Dare to be Different – The ‘Dignity in Diversity’ of Customer Experience

Dare to be Different

People often ask me where the inspiration for my blog posts comes from. Whilst there is no single answer to this question, I will say that the best blogs are usually those that are unplanned. In other words, I am regularly inspired by the things I see and hear – my posts will almost always be as a result of a recent experience of my own.

At the weekend, I was fortunate to hear a sermon from a retired Anglican Priest. I must admit that I was not particularly focused in absorbing what he was saying. I did hear him repeat three words at least three times though – those three words were ‘Dignity in Diversity’. I heard the words, but they did not really touch me….. not until my wife brought them to my attention again a little later.

The Priest was describing the importance of being different – trying something new. In what I now recognise as a very poignant speech, he was telling those that were listening why there is actually something to be proud of in driving and accepting change – change is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. It is his speech that is the inspiration for this post.

Delivering great Customer Experiences – consistently – is all dependent on an organisations ability to repeatedly and continually evolve/adapt/change/transform (delete or include as appropriate). Continually doing what you have always done is rarely a recipe for success – it is almost impossible to stand still as the world and the people who populate it (your employees and customers) constantly demand something different…. something better.

Therefore the discipline of Customer Experience is all about knowing what and how to change – easy to say, yet not so easy to do. There are challenges with both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Let us explore knowing ‘what’ to change first of all. For me, this is the bit that requires a structured, fact based approach to Customer Experience. This is where it is critical that a business understands what it is supposed to be doing for its customers and has a clear understanding of what works and what does not.

The problem is that too many businesses still make decisions on what it is their businesses should focus on without putting customer focused facts on the table. It is still very common for companys to look towards their competitors – often from only their own industry and attempt to do the same things……slightly better. Either that, or they look to who they consider to be the best and attempt to emulate them – if only I had a £ or a $ for every time a senior leader has told me that they would ‘like to be like Apple’!

Not like Apple

This is where the headline from this blog post comes in – Dare to be Different – there really is dignity in diversity – we should aspire to be different, not the same as everyone else. There is nothing wrong in learning from others, both inside and outside the industries from which our own businesses exist. However I strongly believe that our organisations should have the dignity to be as diverse as their customers need them to be – as different as they need to be – to constantly provide customers with better Customer Experiences.

In my time leading Customer Experience programmes, I have often been ‘knocked back’ for suggesting things that have not been done before – or that have never been tried by another company. ‘Dignity in Diversity’ is a different way of saying ‘Dare to Try’ – it plays to innovators and transformers. Being different is not a bad thing – it is what can truly make your business differentiate itself. To enable your business to change it is vital to unlock the potential that comes from within – this is the ‘how’ to change. Don’t be constrained by the negative (it has never been done before); look to the possibilities of being the first to ‘dare to try’!

In my final blog post of 2014, I suggested that we should ‘sweep the steps’ of Customer Experience in 2014 and move onwards and upwards to the land of opportunity ahead of us in 2015 – we could do this by truly daring to be as different and as diverse as our customers really want us to be. So go on – give it a go – don’t dare to dream of being like Apple – dare to dream to be the first to do something that has never been done before!

Dare to be Different


Loyalty Schemes: do they really work?

Loyalty Cards

As we near the peak of the festive season, there are a number of annual rituals that I look forward to undertaking. Once presents have been opened and copious amounts of food and drink consumed, I settle in to the relative calm of the five days that separate Christmas and New Year. I have often looked forward to these days as a way of ‘clearing the decks’ ahead of another twelve months.

One ritual I generally tend to undertake at this time is the annual clear out of my wallet. The clear out has nothing to do with hard cash I am afraid – that happens well in advance of the holiday season! The clear out has everything to do with the plethora of credit card sized plastic I collect throughout a year. The picture at the head of this post is a ‘collage’ of plastic I removed today from my wallet – you will also notice additional pieces of plastic that are also attached to my keys.

