In your hands

Casey Gerald, Harvard MBA graduate and co-founder of MBAs Across America gave a truly remarkable commencement address to his graduating class in May 2014.

If you wanted to change the world in the 20th century, you went to law school. To change the world now, he went to business school.

“As we leave this place for the last time, some as Baker Scholars and some by the seat of our pants, we take up the work of not just making a living but of making a life. For if all we have learned here are Four Ps, and Five Forces and Six Sigma, we will prove William Faulkner right, that we labor under a curse, that we live not for love but for lust, for defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, for victories without hope, and worst of all without pity or compassion, that our griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars, that we live not from the heart but from the glands.

“No, my friends, we have more work to do, hard work, frightening work, uncertain work and unending work, work that may test us, work that may defeat us, work for which we may not get the credit but work for which the whole world depends. The time is short and the odds are long but I believe that we are ready nonetheless, with the love of those who raised us, with the lessons of those who taught us, with the strength of those who stand beside us as we face what lies ahead. I say let us begin.”

Posting this here as I believe we’ll see great things from this fellow. His oration is confidently Clinton-esque, but more importantly, he seems to focus on things that will make a lasting, meaningful difference.

The new ‘bottom line’ in business is the impact you have on your community and the world around you — no amount of profit can make up for purpose.

Design runs deep

Irene Au – design leader at Google, Yahoo!, Udacity, and Netscape – now partner at Khosla Ventures published this exposition on what design is.

DESIGN is…

It’s written for CEOs – in particular those who may not  fully recognise their role in design and its critical impact on customer experience.

She introduces a perspective which should resonate particularly well with CEOs who are still adding digital façades to their existing businesses:

When we think about design, we often think about how a product looks. As makers of technology we might also understand deeply that design is not just about how a product looks but how it works: components that enable people to use your product, and how it all fits together. All that cascades from your company’s strategy, values, and principles, and the scope of the problem you choose to tackle. All of that manifests itself in the design of the experiences you offer.

 

Design runs deep

Today, it’s rare to find a business that doesn’t claim a ‘customer first’ mindset or ‘customer-centric’ philosophy.

The principle that the design of customer experiences reflects the company values seems intuitive and obvious.

So why then are catastrophic user experiences so common?

Why do so many corporate façades present as a fraternity of silos with clumsy connectivity and evidently little consideration of the customer and their goals?

Why is it still possible for a company to deploy a customer experience that efficiently highlights exactly how far away from truly being well-connected and customer-considered they are?

Au concludes that the design that faces the customer offers a lens through to the inner state of the company.

Just as a person’s posture can reflect his or her inner state, so does your product’s design reflect the state of your company. I’ve seen org charts, power struggles, and agendas manifest through design. I’ve seen the absence of strategy, values, principles, and a clear point of view manifest through design.

You need to think about design from the inside-out. You can’t fix your design without fixing these deep issues and this is why every CEO is a designer, whether they recognize it or not.

If your expectation is that your design team can work around or patch over your company’s organizational issues, power struggles, and agendas, or lack of strategy, clear values, principles, or point of view, you’re shunning your responsibility in making design great for your users.

Product design and solutions delivery should enable customers to focus on achieving their goals, not navigating your corporate hierarchy.

A true customer-first, digitally-enabled approach mandates your teams to focus on delivering a core experience that adds frictionless value to the customer.

Design isn’t an afterthought. It runs deep and reveals a great deal about you and your team.

Take a look at your business from your customer’s perspective. Like what you see?

Trey Ratcliff- The endless road in utah

Different leagues

So you woke up today to find you didn’t do as well as hoped/expected/needed in some client survey.

How does that feel?

Fine? Not great? Terrible?

How long will that feeling last for?

Only as long as you let it.

You’re home now. With people you trust. People who believe in you.

Ask yourself: does it really matter?

If it feels bad today, it’s only because you’ve allowed someone else to make you feel that way.

Someone did relatively better than you.
You hate losing.
You feel they beat you.
They won.
But at what cost?

Was it worth it?

Does it even matter?

On Monday, when you pick up the phone, trying to win business, striving to be relevant to your customers, will your loss (or their win) make any difference at all?

A difference to the client, to your shareholders, to you?

It’s unimaginative (at best – irresponsible at worst) to rely on some arbitrary award to give you the confidence to go out into the world and add value.

Be relentlessly purposeful and confident in your intent.

Find ways to find meaning in your business.

That’s sustainable.

Real.

Rewarding.

Stand up for your principles. Even when nobody else will.

That’s how you stand out.

That’s how you get to be proud of what you’ve done.

Of who you are and who you will become.

The Geothermal Genie

Last laugh

A story about an interaction with Steve Jobs is making the rounds at the moment (posthumously).

