Tag Archives: Business

Nine ways for organisations to kill great ideas

25 Oct

Slide11. Normalise it: by turning it into yet another project, to be assessed and prioritised alongside 100 other projects. Yes, a structured discipline around making things happen is important, but great ideas are vulnerable when born, they can all too easily lose their essence and excitement when translated into the normative language and management behaviours of the organisation.

2. De-personalise it: in other words, lose sight of the customer it is trying to help, by literally sucking the life out of it and turning it into numbers, projections, and assumptions. Numbers are important too, but it’s far too easy to create distance between ourselves and the customer. The end result? We only talk about customers as targets and segments, and how to extract value from them. 

3. Patronise it: “you’re not from round here, are you? Let me tell you, we tried this before and it didn’t work…” And, the bigger the company, the more likely it is to also secretly believe it’s too big to fail, and why meddle with a formula that’s served us well so far?

4. Reduce it: by de-risking it. Failure is not an option, really, and besides the idea is competing with many others that have traded risk off by reducing scope and ambition. So, this becomes the game to play, but beware the implications for your idea by de-risking it.

5. Grow it: have you noticed how everyone wants to embrace a good idea, and add their own twist, and pet ideas to it? Scope creep is always a risk, you don’t want your idea to become the universal panacea, that fixes everything, because what began life as a swan, a simple, elegant and achievable solution can easily morph into a  Frankenstein, a hastily stitched-together collection of ideas, all seeking to become real, by attaching themselves to the original..

6. Quarantine it: in splendid isolation. Great ideas are the result of multiple departments, if not the whole organisation, collaborating together and marching to the same tune in the same direction at the same time. Not departments ignoring each other and always competing for budget to achieve their own functional goals.

7. Disown it: literally speaking, remove the owner, its originator. The reality is, the cast is constantly changing (maybe even more so than the customers, ironically), so just change priorities and agendas, re-organise departments and / or people and before you know it, the idea is an orphan. Which, even if it is successfully adopted, will most likely then be forensically re-examined, taken apart and re-built in a different guise.

8. Stall it: by setting the pack on it and ask smart but let’s face it, unhelpful questions, ones that don’t really have answers at this early stage, or ones that sow the seeds of doubt. How statistically significant is the data? What’s the ROI? There’s nothing like smart talk to kill an idea. The sad fact is it is a lot simpler and easier to stay sitting down and ask questions than it is to stand up and support and sponsor an idea.

9. Smother it: in bureaucracy and committees, where it may never see the light of day again (or certainly not in its current form).




Rubbing Salz in the wound at Barclays?

4 Apr


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!   

10 crazy things companies say and do that sabotage great customer experiences

17 Jan

Now, sabotage may be a strong word – after all, no one sets out to screw things up for customers – but the interesting thing about these 10 classic behaviours is that they are all pretty much insidious, they take their time, and they all serve to eat away at corporate best intentions. As the classic phrase has it, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, so check out my top 10 crazies:   

  1. Yes but….: the curse of ‘smart talk’. Why is it that the more senior you get, the more you feel compelled to critique, query, call for more evidence, ask for more opinions and generally put off saying yes or no? Everything seems to be stacked against just saying, ‘OK, yes, let’s try it”.   
  2. Show me the money now: does anyone seriously believe that all that financial modelling and forecasting years into the future is how it will all play out?  Yes, the connections between customer experience and financial outcomes are there to be proven, but it takes time and it’s not an exact science. So, start with leadership, faith and belief, all just as important as the Excel comfort blanket.
  3. ‘Customer Value Maximisation’: if all that the customer represents to the business is a number or a red/amber/green rating on a dashboard, then pretty soon there’ll be a project called something like this customer value maximisation, which is shorthand for ……how can we get more money out of our customers? Please don’t forget that customers are people too, just like you and me.
  4. You’re not from round here are you? : “I hate to tell you this, but we’re not Apple, John Lewis, Starbucks, Zappos or any of those other customer experience poster children I hear a lot about”. In other words, let’s find ways to patronise you and your idea because you don’t really ‘get’ our business.     
  5. We hear what you say, but …: your feedback (which is valuable to us) will be aggregated with all the other feedback, then prioritised and assessed, and then we might be able to fix the problem. Which is fine, in a way. But of course, let’s not forget that real customers have problems one by one, and they need to be sorted there and then, not just collated for the future. 
  6. Pet Project-itis: Ok, this big old project may not be working out as planned, but we’ve invested far too much in it to pull the plug now. And the further the train is from the station, and the faster it’s going, the harder to reach for the emergency stop button.
  7. You’ve come through to the wrong department: if people go quiet and assume a puzzled faraway look when asked how their job contributes to getting and keeping customers and improving the customer experience, then you may be working in a dysfunctional company. The reality is, it only works when it all works, when the whole organisation works together, to design and then orchestrate the delivery of the experience.
  8. Multi-cultures, multi-companies: ‘culture’ is a difficult thing to pin down. While businesses like to talk about corporate culture and values, the idea of one common shared culture may be over-simplistic, when in reality, bosses and department heads set ‘culture’ day by day, whether consciously or not, through their behaviour. And the more silo’d the business to begin with, the less interaction between departments, the more you’ll find a multitude of cultures. And, one team’s tight-knit, supportive, and progressive culture is another one’s source of amusement, disbelief, scorn and even ridicule. So, work hard to understand the grey shading between teams, departments, countries even, whilst also being clear on what is non-negotiable at the very heart of the corporate culture.       
  9. Messengers don’t like being shot at: when calling out a problem doesn’t make for a pleasant  day at the office – when it risks wrath, humiliation, displeasure or worse  – it becomes so much easier to move that borderline red flag to green, and carry on as normal. As in SNAFU.
  10. A company is known by the people it keeps. Or doesn’t: the reality is, the cast is constantly changing, maybe as much as the customer base, maybe more so. Every business, ultimately, is a people business. If consistency of service and treatment is important, or rather its opposite is very frustrating and unsettling, why not recognise the role that good reliable people play in delivering the ‘promise’. After all, the alternative, treating people as a cost and yet expecting them to go the extra mile for customers is just well… crazy. 

