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Customer-Centricity: Let’s Wake Up and Address the Real Issue!

Customer Experience

Our relationship to reality: the therapist and the patient

Allow me to tell you a story, I promise that you will enjoy it. Picture a therapist’s consulting room: you have the therapist sitting in in a comfortable chair and the patient sitting in another comfortable chair. The therapist has, over many sessions, built up a rapport with the patient. Today he feels able to discuss the issue at hand and help his patient move on and live well. Here’s the dialogue:

Therapist: “So, John, am I correct in understanding that you really do believe that you are dead?”

Patient: “Absolutely, I am dead, I died several years ago.”

Therapist: “John, do dead people bleed?”

Patient: “Don’t be ridiculous, dead people can’t bleed. They don’t bleed.”

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Therapist: “John, is it ok with you if we did a test? As you’re dead this test will be easy for you. I’ m going to come over and cut your hand with a knife to see if you bleed. Are you ok with that?”

Patient: “Sure go ahead, you’ll find out I’m dead.”

So the therapist takes out a knife and cuts the patients right hand. Red blood flows – the therapist and the patient look at the blood. The therapist is delighted, he is savouring his moment of triumph. Let’s get back to the conversation:

Therapist: “John, I cut your hand and you’re bleeding. Do you see that you are bleeding?”

Patient: “Wow, dead people do bleed!”

I, you, we are the patient and you dive into this you will find that the story is reflects a fundamental truth that we are blind to and which when made visible we deny, repress and/or suppress.

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter got me thinking

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter is an internet sensation and it got me thinking about reality and how well we deal with it or not. We all work in or have worked in organisations. We know (at an experiential level) the reality of organisations. So, why is this letter a sensation? It really is not disclosing anything new to us. We know that the prime directive of big business is to make the numbers no matter what it takes. Those that make the numbers are hailed as heroes and treated as gods. Those that don’t make the numbers find themselves in the same position as Tesco’s UK chief Richard Brasher who is ‘leaving the company‘ shortly after Tesco announced its first profit warning in decades.

Given this big business context is it surprising that the customer is seen/treated as a wallet to be emptied and the contents transferred into the company’s treasury? If this was not the case then a handful of companies like Zappos, Zane’s Cycles, USAA, Chick-fil-A… would not stand out. And all the billions spent by big business on CRM and related Customer initiatives would have delivered customer loyalty and the rewards that go with that. We know that it hasn’t.

So back to my question, what is the fuss? Could it be that the BBC has got it right when it writes:

“Many of us have imagined writing a letter of resignation that shakes our bosses to the core, but few have actually done it, and rarely even then has the letter been read by millions. Greg Smith, who quit Goldman Sachs this week, has realised our fantasy.”

It is my point of view that Greg Smith’s letter is a sensation because it gives voice to our voices and our experiences. If the resignation had showed up as as one man’s fantasy then it would never had become the sensation it is. It is became a sensation because it is our fantasy: to tell the truth of our experience, to walk away from the filth that we find ourselves to be mired in, to be noble in our conduct and work for noble causes.

Most of us know that the “Emperor has no clothes” yet few of us the financial security or the courage to say publicly that the Emperor has no clothes. That is why few of us are ‘whistleblowers’, just take a look at the price Linda Almonte has paid for doing the right thing: fired, no other bank would employ her, real struggle to survive – to make ends meet for the last two years or so. So I totally get that why Greg Smith collected his bonuses before departing, I believe that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of Black Swan fame) called this “f**k you money”. It is only when we don’t have to worry about money that most of us can do the right thing – follow the dictates of our conscience.

What has this got to do with customer-centricity and customer loyalty?

Do you remember my post on good strategy bad strategy (part III – failing to face the problem)? The key point is that formulating a sound strategy (think back to the story of the therapist and the patient) requires us to acknowledge reality as it is and address the key problem/s that have to be faced. The question is how good are we at facing reality? Jack Welch didn’t think at the people at GE were adept at facing reality and so he made it his mission to change that situation:

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch

As I walk around the halls of business and look at / talk with the people walking on Customer initiatives and read the stuff that is written on customer-centricity, customer loyalty, customer service, I find myself getting present to the following:

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Anybody who knew their ass from a hole in the ground could stand up and tell me how they know when something’s real.” Werner Erhard

All the time-money-effort being put into Customer initiatives will continue to be wasted (from the customer loyalty, customer experience perspectives) until and unless we deal with reality: what is so rather than what we pretend is so. We pretend that the customer matters, that the customer is the king/queen, the master of our hearts and drives our actions. The reality is that within the current system (they way it really operates) Customers (as fellow human beings) don’t matter. What really matters is getting our hands on customers wallets – quickly, easily, repeatedly and taking out as much money as we can and transferring it into the company treasury. The problem is that digital technologies and social media have made it that much harder to do that.

We have a choice to make. We can stick with the existing context (misrepresentation, manipulation, extraction, greed, me, me, me), relating to these customers as muppets and embracing anyone who promises the latest ‘shiny object’ that will allow us to get the better of our customers. Or we can choose to operate from a radically different context.

I assert that we need to get real. The days of fooling and fleecing customers easily and cheaply have come to an end. In my last post, I pointed out that the IBM study suggested that there is a social transformation is in progress and big business has to get with that. Specifically, we have to go from talking about caring for our customers to actually caring for our customers. It is only when we connect with ‘our heart and what is noble’ can we rule out anything and everything that contributes to “bad profits”, making money at the expense of the customer. Specifically, that means:

  • being truthful and providing the complete picture in our marketing;
  • designing, making, source quality products – quality as perceived through the eyes of the people who will be using these products;
  • matching the right products to the right customers, refusing to sell products that enrich us at the expense of our customers;
  • ensuring that the contract between the customer and the company is written in plain English and is fair to both parties;
  • investing in the service dimension of the customer experience as opposed to push relentlessly to reduce the costs associated with serving customers, whether that is in the retail store, the call-centre, the logistics function or in billing;
  • getting the balance right between human and digital channels / interfaces such that, taken as a whole, these interfaces simplify and enrich the life of our customers.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your point of view. Better, still I’d love for you to share your lived experience. Are you up for that?

Final words

Before I, you, we get righteous about the people at Goldman Sachs (or any other organisation eg. News International) it is worth getting present to the fact that it is only because I, you, we participate in the current system that allows this morally bankrupt and socially evil system continues to operate. Don’t believe me? Think you are not responsible for what is so? I invite you to read this piece – warning, it is not for the faint hearted. I thank you for your listening.

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