TALKING is easy. STARTING is harder….. but SUSTAINING is the hardest Customer Experience challenge of all!


CX Challenge

Do you work for an organisation that aspires to ‘put the customer first’? Have you listened to senior leaders in your business talk about the importance of ‘being customer centric?’ Does your company have a ‘value’, or ‘vision’ or ‘mission’ that makes reference to ‘focusing on the customer’? How many of you work for companies that have actually STARTED to DO any of those things? How many of you work for businesses that have SUSTAINED those things over a long period of time? How many of you are confident that your organisation will be able to SUSTAIN the approach indefinitely in the future?

This may not sound like the most positive of starts to a blog post, yet the sentiment is likely to resonate with many. Over the last twenty years, I have worked in a variety of organisations across multiple industries who have all TALKED a very good game when it comes to being customer focused. If I had a Pound or Euro or Dollar for every senior leader who has uttered the words – ‘we want to put the customer at the heart of everything we do’ – I would have a nice little pile of cash! However, of all the businesses I have worked for, the overwhelming minority have been able to get to the ultimate state when it comes to actually being customer focused – the ultimate state that enables that organisation to SUSTAIN a continuous approach to actually being customer centric. Achieving a sustained approach to Customer Experience is without question (in my opinion), the greatest Customer Experience challenge of them all.

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Talking about Customer Experience is EASY. Literally anyone can do it. In a world where a significant number of working people still state that Customer Experience is a little ‘soft and fluffy’, those same people will still stand up and state how important it is for their business to put the customer at the centre of decision making. However, the startling reality is that there is still an overwhelming number of examples of organisations who are absolutely NOT putting the customer at the centre of everything they do – these tend to be businesses who are either very product centric, or shareholder centric or both.

I have worked with companies like this – I am sure you have (or do) too. It is so frustrating to walk into an overtly ‘non’ customer focused business who have banners or posters prominently TALKING about how  the customer is at the centre of their universe. TALKING about Customer Experience is EASY – but just TALKING about it means nothing if you do not actually do anything about it.

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Many business who talk about Customer Experience have not even STARTED to do anything about it. If this sounds like a strange statement to make, you would not be wrong. Although ALL businesses are delivering customer experiences today (whether they are conscious of it or not), a huge number of them have very little idea of how capable they are of delivering an experience that meets and potentially exceeds the expectations of their customers. Some of these organisations do not even have clarity of understanding who their customers are in the first place. What makes this even more remarkable is that a large number of these companies are the ones who are TALKING about the importance of being customer focused!!

STARTING to introduce and embed a customer focused culture into a business, whatever size that business may be, is HARD. The reality is that to START actually being customer centric, an organisation must acknowledge that it may not actually be customer centric in the first place. That is why the transition from TALKING to STARTING is HARD. Acknowledging the need to be more customer centric is an incrediblly positive thing – it opens up a wealth of opportunity. However, acknowledging the need for improvement is sadly seen by many business leaders as an acknowledgement of failure – which may explain why these leaders may not think they have a problem in the first place.

Businesses that TALK about being customer focused but who do not know what their customers actually think of them must stop TALKING about it and START to understand how to actually do it – it is a big step, which is why STARTING is often a HARD thing to do.

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Yet like most things in life, STARTING something is not nearly as HARD as finishing the thing you have started. In fact STARTING something that should in theory have no end to it is even HARDER. When it comes to Customer Experience, an organisation’s ability to SUSTAIN its approach to Customer Experience INDEFINITELY is without question the HARDEST challenge of them all.

I consider myself very fortunate to be working in a rapidly growing profession.  The fact that more and more businesses all over the world are not just TALKING about Customer Experience, but are now wanting to know how to START doing something about it is a hugely positive thing. However, the sad reality is that there are still painfully few examples of businesses who are seen as guiding lights – organisations who have so successfully embedded a customer centric culture that they have continuously SUSTAINED an approach to customer centricity over many years. That is why we often hear the same companies cited over and over again in benchmarking studies and Customer Experience Research as being true leaders in the field.

