Over the last 22 years – yes I am that old – I have sat through an immeasurable number of business meetings. Team meetings; leadership meetings; board meetings (or should I say bored meetings); entire company meetings. I have to say, when I was a child, I was fascinated by the ‘mystique’ of the very word. I will never forget phoning my dad at work, only to be told he was ‘in a meeting’ – this seemed to be a pretty regular occurrence.
I do not doubt for one minute that my dad was avoiding me – as I grew older, like all of us, I learned that a ‘meeting’ was a rather convenient way of avoiding talking to someone!! I knew my father would not be doing something as underhand as that to his children (just confirm that for me please dad?!) – but what exactly was he doing? The meetings must have been very important.
To a degree, meetings – “an assembly of people for a particular purpose, especially for formal discussion” – are unavoidable. Meetings bring people together – often to make decisions. Without a gathering of ‘decision makers’ and ‘subject matter experts’ to decide direction, how would anything ever get done?! So if that is the case, why do so many of us not like them?
Personally, I have never been a fan of meetings – I know many who agree. Too often, they fail to inspire, inform or guide me in the way I would expect or hope. Regularly, I have attended meetings where I knew what the outcome of the meeting was before I attended – in other words, the meeting has been completely pointless. It is also far too common to attend meetings where all of the attendees recount information that is of little use to anyone other than themselves; OR information that explains in great detail what has happened in the past, without clarifying what should be happening in the future.
There are great examples of organisations all over the world attempting to make meetings more effective. I used to attend a meeting that was conducted standing up – a special table was purchased so that a large gathering of very important people could discuss very important matters. The theory was that it should make the meeting shorter and sharper – it did not necessarily work as intended.
One CEO I worked for in the past tried a much more aggressive tactic. When invited to a meeting, the CEO would always ensure he was advised on who would be attending. During the meeting, he would scribble down lots of notes on a sheet of paper. At the end of the meeting, he would hand the paper to the executive who had called the meeting. On it, was the CEOs assessment of the COST of holding the meeting – his purpose was to get his people to consider what the financial BENEFIT would be as a result of holding the meeting. The meeting organiser was granted a short amount of time to respond! The ultimate result – that company ended up holding far fewer unnecessary meetings!!!
So what have these ramblings got to do with Customer Experience? That is a very good question! My biggest gripe with meetings – in every business I have worked in and with – starts at the very beginning – with the AGENDA! We do not often have to time to think about or interrogate the agenda of meetings that we attend. In fact, all too regularly we almost take the agenda as a little bit of a given – something that we do not have to concern ourselves with other than ensuring we have our own little moment in the spotlight perhaps. Yet if we did actually look a bit closer at the agendas of meetings, would we be/are we happy with what we see?
Take a typical board meeting for example. Whilst there will undoubtedly be exceptions, many of them would not look too dissimilar to this example. When considering what this has to do with Customer Experience, try to identify where ‘customer’ comes on that agenda? You may consider this to be unfair – maybe it is part of the ‘state of the company section’; or covered by Business Development or Marketing; yet it is not necessarily that evident. In fact, I argue (based on my conversation with CX practitioners all over the world), that all too often, the customer is not on the agenda AT ALL! This does not just go for board meetings – many meetings do not contain any reference to the customer – I have sat through a lot of examples of this over the last four years alone.
So how can this be addressed? Well – to a degree it already is. As the focus on Customer Experiences maintains and even increases momentum, more and more organisations are incorporating very intentional discussions about the customer in all meetings – yet there are still plenty who do not. I am not suggesting that we have a radical overhaul of business meeting protocols – what I am going to suggest is introducing something very easy…. something very simple – that should not upset even the biggest stalwarts of keeping agenda protocol as it has always been.
Last year, I observed the leader of a business addressing his peers at a senior leadership meeting. In the main, his presentation was similar to all the others – following a standard agenda focusing on business performance over the previous year. However, what this leader said during his presentation both surprised AND hugely impressed me. The leader said that his team were always looking for ways to become even more customer focused. They recognised that not only did the agenda not contain any focus on customer experience, the other items on the agenda were also not discussed with the customer in mind. For that reason, they decided to introduce THE CUSTOMER MINUTE.
The principle, is that every meeting starts with ‘the customer minute’ – one member of the team talking about a customer experience – either one personal to them, or the experience of a customer. The intention is to get everyone into a mindset of THINKING like a customer prior to starting the rest of the meeting. This principle of storytelling has proven so successful, that it has become embedded in the way they work – every other agenda item is discussed with reference to its effect on customer experience.
How simple is that?! If your meetings are not customer focused – either enough or at all – you could do that starting tomorrow. Introducing the customer minute is perhaps the simplest way to get ‘customer’ onto the agenda of company meetings and help make those meetings more effective. Achieving financial goals is very important – yet achieving financial goals as a result of getting better at meeting the needs and expectations of customers is even better! I love it – and encourage all those who I interact with to adopt this way of working. Let me know if you are going to do the same!
At the end of last year, I wrote about my observations of the state of Customer Experience having worked with multiple industries in 20 countries around the globe – you can read the article I wrote for my column on Customer Think.
One of my learning’s related to COMMITMENT – you will need to read the post to find out what I said – however, the reason for me sending you this email is that the article has inspired me to launch my first and only survey for 2016 – a very short survey investigating organisational commitment to Customer Experience.
I would hugely appreciate it if you could take two minutes to answer three very simple questions – the results of the survey will be published in a future blog post. Please also forward the survey to anyone who you think may find it of interest. Thank you so much for your very valuable time in advance…