Customers + Employees = People. People = Business. Why Business is all about People

customers + employees = people

If you have ever heard me speak in public, it is very likely you will have endured hearing me recount my favourite quote of all time. I know that ‘quotes of the day’ are not everyone’s bag, but sometimes you hear someone say something or are referred to something someone in authority has said and their words touch you. A while ago, I had the pleasure of coming across these wonderful few words uttered by inspirational business author, Simon Sinek:

100% of customers are people. 100% of employees are people. If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business

This quote is the inspiration behind the image at the head of this post and epitomises the essence of what you are about to read. As I continue my personal journey of learning as a Customer Experience Professional, I am ever increasingly satisfied to discover that the thing that makes businesses successful; the thing that business is all about; is that thing we call PEOPLE.

Sounds obvious right? Maybe…. but ask yourself this. How many PEOPLE do you know work in an organisation that does not feel as though it is all about people? How many work in businesses that feel as though they are more about spreadsheets, or numbers, or tasks, or processes? In a world where there seem to be as many ‘shareholder centric’ organisations as there are ‘customer centric’, it is refreshing to come across businesses who genuinely do put PEOPLE at the very heart of everything they do.

Last week I found myself being fortunate (as I often am) to act as a judge at the first UK Employee Experience Awards.  The awards recognise and celebrate best practice in the delivery and improvement of outstanding employee experience – it is no coincidence that the awards have been created by the excellent Awards International who are also behind the UK Customer Experience Awards.  To deliver consistently good and great Customer Experiences, it is essential to also deliver as good and great employee experiences. To be a brilliant business, you must nurture and cherish all the PEOPLE who interact with you – that means customers and employees.

In London last week, I witnessed shining examples of role models – role models of leaders who were teaching, caring for, guiding, coaching, mentoring, empowering and generally inspiring the people they work with to do the very best for their customers, themselves and their business.  The people I saw were of all shapes and sizes – metaphorically speaking! From front line staff to team managers to CEOs – from financial services to utilities to retail. The thing these PEOPLE all had in common was remarkably easy for me to fathom – they all understand the importance of PEOPLE.

It was when one of the finalists said that his most important business principle was ‘adult to adult communication’ that I realised why the recognition that these awards purvey is so very important. Treating PEOPLE like adults in business sounds so startlingly simple, yet in my experience it is so utterly rare. Remember that I am talking about both customers and employees here. So often businesses talk to their customers as though they are still at school – the parent child relationship is  even more common for the poor employee.

The finalist who talked about ‘adult to adult communication’ was one of the very few CEOs present at the awards ceremony. As far as I am aware, he may have been the only CEO at the ceremony! Is it any surprise that he is the CEO of the company who only last year won an amazing 6 (six) UK Customer Experience Awards! Mark Horsley is the CEO of Northern Gas Networks – a business that the consumer on the street knows very little about, but a business that as a result of Mark’s humbling approach to empowering people is resulting in them becoming one of the most significant role models for any business in the world.

Mark and his people do not sell cutting edge, fashionable technology. Mark and his people do not have a compelling and seamless omni channel offering.  Mark and his people do not spend millions on adverting and big data. Mark and his people are responsible for putting pipes in the ground – pipes that enable energy suppliers to put gas into houses, offices and factories. They do it by a relentless focus on doing what is right for PEOPLE – customers and employees. The results speak for themselves – commercially and through the ever improving perception of customers and employees – PEOPLE!

Mark Horsley, CEO, Northern Gas Networks
Mark Horsley, CEO, Northern Gas Networks

Mark was as deserving a recipient of the award as any I have ever judged. Mark is a role model to anyone who ever aspires to lead a business. Mark accepted the award on behalf of his people (customers and employees) – I would have expected nothing less. This is not the first time I have written about Northern Gas Networks – it is unlikely to be the last. Who would have thought a company that puts pipes in the ground would have been a text book example to others as to how to deliver world class customer and employee experiences? The reality is that I am now teaching Customer Experience Professionals all over the world about this company – the company that as much as any I have ever seen bring Simon Sinek’s inspirational quote to life.