These pieces of plastic are all to do with loyalty schemes – coffee shops; retailers; hotels – and this is not all of them!!! I have a number of other cards sitting in my ‘man drawer’ and receive at least five emails a week from schemes I have supposedly signed up to in the past. We will all be in the same situation. The lovely Mrs Golding is in desperate need of a new purse this year (I hope you are reading this Santa) due to the excessive bulging being caused by cards from loyalty schemes. Our pockets are not big enough to contain our keys and the ever increasing amounts of plastic being added to them. When will it ever end?!

For a while now I have pondered over the genuine success of loyalty schemes. Do they really work? Is providing the consumer with a credit card style piece of plastic really a valid way of maintaining a relationship between company and customer?

The quick answer to the question is yes – they CAN work. The undoubted success of the Tesco Clubcard is demonstration enough to show what is possible with a loyalty scheme. However, in many cases, not only do I believe they do NOT work, but I also feel they only serve to make the customer experience worse rather than better. Let me explain what I mean.

1. What is the point?

The Golding family have had a Tesco Clubcard for many years. Initially we used the ‘rewards’ to get small sums of money off our shopping. A few years ago, we discovered that you could convert your points into vouchers to use in restaurants. If you did this, you received 4 times the value of the voucher – a real result. The fact it took a few years to realise this is one of the first issues that I have with loyalty schemes. It is not always obvious what benefits you do get from being a member. What actually is the point. I have had a nectar card in my wallet for many years. To this day, other than redeeming a few ‘money off’ vouchers in Sainsburys, I have never understood what the point of the nectar card is!

Maybe I should take the time to go online and investigate – the truth is, I cannot be bothered. That leads me nicely to my second point.

2. I cannot be bothered!

Joining loyalty schemes and then redeeming the benefits is not always that simple. Every time I book a flight I am asked to enter my loyalty scheme number – what loyalty scheme number?! It is never made obvious how I can join a scheme quickly and easily. I therefore end up ‘not being bothered’ to join. The result is that the loyalty scheme is therefore completely lost on me – and I know I am not alone.

It happens to me a lot – it is just too complicated – and I’ll only get another plastic card to add to the collection anyway!!!

3. Keep it simple

Some loyalty schemes are very simple. The Costa coffee loyalty card does what it says on the tin. Once you have the card, you scan it every time you order a coffee and the benefits rack up. The Starbucks scheme on the other hand is painfully awkward. With Starbucks you have to ‘load up the card’ with cash, so you can then order with it and start to earn benefits. I do not want to put my hard earned cash on a Starbucks card! Maybe I mis-understood when it was first given to me – whatever the case, I will now choose Costa over Starbucks any day.

Sticking with coffee shops, this particular industry does demonstrate that pieces of plastic may not be necessary at all to drive loyalty. Apart from the fact that many (such as Cafe Nero) simply stamp a small piece of card, if you are a regular and recognised customer of Pret a Manger, they will reward you ‘off the cuff’ – no need for paper or plastic of any kind!!! What could be simpler than that?

4. It is not all bad

I do not want you to think that I am anti loyalty scheme – quite the contrary. I am a committed member of the IHG (International Hotels Group) loyalty scheme and will do everything I can to stay in a Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express so I can see my reward status continually improve. The scheme is easy to join and easy to maintain. They did not need to send me a bit of plastic though (in my opinion!!). I also loved the simplicity of the Morrisons fuel voucher – earn a £5 voucher for collecting points filling up on their fuel. They have changed the scheme recently to include store purchases – as long as it remains as simple, I will remain a fan.

So in conclusion, I do think that loyalty schemes can work. However…… and it is a big however……. they must be made simpler in my opinion to keep consumers linked in with them. Why weigh us down in plastic when it is not necessary any more? Make registration as simple as any other transaction. Make it completely obvious and complex free for customers to understand the point of being a member.

It all links nicely to the three components that make any experience:

FUNCTIONAL – does the loyalty scheme work?

ACCESSIBLE – is the loyalty scheme easy to join, use and redeem?

EMOTIONAL – does the loyalty scheme leave us feeling as though we want to keep transacting with the company?

I will not be putting some of the plastic cards back in my wallet this year. I urge you to do the same. The organisations that make the loyalty scheme experience as simple as possible in 2015 are the ones who are likely to win me over as a fan.


May I take this opportunity to wish all readers of ijgolding.com a very happy holiday!

