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Customer Experience

70% of Transformations fail – How to buck the trend


In this week's episode, Jonathan George joins the 'pod booth' to discuss top tips on CX transformation, pitfalls to avoid and how to make an impact fast.

Guest Speaker - Jonathan George

Jonathan George

Jonathan George has over 2 decades of successfully leading customer and service operations for a number of brands including Specsavers, Axa, RAC and GE. He has a passion for creating customer and people centric centres that deliver an exceptional customer experience and significantly improved commercial outcomes. Connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn.

Fundamentally you’ve got to listen to your people and your customers to understand what they love and what they don’t love, and then combine that with whatever data that you can tap into. And those three components fundamentally allow you to deliver a programme of change that delivers I suppose the expected outcomes.

Discussion Topics

  • What does your first 90 days typically look like when joining a business?
  • How do you go about winning over the CEO – is it all about proving value?
  • How do you engage with staff – does that differ dependant on the remit you have been set?
  • You’re known for delivering a great culture that leads to high performance – what do you see as the key factors to consider?
  • What do we think are some of the mistakes people make in CX transformation?
  • How do you balance the need of the customer and what the business is willing to invest/support?


Simon Thorpe – Welcome to The CX Chat with Matt and Simon, our podcast series on all things customer experience. Each week we talk about some of the hottest topics and the biggest issues facing cx professionals right now and invite special guests to join our discussions. My name is Simon Thorpe. And as ever I’m joined by my colleague, Matthew Dyer. Matty, how the hell are you this week?

Matt Dyer – Simon, I’m great actually. It’s been a long week, and a lot of zoom calls. So I am experiencing a little bit of Zoom fatigue. But the backgrounds that some of the people are putting up are quite amusing and making the experience a little bit more pleasurable.

Simon – Have you worked out how to turn yourself into a potato yet?

Matt – Not yet. I can have the best background I had was the Spice Girls were doing a kind of pop quiz last week. So that’s probably as far as I’ve got so far.

Simon – Nice. Nice. Now on the podcast this week, we are delighted to be joined by a man who very simply has done it all. Holding executive leadership roles in retail, outsourcing, travel, financial services, utilities, insurance. I think it’s safe to say that what this man doesn’t know about the contact centre industry and the CX industry, is probably not worth knowing. He’s also a terrific fella, a great mate and in my opinion, one of the best people to go on a night out with. It’s Jonathan George, how are you, Jonathan?

Read the full transcript

Jonathan George – I’m great, great and really pleased to participate in today’s podcast. Certainly, hearing that story a moment ago around Zoom, reminds me of a zoom call I had last week where bizarrely the individual who was on the Zoom call with had a beard similar to a ZZ Top singer, combined with a pub background. So it was quite a surreal conference call.

Simon – It’s everyone’s trying to outdo themselves now aren’t they. It’s become more about what the background is and what the, what the dress up is than the actual content of the Zoom conference call I’m finding at the moment. Well, a big welcome. Thank you for joining us Jonathan. Delighted to have you on here and  I also think that you and Matty will get on famously.

Matt – Yeah. And on that point sounds like you’ve done a lot within the CX industry. And you’re going to talk about in a minute, but what I would like to know is, you seem to know Simon pretty well. What is the best story you could tell our listeners about him?

Jonathan – Do you know what actually Matt, it’s interesting, because if I was to reflect on the time I’ve known Simon, I think it’s probably been 20 years. And I think if I was to share any stories, it would probably end a few careers and probably including mine.

Matt – [Laughs] Maybe you can get a beer at some point, and you can tell me about it.

Simon – I’m gonna move us on very swiftly before we all get into trouble because yes, there are some stories but certainly not for the airwaves.

Jonathan – [Laughs] If there was a hangover before, I think we’d be starring in it.

Matt – Now I am interested.

Simon – Right, moving us on. One of the things I really wanted to do Jonathan, given you’ve had such a diverse background and just start off by getting you to explain a little bit more about what you’re up to at the moment because it’s really topical to where we are right now in terms of the landscape of the world.

