Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word any more

24 Apr

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In the good old days (for “good”, read “bad”) when a company screwed up, it was a case of wait and see who notices, deal with complaints as and when they come in, and hope that nobody goes to the press. When (or if) the spotlight was finally thrown on the miscreant, a written statement to the press would have told us that the company had learned its lesson, and that such things just cannot happen today, etc. 

Well, some things don’t change; wait and see if we get caught still seems prevalent – but what does seem to have changed is the way that companies recognise they need to be much more proactive, sincere and even ‘human’ in how they respond, and to mean it!

 Saying sorry is the new black. It’s certainly not the hardest word any more    

 Take a look then at this little collection of video apologies (or, what passes for apologies, in some cases). Some are very new, some older. Thanks are due especially to the Wall St. Journal for a 2011 article that captures some good ones (referenced at the foot of this post).    

 Eurostar

 Although it looks like it was filmed in a broom cupboard, this one scores for being timely, rough and ready and, more importantly, ‘real’. And, the compensation offer is appropriately generous! 

JetBlue Airways

Here is an apology for the logistical snafus that grounded planes and people; pretty straightforward and direct, and again reassures listeners that they will learn, but with the less than specific ‘we’re-going-to-conduct-a-review-so-we-learn’ defence. On the plus side, the choice of venue is interesting – here is the COO, a man in the nerve centre of the operations, not in an anodyne media interview suite, and with his jacket off, so maybe he’s part of the solution, rather than just the spokesman? And, like many public apologies these days (Barclays in their one page ads from last year is a good example) he reminds us that he needs to re-earn our trust.      

SSE

SSE, a UK energy provider, was fined £10.5m this month for miss-selling. Here is the Managing Director of Retail in a video entitled Sorry isn’t good enough’. And yes, he’s at pains to stress that ‘it wasn’t me’, it all happened several years ago. This seems to be a sorry tale of yet another toxic culture, where targets and incentives were designed to benefit the company concerned, at the cost of its customers.  Is he truly remorseful? You decide.

Domino’s Pizzas

For a good and ‘human’ example, look no further. Here is the CEO’s response to a stupid and disgusting prank by two (now ex-) employees in one store. The interesting thing about this video is that it tracks audience reaction to the ‘believability’ of his words. This is a man talking with sincerity, passion and anger – watch how the scores shoot up as he talks of the business “reeling” from the incident, and how it “sickened” him. And of course, extra ticks for being very specific on the actions taken.

Netflix

Two people apologising, and it’s personal, but it seems to morph into a sales pitch for the new service too. Wasn’t much liked on youtube either, but then of course, there was a lot of anger around the move that eventually prompted the apology! Check it out here

Groupon

A good one, from Groupon. Scores for a very detailed explanation for what went wrong, and it’s open and humble.

Sony

Err, what’s with the backdrop ambient music? Maybe too slick? Take a look here.  

Toyota

Again, a nice one, detailed and specific, which is good. Nice to see a freephone number throughout, too, to add to the voiceover.

BP

Enough has been said about the CEO’s “I want my life back” comment already. All I can say is, don’t bother clicking on the link in the WSJ story at the end of this post, as you get a message saying, “This video is private”! Maybe they’ve decided to move on?

What, then, makes a good apology?

From the top – we don’t want to see a PR spokesman forced to go through the motions by his or her boss. We want to see it from the boss, or if not the boss, then the person accountable for ensuring it doesn’t happen again. And we want to be convinced that he or she ‘gets it’. Let’s not forget that a good apology ought to be worth its weight in gold – commentators talk of the Domino’s apology as a classic: by showing his anger and disgust, and moving to action, the CEO repaired many bridges.  

We want to see it – Press releases, full page ads, carefully crafted letters don’t seem to cut the mustard. We want to see sincerity, humility and be convinced that lessons have been learned and that things will change.  

Be specific – we want to feel that the speaker acknowledges the real details of the problem, rather than shies away from them, or talks vaguely. Without them talking about the specifics, the nagging doubt is, do they really understand what went wrong, and what it meant for those affected?

Be timely – better to be proactive, surely, than wait till the chorus of disapproval is deafening. And especially so if the trigger for the apology is a regulatory fine, or other public censure! There, the risk is the apology is perceived as too little too late. 

