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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‘Serve every customer as if they are members of your own family’. The story of the UK Customer Experience Awards 2013

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What do Lebara Mobile, Virgin Media, Clarks Shoes, Scottish Water, Cornish Mutual, NHS Blood & Transplant, Sky, Avios Group and Barclays Bank have in common? If you have not already guessed, they were all named as finalists at the 2013 UK Customer Experience Awards. On the 17th October 2013, 73 judges, 135 finalists, and over 700 guests attended the fourth annual ceremony to celebrate the amazing achievements of the UKs burgeoning Customer Experience community.

Like any gathering of customer experience professionals, it is intriguing, comforting and exciting to see such a diverse range of businesses and people who are working so hard across every industry imaginable to put customers at the heart of UK business. From huge corporations, to little known housing associations, it is clear that the Customer Experience is critical to many organisations up and down the land.

In 2010, I was fortunate enough to be involved in successfully winning a UK Customer Experience Award whilst driving significant change at Shop Direct Group. Winning the award gained recognition and credibility which proved to be one of a number of key catalysts that propelled our customer experience transformation forward.  In 2011, one of my team won an individual award – the effect on her, the rest of the team and the increasing strategic focus on the customer has resulted in one of the most established customer experience programmes in the UK today.

Fast forward to 2013, and I find myself having the honour of being a judge. I intentionally use the word ‘honour’, because it genuinely is humbling to be afforded the opportunity to hear the stories of people I consider to be my peers. I judged one of two groups of finalists hoping to become ‘Customer Experience Professional of the Year’. Arriving at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, I was full of excitement and anticipation, hoping to be inspired and educated by six passionate customer experience professionals. I was not disappointed.

Although a small number of people walk away with a trophy, all six finalists I had the pleasure of listening to are worthy recipients of recognition and praise. From Paula (Liberata) – a driven customer service professional inspiring teams serving a tough public sector market – to Jonathan and Roxanne – the former very firmly putting customers first in Scotland for Barclays Bank; the latter a key contributor in the impressive customer focussed reputation that continues to grow at LV.

The title of this blog post has been shamelessly ‘borrowed’ from finalist number 4 – a chap called Simon Plant. Simon manages a number of bank branches for RBS. To say that customer experience exudes from his every pore would be an understatement. Simon’s enthusiasm to expect nothing but the best for his customers is infectious, and goes a long way to explaining why his customers are so happy with the service his teams deliver.

The family analogy continued with the remaining two finalists. Gareth Byrne from Pearson Edexcel demonstrated how it is possible to change the mind-set of a business.  Allowing his organisation to understand that teachers are customers, and establishing a community for everyone to learn from each other was inspiring. Fiona Templeton from Scottish Water was represented by three members of her team. Describing a story that started 11 years ago, it was difficult not to get goose bumps listening to how a publicly owned monopoly has been transformed into one of the most customer focussed businesses in the UK, let alone north of the border.

Fiona Templeton and members of her team at Scottish Water
Fiona Templeton and members of her team at Scottish Water

The lavish, glitzy awards ceremony that followed the judging was the well-deserved reward for judges, finalists and guests. Reward for playing a part in establishing a more customer focussed society. The sheer volume of professionals involved this year is a clear indication of the growing wave of momentum behind ‘the customer’ in and across most industries. Congratulations to all finalists, all winners, and the Awards International team for pulling off a logistical miracle. The real winner will ultimately be all of us – as customers of this growing number of customer focussed organisations.

I would like to dedicate this article my friend John Barrett.  John epitomised what it means to be a business improvement and customer experience professional. Only able to do what was right, his ability to expertly lead change left him with many admirers. I can only aspire to attain his levels of expertise, humility and commitment. You were a credit to your profession John – we will miss you. Rest in peace.

This post was originally produced for Customer Experience Magazine –

Customer Service or Customer Experience? What exactly does customer experience mean?


