Monthly Archives: September 2011

eBay: biassed, incompetent, indifferent or all three?

Fairness and a transparent, responsive, timely process for getting justice matter to us

There are a number of situations, events, processes that are guaranteed to generate contempt, anger, rage.  One such situation is when we perceive that we have been punished when we should not have been.  Yet, this anger arising out of our strong sense of justice, is likely to melt away if there is access to an easy to use, impartial, transparent process for dealing with complaints.  Yesterday, the UK consumer affairs tv program singled out the DVLA and  Microsoft (Xbox 360) for their tyrant like behaviour towards their customers.  Fo example Microsoft disconnected customers in mid August. Why?  Microsoft asserted that the customers had violated the terms of usage. When customers complained (including mums and their young children) what did Microsoft Customer Service say?  Something like “We are right, you are wrong. And we never make mistakes.  If you want to carry on playing XBox 360 you have to get a new console!” Does this remind you of the behaviour that Dave Carroll was subjected to by United? Then when Watchdog got involved Microsoft recanted: we made a mistake due to a software fault!  Today, I want to look at eBay and share a more personal story withyou.

eBay: biassed, incompetent, indifferent? – I’d say all three!

Imagine that you trade on eBay, it is the early part of September and you list an item (headphones) for sale.  You describe the details of the item and you set out the price.  Because you do not want to create any problems for anyone including youself  you go further on your listing: you clearly state in a large font size that the headphones will be shipped out by 24th September 2011.  Before you know it people start buying these headphones.  You are on holiday and when you can access the internet you (the seller) remind the buyers that the headphones will not be shipped out until 24th September as you are on holiday. As it happens you get back a little earlier and start posting out the headphones on the 21st September and complete the task by 23rd September – you have to pack and post some 50 packages.  And you have a proof of postage from the local post office to show exactly when and to whom you have posted the headphones.  At this point you might be feel happy as you are shipping the goods out to your customers earlier than you had promised.

Well the story did not have that happy ending because the seller did not take into account the whims of some his customers and the bias of eBay towards buyers.  Around the 21st September some of the buyers started filing complaints against the seller stating that they had not received the headphones.  You, the seller, get on the email and remind the buyers that the listing clearly stated that the headphones would not be shipped out until 24th September.  And that you have now posted the headphones – they are on the way to the buyer.  At this point you might think that everything will work out fine – you are wrong.

Whislt some of your buyers get that that you have kept your word, other buyers are not happy.  And you find yoursef unable to resolve the issue with these buyers.  How can you?  You have shipped out the headphones and you have proof of postage.  The case escalates to eBay and eBay sends you an email to let you know that they have judged in favour of the buyer.  So you appeal.  You ask eBay to look at the listing (and they will see that it clearly states the goods will not be shipped until the 24th Sept) and you spell out that you sent the goods before the 24th.  And you offer to send a copy of the proof of postage.  You might think that eBay would ask for the proof of postage, look at the eBay listing and then rule in your favour.  You would be wrong, instead you get this:

If you take a look at this notice you will find that no rationale is give for why eBay has ruled in favour of the buyer.  There is absolutely no response to your assertion that the listing clearly stated that the headphones would be shipped by the 24th Sept, the buyer bought knowing that, you shipped as promised on the listing and you are happy to send the proof of postage to eBay.  And there is no contact number – there is nobody that you can speak to.

I’d love to share the listing with you so that you can see it for yourself.  Unfortunately, eBay has suspended the sellers account and so no-one can see the listing:

One final piece of the story: you the eBay seller have contacted both eBay and PayPal to understand what is going on, to put your case forward, to provide the documentation.  What is your experience?  The eBay folks tell you that you have to contact PayPal and get this sorted out.  The PayPal folks tell you that you have to contact eBay folks and get this sorted out!  No-one at eBay or PayPal wants to stand up and work with you to sort this out.  And they cannot or will not tell you what rules you have broken!  Just that you must have broken some rules.  Does this remind you of Microsoft’s treatment of its XBox360 customers?

What can we learn?

You cannot count on your customers to read what you have written even if ask them to read it and/or display in large size fonts right there on the screen.  This is one of the issues that plagues the insurance industry, for example, people buy insurance without reading the policies to find out what is and is not covered under what circumstances.

Many customers do live up to their side of the bargain including acknowledging their mistakes (if these are pointed out gently) and apologising.

A small number of customers cannot be reasoned with as they are convinced that they are always right and if something is not working out as they’d like then it has to be your fault.

In the West we live in a world of instant gratification - if you are selling online then it is best to assume that the customer is expecting delivery within the next day or so.