It’s being fêted as hilarious, but I think it’s anything but.

Not because of Jobs and what he said. Far from it.

Indeed, I think he was one of too few leaders consistently forthright about their thinking around customer experience.

The quote attributed to Jobs (when an Intel exec told him they were going to make it easier for enterprise customers to integrate Apple computers) is:

“Why would I do anything to help the orifice that is the CIO? I’m going to make something so compelling for consumers that CIOs will just have to figure out how to deal with it.”

Putting Jobs’ posturing to one side, I believe it’s too easy for companies to effectively think – and act – in a similar way.
I don’t believe they do it deliberately like Jobs.
Rather they may do it unwittingly.

Customer-centric businesses must genuinely keep their customer – and what they are trying to achieve – at the very heart of their business model. If you don’t do this consistently, your “customer first” principles may quickly find themselves crowded out by inside-out thinking.

Customer Company

You can’t reasonably expect to be successful if you design friction into your customer experience.

Jobs was delighted to avoid enterprise integration and was satisfied with Apple’s forecast growth.
He was right – his premium offering appealed to individual influencers enough that many CIO’s took lots of pressure from them to enable Apple products.

Do you have that luxury?

The purpose of your business isn’t to sell products and services, it’s to create and maintain a customer.
Drucker’s principle is eternal and by authentically following it your proposition should be sustainable.

If your business strategy introduces any friction into engagements with your customers, it’s only a matter of time before the friction frustrates them and they seek an alternative.

This frustration may be instant. Whilst (ironically) further friction may exist which delays your customer from switching their business, without change the switch away from you is inevitable.

Take a look at your business from the perspective of your customer.
Look back at yourself and see if there is anything that frustrates or fatigues you.
If you find anything, you must fix it. Fast.

People only think the story about Steve Jobs is ‘hilarious’ because he won.

If you lose, it will be a tragedy and that’s no laughing matter.

Trey Ratcliff - London Tube The People Mover

Customer, then infrastructure

IBM own a genius global brand initiative called Smarter Planet. You have surely seen it. It’s genius in a Keyser Söze way:
Who doesn’t want to be (feel/act/become/be considered) smarter?

Under this Brand umbrella, the IBM Smarter Banking proposition is:

The way our planet manages its money needs to get a whole lot smarter – and now it can.

It’s impossible to argue with that (or at least it’s fruitless – I know there are many organisations that will still try).

Customer behaviours have evolved and are evolving incredibly quickly. The pace at which they adopt new technology appears beyond the reach of many incumbent financial institutions. This has triggered the gross (good) proliferation of FinTech startups who truly want to make the world a better place (and aren’t planning to wait around for the incumbents).

The IBM Banking team have a broadcast Twitter account.
They tirelessly tweet links about Banking – unsurprisingly from a technology perspective.
It’s hard to tell who they’re engaging with (they haven’t responded to a single Twitter user within >90 days).

Tonight this tweet arrested my attention:

It’s the sort of tweet I zero in on – in pursuit of signs we’re approaching the Tipping Point. The point where trusted enterprise sales whisperers not only ‘get’ that something needs to be done, but believe they have something tangible to sell.

So I click.

The linked article (1,100 words) promises great riches: banks that ‘crack the code’ of better customer experience…

…will position themselves to seize phenomenal opportunities to engage with customers

I’m hooked.

Here are some highlights:

Banks have made interaction with customers too complicated and frustrating.

Can’t argue with that.  It’s tricky to find a customer of an incumbent financial institution that is truly delighted by their experience.

Banks have focused too much on product, subjecting customers to multiple-step processes to complete transactions and to switch between multiple products.

Spot on. Processes designed from the product-out have too rarely considered the impact on a single customer needing to consume more than one at once.

Banks must leverage… mobility, big data, real-time analytics and omnichannel capabilities.

No article on future of banking would be complete without mentioning these.

Customers realize they have multiple banking options, often selecting different institutions for different services.

Indeed they do. More importantly, the customer of tomorrow doesn’t have to realise this – they’ll expect/know no other way.

Banks have done a poor job of keeping up with evolving customer needs and technology.

Past tense, present tense, worryingly close to being future tense.

Banks are now spending 35-40 percent of their expenditure on governance, risk and compliance. This coupled with high maintenance costs on legacy applications, makes it very difficult for banks to find the money to make these changes.

This estimate may be a huge lowball. Run The Bank (RTB) vs. Change The Bank (CTB) for large matrix organisations is often > 70/30. The current programme of regulatory compliance is paralysing many existing organisations.

Banks organized by product line are myopic to business opportunities and complicate transactions for customers

Exactly. Perverse though it is, this situation still persists at a huge number of companies. Even if it has been ‘solved’ on the org chart, the cultural impediments to a truly customer-centric business purpose may take a generation to overcome.

