.

Well, we’ll do what we can, but we might only regret

promising things we’ve not thought of yet.
 

Let’s read again their note in the chimney

And learn what tickles our customers’ whimsy.

What’s on their mind? What’s their concern?

What is it they want Santa to learn?
 

Perhaps it’s Big Data? That’s big this year.

But do customers care? In a pig’s ear.

What’s top of their list? What’s top of the stack?

What can we do to have them come back?
 

When you see it, it hits you, like God dropped a bus.

What matters is thinking of them, and not us.

Do what we can to make it about them.

Like: don’t sell a solution if you don’t know their problem.
 

Or using their language, (‘cos jargon sounds funny);

Or saying “resources”, (while they’re thinking money).

It’s the experience, you see: what they feel, what they sense

Is what matters; what makes the big difference.
 

So while we reflect on the things we might say

About 2013 and customers who strayed,

There are things we can do to be sharper and better

Regardless of channel – web, phone, email or letter.
 

First we need to begin – this isn’t new news –

By putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes.

Yes, we can tie ourselves up with journeys and maps

And maybe these might prevent customer mishap.
 

But if we want to do more (and we certainly do)

(Something pragmatic? Perhaps something new?)

Then I have two things that I would like to suggest.

Neither are radical, but don’t get distressed.
 

Both of these work and are shown to be

Helpful indeed towards customer victory.

The first one is simple, but quite hard to try:

It’s getting it right – but in the customer’s eye.
 

It means changing our work and even our brains

To get it right straightaway, again and again.

The second is tough, but it’s a critical need:

For all of our customers, what matters is speed.
 

So let’s resolve, in 2014

To do more for our customers, be they passive, or keen.

Let’s get things right in the ways that they like

And let’s do so quickly, so they don’t take a hike.
 

So, St Nick, from us here’s our letter:

Next year, for our customers, we want to do better.
 

Thank for reading throughout the year. Happy Christmas.
 

(Image credit: Nicklolas Muray, 1958, George Eastman House Collection, http://www.eastmanhouse.org/inc/collections/photography.php).

Customer experience without competition

Water skiers on the OzarksThe only sustainable competitive advantage

If our business has to compete in the long-term, there are (with apologies to Michael Porter and his chums in the business theory business) really only three ways to do so – and just one that endures.

There’s no point in competing solely on price because that kills margins and can’t be sustained.  And there’s no point in competing just on innovation because sooner or later everyone catches up and no-one, no matter how good, can churn out new technologies on a treadmill forever.

Which is why so many companies now choose to compete on customer experience.  It’s one of the few ways an organisation can offer genuinely sustainable differentiation and protect margins; it makes for more enduring, loyal customers; and it is very effective in building a strong, sustainable brand.

The purpose of customer experience

But most government departments don’t have competitors.  Their customers typically have to use them, whether they want to or not. So does this mean that public sector organisations can ignore customer experience? Or should they, if they want to minimise costs? After all, it’s just another management fad, right?

Quite the opposite. Competitive advantage is not the goal of customer experience – it is merely an excellent side-effect.  Let’s not forget that the main purpose of any organisation is usually to offer a product or (more usually for public sector organisations) a service that their customers value.  If an organisation can offer a good customer experience, this enables that organisation to do what it exists to do – but better.

This applies just as much whether an organisation is selling cars, building houses, collecting taxes or handling planning applications. The only difference is that in the public sector, value to the taxpayer is paramount and the purpose is service, not profit.

The return on customer experience

The benefits of offering a good customer experience have particular resonance for the public sector.  Benefits such as these:

  • Fewer people complain, so an organisation saves on resources it would otherwise spend on handling exceptions and resolving issues.
  • A good customer experience relies on consistent service delivery (how else does an organisation keep its promises?), enabling organisations to benefit from reduced variation, lower complexity and more economical  service delivery.
  • Better and more fundamental understanding of the customer, so organisations learn how to adapt and learn faster and more flexibly.
  • And organisations that offer a good customer experience are usually good places to work, so they keep good people and help them to stay motivated.

The public sector payoff

Any organisation would value such returns. So would their customers.  And for public sector organisations, these translate into two other, distinctive benefits.

First: any public sector organisation that delivers services well, efficiently and in ways which its users value – this  immediately reflects well on the elected officials responsible for it. This political dividend has unique value in the public sector.

And second: we are all invested in public services, as taxpayers and users – so when a public service delivers an excellent customer experience with all the return that we see here, we all benefit.

And that has to be a good thing.

This is slightly revised version of a blog I originally posted at Business Value Exchange; a site well worth a visit.

(Image credit: Ralph Walker, Commerce and Industrial Development Collection, Missouri State Archive, Public Domain).

