Poor Service Isn’t Always An Accident. It’s Often By Design

In markets without much competition, organisations can deliver bad service not because of poor design and management, but simply because they can.

Benjamin P. Taylor shared a great thread on Twitter this week outlining the experience of attempting to get some housing support for an elderly relative.

I say ‘great thread’ when I really mean ‘depressingly accurate nightmare’. Unfortunately it represents a lot of people’s experience of accessing health/housing/social care.

Benjamin simply wanted to make an enquiry, to talk to someone, but is kept in a system designed to keep the user in a Moebius Loop of enquiry whilst they are assessed, processed and triaged. Anything to keep them away from the people they really need to talk to.

It does happen outside the public sector too. I’ve had a similar experience this week with an airline who emailed me to suggest I ‘try to speak to someone’ despite the fact I’d only emailed them out of desperation because I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to speak to me. I went on the ‘live chat’ to get help but was told the live chat was too busy and I should try phoning. The phone message said they were too busy and I should try the live chat, or send them an email.

This is what happens when cost-driven demand management decides how users must interact with the system. Humanity , and sheer common sense, have been designed out in the name of efficiency.

But what price efficiency?

Due to the nature of my work I’m routinely contacted by suppliers and vendors keen to get my view on their product. Many are great, but others talk of ‘putting you more in control of customer demand’, and of self-serve being the holy grail of customer service. Clearly people who’ve been to Nando’s and thought that was a desirable model for public service.

Back in the nineties call centres were designed to keep the customer away from who they actually wanted to speak to. It was never ever about customer service – just managing demand. Unfortunately – rather than seeing the call centre as an aberration, many organisations have decided to build out from it and enshrine it in digital form as part of a ‘transformation’.

Most ‘transformations’ are nothing of the sort, but simply a digital overlay on top of how business has always been done. The process that Benjamin describes is complex but can be made easy. People just don’t want to make it easy.

Many of our organisations — despite the rhetoric — have policies and procedures that are profoundly anti-customer. We have built checks, balances and verifications into our process because , deep down, we don’t actually trust the motivations of the public.

This is an uncomfortable truth — but goes some way to explain the difference in satisfaction levels between sectors. Customer service is often so bad precisely because it’s more efficient for the company.

In some rationed services – like health and housing – forcing customers to talk to a computer or chatbot, circulating them through phone menus or getting them to sit on hold “while serving other customers” serves a deterring role. People give up. This isn’t an accident, it’s by design. We are being purposefully shit – and excelling at it.

Earlier this week I spoke to a wonderfully helpful young woman trapped in the bureaucratic hell of the UK’s Best Loved Institution. When I asked if I could possibly change an appointment – even by two hours to help me out with a work commitment – she smiled and suggested I don’t try to change it. “First of all”, she said, “I don’t have authority to change anything. But if you try and change your appointment the system will just put you at the back of the queue and you’ll have to wait another month. I know, it’s stupid. We’ve all said that but they just won’t change it.”

Who are ‘they’? – and how can we make them accountable for shocking design that has real world consequences? As I discussed in the Outside Innovation podcast, it’s incredibly hard for individuals to change a system, but individuals can form a collective and challenge processes that are profoundly anti-customer and anti-employee.

Poor design will end when the public says it ends. When we name and shame and call things out publicly.

The pandemic has been an accelerant of most things. Any trend: social, business, or personal has locked on fast-forward. That includes customer dissatisfaction with poor service. As many companies have greatly expanded digital service options during the lockdowns the difference between those who did it well and those who have delivered a bodge job are there for all to see.

Customers won’t stay silent for long. They want contextualised interactions; seamless experience across channels; anytime, anywhere access to content and services and – guess what – the ability to speak to a human when they damn well want to.


Cartoon Image via Tom Fishburne

Why You Shouldn’t Ask Customers What They Want

The customer is always right. 

If you involve customers –  you’ll make better decisions. 

The only problem with statements like these is that they don’t seem to account for all those occasions when the customer wasn’t right. They don’t explain the fact that, despite high degrees of customer involvement and extensive market research, between 70-90% of all new product launches still fail.

Perhaps then, customers can’t actually tell us what they want, because they don’t know themselves.

{Note: for the following article I’m using customer as shorthand for any user of your organisation or service, including employees}

Last week, Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, delivered a talk to our Board. It made me think that we tend to take rational ‘commonsense’ for granted, so much so that we design new products and services without taking into account irrational or illogical behaviours.

We have irrational customers but we design rational customer experiences.

Indeed – we are fighting the idea that customers are often irrational. 

There is little evidence that we can even predict our own behaviour. We don’t necessarily know why we make decisions. When anyone proposes a change – even humdrum day to day changes (think self-serve check outs in supermarkets , or charging people for plastic bags) – we don’t react rationally.

That’s why , for example, so few people switch fuel suppliers despite the fact they’d be better off by doing so.

Our status quo bias, the tendency for us to lean towards doing nothing or maintaining our current or previous decision – is a strong reason for never asking customers what they want.  Every pound we put into asking customers what they want is basically wasted.

Have you really got the time to be distracted by what customers think they want?

Lessons from New Coke

In 1985 one of the biggest brands in the world nearly destroyed itself – by listening to what customers said.

Coca-Cola developed a product dubbed “New Coke” that was slightly sweeter than the original. Almost 200,000 blind taste tests were conducted and most participants said that they favoured New Coke over both the original formula and the companies bitter rival, Pepsi.

Hundreds of thousands of people can’t be wrong, right?

New Coke tanked – costing the company millions, with the CEO later commenting that they had “drawn a moustache on the Mona Lisa.”

There were two main lessons learned:

1: The research was flawed as it was based almost entirely on sip tests—a comparison of sips, not someone enjoying an entire drink. A blind test in a lab type environment was out of context compared to the experience of , say, drinking a Coke in the garden on a summer’s day

2: No-one realised the symbolic value and emotional involvement people had with the original Coke.  What customers said was “yes, this tastes a lot nicer” but when the product hit the market they behaved entirely differently. Influenced by their emotions and a status quo bias to keep things the same, they demanded the old Coke back.

Many of our organisations are still making these same mistakes – assembling focus groups and panels and involving users in ways that are wholly artificial compared to an actual customers lived experience.

The ‘customer knows best’ argument needs some challenge.

Whilst I agree that users are almost always closer to the problem than the average senior manager or executive, proximity to the problem doesn’t automatically make you the best person to solve it.

Solutions require subject matter experts who have a deep knowledge of the root cause of the problem and can look through multiple lenses to craft a response.

The idea that a customer can provide that based on fairly limited knowledge (or interest) is naive.

Designing the right solution means testing for irrational behaviours.

And that can only come by observing what people actually do rather than basing decisions on what you think , or what they say, they’d do.

The research of Clayton Christensen found that companies that fail often listen to their customers too much.

As users we struggle to envisage the future. Indeed, asking someone to consider the future is a bit like saying, “Tell me how you will behave in five years time when I’ve rolled out the service I’ve just asked you about.”

Arguably the best time to engage customers is the feed into the problem definition – and then at every stage through iterative testing, pilot and subsequent release.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses – (not said by) Henry Ford

It’s a great line but there’s no evidence that Ford ever said this. It never appeared anywhere until about 1970. A longer quote , and one he did say in his 1922 book, is this:

“I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one.”

Ford understood his customers aspirations long before they did.

We’ll only ever solve problems through having a deep understanding of our users and customers. That means accepting their flaws, their biases, and the fact they often make bad decisions.

Only by testing real products and real services with real customers in real-world situations can we hope to understand how people truly behave.

Four Factors Hindering Transformation

The problem with good service design is that you don’t notice it.

It’s only when you experience truly bad design that you appreciate the good stuff.

That’s why so few organisations are design led. They focus on designing out the bad rather than designing in the good from the beginning.

Earlier this week I ordered a package – to be delivered from the Royal Mail.

It required a signature so I arranged it to arrive on Thursday when I planned to be working from home.

On Tuesday morning the Royal Mail sent me an SMS and email to say they were pleased to announce that the item would arrive earlier than expected.

They might well have been pleased at the early arrival, but I was 60 miles away and stuck in a meeting. There was no option to request a redelivery. No option to even cancel it. Just accept an inevitable failure. 

Any redelivery could only be attempted after they had first failed to deliver it.

Here was a company actually wasting the time of their employees and their customer – and seemingly proud of it.

In defence of Amazon and Uber

It’s easy to criticise the likes of Amazon and Uber for their ethics , but we forget at our peril the benefits these providers have bought us.

But they don’t pay taxes! As if no company ever evaded taxes before Amazon.

But they exploit workers! As if taxi drivers were never exploited before, or resisted the opportunity to exploit us customers.

We shouldn’t let these type of companies off the hook for their transgressions, but neither should we forget what life was like before their breakthroughs in customer experience.

Getting a delivery within 24 hours or not having to queue for a taxi now feels so normal that one starts to wonder why it took so long.

The incumbent companies they disrupted all had the same money, time and technology to change the way they did business, but they resisted the opportunity to shape themselves around what customers actually wanted.

Why digital transformation isn’t enough

Richard Godfrey makes a similar point about the failure of banks to reimagine their services. Setting up a new account in most cases still requires a bank visit, or an e-form or a phone call at the very least.  How can that still exist in a world where you can sign up for a Monzo or Revolut account in minutes by downloading an app and proving your identity and address with image capture software and facial recognition?