It will take several years for banks to implement the necessary changes to become customer-centric.

Wait. What? Why?

better experience; higher revenues

OK, I’ve teased this out to help a little.

Because that’s 1,100 words – without once mentioning customer value.

Now I may be being a little disingenuous. The blog is published on a site called “BANK SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGY”. (That’s a multi-billion dollar URL right there.)

But ask yourself. In your organisation – however novel and agile (or however incumbent and threatened) where are you making your technology stack decisions?

What comes first – the technology architecture or the customer need?

Not quite sure?

Think it’s a close call?

No. It’s really not. It’s binary.

Customer-centric; Digitally Enabled.

You either live, breath and sleep customer centricity or you don’t get it at all.

Start (and finish) every meeting thinking about your customer.

Encourage your organisation – from its very edge to its very heart – to think like a customer – and then act.

If you’re not doing this by default – not out of desperation, but desire, well, I don’t even want to know you.

Don’t build your customer centric; enabled-by-digital organisation out from an infrastructural perspective.

Starting with the customer is sustainable.

Customer first. Then (and only then) infrastructure.

Nine months

Cash bonuses for this year have been paid.
This cycle of deferred awards have vested.
Bankers are on the move.

One in, one out - until?

We hear talk of Long Term Incentive Plans and multi-year deferral/option schemes to align senior executives with the long term vision of their organisation.

But throughout many firms, people have recently completed one annual cycle, have checked out (mentally, if not physically) and are on to the next – but at an entirely different organisation.

If they are held to 3 months notice, they won’t start at their new firm until June/July.  Then comes the summer, when things are traditionally slow.  Momentum picks up again in September when people return to the office.  Just three months later, things start winding down again for the holidays.  And then the process restarts/resets for another period.

The cycle of annual reward handicaps an institution’s true development progress.

I mention on my LinkedIn profile how, when I left ABN AMRO, “I wasn’t finished”.
With at least one major internal reorganisation to implement each year, I never had a full 12 months with a stable organisation to see how it might operate in ‘stable’ conditions.
The positive outcome from this (perhaps the only one) was that the velocity of our decision making (and implementation) had to be extremely high in order to avoid organisational paralysis.

Rolling 12 month planning cycles (effectively 9 months at most) in large, public institutions mean that managing projects, budgets and – worst perhaps of all – people is often reduced to paper shuffling, rather than true business management.

Incumbent businesses no longer compete only with other incumbent institutions which look and feel like them – and operate on broadly the same annual cycle. New challengers – with strong founder-led cultures – are appearing and introducing disruptive technologies so quickly, that an annual planning cycle can simply not keep up.

The compensation paradigm and the planning and reporting that drives it (or is driven by it) will need to genuinely transform for real sustainable change to take place.

Organisations that scale and manage change well know that it’s important to “move 1,000 people 1 foot; rather than move 1 person 1,000 feet”.

To effect sustainable growth and adapt to the new competitive environment, it is not nearly enough to merely shackle a thin executive layer to the organisation for a long period.

Until firms find a way for their teams to adopt a true ‘ownership’ culture, loyalty and engagement will trend lower whilst turnover and instability continues to prevail.

In search of genius

I’ve mentioned before that if you want a great insight into the strategies and relative performance of the major tech players, then Ben Evans is the one to watch.

However, my own experience of Apple etc. is as a mere consumer. I’ve recently had the misfortune to notice what may be a sign that Apple’s market share is increasing significantly – perhaps further than their support models can manage.

My 2013 Macbook Pro (Retina) has decided to stop displaying anything.
Last night over chat, the Apple support people diagnosed where the issue lay.
It’s a video card hardware issue rather than the laptop display itself.
Next step is to get the laptop into the Apple repair ecosystem.
Which should be easy.
Apple easy.
But getting an appointment is now far harder than it used to be.
With so many new stores opened in London (Covent Garden, Westfield + Stratford, plus Brent Cross and Kingston-upon-Thames) you’d think I’d be able to drop it off somewhere today/tomorrow and pick it up in a week or so like it was in the good old days (2012/2013).

No more.

Apple Genius Reservations 2014-03-21 13.15.49

First available initial appointment is in one week’s time.

That’s new.
And not great.
I love Apple’s customer care. The Genius bar teams are miracle-workers, exceeding customer expectations by default.
But if you can’t get in to see them, you can’t start enjoying this greatness.

Has Apple (in the UK, at least) grown market share beyond where their support levels can maintain this level?

What are your own experiences?

Customer service – an investment, not an expense

I didn’t learn customer experience from my employers, I learned it from my parents.

