S4e16 The Punk Experience Leadership Edition with Adrian Swinscoe
James chats with Adrian Swinscoe, described as an experimental CX thought leader and visionary, best-selling author, Forbes contributor, speaker, investor, advisor and aspirant CX Punk.
He has been growing and helping develop customer-focused large and small businesses for over 25 years now.
His clients have included brands such as Sky, NowTV, Apple, ING, KFC, Philips, Cancer Research UK, Talk Talk, Gazprom, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Olympus, Harper Collins, the UK Gov’s Crown Commercial Service, Microsoft, Nespresso, Pearson and Costa Coffee as well as numerous tech vendors and many smaller and medium sized businesses.
Adrian is a frequent writer, podcaster and speaker on all things related to customer service and experience.
He published a best selling book in 2016 called How to Wow: 68 Effortless Ways to Make Every Customer Experience Amazing (Pearson), published a genre busting book: Punk CX in 2019 and has just published an exciting follow up: Punk XL at the end of 2021.
They discuss developing trust at a distance, the customer’s experience, adapting and adjusting, being number one, starting with the end in mind, the changing agenda, experience leadership, finding the answer, punk rock, and Big Ass Fans.
Forbes column: www.forbes.com/sites/adrianswinscoe/
James Nathan 00:07
Hello, and welcome to The Only One Business Show with me your host James Nathan, and I’ve got a fabulous guest for you today all the way from Edinburgh, although he’s lived in all sorts of parts of the world. Described as an experimental CX thought leader and visionary, this gentleman is a best selling author, Forbes contributor, speaker, investor, advisor, and aspirant CX Punk. He has been growing in helping develop customer focused large and small business for over 25 years. His client list includes such brands as Sky, Now TV, Apple, ING, KFC, Cancer Research UK, Microsoft and Nespresso. The list goes on and on and on. And also includes numerous tech vendors, as well as many smaller and medium sized businesses. He is a frequent writer, podcaster and speaker on all things related to customer service and experience. He published a best selling book in 2016 called How To Wow: 68 effortless ways to make every customer experience amazing, published his genre busting book, Punk CX in 2019, and has just published an exciting follow up Punk XL at the end of 2021. Please welcome Adrian Swinscoe. Adrian, Hi, how are you?
Adrian Swinscoe 02:07
Very well, James crumbs that was a long intro. Because actually, when you asked me for a bio, and I provide a bio, and then I didn’t expect you to read it out, like all of it out!
James Nathan 02:16
Well, there was a lot of good stuff in there. And I thought it was… I didn’t want to not share it. And it’s all…. your client list Adrian, it’s the kind of thing that most people would look at and think, wow, I’d love to work with businesses like that.
Adrian Swinscoe 02:26
Well, thank you. And it’s always a privilege and always a pleasure to and I must say I get to work with some of these people through the grace of working with other people. So it’s not just about kind of me sometimes I get introduced to these people through other people that I worked with, so which is which is brilliant. So which but it allows me to get to work with some, some very cool companies and some very cool people.
James Nathan 02:52
And that’s, that’s, you know, word of mouth and referrals that’s the thing, isn’t it?
Adrian Swinscoe 02:58
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s, I mean, I’ve always so I’m quite, I’m very grateful. And feel very privileged, I’ve got to the kind of the point where I don’t actually so I don’t it sounds really smug. But it’s it’s it’s not meant to be because it’s I have to work hard at doing this, is that I don’t actually have to do much sales and marketing. You know, what I do is I, I write, I podcast, I write books, I do these kind of these type of kind of things. And I try and add value to the space and share learning and science stuff. And often it’s not mine, it’s often it’s derivative of things that I’ve talked to other people about things and I just tried, synthesise it, put it all together or reshape it reformat talent in a different way. And by doing that, and have been doing that since 2008, I’ve overlaid I’ve built myself this this kind of footprint, which sort of attracts a bit of attention and attracts enough attention then I get enough people to tap me on the shoulder and say, can you help us with this or that allows me to make a living out of it? Which effectively means I get paid to do stuff I like with people I like
James Nathan 04:20
That’s got to be the best way to live doesn’t it?
