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)

Advertisements

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)

 

If we don’t trust our own people, why should our customers?

3491629234_bb118fe645_oA gap in trust

When customers complain, they expect that the people to whom they speak will be able to handle it. But this can only happen if our organisations trust customer service agents  to use their judgement, initiative and discretion to do so.

But this is rare.

How do we know it’s rare?

Because too many times the agent has to hide behind phrases like: “…it’s our policy, I’m afraid,” or “…these are the only options I can offer you,” or “…let me speak to my supervisor.”

In other words, our people could resolve the problem, but our policy and procedures get in the way.

Why do we do this?  Because we don’t trust our people.

  • We don’t trust them to do the right thing, so we constrain them by procedures.
  • We don’t trust them to do what is necessary to fix things, so we require them to escalate to supervisors.
  • We don’t trust them to make the right decisions, so we remove their discretion.

Our agents become a barrier between the customer and resolution of their problem. Worse, agents know this, so they feel frustrated and grumpy.

Does the customer pick up on this? Of course they do.

So, instead of making things better for the customer, we make it more likely that we will make an already unhappy customer even more unhappy.

The trust trade-off

Yes, of course, there is a need to have consistent processes so that we can offer consistent standards of service quality.  And, yes, I know that service is a cost and we need to make sure that we manage our costs with discipline and attention.  And yes, of course, we know that if we give our agents free rein, we might incur liabilities and risks which may not be acceptable.

So we accept these constraints. And we require that our people work to them.

And by doing so, we assume that value we gain in meeting these needs outweighs the damage these constraints cause to trust: damage to our trust in our people, and damage to our customers’ trust in our brand.

And yet. And yet…

A different trust model

Is giving agents discretion over customer interactions very different from offering a quibble-free guarantee for returns as offered by (say) Marks and Spencers, Lands’ End or (most famously) Zappos?

Not in intent.  Yes, such guarantees open these organisations up to abuse, but their  success shows that losses through abuse are more than outweighed by the increase in brand perception, trust – and sales.

Perhaps we need to think about this trust thing differently.

So come on. If we want customers to trust us, then maybe we need to think about trusting the people we employ to work with customers to make things better.

Trust is earned – so let’s earn it.

(Image credit: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress), Senator Atlee Pomerene meets first US Secretary of Commerce, William Cox Redfield, c.1910). 

Fresh thinking about the customer