(Jonathan’s background)

Jonathan – Yeah, no, it’s um, it wasn’t by design, in fact, so some years ago, I established a consultancy Transformation Now which helps organisations deliver transformation and better outcomes for their people and their customers. And in recent months, so in October of last year, I’ve moved into the biotech industry, and life science of biotech is particularly topical, given COVID-19 and the organisation I work for actually provides all of the tools, re-agents, essential ingredients to help scientists uncover new discoveries, undertake diagnostics or undertake research. So given where we are and how we moved into that industry, I’m really busy. But secondly, I think I feel I feel as though actually really part of obviously, helping organisations or universities and organisations find, hopefully find a cure for our current challenge.

Simon – That must be really satisfying. And actually, that really is a nice segway onto the topic that we’re gonna be talking about on the podcast today. Because what we thought would be a really nice thing to cover given your background is some of the kind of top tips for CX transformation, some of the pitfalls to avoid and how to make an impact fast. So I mean, we’ve all all three of us have been in the industry for probably more years than we care to mention. And CX transformation is always on most people’s lips in terms of having an impact on the organisation. And but you probably have more experience than most, Jonathan. Just to start this, when you go into a business, what’s does your first, I don’t know, first three months, first 90 days typically look like? Do you have a plan or does that vary wildly depending on the remit or the sector or how it works?

(What does your first 90 days typically look like when joining a business?)

Jonathan – Yeah. So I would say is, regardless of the sector, the most important aspect of all of the transformation programmes I’ve led has been about being able to listen, being able to connect both with customers and employees to really understand what are the opportunities, what are the things that are working, what are the things that aren’t working? And because I’m moving into industries, which are traditionally require, you’ve got to have had you know, years of experience in the industry, or you’ve got to have particular qualifications, even obviously, the one I’m in now where a lot of the individuals I work with day to day, including the operational teams, many of them will have a PhD. So I think where I’ve had success is being able to certainly be able to build relationships very quickly and build trust, and therefore, then people are more engaged to be able to share and be open about what they believe, are the things that need fixing, and what are the things that show really making a positive difference to the organisation?

Matt – So Jonathan, are you saying that you need to raise what you’ve learnt before and what has worked for you in the past because they’re relevant to every business you go into?

Jonathan – Well, interestingly, I think, I suppose the, what I’ve learnt is that everybody turns up to the job, their role to do the best they can do. Nobody turns up to do a bad job. So in a sense, it’s in everybody’s interest, if somebody’s actually willing to listen to them, to help them fix the things that have either got stuck, or the things that are making their job harder, then they tend to be more open. I think what I’ve learned and I actually learned this through error and personal error is you can’t go in and then start to share what it’s like elsewhere or, you know better because that will then switch, quite obviously, that will switch people off. So I think, recognising that you’re not the expert, giving individuals the voice and the ability to believe, to actually demonstrate that they are the expert. And I think because you’ve got that willingness and openness, it then I suppose allows individuals then to be quite candid and candid with somebody who they haven’t got a long established relationship working relationship with. But what I found that it’s actually been particularly successful for me, and has allowed me then to transform at pace and be able to address challenges and issues that have been ingrained in organisations for some time.

Simon – Do you go about it in a different way, depending on what the remit is for the role. So what I mean by that is, you’re a really gregarious person. And you know, I haven’t necessarily seen you in the first three months of going in, but people warm to you very quickly, Jonathan. And I just wondered whether you have to change that personality depending on whether you know, you know coming down the line, you may have to make some tough decisions, read things like redundancies or cost saving, does that alter your and how you go about it and how you build relationships and dynamics with people that are working for you or with you?

(How do you build relationships and dynamics with people in an organisation?)

Jonathan – In fact, Simon, I think that the fundamentals are always the same, because I think it’s always essential to be able to establish that strong rapport strong trust because no matter what if you’re going to make difficult decisions in the future, you still need, they still need to be underpinned with data, they still need to be underpinned with insights and experience from the teams that you’re actually working alongside. So I think that building strong trust is particularly critical. And then I think combined with no matter what change that you’re driving be that consolidation of locations where you need to save significant costs, or where you’re looking to introduce new technology, which could eventually mean that there’s going to be a people consequence. You still got to build the buy in from the teams, you still got to learn from them and also knowledge transfer. So I think that framework will be your building strong trust still is actually a component part and no matter what transformation you’re leading.

Matt – Yeah I think definitely the consistency and approach is received well from employees, when I kind of managed out in Singapore, the culture is very much around kind of seeing you as the leader and coming across in a certain way. So as long as they understand that and you don’t change the way you operate in the good times and the bad times, you feel that you get a good reaction from that.

