2011: what is likely to stay the same?

Right now there are lots of people putting forward there views on what will be hot /new / different in 2011.  As I do not have a crystal ball and because I believe in the fundamentals, I am going to focus on the key themes that are not going to change in 2011.

Customer will continue using trusted resources to find information and make decisions

Customers live in a world that is full of suppliers, brands, products and services.  Choosing between them is difficult and there is always the concern around making the right choice.  So for low consideration products (the basics of food, drink, utilities, retail banking..) customers will simply continue using the brands that they use today. Some customers will continue to be tempted by ‘specials’ – to try other products, other brands, other suppliers.

For high consideration purchases, customers will turn to trusted sources: the internet, Google search, social network, other customers and independent sources.  Customers will particularly value trusted resources that take out or cut the hassle associated with doing all the research and coming to a decision.

Companies will continue to shoot themselves in the foot as the content and tools are often created by marketing.  And too many marketers are disconnected from the real lives of customers and their real needs.  Too often the need for spin outweighs the need to provide useful, informative, honest content.

Customers will continue to have the same needs around products

Most customers will continue to look for products that are easy to understand, easy to set-up, easy to use and which work as they expect them to work.  Some customers will pay a premium for products that are novel, beautiful and/or well designed.

Many products will fail to live up to customer expectations either because the marketing communications are misleading, or the product has not been well designed or because the customer has unrealistic expectations.  And this will result in calls into the contact centre and negative comments offline and online.

Customers will continue to look for, be attracted to, special offers

Direct marketers are the masters of special offers – they know that the right offers will drive purchases.  Human beings are drawn to all kinds of  special offers.  The offer can be around membership of an exclusive club, or a special edition product or simply one of a price discount.

Businesses will continue to offer attractive ‘specials’ to get new customers.  In the process they will continue to cut loyalty from existing customers and thus encourage them to move to competitors to get their special offers.

Customers will continue to look for and value good service

Customers live in a complex world where they have a lot more to juggle and less time to do it; a world where choosing the right products and solutions can be a tricky and time consuming task; a world where they need help in setting up and using products effectively.  For example, one time you could just go and buy a tv, try doing that now with the latest HD tvs.

As a result customers will continue to cry out for good service in the form of correct and informative marketing material, customer centred sales advice, convenient product delivery, ease of product set-up and use, accurate billing, easy access to the right people in the company to deal with problems and issue and responsive caring customer service.

Many companies will continue to give less than good service because of the internal, silo centred, efficiency oriented metrics, processes and culture.

Companies will continue to focus on the shiny new stuff and neglect the basics

Time and again companies are attracted to the shiny new stuff, the silver bullets, the miracle cures etc.  Social media, mobile, location-based services, group buying (Groupon), customer experience – are examples of the latest shiny objects

In the process, companies will neglect the basics such as making good easy to use products, easy to use websites, improving the delivery process so you don’t have to take a full day off work, sorting out issues that prevent sales and customer service staff delivering the kind of service that customers expect etc. Here is an example of neglecting the basics: Toyota Just Doesn’t Get It

Companies will continue to focus on the sell side of the business at the expense of the service side

The majority of companies will continue to focus their best people and the bulk of their money on the areas of the business that generate or promise to generate revenue. Revenue and market share growth are the top priorities of the C-suite in most companies.

These companies will also continue to spend money on products and services that promise to cut operating costs – thus boosting profits.  That means more investments in technology and less in people – especially those that actually interact with and serve customers.

It also means that companies will continue to focus on getting new customers than on keep existing customers through good service and fair treatment. This is partly because the it is easy to show the return on getting customer and difficult to show the return on retaining customers.

Companies will continue not to embrace and make effective use of social technologies

The philosophy – transparency, openness, interaction, connectivity, sharing, participation, co-creation etc – of social is fundamentally at odds with the command and control philosophy that is at the heart of almost all businesses.  The powerful love to exercise power – this applies to all kinds of institutions including corporations.  And it applies to the C-suite executives.