I am not the first, and will certainly not be the last professional person to work in and around the ‘customer experience’ field. There are thousands of customer experience professionals all around the world, and our number is growing at a very steady rate – something the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA – is delighted to see. Organisations of all shapes and sizes, and from every industry imaginable are finally affording their ‘customer experience’ the time and attention it very richly deserves. Much of the focus has been driven by the fact that many business leaders have finally recognised that delivering experiences to customers that consistently meet and exceed customer expectation is ‘good business’. Delivering great customer experiences is now seen as a differentiator, rather than something just spoken about by fluffy and potentially irritating people like me!

Last week, I was very fortunate to be a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards. Now in its fourth year, the awards have grown to such a size, that I jokingly suggested to Neil Skehel, Managing Director of Awards International, that he consider hiring Wembley Arena next year. My joke may well become a reality! Over 700 guests at the awards ceremony acted as very tangible proof as to how customer experience has become so significant at a professional level.

So let me get to the point. If customer experience as a profession, and as an area of focus for organisations around the globe has become so significant, why do so many people still not understand what it is? Even at the awards last week, I was asked ‘so just what is customer experience? Recently I have conducted a number of radio interviews for the BBC and commercial radio stations. None of them have been comfortable introducing me as a ‘customer experience professional. Instead, they have opted for ‘customer service expert’, or words to that effect. This is a subject I have blogged about before – one of my first blog posts explored exactly what I do for a living – very little has changed since I wrote it!!

I am someone who recognises that even if something seems obvious to me, it may not be obvious to others. I therefore would like to have another attempt at clarifying, once and for all, the difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience. To do this, I want to provide you with an example we can all relate to. Last week, my family and I ate out at a well-known restaurant that is part of a nationwide chain. I will not name the restaurant as it is not relevant. We chose the restaurant because of its location – it was very ACCESSIBLE. On arriving at the restaurant, we noticed that it has been recently refurbished. The ambience, decor and overall ENVIRONMENT was very pleasant.

Once seated, we moved onto food and drink selection. Whilst not exceeding expectation, both the adult and children’s menus adequately hit the spot – there was plenty to CHOOSE from. The service – that is CUSTOMER SERVICE that is often confused with Customer Experience – was exceptionally good – in fact so good, that it far outweighed my expectation. I noticed a dish on the children’s menu that was not on the adult menu. When I asked if it could be adapted for an adult, I was met with ‘of course’ from one of the incredibly accommodating waiters. Throughout the meal, we were waited on efficiently, empathetically and professionally.  It was a real pleasure to experience and see.

The less said about the food the better. Quite frankly, it was awful. Although edible, it was clear that this particular restaurant had not invested in QUALITY of ingredients. Bland, tasteless, and devoid of any skill in presentation, it is safe to say that we were rather disappointed. This disappointment further deepened when we received our bill. This restaurant is not what I would describe as ‘budget’. The price did not reflect the quality, and the overall cost of the meal was not what I would consider to be COMPETITIVE.

On leaving the restaurant, we reflected on our overall experience – our abiding memory distilled down to three things:

  1. Amazing Customer Service – the manager and team deserve recognition for their efforts
  2. Terrible food
  3. Overpriced

Our conclusion – we will not be visiting that restaurant again. In fact, it is likely that we will not visit any of this brand of restaurants again. Our decision is based on two key elements within the end to end CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE – food quality and price. CUSTOMER SERVICE was outstanding – yet as an element of the customer experience in its own right was not enough to ensure that we remain a customer of this particular business. The Customer Experience in this example combined 6 elements – customer service was just one element:


A colleague of mine had the reverse of this experience recently. Amazing food and terrible customer service – not at the same restaurant I might add. The conclusion however is the same – she will not be visiting the restaurant again. It is the overall experience (of which customer service is just a part) that determines whether or not we have a one-off or a continuous relationship with a company.

So does this clear up the difference between customer experience and customer service? Just in case there are is any doubt, in my research I found the following blog post that looks at the same question – it is sometimes useful to get another perspective –

As always, please feel free to comment on this or indeed any of my blog posts.

‘The managers promise’ – what do you commit to doing for your people?

