Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is Customer Stress Having a Widespread Effect on Buyer-Seller Relations?

When assessing buyer-seller relationships, we tend to focus on elements of the relationship itself. Makes sense – at least superficially. However, when I evaluate the current state of buyer-seller relations, I feel like we’re evaluating a solar system minus a “hidden planet,” which is exerting an unexpected gravitational pull.

I suspect the unusually high ambient stress level people carry with them today is exerting that unaccounted for outside influence. Buyer stress appears to be introducing suspicion, mistrust and even conflict (all manifestations of stress) that do not stem from buyer-seller interactions themselves. Do you agree – or disagree?

Will Customer Change Force Process Change?

My quick answer to my own question is, “It better…and soon.”

Buyer-seller relations are rapidly evolving, putting buyers in the driver’s seat held by sellers for decades. The consequences of “buyer power” include increasingly idiosyncratic customer behavior from customers wanting to do business “their way” and far more customer pushback than previously. To the latter point, the seller defense, “It’s company policy,” has become outright offensive to buyers. Buyers are forcing sellers into case-by-case negotiations, which on the seller side are conducted by empowered company representatives, often newly authorized to make judgment calls resolving customer issues.

From a process perspective, supporting judgment calls and dealing with highly variable customer behavior both call for decision-support process (typically application software enabled) more than work rule-based process. But we’ve yet to see much progress in that direction. It’s hard moving on from highly-honed skills designing process in a more structured and repetitive work environment, but we must.

Layoffs – Where’s the Learning Curve?

One touchy subject inevitably arises when we design customer-centric process. And I hate to see it happen.

Redesigning process from the customer inwards produces an ancillary “benefit,” which to many execs becomes their short-term ROI justification. While new process designs are adding new value to customers, they’re also streamlining the organization, which can dramatically reduce front and back office FTE requirements, raising the specter of layoffs.

While we always consul clients to first consider using temporary functionless staff for special projects, then reabsorbing them to create “no hire growth,” some layoffs inevitably occur. One of our clients, post process redesign, eliminated 600 front office positions, and our process reworking contributed to the eventual closing of multiple plants. Worse yet, overall demand in their industry was declining, leading to very slow growth.

Two things really bug me about this situation. First, too many companies practice “boom or bust” staffing. They lurch from overstaff to understaffing, because they don’t have a clue how to avoid either excess. Second, necessary layoffs often cut people but not their functions or positions. Process streamlining should reduce functions and positions and does not target specific workers. And in neither case are they learning anything from experience. They just keep repeating their destructive practices.

Not a pleasant topic at all, but I just read an excellent post an excellent post by Ron Ashkenas (co-author of “The GE Workout”) that spot on addresses both things that bug me. If the subject’s relevant, I strongly suggest reading it (link below).

Microsoft Republishes My Dynamics AX Interview on Partner Site

If you start reading and suspect my propeller is rotating too fast, be patient (or read the last full paragraph first to get the customer implications).

My colleague and Microsoft “super-partner” Jack Boyer of Boyer & Associates recently interviewed me regarding appropriateness of implementing MS Dynamics AX ERP software suites (including CRM) in smaller than enterprise venues. I happen to believe that AX can be implemented affordably in SME organizations that control configuration costs by limiting customer configuration to critical functionality. Well, apparantly so do the folks in Redmond, because they’ve repeated the post on their partner site.

So why is a customer-centric process designer like me writing a propeller-head post like this?

Simple. Implementing customer-centric process almost always requires replacing older, company-centric technology that can’t bend enough to support new and different process designed to add more value to customers. That’s where Dynamics AX becomes relevant. The “AX” platform supports extreme configurability – but custom-configuring everything under the sun increases implementation costs beyond most SME budget thresholds. Fortunately, SME organizations can control implementation costs by running AX out of the box wherever possible – and saving custom configuration for supporting “customer home run” processes that most systems don’t support out of the box. Restraint is hard, I know. But if that’s what it takes to add new value to customers through properly aligned process and technology, it’s worth it.

You can read the full post at

The 10 Most Disreputable Companies in the U.S.? (and how about globally?)

