A selection of vegan food

How often do you offer genuine hospitality?

Nick Bush fills up with hospitality, but wants more

Having grown up in a hotel and then a restaurant I am, more than most people I suspect, obsessed with the hospitality industry. But a recent experience made me realise that hospitality businesses rarely offer hospitality that feels genuine – like a good evening spent having dinner at a friend’s house, say.

Come again?

My immediate reaction to a restaurant offering “vegan soul food” is “run that past me again?” – I have no objection to food not involving animal products but it’s the “soul food” bit that mystifies me. Sufficiently so that I didn’t rush to eat at the nearby Amrutha Lounge when it opened last year but when I visited last week I realised what a mistake that had been. Not only is the food delicious but the serving staff make you feel genuinely welcome with an informality that stays the right side of the “hi guys!” fake cheeriness cliché of most casual dining venue.

The feeling you get is that they want to feed you – and feed you well. If you order a selection menu, which we mainly did out of laziness, there is an “unlimited top-up” approach so that you can order more of anything that you like. In practice the food supplied was more than enough, but I couldn’t resist the waitress’s eagerness for me to have just a little bit more. I’m much the same when I get invited to dinner somewhere: I find good food very difficult to refuse!

Not the most compelling exterior even without the roadworks

So, it was this aspect that was the clincher for me – a restaurant where people genuinely want you to enjoy yourself. It’s quite surprising when you think about it – the vast majority of places I visit are transactional: you order food, it gets delivered, you eat, pay the bill and depart. If you get personable wait staff and a nice welcome/farewell that’s a bonus but it often feels like it’s tacked on to the eating experience.


In the case of Amrutha Lounge I think the reason the experience feels different is that it’s part of an underlying philosophy about feeding people well. For example, they have a feature called “no man goes hungry” where you can exchange labour in the restaurant for food if you can’t afford it. (It’s a comedy cliché that if you can’t pay you end up washing the dishes, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it as part of the offer.) I don’t know how many people take it up, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s a statement of intent: what comes first is the offer of food.

And this is where so many businesses get it wrong on customer experience whether in hospitality or elsewhere. Too often, CX initiatives are built on top of existing poor processes and reward systems with little to change fundamental behaviours. As a consequence, effort is wasted, and results don’t justify the investment: CX is seen as a waste and nothing to do with the core business.

Actually, I would say forget customer experience and focus on what your core business does for the customer and how you want them to feel as a result: CX initiatives should grow out of that rather than be something that’s layered on as an afterthought.

You could say that customer experience has to come from the gut, but in the case of businesses like Amrutha Lounge, that’s the start – and the destination.

This post was originally published on The Next Ten Years

Is poor service letting down your social media strategy?

According to a recent survey it is – but fixing it requires commitment across the whole organisation

Whatever you may think about Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, their ethics or market capitalisation, social media companies are not about to disappear as a channel through which brands can connect with the current or future customers. But success in social media – as in real, bottom line business benefits – depends on a much more coordinated approach than is currently evidenced.

According to a recent report by social media management company Sprout Social, 50% of consumers follow brands to learn about new products and services and 48% to be entertained – a good basis then to promote your products in a fun and entertaining fashion. But wait – 56% of consumers say they unfollow brands because of poor customer service.

If you’re a social media marketeer that’s a bummer because it happens somewhere else in the company. There you are creating campaigns that are fun, funky and geared towards your lovely Facebook audience (the most popular channel – 89% of marketers use it) and you’re getting some great engagement metrics but someone in customer service is screwing this up!

What can you do?

I’d hazard a guess – actually it’s more than a guess as this is what I’ve observed in companies over the years – that the problem is that despite the great advantage of all kinds of social media to create connections with consumers, connections across businesses still seem much harder to achieve.

Let the train make the strain

To illustrate, let me go back to a piece I wrote last year about UK train operating company GWR. Its main point was that despite the very poor service customers were getting, following the introduction of new rolling stock, there was no acknowledgement on any of their social media. From what I can tell – my wife is a regular GWR traveller for work – the service has not massively improved and the social medial feedback situation is unchanged.

Only connect

The GWR situation shows how disconnected companies can be: product development designs a great new train, it gets delivered, doesn’t work properly and has seats that almost all customers find incredibly uncomfortable – a sure-fire recipe for poor customer service.

In this situation, social media marketing is an attempt to put sticking plaster over some gaping wounds in the company’s processes and however much engagement there is, none of it will change the design of the trains in the short term.

A histogram showing which teams social marketers wish they could influence more
Image: Sprout Social
A histogram showing which teams social marketers consult and share data with
Image: Sprout Social

The Sprout Social report – which covers a lot more than I have referred to here and is well worth a read – contains some more revealing statistics. Asked which team social marketers could influence more, 59% chose sales. Sales was also the one that most social marketers shared data and goals with – so I’m not sure how effective that is if it’s not influencing sales – but where is service?