This clash of idealogies and operating practices will stop the majority of companies from harvesting the true promise of social technologies:  transforming the way that work is done – collaboratively between employees, customers, suppliers, partner etc – within the enterprise.

Instead companies  will continue to dabble in social media treating this as simply another marketing and customer research channel.  Does this remind you how digital marketing and ecommerce operations were treated?  And how some are still treated today?

Companies will continue to talk about innovation and customer experience tranformation and yet fail to deliver

Whilst every company wants to the fruits of innovation very few are willing to go through the birthing process and experience the pains of giving birth to these innovations.

It is no easy matter to make the silo’s work together.  It is no easy matter to change the technology infrastructure – most companies still do not have a single customer view despite the mountains of ink on that subject over the last ten years.  It is no easy matter to change the culture of the company.  It is no easy matter to give up the practices that are resulting in ‘bad profits’ and recapture these profits by creating products and services that customers value.  And there is absolutely no incentive when you are the category leader or the market is dominated by up to four big companies.

The task of category level innovation will continue to fall on companies that specialise in this (e.g. Apple, Virgin) or newcomers that have no investment in the existing way of doing things (e.g. Metro Bank, Groupon).

Thank you

Dear readers, professionals and fellow human beings

I thank you for taking the time to read this blog.  Your reading encourages me to write and share my point of view with you.  And I always look forward to hearing your point of view.

I thank you for taking the time to comment on what I have written.  Your commenting leaves me feeling connected.  It also makes me feel that it is a useful use of my life energy to write.

I thank you for writing to me directly to let me know what you think of this blog and what contribution it makes to you.

I thank you for connecting up with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Please know that I am grateful that you exist, that our paths have crossed and that we are in conversation.

I hope you will make this Christmas  a joyous one for yourself, your loved ones, your fellow human beings.  And I wish you the same for 2011.

If I can help you then please do reach out to me.  My philosophy is simple: we can make heaven or hell for each other, I have no interest in hell as it is already crowded, I am totally passionate about co-creating heaven with you!

Be well.  Be great.  “Be the change you wish to see in this world”  Gandhi.

2011: are you ready to move beyond the 4Ps and the 4Cs to embrace the 5Hs?

In the period of 1950s the concept of the marketing mix was introduced and this led to the birth of the 4Ps: Product, Price, Place, Promotion.    This has been extended  to include another 3Ps: People, Process, Physical Evidence.

With the birth of the Customer age in the 1990s Robert Lauterborn proposed the 4Cs: Customer, Cost, Convenience, Communication.  Whilst this is a move in the right direction it is not enough.   To my mind it smacks of the abstract, the intellectual, a machine way of thinking and talking.  A move forward yet still within the Newtonian paradigm of the universe (including human beings) as a gigantic clock.

How about embracing the 5Hs: Human, Heart,  Honesty, Hospitality and Harmony?

Human:

Get that you are dealing with flesh and blood human beings and treat your customers as human beings.  Strive to treat them with the best of our humanity: kindness, benevolence, humaneness.

Being human, we notice, even if it is at a subconscious level, when these qualities are present or not.  Given the choice we walk towards organisations that have a human look and feel:  that are humane and treat us as human beings not machines.

How about starting with a small step that makes a huge difference: speaking with a human, conversational, voice?

Heart:

As the expression goes “Have a heart!”.  What does that mean?  In a word it means compassion.  The ability and willingness to put yourself in the shoes of your customer.  To see life through her eyes, to experience what she is experiencing.  It means following the golden rule “Treat your fellow man/woman in the manner in which you would like to be treated if you were in his/her shoes?  Go further and embrace the platinum rule “treat your customer as he/she would like to be treated”.

How about following Zappos and making it easy for your customers to reach out and speak with you?  To reach out to you – via chat, click to call etc – when she is shopping and needs guidance or reassurance?  To reach out to you when she needs help in using your product or service?