Who will be the next ‘United Breaks Guitars’? Don’t let it be you!

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In 2008, Dave Carroll’s guitar was broken by United Airlines. Unbeknown to United at the time, Dave Carroll is a Canadian musician and a member of the band ‘Sons of Maxwell’. As a result of the lack of desire demonstrated by United to deal with the issue, Dave felt that his only option was to reach out to social media to share his experience with as many people as possible. Over 14 million views and 150 million impressions later, Dave certainly got his voice heard. A huge public relations embarrassment for United, their share price suffered significantly immediately after the song went viral.

Six years later, I regularly show the United Breaks Guitars video with people all over the world – if you have never seen it, you must watch it now by clicking here! Every time I share the video, it reminds me of the power the consumer  has at their disposal in the digital world we live in. Six years after Dave’s experience, we are arguably in an even more commanding position to get our voices heard by the masses, even if the companies we interact with directly appear not to be listening.

The threat of consumers taking ‘matters into their own hands’ has not appeared to change the way organisations behave. As customers continue to experience substandard experiences on a regular basis, many of them are still faced with uninterested, apathetic companies who make it remarkably difficult to get issues resolved. Some would argue that United were just plain unlucky to encounter someone like Dave Carroll – it is not every customer who will go to the lengths of writing a song about their poor experience. However, it is only a matter of time before a viral customer experience public relations disaster could hit any business…….. and that leads me very nicely on to a story that might just be the next one to do it…..


Meet Maggie and David Wheeler. Many Customer Experience professionals will know them well – Maggie and David are the very successful owners of an events company called The Focus Group. Their company produces the Customer Experience World Franchise – Customer Experience Conferences in the UK, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. They know a bit about the world of Customer Experience! They are right in the middle of an horrific experience with British Gas – they are keen for their story to be heard and shared. Have a read….

In August 2012 we moved our home and business  to the Midlands.  We rented out our property in Oxford and took out a ‘Homecare’ insurance policy with British Gas to cover servicing of boiler, pipes etc. Since 2012, we have had the same tenants – they signed a three year contract.  When the tenants took the property over,  they chose Scottish and Southern to provide their gas and electricity.  In October 2013 they switched their electricity over to British Gas but were told they couldn’t move the gas supply as it wasn’t in their name!  It transpired that a bill of over £1,800 was outstanding to British Gas – but they had never been the gas supplier!!  After 50 calls between British Gas and Scottish Southern,  I received a panicked phone call from our tenant in March 2014 to say that British Gas had served a warrant to ‘rip out’ the gas meter!!

Apparently, letters had been going to the property for the attention of ‘The Occupier’ since September 2012 – so as many people will do, the letters were destroyed without being opened (we can only assume in hindsight that they were bills and letters of threat).  The tenants are still with British Gas and are paying back the money in monthly instalments. However, their Experian records have been black listed for the debt even though the account wasn’t in their name!  Please note the debt built up because they thought they had changed over to Scottish and Southern but found out later that they hadn’t!!!! Confused – we were!

The tenant had numerous conversations, trying to explain British Gas that they were NOT the gas supplier to the property but they wouldn’t listen. So the day  my tenant contacted me was they day discussions had reached the extent of pulling out the meter and taking court action for non payment!!  Even though British Gas were NOT the supplier of gas to the property, my tenant offered to pay £500 on account while they settled the issue – British Gas refused to take their money as the account wasn’t in their name!  It was only then that it was revealed that the account was in our name!  When this was brought to my attention, I was in disbelief that how could this happen! I had never opened an account foe the supply of gas with them! I contacted British Gas and explained that I had a Homecare plan …. It took a week of numerous calls before they finally came back to me. British Gas apologised – they were extremely sorry but it appeared that there had been confusion and the account must of been sent up because I had a home care plan and they ASSUMED they also provided the gas supply.  They assured me it had been corrected and that was the end of that.