Adrian Swinscoe 04:22
It doesn’t feel like work James and it’s like that’s the thing is, so, I absolutely love what I do. The best way I’ve kind of come to kind of like being able to describe what I do is that is that I’m in service to service.
James Nathan 04:40
How did you get involved though? How did you get so excited about and how did you get so involved in customer experience and where did that all start?
Adrian Swinscoe 04:48
So I mean, I don’t have a service or you know, experience kind of background? Well actually don’t want to talk about service because experience is like a bit of a new thing. And so I’ve….. my background as I’m a trained economist, and also teacher, I worked as both sort of things, I don’t really have a career. As such, I call it a journey. I’ve always just done different things, things I thought, sort of that sounds like fun, I’ll do that. And kept kind of going. And it’s so served me well, over the years, by following my interests and my desires, but what it has allowed me to do so a bunch of different different and interesting kind of things. But it’s always they’ve always had a feel like customer and employee value at their heart. And there was a point that I made the left kind of corporate life in 2004. And I was doing some freelance sort of worked for for the next few years around that sort of whole corporate enterprise sort of space, just consulting kind of work like corporate venturing and things. And, but I really started to enjoy the independent, sort of like, joining the world of the self propelled as it were. And I thought to myself about what if I needed to do if I wanted to do that sustainably, then I needed to develop this digital footprint. So I could see the way that the market was going back in 2007/2008. And it’s all a lot of it’s about, it’s not about there, you’re just about your black book anymore, or your your book of…. your Rolodex, your book of contacts and things. It’s also about the year, it’s going to be more and more about your, your digital footprint, and almost your ability to develop trust at a distance. And I thought in order to do that, so people need to get to know you and understand you and understand how you think, before they’ve even sent you an email, picked up the phone or whatever. And a lot of the time that’s going to come about through sort of digital content. So I started, I thought, Oh, fine, I’ll set up my own website, and I’ll start writing. But at the time, I was just writing about when I started, I was writing about general stuff, like general business development, marketing, strategy, business stuff, and then a really boring really quickly. Because I didn’t really have anything interesting to stick to say I didn’t really have an angle. Right. And so if I realised that, you know, I needed to do, I needed to focus on something that either a didn’t like, or a cared about, or wanted to change or understand. And after thinking about that, for a little while, I realised that actually, I really, really don’t like bad service. That doesn’t make me odd, because I, you know, like, nobody else likes bad service. But the thing that always struck me having built things before, is that how organisations often get in the way of their people doing a good job. And that always perplexed me. And so what I did, as I sat about this, on this journey to say, well, if I don’t like bad service, I’m gonna investigate what I think good service looks like or what you need to do in order to, to deliver good service. And that’s subsequently morphed into not just service, but experience and so on and so forth. And so I’ve just approached it from a research perspective, but without employee and customer advocacy hat on. The thing I’ve only read, the only thing I’m really interested in is how do we produce better how to produce organisations or grow and build and nurture organisations that produce better outcomes for both our customers and their people. And when I say people, I mean people in the broadest sense, which include employees, suppliers, stakeholders, investors, etc, etc. And so that’s where I started from. And that’s just been my I feel like my research groove. And I’ve just sort of followed my nose over the last, what, really, well, 14 plus years. And it’s, it’s not finished, it’s never going to be finished, because there’s not an answer. And things are always changing, and you pick up some clues along the way. And, and I think that’s the thing that keeps it interesting for me because everything is changing. There’s never an answer. Yes, there’s, there’s some age old truths in there. Which, frustratingly we forget or ignore. As we get caught up in the, you know, the next new focusing on the next new shiny object. But that’s kind of…. that’s where…. how I got into this is it’s in pursuit of that idea of…. this is something that you talking about. You talked about James has this idea about service excellence. Like what does excellence look like? Well, that’s a great question. I have no idea because it depends on kind of who you are what you’re trying to do.
James Nathan 10:22
Well, I think excellence is in the eye of the beholder. It’s all about the customer and what they want. It’s interesting, we talk about this because in for people listening from the States, you know, often I get get confused comments about when we talk about service. A lot of the time they they say, well, that’s, that’s the bit that comes after experience. Service is when you look after things that have gone wrong. For me services about everything from the first contact, well, the first time that business is aware of you through to the point where you continue a relationship. It’s everything we do in the kind of hospitality style of service, I guess.
