Justin Robbins: Hey everybody, it’s Justin Robbins here, and I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Adrian Swinscoe. Adrian’s a Forbes contributor, the author of an upcoming book called Punk CX, and more importantly, a speaker on the upcoming Talkdesk CX tour in London. Here’s our conversation, I hope you enjoy.
Adrian, so glad that you can join me today. So thank you for taking some time. I know you’re a busy guy.
Adrian Swinscoe: Oh I’m not that busy really. Not for you, Justin. Not for you.
Justin Robbins: I know there’s lots of things going on, but I’d love to get us started up for people who maybe aren’t familiar with you and your work, what’s your background? What brought you to working on customer experience today?
Adrian Swinscoe: So my background, let me give you the kind of the short version of the long story. I don’t really have a career. I have a journey, because I’ve done a whole bunch of different things. I am a trained economist and a trained teacher, I did both in the 90’s when I started working. I did that in both the UK and overseas, the Middle East. I spent a long time in Cairo. So lived there for about five or six years and progressed that, you know, I had to make a decision at the end of the 1990’s about whether I wanted to become a professional economist, which meant taking a PhD, which I had that all set up in places and a little bit scholarship stuff going on and I was about to sign on the dotted line, and then sort of got cold feet. Well rather, not really cold feet, it just was, like do I really want to do the five year grind to get a PhD?
I wasn’t really sure. So I decided not to, sort of flipped or in sort of modern parlance, pivoted as it were into, took an MBA at Cass Business School in London, which led me to transition into a couple of big corporates. Places like the Financial Times group and also the Shell Group of companies. And I was there a building sort of new business propositions for them , sort of new ventures, that type of stuff. Did a bunch of really fun things. One of the most interesting ones was I built a car sharing business for Shell back in about 2001, 2002. Which was sort of slightly ahead of the curve in many ways, which is quite cool. They wouldn’t let us do it here in London because it was too political for corporate headquarters, so we ended up sort of having to do it in Germany as if like, nobody pays any attention to anything that’s going on in Germany, which is like completely wild, it’s crazy.
Shell went through some changes in 2004 and I left and decided I was going to try and do something a bit more independent. Spent a few years doing some general consulting work. Some corporate venturing, did some entrepreneurial work, like for example, me and a bunch of other people, we nearly bought Steel Company, which would have turned me into a steel magnate, which sounds like something from a film, but we didn’t quite get there. But, and then around about, sort of, 2008, 2009 I thought, well if I’m going to make a fair go of this idea of being independent, then I can see the way the market was developing. I needed to develop a reputation and a footprint, almost the ability to develop trust at a distance. So I started writing about stuff, started writing on my blog that is, and then started writing about stuff. Just general stuff to start with. And that got really boring very quickly.
And so it made me kind of think about, well, if I’m going to write, I need to write about something I care about or something I want to achieve or something that I want to change. And I figured out that I really don’t like bad service. And it frustrates me how, in many ways organizations get in the way of their people in delivering bad service. And so I took it upon myself as a complete outsider when it comes to service. I mean I’ve built propositions that had service in it, but I’m not a service professional. But as a complete outsider I thought, I am going to put my mind to thinking about writing about, and trying to help improve service from and thinking about it from our customer advocacy perspective but also from an employee advocacy perspective.
Started writing the blog, that got quite popular, added a podcast, self published a book in 2010, got approached by Forbes to write a column for them about six years ago. Wrote another book of 2016 with Pearson, which was almost like a boyhood objective ticked, because it’s like somebody else, a big publisher publishing your book. My mom and dad also think now I’ve got a proper job because somebody else has paid money to publish my work. So I’m like, yay, so they don’t ask me about when I’m going to get a proper job anymore. And subsequently, through all that time has led me to develop a portfolio of stuff that I do, which is really quite broad and varied in the service and experience space, which covers a bit of advisory work, a bunch of workshops and a bit of speaking and writing and things. And ultimately in the end I feel incredibly grateful that I get paid to do stuff I like with people I like. So I’m like, living the dream man.
Justin Robbins: I love it. And I love a few things about your background. In particular, you kind of had this journey from being an economist to working with Shell, you know, thinking about that, maybe that steel tycoon future at one point, but then ultimately, getting to this place where you really tapped into what you are genuinely passionate about, what do you want to see changed or affected and what do you have kind of an interesting perspective on. And so coming from an outsider into the customer experience space I actually think has given you a really cool perspective on not only what are those of us who maybe are entrenched in this from a day to day basis and have the blinders and don’t see, it brings some different ideas from that experience.