Jonathan – You touched on really good point, because I’ve led over the years global teams. And I think what I’ve what I’ve learned, certainly, with teams that I’ve led over in Asia, is that there is a real sort of cultural expectation around trust. So you can see you’ve made some, I suppose, some slip ups, around trust it in early days, then that will make your ability to transform far harder. And I think you know, we use the word transformation awful lot there. To my mind, I always think of things about it’s more about optimisation. Because in a while, obviously you’re delivering change, you’re delivering change to actually improve things it’s actually making things better. So I always I always see translation programmes as my ability to optimise a particular aspect or element across people process and technology for an organisation.

Simon – In terms of trying to engage with the leadership and this comes back I suppose to the the transforming and succeeding fast, what, have you got any tips you share, you can share with how to build a really strong engagement with someone like a CEO? Because that’s often what I think is one of the key problems is that people don’t have that rapport or that level of engagement and, and that can often be why transformation programmes fail, but how have you gone about doing that and building those kind of expectations?

(How do you go about winning over the CEO – is it all about proving value?)

Jonathan – Part of it starts before you join an organisation because you’re actually starting to establish a working relationship as part of the selection process. Or maybe we’re moving into the consultancy I now lead, you obviously, you’ve got to have chemistry because obviously ultimately you’re going to be making some fundamental proposal, proposed changes or changes for an organisation. So I think it starts right before you cross the threshold with an organisation. And then I think what was particularly critical is that being able to uncover what the actual way in which you would address the challenge that you’ve been set, or actually be able to diagnose what the business needs to resolve or prove will transform to achieve the outcome that’s been being expected. Certainly in my in recent years, I’ve worked for a number of organisations who wanted me to help them sell their organisation to a new owner, the route to do that certainly wasn’t clear before I was in the organisation. But on joining, I was able to help that organisation, be able to transform from a being more and more, optimising their costs, consolidating that the number of sites they have, combined with introducing a service delivery model that was aligned to what their customers wanted and what their people identified as being the key characteristics that will deliver the best service for customers. And that then that be able to articulate that vision to the CEO, what was the important aspect.

Matt – Are the expectations of the CEO, I guess too great sometimes in terms of what they’re expecting you to achieve, and how do you set expectation around what you’re going to deliver?

Jonathan – Yeah, I think I learned an interesting phrase some years ago. I suppose propose a number of options, you can recommend what one of those options should be. And then sometimes if you get into that place of actually the CEO would like to go down a different route, it’s always important then well, by choosing that route, there are some additional risks that we would potentially encounter. So I think it’s being really transparent on what the risks are. Should there be a different approach being asked for. And then I also think, you know, when you reach a point of disagreement, there are always elements of where you agree. And typically, it’s more about the how. So it’s then be able to try and find a route through that, which means that addresses and delivers what the CEO is expecting, whilst doesn’t actually unpick or actually creates significant risk to the way in which that obviously you you believe fundamentally how you should actually deliver the transformation programme.

Simon – Here’s something that bugs me. And I’d be interested in both your views and say. I don’t, I very rarely have much contact with a CEO, he that runs a business, particularly on the scale of the operations that you’ve worked in Jonathan. But do you think that in general CEOs really value customer experience, and have made that kind of mental leap between CX and what that can deliver in terms of profits and loyalty and all those sorts of things? Or does it still fundamentally come down to cost and, you know, sales and the kind of standard measures that we all know.

Matt – I’ll leave that one to Jonathan to answer.

Jonathan – Thank you Matt. Too Kind. Yeah so, I’ve seen a real mix over my career, and where I’ve seen probably a more stronger link to customer and believing that delivering a phenomenal customer experience, etc customer experience is the route to help your business grow. I’ve seen that more often in family owned businesses and family orientated organisations culturally, and also very recently in the biotech industry, because it’s a very ethical industry, that there’s also a closer affinity because ultimately, the service that you’re providing is saving lives so I think when there’s a far more ethical aspect, then I see that a greater emphasis on customer and the family organisations, it’s just very recently I’ve worked for a family owned retailer. And you know, that was absolutely have a front and centre focus on customer. And as a result of that, that also meant that the price point of their products was never going to go beyond a particular level. Because fundamentally whilst it could be afforded, it wasn’t the right thing for our customers, because as far the customers were concerned, we only wanted to charge price point that was fair and allowed us to make a certain level of profit.