Actions speak louder – we want to see that the business is taking responsibility, now, and that practical action is being taken, in order to give us some belief that the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. ‘Root and branch reviews’, internal investigations, audit committees are not the same as actions, by the way..the fear is, they are yet more smokescreen!

 

Finally, thanks to the Wall St Journal, for a 2011 round up of 10 CEO video apologies – I’ve used a few in this post, but for the full article, and access to all 10 (well, 9 given that the BP one has been taken down) click here

Are your customers out of sight, out of mind?

11 Apr

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

I’m always fascinated by how companies try to get beyond the numbers on the page. This feels pretty important to me – people who forget that their customers are, well… people too, with feelings and emotions, just like them, then find it all too easy to perpetuate the language of ‘target markets’, produce ppt presentations with arrows and bullseyes in them and talk about capturing share of wallet, and ponder, in all seriousness, questions like, who owns the customer? Errm…. newsflash: I’m not sure anybody owns me, least of all a company I just happen to have chosen to do business with.

So, here then are 12 great examples of how organisations seek to remind their folk that customers are people too:

Amazon is famous for having an empty chair in executive meetings that represents the customer. Throughout the meeting, executives are reminded to include the customer in their decision making processes, and to ask, what would we do if the customer were sitting in this chair, here and now?

TUI, a leading UK based travel company went one further and for several years permanently displayed three key challenging questions on their boardroom wall – see picture. Slide1

The software provider Adobe won a Forrester Award in 2011 for its customer immersion programme (see short film) which is all about getting executives to stop thinking like boardroom automatons, and step into the customers’ shoes for a day, and build empathy.

For another example of a more interactive experience, a few years ago, CIGNA (US Healthcare) developed an Experience Room in the HQ for their people to walk through and live the customer experience. Some 80% in total went through it. It set out the ‘before and after’ for how the experience is and how it should be. It was imaginatively done, so for example, there was a scary ‘wall of paper’ that was, as intended,  overwhelming and that made the point well; imagine if it was you receiving all this paperwork, and at a vulnerable moment in your life, how would you feel? This is a powerful mechanism to force the company to think ‘horizontal end to end experience’ and not ‘vertical functional silos’. 

USAA are renowned for making their staff ‘wear their customers’ shoes’ (clearly, recruiting from the armed forces helps too). As they say “we require all of our staff to live the lives of our customers – only then can they understand their unique needs”.  So, for example, induction involves eating army rations and wearing helmets and Kevlar flak jackets. USAA calls this living customers’ lives in ‘surround sound’. If you think this is too gimmicky for you, then consider the story I heard of the lady who joined USAA many years ago during the Vietnam war – her first job was to ring up troops stationed overseas for the war. Having got the ‘job’ part of the call out of the way, she was told to stay on the line for as long as needed and simply talk to the soldiers. For many, she was a lifeline back to the ‘normal’ world, back in the US.

Office Depot, a US business-supplies chain, has a “planogram lab”, a prototype store, where it brings in customers to co-create and test new ideas. As the Economist reported, it “also uses the old trick of forcing senior managers to play the role of customers”.

Deere and company (tractors, US) invite farmers who are buying tractors to visit the factory with their families. This is a chance to cement the relationship, but also for factory line workers to meet their customers, and maybe better understand the role their products play in their customers’ lives.

Talk to the customer – yes, I know, it’s not rocket science is it? As I shared in a recent post, SouthEastern does it in person – they regularly hold “meet the manager” events at London Bridge station in the rush hour, where 10 or so senior directors gather with their clipboards, listening to their customers’ tales of commuting nightmares. Others do it over the phone. Virgin Media are strong here – resisting the temptation to just have managers passively listen to calls, and for a day only (when, let’s face it, the urge to check in with the day job will still be strong), they have every manager spend a week back on the floor, being trained up, then manning the phones and at the end of it all, reflecting back on what they’ve seen and learned.  I recall a great conference presentation from 2 years ago when David Perotta of Vodacom talked about how he ‘ambushed’ a senior management conference in South Africa by announcing that in 10 minutes each table would be joined by 10 customers, ready to talk to the executives, answer their questions and ask their own, about the products and services! As you might imagine, David said there was a fair bit of trepidation at the outset, but 45 minutes later, he couldn’t get the managers to stop talking!