Nine customer experience resolutions for 2013

1 Jan

According to Forrester, nearly 75% of customer experience leaders say their firms’ goal is to differentiate on the basis of customer experience. No surprises there then. Despite that heart-warming aspiration, we’re also told that only 3% of companies succeed in delivering a great experience. Talk is (very) cheap. Here then are my own pleas and provocations, including some lessons learned the hard way, for what needs to be on your New Year’s resolutions list. Start, stop, and cancel buttons on an office laser printer


If your CEO has the emotional intelligence of a kidney bean, then good luck talking about loving and respecting the customer and pointing out that it’s the customer who ultimately pays everyone’s salaries.

Unless you are blessed with a CEO who naturally thinks customer, you will struggle to make ‘customer stuff’ more than a project or an initiative, in other words, something with an end date, until you make the connections, causation and correlation between customer (and employee) happiness and the financial bottom line.

Do that and you’ll be talking a language they’ll hear: to misquote US President Lyndon Johnson, ‘get them by the numbers and their hearts and minds will follow’.


Someone – whether the CMO or the Chief Customer Officer – needs to fight hard for the customer and train the business to understand that great customer experiences ‘only work when it all works’ as far as the customer is concerned.

Stop the squabbling at the executive table and poring over internal efficiency metrics and look at customer outcomes, and start working together for the customer. The 2012 Temkin Group survey tells us that the top two obstacles to customer experience efforts are ‘other competing priorities’ (72% of companies) and ‘conflict across the internal organisations’ (52%).

So (and forgive the jargon) this means breaking down the silos, and using disciplines like customer journey mapping to design with intent the experience, and help business get its’ CEO: Customer Eyes On.


Customer centricity is a tough sell internally because it should challenge short term thinking. It’s about forgoing short term profit maximisation, the kinds of things that help the balance sheet but piss off customers (what Fred Reicheld calls Bad Profits), in return for the more uncertain expectation of longer term gains, the Good Profits that come from happy customers giving you more business, sticking with you and saying nice things. So, it takes guts and courage at the top to embark on this journey and then stay the course.


As the old saying goes, if you’re not serving customers, then you’d better be serving someone who is. However, the reality is, it is far too easy for most employees to find reasons to distance themselves – literally and emotionally – from the customer. Companies need to find imaginative ways to connect the back office and head office with customer’s lives. And to do this in a way that isn’t superficial and box ticking. Half-listening in on calls once a year on a back to the floor programme, whilst catching up on emails on your blackberry won’t cut the mustard.

And, how much time does the CEO spend with customers? According to PWC*, among global CEOs, 69% wish they could spend more time meeting with customers. I hope this doesn’t just mean inviting business customers to sporting junkets. And, how many of your employees use your own products and services? How well do you harness their own experiences, good and bad, and use these to improve the experience for all customers?

Imagine if the customer was in the conference room with you, observing the decisions being taken. Would you so be so quick to agree to that new pricing plan, knowing in your heart that the real winner isn’t the customer, but the company and the distributor too?  Jeff Bezos is famous for keeping an empty meeting-room chair for the customer at amazon. For many companies, they’d firstly have to remove the shareholder from the chair


I worry about all this talk of a brave new world where companies have unprecedented amounts of customer data, knowledge and analytics at their fingertips. To do what exactly? I doubt that many of us consumer want to be relentlessly sold to, having been brilliantly targeted and hunted down like prey. Where is the heart behind the machine? Organisations still have to firstly earn the right to ask for more of my money, which means getting the basics right and being there for me when I need them and moreover, doing this consistently. Sounds simple, but it’s not.