As Richard points out, most ‘transformations’ are nothing of the sort, but simply a digital overlay on top of how business has always been done. He wonders why the process of claiming housing benefit can’t be made so easy. Of course it can, people just don’t want to make it easy.

As someone who has worked to redesign services from the ground up, putting the customer in control, I’d say you can’t underestimate how difficult this culture change required is.

Many of our organisations – despite the rhetoric – have policies and procedures that are profoundly anti-customer. We have built checks, balances and verifications into our process because , deep down, we don’t actually trust the motivations of the public.

This is an uncomfortable truth – but goes some way to explain the difference in satisfaction levels between some of the public and private sector.

PNG_Public_sector_CX_Ex1

A new post from McKinsey finds that whilst many the public sector and governments are moving forward with customer experience initiatives, in general private-sector organisations are a lot better at providing services.

I don’t always agree with the private/public distinction but some of the stumbling blocks they identify are helpful. The common traits that prevent genuine transformation are:

  1. A monopolistic mind-set. When customers don’t have a choice, it dramatically removes a major incentive to innovate and improve service.
  2. The public sector have to be fair to everyone.  They can’t just ignore certain customer segments. This ‘fairness’ often solidifies over time into a principle of providing one-size-fits-all service. Or rather, one-size-fits-no-one.
  3. We often lack the capabilities needed to assess and address gaps in customer experience. Those with deep analytics skills, as well as human-centered design skills, are often in short supply.
  4. Data is typically incomplete or sequestered in silos. Organisations often lack a full, timely picture of the customer’s overall experience.

This ‘fair for everyone’, but exceptional for no-one, agenda presents a genuine design challenge. The capacity for innovation for huge, but the capability for it is virtually zero.

It’s hampered because innovation requires a tolerance for failure , and upsetting people.  It’s too easy to see the short-term political consequences of initiatives gone wrong and debate whether public money is going down the drain.

However we have a responsibility to take risks – we need to cultivate a culture of innovation, and sometimes that means spending money trying new things, and being ‘unfair’ to some people.

What if Uber and Amazon did health, housing and social care?

Three years ago I wrote a post speculating on that very question – it remains the second most popular piece on this blog.

I don’t stand by everything I said back then, but I do agree with the final point.

Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption.

There’s no question about whether the Uber , Amazon, Facebook and Alibaba of the public sector will emerge.

It’s simply a matter of when.

Is It Time To Rethink Industry Awards?

Award schemes have become a form of media. They exist to generate income for an organisation through a combination of entry fees and overpriced chicken dinners – Stephen Waddington

It can sometimes feel like there is an industry awards ceremony for every night of the week.

A Google search for ‘housing awards’ will get you 500 million results and nearly 700 million for ‘health and social care’ awards. That’s without awards for charities and other non profits.

There isn’t a resource where you can find exactly how many ceremonies there are in total (there’s at least sixty four UK award schemes for health and social care) , but it’s clearly very big business.

With all these awards schemes recognizing excellence you’d think customer satisfaction would be soaring to hitherto unseen heights – but that’s clearly not the case.

So what are the benefits of awards ceremonies?

Brand Recognition: A relatively quick way to signal you are above the competition is by seeking out and winning awards in your industry. This is nothing new, it’s basic marketing – companies have been touting their award-winning products for over a century.

Boost Employee Moral: For individual colleagues or teams winning a recognised award gives you public recognition, this gives people their moment in the limelight.

Encourage Self Reflection: The actual act of entering an award is a discipline that, if done honestly, encourages you to articulate why you did what you did and what you learned.

Let’s be honest though, the sheer amount of award schemes means they don’t deliver any true recognition of excellence. As Stephen says in his piece – with disciplined planning and a good entry form anyone can become a winner.

Do Industry Awards Inspire or Inhibit Innovation?

Awards and accreditation can actually act against the interests of customers.

  • They can encourage people to aim at the prize rather than the journey.
  • They can encourage organisations to tell good stories rather than promoting transparency and encouraging learning from failure.
  • They can imply that innovation is a single event, when it hardly ever is. Truly significant change is achieved over years, sometimes across generations.

And awards ceremonies can actually embed silo thinking — by promoting innovation at sector level when the really wicked problems need a more joined up approach

Serena Jones has noted that publicity from awards can help us reach new partners and investors. “They also highlight and circulate new ideas, approaches, methods which challenge us to do things better or different”.

This is helpful” says Serena, “But perhaps other mechanisms (without awards) can achieve the same outcomes?”

 

In 2014 I collaborated with Shirley Ayres in an online competition to find the people using digital tools to connect and share knowledge in new ways. It was called Power Players.

What was intended as a slightly light-hearted alternative to formal ‘awards’ turned into something else. Hundreds of people voted and the posts themselves have had over 40,000 views.

What was different about the list was the transparency.

As Shirley wrote  at the time “Digital technology has democratised access to information and created very different ways of enabling people to connect and share resources, thoughts and opinion. We live in a digitally connected world and in the crowded social space online influence is becoming increasingly important.”

I’m disappointed in the lack of innovation in the recognition and awards space in the five years since Power Players. Outside the social sector platforms like TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Glassdoor have harnessed the digital voice of consumers to provide a more transparent way of recognizing excellence.

Indeed, transparency is where most traditional awards, many self nominated by the recipients themselves, completely fall down.

There is rarely clarity on why someone wins, why someone loses, or why someone was ruled out in the first place.

In fact the awards business wholly lacks any real transparency which is why many people leap to the conclusion that winning comes down to who sponsors what and which organisations buy the most tables.

Social media has enabled a new transparency, you can no longer control your messaging within closed industry borders.

We’ve still got organisations who are still adapting to an era where they can be answered back and where they don’t have the final word.

Many still think their brands can be controlled (they can’t).

Many still think that their brand is their own (it isn’t).

As Jayne Hilditch has said  – every time an organisation over claims how good it is, another piece of trust with the customer dies.

Those organisations who act like ‘awards tourists’, gathering baubles in very public shows of self affirmation may find themselves having to answer difficult questions.

Who really benefits from awards – and how? 

 


 

Image by analogicus from Pixabay 

Rebuilding Trust Requires Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Difficult conversations, the ones which we all too often shy away from, are the very thing that help build trust in one another.

For instance, if you want to spot a couple who are on the verge of splitting up, look for the ones who have stopped talking and are sitting in silence. The ones having a public argument over lunch still have a dialogue. Couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who sweep difficult issues under the carpet.

For years, our organisations and institutions have swept difficult issues under the carpet rather than having adult to adult conversations. The results are there for all to see.

atlas_rksx1fzqv402x

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust has changed profoundly in the past year—people have shifted their trust to the relationships immediately within their control as we become more intolerant and disillusioned.

The world though is united on one front—all share an urgent desire for change. Only one in five feels that the system is working for them, with nearly half of the mass population believing that the system is failing them.

In conjunction with this pessimism and worry, there is a growing move toward engagement and action.

This is hugely positive, although disruptive. The trust-building opportunity then lies squarely in the area of integrity and engagement.

In the old days a trusting relationship between individuals and organisations has been the norm.

This has shaped the way we communicate – both internally and externally. It has resulted in the issuing of corporate annual reports, press releases , customer satisfaction scores and benchmarking results. All designed to tell a positive, on-message story.

Those days have gone.

As Gerry McGovern writes – the game has profoundly changed. “Many organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future.

My last couple of posts drew on the need to escape siloed bubbles and embark on different relationships.

The reaction to the latter, on Twitter in particular, highlighted the lack of trust in many of our organisations.  There is clearly a need for a different and potentially difficult conversation, and it won’t be easy.

On Saturday my Twitter feed was buzzing, and it wasn’t all positive. A few people were taking me to task for having double standards.

The problem I imagine, is I’m a ‘paid professional’ working within a flawed system. A flawed system I myself have perpetuated at times. How can I possibly help fix it if I’m rewarded by it?  I could be – as one person noted – the problem rather than the solution.

This view is not entirely without foundation. Social networks might appear to be more democratic , but in any conversation there’s often a power imbalance, and we’ve seen precious little evidence of any organisations giving up any power or resources.

A lot of people are disillusioned because they feel they could probably do a better job than those in power. Social media has revealed where the power is held, and how it behaves.  Why shouldn’t we as social organisations cede power in a situation where so many clearly crave it?

Perhaps it’s because trust works both ways, and our organisations don’t trust citizens, users or customers to wield power responsibly. How would they know how to make the right choices?

It’ll take more than a few tweet-chats or a transformation programme to restore trust that has been eroded over decades. Digital is not the saviour we thought it might be. There’s a need for genuine human connection as a resistance to today’s deadening, tech-obsessed world.

That doesn’t meant we shouldn’t try to improve our online conversations though, we need to develop broader shoulders if we are to break this down. I’ve heard too many stories of people being muted or even blocked by organisations whom they are customers of.

It also means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality:

That means it’s time to do less talking and more listening. 

It means stopping saying how great your organisation is.

It means engaging rather than broadcasting.

It means defaulting to transparency.

It means people engaging in difficult conversations. 

We all have a role in diffusing some of the anger out there. That means getting better at discussing ideas and finding common ground.

Today, more than ever, we need to start talking more. Listening to voices we’d sometimes prefer not to hear.

Do We Really Trust BrightHouse More Than We Do Housing Associations?

Ultimately the best way to build trust is to actually be trustworthy

Trust is the most valuable commodity in your organisation – although it’s probably not something you talk about often, much less attempt to measure.