It’s clear from the factors influencing unfollowing that linking social and customer service is key, yet the driving factor is sales, sales, sales. Don’t get me wrong – it works: I am now the proud wearer of a pair of blue brogues following a well-placed ad on Facebook (I may also be having a late mid-life crisis – don’t judge) and a company needs to sell, obviously. But if your social media doesn’t listen to and respond to customers’ feedback on service or understand why you are being unfollowed then it’s not adding as much value as it could be.

What’s needed is a joined-up approach that links social, sales and service under a coordinated brand strategy. The evidence suggests that this is an opportunity most companies have yet to seize.

Closing the loop: the vital missing component in complaints handling

You need a strategic approach to managing complaints that focuses on customer outcomes as much as what went wrong.

I recently described complaints as being an under-exploited goldmine of customer feedback. Companies need to widen their focus from purely complaints i.e. dealing with the “expression of dissatisfaction” to a more strategic approach that I refer to as “closing the loop”. This means joining up the three main parts of complaint management into a coherent programme that’s focused on change and improvement in the quality of overall customer outcomes as much as customer satisfaction in relation to the original issue.

Why is this important?

According to market researcher Pierre-Nicolas Schwab, in a 2015 article, the data shows that complaints from customers are not taken that seriously or are ignored.

  • More than 50% of companies don’t answer complaints
  • In 2013, post-complaint satisfaction was still at 1976 levels (RAGE survey 2013)

And, looking at the latest US RAGE survey, $313bn are at risk because of dissatisfaction in the US alone.

It’s time to get strategic.

It’s time to close the loop.


It’s rare that companies adopt this approach – or if they do it’s underpowered – and – as the statistics above show – it represents a great opportunity to create differentiating customer value. The underlying components are simple to describe:

  • Detection – identifying the complaint or the potential complaint and averting it if possible.
  • Handling – dealing with the complaint when made and restoring the customer back to the state they were in before the error occurred
  • Learning – identifying what went wrong at the “root cause” level in relation to either stated or expected customer outcomes and then taking action to:
    – prevent future occurrences
    – identify the potential contribution to the wider outcome-driven operating landscape.

This last part will be different from traditional best practice, but the complaint interaction creates a fantastic opportunity not only to repair the issue but create a level of loyalty – and therefore business impact–over and above what could have been achieved if the complaint had never happened.

In other words, customer complaints can be used as the basis for customer innovation – and in my experience very few organisations are currently doing this.

Detect and survive

Going back to basics. The front end of complaint handling takes place before a complaint is made and, at best, avoids the complaint being made at all. This requires the ability in each contact channel to detect imminent dissatisfaction and take action to deal with it.

Different channels will require different skills to carry out this, for example:

  • Face-to-face channels require staff who can pick up on the visual cues that a customer is potentially irritated.
  • Similarly, an experienced agent in a call centre should be able to detect from a customer’s tone of voice that they are unhappy.

In both these cases situational training and role play can help build competence since not all of your staff will be naturally empathic.

In the digital world we have not yet reached a point where machines can match an experienced front-of-house manager or call centre agent for empathy but there are various ways it can be simulated. It’s possible to detect if a customer’s online journey is particularly slow and then to prompt with help and support messages. Similarly, the availability of an online chat button means that customers can divert to a human (or chatbot) for support rather than getting frustrated with an online experience that’s not working for them.

But online doesn’t just mean websites: social media are increasingly an opportunity –in some cases the preferred channel – for customers to vent their dissatisfaction. Early detection here is crucial given the propensity for some grievances to go viral. It pays to have a light touch when dealing with these – as UK retailer Argos did in a “street speak” exchange with a disgruntled would-be PS4 purchaser back in 2014: the amplification performed by the Twitterati performs a handy bit of brand enhancement.

Dough balls

This front-end detection isn’t always possible however as the customer may be complaining about something long after that initial first point of contact so it’s vital that the customer can raise a complaint easily. In fact, complaint and feedback should invariably be encouraged.

Sometimes you can go to a company’s website and immediately find out how to provide feedback – I recently raised a complaint with UK bank TSB and could find it within a couple of clicks (the eventual resolution wasn’t great but that’s another story) and everyone’s favourite First Direct is similarly easy – but other businesses are a bit more coy, relegating complaints to a more obscure area – in the case of NatWest’s personal banking site for example it’s hidden in the Support Centre which, to me at least is less than blindingly obvious.

This attitude suggests that some businesses don’t welcome complaints or any kind of feedback, which is nuts, since finding out what customers think of you is, you know, quite a good idea.