And so that’s a little bit about what I’d love for us to talk about in our time together today. And I know that people who attend the CX Tour on June 6th are going to have an opportunity to obviously meet you in person and hear more about it. Adrian, you mentioned your Forbes column and a couple of your books and I have to say, How to Wow, I loved, for me as a customer experience professional.
One of the really cool things that you do with that book is just kind of talk through what are, as you put it, effortless ways…
Adrian Swinscoe: I had an argument, I’ll tell you something, I’ll give you an insight. I had an argument with my publisher about that very word, effortless. Because I’m like going, they’re not effortless. That’s a complete con. And they were like going, “No, but this will sell the book. This will make a difference.” And I’m like, “Dude, I’m not sure I feel comfortable with this.” And then they were like, “Oh, trust us, it will be fine.” And I’m like …
So it still grates a little bit. And actually I think, interestingly enough, I was very, very fortunate to get an endorsement from Seth Godin for the book. And one of the first endorsements, which is brilliant because it speaks completely to my concern, which is these 68 ideas aren’t effortless, not at all. They’re effort full… That’s why most people won’t do them because it takes time and effort and hard work. Now I think they’re pretty simple and pretty straightforward, but they’re not effortless.
Justin Robbins: Yeah.
Adrian Swinscoe: And so that’s something, that’s a bit of backstory to that. So I had a bit of a kind of a wrestling match with my publisher and then I gave in.
Justin Robbins: I love it. Well, so then here’s the disclaimer as we listen on and have a conversation today about creating a great customer experience is it’s not going to happen if people don’t show up and do the work, right? They have to show up and do the work. Maybe what is effortless is having the idea, right? You’ve provided them the idea, they don’t have to put any effort into the idea, but there’s lots of work required to execute on it. So that being said, what are some of the things that organizations are doing that are holding their employees back from providing great customer experiences?
Adrian Swinscoe: I’ll tell you what, there’s one thing I think is interesting and it was the topic of a conversation that I had with a lady called Carrie Duarte, who is a partner at PWC. In the US, I mean she’s like a big cheese, like grande fromage, la grande fromage, or one of them, in the US, sits on the big main US board. And she was talking about this thing about tech at work and how, what’s fascinating is that organizations, even though they’re implementing all these new tools and systems and everything else, and they’re interested in improving the employee experience, that most of them aren’t talking to their employees about what sort of technology they should implement. They’re just kind of like, making a decision. And so it’s like “here you go” and forcing it on people or going like, here’s another tool that we want you to use.
Adrian Swinscoe: And actually what’s interesting, there’s this huge gap between what leaders think and how they believe they’re acting and then what actually employees think. So it’s almost as simple, the same sort of dynamic between almost how companies think about their own experience and what they experienced is delivered to the customers. And that many of them think that they’re doing a good job. And then you ask the customers and the customers are going, “What? No, you’re not.” And so there’s this real disconnect. And actually interesting enough, there’s the same disconnect inside organizations between what leaders as senior execs think they’re doing and actually what employees think they’re doing. And the implication of all that is that if you don’t talk to each other, that gap is going to exist.
And that’s the effort that you know, we come back to, again, it’s like sometimes, assumptions are these kind of things. There’s a quote in the book from Alan Alda. It says, “Assumptions are our windows on the world. We should clean them off every once in a while so we can see clearly.” And so we think we’re connected to our customers and we think we’re connected to our employees, that we think we know their minds, or what’s important to them. But actually the data and research and our experience suggests different and, and it’s the ones that don’t take those things for granted I think, are the ones that actually are just out in front of everybody else and don’t make all those mistakes. And so there’s effort on both sides, whether you’re inside the tent or outside of the tent, there’s effort required in order to build that bridge of understanding between leaders and their employees and organizations and their customers.
Justin Robbins: I couldn’t agree more. And you know, so often when organizations get to that point of discord, then they have to do extra work to repair relationships, build trust again with their team. So there’s certainly a time that needs to be involved with really getting that to be successful. What from your perspective is maybe a quick win? So say somebody is listening here today and they are feeling that tension of a disconnect between the leaders in the organization and maybe the front line teams. What’s something easy that they could do to start bridging the gap between the two?
Adrian Swinscoe: Okay. Number one, arbitrarily say no to about a quarter of hold meetings that you can have get ensnared into through in the course of every week. The one thing that we don’t have and we can’t fiddle with as it were is the amount of time that we’ve got, and so what we’ve got to do is we have to clear space to do other things. The problem is with many organizations, people get roped into all these different kinds of meetings and they say yes because they don’t want to. They get involved in projects or somebody wants to do it for information or they want their opinion or all these different things. You’ve got to decide to say no to a whole bunch of these things to create some space.
