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

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.

If You’re Still Shying Away From Using Technology To Improve Customer Experience – You’re Doomed

You must relentlessly ask: Is this harder for the customer to do? Relentlessly. Because, today, in an increasing number of areas, if it’s not easy-to-use, it’s dead in the water. – Gerry McGovern

Re-entry into the world of work after immersion in a completely different culture is always a disorienting experience.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Myanmar – a country with a complex and troubled past and present – and one of the most fascinating examples in the world of technological growth.

After decades of being cut off from the rest of the world, internet users in Myanmar increased by 97% in 1 year. And 70% of those are mobile users.

If you travel to places like Asia – where innovation is running riot due to a lack of legacy systems and thinking – you can see that change takes place in weeks rather than years.

There’s no ‘change management’ or time spent preparing people for change as folk have lived their lives facing one seismic shock after another.

For three weeks I’ve not dealt with any paper, any spreadsheets,  and very few emails. I’ve negotiated seven hotels, seven flights, taxi’s and boat trips through a mix of apps, increasingly powered by automation and artificial intelligence.

In some respects coming home seems like arriving in the third world, rather than coming from it.

One of the most interesting developments on this trip is how artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots have broken through to the mainstream. On many occasions, I’ve found myself updating hotel plans through a chat application very aware I’m not actually talking to a human.

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When we talk about AI and automation we too often focus on the loss of jobs and of meaningful human contact rather than the value-added to the customer.

I missed two connecting flights but both were rebooked for me before I even got off the plane. 

A temporary hotel was arranged for me in Dubai before I knew anything about it.

I didn’t have to send emails to hotels confirming arrival details as a chatbot did it for me. 

In the West, it seems more time is spent writing blogs worrying about the threat of AI than implementing AI to introduce better customer experiences.

The big threat to our jobs isn’t actually AI, it’s our inability to move away from existing business models and to explore new ones.

What we are seeing in customer experience now is really interesting and splits us into roughly six camps:

  • Those who are disengaging from AI as it’s science fiction or a bit spooky.
  • Those who are actively resisting it because it threatens their incumbent position and business model.
  • Those who think it will upset their staff or their customers – as if somehow their staff and customers live in a parallel universe where Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google don’t exist.
  • Those who see it as an opportunity to cut costs or realise benefits to the organisation.
  • Those who are seeing this technology as a way to move to better and more personalised customer experiences.
  • Those who see this technology as a way to transition to entirely new business models providing new opportunities for customers.

If your organisation is going to shy away from using technology to streamline its customer experiences, then you’re obviously doomed.

However, the debate is more nuanced than that.

On leaving my delayed flight with my first 24 hours travel plans in tatters I was met by a real-life human being. She handed over my new tickets and explained how to get to the hotel they had given me. She explained that all meals would be paid for and apologised for the inconvenience.

It’s this sweet spot we need to aim for – where technology becomes an enabler to a greater purpose.

People trained in listening and empathy supported by AI that understands and is able to adapt and personalise complex service offerings.

I’d buy that. 


 

 

I’m chairing an event on 7th February in London that will consider issues around AI and automation in the context of housing sales – you can book for free here 

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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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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.

Digital by Design: Making the connected organisation more human

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I must get at least four or five emails every day offering me help becoming digital by default.

Every single one gets deleted. Not because I don’t need help , but because they talk of cost savings and efficiency rather than beautifully intuitive service design or of creating a rewarding customer experience.

Don’t believe me? This is how the agenda to get more customers using online services is described (“Channel Shift” – ugh!) on a prominent consulting website:

Achieving channel shift is what the council website is all about – about moving customer contacts and transactions from more expensive options (people) to less expensive options (the web)  and moving from services which require staff to be involved to those which do not.

I’ve not provided a link to spare blushes but you can google it if you think I just made that up.

I agree that those ‘more expensive options’ (formerly known as people) do cost quite a bit. But they can be pretty wonderful at connecting with fellow humans, personalising service and , you know , just being nice to chat to once in a while.

If you listen to people who want to remove the humanity from organisations it will almost certainly lead to the death of your business.

Many who glorify channel shift and tech have forgotten that most of us are in the business of providing human centered services. And our digital presence should embrace this , not seek to repel it. The reason that social networks are so popular – with their gossip ,  selfies and memes – is they celebrate our humanity and the power of our connections.

The businesses that are truly successful in changing the way customers contact them have done it by prioritising a better customer experience overall – not through just moving people to a cheaper channel as though they were an inconvenience. 

I recently attended a talk by O2. In the past two years they have seen over 2 million fewer phone calls as people increasingly choose to use their web and social offerings.

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I’m a long term customer of O2 and have seen their progression to digital up close. Dealing with them via social media or Live Chat is mostly a joy. After using their digital services you simply wouldn’t think to phone them.

Here’s some things I took away:

Design your organisation for mobile customers

As mobile becomes the default way the internet is accessed so the culture must be designed around serving people on the go. Designed around people who are time poor and impatient. If you haven’t tested how your customer service works from a smartphone , accessed whilst sitting on a bus – you simply haven’t tested it properly. 

Invest in the right team and the right skills

Just because you have a team that has delivered an outstanding call centre does not mean they are equipped to serve the connected customer. It requires new skills , thinking and a culture of digital leadership.

To drive change people will need to be retrained. To drive transformational change you will need new people.

In a social business people are recruited to speak like real people and not to broadcast. Leaders implicitly understand social. What companies like O2 are achieving is the exact opposite of the prevalent public sector culture of “I don’t understand digital – I”ll get some 22 year old to do it for me”.

Be relevant in time

Response times matter – particularly in social where service expectations work in minutes rather than hours. O2 were generous enough to name the leaders in this field as the airline KLM – if you haven’t seen their wonderful Twitter feed that estimates the time it will take to give you a response – it’s worth a look.

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If you’re going to do social – be social

O2 have a lively, social and fun brand. They are known for the humour and unique tone of voice in their social response.  But the message is clear – don’t try and be cheeky and fun if you’re not. It’s embarrassing. Establish your brand values and stick to them.  By the way – they didn’t let me down when I name checked them on Twitter during the conference.

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What can we learn? The digital agenda risks getting derailed by the rush to technology as the solution for everything. It’s inherently flawed. As Tony Smith has said – only 25% of great customer experience is about technology, 75% is made up of people and deployment.

Really we shouldn’t be talking about channel shift and digital by default at at all. We should be talking about digital by design.

I will never phone O2 again because they have designed a Live Chat and social experience that is rewarding to me as a customer.

I went back to my organisation with the aim to make our digital experience so enjoyable that people choose not to phone us anymore. It’s an important shift of emphasis.

Let’s stop talk of “less expensive options”. Let’s use the power of digital connectivity to make our organisations more human , not less.