However, unfortunately for us, the story goes from bad to worse! Three weeks ago as we were turned down on finance for a car – Dave and I were both really shocked, it wasn’t a great deal of money but none the less this really concerned us as we have no debt and have always paid our bills on time etc…  We immediately registered to obtain our credit file from Experian – I was absolutely shocked to find I had 11 plus counts of missed payments to British Gas!  I contacted Experian and they talked me through my report and explained how the scores work.  My records were showing the number of missed payments consecutively put my account into ‘Delinquent’!!  I explained the situation to them, and they asked for me to get in contact with British Gas to remove the missed payments.

I decided to take the issue straight to the Executive team (I was connected with Darren – he works for the board to placate customer complaints to try and mitigate out of court settlements and to avoid going to court).  I spoke to Darren and explained the situation and he went away to investigate, He came back with a letter for me to send onto Experian to eradicate the listings (which has now been done) and was going to investigate how this happened.

A week later I am still waiting for a full explanation as to how this all happened. How did British Gas open an account in our names, without our consent?  They had no bank details and there was no gas supply to the property. The emotional damage to us and our business is significant. The effect on our credit rating has hit everything we do – and the whole situation had NOTHING to do with us!!

I few years ago, I asked Dave Carroll to come and speak at Customer Experience World – we have become good friends. I feel as though the indifference being shown by British Gas towards the entirely avoidable issue and their inability to resolve it is similar to the indifference shown by United Airlines to Dave. I therefore reached out to Dave to see if he could help me.

This is quite a story – one that has thankfully never happened to me and hopefully never will. Due to a ‘mistake’ by British Gas, the lives and livelihood of two completely innocent people has been detrimentally affected by the actions. Mistakes can be forgiven – if they are rectified quickly – if United had just paid for Dave’s broken guitar, the song would never have been written. Dave responded to Maggie’s plea for help – this is the email he sent to British Gas:

Dear Darren

My name is Dave Carroll.  I’m the creator of the Youtube viral video called United Breaks Guitars that has over 14 million hits and well over 150 million impressions.  It was also the #1 music video in the world for the month of July 2009 and has been studied at universities the world over.

As a result I have become an active consumer advocate, author, keynote speaker, and advisor to large and small business on how to be a more effective storyteller in the digital age.
My friend Maggie Wheeler has shared her awful experience with British Gas and explained how her business and credit has been damaged through absolutely no fault of her own.  While she said nice things about you personally, as a customer her story represents a cautionary tale that citizens in the UK and perhaps an international audience would be shocked to hear.
Despite being asked daily to create content for others in need, I very rarely have, but you should know that Maggie has asked for my help to position her story truthfully and authentically in a way that might stand out using social media.  I have accepted her invitation and am now actively involved.
While I am Canadian, my grandmother was English and I hold a British passport. The thought of people without the means to defend themselves against practices like the ones Maggie has experienced motivates me greatly.  It could very well have been my grandmother or someone just like her.  I think millions of UK citizens will join this conversation soon

Powerful stuff from the man who knows the effect that social media can really have. As of the date of posting this blog (28th November 2014), British Gas have still not resolved the issue (despite being promised a response by Darren by the 24th November). The big question now is – will they become the next ‘United Breaks Guitars’?

I genuinely hope this does not happen. If you know a mistake has been made and a consumer has suffered as a result of the mistake – sort it out – and quickly. British Gas have offered a cursory amount of financial compensation, but this is not really about money. There is no excuse for indifference, inaction and a negative attitude. I’ll keep you posted as the story progresses.

Guest Post: 5 Customer Service Tactics to Increase Sales You Didn’t Know

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I am delighted to introduce another new guest blogger to you this week. Naomi Shaw is a stay-at-home mom from Southern California. After being a stay-at-home mom for seven years she works full-time as a freelance writer. She enjoys blogging about mommy tips and DIY crafts providing insight, advice and more! Naomi and I very much hope you enjoy reading her article:

Do you want to attract every type of customer? Think again. Do you want to be seen as an honest business? Avoid transparency. Increase sales by using these 5 smart customer service tactics that veer far away from standard expectations:

1. Loss and Gain

  • Derek Halpern, founder of Social Triggers, a top marketing psychology blog, says to explain to a potential customer what they can gain or lose if they choose to use your services or not. For example, say you’re trying to convince a client to use your company’s marketing tactics to boost sales on their website. If you convey to them what they won’t gain without your skills, they’ll see that not using your expertise is a form of loss or missing out.
    • Human beings place more value on a dollar they already own vs. a dollar they can possibly gain.
    • People respond better to the concept of missing out on a potentially rewarding decision than to hearing what they’ll gain.
    • Tell your potential clients about both concepts: what they’ll gain and what they’ll lose if they choose another direction.