How about making it easy for customers to make complaints?  How about making it easy to return faulty goods?  And so forth.

Honesty:

Let go of the spin and be honest with people in a tactful way.

Human beings stay clear of people who they find to be dishonest.  When you are honest I may not like what you say yet I will respect you for being honest.  Tell it as it is – upfront – it will save you a lot of pain later on: sooner or later your true colour will show especially in this densely connected world.  When I catch you being dishonest (including omitting stuff that you do not want me to know) then I no longer trust you.  If I don’t trust you then you are going to have to pay in way or another if you want to do business with me.

Put bluntly put as much focus on the steak – the product, the service, the reality – as you do to the sizzle of advertising and other marketing messages.   Another way of saying this is to say ensure that there is a harmony between the sizzle and the steak.

Hospitality:

Be a good host, be hospitable – to prospects, new customers, existing customers and customers who have either left or are on their way.

When you are being a good host you take the time and trouble to think of your guests and their needs.  You do your best to welcome them, to make them feel at ease, to introduce them to people that they will find interesting or useful. And when the time comes for them to leave, a good host will see them to the door and wish them well and mean it!  How about behaving the same way with your prospects, new customers, existing customers etc?

How about inviting your customers into the business?  To listen, to share, to collaborate on new product ideas, product development, marketing communications, customer services and so forth?  Incidentally, the important part about ‘social media’ is not the media, it is the social.  In a social environment your character, your reputation and your manners speak so loudly that few listen to your words.  A good host is mindful of this and acts accordingly.

Harmony:

As human beings we love harmony and we strive after it.  Harmony is pleasing as it gives us peace of mind.  So how about focusing your efforts on creating harmony?  What does that mean in practice?  Lets take a look at the dictionary definition: “the just adaptation of parts to each other, so as to form a complete, symmetrical or pleasing whole”.

How about a harmony between the promises made and the experience delivered?   How about orchestrating harmony between all the silos that impact the customer experience?  How about harmony between the short-term and the longer term?

It is my belief that if you don’t get the social part – that is the human desires for beauty, for meaning, for connection, for honesty…. – you are going to be increasingly lost in the 21st century.    Maybe I am deluding myself.  What do you think?

With so much customer focus why am I not drowning in thank you cards?

On the one hand just about every large UK based corporate is professing  their commitment to the customer.  Some say they are committed to customer service.  Some declare their commitment to customer focus.  A few are bold enough to state that they are customer-centric.  And many are busy improving the customer experience.

So how is it that deep in the festive season that not a single corporate – Sky, BT, Orange, Amazon etc – has written to thank me for being a customer over the last year?  If the customer is king – as is so widely accepted – then does the king not even merit a thank you wrapped up in a Christmas card or email?  Maybe I am just a poor customer and you are a good customer.  Are you drowning in thank you’s wrapped up in Christmas cards?

Think what my experience as a customer would be if I received a thank you card at Christmas.  Just a genuine thank you with no up-sell or x-sell message or offer.  Is it possible that would have occurred as positive customer experience?  For me definitely.  How about you?

Interestingly, the only cards that I have received are from small recruitment agencies.  Whilst they have followed the Christmas ritual they have not done so with heart.  Or put differently personalisation and personal are very different.  Business people confuse the two and at their costs.  Enough on that –  I will write a post to explain the difference.

It strikes me that customer-centricity in the UK is like the fresh fruit in the UK supermarkets:  the fruit looks good yet when I bite into the fruit it is almost always tasteless.  Now compare that with France where the fruit does not look as good yet is delicious.

 

2011: time to merge marketing and customer services?