So, with power comes responsibility; with big data comes bigger responsibility.  Let’s please not forget the basics of serving customers, one at a time. There’s a great quote from Howard Schultz who, complaining in 2008 that Starbucks had lost its’ focus on the customer, wrote:  “We thought in terms of millions of customers and thousands of stores instead of one customer, one partner and one coffee at a time. We forgot that “ones” add up.”


It used to be enough for a company to act a good corporate citizen through its green initiatives, workforce volunteering and sponsorships.  Thus the CSR box got ticked. Wolff Olins wrote in their Game Changer paper about a ‘lukewarm bath’ of ad hoc policies to neutralise the embarrassing stuff: “banks stayed greedy but continued to pour money into the arts”. 

Reputation becomes all important as societal scrutiny grows: how close to the wind does the company sail in its tax affairs?; how well does it look after its workers, are suppliers exploited? Issues that in the past had, on the face of it, not that much to do with the actual product nor even with the customer voice. Apparently, when he took office, the IBM chairman asked, ‘why would society allow us to operate’? That’s a really good question and one that’s going to have to be taken more seriously in the future.

Managing the tensions between different groups’ needs – shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, partners, and wider society – will become tougher and more visible.  Peter Drucker wrote in 1973: “to know what a business is, we have to start with its purpose. Its purpose must be outside of the business itself. In fact, it must lie in society since business enterprise is an organ of society”.


I’m no expert in social, but it’s here to stay, so let’s stop acting like rabbits dazzled in the headlights. It feels wrong to:

  • Run fun and sexy “like me, please” campaigns that have very little to do with what your business is about: I doubt that a ‘social’ veneer will turn it into something it isn’t. Think of Dad dancing at the disco
  • Sometimes respond, sometimes not. Are you really ‘closed’ at the weekend, for example? A recent survey by Customer Service Investigator found that big name brands responded to only 14% of requests for help, via social media!
  • Use social media for self-serving propaganda; consumers aren’t naive, and will see through it. Think of the Waitrose campaign from a few months ago, or more recently how Starbucks’ “spread the cheer” campaign backfired.
  • Treat it like a separate channel, or an add-on, to be picked up and put down

Social is turbo-charged conversations. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to, listen and learn from customers? And, because great customer experiences start with your own people…


As I suggested earlier, every employee ought to be an advocate for their own company’s products. If they’re not, then some serious questions need to be asked. Like what are you doing here, for one, and why does the company feel that a dis-engaged workforce will lead to happy customers?

There’s a wealth of data out there to show that when people are proud of their company good things happen: they stand up for it, they own their friends’ problems and so on, all in order to change the external perception.

I was reminded of this when I read a spokesperson for Barclays say, in a recent Marketing Week article “I see what the organisation believes internally and it is not the organisation that is portrayed, the organisation people see from the exterior”.

The power and role of workforce advocates will grow. After all, the 2012 Edelmans Trust Barometer tells us that while the CEO is declining as a credible information source (understandable, given the bad rep automatically bestowed on most high profile CEOs these days), the rank and file employee is growing in credibility as an information source and company representative, probably because it’s much easier to relate to them than it is your average CEO.


You get the most behaviours from the behaviours you reward the most. A couple of recent US cases involving big companies are noteworthy. The New York Times ran a story about Staples in the US who, according to employees, “has in place a set of incentives that make it unpleasant, to put it mildly, for staffers to sell a computer without a whole bunch of accessories, particularly a service plan”. Hmm. On the plus side, GM Motors’ CEO launched a new compensation structure that connects staff bonuses to loyalty, measured by repeat purchases, in other words, people coming back and buying more cars.

 Incentivising for short-term sales is not compatible with generating long term loyalty. No amount of positive internal messages about looking after customers – the kind of stuff seen on office walls – will counteract those metrics that affect the pay-packet.


  • Forrester, December 2012
  • PWC 10 Minutes on Customer Impact, March 2012.         
  • Wolff Olins, Game Changers, 2012
  • Peter Drucker, 1973
  • Marketing Week, Barclays promises a ‘relentless customer focus’ to rebuild trust, 6th December 2012
  • CSI Infographic, 11th December in mediabistro.com

Image courtesy of www.freeimageslive.com

Calling all corporate weasels. Play Vingo, the new bullshit bingo game.

14 Dec

Tired of hearing people talk about ‘fast-tracking’ an idea or a project? Of ‘socialising’ it, in order to ‘engage’   with key stakeholders and ‘leverage’ their insights, to ‘iterate’ it and thereby ‘maximise’ and ‘optimise’ it, in short to ‘operationalise’ it?   