Northern Gas Networks understand that business is all about PEOPLE. The vast majority of PEOPLE present at the awards last week do too. This can only be an encouraging sign as the Customer Experience continues to work its way ever more into the business dictionary. We will never do away with spreadsheets and numbers and tasks and processes completely – nor can we – yet the shift towards a ‘PEOPLE FIRST’ culture in business does seem to be closer to reality than it ever has been.

Belief, Growth and Sustainability – my perspective on the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards

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If you follow me on Twitter, it would not have escaped your notice that last week played host to the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards. It is an event that has firmly established itself in the annual ‘do not miss it’ calendar! I am proud to say that I have been involved with the awards every year since their inception in 2010. As an entrant, winner, judge and award presenter, I believe that Neil Skehel and his team have had a significant influence in evolving the UKs understanding of the ever increasing focus on Customer Experience across all sectors.

The success of the awards has led to the necessity for them to be held in venues that are bigger and better. It was therefore with great excitement that I approached the Excel Arena in London’s Docklands early last Thursday morning. I use the ‘excitement’ word genuinely – every year I continue to be astounded and inspired by the passion, enthusiasm, innovation and incredible acts of influence that organisations of all shapes and sizes share with the panels of judges. The 2014 awards did not disappoint.

The list of organisations entering this years awards reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the business world – yet the names are becoming ever more diverse. From Standard Life, Barclays, Nationwide and Virgin Money to, wowcher, Just Eat and Trip Advisor to Northern Gas Networks, Balfour Beatty and NPower. The UK Customer Experience Awards is for any organisation wishing to share the amazing things they have done in the last twelve months to genuinely put customers at the heart of everything they do.

The longest corridor in the world - at least the longest I have ever seen (three quarters of a mile long!!!)
The longest corridor in the world – at least the longest I have ever seen (three-quarters of a mile long!!!)

On entering the longest corridor in the world (honestly – if you have never seen the corridor at the Excel Arena – you need to!! It is three-quarters of a mile long!!) I wondered what my key learning’s for 2014 would be. If you are interested to know, I am about to share them with you….


It goes without saying that every organisation who entered the awards this year were proud of the things they had achieved in improving experiences for customers. Pride oozed out of every attendee as they paced up and down corridors, huddled nervously around cups of coffee and bustled in and out of rooms along the longest corridor in the world! Proud they should be. Every single member of every single team who played a part in continuing to improve their respective organisations are proving on a daily basis how important it is to become ever more customer centric.

With pride almost taken as given, it occurred to me this year that there is another vital attribute that is required to sit alongside pride – that attribute is BELIEF. Everyone that presented to me; everyone that I spoke to; everyone who accepted an award – they all shared a common attribute – they all BELIEVED passionately in the things they had done. Their absolute belief in doing the right thing – for customers, colleagues and shareholders is what has led all of them to be worthy recipients of recognition. Only a few received the beautiful looking trophies on Thursday afternoon – yet this is not a reflection of the achievements of everyone that participated.

To help organisations continually get better and better at delivering experiences for customers, it is vital that the professionals guiding and leading those organisations are passionate in their BELIEF that it works. We have all struggled to convince sceptics who think that customer experience is the soft, fluffy theoretical thing that has no effect on the bottom line. If only those sceptics could have sat in on the dozens of presentations delivered last week. The great news is that the BELIEF in customer experience is not diminishing – it is growing – every year – and that leads me nicely on to my next learning….


As I have already alluded – the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards were the biggest ever. At this rate, Neil will need to hire Wembley Stadium to host the awards by 2016! The awards are evolving at the same rate as the world around us. This is the first year where I have noticed the significant increase in pure play online businesses. It was also noticeable how the number of organisations that many may never have heard of has increased, including companies in the B2B space.

