Can't Stand Christmas Movies Till I Saw This

Last week my wife convinced me to watch the 1940s Christmas film "A miracle on 34th street" because she heard it was good. I can't stand Christmas movies and not a big fan of 1940s cinema either (admittedly I know nothing about it). But reluctantly I said yes, because she's usually right, so who am I to argue? Turns out she was right... again - I thoroughly enjoyed it!

In the movie we meet Kris Kringle, who may or may not be Santa. He goes to the city to bring back what is for him the meaning of Christmas - giving with no agenda and being authentic. He believes he's Santa, everyone thinks he's crazy, but we soon discover he may be the sanest of all, as what transpires with his authenticity and giving nature, is a much better and connected situation for all. Renegade psychiatrist R.D. Laing might have described his condition best in one line:

Insanity - a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.
— R.D. Laing

There's a scene when the owner of Macy's department store realises success isn't beating the rival store Gimbels, but changing focus to meet what customers really need. Remember this is 1940s, there's no concept of customer-centric design (as far as I know). Anyway here's that revelation:

“Imagine Macy’s Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels. But gentlemen, you cannot argue with success. Look at this: telegrams, messages, telephone calls — the governor’s wife, the mayor’s wife. Over 500 thankful parents expressing undying gratitude to Macy’s. Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy...And I’m positive, Frank, that if we expand our policy we’ll expand our results as well.

Therefore, from now on, not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner, but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing. If we haven’t got exactly what the customer wants, we’ll send him where he can get it. No high-pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn’t really want...We’ll be known as ‘The Helpful Store.’ ‘The Friendly Store.’ ‘The Store With a Heart.’ The store that places public service ahead of profits. And consequently we’ll make more profits than ever before.”
— Owner of Macy's Department Store

It makes perfect sense right? Give customers what they want, they'll like it, tell others about it, and keep coming back. It's so simple. I wonder is it too simple for large organisations that claim to be customer-centric? Don't get me wrong, I've seen profound changes in a lot of be organisations that follow customer-centricity for the better. Things are definitely improving but there's a tendency to be more talk and less walk. There's sometimes a lack of authenticity and Santa would definitely not approve!

For example, when we say we're customer-centric but deceive in our advertising, push higher sales targets on staff, focus on being always one-up on competitors, put budgets over quality and push out sub-optimal products, services or experiences - we're not authentic and we're definitely not customer-centric. This self deception is sure sign of some kind of dysfunction. If we’re not giving customers what they want, but say we are, what are we really trying to do?

Recently I came across research that challenged what I thought on addiction. The study showed how a single rat in a cage chooses drinking cocaine laced water over plain water until it dies. However in an environment with plentiful food, things to do and other rats, the rats aren't interested anymore in cocaine laced water. Rats only go against in-built self-preservation when left isolated and without opportunity to do what they enjoy.

Here’s a short clip that describes it better: 

So I wonder are our dysfunctions not about us being broken but more about being in environments where we can't thrive and experience real connection? If we’re like the isolated rats in a cage, we’ll choose whatever quick fix alternative is around and we will “dysfunction” at work or wherever else we feel disconnected.

Being customer-centric means our entire focus is on getting to know people (customers) and helping them. That means being able to connect with people, including those inside our organisations too. When we encourage a culture of cut-throat competition at work, customers take second place. When we can't connect with people we work with, what hope do we have doing it with anyone else? How far can this disconnection go? A recent article about how many top CEOs feel isolated and alone put that in perspective. Seems like it goes all the way to the top where our work cultures aren't serving us well. 

It’s difficult for companies to thrive with mixed purposes and people feeling isolated. It makes sense to shift that towards rebuilding connection. We can't candy coat it though, to embrace customer-centricity we'd have to first be real about how disconnected we are and why we can’t give customers what they need and serve these needs well. Telling everyone we care about customers but really don't won't help, it just increases the disconnection.

What struck me most about "A miracle on 34th street" was how it got back to basics on what companies are best at - that is giving. It sounds completely counterintuitive but simply put, what better reason for a company to exist than to give something of value to customers? 

Perhaps it feels counterintuitive because it's often presumed price and value are the same thing. At Macy's, products had their price still, were even purchased more than before, but it was the "extra" service not about the products that was key. The value not part of the price was just helping the customer out and with a true spirit of giving. If we want to give, we’d want to begin with connection, so then we know what and how to give. We could learn a thing or two from Santa I'd say!

This isn’t just a feel-good idea that only works on the big screen, take for example the view of Arianna Huffington who made the 100 most powerful women list, on what she calls a “third metric”

This idea of success can work, or at least appear to work, in the short term. But over the long term, money and power by themselves are like a two- legged stool, you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. And more and more people, very successful people, are toppling over. To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.
— Arianna Huffington

Is connection and a giving-centric work culture the way to transform organisations to thrive? Would we then drop the lip service about being all about customers and really be all about customers from here - what do you think?

David Wall leads Experience Design at eccoh, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation pioneering a movement to change the way the world thinks about sales.

Image credit: Miracle on 34th Street movie, Twentieth Century Fox Corporation, 1947