I recently published my own research into ‘what makes the worlds #1 CX brands‘ – brands such as Disney, John Lewis, Amazon, First Direct and Apple – were all in the top ten of companies considered as the #1 when it comes to delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. This was not a surprise to anyone – these companies are regularly named in similar studies. My research also highlighted WHY these companies are people’s #1:

  • Corporate attitude
  • They’re easy to do business with
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem
  • The attitude of their people
  • Personalisation
  • The product or service
  • They’re consistent
  • The way it makes me feel
  • The way they treat me
  • They’re reliable
  • They do what they promise
  • They’re quick
  • The technical knowledge of their people

The common characteristics of these organisations are characteristics required by companies who will have an ability to SUSTAIN a focus on the customer. Led by the attitude of the business, corporate culture is absolutely critical in SUSTAINING the TALK. Yet all of the characteristics highlighted in my research need to be SUSTAINED for a business to remain truly customer centric indefinitely.

SUSTAINING an approach to Customer Experience is without question the hardest challenge of them all. I am aware of a number of companies who STARTED to focus on it, but have since changed their focus. I have said many times in the past that Customer Experience is for life, not just for Christmas – our businesses exist to serve our customers – without them, we do not have a business. Whilst this is one of the most obvious statements of all time, why is it that too many businesses fail to recognise the significance of the statement?  The absolute key to SUSTAINABILITY is to embed Customer Experience so deeply in the culture of a company that it is not reliant on any one individual or group of people to SUSTAIN itself.

Customer Experience is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation. Everyone needs to TALK about it, START doing it and KEEP doing it to SUSTAIN it for evermore. Sounds so EASY – but in reality, it is so HARD to do!

Opinion or Reality? Does Customer Experience really make a difference?


CX opinion or reality

I am unlikely to be the first person to write an article focusing on whether or not the Customer Experience really makes a difference. I am also unlikely to be the last. On a weekly basis, Customer Experience Professionals all over the world are being challenged to demonstrate the ‘tangible’ value focusing on the Customer Experience really delivers. Often tasked by individuals in businesses who demand to see an immediate financial return for any investment made, it is extremely easy to dismiss the need for being a more Customer Centric organisation as just the ‘opinion’ of one person versus another.

In other words, some do not believe a greater focus on ‘the customer’ will actually make any difference to the financial performance of a company whilst some do. It is the prerogative of any human to have an opinion – it is also completely acceptable for one human to disagree with another humans point of view. I have recently been engaged with a debate that highlights just such a scenario. It was suggested that I spend too much time quoting theory and opinion when it comes to the subject of Customer Experience and not enough time sharing reality. It is therefore with this in mind that I have chosen to write this post.

The debate I refer to came about as one opinion (mine) suggested that negative Customer Experiences have a detrimental effect on an organisations sustainability – in the short, medium and long term. Whilst an organisation may not cease to exist as a result of delivering consistently poor (or just inconsistent) experiences, it is extremely unlikely that a business operating in such a way will be able to predict growth – certainly not sustainable growth.

The opinion on the other side of the debate suggested that this is largely nonsense – the ‘speak of Customer Experience folk’. The debater argues that if the opinions of the Customer Experience community were true, then businesses would be ‘bleeding revenues’ and ‘the management would be kicked out’. The very well read and respected professional on this side of the debate continued as follows:

Almost every business is doing well enough by doing well enough for most customers most of the time. And this works well enough for customers at the level of behaviour – irrespective of what they say. Complaining is a favourite human past time in modern society. It is like going to the movies. Then the movie is over, and folks go back to life as usual.

So this valid opinion made me seriously question the very profession I work so passionately to represent. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? Is the reality that whilst it is ‘nice’ to talk about the principles of being more Customer Centric, the reality is that a business more focused on the customer will fare no differently to one that does not?

Those of you that ‘believe’ that focusing on the Customer Experience absolutely does make a difference will be pleased to know that  agree with you! My ‘opinion’ has not changed as a result of the challenge from an alternative perspective. Allow me to explain why. The debater set me a very valid challenge as follows:

Now please explain to me how it is that the almost every single business is doing just fine: customers continue to shop, companies continue to make sufficient revenues, and profits. The only ‘thing’ that gets cut is the employees – including those who directly serve customers – and replaced by one form or another of self-service. Let’s deal with this through numbers. Name the companies that have gone bust? Name me companies other than Ryanair and Tesco that are struggling because they have leaked customers like a sieve?