A few months ago I took part in a steering group advising a group of people working in housing to tackle the ‘poverty premium’. That’s the additional price people can pay for being on a low income and who then become excluded from the best deals – by using pre-payment meters, not switching to the best fuel tariff or using higher cost credit.

The research team cited some interviews they conducted that stuck out for me: that some people had said they trusted Brighthouse, and other high cost lenders MORE than they did their own housing association?

That can’t be right can it?

Surely it’s impossible that someone would trust a rent to own store charging 99.9% interest over a social purpose organisation specifically set up to house and protect people?

Not so.

BrightHouse has an impressive four star ‘great’ rating on Trustpilot. A simple Google search will show you the housing associations featured get around one or two stars.  “All they want is the rent and nothing else” is a recurring comment.

Of course this is not evidence in and of itself that BrightHouse is more trustworthy, but it does show that how many organisations have adapted much better to the digital age – where the accepted rules of trust don’t always apply.

As an example it’s interesting to see how BrightHouse respond when they get a one star review. Firstly they’ve taken the time to respond , something almost none of the non-profit providers have, and secondly they offered a solution.

Trust is fairly straightforward. We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfil their commitments. We need to believe they have the right motives and act fairly and honestly. We need to see they are transparent, that they are always learning from mistakes and failure.

That’s why Amazon can be trusted by 100 million prime members, despite some of their business practices. They deliver time after time and always take the side of the customer in any dispute. They don’t just say sorry, they appear to learn from it.

This isn’t just a problem for housing associations, but also the wider social sector, NHS and charities.

As Gerry McGovern has said, customers trust those who give them control — who put them in control — of their lives. They distrust those who try to control them.

Many of our social sector organisations don’t seek to put customers in control, or even regard them as paying customers. They can actually disempower them.

The network effect of technology has created a way for people to share experiences more quickly, and to more people with more detailed information than ever before.

Responding to that means radical behaviour change on behalf of organisations.

  • That means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality.
  • That means stopping saying how great your organisation is.
  • That means engaging rather than broadcasting.
  • That means defaulting to transparency.
  • That means doing what you say you will.

The social bond that connects us as people is based on trustability. Always-on interactivity and the proliferation of social media is making customers demand a new standard of trustworthiness from companies. Trust now lies in the hands of individuals, not in our organisations.

To be trustable, a business must act toward its customers and demonstrate humanity and empathy, the way one human being would act toward another. And to have empathy a business has to see things from the customer’s perspective, treating different customers differently, and demonstrating genuinely good intentions toward them.

BrightHouse and others like them – for all their faults – recognise that, and appear to solve real customer problems.

The way forward for the social sector isn’t to be more like them – it’s to abandon our professionalism and return to our roots.

We need to be rebuilt around people, with a modern sense of trust and compassion, not just focused on efficiencies, league tables and being ‘high performing’.  

We need to move away from one size fits all services that don’t account for individual needs. One size actually fits no-one.

The basic principle of trust is easy: do what you say you are going to do.

And ultimately the best way to build trust is to actually be trustworthy.

How Complexity Kills Trust

Customers trust those who give them control — who put them in control — of their lives.

They distrust those who try to control them. – Gerry McGovern

Why do you trust the companies, organisations, and institutions you deal with?

Chances are it isn’t because they have a customer charter, seek to involve you in their decision making,  or publish their performance in a league table.

There’s a curious train of thought entering discourse across the social sector that seems to say “If we involve our customers more, we’ll be more trusted and more accountable”.

I’m sorry – but this is nonsense. The lack of trust in our organisations is driven by overly complex business models that fail to put the customer in any position of power. The idea that this will be solved by inviting them to read the minutes of your last Board meeting is, frankly, ludicrous.

We are in an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them. Organisations have consistently chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations about transparency & accountability in the digital age.

Trust is driven by something more basic than being open and honest: simple customer experiences.

Most of our organisations have failed to keep pace with the requirements of the digital age and remain hugely complex for customers to navigate.

We have complexity baked into us, and most users don’t see us as their problem solvers.

As Gerry McGovern has written: “Old model organizations thrive on complexity. Thirty years ago, a typical customer looked at something complex and said: “I must be stupid.” Today, people look at complexity coming from organizations and say: “They must be stupid.” 

It’s often frustrating for the social sector that people trust companies like Amazon more than public services – but the reasons why they do are obvious.

One reason for the huge success of Amazon is the fact that they solve problems for us that we need to be solved.  They solve them very simply too, and they almost always take the customers side in any dispute. When you solve real problems every single day and you make things simpler and easier for your customers, you build trust.

Most of our organisations do solve problems – but we solve them very slowly, or in ways that frustrate the customer.

The key to trust is to solve problems that matter to the customer and to put them in a position of control.  Too many old model organisations are trying to offer customers ‘influence’ – but this is mere window dressing in an effort to avoid giving up any actual power.

The NHS is a great example of an old model organisation. Whenever I deal with the NHS I usually get what I want in the end – and the people who I deal with are often excellent. However – it’s made very clear to me throughout that I’m not in control. Within the NHS the balance of power doesn’t lie with the frontline staff who understand patients’ needs and concerns, and it certainly doesn’t lie with the patient or their families.

The power is hidden within an old model based on a complex web of commissioning architecture, centralised groups, and specialist networks. It’s kept well away from the patient and the front line – as to cede any power to them would threaten the system itself.

If you’re a user of a housing association, the justice system, or local authority you may recognise this feeling of powerlessness, that the system sometimes works against your problems.

In one sense it’s a simple problem to fix. If your customers believe you’re giving them value, rather than trying to get value out of them, and if you come across as sincere, they’ll be more likely to trust your motivations and intentions.

However, deconstructing systems that have withheld power and influence from customers is anything but easy. It’s a lot easier to make a simple thing complex than it is to make a complex thing simple.

  • We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments.
  • We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly.
  • We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.
  • We need to see they give us control and allow us to navigate their services on our terms

Transparency is good. Unequivocally so. But league tables, charters and involving customers only go so far. They create a lot of jobs for people but they don’t actually change anything.

Most of all we need our organisations to solve our problems in simple ways – and that requires a fundamental rethink of who we are, who we serve and how we operate.

 


Photo courtesy of Yuri Catalano via Pexels

Does Benchmarking Really Save Companies From Failure?

Even in the very best organisations, bad practice is waiting just around the corner.

In 2014 General Motors began the recall of the Chevrolet Cobalt which would ultimately affect nearly 30 million cars worldwide.

The problem was with the ignition switch which could shut off the car while it was being driven, disabling power steering, power brakes – and, crucially, the airbag.

The issue had been known to GM employees for a decade. A sixteen-year-old girl had died in a frontal crash in 2005, the first death attributed to the defective switches.

A redesign of the ignition switch went into vehicles a year later, but a simple mistake – the engineers failed to alter the serial number – made the change difficult to track later.

Ultimately the flaw would kill 124 people, and seriously injure 275 others.  Not recalling the vehicles sooner was deemed affordable in the pursuit of profit.

During this time, General Motors was leading its sector in customer satisfaction. At the same time as their cars were devastating families, they were picking up heaps of industry awards.

It’s common after the emergence of any scandal, be it VW, Oxfam, Mid Staffordshire, for us to call for tighter regulation, greater consumer controls, and transparency of performance.

But does any of this help prevent complex system failure?

The latest call is from the Social Housing Green Paper which has been published in response to the Grenfell tragedy and has been billed as a “fundamental rethink” of the system.

The government has suggested the introduction of new league tables, which would effectively name and shame landlords to highlight bad practice. The ‘power’ would shift more towards tenants and enable them to see how their landlord ranked compared with the average.

There’s also been talk of an industry wide Charter and an increasing focus on benchmarking.

Can You Benchmark Your Way Out Of A Crisis? 

Best practice and benchmarking are often just a race to be first at being average. The chances of someone else’s best practice working in a different environment is unlikely.

Not only is it unlikely but the very act of best practice and benchmarking can drive standards down. It encourages all organisations to think alike. At sector level it creates groupthink, and we all know groupthink is the avowed enemy of innovation.

Within organisations, a culture of following best practice can quickly become a culture that is frightened of doing new things. In times when we need radical solutions to big problems – trying to be more like each other is a criminal waste of time.

When Good Companies Go Bad

It’s tempting to think that tighter regulation and scrutiny prevents system failure but there’s little actual evidence it does.

There’s a problem with managing risk retrospectively: you’re always looking behind you, and often looking in the wrong places.

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This graphic from a HBR study shows auditors are rarely looking at things that could bring companies down.  Policies don’t destroy companies, toxic cultures do. But cultures are rarely audited as it’s pretty much impossible to do – it’s easier to tick boxes.

When things go wrong in organisations it’s often the result of a complex web of perverse incentives, simple mistakes and a culture of people looking the other way.

It’s almost never because there’s a singular Bond villain type saying “I’m going to do this on the cheap even though it’s bad for customers and will probably kill folk”.

Redefining Trust In A Digital Age

There’s rarely a simple solution to complex problems but I see a huge opportunity for companies to rebuild relationships around principles of trust and transparency – and this won’t be achieved by charters and following a herd like regression to the mean.

The network effect of technology has created a way for people to share experiences more quickly, and to more people with more detailed information than ever before.

Today, any customer can go behind an organisation’s flattering customer satisfaction scores with a simple Google search.

To rebuild trust organisations must adopt new behaviours to reduce the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality.

At Bromford that means pushing ourselves ever more local and away from the corporate centre – building relationships based on openness, respect, and accountability.