Research House Harris Interactive just released a ranking of U.S. companies by reputation. The ten worst? From worst to next worst: AIG, BP; Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Chrysler, Bank of America, GM, Exon-Mobile, J.P. Morgan Chase, Delta Airlines (do you regret buying Northwest…now?). For the 10 most reputable – including several surprises – visit

But how about globally? I’d love to see some “competition” on CustomerThink to see which continents are most extreme. Let’s hear nominations for best and worst from everywhere – and then look for the patterns. Not to mention comments about the U.S. list, which I could not resist starting.

Hey, venting your spleen is cathartic. Let it fly.

The Battle is Joined: Customer Interests vs. Functional Silos

Ranjay Gulati’s recent book, “(Re)Organizing for Resilience,” explores the obstacles faced by companies migrating from inside-out (company first) to outside-in (customers first). And he hits the nail on the head when he identifies functional silos as the key organizational impediment stalling companies making this journey. We’ve seen it happen over and over again, although we’ve become much smarter about forewarning CEOs of the organizational disruption they’re about to face.

CRM practitioners will blow off the issue and tell companies to rely on their software. Process people will claim that redesigning process will get clients from I-O to O-I. Customer experience denizens will claim that hiring, training and motivating customer-facing employees will get you there. Marketers will claim going touchy-feely will do it. Social media believers believe they have the true and only answer. And they’re all wrong.

You can’t get there from here without shrinking silo walls and installing senior managers above the silo walls responsible for coordinating the contribution of all functions towards optimizing the customer experience. And now that customers are forcing more and more companies to put them first, it’s an opportune time to ask, “How would this go over in your company?”

Is Social Media Headed for a Correction?

We rarely see people as enthused as they are over social media. Among those recent rare times are: just before the technology bubble burst; at the height of the housing bubble; just before the market crashed; and when Sarah Palin was nominated for VP. Hey, exuberance can be headiest just before the fall.

Now don’t accuse me of being anti-social media. I’m very active on Linkedin. I do have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but neither has any potential to aid our business. In fact, the time I’d spend playing up there can be much more gainfully used creating more value for our clients.

Does anyone else subscribe to the “whatever goes up must come down” perspective on social media? And why?

What’s the consequence for marketing, sales & service of poor business/IT communication?

For sure, communication has improved over the past 10 years. The “cold war” has ended, and the two sides are talking. However, this dialog can often be described by one of my son’s tee-shirts, which says: “I can see your lips moving, but all I hear is blah, blah, blah! And almost everywhere we go we see technology not enabling process or enabling bad process. 

Which party is more to blame? IT is the traditional bogeyman, but I believe that’s misplaced. The business side does not have it’s act together here and is all too willing to point fingers at IT without accepting responsibility. I’ve written two articles on this topic that present my reasoning. You can bypadd the qualification step on our side (which is optional) and go straight to them if interested:

Why Can’t Business Streamline Front & Back Office Operations?

The latest McKinsey Quarterly reports new data that should upset those designing organizations and managing operations in O/S (office/service) settings. While manufacturing managed to reduce its expense-to-sales ratio by 2.7% over the past year, despite 90& 0f cost-cutting initiatives failing to last beyond 3 years, the SG&A (sales, general % administration – which is basically front and back offices) remained flat.  And these outcomes defy reason, because office “bloat” is virtually endemic to business and is rarely addressed, while most manufacturing operations had already been streamlined to some degree by year 2000, the starting line for data aggregating.

A quick and spurious retort might be, “Hey, we’re just taking better care of customers.” Wrong. When redesigning office organizations and process Outside-In (starting with customer needs), we routinely find clients can – and should – reduce overall office FTE count by 20%, and often more. All these extra people are standing in the way of delivering what customers want most, second only to quality products backed by quality service – dealing with well-trained, empowered employees. Also, the more hands touching work without adding value the greater the number of “fumbles.”

But those are just the facts (and the McKinsey data is corroborated by heaps of empirical evidence). Whose responsibility is it to streamline O/S workplaces? And considering at least some efforts are underway, why aren’t they improving the overall numbers, which empirical evidence also supports?

Why Would Wells Fargo Betray Its HSA Customers?