But people don’t actually like complaining (unless they’re a CX-obsessive like me, but even I can get worn out by the sheer tedium of it) so it pays to make it easy or to incentivise through competitions – entering a prize draw – or vouchers (Pizza Express’s How Did We Dough? for example). Personally, I think the instant gratification of a low-value item is better than the chance of a prize, since it says that the business values your opinion – but maybe I just like dough balls.


Getting your “complaints radar” working on all channels is key to minimising the actual complaints you have to deal with. They may be a great source of feedback, but once a complaint is made it’s costly to process and provide redress so early intervention is always preferable.

In the next part of this series we’ll go on to consider how to handle the complaint effectively when it is made and how focusing on the customer’s intended outcome will help deliver a resolution and an enhanced overall experience that can change a detractor into a raving fan.




Forget Chief Customer Officer, welcome to the new “COO”

There’s a problem with the Chief Customer Officer role and rethinking it as the “Chief Outcome Officer” (COO) can help everyone get on board a customer-centric company.

Although not yet present in every organisation, the idea of a Chief Customer Officer is beginning to take hold, with an increasing number of organisations making the appointment.

But in my view, there’s a problem.

When you appoint a chief anything officer you expect them to be the ultimate solver of the problems in their area. This is OK when you’re in charge of, say, operations or sales: most people would expect the Chief Operating Officer or Chief Financial Officer to be the ultimate go-to person in when something needs addressing in those areas.

But customers? Is that sales, marketing, your contact centre or billing. Do those functions report to the Chief Customer Officer now?

No, they don’t. Which makes the term Chief Customer Officer a misnomer in many organisations. They have influence over those traditional functions for sure but not really the authority. It’s frustrating for the individual and his/her team because they can see the opportunity but all too often without the ability to create meaningful change. It also goes someway to explaining why the Chief Customer Officer has an average tenure that is on average the shortest in the C-suite.

Eagle eye

As one of our NextTen Inner Circle members pointed out in an email recently, the holder of such a role has a focus that involves “hovering around like an eagle” with nothing escaping their sight. This is spot-on: customer issues are all-pervasive so in some sense we need an all-pervasive role or someone with a roving brief who can pounce on and sort out issues wherever they occur.

That may be fine in some organisations but in most it can lead to a role that’s undefined or underpowered or, even worse, where all the other functions think the customer is “someone else’s problem”.

The Chief Outcome Officer has a different focus. By moving attention from “customer experience” to customer outcomes, organisations can get a view of the value each part of the organisation creates for the customer. It is also a strong catalyst to move departmental focus from being excellent at “what they do” to creating excellent “outcomes” – because that’s the ultimate measure the customer makes when they make a choice to buy or not.

But there’s an even more important distinction: the new COO isn’t one person’s role,

it’s everyone’s job


Yes, in a genuinely customer-centric organisation, every role must have something to do with creating a positive outcome for the customer. Even when a role isn’t customer-facing, the role-holder should be able to have some line of sight to the customer and the outcomes they are contributing towards.

So how does this idea work out in practice and how do you embed this kind of thinking into the organisation?

My customer, your customer

The first thing a Chief Customer Officer can do is map the traditional organisational structure to a outcome driven structure. This is just another representation of how a company is structured but if the overall superior customer outcome is both the goal the customer seeks and the no 1 strategic differentiator, then surely this is a critical representation than companies need which defines how they operate.

This viewpoint will certainly excite the CEO and the strategists but how do you ensure it becomes everybody’s job?

The best way to create this momentum for change is through a programme of “employee engagement”, although personally I don’t care for that term as it suggests that you’ve already failed to get your people engaged. Leaving that aside, it is possible to use a programme to move the organisation towards an all-pervading awareness of customer outcomes.

I was involved in such a programme when I worked at BT. The MyCustomer programme was a multi-faceted affair that ran for a few years and, as the title implied, was intended to create a much greater sense of ownership of the customer throughout the organisation. It included various events including competitions (I’m pleased to say that the solution I sponsored is still in use today) and “back to the floor” exercises, but one of the most inventive was the creation of an employee-only help desk for dealing with customer problems.

This addressed the problem that I and, no doubt, many of my colleagues experienced when someone you met asked you what you did and, when you answered that you worked for BT, would launch into a diatribe about the level of service they had received. Using an internal helpdesk made it easier to offer to take ownership of the problem there and then. The unforeseen consequence may have been that people would avoid saying who they worked for, and I have no data on how many queries the helpdesk handled and from which parts of the organisation, but the emphasis was very much on everyone in the organisation having an impact on the customer.

It was such a good idea that I wish I’d thought of it.

Mind your language

But programmes come and go, and the number of conversations I still have about BT with friends and strangers suggests that they should have kept the MyCustomer programme running for longer to embed it firmly into culture and processes. This is the million-dollar question of course: how can you embed customer-centric behaviour and attitudes across the whole organisation after the programme circus has left town or even avoid the need for a change programme altogether?