If you are a seller then you cannot count on eBay to treat you fairly because eBay can get away with treating you unfairly.  Buyers are more important by the simple fact that if you are not selling then someone else will happily take your place.

Power leads us to dehumanise others.  Which is why the bigger and more powerful the organisation (eBay, DVLA, Microsoft) the more likely it is to treat customers, employees, suppliers etc badly.  I wrote a post on that about a year ago.

A final word

The eBay seller is related to me which is why I know this story so intimately.

If you from eBay or PayPal: I issue you a challenge lets make the facts of the case (publish the listing, the emails, the proof of postge) clear to the world.  And let the world at large judge who is in the right and who is in the wrong.  If you are convinced of your justness then you should have no issue in taking up my challenge.

Why do only a handful of companies excel at cultivating customer loyalty?

The story state of Customer Experience

Dave Brocks latest post (selling disguised as relationship management) and Beyond Philosophy’s Global Customer Experience Management Survey (2011) which made the point that a lot of stuff that is not Customer Experience is being badged as Customer experience got me thinking about this sorry state: lots of talk, lots of people with the right titles, lots of spend on technology and yet the same old organisational behaviour.   Which begs the question: why it is that only a few companies truly excel at Customer Experience and customer-centricity?  Now I can list all the usual candidates: spaghetti like systems, silos, channel proliferation, organisational design, conflicting agendas & metrics and so forth.  That is exactly what I am not going to do because I believe that these are red herrings that are used to paper over what is so.  So let’s take a skeptical look at business and see if this sheds any light.

The smuggler, the border guard and the wheelbarrow

Every day a man turns up at the border with a wheelbarrow and some stuff in it.  Every day the border guard examines the stuff in the wheelbarrow convinced that the man is smuggling something.  Some days the stuff is clothes, other days footwear, sometime watches, sometime blankets yet none of the stuff in the wheelbarrow is contraband and so the border guard reluctantly allows the man across the border.  This goes on and on until the border guard retires.  Shortly after that the border guard and the man meet accidentally and the border guard asks him to say what he was smuggling.  The man replies “Wheelbarrows!”

Let’s stop for a moment and look at the whole customer stuff: customer satisfaction, customer focus, customer loyalty, customer relationship management, customer experience and customer-centricity. And ask the question: what is right in front of us that we are missing?  What is our ‘wheelbarrow’?

The name of the game is neither Customer Experience nor customer-centricity

Is it easy to do well in a truly competitive industry?  No, it is hard work.  What is the ideal scenario for every company in a competitive space?  To become the monopoly supplier.  Why is this appealing?  Because, you can dictate terms to the customers and they have to play ball.  When you are in that position you do not have to bother with all this nonsense about customer focus: customers are difficult, being customer focussed is hard work and besides it stops you from making monopolistic rents.  If you cannot have a pure monopoly then you can get something like it – and oligopoly.  This is where a small bunch of companies control the market: they sell similar products, at similar prices, in similar ways and have the same business models.  In effect, they ‘agree’ to carve up the market and the profits.  Often these industries have high barriers to entry and so there is no real competition: think banks, utilities, telecoms…….The last thing that any CEO, Board of Directors or shareholders want is a truly competitive market.  Why? Because you have to fight for customers and their wallet.  Which brings us to an important point.

What has changed is that the traditional means of attaining this outcome no longer work as well as they used to.   Originally there was control over valuable natural resources and distribution channels. Later, control of intellectual property and shaping the mind of the consumer through advertising, branding and PR. Since the rise of the internet the traditional means (resources, distribution, IP, advertising..) have not been working that well.  Just think of the disruptive power of the internet: you no longer need stores and all the capital that goes with that; your market is the whole world and you do not even have to setup a website – you can pitch your tent at ebay and sell to the whole world; and customers are awash with useful information that makes them better informed, smarter decision makers and more discriminating buyers.  This is why we have heard and read so much talk about targeted marketing, relationship marketing, permission marketing, personalisation, customer focus, customer service, customer experience, customer-centricity.

Does that mean that there has been a wholesale transformation of the heart (love of the customer) or of the head (change in worldview)?  I am think that there has been no such change.  The game is still the same: to orchestrate the levers of power to become monopolistic suppliers and thus extract monopolistic rents.   And if that is not possible then many businesses do the utmost to get the better of customers (too many option, complicated pricing, misleading advertising, dumbing down customer service etc) to maximise short term profits.  If it is the ‘age of the customer’ (IBM says it is) then we are talking about many businesses being dragged kicking and screaming into the ‘age of the customer’.  Many if not almost all would prefer the good old times when customers had no voice, no power and simply put up with what they were given.  Take a good look at the laggards (you know who they are) and you will notice that they still hold monopoly type positions, accrue monopolistic rents and continue to pay lip service to customer service and ‘the customer is king’.