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‘I promise to…’ are three words commonly used in everyday life. From husband to wife (and vice versa); child to parent (often); company to customer (sometimes). Promises are broken as often as fulfilled, but they are made all the same. The intent is usually there, and that intent is a key driver of relationships. One thing that has always puzzled me with ‘the promise’ is why it is not as prevalent in work relationships as it is in our personal lives, and that is the subject of this blog post.

Last month I was fortunate enough to be able to judge the Customer Service Training Awards. I feel fortunate to judge awards like this (I also judge the UK Customer Experience Awards) because I get to see first hand some of the inspirational, passionate, committed customer service and experience practitioners at the absolute peak of their profession. Even if a finalist does not win an award, it is still a rewarding experience being able to feedback to individuals and teams about some of the amazing things they have done to make lives better and easier for staff and customers. This year was no exception.

One of the finalists in the ‘training team of the year’ category was a company called Restaurant Associates. Part of the Compass Group, Restaurant Associates is as the Compass Group website states:

“For organisations who want to partner with a specialist company whose brilliant food will bring their people together in powerful ways. It will bring out the best in them so they can perform at their very peak”

The Restaurant Associates website ( goes on to say:

“We’re trusted every single day by a very special group of high-profile clients. Lots of them are leaders in their own markets. They choose extremely carefully. And they choose us because our inspirational food is created by talented chefs and matched by excellent service. They love the fact that we run a Michelin star restaurant”

Sounds impressive – it is a shame that I have never worked for a company whose in-house catering is managed by them. Restaurant Associates presentation was impressive. Delivered as a collaboration of senior management and staff, it was very clear how significant customer service is to their proposition, and how passionate team members are key in their strategy to inspire other colleagues. Amongst other things that they presented was an A4 sheet of paper entitled ‘Managers Promises’. It is this sheet of paper that made me think of the last time…….any time……that a manager of mine made a promise to me.

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It is abundantly clear that engaged, motivated, supported employees will consistently deliver better customer experiences – especially when they are an essential element of a customer experience management framework. Whilst it is common to see employees ‘promising’ or committing to do certain things in support of company strategy, it is less common to see managers committing to do the same for their employees. Where businesses have established performance management mechanisms in place, employees ‘promise’ to achieve certain things, behave in certain ways, and develop themselves on an annual basis. Their annual remuneration is determined according to their ability to meet their promises, and adhere to company values. Whilst performance management goes someway to driving behaviour, if it is supported by open, supportive, committed managers, the effect on the employee, and thus the customer can be even more effective.

What Restaurant Associates have done ,very openly and transparently, is communicate with their people how managers will behave. I personally have never seen anything like this before. It is incredibly refreshing. It essentially puts managers and employees on a level playing field. If a manager is able to adhere to their promises, it is very likely that employees will want to do the same. It brings certain phrases to mind – ‘practice what we preach’; ‘walk the talk’ – cheesy perhaps, but very true. If you read through some of Restaurant Associates managers promises, how many of them would you be prepared to commit to? I know plenty of ‘managers’ who would not be able to commit to any of them. However, the effect adhering to these promises must have on employees is huge.

One of Sir Richard Branson’s most famous quotes is:

“The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers”

It is a wonderful quote. The way Restaurant Associates treat employees clearly underpins their consistently great customer service. It is this great customer service which led to them being shortlisted for  a national award. I have no doubt that they will win awards in the future, as well as deserved recognition for the great things they are doing. Their approach is creating engaged employees who have the ability to be, or already are, advocates of their brand. This is an essential ingredient in any customer experience management framework ( As an independent consultant, I no longer have the pleasure of directly managing employees. However, I always believed in committing to do certain things for the people I was lucky enough to work with. Yet even though I made commitments, I never wrote them down – I never made my commitments transparent – I never reviewed my commitments on a monthly basis. I spent all of my time reviewing my people’s commitments, without ever holding the mirror up to myself.

I applaud Restaurant Associates for what they are doing. It is not easy, but it is bold. I would like to think that anyone who reads this will ask themselves whether they would be prepared to openly publish their promises to their people. Those who will – I applaud you too. Those who do not – ask yourself why not – I would be interested to know the answer(s).