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2. Break It Down

Giving each of your employees a customer service section to excel in, like educating or informing your customers versus damage control, will guarantee higher customer satisfaction and therefore higher sales. For example, a customer who feels like it’s your sole priority to satisfy their needs will be much happier than one who feels like they’re simply a distraction from your other duties at the company.

3. Keep It Mysterious

Some companies think that their transparency will bolster an honest reputation and therefore attract more customers. This may be true sometimes, however, a little mystery can go a long way, especially if your company starts doing really well. Take Apple, a very secretive company, into consideration. There are thousands of sites dedicated to speculating about how they make their products. What does this do? It directs more attention towards Apple. More attention equals more customers.

  • Keep your sales tactics and how your business works to yourself. If you’re doing well, customers, and even haters, may start openly speculating about how your company is growing.
  • This will generate attention on it’s own and direct more potential customers towards your website or physical location.

4. Happy Customers = Good Referrals

Employees treat every interaction with a customer as an opportunity to ask for a referral, chances are the interaction will be way above par. If a customer seems especially satisfied with your services, asking for a referral can be as simple as asking them to write a Yelp review or fill out a customer testimonial that you can later post on your site. It is the little things that can make the most impact, like using your manners, seeing what other companies do and take it one step further.

For example, a house painting company might come and paint your house and do a great job and be done. But a paint company that goes above that will clean up all the debris and check and make sure everything is put back and cleaner than it was before they started. This extra ten minutes of clean up will make it easier to ask for a referral.

  • Every time you’re on the phone with a customer, every time you meet or email or interact with them in some way or, pretend as if you’re going to ask for a referral at the end.
  • No matter how large or small your company may be, every customer should be seen as enormously valuable.
  • Build an army of advocates to speak positively of you and your business. Consider that one good referral can bring in at least three potential clients.

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5. You Can’t Please Everyone

Similar to developing a good experience so you can ask for a referral, if you cater to the right clientele, they can become your most enthusiastic fans. For example, trying to please everyone means your company’s mission will likely have less backbone. Strive to stick to your guns and the customers who believe in you will stand by you.

  • Businesses that try to please everyone are less successful than those that aim for a specific customer.
  • Halpern discourages diluting your message or toning down the uniqueness of your services in a useless attempt to cater to everybody.
  • Pay attention to your best and loyal customers and they’ll likely boast about your business to friends, family, and acquaintances.

Implement these 5 tactics into your customer service operation and you’ll be sure to witness an immediate, positive response from individuals and an increase in sales down the line.

If you have enjoyed this post, Naomi would be delighted if you would connect with her via Google+ or Facebook

Customers; Colleagues; Shareholders. Which one should your business put first?

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At first glance, the title of this blog post may seem like a simple question. In fact, the order of the three key ‘stakeholders’ responsible for delivering customer experiences naturally exploded from the keyboard in the order that you see them. Does that mean that ‘Customer 1st’ is the right answer? If it is, this could be my shortest ever post! As you may well agree, the answer is in fact not that simple, and hence I believe it requires some exploration.

In my experiences as both practitioner and consultant in the world of customer experience in a number of organisations across different industries, there has rarely been a consensus. Customer, colleague or shareholder? Colleague, customer or shareholder? Colleague, shareholder or customer? Shareholder customer or colleague? It does not matter how many times you play about with the order, the answer is still not that obvious – so let us have a look at the merits of each stakeholder taking the place of ‘Number 1’ in turn:

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Lets us start with the good old customer. The group of people who in commercial organisations ‘pay our wages’. Without our customers, we would not have a business – so surely the answer to the question is obvious after all. Businesses must put Customers before anyone or anything else. Even in non commercial entities, the organisation would not exist without the recipients of the services they provide – there would be no need for them to exist otherwise.