Adrian Swinscoe 10:55
Can I comment on that? Because I actually don’t agree with that. Because I think there’s a distinction, right. And that because we talk about service, and we talk about experience, and people talk about doing experience, and that this is something I have a problem with is we can’t do somebody else’s experience. Because if you think about it, somebody else’s experience, we have no control over that. How somebody experiences something, is just how somebody experiences something. Because there’s distinction, which says, there’s stuff that happens. And then there’s what we make it mean. Right. And so we’re the only thing that we’re really in control of is kind of what we do, and how we can have like impacts the stuff that happens. Right. And we can do our best to try and create the conditions to help somebody have a positive experience, but we can’t control how they can respond to it. And I think that that’s an interesting thing, because that too many people…. And this is the one of the challenges I find with particularly than the whole this whole space. And this is one of the reasons I wrote the Punk book is there’s people talking about the customer experience spaces and a bit like sometimes I wish the customer the whole nomenclature around customer experience would just go away. Because it’s like a cottage industry, which is almost a bit like going pewter, where our customer experiences like going. It’s the customer is almost disenfranchised with all this stuff. If we talk about the customer’s experience, brilliant, let’s talk about that. But talk about customer experience as a thing. And of its own, I think is it, it becomes too insular and introspective and doesn’t… and the customer gets disenfranchised with this that within the whole kind of that process. And that’s what I have a real problem with. The customer gets lost in that process because it becomes you’re creating this industry that’s more interested in itself than its constituents.
James Nathan 13:03
Sure, I mean, I guess when I’m when I’m talking, I’m thinking about, you know, the experience being something that a customer is engaged with, rather than something that’s given to them. But they’re also that we need to be able to adapt and adjust to the people in front of us. When were, when we’re interact with them, we could set up whatever we want us to be the perfect example of what what we think it should be. But as soon as that person is with us, then we need to make sure we are focusing on them completely so that we’re adjusting and adjusting to fit with, with what’s needed because it will go wrong, or it will go differently. And it’s, and it’s interesting to sort of look at when you when you talk about it not being a whole being a cottage industry, I find that amusing because surely, it’s the experience that a customer has, or the experience that an employee has working with us as part of the whole business, the business as a whole isn’t it rather than just it’s not a part of it?
Adrian Swinscoe 13:58
It’s a bit like, well, it’s fascinating as they go in Episode 10, our customer experiences new is like going is it really it’s like it’s always like routinely ignored people. But now it’s kind of like, ah, this is this is the arc of the power of the customer that’s kind of been surfing that arc of the development of the Internet. And then actually now that power of choice and voice and everything else is now in over the last 10 or so years has really started to bite. And that’s why I think that the whole customer experience space is really kind of kicked out because people are going oh, you know, the thing that we said was important? Well now is because they’ve got a voice and they’ve got power. And now we have to pay attention.
James Nathan 13:59
It’s never it’s never changed has it?. It hasn’t changed.
Adrian Swinscoe 14:56
Well, cosmetically it’s changed and rhetorically it’s changed. But actually, has it changed on the ground? I think there’s there are, there are some people that really get it and believe it and, and go for it. But then there’s some people that are still stuck in the 20th century. And their old way of kind of working and things are still haven’t quite gotten it yet, or there’s too many entrenched interests or whatever. And so. But yeah, here’s the thing, James, is that one of the things that we, you know, people talk about, they always want to be, you know, they want to lead or they want to be number one in our market, or number one, or number two, in their market or whatever. But it’s not possible for everybody to be number one or number two in the market. And to do that, you have to kind of be able to be willing to do and try different things. And so there’s always going to be winners and losers in this in this sort of like space. But the winners are going to be the ones that go and try the new things and adapt to the new and changing circumstances.
James Nathan 16:15
It’s interesting what you say there, because not every business wants to be number one or two, not every business has the ambition of wanting to outperform the biggest business in their marketplace. Some businesses just want to be damn good businesses at the level, which they’re comfortable at.