Finally, my old employer, Aviva made a series of short films celebrating ‘heroic’ service. They were well made, emotional, and they had a powerful impact internally. And, interestingly, one of the principles underpinning production was that the individual who had made such a difference for the customer was reunited with the customer. Moving stuff, watch this one for example. Finally, this film, from Cleveland Clinic is also a superb example of building empathy and customer understanding.

 

Links for more information:

CIGNA source : Don’t Yield on Customer Trust, IBM White Paper, 2009 

The Economist, The Magic of Good Service

Deere and Company: How Customers can Rally your Troops, HBR June 2011, available at HBR.org

 

Rubbing Salz in the wound at Barclays?

4 Apr

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The Salz review of Barclay’s Business Practices was published yesterday, all 244 pages of it. And, kudos to the new brooms at the bank for publishing it online too.

So, hot off the press here is a set of excerpts, mostly from the front of the report (but not the headings, they are mine! Highlights are mine too). It all makes fascinating reading, essential text-book reading really for anyone involved in financial services, risk management, governance and organisational culture or simply fascinated by the sorry tale of a major UK bank brought low by toxic culture in one part – a dominant and super clever part – of the business.  

Multi silos = multi cultures

“The result of this growth was that Barclays became complex to manage, tending to develop silos with different values and cultures. (Turn to page 81 for Fig 8.2 for a great audit of the many differing value sets!). Despite some  attempts to establish Group-wide values, the culture that emerged tended to favour transactions over relationships, the short term over sustainability, and financial over  other business purposes”.

Void at the centre

“We believe that the business practices for which Barclays has rightly been criticised were shaped predominantly by its cultures, which rested on uncertain foundations. There was no sense of common purpose in a group that had grown and diversified significantly in less than two decades. And across the whole bank, there were no clearly articulated and understood shared values – so there could hardly be much consensus among employees as to what the values were and what should guide everyday behaviours. And as a result there was no consistency to the development of a desired culture”.

“However, culture exists regardless. If left to its own devices, it shapes itself, with the inherent risk that behaviours will not be those desired. Employees will work out for themselves what is valued by the leaders to whom they report. The developing cultures across Barclays were still less consistent as a result of a highly decentralised business model, that tended to give rise to silos. This left a cultural ambiguity at the heart of the bank”.

“The entire Group Guiding Principles had not percolated into the consciousness of the Group. Employees of all ranks were often unaware of the Guiding Principles. If they were aware, they could cite only one or two of them – often without much authority. They also told us that they were not a regular feature of induction processes, were rarely discussed as part of how they should work in practice, and were not embedded in training or performance management processes.”

“As Antony Jenkins (new CEO) said in the 2012 Annual Report: “For the past 30 years, banking has been progressively too aggressive, too focused on the short term, too disconnected from the needs of our customers and clients, and wider society and we lost our way.”

The unhappy voice of the Employee

“For the employees at Barclays this has been a difficult time. Our meetings with them and a survey we conducted made clear that the overwhelming majority are focused on the bank’s customers and doing their best for them. They are as disappointed as anyone by some of the behaviours”.

“Many employees told us directly about their sadness, disbelief and anger with what has gone wrong in terms of the much publicised poor behaviours”

You get the behaviours you reward

“There was an over-emphasis on short-term financial performance, reinforced by remuneration systems that tended to reward revenue generation rather than serving the interests of customers and clients”.

Kill the messenger?

“There was also in some parts of the Group a sense that senior management did not want to hear bad news and that employees should be capable of solving problems. This contributed to a reluctance to escalate issues of concern”.

HR powerless

“The HR function was accorded insufficient status to stand up to the business units on a variety of people issues, including pay. This undermined any efforts to promote correlation of pay to broader behaviours than those driving individual financial performance”

Customers 101 (!)

“In pursuit of its goal of being a leader among its peer institutions, Barclays should develop an understanding across its businesses of how to meet its customers’ needs and expectations while also meeting its own commercial objectives and those of its shareholders. It should seek to learn from customer feedback, and publish the measures by which it would judge performance in resolving complaints. Barclays should report periodically on progress against these measures by publishing the data both internally and externally so as to reinforce the seriousness Barclays places on continuous improvement.

And…so what?

“To address the trust issues and restore its reputation, we suggest that Barclays should communicate openly and transparently how, and to what extent, it will implement our recommendations.”