If yes, then Bullshit Vingo – verb bingo – where words become verbs, and the corporate and consulting weasels rule, is for you.freeimages.co.uk photos of objects

 Click here to help you stay awake, even snort with derision, at these beauties from the mouths of managers and consultants.

And ‘hat tip’ to Frank Ledo, whose site hosts the game.


And… there’s plenty more where this came from, watch out for other themed games to follow, and please do pass me any new and exciting crimes against language that you uncover.



image: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

How to lose customers. A handy checklist.

6 Dec

Great piece from Jeff Haden in Inc on how to lose your best customers, and what to do about it, short of fencing them in with barbed wire, that is.


It’s al good thought-provoking stuff, but there are two types of no-no’s listed in the article that I find really interesting. Firstly, what you might call ‘strategic’ mistakes driven by the relentless hunger for profit from customers, and secondly, those to do with failing to recognise the critical role played by the firm’s own people.

So, in the first category you’d have to put focussing on price (“good luck maintaining that advantage”), pushing too hard to grow revenue, and the classic trap of exploiting-existing-customers-and-hoping-they-don’t-notice! (See also my earlier piece on the Penny Dreadful customer experience, a tale of seduction ending in betrayal).

It is this kind of corporate world-view that leads to blood-chilling statements like ‘our customers are our greatest assets’ where the unvoiced part of this sentence feels like it ought to be…“…so let’s make sure we sweat those assets hard while we can”.

Personally, when I choose to place my business with a company, I don’t consider that I’ve somehow acquiesced in becoming an asset to be henceforth ‘owned’ by the company. Or, ‘prey’ to be targeted and hunted down.

In the second group of mistakes, we have those to do with the ‘people’ side of the business (or… ‘human capital’, a phrase I heard yesterday at a conference). So, yes, madness does lie in the direction of the seventh mistake : asking for one behaviour – let’s respect and love our customers – but rewarding a different behaviour, selling, for example.

But it’s the first and fifth points that are particularly important, I think. It’s a useful reality check to be reminded that “It’s tempting to assume long-term customers love your brand. More often than not they love your employees”, which is why high turnover – especially in the front line – is such a challenge to the business.

There’s a load of research out there that constantly reinforces the importance of consistency – plain boring reliability – as the cornerstone of a successful customer experience strategy. And, the more often the cast changes, the more inconsistent and unpredictable the experience. Which is why, for example, I sometimes find it hard to fill in Net Promoter surveys; while I might be willing to recommend the person I just dealt with, and I consider them a great ambassador for company X, how confident am I that I, or my friends, would have the same experience tomorrow, with a different person?

Who fights for the customer in the boardroom?

4 Dec

SuccessWell, not necessarily marketing, according to this new research report from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

It reveals a worrying lack of support around the top table for marketing. The report title signals the problem well: “Outside Looking In: The CMO struggles to get in sync with the C-suite”.

Why? Because “many organisations still have trouble defining the Chief Marketing Officer’s (CMO) role and responsibilities” and therefore marketing’s priorities. And while the “CMO has a potentially critical ally in its quest, the voice of the customer” it’s alarming to read that:

  •  While over a quarter of CMOs believe they are the voice of the customer at their organisation, only 13% of other C-suite executives agree, and, in fact…
  • 27% of c-suite executives see the Head of Sales as the voice of the customer today…
  • And, more CMOs see the Head of Sales filling this role than they do themselves!

On the plus side, all feel that marketing should step into this role: “The CMO occupies the perfect chair to serve as the disciple for the customer internally”.

What’s holding marketing back? The C-suite believes marketing has not earned the right to be more strategic because it is ineffective at demonstrating the return on investment for its activities. The other big issue comes down to making the “soft stuff” work, in other words getting the c-suite to come together and work collaboratively around the customer agenda: “For many marketing leaders, success will be determined by their ability to align the marketing function – and the entire organisation—around delivering a superior customer experience”.

The soft stuff is also the hard stuff: “CMOs view communication skills and team-building as two of the three of most important skills they need to succeed. The ability to work cross-functionally and break down the internal silos will be key”.

So, marketing needs to break out of marketing and re-shape internal perceptions and the key to this is external, the customer : “If marketing can provide a more comprehensive view of how a customer interacts with the business as a whole, it stands to gain more credibility and more influence in driving strategic change”.

What about the alternative, the new kid on the block, the Chief Customer Officer? As the report suggest, someone needs to transcend organisational and functional boundaries to truly fight for the customer. I’m in the CCO camp, to be honest, but for me the bottom line is: more important that functional background is the need to make sure it’s a strong individual with the respect and support of the C-suite peers and the ability to herd the cats and fight the customer’s battles when the boardroom door closes.

I still struggle with the Head of Sales, though!

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