Adrian Swinscoe 16:29
And if I go back to my sort of business school days, you just reminded me of an old professor of mine. A guy called Shiv Mader, and I don’t know where he is right now. But he talked about this idea. And this is goes back to my my economist training, the old depends on kind of what you define as your market. And your market doesn’t need to be the whole market as that as how people would commonly see it, like everybody that’s in your space, like across the whole nation, or whatever, it could just be your market is a distinct subset of that. And you could be…. I mean, you could just be, the market could be number one in the minds of your own customers. That you’re the number one choice, you’re the only choice.
James Nathan 17:24
Well, you just need enough.
Adrian Swinscoe 17:25
Yeah exactly. And the question is always enough.
James Nathan 17:29
Yep. And that’s, that’s impossible to define, because it depends on each individual.
Adrian Swinscoe 17:33
Exactly. And that’s the point. But it’s actually being conscious about that. And making those choices, because then we can start getting into the whole idea of, well, what is growth? Now commonly, growth is defined as bigger or more. But that doesn’t necessarily need to be true. And it doesn’t necessarily fit for every kind of business, you talk to the many small businesses and they’ll go like you say, it’s like enough. And enough doesn’t always mean kind of growth, it might mean something completely different. And so I think that’s it, you’re absolutely right, you talk about success, or excellence, or, you know, what is number one kind of mean, it’s a lot of the time, it’s all going to be relative. But people don’t necessarily lean into that and really interrogate it, and to understand kind of what it means. And, and I think that’s particularly true in the whole service and experience space, because one of the biggest problems I always see with some of this stuff is that people talk about… if I ask people like, what is your, what is your vision for the experience that you want your customers to have with your business. And they’ll end up kind of trotting out all sorts of buzzword bingoy type of names, omni channel, multi channel, seamless, friction free, AI enabled, digital first, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it’s usually all the same, but it doesn’t tell you anything. Because it doesn’t tell you what the customer is going to experience or what you want them to experience. Doesn’t tell you what the what happens now, but how you want to change it where you want to get to. And because of that, they don’t really understand where they’re going, what how they’re travelling. And they don’t really have a clear view of kind of what strategy you need to put in place in order to achieve that destination. And for me, that’s one of the biggest missing parts of most people’s view of the this whole experience sort of spaces they don’t actually understand what the what they’re trying to build. They’re trying to build the same as everybody else.
James Nathan 19:49
Yeah. Well, that goes back to Stephen Covey: start with what you know start with the end in mind and you know, in a we’re all very comfortable when we know where we’re going but you know, setting off in a car on my way to Edinburgh and just driving and hoping for the best. None of us are particularly happy about doing that. But in business, you’re right people do all the time.
Adrian Swinscoe 20:07
But then people do it, they add a business kind of level that, oh, we want to do this, we want to do that. But actually they don’t. They don’t think about how does that? How does that manifest itself in different domains within your business? And particularly in the sort of whole experience? thing or the services space around? Well, how do you want your customers to interact with you? How do you want it to feel? What do you want them to feel like? For them. How do you want to describe the experience that you want them to have, because then you have a picture in your head. A story that you can tell that you can communicate around the business that people can actually engage with. They go, oh, now I can figure out, I understand where we’re gonna go to now I can envisage how I can help build that and deliver that. Because otherwise, you you’re going, if you tell somebody where we want to be kind of build this omni channel friction free, kind of like aI enabled kind of experience, you’re like going, I have no idea what that means.
James Nathan 21:17
Well, it’s almost bingo, isn’t it, you can write all these words down and tick them off as you go along. And, you know, and it, we’ve talked a lot of recent episodes on this podcast about, you know, the values of business and mission statements and things. And they are very often just words on walls, with no true meaning or understanding behind them. And you’re describing a very similar thing. Adrian, what what brought you to Punk CX, fantastic books, I would certainly recommend anyone who wanted to kind of to sort of to, to have to get hold of that book, read it in whatever format you can find it. But what brought you to then follow up with Punk XL? Why now?
