Heartfelt Journey Mapping

Customer service is being redefined and formalized. While we all know what we are trying to do, the recent push to improve customer service is introducing a mélange of nifty and neat structures around which to think about customer service and customer care on a deeper level. We no longer think of customers in broad groups. Now we think of them as segments and personas. We no longer think about individual questions they may have on their minds, we think about mapping their journey … how they interact with us as they seek answers to their questions and to fulfil desires in their daily lives.

How can you argue against this? Perhaps you can’t. But my observation is that we have defined the problem we are trying to solve the wrong way. In all too many cases, we have defined the problem as customers wanting to interact with us and we want them to go away so we can go back to our business.

Or, we want to essentially twist their arm to get them to participate in programs and services that we have decided solve their problem. Of course, the customer may not see that the same way and in fact may be repulsed by our rush to that solution. It is similar to visiting the doctor because you are not feeling well and the doctor prescribing a remedy without taking the vital signs or even asking how and when you began feeling the way you do.

Then, there are the utility industry contrarians who think any and all of this is pretty silly. Why are we trying to raise customer satisfaction so much? All we are doing is raising their expectations that we care and should and therefore when we don’t they ding us on surveys. We should condition them to expect less from us and lower their expectations. In that way they will praise us even when we do the least.

This is an interesting but not quite defensible of market position course. Even the IRS is now subject to customer satisfaction scrutiny so we might as well get over any delusions that this is going to fade into the background.

But there is something to be learned here from industries roadthat have gone through this ahead of us. AT&T at one time was the butt of jokes due to their poor customer service. You must remember Lily Tomlin’s routines about that. AT&T had a “we don’t have to care attitude” and it showed clearly: http://stopthecap.com/2012/08/23/were-the-phone-company-we-dont-care-we-dont-have-to/

Now AT&T knows that the biggest information source about customer needs is the complaint process itself. Customer pain and anguish need to be studied, not merely because there may be things we as an industry have done or not done to add to this, but more importantly to understand how we can help.

So, rather than define the customer experience or the customer journey in the process we want to manage, let’s flip it around and think of it in the customer’s heart and mind. It is no longer just “starting electric service” but a more involved set of personal questions like “I am moving into a strange home and do not know what I should be thinking or doing.” “I don’t know what my bills are going to look like or how I can reduce them.” “I am afraid I am going to find things are broken and I will not know that until it is too late. How can you help me succeed in this scary time in my life?” These represent a much broader agenda that simply “start electric service.” They will also identify many more opportunities to be helpful.

Now that I have your attention, I think you can imagine a rather broad array of services you have in your existing portfolio, but they have not been “strung together” into a family of support services to help this customer’s journey. Energy audits, home retrofit rebates, refrigerator roundup and the like would make perfect sense when presented to customers who have a fear or concern about their new home but perhaps not to others. That doesn’t mean you choose not to present them, but how about the list of things they can do arranged in the order in which other similar customers found them helpful?

I really think modern management needs to study Amazon like a hawk. They are incredibly dedicated to making sure that your selection is going to be what you want and need and that your success is important to Amazon. Amazon has the customer’s journey clearly in mind. And, to the point of my blog, they are deeply concerned that they reach your heartfelt thanks for all they are doing.

We need to break free from the simple persona model. Every viewer on Amazon has a different point of view. Amazon links each person up with others who seem to be seeking the same product. Yes, they have the advantage of a huge customer base, but let’s think about how we can change our model to at least get closer to this.

Many customers are now entering a new phase in their lives. Their journey now is to work out of their home as their office. Others are taking in relatives and friends and get surprised by a host of things including the cost of medical equipment.

I hope you can see my point. We need to show customers that we understand what is going on in their lives and that we want to be of help. It is not about us and how customers can help us get our numbers. It is about them. Our hearts have to be sensitive to what they feel, fear and hope for. If we do, they will be quick to participate in our helpful offerings. Otherwise, they suspect our motives. And they should.

