Tag Archives: organisational culture

Think Small to Win Big in Customer Experience

19 Aug

20 cultural nudges for any organisation to keep it real

Words like ‘transformation’ are scary, right? And yet CEOs are always being told that ‘Customer Experience’ is ‘transformational’. Well, maybe, but we also need to get real, and recognize that customer experience is also about delivering today – a journey of a thousand steps begins with the first step and all that, so here then is my list of the smaller, more palatable steps to start that journey within the organisation.

START AT THE BEGINNING

  1. Join the dots: ensure that everyone in the organization has a deep understanding of the bigger picture, why this is important and how their own role’s contribution to the customer experience.
  2. Make the vision real: have everyone know what it means to live the brand for your customers and deliver the company’s uniquely branded experience.
  3. Follow the money: connect the cogs to understand the ROI of customer experience and how it drives the bottom line for the business.Start small, even with anecdotes and stated intentions, then track actions.

SIGNAL CHANGE THROUGH CULTURAL NUDGES 

  1. Don’t call it a project or an initiative: they suggest a here-today-gone-tomorrow mindset, an open invitation for cynics to keep their heads down and hope it all blows away like so many other initiatives.
  2. Look outside: admire and learn from the best in the world, whatever the sector, but especially not your own.
  3. Create and evangelize success stories: find, learn from, tell and celebrate stories of great customer experiences delivered.
  4. Get on the floor: get executives and leaders to spend time with and learn from the front-line via real, not stage-managed interactions, and role model new behaviours.
  5. Outlaw silo’d thinking: be alert to call out ‘back office’, ‘head office’ and functional thinking and look for ways to reinforce the mantra, It Only Works When It All Works.
  6. Get on first name terms with personas: create rich and insightful customer personas and put them in all your rooms to watch over – and challenge – decision making.
  7. Change meeting etiquette: start every meeting with a customer story, end every meeting by asking ‘what’s in it for our customers?’

 HELP YOUR PEOPLE TO WIN 

  1. Set the tone on day one: embed customer learning into new hire inductions to build customer empathy. Learning about internal processes comes later.
  2. Create internal advocates: make it easy for everyone to be advocates of the brand and – wherever possible – active users of the product.
  3. Harness employee power: find ways to make their voice heard, use their knowledge, experience, insights and energy to improve the customer experience.
  4. Recognise and reward, quickly and easily – find simple and informal ways to call out and celebrate great delivery. Hand written notes can make a huge difference.

EMBRACE CUSTOMERS

  1. Talk to customers: yes, I know. Obvious, right. Get leaders to ring lost customers, make visits and generally connect one to one with the customer. Invite them to internal conferences and generally find ways to bring them in and learn from them.
  2. Close the loop: on the other hand, don’t talk to them, unless you’re prepared to act on what you learn, and change things for the better. And never forget to them what you’ve done. Doing this can work wonders, and it creates a halo effect too.
  3. Give the benefit of the doubt: if in doubt, err on the side of the customer, and make sure your internal policies help not hinder customers.
  4. Have some respect: Change the language. Customers are people, not targets and stop asking ‘who owns the customer’? (The answer is, if anyone owns anyone these days, it’s your customers who own you.)
  5. Give to get: find small and spontaneous ways to surprise, thank and delight customers, and create positive memories and stories.
  6. Be social media savvy: recognize that great customer experiences are the best marketing there is today, so fix things super-fast.

The soft stuff is the hard stuff – unwrapping culture

29 Aug

Slide1

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. So said Peter Drucker and it’s a classic quote: spot on. The more I do and see the more convinced I am that culture eats just about everything. Without the right culture, no amount of charismatic leaders, off-site team building events and swanky cheerleading conferences will make much lasting difference. All the good words and intentions will wither and die on stony ground without the right culture.

So, what then is culture? Chris LoCurto says “culture comes down to two things: action and attitude”.  And as the HR Director at my old company told me, it’s about what happens when no-one’s looking: he tells a great story about three different types of employee, each one confronted by an empty crisp packet in the office corridor. The engaged employee instantly picks it up without thinking and drops it in the bin. The disengaged employee walks by on auto-pilot, thinking someone ought to do something about the standards of cleanliness in the building, while the truly disengaged person was probably the one who dropped it in the first place.

Now, “every company has a culture, either by design or by default”. So says a recent video from the CEO Show.

Here then are nine key questions to ask, amassed from plenty of reading, to understand how things really get done in your organisation:

Do departments and people collaborate or compete?

Warning signs to look for… There may be radically different cultures across teams and functions that drive radically different interactions between people. At the unhealthy end of the spectrum, there’s suspicion and mistrust and the dark art of budget planning becomes a zero sum game with winners and losers, and the idea of working together for the higher cause of (whisper it quietly) serving the customer is heresy.

How are decisions really made?

Warning signs… They aren’t really; it’s down to whoever was still talking at that critical moment when everyone else surrendered, for the sake of moving on (or because people were gathering outside the conference room, impatient to start the next meeting). Or, despite all the soundings and consultation, it’s really done hierarchically, by egos and status. 

Are people enabled or merely ‘empowered’?

Warning signs… Being told you’re empowered is not the same as being enabled. It’s not that helpful unless you also have the right tools and support to succeed. 