If you see this then you can see the ‘wheelbarrow’ that is right in front of us and which we may have been missing: the vast majority of businesses want and strive to become monopolistic suppliers so that they can monopolistic rents without the hard work of being customer-centred.   If you accept this then you can understand that whilst the titles of changed from “Sales” to “Relationship Manager” the hidden objective is the same: sell more, increase “share of wallet”.   You can also understand why business process management, lean, cost-cutting via self-service technology, customer service, marketing etc  have all been rebadged as Customer Experience – changing labels is the easy part and Drayton Bird has an excellent/witty post on this.   Put differently, all the talk of customer focus, customer service, CRM, Social CRM, customer experience and customer-centricity is simply the bric-a-brac in the ‘wheelbarrow’ that prevents us from seeing the ‘wheelbarrow’ for what it is.   Any real form of customer-centricity (as opposed to the talk) is being brought on by new entrants to the battleground.  And by the power wielded by customers who now have the technologies and platforms to be better informed, make smarter decisions and make their voices heard

To excel at customer-centricity, Customer Experience and customer loyalty you have travel along the road less travelled

Which bring me back to my original question: why do only a handful of companies excel at cultivating customer loyalty?  Because by design or by accident the people who started these companies  operate from a customer centred paradigm and have built customer-centred business models, cultures and organisations.  And the leaders of these companies were willing to play the long term game.  How long did it take for Amazon to become profitable?  What about Zappos?   Is USAA simply a vehicle for churning out profits for shareholders or an organisation with a mission to service members of the armed forces?  Starbucks is a great example of a company that made it fortune by understanding customers human needs and delivering them (“the third place”)  and then got itself into trouble by forgetting this mission (and associated values, operating practices) and chasing growth and profitability targets set by the analysts.  Starbucks had to go back to the basics to connect with their customers and win them bac

Perhaps this handful of companies (Amazon, Starbucks, USAA, Zane Cycles, Zappos..) will provide the inspiration for authentic customer-centricity:  O2 (UK mobile telecoms operator who does not think of itself as that) is a company that has embraced customer-centricity with a fervour that is necessary to be an experience services brand and organisation.  In the process it has become the leader in the UK telecoms industry: brand, revenues, subscribers, profits. The recent Ofcom results show that “The least complained about mobile provider….was O2, with 0.02 complaints for every 1000 customers compared to 0.14 in the case of 3UK.”  This is remarkable when you consider that O2 was spun off from a former state monopoly BT in 2001.  And birth O2 was viewed as a second rate player in the telecoms market and some doubted its future prospects.  Maybe more executives will follow the lead of O2 and genuinely orient their companies around customer, customer experience and customer-centricity.

A final word

To excel at Customer Experience and customer-centricity you have to have an affinity for people as human beings.  I will go further and say that you have to connect with and care about your customers as human beings first and wallets second.  Going even further I’d say you have to love your customers and show them that you love them.  In my view this is and has always been the great (hidden) strength of Steve Jobs and Apple:  a deep affinity for the misfits, the rebels, the people out to create a more beautiful world.  If you can see merit in what I am saying then I recommend that you read the following insightful post by Pete Abilla: How to be human

What do you think?

How to excel at Customer Experience and customer-centricity: 3 tips

Shift your perspective, embrace being wrong and practice radical empathy

Businesses can cut costs, keep more customers and win new customers (through word of mouth/mouse) if they focus on the customer experience.  That means designing customer experiences that fit customer needs and expectations and which make their lives easier and richer (not just in the money sense).  To do that all the people in the organisation (Tops, Middles, Bottoms) have to shift their perspective, embrace bring wrong and practice radical empathy.  What am I talking about?  All is explained/demonstrated beautifully in the following three TED talks: the first is about shifting your perspective; the second on embracing being wrong; and third on radical empathy.  I hope you enjoy and learn from them.

RavKK:  Shake up your story

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

Sam Richards: A radical experiment in empathy

You may be wondering why these practices are necessary and if I am correct in asserting that customer experience design can cut operating costs and protect revenues by keeping customers coming back.  Allow me to share two recent experience with you and give life to what I am saying.

Software4Students.co.uk – they made me work and created work for themselves

On the 10th of Sept I finally gave in and decided to update the software on my children’s computers so that it was the same as what they are using in school.  I placed the order with SoftwareForStudents.co.uk and was happy to do so because the price is reasonable and they promise to despatch it within 24 hours.  I received a package this Wednesday and on opening it I found only Office 2010 discs. That was a both a concern and a disappointment because I had placed an order for Windows 7 and Office 2010: one order, two items.

