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Successive generations of children have laughed with delight at the hapless Henry who with the help of Lisa tries to mend the hole in his bucket; and he would have succeeded if only he had a bucket to carry the water to wet the stone on which he could sharpen the blunt knife with which he needs to cut the straw which can mend the hole in his bucket. Mind you, Henry would also have succeeded if he had stepped back from the problem and applied some innovative thinking to the task.
The earliest reference to this song dates back to the early 17C but it still strikes a chord today. In fact many a leadership team trying to instil a culture change within an organisation can get to the stage in which every improvement seems to be dependent on something else and the entire cultural change subsides in a welter of “can’t do”.
Cris Beswick and I were recently invited to speak at European Customer Experience World (ECEW) on the way in which innovation leads to exceptional customer experience. Our talk revolved around the way in which moving towards an innovation culture which enables employees to take command and use their judgement can greatly enhance the customer experience.
But, as with any major cultural change, moving to an innovation culture can so easily go wrong if it is not planned properly. Far too many companies try to start at the end of the process, or try to phase change in on a departmental basis. Inevitably the result is a stalemate in which nothing changes as the new culture conflicts with entrenched process.
The key to success is proper planning and an implementation strategy which focuses on fully engaging and immersing employees in the new culture. In fact, organisations which have embraced the idea of employee engagement as a driving factor have generally been rewarded with increased shareholder returns, reduced wastage and an enhanced reputation. Quite simply, engaged employees, particularly those within an innovation culture, put their heart and soul into providing great customer care.
However, it is possible to let the pendulum swing too far towards relying on employee engagement at the expense of the organisation as a whole. In other words the front line employees may be great but if the infrastructure doesn’t back them up, the business suffers.
Let me give you an example. A retail outlet which caters for the mature shopper was visited recently by a colleague and their elderly relative. The shop staff were outstanding. Clearly proud of their products they treated every customer with courtesy and nothing seemed to be too much trouble. Time didn’t matter as each customer was given individual and personal attention. Choice made, unfortunately the product was not available in the size and preferred colour but no matter, it could be posted directly to a home address at no extra charge. The employee clearly explained that the preferred colour would not be available until the end of the month and that was accepted. So far, outstanding service and an impressed shopper.
Then the problems started. A voucher which seemingly allowed £10 off was only valid for £5. The assistant was polite but did say accept the voucher was confusing and they had had many customers who had been caught out. Then once the transaction was complete the receipt showed a delivery date several weeks later than expected. When queried it appeared that different garment sizes were released at different times, something the sales person was unaware of. Two comparatively small things which left the elderly shopper confused and disappointed.
In this case an organisation which had obviously been geared up to provide outstanding customer service to the more mature person had been let down by a lack of understanding of the effects of phased production processes and confusing marketing literature. But this is not the only example of front line staff not having the back-up which they require as the recent NHS 111 phone problems show.
No, running an organisation isn’t easy and it can seem at times as though the same problems are chasing round and round with each solution creating a new problem. Finding a competitive advantage through a culture of innovation can make a huge difference to the organisation and to its customers; but only if the organisational culture change is planned and implemented throughout the organisation. Otherwise, whilst one part of the customer experience may be outstanding, the overall impression may leave a lot to be desired.