Putting any ‘stakeholder’ first means that the organisation must act in a way that the chosen stakeholder is put ‘at the heart of everything it does’ – every decision that is made is done so considering the effect on that stakeholder before anyone else. For a business to put the customer 1st, it must demonstrate this – I do not know of many businesses where this is genuinely the case. Do you know of any businesses that genuinely and honestly ‘put the customer 1st’ – before anyone else?

I used to work for an organisation that for a long time ‘branded’ it’s approach to customer experience ‘customer 1st’. For a while that felt right. However, despite the fact that we were transforming the way we thought about customers; treated customers; delivered experiences to customers; we were not making decisions THINKING about customers before anyone else. What we needed was for ‘customers’ to be part of the conversation – They were not on day one – they were very much ‘last’ – but is it right for customers to come first?

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Let us consider the case for ‘colleagues’. Less personal organisations refer to the hard-working people who deliver experiences to customers as ’employees’. By the same token that an organisation would not exist without customers, it is also true to say that it would be rather difficult without people to serve them. I have always believed that colleagues are the most important asset for any organisation. However advanced technology becomes, or mechanistic processes evolve, we will always need people to deliver customer experiences.

I am a huge advocate (as many know) of a principle developed by O2 (Telefonica) during the ‘noughties’. They developed the O2 ‘fanbook’. They believed that they needed their customers to become fans of O2. In order to achieve their desire, they wanted colleagues to become fans of the customer. To be a fan of the customer, the organisation recognised that O2 colleagues needed to be fans of O2 themselves. This is a principle that makes so much sense. If your own colleagues are not fans of your brand, how can you expect your customers to be? Think about it – if your own staff do not like what you do – why would your customers? If you have never seen the O2 fanbook video – have a look at it here – http://vimeo.com/11352779

Let us consider this question – if you put your customers 1st, are you at risk of your colleagues not being fully engaged with your business and brand(s)? Are you at risk of your customers loving what you do more than your own colleagues? If your customer is being served by a colleague who is less engaged with the brand than them, is that a good thing? This is why I know of many organisations who believe in the ‘Colleague 1st’ principle. They believe that if you put your own people first, then the customer experience will look after itself.

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Before you decide what you think the answer to the big question is, let us look at the third key stakeholder – the shareholder. This is the group of people the colleague ‘loves to hate’. Maybe not just the colleague – over the last few years, the consumer has increasingly become frustrated by the perceived greed of shareholders putting their interests before anyone else. Indeed I have been involved in organisations where it seems that the only voice that is being heard is the one that is only concerned with the spread sheets – the top and bottom line.

Profit, profit, profit. Cost, cost, cost. The words often associated with shareholders – but is it wrong for the group of people responsible for funding, investing in and directing an organisation to focus on the important numbers? I must admit, I find this the most difficult of the three corners to fight for. A shareholder would argue – in much the same way customers or colleagues would – that it is only right that the interests of shareholders comes before anyone else. The shareholder enables a business to exist – they invest in improving, growing and sustaining a business. Without shareholders, many organisations may not be financially viable. The risks and pressures associated with shareholdings should be rewarded by having the loudest voice.

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So it is decision time – Customer, Colleague or Shareholder – which one do you think your business should put first? If you want my opinion (which you may not!), I am about to do something I do not often do – sit on the fence!! Whilst it may be easy to completely dismiss Shareholders in favour of either Customers of Colleagues, I actually believe that it is important for all three stakeholder groups to be at the ‘top table’. I strongly believe that all three voices must be heard in equal measure for an organisation to be successful – and for an organisation to stand the best chance of delivering brilliant customer experiences by highly engaged colleagues supported by enthusiastic and rewarded shareholders.

A concern for any organisation should be when one voice becomes significantly louder than any other – or if one or more voice is not heard at all. Organisations need to understand that when a decision is made, the impact on all three stakeholder groups MUST be considered – openly and honestly. All three stakeholder groups must be represented equally around the board table, and the consequences on each of them carefully considered by the decision makers. If Customers, Colleagues and Shareholders can live in harmony together, our businesses stand a fantastic chance of existing for ever!

What do you think – I would love to hear your point of view.