Which brings me to another key point about any home improvements or behavior changes. There is never one persona to a home if there is more than one adult in it and especially if they are members of the opposite sex. Men and women approach things in almost completely different ways. A women defines shopping at a store differently than men, in general. Plus, with our patriarchal points of view dominating the discussions, beware of any journey mapping efforts lead by men, especially engineers.

Some of you have heard me tell this joke so many times before that you are wincing as I even set it up, but it has merit here. Male engineers will brag about knowing 50 ways to make love to a woman … but they don’t know any woman. Watch Big Bang Theory if you need further proof.

A marriage counselor Mark Gungor humorously captures this perfectly as he summarizes men’s brains vs women’s brains: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BxckAMaTDc

If we are going to understand better how to engage homeowners and family members repeatedly and become a trusted ally, we need to do a better job of empathizing with their home dynamics. The idea that there is one decision maker in the home is pretty naïve. The idea that there is one persona in the home is ludicrous. We may be able to organize ourselves better and become more responsive thinking this way, but stop thinking our organization is going to get us closer to this influence level.

It is all about the individuals on the front lines being empowered and encouraged to feel the customer’s pain, fear, and deepest desires of self-worth and success as they define it. It is less about how efficient our clinical office is when they visit to see a doctor. We desperately need to make sure they don’t just feel like a number in the waiting line in the grocery deli counter. That experience will require us to look into their eyes and relate with concern and care as we attempt to be helpful. Sometimes, especially in a marriage, the most important thing we can offer is a shoulder to cry on and deep level of listening. Male engineers are not trained to do this. We are trained to answer questions. That is often the least important and likely worst thing to do. I am still learning this lesson. The energy industry does as well.

Admit Your Fears – You could be part of something!

“Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory…lasts forever.”

-Shane Falco, Quarterback in the movie
The Replacements

I hope you have seen the movie at least once. It has been described as the greatest football movie of all time. Thanks to a football strike by dozens of pro players, Gene Hackman who plays the character Coach Jimmy McGinty assembles a rag-tag group of semi-pro and amateur football players to keep the team’s standings intact ’till the end of the season… they turn out to be even more awesome than the actual professional team they’re replacing.

If you have seen it, you may remember that Shane prefaces this quote above with this: “I wish I could say something classy and inspirational, but that just wouldn’t be our style.” He then follows that quote on the next and final play of the game with “It’s been an honor sharing the field of battle with you.” As I close out my career in the energy space, this sums up my feelings well. It has been an honor … my distinct honor. Many of you are my closest friends and part of my extended family.

After they go on and win the game on the next play, Hackman says in the final voiceover: “When the replacement players for the Washington Sentinels left the replacementsstadium that day, there was no ticker tape parade, no endorsement deals for sneakers or soda pop, or breakfast cereal. Just a locker to be cleaned out, and a ride home to catch. But what they didn’t know, was that their lives had been changed forever because they had been part of something great. And greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man. Every athlete dreams of a second chance, these men lived it.”

I feel that way. I have been changed forever having been a part of something great. I entered the industry as a kind of Red Adair, putting out the flames of competitive battles the electric utilities were having with cogenerators and the like. It was a wild ride in those days. Thank you all for that. In many ways I was the character Danny in the movie. I didn’t know what to be afraid of. I tackled it all.

In the process I made many friends … and probably a few enemies along the way. Sorry about that. It is just who I am. I was true to myself and, despite my wife’s fears I was going to get sued, dauntless. I knew we could win this game together. And we did.

I watched this movie for the first time on a flight to visit a utility client who had a cogeneration fire to put out. The flight was delayed so they handed out free headsets. What the hell. I don’t follow football, but if they are going to give it to me for free, I’ll watch it. Perhaps the reason I don’t follow sports is that my alma mater set the all collegiate record for most losses … I never saw them win a single game in the six years I attended to get my BS and MS in Chemical Engineering at Rensselaer. When I landed that night after watching the movie, I realized I had seen the best illustration of how good people perform when they are part of something bigger than themselves and don’t let fear cripple them.

