Customer-Centricity: a lesson or two on what it takes to influence change


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My situation and my experience (as lived)

Unless there is some unforseen dramatic change I am going to be popping pills in the morning to help my metabolism (under active thyroid) and popping pills at night (genetic lottery means my liver produces to much cholesterol) until I drop dead. Being into zen I totally get that is what is so and I am totally ok with that, now: without thinking I pop the pills in the morning and the evening. Now and then I get a surprise: running out of the pills then I get that I need to go and get a repeat prescription.

The prescription is for 56 tablets and I need to give a minimum notice of 48 hours to get my prescription. What does that mean practically? About every 50 days I find my prescription, walk to the doctor’s surgery (during opening hours), find the prescription box and slot my prescription into it, come back usually three days later, wait for someone to serve me, ask for my prescription, wait for someone to find it, take the prescription, walk to the pharmacy, sign and hand in the prescription, wait another 10 – 20 minutes and viola, I finally have the medicine I need.

The whole thing shows up in my world as ‘hassle’ and ‘wasted time/effort’ leading me to think there must be a better way to get the job done.

Spock says it just does not make sense, it is not logical Captain!

Let’s look at the situation through Spock’s rational mind:

  • The doctor has told me that I need these medicines for the rest of my life;
  • Every 50 days, work is created for me, the receptionist at the surgery, the person dealing with the repeat prescription, the sales assistant at the pharmacy and the chemist dispensing the medicines;
  • Why does this ritual have to happen every 50 days or so? Why not do this once a year when I typically have an annual assessment to see if my dosage has to go up for down?
  • If it was done once a year then the workload (for all concerned) would go down by a factor of 6!

I make a request to do things differently and an interesting conversation occurs

Yesterday I turned up at the doctor’s surgery (medical practice) and asked to speak to the person dealing with repeat prescriptions. In a couple of minutes I am face to face with the lady that does the ‘dispensing’. I make my request: “Right now the medicines don’t even last me two months. Please prescribe me enough medicine so that I only have to come back every three months.” Here is the exchange that follows:

She: “That is what we do here. It is our usual practice to dispense enough medicine for two months.”

Me: “Sorry, but the tablets do not even last two months”

She: “Yes, they do! Our usual practice is to dispense medicine that lasts two months.”

Me: “Let’s say that the average month is 30 days. Two months make 60 days. You prescribe 56 tablets. That is less than two months. You do not even prescribe enough medicine to last two months.”

She: “A month for us is 4 weeks. Two months are 8 weeks. That makes 56 tablets and it is our usual practice to prescribe enough medicine for two months!”

Me: “OK you prescribe enough medicine for two months. Why? For what reasons is it just two months?”

For the first time the lady facing me stops to think – to reflect on what is so. Then we continue our conversation:

She: “That is just what we do. It is our usual practice to prescribe for two months.”

Now I stop and think. The zen aspect of me wakes up and realises that I have constructed and engaged in a futile discussion. Our conversation, our encounter is not about the subject matter at hand. No, no, no! I have allowed it to become a matter of will: who is right and who is wrong; who will dominate and who will concede; who gets to win and who gets to lose. I then continue our conversation:

Me: “Please it will really help me out if you were to prescribe enough medicine for three months. And if you do that then we will all benefit. You will only need to deal with my prescription four times a year rather than six times a year. That will save you time and effort. So, what is your answer? Yes or No?”

She: “I’ll prescribe you 84 tablets. That is enough for three months.”

Me: “Thank you!”

What can we learn from this encounter, this conversation, this experience?

1. Most people, most organisations are embedded (without even realising it) in an automatic way of being and doing – I call it “business as usual”.

2. When an awkward customer (like me) turns up and challenges “business usual” the automatic reaction arising out of the context of “business as usual” is to defend “business as usual” and label me (whether spoken or unspoken) as a “difficult customer who should be ignored”.

3. If you, the customer, get into a battle of wills with the organisation then, like me, you are not likely to get far. You will just stimulate the organisation’s immune system to more strongly articulate/defend/justify “business as usual”.

4. You increase your chances of getting people in the organisation to change by showing these people how they will benefit (personally) from any changes that you are suggesting and/or get them to identify (strongly, emotionally) with your situation and thus coax out their humanity – it is there, hidden deep inside.

What has this got to do with Customer-Centricity or Customer Experience?

To make an meaningful headway the Tops and Middles have to create a context where:

a) Customers are listened to in a specific manner – people who can provide information and insight that allows the organisation valuable insight into what matters to customers and what aspects of the organisation are and are not working for customers;

b) “Difficult customers” are actively sought out and listened to respectfully to see what opportunities to improve ‘workability and performance‘ open up;

c) The existing way of doing things “business as usual” is both open to being challenged and is actively challenged – by listening to customers, by listening to staff, by listening to suppliers…..; and

d) Mechanisms exist to get all involved present to what practices have been changed and the impact of these practices in terms of ‘workability and performance’

And finally

Sometimes people ask me what I actually do as a consultant/coach. My answer is that being an outsider I clearly see “business as usual” as “business as usual”. As such I can point that out and thus make visible that which is invisible to the organisation. I ask stupid questions that are designed to: wake people up so that they can see what is so’; get people to reflect on what they are doing and how they are doing it; help people to look at what is and is not working; and importantly to see how, specifically, they, personally, are contributing to the performance or the lack of it. Finally, I make suggestions on what can be done to enhance ‘workability’ and ‘performance’.

Put bluntly I do not know more about you, your team or your business. It is not that I am more intelligent or more clever then you. I grant you that you know more about your business than I do. I grant you that you know about your role than I do. I grant you that you are more intelligent than I am…..And I assert that I can make a valuable contribution to you and your organisation. Actually that is inaccurate. I do not assert, I make a commitment and that commitment is that I will make a valuable contribution to you and your organisation. Given that I am your ‘inferior’ how can I state that with the confidence that I am stating it with?

It is simply that I am standing in a different position to you and so I can see what you cannot see. You, by being you, are the ‘fish in your tank’ and you do not have access to that. I, by virtue of being me, stand outside that tank and can see it for the tank that it is and if you are willing to listen then I can describe it for you. Whether you listen or not depends both on you and me. Yes, it depends as much on me as it depends on you. There is no such thing as resistance: when you resist it is simply that I am failing to converse with you in a way that works for you. So both the organisation and customers share responsibility for the way the world is and the way that the world is not. That is a great way to finish the post: zen – take responsibility for the world as it is and as it is not!

I thank you for your listening, it makes my speaking possible and worthwhile.

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.


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