I emailed the company straight away – pointing out that the issue.  Immediately I got an automated email that told me that the issue would be looked into.  Four days later I received the following email:

“Hi,

Thank you for contacting Software4Students!   Please note the products you have ordered have been dispatched separately.

The status dispatched applies to orders that have been validated and approved as per software manufacturers requirements. Orders are dispatched the following working day. Most customers receive their orders within 3 to 5 working days. However, due to varying factors out of our control, there may be occasions when deliveries are delayed. We are confident that delivery will be made shortly and appreciate your patience.

Should your software not arrive after 21 days from the order date please notify us by email.

If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards,

Customer Support Team “

Lets just take a look at what has happened here and the consequences:

  • I place one order for two items and they despatch them separately – the company has doubled its postage costs.
  • Because I was not informed that they were sent separately I became worried.  And  hunted around for the contact number (on their website) and then emailed the support team.  There is just work and concern that I can do without – it is simply a ‘cost’ that the company has put on to me.
  • Software4Students.co.uk incurred costs in dealing with failure demand (demand the company brings upon itself by failing to do right by the customer) because someone in the Customer Support Team had to read my email and then write a response back.

Now look at the email response itself because it is a window into the mind/culture of the company:

  • They have my name and they do not use it to address me even though research shows that your names are dear to us.
  • The email provides only one piece of useful information – that the products have been despatched separately;
  • There are absolutely no commitments on when I will get my order – just vague words around what might happen – and what I can count on them for;
  • It ends with the line that says if your order does not arrive after 21 days then contact us by email.

It is all about the company – about Software4Students.  They simply do not care about me – the customer – and my situation, my needs, my perspective.  Will I continue buying from them?  That depends on what alternatives are open to me and the cost of those alternatives.

Memorybits.co.uk – they make me put in extra work and increase their costs

I placed an order for 4 memory cards (for cameras) and 4 USB flash drives handed over my credit card details including putting in my pin (‘Verified by Visa’) and received a confirmation of my order on Sunday 11th Sept.  So all they had to do was to deliver the goods right?  I thought the same.  The next day I received the following email:

“Dear Customer

We have received your order, unfortunately due to our security procedures we require confirmation of your details before we can dispatch your order.

Please email our verification help desk on sales@memorybits.co.uk to verify your details.

Department opening hours are 09.00 to 17.30 Monday to Friday

Kind Regards

The MemoryBits Customer Service Team”

This email did not create value for me so I sent the following email: “I have received an email from you stating that you need me to confirm my details for security reasons.  Here is the order I placed – please fulfil it or cancel it and refund my money.  Thank you.”  Almost immediately I got an email response back: “Thank you for your email we can confirm that you order is being processed”.  Which left me wondering: “Why did they write the email in the first email?  If there was a genuine security issue then how was it cleared by me writing and telling the company to fulfil the order or refund my money?” Why did they waste my time?  And why did they create work for themselves.

And the next day (Wednesday) I got two emails (received at the same time) confirming that my order had been despatched and was on its way to me via first class post.  The following day, I got the same two emails again which left me wondering what is happening here?  It did not inspire confidence in MemoryBits.

When the order arrived I was expecting to issues a flash drive to each of my children for their schoolwork.  Yet, the tiny package contained only one USB flash drive.  Which left me wondering: “Where is the rest of my order?  And why did they just send me this one flash drive?  Have they made a mistake / misread my order?”  As I had been through the Software4Students experience I decided to check my email confirmation and this is what I found: “Please note that for our own processing reasons, your order may be split into more than one package. If this happens you will not have to pay any additional shipping charges, and you will receive a dispatch email for each package.”

What can we learn here:

  • MemoryBits has a process in place that can and does result in multiple deliveries for a single order – thus increasing picking and postage costs.
  • I suspect it then invites emails and telephone calls from customers wanting to know where the rest of the order is.
  • It fails customer expectations because when we order multiple items – especially small ones – on one order many of us expect to get them in one delivery.
  • Furthermore, multiple deliveries set up multiple failures – what if no-one had been at home?  Then I would have had to make multiple trips to the local post office depot to collect my stuff.
  • You can lose customers by creating work / hassle for your customers – I will not be buying from MemoryBits again.

And finally

One practice I have failed to mention is that of Gratitude – not taking people (and circumstances) for granted.  Let me practice gratitude right now.  I thank you for reading what I write.  I thank you for writing to me and encouraging me to continue writing.  I thank you for educating me.  And I thank you for letting me into your world by commenting on what I write and thus entering into a conversation with me.  I wish you well and look forward to our next conversation.

