Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Customer Experience Pt 4 - Shaping the Culture and Attitudes of Your Existing Employees

Post series written by Andrew McMillan (Principal Consultant at Charteris specialising in customer experience). Before joining Charteris, Andrew had a 28 year career with John Lewis and spent the last eight years of that career being responsible for the quality of service and selling across the UK department stores.

So, we have a statement that defines what the business aims to be both for its customers and its employees. There are two distinct audiences that will be affected by that statement: those who already work in the organisation and those who have yet to be recruited.

So where do you start? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, and ideally the actions should be simultaneous to ensure the right attitudes are identified in new recruits and then to ensure those attitudes aren’t tarnished by any disengaged employees. However, for the sake of clarity, in this piece we shall just look at starting to shape the culture and attitudes of the existing employees.

It’s impossible to prescribe a generic solution here, because it all depends on the prevailing attitudes and values in the organisation and, crucially, what has gone before. In simple terms this is all about communication and explanation. However, communication in this sense doesn’t just mean informing people about the latest developments in the organisation, it means engaging the workforce to actually DO something different. Consequently sending an e-mail to every employee introducing the definition statement is unlikely to have the desired effect, nor is having the statement printed as a logo on pens, mugs or credit card aide memoirs, although these can have their uses at a later stage.

Communication vision requires a significant campaign of face to face internal communication that explains why there is a need for change, how the statement was created and what changes in behaviour are required from the employees to deliver the desired customer experience. It is all about shaping the internal culture of the organisation to externally reflect the customer experience the organisation aspires to deliver. A crucial element of this communication is for it to be entertaining, motivational and inspiring rather than just informative, as a key factor in its success is to make the employees want to change, not to try and make them change – a subtle but vital goal if this is going to have any longevity.

Again it is impossible to prescribe a single approach here as that will be determined by the size of the organisation and the existing communication channels. One of the most effective approaches I have experienced is using a presentation delivered personally by the customer experience champion in the organisation to every employee, ideally in groups of 30 or so to allow the opportunity for discussion and debate. This should emphasise what is good about the existing culture, but openly tackle any controversial issues head on too, otherwise they will remain unspoken and consequently unresolved. It should also act as a call to action and talk about how the behaviour of individuals is to change.

The downfall of many customer experience change programmes is that they just describe what the organisation is aiming to achieve. If well executed, they can create an intellectual engagement with the employees, but often they are left thinking “so what do I have to actually do?” with the consequence that they return to their respective roles and nothing changes.

The communication should therefore include an explanation of what the leaders in the organisation will be doing to support the change, how individuals will be measured and made accountable and the individual reward and recognition that will follow success (these will be covered in detail in later articles). It should be a story with context and examples to inspire and engage, not simply inform. A generic format may look something like this:
  • Changing expectations within society as a whole – with examples
  • Consequent impacted changes on the way the organisation operates – with examples
  • Why customer experience is as important as the product/service and the processes that deliver it
  • The definition statement of what the organisation wants to achieve in terms of customer experience – how this will have a positive effect for both employees and customers
  • What this will mean for frontline employees and the leadership support required from managers
  • How success will be measured
  • Reward and recognition
  • Consequences of failure
  • Other changes they will see – these may include recruitment, appraisals, training, regular communication etc.
Another valuable approach for communication, especially in very large organisations, can be the use of media. A fifteen minute DVD demonstrating the desired internal and external customer experience behaviours can be very powerful if it is well made and doubly so if it stars employees who already demonstrate the desired behaviour and not management describing what they want it to be. Brevity is important too as the media should be short, sharp and engaging – do you remember how you felt the last time you sat through a 45 minute training video? Ideally both mediums should be used, with the presentation introducing the statement and allowing discussion and debate, then being followed at a later stage by the DVD to reinforce what has been said.

If this communication programme is successful it will have drawn a firm line in the sand so that employees and managers know what they have to do, how they will be supported, how they will be measured and the consequences of success and failure. They should be left enthused about the challenges that lie ahead and, if really successful, many will start the change as they leave the room.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Customer Experience Pt 3 - Defining Culture

Post series written by Andrew McMillan (Principal Consultant at Charteris specialising in customer experience). Before joining Charteris, Andrew had a 28 year career with John Lewis and spent the last eight years of that career being responsible for the quality of service and selling across the UK department stores.

