Author Archives: Dr Linden Brown

Failure of Culture: Australian Cricketers do the Unthinkable.

Cricket Bowler in Action

The game of cricket is central to Australia’s self-image – we believe we play the game hard but fair and always within the spirit of giving everyone a fair go, whether it be a sport, business or in our relationships with people. As a country, we don’t cheat but want to win fair and square.

When someone does something wrong, we say “it’s just not cricket”.

Universally recognized as the greatest cricketer (and one of the greatest sportsman anywhere) of all time, Australian Sir Donald Bradman, said: “When considering the stature of an athlete, I place great store on certain qualities to be essential in addition to skill. They are that a person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, with courage and perhaps most of all modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, determination, and competitiveness”.

In March 2018 when the Australian cricket captain, vice-captain and a new player to the team were caught on camera and admitted to a preplanned act to illegally tamper with the cricket ball during a game to make it more difficult for the opposition batsmen to hit, it struck at the heart of what it means to play the game, but more fundamentally struck at the heart of who Australians think they are as a nation – “we are not cheaters”.

In the 2015 Deflategate controversy in America’s National Football League (NFL) it was alleged that Tom Brady, the famous New England Patriots quarterback, probably knew of the footballs being supplied for games by his team were deliberately deflated. This ended with Brady receiving a 4 game suspension and the Patriots receiving sanctions.

This is not new in cricket, football or in other sports – think cycling, think baseball, think Olympic athletes from a myriad of countries and sports. In some countries and sports, cheating is systematic and inherent in their culture.

But for Australian cricket, this was a tangible result of a failure of culture ending in an uproar from cricket fans and the public. Standards of the on-field behavior of Australian cricketers have been deteriorating for years with “sledging” (personal insults) of opposition cricketers becoming the norm. This type of mindset has lead to a “win at all costs” culture and ultimately to a belief that doing something illegal (so long as you can get away with it) is acceptable. Some reports suggest that this ugly behavior has flowed down through the grades of cricket even to schoolboy cricket.

Unlike the famous All Blacks, New Zealand’s world champion national rugby union team, Australian cricket – some players, coaching staff, administrators – has lost sight of who are its most important stakeholders – namely the fans and its custodian role of representing the pride of the Australian nation. In preplanning the ball tampering act no-one asked the question: “What would the fans think of this?” or “What would the average Australian think of us doing this?” More broadly – “what do the majority of Australians think of our on-field behavior?” There was no consideration of the legacy left by Sir Donald Bradman.

This been a breach of trust that will take time and sustained effort to regain. It has also resulted in commercial losses from withdrawn sponsorships and likely reduced revenue from broadcast rights.

This is a lesson to all of us in business. What are we there for? – only ourselves or some greater cause?

When you are in doubt over a decision you are taking, ask the question: “What would our customers think of us doing this?” or even more personally “What would my mother think of us doing this?”

But, there’s an even bigger question.

Do we have a corporate culture that encourages good behavior and automatically doing the right thing by our customers and our community?

While seemingly abstract, your company culture produces tangible results for your customers – good or bad.

Our vision at MarketCulture is to help leaders understand the importance of building a customer-obsessed culture by engaging employees (or cricketers!). Our assessment, the MRI, provides valuable feedback to help leaders act on what is vital to deliver great customer experiences, which will lead to increased business performance.

Is your company customer obsessed? MarketCulture has a unique tool that can provide the strengths and weaknesses of your customer culture against 100’s of companies like Virgin, Apple, Google, and Amazon. Mention this post for a free pilot of the MRI today!

Why being customer obsessed pays! Lessons from the CEO of massively successful startup Naked Wines

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Luke Jecks, the Former CEO of Naked Wines, founded and led an online wine business that operates in the US, the UK, and Australia. The company connects wine lovers with boutique wineries and uses a subscription model where “angels” – consumers who pay a monthly subscription to help fund the winery’s next vintage – are able to order their favorite wines and pay for them from their subscriptions. It is a customer-funded wine business.

I asked Luke how this came about.