Barclays should be praised for publishing this report. Let’s hope too that this new spirit of openness and humility continues, and that this point above is also acted on. Fascinating times indeed, for the once great Barclays!   

“Not you again! Go away” Talking customer experience with the CEO

20 Mar

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Spare a thought for the poor CEO. No, really. When the conversation turns to customer experience, we often find we’re talking different languages. We say ‘love your customers’; they think Show me the money’. Talk of building a long term and sustainable business centred on the customer seems a little fanciful when shareholders are demanding jam tomorrow, and let’s face it, like football managers, the average CEO tenure is getting shorter all the time.

So, no wonder it can be hard to talk customer. Here, then are seven thoughts on how to get the CEO (and others) at least on the same page as you when you next broach the subject of customers:

  • Count the cost of failure: talking about the cost of failing today can be more compelling than talking about possible jam tomorrow. After all, as the old adage has it, it costs more to deliver a bad experience than it does a good one, which makes sense when you consider the added cost of all the re-work, correcting mistakes, handling complaints and dealing with all those in-bound contacts from unhappy customers chasing you. None of which would have been required had you got it right in the first place.  Virgin Media report that in 2009, they spent an extra £12m delivering a poor experience (scoring 0 in NPS), compared to the experience that scored a 10! And that it costs 50% more to serve a zero scoring detractor than it does a promoter. 
  • Look beyond the numbers: dry, abstract and aggregated data, pie charts, red-amber-green indicators and spreadsheets are all well and good, but they’re not all that engaging. CEOs are more or less human like the rest of us; as Alain Thys says, “while pie charts have their place, the actual words of the 749 customers who told you that your business sucks will have infinitely more impact. The same goes for the words of the 135 people who absolutely love you”.   Words convey and evoke emotions in ways that numbers don’t. And when it comes to numbers, think small, not big: Howard Schultz of Starbucks put it well when he said, “Large numbers that once captivated me – 40,000 stores – are not what matter. The only number that matters is ‘one’. One cup. One customer. One experience at a time”.  
  • Make it personal, get angry: by applying the golden rule – how would you feel if it was you? I recall the Singaporean General Manager at my previous company, Aviva, who, when in the middle of her executive interview for a customer journey mapping exercise, was shown a system generated letter we’d printed off. At that point, she stopped the interview mid-stream, ran out and told her team to stop issuing this unfriendly and ‘off-brand’ letter immediately, and to re-write it. OK, maybe disruptive, but a little bit of righteous anger and frustration can work wonders, as well as send out a powerful signal to the rest of the organisation about what it’s not prepared to put up with.
  • Break it down: the problem with customer experience is, it’s big! All this talk about cross-functional collaboration can sound scary and well, too much like hard work. The fact is, customers don’t care how you’re organised internally, and delivering a great experience can challenge the silo’d organisation. The answer? Start small, pilot and ‘bank’ the early successes. The global insurer, ING built a very effective NPS programme around small scale pilots, and winning the advocacy of the local CEO; as the programme lead at the time said, “We went to the board with our pilot results and the two country CEOs did all the talking. You can’t really argue with two very successful CEOs who are bringing in business and telling you that they can’t live without this approach any more”.
  • Get them out there, rubbing shoulders with customers, feeling the pain: It’s hard to connect with customers when you’re sitting behind a desk. My own rail company, Southeastern Railways is famous for regularly holding “meet the manager” events at London Bridge station in the rush hour, where 10 or so senior directors gather with their clipboards, listening to their customers. And, as you can imagine, some of this feedback is going to be pretty frank and direct.  
  • Bring in the lawyers, and other folk outside marketing: the fact is, delivering great, consistent customer experiences is a company-wide job and every part has a role to play. Qaalfi Dibeehi of Beyond Philosophy recently said at a conference that only about 20% of the customer experience is delivered by the ‘front line’; the other 80% originates behind the scenes in product design, IT, process, finance, and so on. So, you’re either an experience deliverer or an experience enabler. So, the magic begins to happen when you get a bunch of cross-functional people in the room and you show them what it feels like to be a customer. I recall one time when we were walking people through the customer paperwork, all displayed on the walls. At first the senior lawyer remained sitting down, confident that all the literature was legally OK, but, intrigued by the noise coming from everyone else, then started to listen in. At that moment, she had her road-to-Damascus moment, her revelation that just being legally compliant isn’t good enough. She then became a very strong and respected advocate for the customer. The more you can break the ‘customer’ out of the marketing ghetto, and have the CEO hear the lawyers, the finance guys and so on, talking with passion about the customer, the better.
  • Show me the money:  there should be a direct line of sight between happy customers and business outcomes, whether they are lower costs, customers staying longer or buying more.  Case studies from other sectors will only take you so far. Sooner or later the CEO will object, quite rightly, that ‘we’re not Zappos, or Disney, or Virgin….show me that it works in my own industry and for us!’ This won’t be easy, but there’s no substitute for relevant and specific financial proof. Get that and your CEO will be your new BFF.  One of the best examples I’ve seen is from the UK energy provider, E.ON in the UK, who were able (after much effort and time) to correlate customer lifetime value with each point on the NPS scale – see visual. So, as you start your customer experience journey, plan now for how you will also build the evidence you need to win over your sceptics.

