Image courtesy of Peter Aceto

Does your company practice Weology?


What is it? If you guessed that it sounds like “the study of we,” you’re pretty close.

The name of the concept stems from a Muhammad Ali poem, which simply goes like this:

Me… we.

Three unique letters rearranged into two powerful little words.

The concept itself, which is also the title of a book (Weology: How Everybody Wins When We Comes Before Me), summarizes the leadership style of Peter Aceto, CEO of Tangerine Bank. His approach is defined by a culture where employees thrive, succeed, and are fulfilled, happy, and growing at work – a culture where every individual in the organization, regardless of who they are or what they do, has a voice, i.e., every individual matters.

Why is this important? As Peter states in the book: Being good to your own people is good  business. When Me thrives, We benefit.

Me… we.

He goes on to say that what he calls Weology is about creating win-win scenarios. It’s transparency without asterisks. It’s a way of putting people first in the short term so that a company can thrive in the long term.

If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you know that I’m 110% on board with that line of thinking.

Hold that thought for a minute.

In early August, I shared my post titled Customer Experience Fuels Innovation on Twitter, and Peter chimed in to say, “It sure does!” I followed up and said that I’d love to hear what he’s doing at Tangerine Bank, ultimately asking him for an interview. He agreed, and we spoke last week about just that.

I’m excited to share the details of our conversation, especially as we celebrate Customer Service Week and Customer Experience Day this week.

I read Weology before Peter and I spoke – just know that I nodded and smiled the entire way through the book, wholeheartedly agreeing with all things Weology – so I had a lot of great background about Peter, his career, and Tangerine Bank. When we spoke, my questions were focused on things that I felt would be helpful for customer experience professionals in the throes of culture transformations within their own businesses, with a few other questions sprinkled in because, well, I was curious.

Let’s dive in.

Customer Service Week/CXDay
We started our conversation talking about Customer Service Week and Customer Experience Day. I asked Peter if he was doing anything special to celebrate the contributions of his frontline staff, and he mentioned that Tangerine Bank has created a video to celebrate employees who are dedicated to their customers; in the video, they highlight how employees feel after going the extra mile for a customer.

Customer Experience Fuels Innovation
Next, I went back to that tweet about customer experience fueling innovation. That concept seems to be the root of who/what Tangerine is. My ask of Peter: Some would say that innovation fuels the customer experience. Do you see those as two different sides of the same coin? Competing views? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Peter responded that the question itself is binary, but the answer, the result, the concept is not binary; it’s just not that simple. There are a few companies (e.g., Google, Apple) showing people a new experience, an experience that wouldn’t have existed without technology innovations that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

Tangerine Bank’s R&D team, for example, is looking at different types of biometric authentication – again, something that we didn’t think about 10 years ago, much less three years ago, and something customer’s haven’t asked for – which will create an experience that makes people’s lives easier, an experience that goes back to Tangerine’s purpose to do just that.

Tangerine understands that people don’t just want a mortgage/loan; they want to buy stuff. (Reminds me of Theodore Levitt’s quote: People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.) At the same time, Tangerine wants to understand the challenges people experience in their lives, as well as the goals they have for themselves; with that information, Tangerine works to design a better customer experience. In order to do that, they clearly need to think differently (especially for a bank!); they realize that they can’t look at things the same way they always have. On an ongoing basis, they have an ear to clients, to the world, and to trends affecting us all – and they are continuously modulating.

In reality, they are likely two sides of the same coin. We need to understand our customers and the jobs they are trying to do while allowing the business to advance the technology that drives an innovative experience.

Being Purpose Built
In the book, Peter says: Tangerine was “purpose built,” i.e., to foster and focus on long-term relationships with customers. I asked because this is a real challenge for customer experience professionals: Is that (being purpose built from the start) the only way that a company can truly be/become customer-obsessed? (I would put Amazon and Zappos in this purpose-built bucket; Tangerine seems to be on the same track as they are.)

Peter clarified that “purpose-built” for him meant having a higher purpose, i.e., to help Canadians live better lives, to empower them to take control of their finances, ultimately helping them live better lives.

Those are lofty goals, but he notes that a company doesn’t necessarily have to be purpose driven or client driven/focused from the start. It’s easier, but not necessary.

Having said that, Peter has studied Tony Hsieh (Zappos) and his approach to entrepreneurship and customer obsession. He noted that one of the lessons Tony learned was that he had underestimated the importance of having the right culture in place in his companies from Day 1. He started several businesses that either failed or that he ended up selling purely for the fact that he knew he needed to get culture right in the first place. In other words, he aborted the mission and started over in order to start right.

Tony is an anomaly, for sure. And his approach is one that not all entrepreneurs can – or are willing to – take. Peter’s final thought on this is tha
t a lot of companies have struggled with how to change an embedded culture; it’s definitely more difficult but not impossible.

Employee Experience Drives Customer Experience
My next question to Peter: It seems simple enough: employee experience drives customer experience. Why have I been fighting that battle (getting that message across) for so many years? Why don’t CEOs get it? Will we really need to wait til this generation of CEOs turns over before that message no longer falls on deaf ears?

As you know if you’ve been following my blog, this is a topic that is near and dear to me. So I was excited to get Peter’s thoughts on this one.

One of his hypotheses on this topic: historically, business leaders are schooled and rewarded in their careers around delivering results,  i.e., short-term, profitability, financials, margins, and efficiencies, and when they get more successful, they get big offices with big doors (which Peter doesn’t have; he sits out on the floor with his employees), pulling further away from the employees and even closer to the numbers and the metrics.

Peter’s baffled, like I am, by this whole phenomenon. It’s so obvious; why isn’t this (understanding that the employee experience drives the customer experience – and then leaders doing something about that) happening faster? Despite that, he noted that people do take notice of the few companies who do it differently. So perhaps there’s hope there yet.

At the same time, he’s also baffled about why more employees don’t walk – and why customers don’t take their money elsewhere – if the experience remains business as usual.

So what’s up with business leaders? Why don’t executives get it? I probed further because I really want to understand this – I’ve pondered it before: will it take a material turnover of leaders in order for the changes we are dying to see happen? While Peter thought it was a fair question, he didn’t think so.

I wish I could be as optimistic about that!

In Part 2 of my discussion with Peter, which I’ll post later this week, we’ll continue with questions about change and change management, business leaders Peter admires, companies who have adopted Weology (this one is surprising), success metrics, and more!

Anyone can start something new. It takes real leaders to stop something old. -Peter Aceto