Whether or not Duke Ellington was a cricket fan, I don’t imagine that when he composed this famous song in 1932, that he’d expect that the 2018 Australian cricket team would take his words so literally. For any of you that have been on a day trip to Mars, or for whom the Final Four in Houston is monopolizing your personal sports page, this latest sporting scandal involved something called a Kookabara ball meeting some sandpaper in a dark place (the fielder’s pocket) and players looking for more swing and deviation. There’s got to be a movie title in their somewhere!
Terry O’Brien, the chairman of AG Thompson, the Melbourne company that manufactures the cricket ball, added to the potential for more satirical excess when he said, “It doesn’t look good on the surface of it and, you know, obviously we wish our ball wasn’t involved.” He continued the Ellington theme when he said “we wish it was a Duke [their main competitor] and then we could point at them.”
When is Enough, Enough?
The resulting furore and the huge outpouring of scorn from the talking heads doesn’t look like relenting anytime soon. When the players, now banned from the game for varying time periods, returned to Australia, they were verbally roughed up, perhaps less painfully than with sandpaper, but ultimately more reputationally and financially damaging. Their critics, led by the media, included most of South Africa, Cricket Australia, former players and ironically the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who doesn’t appear to have acquainted himself recently with the Gospel according to John, chapter 8, verses 3–7, regarding the casting of stones.
However, many commentators, while not excusing the actions in any way, have suggested it’s time to call time on the mea culpas and brow beating. And that the “glee” at the outing of the Australians has been way overdone and not entirely cricket.
Both Michael Atherton, the Times’ award-winning cricketer writer and no slouch himself on the cricket pitch, and Matthew Syed, an equally talented columnist and world-renowned table-tennis champion, penned articles effectively saying it was time to stop. I have the greatest respect and admiration for them both as writers and successful sportsmen who understand the pressures of fierce competition, and as compassionate and empathetic human beings. And while certainly agreeing with their call for calm and a more measured reaction, I can’t say that the outpouring of schadenfreude comes as any surprise or isn’t deserved.
There is probably a more poignant or apt sporting metaphor than the one about the straw and the camel, but I truly believe that this episode did have the desired weighty effect, at least from a sporting perspective.
Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only Thing
In my recent book on Customer Experience, “When a Customer Wins, Nobody Loses”, I use many sporting references and examples to make my case about winning being important to all of us in various ways, but not at all costs. It appears that the Australian team also took Vince Lombardi’s famous quote about winning too literally and are joining the chickens, who are coming home to roost, for a roasting on the media barbie in Australia.
In my book I mention the societal changes that are taking place and note that the 1971 film Network, starring Peter Finch and his verbally violent and passionately delivered monologue “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”, is due for a comeback. Which it is having both theatrically (London 2017), and politically, with the various populist movements around the world. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that the message has reached a much broader and even more reactive audience. People generally, and sports fans in particular, have had enough. Enough of the cheats and posers in their gilded cages and Bentleys, taking us all for granted and for a ride, by their devious, unsporting and often illegal actions both on and off the field, to ensure that they win and keep the gravy train on the tracks, regardless of the consequences.
Cheating – Really? Isn’t the money enough?
Diving in football, fake blood in rugby, deflategate in American Football, drug use in athletics, cycling and baseball. The list goes on and fans are losing both their interest in sports and tolerance for the continued damage being done. Add to that the revelations that many sports stars, driven by greed, trousering obscene amounts of money and often only showing up to collect it but not to earn it on the field, are still resorting to tax evasion to boost their earnings.
So, is it really a surprise that the world has turned on Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, the Australian cricketers involved? Even though in the annals of dirty rotten scoundrels, their transgressions are less dastardly than many. But their actions were premeditated, their timing was off, the camel is seeking medical attention and in the court of public opinion, they’ve had the book thrown at them. And, that book is poised and ready to be launched by many in the business world as well.
The (Digital) Natives are getting Restless
People (customers) have been making their feelings known about poor customer service in ever increasing numbers and in more innovative ways, as social media platforms have made this task even easier. So, it’s clear that this isn’t just a political argument; it’s reflective of the frustration and anger that many people feel about so many aspects of society, including how they are treated as customers. While many have sought to politicise the various protest movements, the economic train wreck that enveloped most countries has also had broad ranging effects on most segments of society. The media fire storm and affirmative action, has come from the bien-pensant of all political stripes and demographics, as evidenced by the “March for our Lives” and “Time’s Up” movements.
The fundamental issue at work here is the total loss of trust felt by customers, and that can be the death knell for any relationship. As with Steve Smith and his colleagues, rebuilding that trust will take time. For many businesses and industries this may take a total reorganization with a totally new and sustainable culture.
There is one analogy with sport that successful customer experience can share and that is creating a culture where the customer wins. It is also where customer experiences are authentic and consistently memorable, very much through a team effort and, like success in any field, it doesn’t come easily, but must have honesty and integrity at its heart, not sandpaper in its hand
In the business world, while companies want to be successful and be winners, it can’t be achieved at all costs. It should be based on growing their businesses by helping their customers succeed – and win. Companies are beginning to realise that customer interactions can’t be a zero-sum game – we win, they lose. And a truly positive customer experience must create value and be beneficial – for all the participants.
When a Customers Win, Nobody Loses
Helping customers win is a fundamental, founding principle for successful companies, even if your terminology and your definition of a win may be different. Winning in customer experience may be in making it incredibly easy for a customer to do business with your company or finding ways to surprise and delight them when they’re least expecting it; these two objectives are not mutually exclusive, and the best companies know when each approach is the right one. It could be in enabling and empowering your people to make decisions that are fair, equitable and clearly acceptable and valuable to the customer, or focusing on your customers’ success rather than your own, although this is not an obvious goal for many businesses yet.
However, over the long term it’s a philosophy and a purpose that will deliver the results that create a winning formula for both customers and the company. Furthermore, your employees will also feel a glow and the satisfaction that comes with doing the right thing.
In the final analysis, winning doesn’t always mean getting everything you want. It means resolving issues or finding solutions where all parties gain more than they lose.
The consumer revolution is upon us and while I realise that their forces haven’t yet stormed the barricades of every boardroom, the coaches are booked, the beer loaded and they’re on their way. Consumers are increasingly more discerning, vocal and active, especially with their feet. Responsible leading companies that haven’t yet resorted to buying sandpaper by the truck load to stack the odds, are starting to recognise that when customers win, their hearts, minds and wallets will surely follow!