Category Archives: Implementation

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)

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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) 

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) 

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.)

How to do customer experience: 3 ways to beat the grumps

Grump Street

Beware of the Grumps

When we want to change anything in an organisation, we will meet the Grumps. Grumps are colleagues who appear to support the project (and who may actually believe that they are acting in the project’s best interests) but whose presence is toxic to success.

The most telling sign that someone is a Grump is to note their effect on the energy of others.

If their presence adds to the energy of the team – if they are ‘radiators’* – then they are probably not Grumps.

If, however, their presence sucks the energy from the room – if they are ‘drains’ – we need to be careful.

How they speak is often a giveaway. Grumps are people on the ground who reveal themselves in meetings and emails and water-cooler conversations when they say things like:

“…I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but…”

“…We’ve tried this already and…”

“Let’s be realistic, here…”

“…we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…”

Or (as I have genuinely heard in more than one company):

“…we have to be careful not to trust customers too much…”

…and similar statements which have the facade of reason but really reflect fundamental antipathy.

Grump damage

Grumps slowly strangle customer experience projects.

They raise seemingly legitimate objections which are never about the intent of the project, always about the implementation.  Before long, the team is spending more time and energy managing concerns raised by Grumps and less in delivering the project.  Slowly, imperceptibly, Grumps force us to move our focus away from making things better for customers to trying to keep the Grumps happy.

And so the project fails – or more typically, fades away, as the effort needed to deliver something good gets brought down by the drag of managing the Grumps.

How to beat the Grumps

These three steps can help us beat the Grumps:

  1. Get them off the bus**  We don’t let a Grump be a member of our project team. It doesn’t matter how technically or managerially skilled they are, the drain on energy and time will not be worth it.  Much better to work with less-skilled colleagues who are radiators with the energy to succeed than let Grumps drain everyone’s momentum.
  2. Don’t give them a veto  It is a mistake to seek a buy-in from a Grump (or anyone else for that matter) unless their approval really matters to the success of the project.  For if they object, as a Grump will, we now either (a) divert resources and time to overcome their objections or (b) ignore their objections and go ahead, alienating them even more.  And if their approval is not needed, why did we seek it?  (Sigh: So many companies get this one wrong).
  3. Surround them with success  When we change to make things better for customers, the Grumps come last.  We begin by making the changes work with colleagues who are prepared to give them a go, ignoring the Grumps.  Once we have proven that the changes make a difference, then we make it work with the Grumps.  Grumps seek support for their belief that the project won’t succeed.  Proven success defuses such support.

Delivery de-Grumped

Good customer experience projects are all about leverage. They seek the places and strategies which yield maximum results in the fastest time. Grumps kill leverage, by forcing us to consider their objections instead of the customers, slow us down by distracting our attention and diverting our resources, and kill our projects by slowly sucking out our energy and momentum.

But if we can identify Grumps early and adopt the right practical strategies to prevent the damage they can cause, we remove one of the biggest barriers to customer experience project success.

Have you had the misfortune of working with Grumps?  What Grump warning signs have you seen? Let us know in the comments below.

*The idea of ‘Radiators’ and ‘Drains’ comes from Julian Fellowes in his book, Past Imperfect. I came across it cited in an article in Gretchen Rubin‘s blog, The Happiness Project.

**’Getting them off the bus’ is a CEO strategy recommended in Jim Collins’ excellent book, From Good to Great (p.56)

Image credit: David Stowell, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Radiator image courtesy of Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Drain image courtesy of Winond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net