  • It means abandoning paternalism and the ‘we know best’ culture that has dogged the social sector for generations.
  • It means creating a culture where people do the right thing for the customer and call out inconsistent behaviours regardless of hierarchy.
  • It means establishing trust building as the number one goal, rather than the relentless pursuit of efficiency and profit.

I’m pretty sure General Motors, VW, and Oxfam would have been near the top of any industry league table.

You can’t regulate relationships and you don’t build trust with a Charter.

The market is , as Seth Godin said , begging us to be remarkable.

Who wants to win the race to mediocrity anyway?

5 Reasons You Need To Question What Customers Are Telling You

Despite little evidence of impact, each year millions of pounds are spent on market research, focus groups, and ‘coproduction’.

The danger of listening to customers is you end up focusing on wants not needs. Often what a customer wants is diametrically opposed to what they need – and want is often more of a powerful motivator.

To really generate quality insight you need to avoid five traps:

Customers Don’t Tell The Truth

The truth is that people lie. They don’t mean to, but they’ll certainly present an alternate reality where an honest answer might cause them embarrassment.

It’s the reason most of us tell our doctors that we drink less and exercise more than we actually do. We are presenting an idealised version of our actual behaviour.

There’s a great bit of advice in the Well Told Story podcasts where they relate the dangers of asking direct questions.

Asking an 18-year old male “when did you last have sex?” almost always drew the response of “last night”.

But asking the question in a non-personalised way – “When would you say your friends last had sex?” resulted in an entirely different response – “within the last two weeks”. 

Asking about the behaviour of a person like you removes the tendency to present an exaggerated version of ourselves.

The Law of Triviality and The Bike Shed Effect

People give disproportionate weight to trivial issues and that takes them away from the issue at hand.

In his book the Pursuit of ProgressC. Northcote Parkinson describes a committee that met to discuss the construction of a new nuclear power plant. He observed how the committee spent the majority of its time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike shed while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself.

I witnessed the bike shed effect just the other day in Bromford Lab. A session about using artificially intelligent stock delivery systems nearly turned into a discussion about who was going to wash the vans.

We can’t help it.

We like to focus on the trivial.

Being Out Of Context

As Stephen Russell said asking customers in false settings is a poor proxy for actual behaviour or preferences.

Focus groups and panels are often wasted time as they take everything out of context

As soon as a customer is in your office – they are in your office  – and that’s not their natural environment.

That was what led to the failure of New Coke. ‘Tell me what you think of this drink in a blind test in a lab setting’ is out of context compared to the experience of drinking a Coke in the garden on a summer’s day.

30 years later and organisations are still making the same mistake.

Confirmation Bias

People search for information that confirms their view of the world and ignore what doesn’t fit.

Someone seeking to dismiss an idea they don’t like will seek out some anecdotal evidence of when something similar failed or went wrong.

That’s why social media is such an effective tool for group-think.

Liberal or Conservative we all get what we want: our viewpoints confirmed.

Distinction Bias

When making a choice, our brains are in comparison mode, which is completely different to experience mode.

And all the evidence shows we are terrible at making choices as we have a tendency to over-value the effect of small differences when comparing options.

We’ll almost always choose the house with the extra bedroom, buy the bigger TV or go for the higher salary. Your brain is (often incorrectly) telling you that more is better.

So if you’re getting customers to compare things side by side instead of living them out – you’ll get a false return.

As Philippa Jones has written, to fully understand what customers need, and how that will impact and shape operational improvements, we need to take a far more bottom-up, holistic and all-encompassing approach.

In other words, we get to the truth by understanding stories, by listening carefully, observing behaviours and not by ticking boxes.

Organisations don’t always value customer insight because they value predictability, they love perfection, and they don’t like not having all the answers.

If you really listen to customers and really observe how they behave – they’ll surprise you and make you question everything you do.

And most of our organisations hate surprises.

The Case Against Digital Transformation

Something that’s being sold to you as more convenient may well be a lost social interaction that you’ll never get back – Ben Holliday, Convenience Isn’t Digital

Last week a friend of ours told me a story about trying to get some support for his partner who was ill. He was stuck in an impasse between the NHS, the Department of Work and Pensions, and Social Services.

He kept being told that either he, or the GP, or his employer, or her employer, had not supplied some piece of information. Two of the agencies blamed the NHS. The NHS blamed him.

The repeated interactions he was having with people and departments who wouldn’t, or simply couldn’t, speak to each other reminded me of the closing lines from I, Daniel Blake:

‘I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user. 

I am not a national insurance number, nor a blip on a screen.’

He described the slow progress he was making against systems seemingly designed to make it as difficult as possible for him to succeed.


What really made me think though was the resignation in his voice as he said – “They just don’t seem to listen to what I’m saying – they only believe what’s on their screens.


Myth #1: Every part of an organisation should digitally transform.

Not every company, process, or business model requires or is benefited by digital transformation.

Perhaps it’s time to pause the relentless cheerleading for transformation and consider the cost of digitising everything.

What does society look like when each and every interaction with citizens has to be digitally verified?

Today in business it’s heretical to suggest that it’s sometimes easier just to pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Big consulting has been very quick to point out the inefficiencies of talking to people – the implication being that everything is cheaper and easier online.

Are we allowed to mention that cheaper is not always better?

The digital revolution has meant lots of things but there’s precious little evidence it has improved customer service. On the contrary, as Gerry McGovern writes in his latest post, customer experience is flatlining. Organisations have often used technology to boost short-term profits with none essential expenses (like people) being reduced, outsourced or replaced altogether by machines.

The rush towards technology implies everything can be made better when the meddling influence of people is minimised.  Even if that were true the data systems we replace them with are designed by people – and inherit many of our human flaws. We rarely ask to get a second opinion on what our data is telling us.

A better starting point might be considering the case against digital. Which part of your customer experience are you unwilling to automate and make more efficient?

First Direct – one of the UK’s first and arguably best online financial service – have deliberately made their telephone service easier to use than any other bank. That’s conscious design, deliberately adding cost to the business with the trade-off being improved customer experience.

A couple of years ago we did an experiment where we sent two colleagues out to meet with customers – devoid of any technology. What we perceived would be a huge barrier to the test turned into a net gain – the colleagues told us it enabled them to have a better conversation by not having to repeatedly look at screens. We liked the results so much we built an entire service around it.

Ultimately we have to change the leadership model, not the technology. Customer experience isn’t all about efficiency, systems and protocol. It’s letting people do what they do best — knowing customers, personalising service, surprising people with the unexpected.

Being a leader in the digital era means resisting the insistence for efficiency at all costs – and deploying digital methods where it actually improves the outcome and experience.

Rather than the continual celebration of change and transformation, we should spend more time considering its social cost.

What we are really transforming into – and why?

Thinking Differently Is Slowing Transformation

Despite the perpetual cheerleading for innovation, most of our organisations need to be boringly effective.

This week we’ve been mapping our work across 30 service objectives at Bromford – and it strikes me that most of what we do doesn’t need any bells and whistles. It just needs ruthless efficiency.

Our innovation efforts really need to focus around the 10% – where we can be truly different. Everywhere else we can pretty much copy what the best in the leading sectors are doing.

The social sector is terrible at just implementing what works everywhere else. 

That’s why you get bespoke housing, health, education, justice and social care ‘solutions’.

According to the latest report from Gartner only 5% of government/public sector environments rate as ‘top’, in terms of their digital transformation credibility.

The vast majority – 95% – are swimming in a sea of mediocrity and operate at only average or worse-than-average performance levels compared to other industries.

The social sector is hampered by increasingly ageing applications, which don’t lend themselves well to ambitious digital transformation schemes. 54% of government core business applications were implemented between 1990 and 2009.

We have people coming into the work place who are using systems and applications that are older than they are.

Transformation is failing for many reasons, including a skills deficit , a lack of vision, and entrenched workplace culture.

There’s something else I think is hampering progress:

The insistence by the social sector that it is somehow unique.

That the services that are provided are different in there very nature to those provided elsewhere.

  • We are different – we cater for the vulnerable and excluded.
  • We are different – our users are not conventional customers but have complex needs .
  • We are different – we are people, not profit focused.

This insistence of this difference leads to two outcomes:

  • A preference for bespoke solutions rather than what’s already available and what works best
  • The resulting needless organisational complexity

Despite the hype – most of our organisations provide the same services as everyone else. We have customers:

  • They order and purchase things
  • Things need scheduling
  • Jobs need completing
  • Stuff needs paying for

At the highest level – we are no different from your local pizza delivery place. Except they probably have a more customer focused service offering than we do.

It’s when we get into the detail that we get complexity creep – when we start insisting we need all sorts of checks and balances as our users are different.

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Our design principles were implemented partly to counter this view that we are somehow different from everyone else.

Thinking you are different is the first step towards complexity. And for most organisations it’s easier to make a simple thing more complex than it is to make a complex thing more simple.

Our customers’ needs are not so complicated though. To transform we need to focus on simplicity and standardisation.

If we spent 90% of our time trying to be the same as everyone else rather than convincing ourselves of our difference, we might boost our effectiveness.

We only need to be different where it matters to customers.

Everywhere else – we can be simple but boring.

 

Do Industry Awards Inspire or Inhibit Innovation?

This week Bromford was announced the winner of the ‘Outstanding innovation of the year’ recognising our approach to testing and developing new services.

Philippa Jones, our chief executive, said: “This is fantastic recognition for so many colleagues and customers who have been at the very forefront of helping us test and shape our new approach – evolving from the original Bromford Deal to our new coaching approach and trusting relationship with customers. I’m particularly pleased that the panel praised our rigorous and transparent approach to testing and piloting our service offers through the Bromford Lab.”

