Let me start with an observation: most organizations have lost their souls.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on a diatribe about Satan or religious redemption. What I mean is that most organizations don’t know what they stand for — they’ve benchmarked themselves into cookie-cutter imitations of all their competitors. It’s really hard to tell the actual difference between banks or retailers or airlines or whatever. Firms try to use marketing gimmicks to fool customers into believing that there’s a real difference. And some more advanced firms use micro-segmentation and analytics to deliver customized messages to smaller and smaller groups of people. But, alas, customers are getting smarter — and any type of marketing pitch is becoming less effective. So what are firms to do?
Find your soul!
The path to redemption starts by anwering two questions (honestly):
These questions need to be asked from the perspective of all of your key constituent groups, which for most companies starts with customers and employees. Howard Shultz, founder and Chairman of Starbucks, has been quoted as saying…
Customers must recognize that you stand for something.
If your looking for me to now provide a step-by-step process for saving your souls, you’ll be disappointed. While I’ll probably touch on some left-brained approaches in future posts, the path to salvation starts with a more right-brain commitment to re-defining or re-invigorating what your organization stands for. So instead of reading some itemized advice, I suggest that you start by watching this video…
The bottom line: It’s time to find (or restore) your organization’s soul!
Stanley Marcus, who was president and chairman of the board of Neiman Marcus, was quoted as saying:
Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.
I think he was telling us that great experiences need to accomodate the specific needs, wants, and aspirations of individuals — who just happen to also be customers.
My take: Unfortunately, many companies don’t seem to understand this concept. I often find that firms either lack any real understanding of their customers or they rely almost completely on analyses of their data warehouses. That’s why I often find myself telling clients…
“Your customers don’t live in spreadsheets; you need to go out and talk to them to understand who they are as people. That is, of course, unless each of your customers is really a 55% female with 2.3 kids who is 48% from a suburb and is 11% hispanic.”
It’s not that analytics are bad (they’re actually quite helpful), but they don’t provide enough of an understanding of “people” to design and deliver great experiences. That’s why companies should use design personas — as I discussed in my previous post called “Get To Know You Customers Persona-lly”
In order to get a sense of what we mean by a design persona, here is a an example from WHITTMANHART that was shown in an excellent Forrester research report called Best And Worst Of Personas, 2007 by Moira Dorsey (Note: This is only a partial view of the persona).
The bottom line: Experiences need to satisfy individual people, not consumers.
In my quest to find new insights (and interesting material for my blog), I ran across this quote attributed to Pablo Picasso:
Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction
Picasso may not have been thinking about customer experience initiatives, but his insights are right on the mark. Any major intitiative requires significant change — typically crossing over many organizational boundaries. For these efforts to succeed, many employees have to do things differently. As Picasso’s quote highlights, doing something differently requires the destruction of the status quo. And, as companies often find out the hard way, many people aren’t ready to make that shift.
So what keeps people from changing? Often times it is because they:
- Don’t understand the initiative
- Don’t agree that it’s in the company’s best interest (they may — or may not — be right)
- Don’t think it’s in their own personal best interest (they may — or may not — be right)
- Don’t like the people running the initiative
- Don’t like change of any type
So if firms want their customer experience efforts to be successful, they can’t just focus on the new stuff. Firms need to also understand what’s being “destroyed.” These efforts must examine exactly what’s changing — from the perspective of the employees.
To try and overcome people’s resistance, large-scale initiatives should include:
- Broad-based communications. Have an explicit plan for regular communications with employees using things like newsletters, intranet sites, and roadshows. Make sure you communicate what is happening, when it’s happening, and why it’s happening.
- Front-line feedback sessions. Before you change what employees do, include them in a discussion about how the changes will be initatives. These types of discussions will help to fine-tune the approach and also raise the awareness of some potentially big obstacles.
- Senior executive commitment. It’s much easier to resist change than to make it succeed. So employees need know that it’s important to embrace the change. To create that type of an enviornment, senior executives need to demonstrate their commitment to the effort in a very visible, sustained, and hands-on way.
The bottom line: To turn customer experiences into a work of art (don’t forget, the quote came from Picasso), firms must destroy a lot of status-quo. That’s why one of the principles of Experience-Based Differentiation is “Treat customer experience as a competence, not a function.” If you’re not prepared to understand and deal with the destruction, then don’t bother starting the process.
Management insights aren’t just the perview of business execs and management gurus. Key lessons about customer experience can come from many different places. In this post, I’ll turn to a quote that’s been attributed to Mohatma Gandhi:
All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.
So what can we learn about customer experience from these words of wisdom?
Firms need clearly articulated customer experience “fundamentals.”
I think that Gandhi’s quote means that organizations start to fall apart when they compromise their fundamental beliefs. Over time, these compromises can undermine, or even eliminate, the core value of the organization.
Increasing profits represents a very clear mission for firms — everyone can understand the concept and most companies have an army of accountants tracking performance against this mission. But customer experience visions are often much less formed and not nearly as well tracked.
Without a clear vision about customer experience, firms will constantly feel the pressure to make decisions that optimize the well-defined goal (profits) at the expense of less-defined goals (like customer experience). It’s not that profitability is bad (I am a big believer in higher profits), but firms need to think of profits more as an outcome than as a goal. That’s why companies need to more clearly articulate their beliefs about how they create value — which more often than not involves interacting with customers.
The bottom line: Understanding your customer experience “fundamental” beliefs is critical to sustainability.
I often like to refer to the teachings of great business minds. In this case, I’ll point to a couple of quotes that have been attributed to the late management guru Peter Drucker.
The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.
The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.
He was a true genius!
These two quotes highlight the importance of truly understanding and serving the needs of your customers. There really isn’t anything that’s more important to a business. While most execs won’t argue with this point, Drucker probably recognized what I see every day: companies create so much bureaucracy and conflict that employees often lose site of what’s really important.
It reminds me of a story that I heard about a theme park (probably Disney, but I don’t remember exactly):
There was a staff member who was responsible for picking up trash. He was diligent in his work, but got irritated when people dropped trash in an area that he had just cleaned. One day his supervisor had to talk to him about his attitude. The supervisor asked him: What do you think your primary job is? The employee said: To keep the park clean. The smart supervisor responded: No, that’s not your primary job. Your primary job is to make sure that our guests have a good time during their visit. If they want to drop trash on the ground, then that’s okay.
We all need to have our perspectives recalibrated now and again.
What have you done to help your customers today?
I thought that I’d share with you one of the great things that I learned while working for GE (over a decade ago). In a training session, Jack Welch told us:
Deal with the world as it is, not how you’d like it to be
His words didn’t hit me as being particularly profound at the time, but I have really come to appreciate their wisdom. All too often, I hear executives discuss their strategies within the context of how they “expect” the world to operate. They often believe that customers think about their company and its products more often than they actually do, that people and processes can be changed more rapidly than they can, and that their strategies translate directly into implementation plans — which all too often they don’t.
I’ve seen this problem show up a lot when situations are bad. Rather than facing tough problems, some executives find it easier to act like the issues don’t exist. Bad idea! You can’t make problems go away by pretending that they aren’t there. All that happens is that mistaken underlying assumptions end up driving bad decisions.
To apply this wisdom to customer experience, I recommend that you periodically (that’s my nice way of saying “often”) step back and ask yourself (as well as your staff): “Do we have a clear picture of what customers really want?” But don’t just move ahead if the answer is “no.” In the long run, you’ll want to put in place processes that help you answer “yes” to that question more often (see my post on Experience-Based Differentiation).
I hope that you get as much out of Jack’s words as I have.