London Underground – the case study for business transformation

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If you live or have been in London for the last two days, it will not have escaped your notice that something unusual is happening. Two trade unions who represent some London Underground staff have sparked a 48 hour strike in response to their disagreement with London Underground management over planned ticket office closures and job cuts. I am not about to get involved in the political debate between a trade union, its members and company management – I am neither a politician nor am I someone with a political opinion on the matter.

I am a huge fan of the London Underground – as a born and bred Londoner, it is unavoidable for me to have some affection for one of the most recognisable transport systems in the world. Last year I wrote a blog post about the Tube in recognition of its 150 year anniversary – http://ijgolding.com/2013/05/17/mind-the-gap-is-the-london-underground-the-greatest-ever-customer-experience-innovation/. In my post I make the case that the London Underground is one of the greatest ever customer experience innovations. It is the Tube’s ability to innovate and evolve that has ultimately led to the current industrial action, and me writing another post today.

All organisations and all industries are having to continuously adapt to the ever-changing environment. As quickly as new technology is invented, it is usurped by something even better. Some organisations have been able to adapt to change better than others. I used to work for Shop Direct Group (now known as Shop Direct), the owners of Littlewoods. In 2004, Littlewoods had over 200 high street stores. Today they do not have any. Shop Direct transformed their retail brands into modern, innovative, technology based distance shopping power houses. Along the way, the organisation reduced significantly in size. As well as store closures, contact centres disappeared, warehouses were shut, and even roles in head office re-structured. Shop Direct did what was necessary to adapt to the changing climate. If they had done nothing, they would not exist today. Woolworths, HMV, Habitat among others did not change quickly enough – they did not transform – and we all know what happened to them. You can read more about the Littlewoods re-invention here http://ijgolding.com/2013/02/04/re-invention-and-innovation-why-we-should-all-admire-littlewoods/

What Shop Direct knew and understood is that their customers had changed. The way they were interacting with them was changing – and as a result, their operating model was no longer fit for purpose. They understood what their customer journey had become, and needed to transform the operating model to better serve it. I have had similar discussions with a number of companies in different industries in the last few months. ‘Things have changed’ is the common concern – ‘we need to change quickly to keep pace’ – companies know that not doing so will put their business at risk, whilst at the same time failing to meet changing customer expectations.

Like Shop Direct, the London Underground is another classic case study of necessary business transformation. I remember when Tube trains had a driver and a guard. When new technology came in, it was not necessary to have a guard any more. It is regrettable when technology deems that a human is no longer required, but one of the inevitable costs of innovation is that it will be at the expense of human interaction. Five years ago, not as many people used Oyster Cards as today. When I used to get the Tube to school (too long ago to admit), my ‘travel card’ was a thick card that I had to obtain from a ticket office from a lovely man who would write on my name and expiry date!

Innovation has transformed the way we use the tube, and so it is absolutely right that the people who manage the network ensure that the operating model adjusts to the way we use it. I have not visited a ticket office for years – can you remember when you last did? In a world where tickets can be issued from portable machines operated by staff on over ground trains, why can the same not be done on the London Underground? Most of us ‘top up’ online anyway.

The staff on the London Underground are wonderful people. The way they keep the network running every day with smiles on their faces, and humour in their voices always brightens up my now more infrequent Tube usage. Whilst it is hard for anyone to face change, change is inevitable if we want organisations and businesses to survive. Doing nothing is not an option. As long as management treat their colleagues with respect, and guide/help/support them where change is unavoidable, then I am in support of business transformation becoming a reality.

What we must all do as customers of the worlds oldest underground train network is try to empathise with the hard-working people who will be affected by change. We must never take for granted how lucky we are to have a job that we enjoy. However, the reality is that nothing lasts forever. Change is something we must all live with. Doing nothing is not an option.

What are we in service to? Do you take action when you are ‘told’ to do something or when you ‘feel’ moved to do it?

Sometimes we are fortunate to meet people that we really connect with. We meet people who do not just interest and inspire us, but make us feel completely comfortable and at ease. In my experience, meeting people like this is not common, but when it happens – you will know – you will feel it.