That may actually piss a whole bunch of people off, excuse my language. But if you want to make that break to make that serious kind of change, it’s like the old saying, you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelet, sort of thing. Well, we’re in the business of making omelets, ladies and gentlemen, we have to break some eggs. We have to do some things differently. And that’s one thing that you can do differently because if we don’t create the time to allow us to do different things, then nothing will change.
Justin Robbins: I love that. And I do think that some of us are maybe afraid to break some eggs, but that’s exactly, you know, maybe what’s needed to move things forward.
Adrian Swinscoe: Yeah.
Justin Robbins: So you mentioned doing things a little bit differently. And I will be honest, when I saw that you are going to be speaking in a couple of weeks, I saw the title of your session and you know, I’ve followed along with this little newsletter that you started and it’s all around this idea of Punk CX. So you want to talk about doing things differently, just that in itself feels to me like a little bit different. But even looking kind of at the full session description, it’s Punk CX: Why most CX projects fail and how you can succeed. So I’ve got a bunch of questions about that but I’m just going to ask a couple of of them today. First off, how did you get to this place of making a connection between the prog rock scene of the 1970s and where organizations are at today? What got that idea into your mind?
Adrian Swinscoe: Okay, so it started about 18 months ago and I was in the pub with a friend of mine called Ocean having a pint of Guinness, as you do. And most great ideas tend to come about when you’re having a bit of a rummage around something. And I was speaking to him and I was just, I was getting slightly bored or a bit frustrated or a bit of both, with the idea of the lack of progress that was getting and being made and the overall sort of CS and CX space. And I was like, you know, I wish somebody would do something a bit more punk, just a bit more like stick two fingers up and just crack on. Why don’t we ask for forgiveness rather than permission type of stuff.
Justin Robbins: Sure.
Adrian Swinscoe: Right? Just kind of do something different. And that was the germ of the idea. And it took me about, and it just sat there for awhile and I was thinking about writing another book and I was wrestling around with a bunch of different ideas and each of those was in danger of turning into a theory of everything, or like another answer as it were. And I was really uneasy with that idea because I’m thinking, there’s a plethora of answers there, I don’t think the world needs another answer. The world needs something kind of different. And so I kept come casting off those ideas and then, subconsciously this punk thing kept coming up. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought about what was punk, and what I know about punk, and then it started to build this I feel like, story narrative around it.
And so it’s almost like a two by two matrix classic consulting stuff, right? Which says top left corner. So there’s prog rock that emerged in the late sixties and early seventies and whilst it was popular, it also got accused of being overly elaborate, complicated, quite exclusive and in danger of disappearing up it’s own arse. And the thing that exploded at the back of prog rock was punk rock because it was not exclusive, very inclusive, democratic, back to basics, all about heart and emotion and mindset and short and to the point and very simple, and not for everybody either. And they were kind of quite happy to dare to be different. And that made me think, “Oh okay, that’s an interesting evolution.” Then it made me think about the CX space, and I was thinking about CX and seeking, well it’s becoming increasingly metriced and benchmarked and certified and codify to professionalized and functionalized and yada yada yada.
And I’m a bit like, dude, that’s a bit like prog rock, right? Overly complicated, overly technical in danger of losing sight of the customer. Most projects are failing when they have all this transformation sort of speak, in danger of disappearing up its own arse. You know, and I thought that’s interesting. So if you think about the matrix, you go top left prog rock to punk rock and then you drop down and go bottom left prog CX. Then the legitimate question is, is there an evolution that goes well what does Punk CX look like? And that’s what I thought. That’s where I got to with this idea of the book. And I thought, well, so in true punk fashion, it’s not a book as it were. It doesn’t have a table of contents or set of chapters. We’ve tried to write it almost like an album. So it’s like a set of tracks that’s been grouped into sort of, areas. And so you end up with this, and then limited between 200 and 400 words, which almost act like the lyrics as it were. It’s very design heavy. It doesn’t look or feel like a book. It feels like it’s designed more like a fanzine than anything else.