Getting to that last scene in the movie was tough for the team. Just like all good movies, there are serious troubles along the way. In fact, a satisfactory result seemed hopeless. The key turning point in the movie is when Hackman pulls the team together after a devastating loss to Dallas. They are in the locker room and Hackman writes the word FEAR on the white board and asks what the players were afraid of. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3O-kYwM8qY

The conversation starts out sidetracked by some silly talk about spiders and bees but then settles in on the word “Quicksand.” Shane expresses frustration about things going wrong which then leads to these players admitting that fears in their own lives were limiting their full potential on the field. They were all only one more game away from going back to their “normal” lives. This was their chance and they were afraid of blowing it. Sometimes just admitting we are afraid can go a long way towards losing that fear.

Silly movie? Perhaps not.

I love the way the movie starts where Hackman confronts the old guard of the coaching staff with illustrations how their paradigms based upon the professional players they lost were limiting them seeing the potentials in these replacement players. “They all have something unique to bring to the game. Let’s try to put together a winning team. If nothing else, they should be fun to watch!”

I wish we could play the energy game today the same way I saw it played when I entered it 30 years ago. I wish we still had the gall to do something truly outrageous like using a bunch of strippers as cheerleaders to distract the opposing team. We have gotten truly stale and bland. I wish we had people like Danny who, when I told them to get me the ball, would do almost anything to get it. I do share Hackman’s concern about him killing someone, but I love the attitude and full on engagement. I wish we had receivers you couldn’t overthrow.

I love the scene in the jail after the bar room brawl brought about by their defense of one player being ridiculed. I can only hope the team would stand behind each member with that much of a heart felt attitude. And, I guess I can’t get the song by Gloria Gaynor “I Will Survive” out of my head ever since.

This movie just makes me laugh and cry every time I see it. It was brilliant even in its silliness.

So, yes, I believe in the utility industry. Yet, at this time, it is frozen with fear: fear of doing nothing … fear of doing something. It is time to move beyond those fears.

Rarely in life do you get the chance in life to be part of something really big and important. Think it over. This is your second chance. You could be part of something.

The Only Thing we Learn from History

globe_booksI was a terrible student of history in high school.  It was my worst subject.  I barely graduated because back then you had to pass a four year comprehensive Regents exam in history.  I had high 90s in math and science but a low 70 in history.  It was so bad, and I was so afraid of not passing, that I took the class my senior year twice each day from the same teacher … twice!  I passed by one point.  Whew!

The only thing I remember from all that was the title of this blog.  Of course I remember more, but that quote was often repeated to me in my senior year as a reminder that we simply do not learn very much from history, and as a consequence, we are doomed to repeat it.  Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

The energy industry is stuck in a rut for the past few years.  We seem to simply regurgitate what we have all said and heard before, and we assume we have the complete truth when we do.  We don’t think critically.  We don’t look at the trends.  We assume we are on the right track and that all we need to do is stay in that rut and perhaps move a bit faster.

At the same time, I am witnessing the average American shutting down on energy agendas.  They are tired of trying and achieving so little.  They want to “escape” from today’s worries and woes and they simply don’t want to work very hard at anything any longer.  Don’t get me wrong, there are and always be that vibrant 1-2% that we always seem to attract and engage, but once you try to move off that to mainstream, you get lost in the whirlwind that distracts them.

What should we be learning and what should we be doing differently as a result?  I think you have to go back to the basics. We now make things way too complex.  People are tired and want easier things to do.  We assume people are rational decision makers.  They are not, they are emotional.  We assume people want to improve their lives.  Most are happy and just want to be left alone.


Sure, everyone would like more money, more respect, a nicer house, etc.  These are silly things so when you ask people silly questions about them you get silly responses that make you think you understand them.  One of my friends said it best.  People want something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.  Think about it.

People are happiest when they are productive.  People want to do things that make a difference.  We all know the story of the three brick layers who are asked what they were doing.  The first said laying bricks, the second that he was building a brick wall, and the third described his work as building a great cathedral.  Sure, the last person had the big vision, but they could all feel OK about themselves that they were doing something important.  It mattered.  Someone had to do it.  It needed to be done.  Idle hands are the Devil’s playground.  Be sure people have plenty to do that is meaningful and productive.