He replied: “The most important thing in the wine industry is that the only way this online business could work would be if we could have consumers that were “sticky” to the business. If we could get loyalty in perpetuity we would not have to be a business that is constantly out there chasing new sales. Instead what we could do is invest in loyalty in the consumer and if we did that we would have a sustainable business.”

“So we needed a model that did not trap consumers but made them want to stay. So the questions we had to answer were: How do you reinvent the wine club and its benefits with a subscription that had no cancellation fees, had no minimum period of membership, you could walk away at any time, and any money you put into the subscription you got back?”

“We found that a segment of wine consumers need to see a choice, a benefit, a feeling of being in control and where they feel they can connect with the values of the business. We felt that to keep customers in the long term we needed to make them feel proud – because they mattered and were part of the key wine choices being made and understood their role in making the business a success and the winemakers successful. Also proud because they feel they are doing good through the stories behind the winemakers that can’t happen without them”.

I asked Luke how this relates to customer-centricity. He said: “To me, you must have an “attract” model and not a “trap” model. It is a model where the customer plays a vital part in the success. So it is important for us to measure the customer lifetime value – that is how long they stay with us and how much they spend. That is much more important than today’s transaction. We believe that if we can get loyalty, we will get sales. We tested this by sending “high engagement” emails to half our consumers and “buy” emails to the other half. It turned out that the “engagement” emails created loyalty and those consumers bought more. We asked our consumers to rate their happiness with us. We found that people who rated us 5 stars (90%-100%) had much bigger lifetime value. So we set about investing to get 90%+ ratings by putting more people in the business, paying our staff more, investing in career programs for our staff and empowering them to empower our customers.

I asked Luke what has been the result. He said:

“From a standing start 5 years ago Naked Wine now has more than 100,000 angels. But more important than this number is the high level of loyalty. This has created a growing, profitable and sustainable business.”

A truly customer obsessed business has loyal customers that buy from you because they want to – and stay with you because they see that you care and that they are important. It is a business, like Naked Wines, that invests in and empowers its people to fully engage with their customers to create great customer experiences. This translates into increasing customer lifetime value. Sustainable profit and growth follow.

Hear more from Luke in this previous post – “What is the kryptonite for disruptors?”

Learn more about creating this culture in our latest book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

Are you an obsessive member of the Secret Squirrel Club?

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“We are not members of the Secret Squirrel Club”, says Peter Cooke, President of Wright Medical International. This was in response to my question about the leader’s role in customer engagement. In a meeting last year Peter and I were talking about customer-centric leadership. He went on to say “ that in order to create alignment between leaders and our employees to do the right thing for customers we must trust them with all the information they need to create a great customer experience – don’t keep it a secret. This includes financial progress of the company and the latest innovative initiatives occurring in different parts of the world.”

Peter continues “To do this we need a depth of competence at the top with leaders that have a high willingness to collaborate. We continually communicate the 3 or 4 key themes – we call them the vital few – to all employees in the business and the leadership team stands behind these themes and cascades them throughout the company and infuses them at every level.

Customer Centric Leadership Traits - TRUST

I asked him why employees are so important and leaders must avoid falling into the trap of not sharing information and becoming a member of the ‘secret squirrel club’. Peter replies “Success in business comes about by making the customer feel special. It’s that human contact that hooks you in as a customer. That’s the essence of customer engagement. To me, people buy from people. That’s what makes a difference. That’s why we are working on strengthening our customer engagement and aligning a collaborative culture at Wright Medical International to do what’s best for the customer and show that we really care.”

When you think about it, even in this digital age, when customers have a problem they are comforted by a human voice – whether it be by phone, through a chat function on a website, or even better, a face-to-face interaction. The moments of magic for customers are ultimately created by people. This can only occur if everyone in the business is aligned with what customers need and how a great customer experience is delivered.

If it’s kept a secret – that is, information and experiences are not shared – your employees become dissatisfied and your customers and business suffer the consequences.

Learn more about why a customer-obsessed culture pays in our latest book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

Customer Obsession: Its a Mindset! Here’s one senior leader’s take on it.

