Customer Service is just like the Biggest Loser

The Biggest Loser and your Customer Service

The world is changing – it always has and it always will:

  • Two millennia ago the Greeks ruled the world and now they are the laughing stock of the world
  • A century ago England had conquered half the world and now they are a bit player in Europe with one dominant city
  • A mere decade ago (2000) 40% of the companies that were in the Fortune 500 were no longer there in 2010.

The only way to survive is to change.

This means YOU must change.

The core sustainable competitive advantages for retailers are – and always has been - deep customer relationships and outstanding experiences (in any channel).

Therefore the single most important thing any business owner or executive can focus on is creating an effective, strong and cohesive customer service culture. Note that you ALREADY HAVE a culture – it happens anyway. The question is whether it is a culture that has any strategic value.

(I define culture very simply as “the way we do things around here.”)


It is hard for two reasons:

#1: Behaviour is complex

What you are trying to change is human behaviour; which is an outcome of many, complex triggers and influences. Understanding human behaviour and effectively changing it cannot be achieved because you have 20 years’ experience in retail, but because you understand psychology, you have tools and frameworks that pragmatically guide you through structured process to drive change in disciplined approach.

In the organisational context, ALL change is about changing the culture. Even when you think you are simply introducing a new computer system, you are (indirectly) changing the culture.

#2: The change maker does not understand change

The people who are doing the changing don’t really understand what they are trying to change or how to do it effectively.

People think they know that the world is changing and how it is changing, but I asked my audience of managers and entrepreneurs of businesses in retail, hospitality and the like; NOT ONE of them knew anything about ‘the Internet of things’ or ‘the collaborative economy’. No-one had heard of Über, and one had heard about Airbnb – when these companies were actually ground-breaking three of four years ago.

(They all have a Facebook page and think that is a sign that they ‘get’ change.)


For the sake of example, let’s consider how one might go about changing your customer service culture. (This is effectively a mass behaviour change initiative.)

Firstly, what it is NOT:

If it is treated as a ‘project’ or an ‘initiative’ it will NOT work.

You change behaviour by changing the DNA of the business. This graphic seems simple, but it is deeply rooted in management theory and best practice that I won’t elaborate upon here.

The following diagram graphically illustrates the six contributing factors or elements that contribute to the shared values (or culture) of your organisation.

Space constraints prohibit detailed explanation here, but watching the presentation it was part of will provide more context and explanation.

The key take-outs to consider are:

  1. Each of these elements influences every other element reciprocally, so it is important ensure the changes made are part of a cohesive whole that achieves cultural alignment.
  2. All the elements must be addressed.
  3. Implementing a change program only works if it is envisioned from the top but created from the bottom up.
  4. You need clarity about the 3-6 core cultural values that will guide the implementation. (There is actually different types of values that play different roles, but that is a topic for another day.)
  5. Once you have clarity about he culture and machining the organisation changes to reflect that, you can NEVER change or go back or stop doing it. The message to employees is then that is just another phase and eventually will fade away – which dooms it to failure.

Get some context:

Here is a presentation by Reed Hastings (Netflix) on the importance of culture

My presentation on how to create a customer service culture was published YESTERDAY on the blog

In the slide deck you will see some examples of specific, seemingly insignificant behaviours and changes that were instituted for each of those six elements. This was a small project with a specific client and does not necessarily apply to your business.

The success and failure of a culture change initiative (any change initiative in fact) hinges on one foundational principle. We can learn what this principle is by studying organisations that specialise in achieving change in people; like AA or Weight Watchers. Without fail, they all ask people who sign up for the program to firstly admit their problem. And they have to do so publically, and personally. (Think of the weigh-in that happens on the Biggest Loser.)

Are you ready to admit that your service sucks? Or do you still hang on to the belief that you are ok; that you are on the right track or that it is not bad as that other guy down the road?

Your enemy is complacency: If you think you are on the right track, you are not. A Bain & Co survey found that whilst 80% of Executives think they are doing a good job with customer service, only 8% of customers agree.

Everybody can’t be in the 8% - the maths just don’t work.

Are you ready to step onto the scale?

Have fun


PS: Here is some brainfood for you – and you may even learn something about me if you dig around.

Why we can’t KISS…

How to create a customer service culture (presentation)

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