Many years ago I worked for International Distillers & Vintners (IDV), a company that sold premium branded alcoholic drinks to the supermarkets, restaurants, clubs, cafes etc.  One of the challenges that the salesmen encountered was that almost always they were on the back foot.  As soon as they started the sales discussions (for new orders) the customer invariably brought up the issues he was experiencing with the company: not getting the products on time, receiving the wrong products, receiving the wrong quantities, pricing, discounts, billings….  This made it really difficult for the salesmen to sell.  The salesmen had to apologise and sort out the problems first and then talk about sales.  Or they had to promise to sort out the issues and offer even bigger discounts to get the customer to place the order.

It seems to me that we have arrived at the same situation in the B2C.  Anyone with access to the internet can share their views and their experiences with, and on, any organisation.  And everyone with access to the internet can read those views and experiences.  This puts the B2C marketer in the same position as the IDV salesmen.  If the marketer is going to succeed then he/she either has to sort out the customer issues or give a big discount to tempt people to buy.

Surely the sensible option is to sort out, even prevent, the issue that are resulting in poor customer experiences and a negative word of mouth.  Who has the access to this information?  Who knows what customers are ringing up about?  Who knows why they are ringing?  Who knows what business policies, practices and operations are failing the customer?  The Customer Services function.

If that is not reason enough to merge these functions and put them under one department, I can think of several more:

  • Marketing actions impact the customer and where they impact the customer negatively it is the people in customer services who get to know about it first;
  • Marketing spends considerable sums of money with market research agencies to better a better picture of customers yet the customer services function is interacting with many thousands of customers on a daily basis and can provide customer insight as well as conduct research;
  • The performance of the Customer Services function has a direct impact on the word of mouth that is taking place online and offline and WOM is marketing;
  • The new role of the Marketing function is the design and orchestration of a superior customer experience and in that role the Customer Services function plays a key role;
  • By fusing with the functions together it may encourage marketers to actually speak with real customers rather than reading about customers as abstractions in market research reports;
  • The fusion will allow the Customer Services function to escape the relentless focus on cost-cutting and making its treasure (customer insight) available to a function that has more clout; and
  • From a customer perspective it makes a difference if the left arm (Customer Services) knows what the right arm (Marketing) is up to.

In the new world, where we trust TripAdvisor more than any hotel, Marketing and Customer Services are two sides of the same coin.  When one side of the coin is ugly it really does not matter how beautiful the other side is – the coin, as a whole, is not attractive as one in which both sides are beautiful.  I am convinced that the potential for synergy – where 1+1 > 2 – is there.

What do you think?  What have I missed – apart from the fact that it is unlikely to happen any time soon?

Why organisations will continue to struggle to get close to their customers

I am not well, I think it is the flu.  So today I am going to keep my writing short – please excuse me if it is a little light.

I love learning especially stuff that challenges the dominant ways of thinking about stuff.   As a result I regularly visit TED and in my last visit I came across this video:

It got me thinking and I asked myself the question: is it that simple?

If you read the articles on CRM, on Customer Experience, on Social Business then time and again the writers mention the need to get commitment from the Tops, the need for leadership from the Tops, the need for cultural change – which, no surprise, needs agreement and leadership from the Tops!

Who are the Tops?  Almost always men.  The language that men speak is the language of warfare; the language of the impersonal; the language where the end often justifies the means.  And men love technology – we love our toys.  We love command and control. And in the process we make toys of human beings.  That applies to employees, it applies to suppliers and I argue that it also applies to customers.  We seek to manipulate customers adeptly as they are the more important pieces on the chessboard – yet they are just another piece on the chess board.   Can I dare assert that the men that are most adept at playing this game of chess end up at the Top?

Yet the social, relational and experience paradigms are predominantly feminine.  It is soft stuff. the stuff that has been neglected for a long time and often handed over to the HR folks.   If you are struggling with this then I have a question for you?  How is that in business we refer to getting customers as ‘conquesting’, as hunting; keeping customers is referred to as ‘farming’; and hunters are the hero’s that get the lion share of the rewards  whereas the farmers are looked down upon and get meagre rewards.