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I have known and worked with John Stanhope over many years. John had a long career with Telstra culminating as CFO. He is now Chairman of Australia Post. Ever since I have known him he has had a customer mindset. Almost an obsession!

When I spoke to him about the mindset challenges in today’s business he said: “Today the focus must be on ‘customer innovation’. Many companies focus on innovation, but it is customer innovation that counts. At Australia Post our customers want their parcels anywhere, anytime, so we ask: How can we provide a great delivery process that gets better and better over time and do it profitably? Innovation must occur to meet our customer’s need and expectation of ‘anywhere, anytime’.”

He says all leaders must have a mindset that is externally and future-focused. This includes foresight and peripheral vision with future customer needs and changes in customer behaviour as central. This is what drives customer innovation.

To develop this mindset leaders must have a relentless pursuit that everything is about the customer. John says: “There are little signs that tell you. At the start of a meeting ask – Is this about our customers? If not, don’t have the meeting. Another key sign is ‘language’.  How do you frame a problem or an issue? Is it framed in terms of the customer or not?”

I asked John how you get this mindset. He says: “ There are many factors, but I think a key one is that you must immerse yourself with customers. Ask them questions, listen to what they say, observe their behavior and then put yourself in the customer’s position. If I were the customer, what would I want to solve this problem? How would I like to be treated? That applies to anyone in a business no matter what level and what function.”

In every company that is continually successful at innovation, there are leaders and employees that have a customer obsession mindset. Like Amazon, that has developed a customer-obsessed mindset and a customer culture to match, this is required for sustainable success.

The only way to future-proof your business, your leadership or your team is with a strong adaptable, innovative customer culture.

Learn more here

The reason why all the best leaders are M.A.D. Are you one of them?

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Last year I met with the CEO of the BPAY Group, John Banfield. BPAY is a leading payment systems service provider with Australian banks and financial companies. John told me that from an early age he always wanted to ‘Make A Difference’ (MAD). He said his two boys play rugby at school against a number of much larger, intimidating players, some are almost twice their size. He urged them to think MAD — that is, “Make A Difference” with a tackle or a pass. To keep their focus he would write MAD on their hands to remind them particularly when the going got tough.

John says that he expects that of himself and others in his business. In particular to think MAD with a purpose. John has been transforming BPAY over the last 3 years leading all employees to “think customer”, which is a central corporate value, and make a difference through customer-inspired innovation throughout all parts of the business.

This includes the shared services functions such as IT and Finance where it is not always easy to create tangibility for a customer mindset. John said: “In these cases customers are employees for these functions. It is here that the values of “better together” and “think customer” connect. So shared services resonate by putting collaboration and customer together with internal customers. If they need to collaborate with three or four departments on a particular day, they sit together. This is particularly important because we are working to develop innovative new products with entrepreneurs and customers and keeping our eye on customer and culture is critical.”

Like all customer-centric leaders I know, John believes that the financial results are a consequence of what comes out of the customer experience and what is delivered that is valuable to customers. He says: “The numbers will come and our shareholders will be happy when our customers embrace the services we provide”.

This is the centerpiece of an innovative customer mindset and you have to want to ‘make a difference’ to implement it. To prove the point John and his team at BPAY have just introduced a new person-to-person payment product Osko by BPAY™.

More than 50 Financial Institutions are beginning to gradually roll out a whole new way to pay and get paid into their online and mobile banking. Osko will make payments faster, easier, and more convenient for consumers and business than ever before via any participating bank.

With customer-led innovation like this you end up with inspired employees, delighted and loyal customers and satisfied shareholders — the strong fundamentals of a sustainable business.

Want to learn how to build a customer-obsessed company?

Learn about where to start here.

The reason what they teach in business school is wrong and why a customer-obsessed culture is the only answer

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Many of today’s senior leaders were educated in an era where business school professors told them the sole purpose of a business was to create value for shareholders. This, at a time when only a few voices professed what revered thinker and writer, Peter Drucker, proposed that the purpose of a business is to create customers profitably. The two mindsets are complete opposites.

