65% of leaders believe that it’s not up to them to tackle customer centricity – Interview with Alison Esse of The Storytellers

Not my problem

Today’s interview is with Alison Esse, Co-founder and Director of The Storytellers, a culture change consultancy, and pioneers of storytelling in business. Alison joins me today to talk about a new piece of research that they have recently completed: ‘Two Years’ Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis’, which explores the mindsets that exist around customer centricity in the world’s largest organisations and also differences in attitudes and beliefs between leaders and employees.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – How TV helped create an engaging and effective millenial shopping experience – Interview with Anthony Soohoo of Dot & Bo – and is number 179 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to their customers.

Here’s the highlights of my interview with Alison:

  • The Storytellers use storytelling as a tool and means to dramatically accelerate the pace of change within organisations, particularly in the area of attitudes, beliefs, value and culture that are essential to any change initiative, yet often overlooked or under-invested in.
  • In a change initiative, people should feel that they are not victims of change but that they are protagonists of change.
  • They have just released a new starkly titled report called: ‘Two Years’ Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis’, which explores the mindsets that exist around customer centricity in the world’s largest organisations and also differences in attitudes and beliefs between leaders and employees.
  • The report was sparked by the surge in interest and dialogue around customer centricity.
  • But, given there is very little room for differentiation on a product/service level, a lot of differentiation comes down to your people to deliver your brand promise.
  • The report is based on independent, detailed interviews with 171 CEOs, C-suite members, functional heads and managing directors in 150 companies in the top 500 of the Forbes 2000, and responses from 400 of their staff. Interviews focused on organisations operating in the following sectors: Financial Services; Retail, Leisure & Hospitality; Utilities; IT & Business Services; and Healthcare.
  • The main headlines:
    • Nearly three quarters of leaders believe that their businesses won’t survive beyond the next two years unless they put more focus on their customers.
    • But, nearly half of those leaders (43%) feel that they have got more important business issues to focus on.
    • 65% of leaders believe that it’s not up to them to tackle the customer centricity challenge and that it is up to the next generation or the next C-suite to tackle this problem.
  • The tension and conflict seems to come from the fact that C-suites are driven, in the first instance, to deliver for shareholders who expect returns on a very short term basis.
  • Thus, in their eyes, the drive for short-term profitability is not always conducive to delivering a great customer experience. Moreover, customer centricity is seen as more of a longer-term initiative that requires investment and that could have an impact on profitability.
  • One other area that might be driving current C-suite members to consider that customer centricity is the job of the next generation or C-suite is the level of complexity that is involved in tackling this issue or taking it on.
  • As a result, The Storytellers are seeing a number of their clients starting to re-organise their businesses to make them more simple as a direct consequence of the complexity that currently exists.
  • One of the other challenges that emerges from the report is that whilst leaders now they need to become more customer centric they don’t trust their people to be able to do it – Four in five (81%) employees know they should treat their customers as family members, but fewer than half (43%) of leaders trust them to do so.
  • Whilst there is a new breed of leader of emerging that trusts their employees and that employees trust, many organisations are still transitioning from more traditional and 20th century organisational structures, cultures and values to ones that are more conducive to conditions in the 21st century.
  • This transition can, in many cases, be slowed by the complexity of the organisation.
  • Some of the most effective leaders are those that can separate themselves from their offices and their email and their meetings and spend a lot of time going round the business talking to customers and employees so that can be seen and be seen to care.
  • Are middle managers the forgotten tribe of organisations?
  • The report found that a lot of blame from leaders falls on middle managers – 59% think middle managers are the biggest blockers to building a customer-centric culture – but, they are critical to any change/transformation initiative.
  • However, these issues also exist in many companies that are privately-held so all of it cannot be blamed on reporting and shareholders.
  • To get past this, companies need to:
    • Have a higher purpose and to generate a sense of pride around this. But, companies also need to have a call to action around this so that it helps employees understand their role and how they can become active participants in achieving that higher purpose. Many companies talk about the what and the how but forget to articulate the why and this is where middle managers can play a key role.
  • Companies need to get better at telling stories and having conversations with their people and do less show and tell.
  • When you tell a story seven areas of the brain light up.
  • Gandhi once said ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.
  • When asked what wow service means to her, Alison said “The experience that I have had of something means that I want to go and talk about it to someone else in a positive way’
  • And, when asked how wow service is created she said ‘Get back to the floor and talk to your employees and your customers and find out what is really going on. Don’t sit in an ivory tower. Get back to the floor and be inspired by them and the start to involve them more in a conversation’.

About Alison

Alison EsseAlison is a Co-founder and Director of The Storytellers. She spent her early career in B2C PR and marketing before setting up The Storytellers in 2003. Alison has spent the last 12 years working with business leaders of large, complex, multi-national organisations to help them use storytelling to make change happen.

Alison is a regular speaker on storytelling, emotional connection and organisational change. When she’s not travelling to far-flung corners of the world, Alison can be found shooting clay pigeons, cycling, skiing or diving.

Check out The Storytellers website, say Hi to them and Alison on Twitter @storyacademy and @alisonesse and connect with Alison on LinkedIn here.

Photo Credit: abbilder via Compfight cc

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