Business is personal. Exploring the 4 Hs : Humility, Humanity, Humour and Honesty

27 Feb

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The bigger the business, the more freedom is curtailed as governance, processes and procedures take over.

This is just one of the points made in a fascinating slideshare presentation from a few years ago on the culture at Netflix. And the upshot of all this? It becomes harder to be ‘human and the threat to freedom means you end up losing great people.

Which is ironic, really, considering that companies are mostly just collections of people. In the same way that without customers, there is no business, without workers there is no business too. And, when businesses try to put straight-jackets on great people, businesses ultimately fail. 

Introducing the four ‘H’s

So, treat people well, give them the freedom to be themselves and customers will feel the difference, and everybody wins. It may be a cliché, but it’s no less true for all that, that people buy from people, whatever the business. How then, can businesses be more like people?

Consider then the 4 Hs. Done well, they reveal real – and therefore engaging – personality and help humanise the company, for customers

HUMILITY

This is about how great companies fess up to highly visible problems and failures. Put simply, there’s the old way – hide behind Ts and Cs, never admit anything, push failure behind the scenes and starve it of the oxygen of publicity – and there’s the new human and personal way, that involves someone very senior – typically the CEO – saying sorry and meaning it, and broadcasting the mea culpa too. 

For example, check out two classic (and well handled) cases from the airline industry:  

Here is an email and website message from the Singapore Airlines CEO, following a botched website launch in 2011. (See it here). It’s well written, personal and honest, and signed by the CEO. Job done! 

In 2007, when bad weather disrupted air travel, flight delays and communications SNAFUs at Jet Blue caused a public outcry against the company. Soon after, the then-CEO issued an apology and also went onto Youtube, with “Our Promise To You”. This is the film, a very public and humble apology from the top. And the best quote? “We’ll be a better company, for the very difficult things our customers have had to endure”.

Admitting you’ve screwed up can be good for business. “Doing a Domino’s” became part of the language 3 years ago after Domino’s acknowledged that its pizzas “tasted like cardboard” and promised to do better. Read more about this classic and creative apology here at the CEB. The lesson? As the author says, “Humanize your apology. Domino’s had its CEO apologize and commit to making changes on TV commercials.  By personalizing the mistake, it seems more human, and consumers are more likely to be forgiving”.

HUMANITY

This is about a brand seeking to show its generosity and kindness to brighten up peoples’ days, in the normal course of business.

I’ve written about this before in my post on Random Acts of Kindness, and profiled the good work from Virgin Media and BUPA International. To give a couple of other good examples, my previous company, Aviva, in the US used to give away Aviva umbrellas on rainy days. They would simply head out to the city, and hand out brollies to those that needed them (and regardless, of course, as to whether the lucky recipients were customers or not). Trendwatching.com reports that Interflora did a similar thing, via social media, by sending bouquets of flowers to people in need to cheering up. For more examples, and some useful guidance on RAK 101, check out the briefing from trendwatching.

HUMOUR

It’s fascinating how social media in particular (but why only here?) gives switched-on organisations an opportunity to show their personal side in a service context (usually when it goes wrong). O2 in the UK are a past master. Consider the skill they showed in handling the anger they experienced at service outages last year:

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This example also suggests to me there’s a (very) thin line between getting the tone right and it all going horribly wrong. It hasn’t yet though for O2, and maybe that’s the key point here, that if you at least try to be human, and inject a bit of humour (and know your audience!) then  forgiveness for when someone does step over the line is probably far more readily forthcoming.

