Author Archives: Christopher Brown

This is why many business leaders waste half their effort and don’t even know it!

There is an old adage in advertising that says: “I know that half my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half”. In many cases, we know that all of it is wasted.

So it is with strategy and culture. Most senior business leaders spend considerable time on strategy – and rightly so. We do need to know where we are trying to go. But much less time – and sometimes virtually none – is devoted the other “half”: culture.

Some pundits believe “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. But that is beside the point. Business leaders need strength in both or at least half their effort will be wasted – and sometimes all of it. The strategy sets the direction and culture delivers (either well or poorly) the value of the strategy to the marketplace.

Our experience in many organizations across the globe is that the biggest missing piece is a customer-centric culture that is aligned with a customer-centric strategy. Repeatedly we find a lack of alignment between the stated strategy and what people are doing. Also, we see, more frequently, strategies that attempt to address and create customer value but the culture is not aligned with delivering to meet customer needs and desired customer experiences.

Aligning Customer Strategy and Culture

Aligning customer strategy and culture

You just need to see the disruption occurring in so many industries and almost from observation you can predict impending corporate collapse. Which retailers will survive? Which health services will prosper? It will be only those that develop a strategy centered on customer value and experience with a customer-centric culture across the entire organization that has the capabilities to deliver it.

If you have a question about the adequacy of your culture and believe you are not in the right-hand top box in the diagram, you should start by measuring it and benchmarking where you stand against the world’s best customer-centric companies. To discover the next steps on what you need to do, have a look at the groundbreaking book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

This is how to become the answer to your customer’s prayers

Pope Francis at general audience

The simple answer is to make sure you know what they are praying for!

We call this customer insight. In other words, what are your customer’s needs? What are they trying to accomplish and how can you help them achieve it?

While you as the leader of your organization might have these answers, can everyone in your organization answer these questions? Really great organizations have clear answers to these questions and are aligned and empowered to deliver the experience customers value. Their leaders are what we call customer-centric leaders.

Is the Pope a customer-centric leader?

My co-author, Linden was surprised recently when he spoke with a CEO of a multinational business this month and asked him who came to mind as a customer-centric leader. He immediately answered: “the Pope”! Linden said: “Tell me more”.

He then went on to tell explain that a customer-centric leader must be prepared to take risks and he or she must go out and meet with customers and spend meaningful time with them questioning and listening. This type of leader must be prepared to be challenged and also to challenge the current status quo and visit customers in the most difficult markets. This person needs to be authentic with customers and employees through an ability to communicate personal experiences that are relevant and create belief in their followers. He said the current Pope does all these things. He travels widely across different national cultures, talks with his “customers”, takes risks particularly with personal safety and is prepared to question current dogma in the Catholic Church. He comes across as an authentic person with those he meets and how he communicates to the world at large. It got me thinking. Can we learn something from the Pope about customer-centric leadership?

This type of leader must be prepared to be challenged and also to challenge the current status quo and visit customers in the most difficult markets. This person needs to be authentic with customers and employees through an ability to communicate personal experiences that are relevant and create belief in their followers.

He said the current Pope does all these things. He travels widely across different national cultures, talks with his “customers”, takes risks particularly with personal safety and is prepared to question current dogma in the Catholic Church. He comes across as an authentic person with those he meets and how he communicates to the world at large.

It got us thinking. Can we learn something from the Pope about customer-centric leadership?

This is how successful companies ride the waves of digital disruption

Wild blue

The tide of change from disruption is not just one wave, but a set of waves that continue to roll in and disturb the status quo in so many industries. These waves cannot be resisted but must be ridden by companies that want to survive and prosper. This is clearly seen in the retail sector and in services industries such as travel, transport, banking and insurance, health services and energy.

This sea change in business is now eliminating at least two options that so many established companies have relied on to survive.

One is “omission bias” that occurs when leaders worry more about doing something than not doing something. This has a psychological basis where we can see and measure the results of a bad move, but do not measure the costs of a move not made. However, when investments in customer culture and customer experience are not made, we can measure the impact of reduced customer retention and lower customer lifetime value to the business. These omissions to invest are clearly measurable in terms of their business impact.

The other is “loss aversion”. This is a risk averse approach of “playing not to lose” rather than “playing to win”. Psychological experiments in decision-making show that for most people the pain of loss is about double the pleasure of winning. Corporate culture has a direct impact on whether “loss aversion” is the dominant cultural characteristic. In those companies where “failure is an option” and people are empowered to make decisions and learn from their mistakes, then the loss aversion option is much less significant in how decisions are made. As an example, Amazon is continually experimenting and through “mistakes” learning to increase customer satisfaction and create new markets.

Its latest “mistake” occurred when the Amazon Alexa app apparently mistook a conversation by some young girls in Texas for an online order for a doll house and some cookies! I am not sure who made the “mistake” in this instance (you can decide), but there are lessons for Amazon regarding how they enable ordering via the voice activated Alexa AI system.