Meetings on the other hand I observe do precisely the opposite.  Ban any meeting that is not truly important.  No meeting should last a minute longer than it has to. In fact, I would suggest you establish a meeting policeperson in your company.  No meeting can be scheduled and no attendee can attend unless and until the agenda for that meeting, the time allocated, and the decisions or action items that are to come from it are identified, tied to a company agenda, and approved.  But Joel, if we have to go through all this, we wouldn’t have any meetings!  Then you shouldn’t!  And, be vigilant about latecomers (if you are not there early, you are late) and those who use digital devices during the meeting.  We banned them.  No phones, no iPads … nothing but a note pad.  And, if the person is not taking notes on either the papers being handed out or their own notebook, they are reprimanded.

It is time to get serious and time to get busy.  People need to believe they are earning their pay by contributing and participating.  If not, let them go and do the rest of your employees a favor by that.

Caring for others is also important.  You could flip the perspective around and describe that as being needed, or at least feeling they were needed.  Self-worth is important.  Having raised four daughters I know that all too well.  If you want to be sure your children stay away from the worst elements in society, be sure they have a healthy self-esteem.  Seems like we have some work to do here in our modern utility workplaces.  Lots of folks feeling unloved.

We used to call it mentoring.  I think we need that again.  Pair people up and have them invest in each other’s professional and personal development.  The scariest thing I ever hear in life is the phrase “I don’t care.”  People should care deeply about their own lives and the ones it touches.  If they truly don’t care, let them go and find a place they want to work where they do care.

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel is hopefully not an oncoming train.  I remember visiting one client and he had this sign on his door:  In an attempt to be more efficient, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.  Sad.   But, he was expressing his lack of anything to hope for.  This is possibly the biggest hurdle the energy industry has at the moment.  They are not looking forward to anything.  In fact, they look into the future and see nothing good.

As I have read the works of others who faced desperate times and hopelessness, I have been inspired by their simple faith statements like “all things work together for the good” and “every cloud has a silver lining” and others.  Some may criticize them as Pollyanna.  I think our minds are more capable of being creative and productive when we are not hunkered down in fear, but rather are searching for success.

The old story of the boy in the barn comes to mind.  Others see a pile of manure.  The boy digs feverishly into the pile saying “there has to be a pony in their somewhere!”   There probably is.

It is funny how often we refer to the “good ole days” as if they were really all that good.  They were simpler.  They were certainly less hectic.  But, what do we miss so much?  Could it be that we did things that mattered, were loved by people who were not distracted, and had so much to look forward to?

Boo! Did I scare you?

We Americans all seem to love a good scare, especially if it is tied to an underlying conspiracy theory.  Aliens visited our ancestors and will return again.  Asteroids will destroy civilization as we know it.  It happened in the past and it is certain to happen again.  Global Warming (sorry they now call it Climate Change because they can’t see any warming to speak of), Global Cooling, Ozone Depletion, Y2K and the list goes on.  Boo!  If you check the dictionary, this form of boo always needs the exclamation mark.

How about this possibility?  Utilities are out to get us!  They are secretly conspiring to convince us that natural gas is now cheap and the supply will last forever … just long enough for us to let them all build natural gas power plants and then gig us with high prices when natural gas returns to its proper Btu parity value!  Boo!

Boo can also be very scary when it is used as a verb to show contempt such as when performing artists are booed off the stage.  This is my fear right now for the electric utility industry.  I fear the day, perhaps very soon, that the seeming partnership utilities have with renewables will turn rather negative.  Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and it has been interesting to me to see the previously antagonistic National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) become an advocate for electric utility ratemaking to preserve the renewables game going forward.

