thinking question
thinking question

Martin Hill-Wilson on the perils of 2016 predictions - and his best guesses for service

14th Jan 2016
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It could be argued that the only difference between 2015 and 2016 is the number of days that now separates them. In this sense, predictions should be based on ‘more of the same’ with a slight nudge of the timeline.

But to read most predictions that appear around this annual milestone, you’d be right to wonder if we are now on the other side of a wormhole. We appear to have leapt through time and are now living in customer service utopia.

Do you really believe what you’ve been reading about 2016? Does it sound realistic given where you and your organisation are really at?

Or am I missing the point?

Maybe we not really predicting at all, at least not with any real intent of being accurate. As in - that’s what we pitched for in the 2016 plan and we are clear it’s going to happen before the Queen delivers her next Christmas message.

Instead, maybe what we are really doing each year is a kind of collective visioning. It might not make sense logically. But it does emotionally. The fun is to imagine when everything finally works. All the hard work has paid off. The dots have joined up. After all it’s human nature to imagine a land of milk and honey whenever the opposite remains closer to home.

I only mention this because the majority of predictions I’ve collected and read (20 and counting), feed my optimism and drive without doubt. But they bear little resemblance to any of the top 250 FTSE brands I worked with during 2015. Or what is likely as being their agenda and outcomes for this year.  

Their worlds are more humdrum. The effort:outcome ratio in these sized organisations still generally stinks. In other words, they keep squandering their available creative energies through misalignment.

As a result, execution remains their greatest weakness. Big ideas, most often with a strong technology component, are hard to bring about. More often than not these initiatives are late, over budget, cut back to an anaemic version of the original intent or even cancelled.

For obvious reasons these failures are not publically aired. However, the price of this collective silence is the repetition of the same mistakes.

For me, the root cause is that functional teams remain at odds with one another in terms of culture and focus. The examples I bump into most often are IT versus business and marketing versus service. Sometimes these can be fuelled by very personal turf wars at senior level.  

I’m sure some younger, more nimble organisations are further down the track. And to be fair some of the larger players I’ve been critical of can evidence elements of a progressive customer service agenda.

Best guesses

So, having made the point that most predictions run scared of sounding behind the curve, these are my best guesses for 2016.

By the way, they are intended for the larger, established organisations out there. I imagine your average fintech has an entirely different agenda and set of service priorities.

And as a final point on improving the quality of predictions out there, here’s a suggestion to all who enjoy polishing their crystal balls. Think harder about which part of the market you are advising.

Capabilities and agendas are very different across industry sectors. Think retailers versus water companies. They also differ by state of organisational evolution. Think BT versus Good Energy. It follows that predictions need to be equally personalised.

With that said, here are mine.

  1. Much deeper collaboration needs to be facilitated between channel owners. Retail, ecommerce and contact centre owners should open up to regular dialogue. Equally the nonsense talked about voice versus digital needs to mature into a coherent contact strategy that works for both customer and brand. In many organisations, this will need CXO attention with hands on facilitation to gain any traction. Currently key players remain too parochial in how they are goaled to get anywhere close to the benefits being pushed by the omni-channel vision. One by the way that has been the north star for over half a decade already.
  2. Customer journeys need to evolve from being a product of external agency mindset and manufacture. Instead they need to become an operationally useful and used toolkit for setting relevant service metrics and keeping track of improvement priorities. In other words transform them from wallpaper into business as usual tools.
  3. Given the strength of hierarchical behaviour in all large organisations, ongoing and radical efforts are needed to champion the customer voice and service experience within the teams who directly serve them. Whatever it takes to make them an effective counter balance to the inside:out agenda which still dominates organisational decision making. Consider upgrading profiles, remuneration, quality of operational leadership, ways of releasing innovation (think fracking) , ways of amplifying their voice internally.
  4. Really get good at ‘test-learn-optimise-embed’. Or whatever workflow is used to experiment and refine new ideas. If execution is the weakest link, we need to move beyond the headlines of being ‘agile’ to figuring out the detailed behaviour to learning fast. Big failures need to be replaced with a continuous stream of lessons learnt from low risk experiments.

That’s my recipe for what matters in 2016. Whether they turn out to be accurate predictions is another story.

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