It’s been super fun to do. It’s a little bit profane and shouty in places. And I’ve put an apology in to my mum in the middle of it as a disclaimer. And I’ll tell you what, some people are not gonna like it, and that’s okay because the thing about being almost a punk is like it’s a mindset thing rather than a method. And people will self select themselves to take this kind of approach. So this is not for everybody. And like I say it in the newsletter sort of thing, you probably won’t like it. Because that’s the thing, because actually most people won’t like it. Most people won’t have the courage and bravery to do it. They might read it and it’ll be entertaining, but they’re not gonna do anything about it. But it’s an incitement to change, to do things differently, to be better. It’s almost like a manifesto as well. So it’s part manifesto, part fanzine kind of, part art project if you like.
Justin Robbins: I love that you are daring to be different. And what gets me really excited is that first off, you recognize that this isn’t for everybody. I would challenge anybody listening to this if they are wearing the necktie a little too tight or whatever it might be, to at least explore the idea, in the same way that you were an outsider to customer experience and realize something needs to change. I want to challenge people that if you’ve been in customer experience for a really long time, whether you realize it or not, you have blinders on. I think for a lot of our organizations, something needs to change and it may just be a Punk CX movement. And so I’m wondering, like what you said Adrian, what does it look like? What are some attributes of Punk CX?
Adrian Swinscoe: It’s creative, it’s brave. It doesn’t get hung up on kind of what other people kind of, think. So I’ll give you a preview and this is a slightly profane, kind of like a slight profane thing. So there’s like a, I’m going to put a parental advisory sticker on this part of it. So forgive me for the language that comes, it’s not that bad, but it is kind of, you have to be above the age of 16 or so…
Justin Robbins: Sure.
Adrian Swinscoe: There is a track in the book that I’ve called the law of three shits, right? And because I’m writing the book, I’m just going like, you know what? I made up a law.
Justin Robbins: I love it.
Adrian Swinscoe: Right? And the first version of it goes, do good shit, keep doing good shit, and shit will take care of itself. Right? And I shared that with a friend of mine and the friend of mine was like, “I love that, that’s brilliant.” But they said, “I think there’s another version of that.” I was like, “Okay, what do you think?” And then we had a discussion about it. And so we ended up coming up with version two, which is do good shit, ignore the shit sayers, and shit will take care of itself.
And so the thing about this track is that, this idea of the law of three shits is like there’s two different versions, one of which speaks to a problem around discipline and commitments and the other one and speaks to a problem like almost a social phobia of organizations. And being so worried about what other people think that they don’t be different. And so I say, these are two major psychoses that affect many organizations. Be honest and ask yourself which one affects you and or your organization, if not both. And if you can honestly, hand on heart, say none of them, then you’re way, way in front. But if one of them affects you, then be honest about it. Then by being honest about it, you can decide what to do about it.
Justin Robbins: So you’ve been sharing some insights from the book through the Punk CX little newsletter that you did. And I think you’re also going to be sharing as the book is coming out, you’re going to be sharing some information there for people who want to learn more and want to stay up to date, where should they go to do that?
Adrian Swinscoe: So you can go to AdrianSwinscoe.com and on the website and if you look around there either if it’s on the desktop, on the sidebar, there’s a Punk CX link newsletter. Check that out. It’s also pinned on the top end of my Twitter stream, which is @AdrianSwinscoe. You’ll be able to find that or just search for Punk CX newsletter…There’s not a very big tribe right now. It’s never going to be a big tribe, but that’s the thing. It’s almost a bit like it will attract the right sort of people. The people that want to do the whole Wile E. Coyote thing and sort of blow stuff up, get the Acme dynamite and just kind of blow things up, because that is what’s required.
Justin Robbins: I couldn’t agree with you more. What we’re going to do, for those of you that are listening to this and checking it out on the Talkdesk blog, we’re going to link to Adrian’s website as well where you can sign up for the Punk CX newsletter and get some more information on him and the work that he’s been doing. Adrian, I do appreciate the time that we’ve been able to spend together talking a little bit this morning, but I want to invite people to join you on June 6th in London for the Talkdesk CX Tour there. And that afternoon, you’re doing a session, Punk CX: Why most CX projects fail and how you can succeed. It’s a totally free event. I hope people plan to be there. But again, thank you for taking time to talk with me today!
Adrian Swinscoe: Thank you, Justin. You too, ’cause I’m really excited about this. I was speaking to your colleague, Chris, in London about this whole thing yesterday. And I like the idea that I’m putting together, where I talk about punk CX, and the way I could talk about it as like I’m putting together a mixtape to share with the audience. So I’m really looking forward to that because actually it will be the first time it’s ever been done in the UK and so, exclusive folks.
Justin Robbins: That’s awesome. So again, you can sign up here. Hope to see you all there on June 6th.
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