The key for me is the way that leaders at all levels talk about their work and the things that they emphasise when they talk. Many years ago, I talked to an organisation who, according to their publicity, would bring to a halt any meeting that had not discussed customers in the first 15 minutes. I was applying for a job with them and never got to find out if it was true or not, but even if only partly true, it was a great story about where the customer figured in their priorities.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that you might need a real Chief Customer/Outcome Officer to set the tone and change the conversation but ultimately in a real customer-centric organisation the customer must belong to everyone.

Are you an “accidental entrepreneur”? Time to cut the BS!


The word has a certain mystique, possibly because of its French origins – a combination of entreprendre, meaning to undertake, and enterprise – and possibly because of what it means to some people. To some this creates a vision of successful business magnates, tycoons or other captain-of-industry types. To others it could be that one or two-man company, working all the hours to make a buck.

To me, entrepreneurship is something much more widespread than the larger than life, hard-nosed “go-getters” you seem to achieve self-parody on TV shows such as Dragons’ Den or The Apprentice.

In fact, you may be an entrepreneur without realising it – I refer to this as “accidental entrepreneurship” – and if, like me, you are, it’s time to cut the BS and get on with your job because the most vital commodity in your treasure chest is time – and you don’t have much of it to waste!

Parental advice I should have ignored

Sticking with the reality-TV theme let me risk boring you with my “journey” to entrepreneurship. It started badly. In fact, it took me 30 years to get over my father’s advice to never work for myself – he’d been a hotelier and restaurateur all his life and had never seemed particularly happy with it and that may have coloured his judgement. It wasn’t until an attractive redundancy package came along that I decided to give up the 9-to-5 (as if!) and embark on what I imagined would be a freewheeling career as a freelance management consultant/interim manager.

As it turned out, the next few self-employed years bore a distinct resemblance to the previous employed years: I was still doing customer-centric change management and strategy work in large organisations, but with a different pay arrangement. Oh, and slightly less stability. Still, not quite the “gig economy” since, luckily, my gigs were measured in months not taxi rides.

But that still did not make me an entrepreneur. Not even the accidental sort.

Expert advice I can’t ignore

Entrepreneurs are defined as people who set up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit (my emphasis). Entrepreneur Magazine – who should know – emphasise the point further in an article by Steve Tobak. He critically, points out that being an entrepreneur, like being a leader, isn’t so much a job as having an attitude. Traditionally this has been to business aspiration and risk.

But there’s more – a critical factor that differentiates the triers who dip their toe in the water to see if it works, and those who have a higher calling and are committed.

I set up NextTen Innovation Solutions – along with my colleagues – because, having had a life-long obsession with customer experience and service, I was fed up with companies who professed to be customer-focused but weren’t making the changes necessary to be genuinely customer-centric, and short-changing their customers and employees as a result. My hope was that there were enough potential clients out there who’d like to exchange money for our services and that we can build a dynamic, thriving and profitable business, that practices what it preaches as a result.

So those four words in bold tick some boxes for me but the entrepreneurial penny really dropped when I read a blog post by the ever-savvy Seth Godin where he defined people “acting like an entrepreneur when:

  1. They make decisions.
  2. They invest in activities and assets that aren’t a sure thing.
  3. They persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome.
  4. This one is the most amorphous, the most difficult to pin down and thus the juiciest: They embrace (instead of run from) the work of doing things that might not work.”

When I read this a few weeks back I realised I was now definitely an entrepreneur, not just someone who was self-employed. I also appreciated that big business badly needed more of these types of people as well. Entrepreneurial thinking is not just for those aspiring to build their own business, it is critical to companies that need to become ever more responsive and agile as the implications of the customer age become more stongly felt. We’ll continue to expand this theme in the coming weeks.

Avoid accidents

“Being an entrepreneur” isn’t, as Steve Tobak points out in another article, a job in the same way as being a “being self-employed” isn’t a job. So, when people ask me what I do I don’t tell them I’m an entrepreneur or that I just woke up this morning and realised I was an entrepreneur, I usually say I’m building a business since this is the shortest way of describing a job that is multi-faceted, never-ending, and full of more emotional ups and downs than any of my previous jobs, employed or otherwise.

“Accidental entrepreneurship” is definitely not something for the faint-hearted, and if, like me, you wake up one morning realising that you are “acting like an entrepreneur” you need to check that you are comfortable with the level of risk involved in investing in whatever venture you’re working on and the ambitions it has in terms of profit.

If that’s something that excites you – great – just don’t waste time worrying about the implications of entrepreneurship. Just cut the procrastination and BS. Go for it and get on with your job!