As someone (me, not Philippa) – who has frequently criticised sector awards for encouraging silo thinking,  and who has challenged arbitrary lists of power-players, I half expected to get called out for my hypocrisy in attending a glitzy ceremony.

10 years ago I was all over awards ceremonies – which culminated in Bromford being announced the winner of the overall UK Customer Experience Award, which had previously being won by the likes of First Direct.

As part of that I noticed two distinct types of organisation:

  • Those who were seeking awards and accreditations as some kind of self affirmation
  • Those who were using the networks they gained through the process as part of a journey of self discovery and learning

The latter was typified by First Direct – whose approach to learning drove their own innovation. They rarely even told their own customers that they had won anything – and even to this day are self aware enough to know that awards without customer endorsement are meaningless.

This is the approach we learned from – and tried to follow – at Bromford. We never saw getting the award as the end of something – merely as a waypoint on a journey.  The 2009 seminar I did with Helena Moore on the learning we gathered from that cycle was entitled “Lessons from an Imperfect Organisation” , recognising that awards mean nothing, unless what they stand for reflects the day-in-day-out experiences of our customers, colleagues and partners at Bromford.

Awards and accreditations can act against the interests of customers.

  • They can encourage people to aim at the prize rather than the journey. I’m pretty sure Einstein didn’t develop the theory of relativity in order to get his hands on a cheque from the Nobel prize committee.
  • They can encourage organisations to tell good stories rather than promoting transparency and encouraging learning from failure.
  • They can imply that innovation is a single event, when it hardly ever is. Truly significant change is achieved over years, sometimes across generations.
  • And awards ceremonies can actually embed silo thinking – by promoting innovation at sector level when the really wicked problems need a more joined up approach.

With all that said – I’m delighted that Bromford have won this award as it marks a truly significant point in our current journey.

  • Colleagues have begun to embrace what has been a counter-cultural approach to problem definition, testing and piloting. To doing less, not more. They’ve been patient with us whilst we develop new methodologies that are evolving and imperfect.
  • Customers have worked alongside us during the , often difficult, mobilization of a new service model. That’s a whole mindset change away from the transactional SLA type relationship we used to have with customers – towards one of reciprocity, experimentation and personalisation.

It’s not done and never will be.

Awards should be used to track learning from failure rather than merely celebrate success.

Plaudits and accreditations can only be a driver for innovation if they help us forget the past and prepare for an increasingly uncertain future.


NEWS: We are about to enter Phase Two of Bromford Lab and need an Innovation Assistant to ruthlessly prioritise what we work on and grow our innovation network.  If you know someone who wants to embark on a bright new career – please share this link by 7th May. Thanks

Do We Believe In Our Own Customers? 

Yesterday I checked myself in for a Digital Detox. I left less than 90 minutes later.

I’m in Sri Lanka – and my usually reliable travel research had failed me. 

The resort we arrived at was truly beautiful but the rules on display froze my heart: 

  • No mobile devices were to be used other than brief periods in the morning and evening 
  • Food was served at set times around a communal table
  • Wake up call was at 5:30am followed by exercises and chanting 
  • No alcohol was allowed on or near the premises
  • A quiet-time curfew was in place from 7:30pm

I’d been travelling since 4am, done a safari and had spent over 5 hours in a cab. The things I needed most were a cold beer and Instagram. 

But this wasn’t a place to indulge in earthly pleasures – mine at least. I needed to get out.

Realising they had my credit card details – I prepared for a fight. I checked the terms and conditions and saw they had the right to take the full cash amount for any cancellation. They could take me for nearly £700 right away. 

Here’s the thing though: they didn’t.

They believed me. That a genuine mistake was made and the strict regime at “The Sanctuary” wasn’t what I had planned.

Instead of arguing the case they diligently checked that my card hadn’t been pre-authorised. 

They gave me access to their (previously off limits) wifi to search for a new place. 

They even offered for us to join them for lunch, complimentary on the house. 

They ordered a taxi for us and we left.

How often do we genuinely believe our customers?
That they aren’t out to rob us , to cheat us, or to get one over on us?

All of us say we are customer-centric. There isn’t a mission statement or set of values in existence that fails to suggest that we aren’t uniquely customer focused.

But it’s largely BS. Put it to the acid test and you’ll see that at the moment of truth most of our policies and procedures are designed to make people NOT believe that customers are telling the truth. 

A recent exercise we did in Bromford Lab showed 16 possible escalation points (I.e you need a manager if you want to do this for a customer) – in a single procedure.

A piece of work we did a few years ago showed that applicants for social housing faced over 30 questions and background checks. All aimed to ‘minimise risk’ to organisations. 

By contrast I recently had to contact Fitbit as the band on my fitness tracker was peeling away. They sent me a new device no questions asked.

When I broke my Kindle the first response from Amazon was “We’ll sort the problem out later – our first priority is to get you a new Kindle”. 

Back in the public sector I was told last week by our hospital that it could take two weeks to a get a prescription for some tablets to the local GP. We offered to pick it up and deliver it ourselves but were told it “wasn’t protocol”.  

The social sector exists on the basis that people are not to be trusted to manage their own life and wellbeing. By regarding people as passive recipients rather than as active informed customers it has become blighted with a culture of needless bureaucracy, checks and balances. 

The whole sector language of waiting lists, excess demand and channel shift puts the cause of all problems firmly at the feet of the public. How dare they put such demand on services?

Those with the power – the people who designed such inefficient and wasteful systems in the first place – have gotten away with it.

But maybe not for long. 

  • In a digital age the holy trinity of customer service is simplicity, transparency and autonomy. 
  • The organisations who think of their customers as burdens they have to bear are destined for extinction. 
  • Those services that treat people as problems to be fixed will be disrupted.

Designing services that believe in people – or eradicating needless ‘service’ altogether – takes a huge leap of faith. Believing in people often doesn’t look good in a business case. 

Empowering people to depart from policies where they can see it will damage a customer relationship takes real leadership and skill. 

If your organisation is run by accountants you’d never let a customer walk away £700 better off. 

By letting me do just that the hotel saved hours dealing with complaints to them, the booking agent and my credit card company. 

They also made sure of my recommendation to potentially thousands of people.

Trust in organisations is eroding – the standout reputation we can develop right now is one for believing in people. 

 So let’s start. 

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I’ve not included a link to the health resort in this post as I’ve suggested some changes to what I think is a misleading online presence. If you’re interested in a a digital, alcohol, meat and noise free stay in paradise I offer my condolences. 

Seriously – it looks amazing if you’re into that. Message me and I’ll pass on the details 😉    

How Not To Involve Customers

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In 1985 one of the biggest brands in the world nearly destroyed itself – by listening to what customers said.

Coca-Cola developed a product dubbed “New Coke” that was slightly sweeter than the original. Almost 200,000 blind taste tests were conducted and most participants said that they favoured New Coke over both the original formula and the companies bitter rival, Pepsi.

Hundreds of thousands of people can’t be wrong, right?

New Coke tanked – costing the company millions, with the CEO later commenting that they had “drawn a moustache on the Mona Lisa.”

There were two main lessons learned:

1: The research was flawed as it was based almost entirely on sip tests—a comparison of sips, not someone enjoying an entire drink. A blind test in a lab type environment was out of context compared to the experience of , say, drinking a Coke in the garden on a summer’s day

2: No-one realised the symbolic value and emotional involvement people had with the original Coke.  What customers said was “yes, this tastes a lot nicer” but when the product hit the market they behaved entirely differently. Influenced by their emotions and a status quo bias to keep things the same, they demanded the old Coke back.

Many of our organisations are still making these same mistakes – assembling focus groups and panels and involving users in ways that are wholly artificial compared to an actual customers lived experience.

In my last post I argued that we should know our customers, just never ask them what they want.  It drew quite a lot of comment and challenge with some points that merit further debate.

The top three charges were these:

1 – You’re saying professionals know best

No I’m not – but I do think the ‘customer knows best’ argument needs some challenge.

Whilst I agree that users are almost always closer to the problem than the average senior manager or executive, proximity to the problem doesn’t automatically make you the best person to solve it.

‘How can staff know the customer experience better than they do themselves?’ was a typical comment.

I think we are in danger of conflating two things here.  Experience of the problem and the creation of a potential solution.

As a road user I can sit in a traffic jam and moan about it all day long , but I can no more design you a solution than I can build a rocket to Mars.

Solutions require subject matter experts who have a deep knowledge of the root cause of the problem and can look through multiple lenses to craft a response.

The idea that a customer can provide that based on fairly limited knowledge (or interest) is naive.

2 – You’re saying customers are irrational

No – I’m saying we are all irrational and often make decisions accordingly.

At least three of my friends have chosen to holiday in the UK this summer citing concerns over terrorism. Statistically you’re 10 times more likely to die by falling down the stairs than you are in a terrorist attack – but none of them, as far as I know, are moving to bungalows.

Designing the right solution means testing for irrational behaviours.

And that can only come by observing what people actually do rather than basing decisions on what you think , or what they say, they’d do.

3 – You’re saying don’t listen to customers.

No – I’m saying just don’t let that be your only basis for decision making.

The research of Clayton Christensen found that companies that fail often listen to their customers too much.

As users we struggle to envisage the future. Indeed, asking someone to consider the future is a bit like saying, “Tell me how you will behave in five years time when I’ve rolled out the service I’ve just asked you about.”