 

There’s an elephant in the meeting room, and it has many names.

Elephant in the Room - BanksyFor every complex problem, there is a simple solution –

– and it’s wrong.

(H.L. Mencken)

 

Elephants with many names

Let’s stipulate that most businesses aren’t charities.  They exist to make money.

With that in mind, what do the following have in common?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Balanced Scorecard, Management by Objectives (MBO), Lean, Cloud Computing, Total Quality Management (TQM), Human Capital Management (HCM), One-Minute Management, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Management By Walking About (MBWA), Matrix Management, Activity-Based Costing (ABC), Core Competencies, The Learning Organisation (TLO), Competitive Advantage, Benchmarking, Social Media, Organisation Development (OD), Net Promoter Score (NPS), Scenario Planning, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Web 2.0, Business Process Re-engineering (BPR), Situational Leadership, Management of Change (MoC), Theory of Constraints (ToC), Just-in-Time (JIT), Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED), Statistical Process Control (SPC),  Data Warehousing, Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE), Big Data, Six Sigma, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Myers-Briggs, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and – even – Customer Experience?

That’s right.

They are all management fads: labels for bundles of fashionable ideas, or processes, or technologies all sold on the promise that they will improve the business.

Most are based on some nuggets of common sense.  Some can point to businesses that will testify that they adopted the idea / technology / process / philosophy and things got better.

And yet, and yet…

The money problem

If you remember, we stipulated that businesses exist to make money.  If so, then the rationale for these silver bullets has to be that, in the end, the businesses which adopt them make more money.

In my experience, for most companies, these fads almost always end up being things which businesses do instead of making money.

If you add up the cost of the investment in technology, consultancy fees, corporate effort, time and disruption of attention associated with each fad listed above, across all the companies which have tried them, then I wouldn’t be surprised if the total spend per fad was some way north of billion dollars.

Each.

In some cases, much more.

I would be also be very surprised if the return per fad was anything like as big, even if we only look at those which have succeeded.

And this is before we take into account that most such management initiatives fail.

We need to do something different, to make things better. We adopt one of these labels, dress it up as an initiative and believe that it will give us a solid business return – but most of the time, it won’t.

This is the elephant in the meeting room. We think that doing these things will make our business better.  It’s the other way round: if we need to make our business better we should do whatever helps us get there best, and not just assume that management fashion will be the simple silver bullet we need.

I’m not saying that any of these initiatives are bad things. They almost always are are based on some nuggets of common sense or insight and a few can point to some companies that will testify to the results they achieved.

A hidden law of business

So what is wrong?  I think that what these good ideas into money pits, that they fall foul of one of the hidden laws of business.   Managing a business of any size is so complex, demanding and fluid that  success requires significant intellectual effort.  But this is where the law comes in:

Most people will do anything – including sustained hard work – rather than think.

Thinking about something – trying to work out the right thing to do, or solving a persistent problem, or trying to determine the best way to proceed, or working out what needs to be done if we are to succeed – all of these are very difficult.

This thinking is just hard.  So hard that most companies and most people find it easier to lose sight of the bottom-line returns they are seeking, and focus instead on successfully completing the big tangible milestones which each fad entails.

  • CRM system installed? Check.
    More sales as a result?  …err…
  • BYOD policy in place?  Check.
    Staff working more productively as a result?  Whoops.
  • Net promoter score programme installed?  Check.
    Customers staying with us longer and spending more as a result? Who knows?

It is just so much easier to focus on the deliverable, rather than the outcome.

Outcome-based thinking

How can we beat this problem?

Begin with the outcomes.  Before committing to any of these things – or any other change, we need to list the three to ten things which fit under this heading:

By the end of this activity / initiative / project, we will have..

For example:

  • By the end of this CRM implementation, we will be using it to increase sales revenues by 15%.
  • By the end of this Lean project, we will have applied it to reduce unit costs by 20% .
  • By the end of this customer experience programme, we will have increased customer lifetime revenue by 50%.

Not systems installed but systems used.

Not stakeholders trained, but stakeholders doing.

Not stuff delivered but value achieved.

Once our outcomes are clear, then we can by all means adopt the initiative we like; we just have to make sure that the focus is on the outcome, not the groovy new jargon / framework / system that the consultants are proposing or the technologists are selling.  And if our focus is on the outcome,  we can pay attention to other work we have to do if our project is give us the value we want.

Of course, I may barking up the wrong tree.   So please:  prove me wrong.  Are you implementing one of these fads (or some other)?  Do you recognise this problem?  If so, how have you overcome it? If not, what are you doing to ensure that real value is delivered?

Please do let me know – and good luck.

(Image credit: Elephant in the Room by Banksy, taken by Jdcollins13 and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)