I was very fortunate to meet Mark Thompson whilst I was at Shop Direct Group. Mark was involved in leading and delivering a leadership development programme to all senior managers. Mark’s inspiration and friendship has allowed me to become the ‘leader’ that I am today. His influence and support are always with me in my decision making. I asked Mark if he would write a post that explored ‘leadership’ and customer service – his words are both thought provoking and stimulating – I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have…..

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I came across a brilliant definition of identity some time ago.  It said something like: “Who you are is the sum of the choices you make.  Who you are is what you do”.  It made me pause.  Really?  Not our intentions, thoughts, feelings, or dress code?  Not our job or house or friends and family?  It’s what I do?  Gosh, simple, then.  So I can decide to write a fantastic blog and send it out into the world to fend for itself, and it will stimulate, annoy, or inspire everyone to take action.

No?  Do you mean you don’t act on every bit of good sense you hear?

We are all in relationship with each other.  Even now, you reading this, puts us in relationship.  The depth of the relationship depends on the distance we have from it.  At a distance it looks like ‘I am an employee of …”, or ‘these are our customer service principles’.  Up close, we call connection passion, or love.  Business has embraced passion as an enabler, but it has yet to place love fully in its lexicon without deep embarrassment.  Why is this?  For beings who love so deeply, why have we eradicated what moves us from virtually all of the mechanisms that create our world?  The re-discovery of love as the route to political and business success will be the second time humanity has discovered fire (personally, I don’t want a corporation knowing my preferences, even if that means they can serve me better, but I do want to know what they love).

Everything is connected.  From the globe-spanning value-chain that provides me with my trainers, to the local butcher I buy my lamb chops from, to the deep and rich and challenging lifelong relationships of family and friends.  To the decision to read this blog.  Everything.  Connected.  All the time.  Constantly changing.  Me, you, them, everyone.

How do we make sense of this when we want to sell something?  Or make something?  Or service something?  No systemic modelling concept is adequate enough.  No leadership or team-working course begins to address it.  No customer service 11th-Dan belt can supply us the answers.  No illusion of control can give us the certainty we need.  The only thing we have is what we do.  And ‘what we do’ is shaped by our fears, motivators, values, hopes, our context, and to some extent by our current level of consciousness.

The famous definition of insanity is doing what we’ve always done and expecting different results – and here’s the challenge: at what point does knowing a thing rationally, consciously, turn into doing something about it?  Two answers: when we’re told to do it, and when we are moved to do it.  We will feel something either way, but I know which one I prefer.  Action occurs when we feel something, not when we know it.  ‘Planet rational’ would either be a planet of zero population, or a machine.

What moved me to action?  I heard a story, told by a man who had studied and worked with native ‘metis’ peoples of North America for two decades.  He told me about the centre of their decision-making.  They called it the ‘Children’s Fire’.  When a decision needed to be made –an important decision that might affect everyone – they would hold a council with 50% women and 50% men present.  They lit a fire at the centre and held a solemn vow: that no decision made here would harm the children – their children, all children, including the planet’s children – out to seven generations.  They made no decision that would harm the children.  What society is it that does not consider the children?

Since hearing that story, I have found an ethic for my own sense of purpose.  Legacy.  Love.  Connection.  Service.  Planet.  It landed with me in that moment, that leadership is not about me being in charge.  It is being in service to something I hold higher than myself.  This is no rational choice, but a sum total of everything that makes me up; all my voices, all my feelings and thoughts and experiences, the people who came before me, those who accompany me, and those who will come after.  I feel something about that, and it helps to align my values with my actions, and then take action.  This is both a definition of consciousness, and a conscious act.

Never mind what voices you have going around inside you.  We all have all the voices.  There are but three questions:

What do you love?  What do you serve?  What action will you take?

Mark Thompson founded courageouslife six years ago, basing his work in the development of confidence and competence around courage as a route into more authentic leadership.  To find out more please visit www.courageouslife.co.uk or contact mark@courageouslife.co.uk.  Mark works with individuals, teams and organisations in the pursuit of a changing paradigm: one that has profit in it, sure, but profit not as both grail and saviour but as equal partner to people and planet.

For a longer, harder bit of inspiration around something meaningful in the personal growth arena, also check out www.embercombe.co.uk.