As a Telegraph article on O2 concluded at the time, “O2 used Twitter to deliver fast, professional customer service, and still maintained their brand image by adding humour and personality to their tweets.” 

HONESTY

The above examples of Humility are public responses to very public failures. My last category, Honesty, is the flip side, visible gestures that ‘correct’ or fix something largely hidden from public view, but which speak volumes about the internal culture and what the business is unwilling to tolerate. I’ve written about this before too (about Costco’s jeans pricing policy, and Amazon’s reduced pricing on Harry Potter books in China – the link to my earlier post, which includes the Amazon film, is here), so I thought I’d end by sharing a personal example of my own from LoveFilm, now an Amazon company, and in the same business as Netflix.

Here is an email I received in December, alerting me to an over-night film despatch problem.

Now my point is, chances are most people (me included) would never realise there was a problem, and we’d have carried on blissfully unawares. A few subscribers might have suspected a problem, and some of those might then have got in touch to ask or even complain.

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Now, LoveFilm had a choice; wait and see, and deal with complaints as they occurred and offer to make up for it to those contacting them. Or, be more proactive and reach out to everyone affected, regardless of whether or not they were aware of the problem. LoveFilm chose to do the latter. Why? Because they, like other businesses building themselves around the customer, recognise the business value of a positive proactive gesture, in short, of letting the personality shine through.        

This is what characterises all the examples here of the 4 Hs; the conviction that the human touch will reap rewards. After all, businesses are only people, so let good people be good people. 

‘Always give more’. Kindness and humanity in business.

6 Feb

There’s a great new post from Seth Godin on the 11 things organisations can learn from how airports screw up the customer experience. It strikes at the heart of how many organisations lose the plot in their relentless pursuit of revenue at all costs. Godin’s conclusion is that “in pursuit of reliable, predictable outcomes, these organizations dehumanise everything”.Slide1

I want to pick up on three of his 11 points, which seem to me to help identify how this ‘dehumanisation’ occurs:

  • Firstly, when no one in the organisation seems to be having any fun
  • Secondly, when delighting customers is stripped out of the system, and replaced by the desire to simply satisfy the ‘mass’, as opposed to the individuals that make up the mass  
  • Thirdly, when ad hoc action and behaviour is forbidden

In short, basic humanity becomes a hindrance, something not factored into the ‘business model’. But routine and predictable do not make for memorable and engaging customer experiences. In the world of customer metrics, it’s the difference between a customer’s being on the one hand, merely ‘satisfied’, and on the other, being so delighted that they remember, they recommend and they stay longer and buy more. 

Show the humanity

How then do organisations seek to bring back the humanity? Cue what are often called Random Acts of Kindness or Frugal Wows (ugh – ugly terminology but interesting ideas). I want to share a few good examples of these and to draw a distinction between:

  • ‘Random’ acts, which are individual responses to ‘in bound’ customer situations, and which rely on empowering the front line (and beyond) to use their judgement and bring their humanity to work, and …..
  • …the other sort of acts of kindness or generosity I see and admire, which are more ‘proactive’ in the sense that they are enshrined in the organisational culture (how we do things around here) and affect – for the good – all customers.

Random Acts of Kindness:

Virgin Media in the UK (who it is announced today are being sold) operate a RAK programme, where staff are encouraged to deliver an act of kindness when they feel it’s the right thing to do. And, of course as the slide says, the nature of the Virgin brand allows perhaps more creativity and quirkiness in what exactly IS the right thing. And that’s why they can be so memorable and heart-warming. A good example is how, on hearing that on settling down to watch the Transformers film with his grandchildren the granddad’s 24 hour hire limit on the download had expired (this was about the 4th time he’d watched it!), Virgin then sent him a DVD of the film so he could watch it anytime with the grandchildren, plus a transformers toy, to try to make up for the disappointment.Slide1

In another example, BUPA International has a scheme for all staff, whereby they have a small amount of money each year they can use to delight the customer, however they see fit. The only condition is, you cannot use it to ‘buy off’ an unhappy complaining customer. The same theme runs through how Virgin use RAKs, they are NOT to say sorry, or apologise for an error.  

