Gokey QuoteToday’s post has been written by Chris Luxford, a Senior Partner at The ASPIRE! Group and an old friend and colleague. Chris is passionate about CX and loves helping organisations change to create real innovation and differentiation and deliver their strategic goals.


Long ago the service a customer received was massively personal.  They entered the only general store in town, everyone knew their family, their likes, dislikes, hobbies, their sizes and probably what they regularly purchased.  The service went beyond mere provision of goods, the store owner may have helped on advice, guidance or other recommendations on topics far beyond the realms of their store.

But the customer only had access to the goods they sold and rarely any competitive offerings.

Jump to 2015, the exact opposite is in play.

Consumers have more choice in offerings then they could ever want or need, in nearly every single aspect of their lives, often in areas they didn’t even realise there was such fierce competition.

Yet now, no company really has any depth of “real” knowledge about their customers.  Sure they have tons and tons of data and information, but they don’t really “know” their customers.

How did it come to this ?   How did we go from great experiences but limited offerings, to unlimited offerings but crappy experiences ?

To address this companies have spent the last 30 years deploying two different kinds of robots.  Both have fundamentally failed to re-dress the imbalance.

The first robot was the Call Center Agent.  Yep a humanoid asset they was told what to say, how to say it, when to say it and driven by all sort of rules and fixed processes.  As an example I had a client that empowered their front line staff to give a maximum credit to a customer of $8.36 per day.  Huh ?  How did they come up with that, well it’s a macro global number that was budgeted each day then applied to a complex formula of how to distribute that total budget across their entire phone based, web based and store based frontline resources.  As a customer if you got given an $8.36 credit you’d be insulted.

But it’s not just Call Center Agents that fall into the robot category.  Most operational staff in most organisations are also driven by rigid processes and policies.

Knowledge worker is an oxymoron when it comes to how most organisations deploy human resources at the frontline of customer experience.

Recognising that the efficiencies of service at scale, had  created bland emotionless customer experiences, companies commenced investing in the second type of robot.  Software.  It started with CTI and IVRs, then moved to Big Data analytics, sentiment analytics, speech recognition, web sites, self service apps and more recently omni-channel and predictive analytics.

While these have created improvements in the eyes of customers in the areas of ease and effort, statistics show that customers still feel companies don’t care about their experience.  These technology robots are still driven by shareholder outcomes, not customer outcomes.  Customers know that.

Yet like everything in life there are always exceptions.

Across the world I always ask Customer Experience professionals from diverse industries and backgrounds, who are the best companies for customer experience? A common list keeps popping up in regards to the companies that people believe break the mould and deliver both great experiences and great offerings.  They really “know” their customers.

You know this list – you probably thought of half the last below before you even read it.  No matter where in the world I ask the question, name the best CX companies, the list almost always comes out the same;

  • Apple
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Nordstroms
  • Zappos
  • Amazon
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Chipotle

Generally a few others specific to the country in which the question is being asked also pop up.

These are all well documented as to why they are so well known for great CX.  Google any of them with the terms case study or customer experience and there is article after article examining their success.

I’ve done this and there are three themes that are common and foundational to all of these companies.

One – They lead not follow

If you look at each and study what was ground breaking about them, then look across the market today, most of what they do their competitors do.  But in every case they did it first and did it first by years, not months or weeks.  They broke the rules, they did the opposite of what everyone else was doing and they did it long before.  They re-invented what the customer could and should expect.  Rarely this was in just one area, usually in many.  Southwest employed for attitude, gave paid maternity leave, empowered staff to own the customer experience in flight, did all this way back in the 70’s.  Zappos offered overnight delivery, 12 months full money back refunds, and if they didn’t have what you liked they would search competitors catalogues to find you what you needed – 15 years ago. Apple created the iTunes / app store ecosystem, long before we realised we needed so many apps in our lives and long before we realised we wanted a phone with no buttons.  In short these companies all had the courage and were driven by curiosity to lead rather than follow.

Two – It’s all about the customer!

One thing to say it, another to do it.  Many companies say they are customer focussed, customer centric, but yet dis-empower, measure and hold people accountable to very non-customer metrics (think about every call center you’ve been in recently).  Curious and courageous companies realise that if you empower your staff to do the right things and trust them to create the win / win, they will.  Again all these companies trust and empower their employees, they remove the process and policy barriers, they overcome their fear.  But it’s not open slather, they achieve this mutually rewarding trust by establishing learning cultures.  There aren’t any “wrong” situations or actions, rather everything is a learning opportunity.  They scale learning and collaboration so that everyone grows and evolves together.  Curiosity through learning becomes the platform for great experiences

Three – They know they don’t have all the answers

This humility breeds curiosity.  They explore non conventional ideas, concepts, industries, approaches.  They seek input from the outside, be it customers, partners, consultants.  But again these typically aren’t from their industry or domain expertise.  They look beyond what is, to what could be.  Some argue this is a skill great leaders are born with, an ability to see the future like no one else can.  In my view that’s rubbish, If you look at the leaders of the companies listed, none of them developed and built the amazing organisations they have on their own, they all acknowledged that the collision of thought, healthy and constructive debate, and the ability the challenge the status quo by using outsiders was essential to delivering on points 1 and 2 above.  If you are not curios and humble you won’t explore questions you aren’t willing to hear the answer to, an answer that will take you way outside your comfort zone

Bonus Fourth commonality – They don’t deploy robots

All of the companies listed above are B2C companies.  That is interesting in of itself, especially for B2B companies.  Clearly B2B companies have a long way to go when it comes to experiences.  But the fourth commonality which really summarises the 3 points above, is these companies do not deploy robots.  Sure they have call centres, they have retail stores, they have processes and policies.  They have to to run an operation as global and large as they all do.  But the assets and resources they deploy are all empowered, trusted and focused on customer outcomes first, employee outcomes second and shareholder outcomes third.

In summary there is a very positive upside to all this.  If you are reading this going, oh no, I’ve only got robots, and to match or better these companies listed above is a bridge far far to far for our organisation, fear not.  That list above is almost always the common list +/- a few more.  There are millions of companies globally.  Yet only 8-12 ever get mentioned in that list.  Yes transition from a shareholder driven model to a genuine customer focussed model is going to take a lot of change, but few are doing it.  Those that do, even slowly, over time, and in a structured way, will win.  Why? because those that have the curiosity and courage are in the minority and most companies won’t change.  They will keep deploying robots, just bigger, better, faster ones.

This post originally appeared on Chris’ blog on LinkedIn. Follow him for his excellent regular posts on CX, innovation, and tech disruption.