At Bromford we are considering how we maximise customer input where it really adds value.

For us it’s the feed into the problem definition – and then at every stage through iterative testing, pilot and subsequent release (or shelving).

It’s balanced by robust internal insight measures as well. As this graphic by Tom Hartland shows – just because a customer likes something doesn’t mean it’s good business sense.

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You’ll see that customers are generally not involved at the initial design stage – where we see that it’s our job to find out what they need, without directly asking them.

It’s useful to frame this in three steps:

  1. Know your customer. What are their likes and dislikes?
  2. Know your product. What are you offering and what problem does it solve for them?
  3. Know the thing. What is the ONE thing that the customer wants that makes what you’re providing special?

Saying “don’t ask customers what they want” isn’t anti-customer – it’s saying you need to work much harder at really knowing them.

Muhtar Kent, the outgoing CEO at Coca Cola said this recently:

“We’re still talking about New Coke and its lessons, which become clearer with each passing anniversary. We no longer control—if we ever did—the conversation about our brands. But we must be part of it. We listen, we analyse, we respond.”

Right now I’ll bet your organisation is developing services, transforming existing ones or getting hugely excited about new product launches – based upon what people say they want.

One of them could be your New Coke.

Question is, which one?

Designing Out Problems Through Networks

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On Monday I attempted my swiftest ever return to work after a trip.

My plane from Zanzibar via Kilimanjaro and Doha landed at 6am. I was home by 8:30am, online by 9 and in work by 11.30am.

I felt like The Man Who Fell To Earth. I’d had 16 days without any problems. Now – they were back.

  • It started on the M6 – with our taxi driver talking of ‘six months of hell’ as new roadworks attempt to solve a perennially unsolvable problem.
  • It continued in work  as we talked of problems too big to take on at once – and the amount of resource needed to tackle them.
  • The media and the Twitter chat was all about big intractable social problems – health, housing and social care. The same big intractable problems we were talking about 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Here’s the interesting thing. In the 16 days previously I hadn’t encountered a problem – in circumstances where you absolutely might expect to find one.

  • My malaria meds arrived in time from an online retailer – supplied faster and more cheaply than the NHS could manage.
  • I took four flights that all took off on time and arrived ahead of schedule. The baggage, tracked digitally, arrived safely – as it always has with that carrier.
  • I stayed in four places booked online by Booking.com and Airbnb. Each one was expecting me, required no paperwork and I got exactly what I ordered.
  • I used about 10 taxi journeys and all of them arrived early – pre booked online or negotiated with local drivers who confirmed bookings through WhatsApp.

The only problem I had was that I bust my GoPro camera (human error) – but even this has been resolved and I have a new one just four days after I arrived back.

We can’t compare the problems of the UK and the social sector to a frivolous trip but there are lessons to learn.

  • New entrants are using the opportunities afforded by digital to step into the gaps and solve problems that have plagued people for years.
  • Smart organisations are reimagining their customer experience for a digital era rather than digitising existing services.
  • Platforms are replacing intermediaries – focussing on specialisms and performing the functions that organisations have traditionally found difficult.
  • Savvy entrepreneurs are spotting services ripe for disruption – introducing simple work arounds to turn distrusted services into trusted ones.
  • Communities are using technology to leapfrog the natural adoption cycle. In a village I stayed in most homes had no electricity or running water – and yet WhatsApp and mobile payments were common.
  • Additionally I observed the power of letting people solve their own problems – and shifting from the mindset of institutions as the default.

This is not a post about digital technology.  Although – everything that can be automated will be automated.

This is about networks. 

All of the things I have highlighted above have been improved by bringing in new entrants, building new relationships, forgetting the past and flexing business models.

Our organisations are not best placed to solve their own problems. They need help from a variety of sources – communities, entrepreneurs, technologists.

Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption. And right now multiple people are working on the biggest problems your organisation faces.

Organisations who fail to seize the opportunities will see someone else step into the gap and solve the problems for them.

Most of these people don’t work for you – and never want to.

The challenge is to bring these players into our  networks – reshaping our organisations with them.

Sitting around and waiting to see what they come up with is about the riskiest strategy we could adopt right now.

Holiday in Cambodia: 13 Innovations in Pictures

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In 1975 Cambodia attempted the most radical reinvention of society and community in history.

This was ‘Year Zero’ – a beginning of a new era where people would return to a mythic past. Self sufficiency and collectivism were promoted, technology and creativity mistrusted. City dwellers, professionals and intellectuals returned to toil the land alongside peasants.

About 1.7 million people , 20% of the population, died in the ensuing madness.

Proof – if it were needed – that not all social innovations are good ones.

Cambodia truly has been to hell and back. Today economic growth is robust, poverty is still high (but falling) and there is a burgeoning startup movement. Siem Reap has been named the top tourist destination in Asia and number 2 in the whole world.

Here’s my pictorial guide to 13 things I found creative, quirky or were simply great experiences.

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Making Flights Less Boring: I’m always interested to see how airlines are making the experience of spending 15 hours in a cramped metal tube less traumatic. In flight wifi is gradually rolling out and although far from perfect enables you to squeeze out an occasional instagram shot. I loved the Qatar Airways boxsets collecting themed films. Marvel cinematic universe and free drinks – perfect!!

 

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Tuk Tuk Customer Care: It’s hard to describe the traffic carnage of Phnom Penh. I asked a driver what the road rules were – he just shook his head sadly. But the proliferation of cheap transport encourages all sort of entrepreneurs determined to standout from the crowd.  This driver pulled over and bought us a couple of face masks to protect us from the fumes. Another gave us a couple of bottles of water. It’s like Uber – just without someone in Silicon Valley taking all the cash.

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Connected Travel: This driver has taken his Tuk Tuk to the ultimate bling level and installed free wifi. There are large parts of the UK with poor public transport and no connectivity – is it far fetched to imagine this as a solution? Note: I did see this Tuk Tuk but failed to get a picture. My instabuddy Miss Mel Travel kindly donated her pic – check out her instagram it’s awesome.

 

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The Future of Alternative Protein: Insects should become a staple of people’s diets around the world as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat. That’s not me saying that – but the UK government’s waste agency. Cambodians are a step ahead in that they’ve overcome the yuck factor. Seriously, this is healthy stuff and tastes a lot better than McDonald’s. Insect banks rather than food banks anyone? (I did do a shaky vine of me eating a deep fried tarantula but I wasn’t a fan. That abdomen was a bit mushy and funky)

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Weirdness: I asked a local guy the significance of this statue and he replied “everyone likes big dragon”. You can’t argue with that.

Wifi in the Sea: Our desire for connectivity knows no bounds. Hotels and bars are competing with each other to offer ever better wifi connections. This place on Otres Beach nailed it with connectivity that worked a good 100 metres into the ocean. My first experience of vining, instagramming and downloading music (the new Bowie album) from the water.

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RIP Dave: 48 hours later and Blackstar sounded a very different record. I didn’t get into Bowie until my mid twenties largely due to my good friend Kirsty Nicholls. (I spent most of my teenage years listening to Prince and Public Enemy and generally wishing I was black.) To anyone working in innovation Bowie will always be an inspiration for his constant experimentation – and total fearlessness when it came to failure. I’m not sure what it would look like if he’d designed public services – but they sure as hell wouldn’t be so boring. Salute.

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The Rise of the Selfie: So you get up at 4:30am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Problem is, so has every other tourist – all looking for the perfect photo. A load of semi-pro photographers stood around with the tripods getting annoyed whilst 14 year old girls with iphones and sticks got in their way. Photography just got democratised. Buyer’s tip: You need to rise above the crowds, size really does matter when it comes to a decent selfie stick…

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Business Doing Good: I visited some amazing non-profits in Cambodia but one thing struck me – they didn’t look like non-profits. I’m generalising terribly here but a lot of the social sector in the UK has an image problem and I think many could look and learn from examples in the developing world. The wonderful Sandan Restaurant  is part of an alliance of training restaurants working with youth in need. The students serve you aided by a teacher, giving them vital skills in the world of work. It’s busy – we had to wait for a table. But people aren’t there to be kind to kids – they are there for the awesome food.

 

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Frugal Innovation: A wallet made from trash and old noodle packets. This is an initiative of M’Lop Tapang a local non profit who help street kids and parents who might be tempted to send them out begging.  The profits go to supporting at risk families and keeping kids in school. Cambodia has a huge trash problem – so this helps in a small way to keep the streets cleaner too.  

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Keep It Simple Stupid: This was brilliant – a hotel that gives you an old Nokia with just three numbers in it. Dial 1 for reception. Dial 2 for your personal driver and if you ever get lost or are a bit drunk Dial 3 and we’ll come and bring you home. No other tech needed. I’ll be devoting a whole post to the radical retake of the traditional hotel concept from De Saraan Villa.

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Street Level Entrepreneurs: Loved this pop up bar. Literally a bar grafted onto the side of a motorbike. The guy drives around to where the crowds are. It would never work in the UK, we’d think of 50 health and safety reasons to prevent him from kickstarting his business.

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Mobile Child Care: OK.. so we do need some some rules…

 

 

A country bouncing back from the brink with fresh thinking , drive and determination. Loved my trip and hope some of the ideas inspire you as much as they did me.

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Nine Things On Customer Experience And Innovation From Indonesia

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I have a thing for travel.

For me it’s as much about productivity as pleasure. I operate best in the four weeks before I go on leave and the four weeks on returning. In an ideal world I’d have a break every 10 weeks or so – but we don’t yet live in the world of unlimited annual leave offered by the likes of Netflix.