The power of both of these examples is that they are a great mechanism to force the member of staff to think about how to delight the customer and to bring their humanity to work (how would I feel, what would delight me?). Indeed, the word from Sean Risebrow at Virgin Media is that the real value of the scheme lies in the internal message it sends to the whole workforce about how serious the organisation is in dealing with the customer.

Planned Acts of Kindness:

In contrast to random and occasional individual acts, there are also what I call Planned acts, that give an insight into the corporate culture, because they forcibly demonstrate its values and how it seeks to behave all the time.  Here are two examples of organisations proactively choosing to do the right thing, where the alternative is not to act, but to wait and see if anyone out there notices and then complains! 

Watch this short film, from 2010, which illustrates one of Amazon’s values, “customer obsession” with a fascinating story about delivering a retrospective and unexpected benefit back to customers. So, a proactive move to benefit all customers affected, simply because ‘that’s how we do things round here”. And, as with all of these examples, there ought to be a positive impact on the bottom line. It is interesting that in the speaker’s view, it was the best marketing activity they did that year.

Another good example comes from Evelyn Clark’s article, Around the Corporate Campfire, where Jim Sinegal of Costco tells a story about pricing jeans, which again highlights the tension between short term profits, and doing the right thing by the customer:

“We were selling Calvin Klein jeans for $29.99, and we were selling every pair we could get our hands on. One competitor matched our price, but they had only four or five pairs in each store, and we had 500 or 600 pairs on the shelf. We all of a sudden got our hands on several million pairs of Calvin Klein jeans … at a very good price. It meant that, within the constraints of our markup, which is limited to 14% on any item, we had to sell them for $22.99”. Now, they could have sold all 4 million pairs for that higher price almost as quickly as they sold them at $22.99, says Sinegal, “but there was no question that we would mark them at $22.99 because that’s our philosophy”.

Both of these Planned examples are fascinating because they demonstrate an organisation proactively choosing to act to benefit customers when it could just as easily have chosen NOT to do so, and to maybe wait to see if anyone noticed and complained. Instead, they referred to their founding principles, or brand values, call them what you will, but their accepted rules drove the ‘right’ behaviour.

Sure, it’s a leap of faith, but the financial benefit from giving more (in order to get more in return later) surely makes sense.

What would your organisation do in these situations?

Rising on a word, falling on a syllable : corporate reputation and trust in the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer

22 Jan

Crisis of leadershipSlide1 (4)

The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer is out this week – the shorthand summary would be corporate leadership is in crisis – and, as usual, it paints a fascinating global picture of shifting, evolving and fragmenting attitudes to big business and governments and how the nature of ‘trust’ is changing.

Edelman rightly zoom in on the world of financial services, and banks in particular, where, not surprisingly, trust levels have fallen still further (halved in fact, in the UK, and even worse in Ireland), making life harder and harder for companies. Reputation is indeed a fragile construct, as Robert Pattinson’s character says.

Here, then are some reflections on the survey findings, a slideshare presentation of which can be found here.  

Culture eats everything for breakfast

Not just strategy, it seems. It’s fascinating to read that when the informed public were asked what they felt were the biggest causes of recent high profile banking scandals, almost 60% felt it was down to internal factors within the company’s control, rather than external. This is about how things got done in these companies. Notably:

  • Corporate cultures driven by compensation / bonuses (23%)
  • Corporate corruption (25%)
  • Conflicts of interests (11%)

The last one is key, and maybe even drives the others. What we’re talking about here is the realpolitick world of trade-offs where what Peter Scott-Morgan calls the unwritten rules come into play, with a vengeance. For example, serve your boss or your boss’s boss as he/she controls your reward, or forget the customer’s longer term needs, just sell now. Look, for example, to the hot-off-the-press story about the culture at Barclays Wealth, a US arm of the bank, described as one of “revenue at all costs”. Click here for the story. No wonder it’s a crisis of leadership, because yes, cultures are set by leaders and it’s all within their control.

Or, rather, not in their control : there was a fascinating study last year from Deloitte’s “Culture in the Workplace” that reported that while 94% of executives say workplace culture is important (who wouldn’t!), only 19% say their own culture is widely upheld! No wonder the unwritten rules take over.

Managing the conflicts, managing the timeframes

Managing for ‘shareholder value’ creates real conflicts. Even Jack Welch said in 2009, “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products”.