The most customer-centric leaders I have interviewed are all prepared to take calculated risks – a combination of curiosity of how to do things differently and better for the customer and the use of data and evidence that acts to provide the “calculation” of the risks. This is why we seek to measure the strength of a company’s customer culture because it provides both the quantitative measure of risk and the qualitative feedback from employees that provide many of the answers as to how customer value and experience can be improved.

The MRI is a unique tool to help leaders take calculated risks to ride the next wave of disruptive change, then the next and the next.

How a customer culture makes or breaks new product success: A lesson from Comcast

For those of you familiar with our work you will know that we successfully validated the link between a customer centric culture and new product success. Our chart below shows the links between our 8 dimensions of a customer centric culture and the key business performance outcomes.

8 Dimension Performance Links

Essentially organizations that develop a cultural focus that is obsessed with customers, outperform everyone else in the markets in which they play.

I just came across a great example of how this can work in reverse for a company that has not developed a customer culture – Comcast Cable.

Comcast recently announced a major new product – they are now a cell phone provider in the US market:

Comcast New Product Intro

Here is the reaction I found in some comments people who saw this announcement on LinkedIn (the majority of the comments were along the same line….):

Comcast New Product Intro Reaction

This is of course only anecdotal evidence, however, it is going to make it tough to make this product launch a success with an undercurrent of negative feelings towards the experiences many customers have had with the brand in the past….

How you treat your current customers today will have a massive impact on how they will respond to new product introductions in the future. 

Build your company’s customer culture today to ensure you continue to be successful in the future. Learn more in the Customer Culture Imperative, our award winning book.

Adapting to change by putting Customers at the center of everything: Lessons from Macquarie Telecom

Transforming Unhappy Customers into Happy Customers

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” – Heraclitus 500BC

It’s hard to believe this quote is from more than 2000 years ago… I can’t think of a more relevant quote to describe the times we are living in right now!

From a business context the change we are experiencing is the rapid shifts occurring in customer expectations and behavior. The companies that are embracing this are the ones that are winning and will continue to win in the future.

The question is how do we adapt to this changing customer environment, stay ahead and stay relevant?

Many forward thinking organizations are using increasingly sophisticated customer experience metrics to stay in touch with what their existing customers are experiencing. Specifically they have embedded these processes in a manner that makes it part of their organizational culture – we call this a “Customer Culture”. A great example comes from the work being done at Macquarie Telecom, a leading Telecommunications firm in Australia.

Macquarie’s CEO, David Tudehope, has taken a personal interest in leveraging the Net Promoter Score (NPS) methodology to help drive a customer centric culture. NPS is essentially a simple way to measure customer advocacy. It is based on answering the question – “How likely are you to recommend us?” on a 0-10 point scale. While a great methodology, it is not the right one for every business. What’s more important than the metric is the fact there is a focal point at which all employees can focus on and work together to improve.

For Macquarie, leveraging this methodology has been transformational. It has raised the visibility of the importance of customer experience on customer retention and ultimately business performance. It has also served as a goal that aligns everyone and drives collaboration across the firm.

What have Macquarie learned from their transformational journey that you can apply in your organization?

  1. Engage everyone in the journey – measure every significant touch-point as everyone has an impact on how customer’s experience the company
  2. Be Transparent – display results for everyone to see so teams can see how others are performing and compare results
  3. Celebrate individuals and teams – share great customer stories and celebrate teams with high NPS scores
  4. Integrate into hiring processes – hire people with a desire to create great experiences for others
  5. Customer Success gives employees meaning and purpose – connecting people’s roles with the impact they have on customers provides meaning, inspiration and purpose and will derive up engagement levels and ultimately people’s performance

What are the results?

Macquarie’s NPS is 60+ which means they have many more promoters than detractors (see this post to compare Macquarie’s NPS with the most customer centric companies in the world). While they are not the best in the world (they can still improve), they significantly outperform their competitors in the space they play in.

To read more about how to begin the journey to a customer centric culture, get a copy of our book, the Customer Culture Imperative or learn about the Market Responsiveness Index.

What happens when you don’t have a corporate culture obsessed with customers – Lessons from United

united_man_removed

A man is forcibly removed after not giving up is pre-paid seat on a United Flight

We witnessed one of the most extreme examples of what can go wrong in a business that has truly lost sight of its purpose.

As a former United Global Services member (United’s top tier for frequent fliers) I was appalled at how badly United handled a relative routine situation that probably happens multiple times a day in various cities across the US. What on first pass looked like the removal of a potential terrorist happened to be a paying passenger who was also practicing physician.

United sometimes over sells airline tickets in order to make sure they fill their flights and remain profitable. I am not against this practice, it makes business sense. However when this impacts customers, (and it inevitably will) this becomes a true test of an organization’s customer centric culture. Will it do what’s best for the customer? (A customer centric view) or will it protect a short term myopic view of its profits for that particular flight (a transactional view).