Adrian Swinscoe 22:01
So I guess the Punk CX was born out of my sort of frustration with the whole experience space. Because there’s a lot of activity, a lot of investment of enthusiasm in this space, but actually, I wasn’t seeing a lot of significant improvement in outcomes. And so the Punk, it was an expression around saying, you know, riffing on that kind of this, that the idea that this has become a cottage industry, and I thought, well, actually, it’s, it’s sharing some of the same characteristics as prog rock did in the 1970s. And punk exploded about out the back of prog rock in 1970s. And given that, I thought, Well, if that’s true, if they experienced spaces, looking at like prog rock in the 1970s, then what would a punk version right, so that was a hypothesis around the punk book, and they explored sort of that. Now, that came out in 2019. Now, and it’s sort of landed, and it did well, and it got some attention. But it also felt a little bit… It’s intended to be edgy, and it felt a bit edgy and a bit, a bit on the edge, as it were, right. And a bit early for some people. But then the pandemic happens, and their books almost accelerated to irrelevance, because people had to basically pare back and get back to the basics. And to really focus on the, the getting things done in a matter of days and weeks, rather than months and years. And stripping away all the vanity type stuff and actually dealing with the things that are really important, or at least trying to do that now. But over the course of the last, over the course of 2020 and 2021 I just thought we there’s some fascinating things that are happening, there’s some stuff that’s already emerging, but it’s we’ve faced some incredible challenges. You know, and so many other things have come, have risen up the agenda, you know, so it’s around about how we operate as organisations the importance of the employee experience, leadership, you know, the experience of the leader, how social cultural, political, environmental issues have risen up the agenda, that it occurred to me that it’s it’s no longer sufficient just to talk about customer experience in isolation. And we have to think about it in a more integrated and holistic and systemic way. And then it also occurred to me that if experiences the or a customer experiences the one of the biggest ways that companies used to differentiate themselves right now competitively differentiate themselves. Then it occured to me is like all we talk about market leadership. And we talk about brand leadership. And we talk about technological leadership, and personal leadership and team leadership and all these different things. Yet, we don’t talk about experience, leadership, and what that means and what it means to lead, what it’s what it’s going to take to achieve that in order to achieve that leadership position, and that competitive differentiation, that competitive advantage. And that’s what the kind of the Punk XL book is there to do. So XL stands for experience leadership. And it’s just a way of trying to explore that different levels from the domain of you as an individual as a, an experienced Pro or professional leader, executive, whatever. To how you manage your team, the culture that you build to how you set up your organisation to kind of how you manage and interact with your customers to your broader impact on the world around you. And it looks at all those different sort of dimensions, and it has contributions from different people from around the world to try and build it out. And also to make sure that I’m not mad spending too much time in a shed kind of thinking about this sort of stuff.
James Nathan 26:19
But is that how you would define it then? With those adjectives or is that more distinct or concise definition which you can use?
Adrian Swinscoe 26:26
Is that thing it is as I say, it’s this is I always kind of said that this is I think that we need to talk about experience leadership and what it takes to achieve that and deliver that this book like Punk CX, it never, never offered an answer. It just positive that I think it’s time that we start that conversation.
James Nathan 26:55
It’s interesting you say that because I think you know, if I look up at my my bookshelf, and the books, which I read, reread and recommend to people all the time, none of them tell you what to do, but they will get you thinking in the right direction to make the changes for yourself. I think that’s quite an interesting concept. And then certainly, if that’s what you’ve achieved in then that sounds fantastic.
Adrian Swinscoe 27:17
Yeah, that’s it for me. It’s as I say, it’s this is, I’m not offering like punk really, can I find a punk music. And punk was for me was was it was never about an answer. It was always about the answer was always about the it was about being provocative, challenging and forming kind of people. And then and, and the answer is up to them. Because you have to do the work, like we talked about before is that the answer will be individual and will be relative to your own situation in your preferences and your kind of like environment and things. But it’s it’s up to you to grapple with that and the book is both an invite a challenge and a provocation to go on that that you know that that that journey, but the opportunity is there.