Customers enjoy fabulous customer service when the brand they are dealing with has a culture of service. Authentic customer service, delivered gladly is not the product of an afternoon of staff training.

SAP recently featured Ted Coiné on the future of customer experience which is worth a read.

Customer Experience Is An Investment, Not An Expense

Some soundbites and principal points of note:

Funding and time horizon:

Customer experience done professionally is an investment, not an expense. Companies that give top-tier service dominate their markets and are more profitable

If you want to beat the market’s expectations this quarter, slash customer experience from your budget. If you want your business to be thriving ten years from now, invest in a top-rate customer experience.

On the change imperative:

Change is the result of insurmountable market pressure. Nobody changes just because they’re bored.
Companies in intensely competitive industries have already gotten smaller, flatter, more transparent, and more nimble, or are struggling for survival right now.
Others – where pressure is weak – are in a slow burn toward change.
Most are somewhere in the middle, undergoing change right now at whatever pace they must to survive.

Command-and-control hierarchies and the sluggish bureaucracies that enable them are over: they can’t compete.
Organizations composed of mature, responsible adults who make their own decisions based on the strategic intent of the org as a whole? Those are the winners in this brave new age.

I believe customers easily sniff out fake service levels.

If these themes count for customer service, how true is your organisation’s culture for digital or ‘social’?

Improving digital government

Under the leadership of Mike Bracken, the UK is undertaking an ambitious effort to simplify public access to government services and information.

If you are not already aware of Mike and his impact on digital government services, this will be a good read/watch.

Either way, there are some invaluable nuggets in here for you to take away including:

- the manner in which they have inverted the approach to digital – so it is for the user first;

- the way they are providing the services (via GitHub…) for local government to draw down as and when they wish;

- the small data/big data approach of engaging users in conversion to determine where in the available dataset they might find utility.

Very smart man, leading a talented team and having a noticeable and sustained impact on society.
Enabling real change through user-centric digital design and execution.

trey ratcliff - new york man on phone

Social bypass

It’s hard to imagine any significant customer-facing organisation that has not had social media [for customer engagement] on their management agenda at least once in the past 12 months.

The question is, how credible are the initiatives that come out of these boardroom discussions?

Do these organisations truly embrace the principles of the social enterprise – and mesh them with their existing business models?

Or are they simply dabbling at this stage? Keeping them as risk-free pilots – barely funded and easily abandoned – without really addressing the fundamentals?

I continue to believe that without truly embracing this way of doing business – this way of serving customers – this way of co-creating value, incumbent businesses will quickly become obsolete – and may already be being called out as fakes by their customers.

I’ve been thinking deeply about the concept of the façade of ‘social’.

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 12.54.51

This definition is telling – either/both the principal front of a building [or business/enterprise]; but also potentially deceptive outward appearance.

Façades are easily shattered.

Customers can be alert, motivated and very focussed. Focussed on their needs and expectations – generally not interested in your business model and acquisition pathways.

You offer your ‘principal front’ as an invitation for them to test your business. If, when tested, your façade reveals an underlying organisation not true to your new social promise, you lose control of the relationship in the most public way possible.

Trust grows at the rate of a coconut tree, but falls as fast as the coconut.

“Doing” social means far more than having workstreams bounce back and forth between Marketing and Comms departments to add layers on top of your existing business without addressing the existing customer engagement protocols.

No. If customer service – enabled by social – is key to your business model, then doing social means raising the level of service to where your social channels promise it – throughout your entire organisation and across timezones.

Matt Ballantine today published a searching blog asking what is so wrong with your existing customer service channels that your customers seek to bypass them using social media?

It’s another very useful way to look at this.

What social channels should be prompting in organisations is a discussion about how serious they are about using customer service as a competitive differentiator. Unless it is at the core of company strategy, and invested accordingly, customer service is a support activity to be streamlined and made efficient.

The very teams that you trust to run these customer engagement pilots using social channels are likely passionate and capable of using the tools available to them to do the best of their abilities.

But if the pilots and initiatives are merely a thin layer built on top of an entrenched and intractable organisation,  there is a great risk. If the underlying business doesn’t want (or isn’t allowed or expected) to change and adapt to this new normal, the social initiative puts the whole brand at risk of being called out as a fake. The originally well-intended customer engagement initiative may actually destroy, rather than create, customer value. With the destruction playing out on a very public stage indeed.

Customers aren’t expressing a preference for social networks as a communications channel with brands today – they’re expressing a preference for getting their issues resolved.

Your customers deserve the very best you are willing to offer.

Think about this the next time you are discussing social (or digital) with your Board.

If social and digital are on separate slides in a different part of the deck from your existing business, maybe you’re not yet doing it right.

 

Authentic can't be faked