Simon – That’s really interesting. Yeah, having that perspective, I would never have thought of actually, because I talk a lot about the, you know, the links between, you know, making that leap between an NPS score and and, you know, the, like the propensity to spend more money and those sorts of things. So I would have thought that it would have been maybe more of the, the, you know, the, the corporate businesses that are in the kind of highly competitive environments. So that’s an interesting perspective. I’d never thought of it like that.

(Factors to consider for your CX transformation programme)

Jonathan – Yeah, but I’ve also learnt is if you’re able to unpick and identify what are the specific measures and specific expectations that you your customer loves, and then you’re able to dial those up as significantly, then that again goes back to deliver change, pace, then that really makes a big difference. And certainly in a couple of industries I’ve worked in, the characteristics around speed, trust, excellence, and prioritising the customer. Those four aspects, were really dialled up, and that then made a massive difference in both NPS and customer loyalty.

Matt – And just in those kind of organisations, did you do a lot of primary research in terms of engaging the customers to understand or was it really just from the feedback that they were providing?

Jonathan – No, I think it was, it was a number of components I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, fundamentally you’ve got to listen to your people and your customers to understand what they love and what they don’t love, and then combine that with whatever data that you can tap into. And those three components fundamentally allow you to deliver a programme of change that delivers I supposed the expected outcomes.

Simon – Well, what a fantastic discussion we’ve had on this week’s podcast. And, like we always do to finish every recording, we always try and leave our listeners with some takeaways. And this week, what we thought we’d do is do the the top three CX transformation pitfalls or mistakes to avoid. And so Jonathan, would you would you mind kicking us off?

(#1 takeaway – Don’t undersell your reason for change and having the right skills)

Jonathan – Well, I think what I’ve what I’ve learned, I think there’s a statistic that’s out there which you’re all familiar with, you know, circa 70% of transformation programmes fail. And in my time where organisations delivers transformation well, it’s meant they’ve avoided that kind of pitfall where they’ve not undersold the reason for the change. They’ve really dialled it up and were really clear and why this is important. Why, you know, why there is a sense of urgency. And that’s been particularly critical to get to help drive the buying. I also think another another sort of watch out and pitfall is whilst you might have a fantastic reason to change, to deliver and deal with that change, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right skills, people and capabilities within the organisation. Sometimes organisations will embark upon a particular transfer transformation and actually not have the right skill sets. And actually, that sometimes can either lead to a translation failing or actually make it really painful and slow.

(#2 takeaway – Do your research and understand your objectives)

Matt – Yeah, very good points there. I think from my perspective, is once you’ve kind of done the research, look at the data understand, I guess what the objective is, come at it from an angle of a minimal, lovable product, you’re not going to get to the end result straightaway. So do the optimisation or incrementality, as we talked about, or Jonathan talked about it at the front end, and give you a chance, give yourselves a chance to adapt as you go through the process. And that’ll probably be my main, my main takeaway.

(#3 takeaway – Have a clear vision and set goal)

Simon – Yeah. And I think from my experience, it’s also about having a kind of vision point, I see lots of transformation programmes start with a, with a kind of targets being quite vague and the goals being quite vague. I mean, fundamentally got to know your heart of hearts and have the data to suggest that transformation is needed. And it’s not going to get you to, you know, the same spots in the same space that you’re already in. There’s got to be a future state goal that is better than you are now. And there has to be some targets and some objectives that you’re aiming out. They’re absolutely crystal clear. That will tell you when you’ve got there. So that’s all of our take homes for today. I would like to say a huge thank you to Jonathan George for being our special guest on the podcast this week. Brilliant contributions. Thank you for being part of it Jonathan.

Jonathan – Thank you, I really enjoyed it.

Simon – And Jonathan, people can find you and your company, Transformation Now on LinkedIn. If you want to see probably one of the most enviable CV’s in the industry, go and check Jonathan out. We’ll also have him, have his contact details on the social media and on our podcast page. So Jonathan, thank you, Matty as ever great, great pod this week. Did you enjoy it? Yep really enjoyed it, I thought was brilliant. We hope you’ve enjoyed another episode of The CX Chat with Matt and Simon, as ever, you can find us on LinkedIn and social. Thanks ever so much for tuning in.


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