Is it that simple?  That organisations are struggling to become customer centric because this is  relationship centred paradigm which is natural for many women and unnatural for many men and especially the Top.  That the Tops prefer to play generalship (the art & science of warfare) then to play midwife to the relationship centred organisation and economy?

If it is not that simple then why is it that whilst the Tops profess customer focus and customer centricity their lieutenants claim that these very same Tops are the main obstacles to bringing customer centred initiatives to fruition?

I do not claim sole access to  ‘truth’ so do let me know what you think.

The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB

Ok, you have just got a new customers and you want to keep that customer happy: you want to keep her and thus build an annuity stream from her.  Looking at the situation from a service centred (and I would argue normal human perspective) you have three strategies available to you:

  • Do your best to make sure that there is agreement on expectations and that you don’t create problems for your customer;
  • Make it easy for the customer to get hold of you by prominently displaying your customer services number;
  • If and when the customer contacts you then deal with her problem or complaint there and then with empathy.

Where is the leverage in this?  Surely the leverage is in the first of the three strategies: doing your best to ensure you and the customer have the same expectations and that you do not create problems for your customer.

So why is it that so many companies do such a poor job of this?  Let me give you just three examples:

  • I know of one brand name etailer that knows that their shopping process causing big problems for them and their customers and yet continues to do nothing.  When you place an order the website forces you to enter your credit card details leading you to think everything is done, settled.  Yet, this credit card data is only processed later when the ordered items are despatched.  As a result some customer payments do not go through because the card is no longer valid or because the details supplied by the customer were incorrect.  Of course this comes as an unpleasant shock to the customer who was left thinking that their credit card had been accepted  – when she had placed the order.
  • Mobile phone companies continue to sell mobile phones that they know have faults.  They know because they keep a track of which phones are failing and sent back by their customers.  They even know what the main defects are on these phones.  Yet they continue to sell them to new customers knowing that it will lead to trouble down the road!
  • When I joined BSkyB and took out a bundled (pay TV, broadband, fixed telephone line) package with BSkyB to simplify my life I found that it did nothing of the kind.  Whilst BSkyB did a great job of setting up Sky TV I had a horrid time getting the broadband set up.  And when I wanted to get the issue fixed or later cancel the order I found myself bouncing between different customers service teams and different customer services numbers.  In the end I was not able to cancel my order because I found out that I had actually been signed up for three different orders – each with different start dates, different end dates and different conditions!

What if these companies practiced transparency?  What might be the results?

Lets take a look at my BSkyB experience – particularly why it was that I was so mad with BSkyB and am not anymore.  What has made the difference?  Well as a result of research I now know what I did not know before.  Specifically, I have found out that:

  • BSkyB has made up of product divisions, TV belongs in one division, Broadband in another and so forth;
  • The contact centres for Sky TV are outsourced to one company, the contact centres for broadband are outsourced to another company and so forth

From this information I can now make sense of my baffling experience.  No wonder that I had to contact one set of people to get the TV services installed and another set of people to get the broadband set-up.  No wonder the SkyTV contact centres did not have a clue about the order I had placed nor about my broadband issues.  No wonder that the Broadband folks had no idea of my total order and were not able to deal with anything other than broadband stuff. 

Being a human I can empathise with the human beings who were on the end of the phone – in some of the most infuriating interactions I recognise that I was talking to the wrong people because I had a faulty map of the territory!

But why did BSkyB not make this clear to me?  Why did they give me the impression on their website that I could simplify my life by buying the bundle of products from them?  Why did they give me the impression that they would take care of it all and I would have a single point of contact?

If they had told me then it is possible that I might not have signed up and become a customer.  It is also possible that I would have signed up and very clear on what to expect and as such would not have experienced a horrid time dealing with BSkyB.

Yet I cannot help thinking that in a structure where customer acquisition is separated from customer retention, this kind of behaviour is simply what occurs.  So the access to transformation in behaviour is to change the structure: to integrate getting customers and keeping customers under the same person, the budget, the same department.