Travel places me in a more creative state. New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain.

There’s some science in it too: people have studied the phenomenon of why great ideas occur while in the shower or while engaged in some other relaxing or enjoyable activity.

Studies have shown that when increased dopamine levels (the “feel good” transmitter released during pleasurable activities) combine with distraction our brains are in the best position to come up with inventive ideas.

I’ve just returned from Lombok in Indonesia and thought I’d capture some of the things that made me think differently.

Board a Plane with your Watch:

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This trip was the first ever in which I was entirely paperless – despite the fact I had six flights and six hotels to negotiate. Everything was stored in Apple Passbook or in Tripit , an app that organises an itinerary for you.

Emirates are absolutely rocking their online customer experience at the moment. On this trip they did two things that really made my life easier.

Firstly – my boarding pass was sent directly to my watch – how cool is that?

Secondly – they used bluetooth to automatically alert me when flights were boarding. No more craning your neck to look at 34 gates on a departure screen.

And although the in-flight wifi wasn’t free – it was good quality and affordable at just 66 pence.

SnoozeCube:

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So you’re stuck in transit at an airport for 8 hours. Too much time to spend shopping – but not enough to justify a hotel.

The solution?

SnoozeCube – a bookable by the hour bed for one or two people. It’s no frills – with just enough room to squeeze in your hand luggage. What about SnoozeCube in the office for that quick energiser nap?

School Kid Entrepreneurs:

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It took about two minutes of us having a drink in the shacks of Kuta, Lombok before our pasty white skin sent the local kid sellers into overdrive.

What I love about these guys is the way they use commercial thinking and excellent mastery of english to compete with each other to drive the best deal.

One of the older boys (9 or 10 I reckon) followed me to a local restaurant and told me about the YouTube business he started advertising his other goods.

Excellent english + street smarts + technology is a powerful combination. Southeast Asia is “Mobile-First” —  and this could be the breeding ground of future business models.

Karaoke Taxi Drivers:

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I was intrigued during the first couple of rides I had in Lombok at the musical tastes of the cab drivers. There seemed to be a predilection for MOR soft rock – The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Cranberries etc.

To me this seemed out of kilter with their age range (late 20s-  early 30’s). It wasn’t until a driver asked us if we minded him putting his “learning music” on that it clicked into place.

They were using karaoke CDs – that displayed the lyrics on screen – to learn better english.

This generation had slightly missed the internet , which came later to Asia , so were having to catch up on english lessons whilst they worked. Brilliant!

Open Living Spaces:

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If you don’t have the same problems in a community you can design very different homes.  On the idyllic island of Gili Meno I stayed in a place with a completely open living room and bathroom.

No windows, doors or locks downstairs. Only the bedroom was defensible. Anybody could walk in , take the flat screen away , empty your mini bar or steal your toiletries.

This was jarring at first and challenged western expectations – I even heard some people complain.

But you don’t need to design out crime when crime doesn’t exist.

With a local population of just 400, zero crime and no police force – you can think very differently about space.

Tourism will , inevitably, bring crime to Gili Meno – but it’s not happened yet.

Wifi in the Middle of Nowhere:

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The first place I stayed was down an unlit dirt track – off a road that didn’t even exist two years ago. It was full of dogs , chickens and in complete darkness at night.

But it had fibre optic broadband delivering 30meg consistently. Unlike in the UK – if people want to make it happen , they seem to make it happen.

We’d have just done a report about it.

House Building Combined with Community Building:

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House building seemed to be going on everywhere. Not big developer led sites – this was local housing by local people for local people.

I was told it was common for skills to be shared in the community to identify the people best able to help others build new homes for their family – or improve shared spaces.

Repairs were carried out by a member of the family being trained up to a sufficient standard by an elder.

I’m not necessarily endorsing this – but it seems a world away from the paternalistic model delivered by the social housing sector.

How Clear is your Pee?

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This is a great health nudge. Ladies , you’ll have to forgive me for this.

You’re standing at a public urinal doing a pee. Men will not, under any circumstances, make eye contact with each other in this scenario. You’ve only one place to look: straight ahead at the space usually reserved for gambling advertisements.

But at Bali airport they’ve gone with this nudge – which leaves you with no option other than to check the colour of your pee. Being a social sort of guy I tweeted mine was a four and quickly bought a bottle of water.

(Please note I’d zipped up and washed my hands when I took the photo. Got a few funny looks though.)

Pop-Up Everything:

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I’ve featured this kind of thing before – but I love the pop-up nature of life in parts of Asia.

Need a book? Here’s a pop up library.

Need a beer on the beach? I’ll bring my crate to you and a stool for you to sit on.

Got some fruit to sell? Here’s a roadside cabin for you to use as premises until you’ve sold it.

Some of this – but not all – is symptomatic of cultures without developed welfare systems – where community has to support community and constantly think of new ways to create value. It brings a wonderful vibrancy that I think many of our high streets have lost.

  • Unencumbered by bureaucracy.
  • Emboldened by technology.
  • Routed in strongly resilient communities.
  • A growing and highly motivated workforce.

South East Asia is rising – and could be on the way to disrupt us. It’s not just the likes of Uber we should watching..

Blog 6

Why Great Customer Experience Requires Great Design

Note to reader: This post was written on a smartphone over 14 days sitting on a beach. It was completed at an altitude of 35,000 feet after several white wines.

I’ve chosen to publish it unedited to retain a tropical , stream of consciousness vibe. Subsequently it’s a bit more disjointed and a lot longer than my usual posts.

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Almost everyone who returns from a truly great travel experience comes back to work with the same mindset.  Zen-like calm: pondering why the world has to be so complex.

They’ll change the system this time though. They’ll go through the organisation from top to bottom removing needless bureaucracy , silo thinking and those perverse policies that punish the customer.

A week later and they’ve given up.

It’s easier to just book another holiday.

I’ve just returned from Dhidhoofinolhu in the Maldives , staying with the wonderful LUX resorts. It was a surprise break for Karen’s (special) birthday. I’d stayed at another LUX resort about five years ago and was wowed at how they had created an environment – a stage if you will- for truly special occasions.

LUX operate towards the higher end of the travel market – they aren’t cheap. It’s Apple travel. But a lot of the things they do that are special just take thought, not money.

They design well , join the dots and execute brilliantly.

So few organisations design customer experiences.  They let them happen.

Design is thinking about the exact experience you want people to have.

It’s about creating the right environment, with the right ‘back-stage’ support – and then enabling your people to facilitate an experience that will be truly valued.

It’s not the sole preserve of upper-end travel brands. Anyone can do it.

Many would deny this. Indeed many in the public sector deny the existence of customers altogether.

Customers are regarded as tenants or service users or patients or something else. The public sector is different – people don’t have the same degree of choice so the rules of customer experience don’t apply.

Bullshit.

Total bullshit.

Service is service. You can create an environment for a great customer experience in almost any scenario.

The public sector excuse of a different operating context is just convenient cover for a paucity of imagination and chronic laziness.

Here’s five things that LUX did that we could all do too:

Think of the day your customer just had and make it a bit better

You’ve been travelling for 16 hours , you’re tired and hot. You’ve almost certainly forgotten something. “Do you have your camera ready sir?” , I was asked as we prepared for a seaplane transfer. “I’d suggest you get it ready – you are really going to want to capture this.”  Normally you get on a plane to be told to put away your electronic devices but these guys did the opposite, even making sure our devices were charged. “If you don’t have any charge take your chargers out of your cases now – we’ll have about 15 minutes to get you ready.”

That’s thinking about the day you’re customers have had – and thinking how you can help get the experience off to the very best start.

And on arrival – they didn’t just land. They did a long circuitous sweep of the island – for us to get the very best pictures of the experience. Awesome.

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Get up close with customers 

Managing By Wandering Around (MBWA) – the idea that service gets better just by having managers walking the floor – is one of most hackneyed phrases in the management lexicon.

There isn’t a manager alive that wouldn’t claim to do it.

Doing it and making it truly meaningful are two different things. I was struck at LUX at how the manager , Mamoun, met every single guest arriving by seaplane or speedboat. That’s a phenomenal number of customer interactions. Not only that – he bids farewell to every customer as they leave.  Additionally we had at least two conversations with him when he was wandering the restaurants seeing how customers were being treated.

That’s not just MBWA – that’s being ever present and making yourself as close to the customer as you can be. He even left us his business card!

Don’t rip people off if you don’t have to

Virtually every hotel I’ve ever been to tries to rip you off with international calls. But this place has turned that on its head with this free phone box that you can use to call anywhere in the world.

As it says in the picture below “We don’t like to see faceless international telecommunications companies profiteering off our guests through excessive roaming fees.”  This is designing services to be deliberately different. Plus I love how they’ve hosted this internet based service in a traditional box with retro phone.

A delightful mix of old and new tech. Innovation!

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Surprise people at every opportunity

So you’re walking along a picture perfect beach and everything’s great but the one thing you really need is a cool drink. You went out walking without thinking of taking a bottle of water. But the guys at LUX have thought of this and put these juice and water stations in the trees with a couple of seats for you to take five.

Most organisations don’t think of these small things that go a long way to creating an awesome customer experience. Or they think of them but just can’t be bothered to implement them as the only person who truly benefits is – the customer!

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Also who can the resist the idea of a treasure hunt for a secret bar – that moves around the island to a different location every day? Genius!