So, if you read my last two pieces and are still with me you will understand my views on how customer experience fits into the operating model of any business and how the businesses’ culture is at the heart of defining the customer experience it delivers.

That’s great if the business has been overtly aware of those impacts from day one and has taken conscious action to safeguard and nurture the culture of the business as it has grown. There are some great examples of businesses that have successfully done that. First Direct bank is one and Virgin Atlantic is another. Both are known for delivering a distinct and defined customer experience and they use that point of differentiation to market and drive the growth of their businesses.

Sadly, in my experience, businesses such as these are very much in the minority and “we need to change our culture” is a common plea from organisations I work with. “Change your culture from what to what?” is usually my first question, and it rarely elicits a clear answer. I think that’s because culture is so pervasive within a large organisation that it becomes this huge ‘elephant in the room’ that everyone sees, but nobody likes to acknowledge or talk about. Closer questioning usually returns responses such as “our people don’t work together as a team” or “nobody seems to really care about the success of the business”, or sometimes, more honestly, “our service is poor because they don’t really care about customers”. Unfortunately by the time a business is experiencing these symptoms to the point they have become noticeable the damage has been done.

So what’s gone wrong?

Often as the business has grown the focus has been on developing the product or service and the processes that support it and not the people. New recruits have been engaged to fulfil a function with little regard for the alignment of their attitude and personality with the original business aims. Sometimes it can be that the expectations of customers have moved on and the business hasn’t adapted accordingly.

The most common reaction is to put everyone in the business through a training course on customer service. It seems like a good idea on the face of it, but I rarely see lasting benefit. Sure, if the course is well designed and executed it will provide a stimulus to the business, often for just long enough for the training consultancy to collect their, usually sizeable, cheque and run! The problem is the employees won’t have seen any significant change in the heart of the way the business operates, so a few weeks later it’s ‘business as usual’. I’m not suggesting that training doesn’t have a place, and it is important for most organisations, you just have to be clear on what it can and can’t achieve. It’s essential for teaching how a shop’s till system operates, product knowledge or how a call centre agent must include legally required statements if they operate in the finance sector. It can also set baseline standards for how customers are addressed to or how telephones are answered, but these are processes that contribute to the customer experience, they don’t define or differentiate it.

So, what do you do?

Well, you rewind the clock and try to recall the basic aims and attitudes the business started with – what did you aim to do and how did you aim to do it? This will identify and help articulate the customer experience the owner had subconsciously in their mind when they started the business. Unfortunately for many businesses this isn’t possible as they may have become too large or have been sold on by the time the culture has been identified as an issue, so those original aspirations will have been lost. In these cases it’s down to the current management to redefine the experience they want to deliver for their customers and, importantly in commercial sectors, how that will differentiate them from the competition. If a business is really brave they can ask their employees what they want their customers to experience. I have seen some really powerful definitions created by the employees of businesses whose managers have previously told me they have an issue with culture. Either way, it’s essential that the employees are consulted in this process to validate the output if they are to engage with and support what follows.

The output, however it is achieved, should be a simple statement defining what the business aims to be in terms of customer experience and the behaviours that will define it. One of my favourites is from Ritz Carlton hotels who have a world renowned reputation for great customer experiences: Welcomed, Wanted, Remembered, Cared For. Essentially, this statement is memorable and is applied both to how they treat their customers and how they treat their employees. Another one, which gives me a great sense of personal satisfaction, was created by the employees of a local government team I have recently worked with: People, Passion, Pride. The power of these statements is their simplicity, which makes them memorable, and their relevancy to the businesses’ product or service.

You also need to be careful how these statements are positioned with the employees if they are to be effective. To call them ‘vision statements’ isn’t very relevant to a front line employee and so many that I see are meaningless such as ‘to deliver world class service’ or ‘to exceed our customers’ expectations’. What do these mean in terms of behaviour to an employee on a till or in a call centre? Aspirations that are delivered as ‘vision’ or ‘mission’ statements and use meaningless management speak can only damage a businesses’ culture further by providing a breeding ground for cynicism.

So, hopefully we have done the seemingly impossible and identified and articulated the businesses’ culture in a simple statement and engaged the employees in the process. Next time we shall look at how that statement becomes a foundation for improving the customer experience.