In this case United choose its policy and procedures over doing the right thing for its customers. Clearly there was an upper limit on what was available to be offered to make this situation right for their customers. United claims they offered $1000 to passengers to take another flight so that crew members for another flight could board to go to another plane – there were no takers. Instead of upping the compensation to a point that passengers felt like it was a fair deal, they decided to pick passengers based on their frequent flier status and other connecting flights. Three left peacefully although clearly unhappy and one refused resulting in the social media and traditional media storm that came after a video showed the passenger being forcefully removed.

Company Centric CEO Reaction – Oscar Munoz

Those of us that work in the culture space know that the CEO and top team set the tone and shape organizational culture.

Oscar’s initial response was to apologize for having to “re-accommodate these customers”. While externally he made attempts to diffuse the anger at the situation internally he sent a memo to employees that defended the crew’s actions, calling the passenger ‘disruptive and belligerent’ and praising his staff for going ‘above and beyond‘.

united_comment_twitter

I understand he wants to stand behind his employees, support them and not throw them under the bus for this incident but really he was trying to “protect” the company and the United Brand. This message also reinforces poorly thought out policies that do not get to the heart of what great companies do – they have a culture that puts the customer first.

Finally, two days later Mr Munoz has accepted responsibility for the disgraceful incident:

“I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight, and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard………. “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

A colleague of mine recently relaid an experience he had in a very similar situation on an Emirates flight. He said they just kept increasing the enticement to get of the plane. Eventually enough people took up the offer. They ended up giving away 2 business class return tickets from Australia to Dubai  as well as accommodation plus $US600.

This price was small compared to what United will now go through…..

United takes a $255 million dollar bath.

The value of United has fallen by $255 million as a result of this one incident and the bad press and social media storm surrounding it. How much were they offering passengers to deplane again?

Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants, termed United’s handling of the incident “brand suicide.”

“When you go onto a United flight, you shouldn’t have to be concerned there will be blood or you will get slammed in the face,” Schiffer said. “I think you will see an effect on sales from those who are disgusted by the gruesome action. And it’s catastrophic for a brand’s trust.”

No doubt United will lose customers and it deserves to, what comes next is a question of leadership and culture.

If all employees have a customer centric mindset and are empowered to do what is right by the customer this would not have happened.

That’s what we do at MarketCulture. We help companies understand the importance of putting the customer at the centre of the organization – a mindset that establishes the idea that “What’s best for the customer is best for the business”

Why it’s time for the banks to shift their corporate cultures

Wall_street_bull_CREDIThtmvalerio_Flickr

Image Source: htmvalerio

Big banks and investment houses around the world have been guilty of bad behavior stemming from unacceptable corporate cultures that have led to the disaster of the global financial crisis in 2007-2009. This was followed by the London foreign exchange scandal in May 2015 when six global players agreed to pay $US6.5 billion in fines for their misbehavior. On a smaller, but still significant scale, behavior of the big four Australian banks has come under scrutiny and evidence indicates that they have failed the culture test. A banking enquiry was instigated in Australia with several recommendations made, but not yet implemented.

A big part of the answer to poor corporate culture lies in the large banks developing a strong customer-centric culture. This is a culture where the well-being of their customers is a central philosophy and value that guides decision-making. It is a philosophy embodied in a bank’s vision and purpose that is well beyond making money. It is a mindset acted out at all levels that says “what’s best for the customer is best for the bank”. This doesn’t mean that the banks give their customers everything they want. It means that they understand the needs of their customers and deliver what they promise embodied in their strategy to deliver value and a good experience.

The leaders of big banks will tell you they are customer centric and do this. They point to improving customer satisfaction and net promoter scores. That may be evidence of improving customer centricity, but it does not give us the direct evidence of a strong customer culture. To show that evidence they have to measure it directly – not just some type of anecdotal absolute measure, but using a valid tool that compares their customer culture with the best in the world like Amazon, Virgin and Lego. These companies and others have a powerful purpose that aligns vision, values and strategy around serving their customers and communities that is embedded as a culture in everyone in the organization at all levels and all functions. It is led, role modeled and reinforced in their decision making by their senior leaders.

There is such a valid benchmarking tool available called the Market Responsiveness Index (MRI). This tool based on extensive research and validation testing now enables a bank to benchmark itself in a global database of more than 250 organizations on 8 decisive cultural capabilities. It points out cultural strengths and weaknesses and guidelines for fixing them. It provides credible evidence of a bank’s level of customer culture. This can provide the checks and balances that banking leaders need to be confident that their culture is as it should be – serving customers and the community (profitably).

The Customer Culture Imperative – an award winning book – provides the framework for measuring customer culture directly and the research that underpins the MRI benchmarking tool.

This can help bankers sleep at night as well as the rest of us in the community. And it can allay the fears held by regulators of potential ongoing problems that stem from poor cultures in large banks.