This was my response:

Please allow me to remind you of the following company names:

Woolworths; Comet; Land of Leather; Borders; JJB Sports; Zavvi; HMV; MFI; Jessops; Focus DIY; Habitat; Threshers; Dreams; Clinton Cards; Peacocks; Past Times; Barratts; Phones4U; TJ Hughes; Ethel Austin; Oddbins; Adams (childrenswear); Allied Carpets; I could go on…… and bear in mind that I am only quoting names of UK companies who have either entered administration or ceased to exist altogether in the last seven years.

Yes these failures occurred during a financial crisis. However, the crisis only served to push companies over the edge – companies who were already teetering at the top of a cliff. In almost all cases, these brands had lost touch with the evolving needs of their customers and the world around them. Failing to adapt their propositions resulted in customers voting with their feet – the predominant reason why a business ultimately will cease to exist.

Companies struggle to survive on a regular basis – again this is largely down to the fact that their product, service or experience is no longer aligned to the needs of their customers. Look at Nokia, Kodak, Radio Shack – this is not just a UK phenomena.

In fact I would like to remind you of the most clear cut example of all – JC Penney. In 2011, as the new CEO of one of the largest department stores in the US, Ron Johnson (once of Apple) made a number of strategic decisions without the benefit of either employee or customer insight. Johnson decided to change the established logo, change the pricing policy (including the halting of sales and the elimination of coupons). He also changed the layout of the stores. A very traditional business with an extremely loyal customer base, the decisions were catastrophic. This is an excerpt from his profile on Wikipedia:

Many initiatives that made the Apple Store successful, for instance the “thought that people would show up in stores because they were fun places to hang out, and that they would buy things listed at full-but-fair price” did not work for the J.C. Penney brand and ended up alienating its aging customers who were used to heavy discounting. By eliminating the thrill of pursuing markdowns, the “fair and square every day” pricing strategy disenfranchised JC Penney’s traditional customer base.Johnson himself was said “to have a disdain for JC Penney’s traditional customer base. When shoppers weren’t reacting positively to the disappearance of coupons and sales, Johnson didn’t blame the new policies. Instead, he offered the assessment that customers needed to be “educated” as to how the new pricing strategy worked. He also likened the coupons beloved by so many core shoppers as drugs that customers needed to be weaned off.”

By the time he was fired in 2013, JC Penney had lost over $4 billion during Johnson’s tenure. Having fired him, they launched a nationwide TV advertising campaign apologising to customers and ‘begging’ them to come back.

JC Penney apology

This is the reality of what could happen if you do not listen to your customers or employees. Just because a company still exists, it does not mean it successful at delivering consistently good customer experiences. The challenge is for business to achieve sustainable growth – all good things come to an end eventually if you do not remain focused on both commercial goals AND customer needs. You can read more about the JC Penney story in this Forbes article.

The reality is that nothing lasts forever. Organisations thrive, whilst others struggle. Businesses cease to exist on a daily basis. The larger the organisation, the more unlikely it is to fail altogether – but it is not impossible. As we have seen with the likes of Tesco and Marks and Spencer in recent times – failure to continually adapt your proposition to align to the changing needs of your customers will likely result in financial struggle.

The reality is that even already financially prosperous companies have realised how important the Customer Experience is to their future sustainability. I have had a number of conversations with board members of very large UK companies since January – these are companies whose financial fortunes have IMPROVED consistently since 2008. However these companies have openly acknowledged that unless they put the Customer Experience at the top of their priorities NOW, the future will not be as rosy.

This is not opinion. This is fact. This is reality. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? I will leave it for you to form your own opinion.

Customer experience does not apply to us – ‘we’re different’! Is it possible to be a genuinely ‘customer centric’ law firm?