This is further demonstration to ALL businesses in the UK that the Customer Experience revolution has already happened! More and more organisations are now realigning their business strategies to INCLUDE customer experience strategies. More and more companies are recognising that the best and sometimes only way to differentiate in the world we now live in is through the end to end experience – not just the product or service. It is wonderful to see…..and long may it continue.

The best demonstration of this growth was in the surprise package of the day – an organisation that the majority of consumers will not have heard of – including many of you reading this. One company won 6 (six) UK Customer Experience Awards on Thursday – that company is Northern Gas Networks. Their wonderful list of wins is as follows:

  • Overall Best Customer Experience Award
  • UK Customer Experience Award for Professional & Government Services & Utilities
  • UK Customer Experience Award for Business Change or Transformation – Simplification
  • UK Customer Experience Award for a Small Contact Centre
  • UK Customer Experience Award for Employee Engagement – Taking the Lead
  • UK Customer Experience Team of the Year – Customers at the Heart

Winning six awards on any day is an amazing achievement. When you consider what Northern Gas Network’s do – it is even more remarkable. I am being rather rude to describe what they do as ‘putting pipes in the ground’ – but that is essentially what they do! Northern Gas Networks is a company who transport the gas that we buy from our utility companies. Could you envisage your utility company winning six UK Customer Experience Awards? NGN are an example to any business – it does not matter what you do or who you are – Customer Experience applies to ANY business. A huge congratulations to their entire team.

Yours truly presenting the team from NGN with their first award of the day
Yours truly presenting the team from NGN with their first award of the day


My final learning from the day is one that NGN should heed – although from the looks of it, there will be absolutely no issue doing so. Many of the companies entering and winning awards on Thursday were doing so for the first time. However the real challenge for every business witnessing the awards ceremony is to ensure that it would absolutely not be the last time. In 2010, I was incredibly lucky to lead the team that won a first UK Customer Experience Award for Shop Direct Group. In 2011 I was humbled to see a member of my team win an award for Young UK Customer Experience Professional of the Year. Since I have moved on from the company now known simply as Shop Direct, the focus on Customer Experience has continued to evolve and intensify.

On Thursday, I sat at a table with some of my ex colleagues and witnessed them win yet another UK Customer Experience Award. It felt as exciting for me as the first time in 2010 – and I do not even work for them any more!!! It is exciting because Shop Direct are a living breathing demonstration of SUSTAINABILITY of Customer Experience. A focus that started many years ago has remained so. Shop Direct will never be finished with their customer experience ‘project’ – because it is not a project – it is in their DNA. The key for every business involved in the UK Customer Experience Awards is to achieve the magic of SUSTAINABILITY.

I do not expect NGN to come back in 2015 and win another 6 awards – although they may prove me wrong! As long as they do come back – that is the point. As long as Customer Experience remains a strategic focus – now and forever, the real winner are their customers. In fact the real winner from the whole awards process are the millions of customers served by the companies who participated – we; us; the poor undervalued customer are finally getting the recognition we deserve – although there is still a long way to go!!

So there we have it – BELIEF, GROWTH and SUSTAINABILITY – three words to sum up the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards. You can find a list of all the winners and finalists here. If you want to know more about NGN, have a look here.

My final thoughts are as follows. There are still a number of sceptical, non believing, ignorant leaders of business all over the UK – in fact all over the world when it comes to recognising the positive effect improving the Customer Experience can have on the financial performance of a business. These are the ‘it all sounds nice but so what’ brigade. On Thursday, the only disappointment for me was the realisation that so few senior leaders of the companies involved were present at the ceremony. It is such a shame – and something that needs to change quickly. Even Michael O’Leary, the infamous CEO of Ryanair admitted this week that improving the Customer Experience had a positive effect on the financial performance of his business – maybe we will see their first ever entry in the 2015 UK Customer Experience Awards!!

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