James Nathan 28:16
It’s… there’s something very special about punk. I mean, I think we’re probably quite similar ages but I came to punk in my teenage years. Steve Jones was the driving force and me by my first guitar, Hendrix was the reason I kept playing. But, but I think there’s you know, people, what’s interesting is that, at the time of punk, it was seen as this horrendous thing by a lot of the population. And now it’s almost seen with a, a kind of fuzzy warmth and comfort. And I guess what what you’re describing is a revolution that ends up being the norm.
Adrian Swinscoe 28:52
exactly. I mean, because it punk is an incredible thing, in that it’s probably the one that it’s one of those social, pop cultural kind of movements that’s had probably the most enduring impact of any type of movement of its kind of the last 50 or 100 years. And so people yesterday dismissed it as being oh, it’s a snotty youth. But when you talk about being a punk, are you talking about something that’s a bit more punk rock or whatever? People know exactly what you mean?
James Nathan 29:29
Yep. Yeah, fantastic. I think if we ended up talking about music, Adrian we’ll probably just take the podcast in another direction altogether. But let me ask you one big question to wind up our thoughts here. What what’s your big thing? What’s the one thing that people listening now can do in their businesses today to make their businesses better for today and better for the years to come? What would you say
Adrian Swinscoe 29:54
Ao, I would say actually connect Can I know that you focus on B2B James? So can I tell you a story, one of my favourite stories of B2B story? So there’s, and this is something I discovered on my own podcast a few years ago, there is a company in the US called Big Ass Fans. They make big ass fans, right? Brilliant, brilliant name. And so these make these big industrial, kind of like fans and things and ventilation systems now. They’re their CEO and founder who’s no longer with a business was called Carrie Smith. And he employed this guy, he was called Dave Schultz. He said, initiative, economy is customer, as customer advocate. And he said to him, Dave, I want you to go out and talk to customers, he says, but what you want you to be on their side, I pay your wages, but you don’t work for me, you work for them. This is I want you to go out and find out what they like what they don’t like, and come back, tell us and we’ll kind of we’ll we’ll kind of like, figure out what we’re going to do with it. And then we’ll just keep going. They did that. And the built a team around kind of around Dave, and they didn’t do it by just sending surveys out, they actually went out and called them or they went to meet them or they kind of end up having conversations with them. And they talked and they kept finding all these insights about all parts of the business that kept kind of pull… you know, that continual loop and that continual conversation with customers. You know, by keeping showing up the kept, they kept telling them all sorts of different things. But here’s the thing. They believe that one strategy and doubling down on that, and then building out on that strategy was the… was the one of the primary drivers, if not the primary driver, that led to the five fold growth of their business over the course of six years. So their business went from $35 million in I think it was 2009 to $175 million in 2015. By doing that doubling down that building a team around in and their customers told them everything about things about the design of the products, their instructions, the logistics, that kind of the packaging, all of these different things, they told them everything they needed to know. So if I was to have a, I would say to people go look up that podcast, and you listen to it, because you’ll get the same thing from it. But the one golden nugget is like, if you’re gonna do one thing is go and talk to not just your customers, but also talk to the people that deal with the customers, anybody who deals with the customers, your customers on a day to day basis, go and talk to them, customers and your employees. And ask them for all the things that they’re hear repeatedly that need fixing, not there at all, even the things that are here, and you know, the the odd ones here and there. If you make a big list of those things, and systematically just go and try and solve all those different things, you will make a massive difference to your business. And here’s a question I would use if you’re going to go talk to your customers. And the question would be is there one thing? Is there one or two things that you think that are however small or insignificant, they just annoy or irritate you about the things that we do? And I asked the question that particularly that because the thing about about that as your you got to keep asking that question and keep showing up to get that them to give you insights, because looking for the small things that just the annoyances or the irritations tend to get overlooked by businesses. But they tend to get remembered by customers. And lots of little things when you solve them can add up to big things. So looking for the grit and then acting on it, I think is a thing that most companies don’t do very well because one it takes time it takes effort and it’s an it’s hard work and all those different things. But if Big Ass Fans who did that, if they are one example of the of the art of what is possible by following and pursuing that type of strategy, then that’s what you should be doing.
James Nathan 34:49
Fantastic, Adrian. That’s a great way to finish. thank you so so much for all your thoughts and all your time.
Adrian Swinscoe 34:54
You’re very welcome to them. It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.