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Let me set a couple of things straight before I even start this blog post. Whilst the title suggests that I am focussing on one particular industry, the essence of what you are about to read can apply to many industries and professions all over the world. I must also make it clear that I am neither a lawyer nor someone who has extensive knowledge of the legal profession!

So that being said, why am I writing about an industry I know nothing about? Over the last few months, I have had a number of conversations with people in my networks about the challenges being faced by the traditional professions – predominantly law and accountancy. I have also conducted some work with one of the professional bodies that is responsible for developing the competencies of professionals working in these fields. During these conversations, it has become abundantly clear that those who know a lot about Legal and Accounting firms are concerned that they are amongst the most ‘un-customer centric’ organisations on the planet.

They are not alone. Despite the ever-growing Customer Experience ‘tidal wave’ there are still many untouched industries that are yet to acknowledge the need for change – the need to re-think the way they interact with customers and clients. These industries are often populated by businesses who THINK they are already customer focussed. They do not THINK there is any need to do anything differently. They THINK that Customer Experience does not apply to them.

I have worked recently with a company who did not think that Customer Experience applied to them – ‘we are different’ the senior managers in the business said. They may THINK they are different…..but they are no different to any business that relies on the successful interaction with a customer to drive the commercial goals of the organisation.

Businesses that THINK there is no need to change are usually ones who are focussed on one primary measure of success – SALES. If the ‘top line’ is doing well, why do we need to change? If we consider the way the legal profession has worked traditionally, it is one that is as SALES focussed as any other. I have been told by many people that legal firms will ‘not work for nothing’. Every minute of every day is an opportunity to generate sales….or in other words ‘bill the client’. As long as employees of the firm are generating ‘billable hours’ all is good with the world. This is what I am being told – and it does not sound very customer centric to me!

I was told today that law firms are incredibly ‘short term’ focussed businesses. It is all about the weekly sales figures. If the figures are not going in the right direction, find more clients to bill. This is NOT a strategy that will lead to long term sustainability of an organisation – however long it might have existed up to now. I was also told that firms tend not to care too much about ‘non fee generating staff’ – that is not the kind of business I would want to work for.

The industry insiders I have been interacting with are in complete agreement that the profession needs to change. The problem is that as yet, there is little evidence that firms are prepared to take the step to change the status quo. It is almost as though the industry is caught in a vacuum of past glories and no-one is willing to disrupt what they perceive to have ‘always worked’.

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So is it possible to create a genuinely customer centric law firm that puts the needs of its ‘customers’ in equal balance with the commercial goals of the partners? You can guess what my answer is going to be…… of course it is! What the legal profession desperately needs is DISRUPTION! The legal profession needs someone – an individual, or a firm, or multiple firms – to disrupt the status quo. It needs someone to show the rest of the profession that it is possible to change the way things work – the way they have worked in the PAST.  Like other industries before it, the people who run law firms need to understand that becoming more customer centric will not only deliver financial benefits in the LONG TERM, it will also enable their businesses to become more efficient and effective at doing the things they do – or in other words improve their profitability.

To DISRUPT an industry takes ‘balls’! It requires forward thinking innovators to recognise that change realises opportunities. I strongly believe that the implementation of a Customer Experience Framework can help law firms to be the best they can be – for their partners, employees and customers. At conferences, workshops and seminars that I have the honour of delivering all over the world, I always remind people that at the end of the day, we are all customers in our own right. Even a lawyer is a customer him or herself – the key is to remind the lawyer that the things he/she considers to be important as a customer are exactly the same as the things his/her own customers consider important as well.

If you are a genuinely customer centric law firm, I would love to know about it – what are you doing to disrupt your industry? It would be great for others to hear your story.

As always, your thoughts on anything I write are very warmly welcomed – whether you agree with my point of view or not!

Building a Customer-Centric Culture– it’s all about the 3 L’s!


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Whenever you start to talk about the concept of a ‘customer centric culture’, you run the risk of doing the following:

  1. Sounding as though you have magic powers that can ‘change the world’
  2. Sounding ‘fluffy’
  3. Sounding like a ‘consultant’

Now there is nothing wrong with any of those things in principle. I have always aspired to be a super hero – sadly I am a long way from achieving that aspiration! You should also not think it wrong to talk about the significance of your organisation possessing a customer centric culture – or at least wanting to possess one.