An open letter to the management & board of directors of Wells Fargo

As business professionals, you must recognize that building and maintaining customer trust creates more value for the corporation than any product or service. That’s particularly true today, in markets with more supply than demand. So I have to assume that the pain you’re inflicting on your health savings account (HSA) customers has escaped your notice. Unfortunately, that represents a severe lack of oversight on your parts.

Recently, I blogged about your failure to provide your customers proper access to their HSA account deposits―and customer inability to reach your HSA department through any communication channel. I titled the blog, “How Do 60 Minute Wait Times & 10% Unemployment Relate?” ( to focus on the disconnect between customer service understaffing and the high availability of skilled employees, many desperate for work. While I was using Wells Fargo as a pertinant case example, I intended a broader focus applying to the many other companies are similarly short-changing customers to save money.

However, subsequent communication from other customers plus reflection on past experiences tell me I grossly understated the problem relative to Wells Fargo specifically.

Here’s feedback to the blog I received from other customers:

Wells Fargo turns its HSA customers off

My husband and I got the same shameful treatment as you did. We can’t use our family’s 1 (and only) new HSA card because Wells Fargo WITHOUT MY HUSBAND’S PERMISSION changed his HSA fluid account funds into an “investment only” status. Telephone lines are tied up endlessly. And he cannot even access the account online anymore because Wells Fargo made his old password obsolete when they issued him a new card and account number (WITHOUT HIS PERMISSION).

…I’m of the opinion that my husband I should lodge a complaint with the state of California’s Department of Financial Institutions. Wells Fargo due to its high-handed draconian new policies has in effect confiscated our HSA money preventing us from using it for our family’s pressing medical needs. We cannot even transfer the HSA funds to another banking institution.”

“Should be a class action suit against Wells Fargo

I also (unfortunately) have an HSA with Wells Fargo, and have been trying to contact their customer service for 2 weeks, to no avail. I call the “customer service” line and get put on hold for an hour or longer and never get through. You cannot email them if you have an HSA, they do not provide any email address or email form to HSA customers. What a nightmare! This is the worst most customer unfriendly banking experience of my life. I will never bank with Wells Fargo again.”

With lots of persistence and hours with my office phone on speakerphone so I could hear, “We value your business…” or whatever over and over again―for hours―I was finally able to reach customer service. Only then did I learn HSA recently switched over to an insufficiently tested new computer system that’s altering customers’ accounts on its own and not even able to issue more than one debit card per account.

Wells Fargo joins many other companies in experiencing catastrophic customer service issues following unsuccessful system transitions. But I know of no similar situation (except for fraud cases) involving restricting or blocking customer access to money they’ve deposited with a financial institution. Further, it’s unthinkable for an FI to fail to communicate with customers―either proactively or even reactively―regarding their inability to access their money. Wells Fargo is callously treating customer money as its own, earning money on it, and getting around to “dispensing” money to customers on its own schedule.

Why is Wells Fargo doing this? Don’t you understand that today’s customers are highly transient? Don’t you understand that honestly and openly communicating with customers about problems (see Johnson & Johnson) produces far better outcomes than hiding problems and hiding from customers inside your firewalls?

On your website you offer a quote from your Chairman & CEO, John Stumpf: 

 “Integrity is not a commodity. It’s the most rare and precious of personal attributes. It is the core of a person’s — and a company’s — reputation.”

Clearly, Wells Fargo as an organization does not subscribe to these principles. Your HSA function has fundamentally broken trust with customers, showing a distinct lack of integrity and no sign of responsibility to them. And this is not an isolated incident for Wells Fargo, just the most recent and acute.

A couple of years back I posted a blog on CustomerThink, a global gathering site for business people serious about building and maintaining customer relationships. The title is, “Wells Fargo: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Customer” ( While even my most popular posts rarely exceed 1,000 hits, this one has attracted 18,059 hits to date. Why do you think this happened?

Wake up folks. You have lots and lots of angry customers out there. They deserve better (as do shareholders). And if customers don’t get better, you’ll soon need to close lots more than your retail lending storefronts.


Dick Lee

Principal, High-Yield Methods