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Design the ending to be as good as the beginning

You’ve got an outgoing customer. They are leaving you. They’ve spent their cash and you don’t really need to bother anymore.  That’s how most organisations treat the departing customer. Here they did things differently.

They noted the food we most enjoyed most throughout the holiday (admittedly I kept raving over the reef fish curry) and did a special dish on the last night even though it wasn’t on the menu.

They noted our favourite spot in the day so set up a night table for us with our feet in the water. They gave us some handmade gifts and some a couple or personalised t-shirts that probably cost a couple of pounds all in.

But it’s not the economic value of an experience that leaves an impression. It’s the emotional.

The way you left somebody feeling. The fact that they even noticed the small important things that you value.

Here they designed an experience from beginning to end and executed it flawlessly, without the technology and systems that too many of us think will transform our services.

Your next IT or business transformation programme is virtually doomed to fail. It’s likely to be focussing on your organisational aspirations rather than those of your customer. You’re making it far too complicated.

The challenge is how to design your business to be more simple and human in a complex and digital world.

For the first time in a long time this trip made me think about career change. I came away pretty envious of Mamoun and the experiences he was creating day after day.  I’m wondering if I can ever achieve truly radical change in the sector I work in.

I’m bored of reports and meetings and conferences and campaigns. I’m bored of mediocrity, barriers, and things taking years that should take weeks.

We shouldn’t even need Innovation Labs and Think Tanks and Accelerators (there weren’t any on Dhidhoofinolhu – I checked).

We should be redesigning services and making them truly astonishing.

So here’s my new mantra:

  • Let’s redesign from start to finish rather than just making our services a lighter shade of grey.
  • Let’s challenge ourselves what we’d do with unlimited resources and work back from there.
  • Let’s surprise our customers at every opportunity and set a stage for unique experiences.
  • Let’s make people talk about us rather than keep talking about ourselves.

I’ve been back five days. And I’m still hopeful.

It’s our job to give customers a story to tell, not tell it for them…

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“Guinness is lovely but it will always be the same, a (delicious) black and white drink – simple and unchanging. Subway do nice sandwiches.

Lego make little bricks.

The work of housing associations, councils, the NHS and other government departments is about our lives: it’s dramatic, it makes a difference to the way we live every day and the stories are changing and fascinating.

Being important doesn’t mean being tedious. Having serious intentions doesn’t stop you from being entertaining.”Helen Reynolds

I used to dread people asking me what I do for a living.

If you work for a Housing Association you’ll know the feeling. Most people will simply look blank and confused at your explanation.  They search around for a bit, visibly straining as they try to understand. There’s almost always an awkward silence before they suggest:

“Is it a a bit like council housing?”

“Well, yes. It’s a bit like council housing.”

The conversation quickly moves on to talk about anything – anything – other than housing associations.

I gave up describing myself as working in housing about three years ago. I started to say I worked for a charity.

Charity is a great word.

It says you must be a decent sort of person.  And it travels well.

Charity works as well in Asia or Africa as it does down your local pub. It says you are interested in people. That’s always a good thing.

A couple of years ago I did a brief social experiment about how the housing sector talked about people online. The results were telling:

 Less than 8% of the stories we told were directly about the people living in our homes and communities.

On November 12th it was #HousingDay – which aims to celebrate those very people and their achievements. The first event in 2013 reached thousands and trended on Twitter.

Ade Capon , the founder of the campaign says for 2014 he’d like to inspire and engage customers to create and send their own stories – capturing their aspirations and ambitions.

Ade is a very modest guy who has used the power of social media to create something that a whole sector was previously incapable of.

Cynics have accused #HousingDay , and similar campaigns that it has inspired,  of being mere window dressing. A bit of digital fluff that gets sector people talking to each other but fails to make wider social impact.

I disagree. Anything that tries to shift the narrative away from sloganeering and messaging towards conversation and story telling has to be applauded.

As I posted recently– there are nearly 4 million people living in social housing but we hear little from them. That’s why the narrative for social housing gets so little traction. It’s largely a campaign run by social housing professionals for social housing professionals.

However things are changing – the past 12 months has seen a range of customers starting blogs , campaigns and websites. Their voice is beginning to take centre stage.

The organised customer involvement movement which consists of formalised committees and bodies has failed to adapt to the digital age. I predicted three years ago that they would be replaced by a self organised movement of individuals who use social technology to seek wider change.

This is scary to many but we should find it tremendously exciting. Our organisations are not important in themselves and we should welcome the digital freedoms being explored by customers.

People will listen to any story if it is engaging enough.

My own blog started out talking to a housing audience. Today over 80% of subscribers are not from a housing background.  I’ve learned that if you talk about the difference you make rather than what you do – people will engage.

And if you listen to them too  – and build a conversation rather than a broadcast – people will share ideas with you.

Housing , much like health , care and support has a journey to go on.

  • We have to engage hearts and minds not through obsessively pushing a “message” – but by developing a lifelong relationship with people. Relationships built upon hectoring or shouting are not sustainable.
  • We need to identify shared passions and interests and continue having social conversations – on and offline.
  • We have to stop the seemingly endless rounds of awards ceremonies too. Apple , Google and Microsoft are some of the most valuable brands in the world but I never hear them going on about the awards they have won. Assuming they even enter awards in the first place. They let the people who have bought into their story do the talking.

It’s interesting that Helen Reynolds used Lego as a comparison.

Lego make interlocking plastic bricks.

  • What they are known for is their innovation and the creativity they inspire in people.
  • They have kept themselves endlessly relevant to different generations by keeping the story alive through video games , clothing, even theme parks.
  • They have founded a lifelong relationship with people through exceptional design and a focus on , guess what , the customer.

I work for an organisation that exists to do more that put bricks together. It tries to unlock potential in people.

Let’s put that centre stage.

Lessons in Customer Experience from Apple

Apple has a clearly defined mission of creating products that are “insanely great.”  

Simply stating that ambition achieves little.  It is Apple’s commitment to its values, such as integrated architecture and clean design (even on the inside of the device where no one will see it), that defines its products in the marketplace.  

That’s what makes Apple the most valuable company in the world – Greg Satell

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In 2012 I publicly deserted Apple – announcing I was fed up with their arrogance. I crossed the divide to Android. People had quite a laugh about it on Twitter – many predicting I’d be back in 12 months. They were wrong though.

I was back in six.

I’m not an Apple fanboy. Far from it. Organisations are just a bunch of people. And they carry with them the same unique strengths and flaws that exist in all of us.

But something was different during my six months away. It just didn’t feel the same.

The best brands and organisations draw an emotional response from us – we become attached to how they make us feel. And we’ll almost always choose how something feels over any other factor , including cost.

Yesterday I visited Apple in London as a guest of Housemark.

Apple have a notoriously secretive culture so we were asked not to photograph our visit and not to use social media. (That’s some ask for me – I was told off within five minutes for trying to post to Instagram…)

For that reason and out of respect to our hosts I’m not revealing anything here that isn’t already in the public domain. I’ve included a couple of quotes but paraphrased them. 

Every great organisation I have visited has a distinct culture and Apple are no different.

As I explained in my last post – this is one of the reasons people may dislike you. Many people , whatever they say , actually like the bland and the mediocre . They are suspicious of those pushing forward. 

And you certainly don’t get to be the biggest brand on the planet without pushing forward and upsetting a few people. 

What can we learn?

Keep it simple , simple, simple: 

Apple are obsessive over keeping things simple – the very thing some of their detractors despise.

Unlike many parts of the public sector, which revels in its own complexity, Apple have recognised that people fundamentally love simplicity and great design. So they shape their business around that purpose. 

They focus on doing a small number of things exceptionally well. Their entire product range can fit on one slide. They got to be the biggest by doing the least.

By comparison, most of us focus on doing lots of things in very average ways.

Relentlessly focus on your customer experience:

I’ve visited so many organisations over the past fifteen years and everyone talks about the importance of customer experience.

Few actively demonstrate it. Fewer still make it their single focus. Apple show end to end design around the customer.

  • The first experience of walking into a store.
  • The lack of signage which encourages you to talk to a member of staff.
  • Even obsessing down to the quality of the packaging (how can it be improved and made more beautiful?)

The belief is – focus on the end user at all times rather than what everyone else is doing. Profit will follow if you stick to that purpose.

Steve Jobs was notorious for his disdain of focus groups. Apple claim though to listen very carefully to what customers want. What they don’t do is let customers design the products for them. 

It’s through this extensive study of customer needs that they know how to make the experience easy for new users, while also meeting the needs of those who are more sophisticated. As my Mum said to me at the weekend “I can’t use the internet but I can use the iPad.”

Innovate as fast as you can. Then innovate again:

Through having control of their supply chain Apple can introduce changes more quickly than others.  The ethos is to develop initial product within 1- 3 months and then refine it.

This seems a world away from most of our delivery where service change can take not just months but years.

As Cris Beswick has said – only 3% of UK companies are able to get ideas to market in less than six months. It’s not what they are doing that’s any different, it’s how they are doing it. 

Many in the public sector focus on big organisational change which they then become too frightened to ever implement. Apple talk of the “relentless pursuit of incremental innovation” which many often ignore. 

If you’ve got a year long project it probably won’t ever happen or it’ll be out of date before delivery.

It’s the mantra we are trying to install at Bromford: Start small , test quickly and ditch it if it doesn’t work.

A final question to Apple as we left the building: “What are you then? A tech company?” 

The answer:

No – a customer experience company.”

I wonder how many of us would describe ourselves that way?

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