Creating a better customer experience: the fifty percent rule

Marc Sokol Picture Let me introduce you to a new contributor to this blog. I’m very pleased to have him here since he is specialized in organizational dynamics and a true expert in creating better customer connections from a psychological, organizational and human viewpoint.


Welcome to Marc Sokol from M Squared Group. You can read more about Marc at the bottom of this first post he sent us, introducing the fifty percent rule.

Ten years ago I discovered what I call the fifty percent rule. It still guides me and may help you. Here is what it is and how it works.

I was managing a business unit in a major city on the East Coast. Things went well. It was a turnaround situation that succeeded: we grew the business, increased our customers, retained the staff that made a difference and improved internal processes. And like many managers who are successful, I got a call: “How would you like to manage a similar business in London? It’s also a turnaround and you seem to be just the person for it!”

I jumped at the opportunity. Two days into the office I was reviewing some detailed financials and there is a knock at my door. One of my British team members popped his head in, saying he was a bit frustrated at some of the goings on of the past year.

If any of you reading this are British or have British friends, then you know that when my colleague said, “I’m a bit frustrated”, he didn’t mean a little, he meant a lot! (As in, “my hair is on fire and I’m two steps out the door, so make me a priority NOW”).

Most Brits will tell you that theirs is a modest culture, especially relative to Americans (as in being more subtle in communication), and which is precisely why Brits will often hear American messages as being ‘over the top’ (as in, unbelievably exaggerated). It’s no wonder George Bernard Shaw came up with the saying, ‘England and America are two countries separated by a common language’.

But then there is me, deep in thought, and not processing the cultural nuance.

I said I had been managing a business on the East Coast of the US. Did I mention that I was raised in New York City, where we are anything but subtle? So the first thought that came to my mind upon hearing “a bit frustrated”, was “So go away and come back when you are REALLY frustrated!” That would have gone over well, wouldn’t it? Fortunately for me I only thought it and didn’t say anything before my colleague explained the depth of his pain.

Be very attentive to what works and what doesn’t

After some reflection, it came to me; successful as I was in my current role, I should assume that no more than 50% of what made me successful (skills, attitude, drive, style, etc) would help me be successful in this new role.

The other 50% of what made me successful in prior roles just wouldn’t help and, in fact, could get in the way.

Here’s the rub: no one can really tell you which 50% will help and which will hinder success!

That means you have to be very attentive to what works and what doesn’t.

It means you have to go into any significant change with your antennae on alert and become an excellent learner in real time, maintain an attitude of curiosity and reflection, try different things and be prepared to adjust.

I’ve now seen the 50% rule applied by managers and executives across the world. I’ve seen teams take the idea on board so they don’t get trapped into their own version of groupthink. I’ve seen variations of it presented by management thought leaders such as Marshall Goldsmith and Scott Eblin in the 10 years I’ve been working with this idea.

And we can apply this to our initiatives on customer experience management.

Rather than benchmarking what works somewhere else and ask, “Can we get some of that?” let’s consider every truly new initiative a learning opportunity.

Customer strategy, the fifty percent rule and the new economy

As we launch new initiatives to increase quality of customer experience, why aren’t we simultaneously committing to customers our readiness to adhere to a 50% rule, to closely monitor what works and continually adjust.

Is it bravado that keeps us from admitting that the 50% rule really applies to change? Or is it fear that executives and decision makers want certainty of an initiative success rather than a design for local learning? Or is it fear that a competing idea will get the nod because it’s proponents act like there is nothing to learn and success is 100% guaranteed?

I’d like to know:

  • How does the fifty percent rule apply to your customer strategy, especially in the new economy?
  • What aspects of customer relationship management have best stood the test of time for your organization?
  • Which ones have you found worked well at one time, but no longer apply as well today as in the past?

Marc Sokol is a consultant, writer and speaker on organizational dynamics. As an organizational psychologist for the past 30 years, he has worked with people all over the world; studying, learning, teaching, coaching individuals, working with groups and facilitating organizational change. Marc is a principal at M Squared Group and blogs on Marc further holds a PhD in Organizational Psychology, co-authored two books, published articles and spoke at conferences in the US and Europe. He further describes himself as a committed father, a fortunate husband, a middling cook, a poor but willing tennis player and a good friend. The rest you will have to figure out over a beer, as he puts it.