Roger Martin, ex- dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto writes about shifting focus back to delighting the customer, and says, “If you take care of customers, shareholders will be drawn along for a very nice ride. The opposite is simply not true: if you try to take care of shareholders, customers don’t benefit”.

To me, it’s also about time frames. A jam-today ‘revenue at all costs’ mindset will inevitably conflict with the customer’s longer-term interests. I’m reminded of a good piece in the Guardian in November last year, “Leaders must stay close to principles of service” by Tim Macartney where he talk about the Iroquois Confederacy of First Nation’s people in the north-east US who, when they take a decision, submit the issue to the principle of seven generations: “Will this decision when translated into action have any kind of harmful outcome on our children seven generations to come?” Tim goes on to say, by way of contrast, “we have constructed a system that doesn’t even consider such questions, instead asking something rather more limited in scope and moral probity: “How will this benefit our shareholders?” And since the leaders of large organisations are often also shareholders, “How will this benefit … me?” And that takes us right back to the unwritten rules (what do I really need to do to keep my boss happy and get paid?) which, in the absence of anything else, become our rules of thumb for navigating the conflicts.  

The (Bob) Diamond of Influence

While not new news, it’s fascinating that credibility as a trusted information source has been shifting away from formal and hierarchical sources – CEOs, PR spokespeople – to experts (assumed to be independent and thus trustworthy) and the more informal sources, ‘people like me’, including the rank and file employees in organisations. The theory being, they really know what it’s like, and are more likely to it tell it like it is. Edelman tells us that “a person like yourself” is now trusted nearly twice as much as a CEO. As Edelman suggests, influence has become  democratized.

So, out with the old and traditional pyramid of influence – a top-down, authority-driven model – and in with the new, the pyramid of community where social activists, passionate consumer advocates and employees are powerful – because authentic – voices.   

BLOG Pyramid slid

Edelman talk about the diamond of influence, see above, the new model for stakeholder interaction and management. I’m not sure it’s a diamond, a pretzel might be more appropriate, as consumers might well be going round the information and engagement loops quite a few times, and consumers and customers now have many more opportunities to amass different viewpoints, and concurrently too. I agree that “this is not a linear process but rather it is dynamic, continual and evolutionary in nature”.  

It’s certainly continual – the research states that nearly 2/3rds of us say we need to hear a message 3-5 times before we believe it. And it’s a message that’s constantly being tested in the public spotlight. One slip and that’s it, back to the long hard slog of rebuilding, and we all have memories like elephants, these days. In fact, more to the point, we don’t need to have memories like elephants, we just need to know how to google.

Can trust be ‘rebuilt’?

There’s a great quote in a Wolff Olins report from last year, ‘Game Changers’ that says, “It’s easier for a trusted brand to become a bank than it is for a bank to become trusted”.

In the just published World Economic Forum Global Agenda Outlook, Michael J. Elliott, President and CEO of ONE USA challenges the notion of rebuilding an ‘old model’ and reinforces the power of informal networks to build trust:

“There has been a breakdown in trust in established institutions. But if we think that the solution is to rebuild trust in those same institutions, we may be missing the signal. Social media is creating new institutions. They may not be corporations, they may not have an HQ, but it is possible that we are finding new informal institutions that enable people to do things together. People today are less influenced by me, or you, or for that matter, by famous people, than by their friends”.

Trust as a leading indicator

An Edelman blog linked to the 2013 results says that trust is a leading indicator unlike reputation, which is the sum of perceptions of past behaviours. I like that. So, what then drives Trust? Here the report gets really interesting in giving us 16 attributes of trust, grouped into five clusters, with “engagement” the most important. See slide.

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 Engagement breaks down into treating customers and employees well, putting their needs first and open and honest communications .Hardly rocket science, in fact much more like good old common sense, but it’s going to take a lot more than simply writing and saying this repeatedly.

 For me, it all comes back to the survey data about the perceived causes of the crises, and the C-word, Culture. It means resolving the conflicts of interest and being very clear about what ultimately drives long term and sustainable business success. In the words of Richard Branson:

“For us, our employees matter most. It just seems common sense to me that, if you start off with a happy, well-motivated workforce, you’re much more likely to have happy customers. And in due course, the resulting profits will make your shareholders happy”.

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