When confronted with bad news, how do leaders behave?

 Warning signs… Or, perhaps the first question ought to be, do the leaders get bad news, or is every scorecard a sea of green, which is nonetheless at odds with what peoples’ guts are telling them? But assuming the bad news gets through, which instinct is the first to kick in, of BIFFS? Blame; Ignore; Freeze; Fix; Shoot (as in shoot the messenger)

How do senior leaders add value? By criticising or constructing?

Warning signs… Managers who think the best way to add value is to hunt for flaws and ask the tough questions; all fine in moderation but not so good when the outcome is to delay, defer and depress. 

How is important information shared?

Warning signs… The endless and hierarchical waterfall that slowly cascades down, each time losing a little more meaning and nuance so that by the time the exercise is over, leaders are sick and tired of the whole thing, in fact they’ve already moved on.

How are employees recognised?

Warning signs… If “what for, exactly?” is the first response, then that tells you one thing. Clearly, recognition schemes are many and varied but as a general rule, avoid letting bureaucracy and process drain the life out of what should be a simple and fun thing to do – to acknowledge and thank.

How do big things get done?

Warning signs… Does nobody move unless there’s a signed off project, scope, and deliverables? The question then becomes, how easy is it for the business to adapt and absorb new things? Which leads us on to the last one…

How much time do people spend in meetings reviewing progress?

Warning signs… Some people get double, even triple booked. And ask yourself, what happens in these meetings? What percentage of time is spent on simply monitoring, reviewing and reporting on progress?

Finally, thanks too, to careerrealism.com for two more great questions that can also reveal so much:

  • What would you guess would be the five key words or phrases your (husband/wife/partner) would use to describe your company?
  • What is your favourite day of the work week? And why?

‘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?

Less is more and more is less when it comes to corporate strategy

10 Dec
English: Oscar Wilde, three-quarter length por...

Oscar Wilde, credit: Wikipedia)

Great article from Elaine Dundon in Fast Company on Proctor and Gamble’s mission statement, strategic language, and the struggle for meaning. Having worked for 5 years in a corporate strategy team, I can attest to the many hours spent struggling over words, their meaning and their reception.  

The problem with almost all (and here the words tend to become interchangeable; yet more fuzziness!) ‘purposes’, ‘goals’, ‘strategies’, ‘missions’, ‘ambitions’ is that the opposite of the written words is clearly absurd. So, as the author says, in the case of P&G, who wouldn’t sign up to improving lives, making a difference, adding value and so on? (And then again, which company would declare its mission to ‘make as much money as possible, for the least amount of effort, time and cost?’).

The potential dangers that arises from mission statement by committee and the desire to avoid excluding someone’s pet topic are firstly, generic and meaningless catch-all statements, and secondly, as the author suggests, it’s all too easy to over-load the business with activity.

Let me bring Steve Jobs and Oscar Wilde (pictured) in here; the former is quoted as saying, “simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple”. The latter wrote, “if I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter”.     

The author goes on to look at the multiple messages and goals at P&G (see article) which all boil down to “do more with less” (no different from practically every corporate strategy these days).

But, that’s hard work isn’t it (yeah, thanks Sherlock). Research from Simplicity Partnership says that 30% of managers are coping with 6 or more strategic initiatives at any one time and that 12% are coping with over 16! And, I heard of one public sector organisation the other day with over 60 key change initiatives!   It’s tough for the workforce to navigate through, and resolve the tensions that exist at the intersections where different directives and priorities meet.

As the author says, “it’s time for P&G to rethink what its one message should be”. While that may be too tall an order (and at the risk of lapsing into consultant-speak), you do have to at least construct a narrative that explains the connections, the dependencies and hierarchy between each message and priority. I wonder which large, long-established companies have truly succeeded in simplifying the myriad of messaging, in order to get More from Less? 

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.

(www.dreamstime.com/barbs-imagefree249952)

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!

General Motors seeks customer zealotry, with new bonus scheme

26 Nov
English: Logo of General Motors Corporation. S...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This, from Automotive News in June, is another interesting sign of the times. The North America GM president has launched a new compensation structure that connects all staff bonuses to customer loyalty, in other words people coming back and buying more cars. This is a significant change from the days of old; as a dealership owner says in the article:  “Five years ago….if I were to call my zone manager, all he’d try to do is sell me something I didn’t need.”

There are a couple of interesting cultural insights in the article, about the organizational and cultural challenges that feel pretty much par for the course for many large long – established companies.

For example, there’s the dreaded silo’d and functional thinking, which resulted in the ‘everything is green syndrome’ nicely described in the article: “In the past, divisional barriers meant that even if employees in one area were hitting their targets it often did not translate into success for GM. “Everybody had their own metrics, which somehow were all green,” or positive, Reuss says of the old GM. “But, weirdly, when we added it up, it was pretty red.””  

So, the challenge is for people to look beyond the narrow scope of their job descriptions and keep their ultimate focus on the customer, and to recognise that, as far as the customer is concerned, it only works when it all works, hence the new bonus package.

gm-will-base-employee-bonuses-on-owner-loyalty

 

%d bloggers like this: