7 Customer Experience lessons courtesy of the horse meat and Amazon scandals


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What is the central insight that arises from the discipline of systems and systems thinking? It is this

Everything is interconnected with everything else

You may be asking yourself, what has this to do with Customer Experience. Everything. For one it means that when one is up for architecting/designing/delivering the Customer Experience it is not enough to simply focus on the service delivered by Customer Services. Nor is it enough to look at interactions, touchpoints, and the front office functions of marketing, sales and customer service. These are the two essential facts that are not adequately grasped, at best, for many, they are simply platitudes. Let’s explore.

Horse meat scandal: Supermarkets battle to regain customer confidence

By now you must have heard that there is another scandal which started in the UK and now spans Europe. It is the horse meat scandal. According to the Telegraph, a pro business newspaper:

A hard-hitting report by MPs on Thursday said that the scale of contamination in the supermarket meat supply chain was “breathtaking”. The cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that consumers had been “cynically and systematically duped”, as “elements in the food chain” had pursued profits by substituting beef for cheaper horse meat.

And if that is not enough, the same piece goes on to say:

Although blame for the contamination lies with suppliers rather than retailers, one long-serving senior supermarket executive described the situation as “pandemonium”. “I was around for foot-and-mouth and BSE and this feels like it’s on that scale,”

Think about the Customer Experience. Has the experience of customers been affected negatively by the scandal? Here is what the Telegraph newspapers says:

Shoppers already appear to be voting with their feet. Meat sales in independent family-run butchers and farm shops have risen by 75pc in some areas while analysts believe sales of cheaper processed meat in supermarkets have fallen sharply. A survey found that almost half of all shoppers will avoid buying processed meat from affected supermarkets.

Ask yourself what has changed? Specifically, what customer interaction, touchpoint, and experience at that touchpoint has changed? It occurs to me that from a functional touchpoint view nothing has changed. So how is it that the Customer Experience has changed? From a customer viewpoint everything has changed. They have found that they cannot trust the supermarkets. And as such the Customer Experience of supermarkets, at least when it comes to buying meat, has been impacted negatively.

What specifically does the horse meat scandal unconceal for us? I say that it unconceals the importance of the supply chain in so far as it impacts the ‘product’ that is offered to the customer. Hold that thought.

Amazon scandal: using neo-Nazi guards to keep workforce under control?

Can you exclude examining the supply chain, as a part of your Customer Experience effort, if it does not impact the quality of the product which touches the customer? The obvious answer appears to be yes. I say you might just want to think again. Why?

I am an Amazon customer and up to now I have been neutral about the values/impact of Amazon. As such I have bought a lot of stuff from Amazon over the years. Now, I am conflicted. Over the past few days the desire to buy several products has shown up and yet I have not found myself able to buy. Why? Because I have been given a glimpse into the supply chain practices of Amazon. And what I stand for in this world conflicts with what Amazon is up to in its supply chain. According to this Independent article:

Amazon is at the centre of a deepening scandal in Germany as the online shopping giant faced claims that it employed security guards with neo-Nazi connections to intimidate its foreign workers.

Germany’s ARD television channel made the allegations in a documentary about Amazon’s treatment of more than 5,000 temporary staff from across Europe to work at its German packing and distribution centres.

The film showed omnipresent guards from a company named HESS Security wearing black uniforms, boots and with military haircuts. They were employed to keep order at hostels and budget hotels where foreign workers stayed. “Many of the workers are afraid,” the programme-makers said.

7 Customer Experience lessons

I say one should not waste the insight that comes from these scandals. So I offer you 7 lessons that show up for me as result of these scandals and my work on Customer Experience.

1. Clearly Customer Experience, as a construct and as a discipline, is more than simply the service delivered by the Customer Services function.

2. Customer Experience is more than individual, or even the sum of, customer interactions with the company at touch points via specific channels.

3. Customer Experience is the delivery of the promise (value proposition) and the fulfilment of customer expectations across the complete customer life-cycle.

4. The product or service that draws the customer to purchase is a core/critical part of the Customer Experience and cannot simple be taken for granted and ignored. I wrote a while ago that the Customer Experience folks cannot simply ignore the product.

5. The supply chain matters as it impacts the Customer Experience, as such it cannot simply be ignored by those of us working on the Customer Experience.

6. Everything is connected to everything else. This means that what happens in the ‘back office’ or ‘out of sight’ of the customer, including HR practices and technology decisions, indirectly impacts the Customer Experience.

7. To excel and compete at Customer Experience one needs to get that Customer Experience has to be the organising doctrine for the whole organisation- it has to be a way of life for every person, every part of the organisation including its supply chain and channel partners.

And finally

It occurs to me that it is worth sharing this lesson. It is lesson that is not appreciated nor heeded especially by the Tops. It is a lesson that comes from the nature of systems:

One cannot escape indefinitely the long-term consequences of short-term orientated behaviour. Or as my father taught me at the age of 5, if you ‘steal’ then expect to get caught sooner or later.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. Maz,
    As you well know I'm a fan of your humanity and enjoy experiencing your indignation at those that fall short. Both examples today are up there with the best headlines that a table thumping editor could hope for.

    Trouble is this. In both cases, we know the people in the know, already knew. So what's the real moral of the tale? To encircle the baddies with so many whistleblowers that they behave slightly better? Insist that organisations do the right thing – somehow? However broad we extend the scope of customer experience, it ain't equipped to deal with the deeper root cause you are hinting at.


  2. Hello Martin

    I thank you for being a fan of my humanity. It is what I value most about myself, it is what I have to offer, to contribute to you, to my fellow human beings, to life itself.

    Let’s take a look at that which you are pointing at. Yes, the people at the Top knew what was going on. That is the case for the nhs mid staffs scandal, the Hillsborough scandal, the MPs expenses scandal, the phone hacking scandal, this food scandal, the Apple scandal, the Amazon scandal. Arguably, Tops are keen to outsource key parts of the supply chain so that they can get the cost benefits whilst distancing themselves legally from the shady practices that deliver these cost savings. And of course, it makes a convenient social excuse and allows for moral indignation: we trusted our suppliers and they let us down.

    So you and I are in agreement on what is so. We live in an age where making it rich quickly/easily, no matter what it takes and whose well being is scarified, is the meaning and measure of life. And this takes you, me, lots of other people to play along. We do play along and are complicit in what is so.

    Will making the entire company fall under the umbrella of Customer Experience fix it? No. My point is not that it will be fixed. My point is that if the organisation wants to do well through a customer experience based strategy then it is worth remembering that everything counts including what happens in the hidden areas of the company. Why? Because it comes out eventually. And now it is easier for it to come out as social media gives everyone a platform for speaking/sharing. Put differently, it is not as easy to con people and get away with it.

    Turning to whistleblowers, you make an interesting point. Imagine a world where anyone/everyone who ends up blowing the whistle on legally and ethically dubious practices is hailed as a hero AND is ensured financial security for the rest of their lives. That is to say that someone who thinks about blowing the whistle never has to worry about money and is assured honour/dignity. Now see the revolutionary implications. Do you see them? Our world would turn upside down: all the dirty laundry would be out in the open. Which is why the harshest repression against whistleblowing is within the realms of government and public institutions contrary to what Mr Hunt would have us believe.

    Yet whistleblowing is not enough. Whistleblowing has to be coupled with harsh sentences for people especially the Tops as they are the ones that get to design/control the system that generates the behaviour.

    Is this likely to occur? I am not a fortune teller. I am an ordinary guy who cares about my fellow human beings and strives to be a decent human being. And leave footprints of kindness in the sands of time.


  3. Maz,

    As ever, you manage to sketch a world that might be if only….And it’s worth remembering what we all get used to tolerating.

    I agree that those that choose to walk the straight and narrow with have plenty of lessons they can learn from these grubby little episodes. It is also interesting that CE has become a total discipline across every part of the business. At some point it must mature surely into being good business practice for the C-Suite and not be a separate activity


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