I saw the same thing happen after the energy embargoes of the 1970s.  PURPA was designed to foster cogeneration and utilities were being forced to buy the output in New York State at $0.06 per kWh despite the market value on the grid at the time being $0.03-$0.04.  I watched the utilities that were deregulated just ask for stranded cost recovery and promise to keep rates the same for ten years only to be clobbered by the rate true-ups after that.  The pattern always seems to be the same.  Fear gives way to political positioning rather than being the standard bearer for truth and taking the heat.

Frankly, I am alarmed at the current state of utility affairs in the United States.  It reminds me all too much of the movie The Wizard of Oz.  The electric utility industry is all hunkered down in fear.  They, under the guise of political correctness, are afraid to stand up to their enemies and frankly afraid to enlist the help of their allies as well.

This is truly sad.  The closest analogy I can come up with is how elephants are trained in the zoo.  They begin their lives chained to a stake in the ground and learn quickly that they can’t pull free.  As they get older, they simply assume they still can’t pull the stake out of the ground.  Even as full grown animals, they stay tethered to that stake in the ground until their trainers free them.

Oh please … pull on the stake … it will come out of the ground so easily!  And, no, there is no Boogey Man that will bite you!  Please?!?  Face your fears!!

I loved the movie The Wizard of Oz.  All the characters were scared of something, and they seemed to have legitimate reasons to be scared.  Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion all had seemingly valid reasons to go to see the Wizard to get what they needed.  Scarecrow needed a brain.  Tin Man needed a heart.  And Lion needed courage.  Give me a break.  You have the diploma, clock and medals.  What you lack is the confidence to pull yourself out of the rut you are in!

Our son played the Wizard in a local drama production and as a result I listened carefully to the lines.  They are actually rather profound and portray the utility affairs rather well.   Because our son was so captivated with drama, I decided for us all to see the Broadway Play Wicked in New York City as part of a trip there a few summers ago.  As you know, it is somewhat of a twist on the Wicked Witch of the West.  It is kind of a back story on The Wizard of Oz.  It was a wonderful event, and will never forget it.

But, one of the songs from Wicked has really stuck with me.  It is the song Wonderful.  Here are some of the lyrics that I think apply here:

Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history.
A man’s called a traitor or liberator. A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader
or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label is able to persist.  There are precious few at ease
with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist.”

I am terribly concerned that the labels that will persist for the electric utilities emerging from these past few decades will be that it was lethargic, heartless, and cowardly.  How’s that?  Did I get your attention with that?

Lethargic because it refused to state the obvious: you can’t assume renewables and energy efficiency will avoid the need for new generation.  Heartless because, at the end of the day, it is a cost recovery business and will be held whole so it didn’t really care as much about the financial damage done to others, especially the less financially able.  There will be financial pain to the industry, but it is not like a free market company and certainly not akin to what fragile financial postures look like in the masses.  It will survive and evolve … kicking and screaming along the way … but it will make it.

Cowardly may seem harsh until you look at what the word means:  lacking the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.  Hmmm.  Political correctness is therefore another word for cowardice.  I rest my case.

I am deadly serious.  I am disappointed by the cowardice of the industry right now.  I am alarmed by the heartless disengagement as the utility’s customers are lured into energy systems that will fail to provide the benefits promised and will be abandoned just the same as the boondoggles during the second oil embargo.  I do wonder why the industry has become so lackluster.  It has some of the smartest people on the planet in it.  Maybe it is partly because those who know what is really going on are surrounded by so many new employees who don’t.  Couple that with the popular management style of consensus decision making and you blunt the impact of this wisdom.

Let me remind you all that consensus caused the State of Virginia to legislate that the constant Pi be rounded to 3.0 instead of the irrational number it is.  “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong,” wrote H.L. Mencken in 1917.

Maybe the problem can be summarized by the scene in Star Wars where Luke yodafirst encounters Yoda.  His plane is sunk in the swamp.  I am no Yoda but my prayer for all of you is to watch this brief scene and break that silly chain you think is holding you back.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ4yd2W50No

Do.  Or do not!  There is no try.  And, if you want to know why you are still chained to the ground, watch the next scene right up to the very end:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMUKGTkiWik

Boo … (the verb).