I recently watched the Netflix series: Dirty Money. It investigates three cases of big corporations where the only consideration by their senior leaders was the creation of shareholder value and their own bonuses at any cost.

Volkswagon was proven to have initiated and perpetuated (by senior leaders) built-in software to falsify carbon emissions in order to make claims about their cars to enable them to grow their business in the US with diesel-fuelled vehicles. Even when proven, senior leaders were in denial until indicted by the US government.

HSBC turned a blind eye to money laundering by the Mexican drug cartels through their banking network. Despite being castigated in US Senate investigations and regulators over a decade, there was no effective action taken and finally, the company was fined almost US $2billion with an admission to serious charges. This was a willful disregard of the consequences of their actions (or non-action) to achieve their profit goals at all costs.

Valiant Pharmaceuticals embarked on a merger and acquisition strategy to buy drug companies with unique monopoly brands as a basis for growth. Once acquired the prices of these life-saving products were hiked to levels where consumers could not pay for them – with life-threatening consequences. The CEO’s one stated aim was to create value for shareholders.

The senior leaders of all three companies gave no thought to the consequences for their customers and the community. In fact, they saw them as irrelevant. Excessive pollution from cars is a prime cause of the premature death of many consumers. Enabling money laundering financed drug lords and the associated violent deaths of innocents in Mexico and the drug habit in the US. Hiking pharmaceutical drug prices 10 or 20 fold over a short period created havoc and misery for many consumers with life-threatening illnesses. All of this because the senior leadership mindset and corporate culture were focused only on profit and their own bonuses.

I have heard this in many large businesses where people down the line tell me that the only concern of leadership is to meet profit goals at any cost. That cost is often lost jobs, unhappy and disengaged employees and frustration and disgust of customers.

Yet we know that the leaders of today’s most successful, modern large businesses have a totally different mindset. It is best illustrated by Jeff Bezos, who from day 1 at Amazon has built a culture around customer obsession and a focus on continually improving the value and experience delivered to its customers. He has never wavered from this mindset despite criticism at different times. What is the result? It is the most valuable and sustainable business on the planet – with a history of little more than 20 years.

We are starting to see this mindset in other leaders of long-established businesses. Richard Branson at Virgin is one. Paul Polman at Unilever is another. These leaders take the view that “what’s best for the customer is best for the business”. They truly believe that by creating a customer-obsessed culture in their leadership and employees they will deliver superior value to their customers and for their communities. And by so doing they will achieve long-term profitability and sustainability in their businesses as well as personal rewards and happy employees. They take a longer term and future-oriented view in their decision-making and their behavior.

This is foreign to many senior leaders and there is a lack of experience as to how to do it. In our research of more than 50 customer “obsessed” CEOs around the world and more than 300 businesses we now have a measurement tool that can create this mindset, benchmark your business against the best in the world and set out best practice steps to move you to the next level – a level that will be required for survival and success.

This is why every business should have a “Minister for Foreign Affairs”

Flowchart on a chalk board

Recently I interviewed Annalisa Gigante, a Board member of ZIS (Zurich International School) and former Head of Innovation at LafargeHolcim. We were talking about customer-centric leadership and Annalisa suggested that companies could really benefit from a “Minister for Foreign Affairs”. She said today “we need to know what’s going on with the rest of the world.”

I thought about this and realized that the amount of disruption we are facing in our businesses and work lives suggests that we can gain better context on what’s happening, make better decisions, and have a better chance of benefitting from it if we do what she suggests.

In our research and work with companies wanting to become more customer-centric, we have called this factor: Peripheral Vision. That is, the externally focused “wide vision” activities carried out to understand the likely impact on the future business from changes in technology, society, economy, political and legal, and the natural environment.

Many companies seem to have a “Minister for Foreign Affairs”, but like we see in politics, often the learnings and potential impacts of these insights are not widely shared – and consequently not acted upon. In practice, peripheral vision should be built into future business strategies. But in our experience, it is frequently missing.

If you want to know how you can identify if your “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” is effective, find out about how our MRI (Market Responsiveness Index) can help you.