The reason why some see customer centricity as a ‘taboo’ subject is that they are likely to be afraid. They may be afraid of change; scared to look at the world within their organisation differently; worried that by holding up the mirror, they may not like what they see.

A while ago, I looked up the definition of customer centricity. If you do a Google search, you will be greeted by a variety of words describing what it is to be customer centric. The definition I like the most goes as follows:

“Putting customer focus at the heart of everything you do, in order to achieve customer satisfaction and loyalty”

I have put this definition in front of many customer experience professionals over the last 12 months – professionals plying their customer experience trade all around the world. I have not recorded every response, but I would approximate that only 20% of my colleagues said that ‘hand on heart’ their organisations lived up to this definition.

That is why I consider the 3 L’s to be a simple recipe to help a company to start the journey to becoming more customer centric. I highlight the word help, because when it comes to changing the culture of an organisation, or even just tweaking a culture, many factors come in to play. Becoming a customer-centric culture could sound a bit overwhelming too.  Even a small amount of change is hard and when you talk about culture change that can feel impossible.  The more help you can get the better!

So just what are the 3 L’s? Let us have a look at each one in turn:

LISTEN – any business that wants to start building a customer centric culture MUST start to open up its ears. It must LISTEN to what its customers are saying. It must LISTEN to what its employees are saying. It still surprises me how many organisations do not enable their employees to have a voice. They are the eyes and ears of any company. They know what happens every day, and they what works and does not work. Listening to BOTH customers and employees provides a business with unbeatable insight. A business that genuinely wants to LISTEN and ACT on what its customers and employees are saying is definitely one that is on the road to building a customer focussed culture.

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LEARN – learning is something we start to do the minute we are born. Learning is what a brand new organisation does in the early days of its existence. Continuously learning is something that should be in the fabric of any customer centric business. The challenge for companies today is that the world around them is changing faster than ever before. If you stand still for too long, you will quickly fall behind. The word INNOVATION has become more significant in the race to LEARN how to stay ahead and continuously meet ever-changing customer needs. It is therefore vital to encourage learning in your business. Learn from LISTENING to what customers and employees are saying. Encourage your employees to continuously develop their skills – identifying new products, services, technologies and methodologies. Allow your people to learn from mistakes – do not punish them for getting things wrong, but encourage them and empower them to find better ways of doing things. Organisations that love LEARNING are ones that are very likely to have a customer centric culture.

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LIVE – yes live. For any business to be customer centric it must LIVE and BREATH its customer experience. It must walk in its customer shoes on a daily basis; experience what they are experiencing and feeling the joy or pain before they do. LIVING the customer experience also applies to the employee experience. LIVE and BREATH what your employees do every day. See for yourself what works and what does not work. Acknowledge and appreciate what your people and your customers do. Only by LIVING the journey will you know.  I have blogged in the past about TV programmes such as ‘Undercover Boss’. Any business leader that chooses to use a TV programme to find out what the employee and customer experience is like for the first time, is not one that I would consider to be customer centric!

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As I have already said, there are many factors that determine whether or not an organisation is building a customer centric culture. The 3L’s are just 3 factors that WILL undisputedly help. The challenge is that even these factors are not necessarily that easy to deploy – even if they sound easy to some of you reading this. It is important to recognise that every organisation is different. Every organisation will have a different state of ‘readiness’ when it comes to adopting a customer centric culture. If you push too hard too soon, you may fail before you have even started.

The best customer centric organisations in the world – companies like Ritz Carlton, USAA, Disney and Zappos – are organisations that apply the 3 L’s without even thinking. It just comes naturally to them. Yet even they need to continually look at how they are LISTENING, LEARNING and LIVING – the reason why they regularly come at the top of independent customer satisfaction studies is because they never rest on their laurels.

This post is part of the Customer Experience Professionals Association’s Blog Carnival “Celebrating Customer Experience.” It is part of a broader celebration of Customer Experience Day. Check out posts from other bloggers here.   

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