Brand values and the customer experience – a perfect match?

There is value in marketing, advertising and brand values

Unlike many, I totally get the value of great marketing and advertising: it activates the Elephant (emotions) bypasses/speaks to the Rider (reason) and shapes behaviour.

I can see the value of brand values.  They can be used to guide and, where necessary, constrain the actions of the people developing products and conducting marketing activities.  They also help to give put clothes on ordinary products and services and thus give them personality and appeal.  I can also see the value of going further and having all the front line people live those values so that they are not simply marketing slogans.

Yet most organisations struggle to live the brand values

Anyone who has an interest in organisational behaviour will understand the distinction between espoused values and lived values.  If you look into the mirror you will probably see that our company and most companies struggle to live their brand values in their day to day behaviour.  It does not help if the brand values have been cooked up in the marketing dept.  My experience is that many in the organisation listen to marketers in a certain way; I have heard the marketing folks described as “the department of coloured pencils” or “the spend spend spend folks” or “the folks that lie for a living” or the “party people” and so forth.   So is it a surprise that few people in the organisation actually live brand values cooked up the marketing folks?

So the first challenge is coming up with values that speak to the hearts and minds of the people that work in your organisation.  The second challenge is translating those brand values into specific behaviours that everyone in the organisation is expected to embody.  The third challenge?  Getting the Tops to model these behaviours on a daily basis so that the Middles model these behaviours and onwards to the Bottoms.  Fourth, to implement the values within the organisation whilst honouring those values!  If one of your values is “innovation” then living your values means coming up with an innovative way of infecting hearts and minds with that value.  If one of your values is collaboration then taking a ‘command and control’ approach and telling people they have to collaborate is probably not the right way to foster collaboration.

If you want to use brand values in designing the customer experience then you have to translate them

I, the customer don’t care about your brand values – honestly I don’t.  I do care about what others  (the journalists, influential bodies, my social circle) say about you.  I care about how you treat me, my family, my friends, my social network.  And I have a strong interest on what to expect from you?  Put differently, what can I count on from you?

So if you accept the line that goes something like “design the customer experience” around your brand values then you have some work to do.  You have to take values (that are general) and translate them into specifics – what can your customer expect and count on from you when she is interacting with you and using your products and services?   And you have a potential problem – your brand values may not reflect the totality of customer needs.  Lets make this real by briefly looking at Virgin’s brand values: Fun, Value for Money, Quality, Innovation, Competitive Challenge, Brilliant Customer Service.

  • As a Virgin customer what can I expect from your online presence?  What does fun, value for money, quality, innovation, competitive challenge and brilliant customer service mean to me?
  • Brilliant customer service – does that mean I can quickly, easily contact you at any time, any day, through any channel and get an instant, insightful, relevant and quick response?  Does that mean that you assure me of 100% satisfaction?
  • How about your ‘product’ – what can I count on here?  By the way, I like products that are simple to understand and easy to use.  Oops it looks like your brand values don’t cater for all my needs and expectations – there is no mention of simplicity in your stated brand values.  What are you going to do about that?  Are you going to change your brand values or simply factor in my need/expectation and design the customer experience to take that into account?

I hope you get the point that I am making:  a lot of work has to go into designing the customer experience and you cannot automatically assume that you can use your brand values as a shortcut.  Brand values have to be translated into specifics: specific customers, specific customer scenarios, specific customer touchpoints…….

How about converting brand values into specific promises to customers?

Too much of business is littered with buzzwords and abstract concepts and this is a problem as the devil is in the detail.  One way I have found of translating brand values into customer terms is to start with promises. Lets imagine that you are creating a customer charter.  What will you put in this customer charter?  What are the truths that should be self-evident to you, your organisation and your customers?  What are the promises that you are making to your customers?  And what specifically do you expect from your customers?   This is hard work primarily because buzzwords and brand values lose their appeal when they have to be translated into publicly visible commitments to customers.  Yet there are organisations that go beyond the fear and make meaningful promises to customers.

Take John Lewis as an example.  John Lewis has made a commitment to customers – the John Lewis Price Pledge - and recently that has hurt profits.  This is what the chief executive says “Absolutely it’s costing us money, but it is really important we stick to it.”  Is it any surprise that John Lewis regularly comes towards the top for customer satisfaction and loyalty?

The missing piece of the customer experience puzzle

What is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?

Is it customer service?  Hardly, it seems that it is rather old-fashioned to say customer service when the speaker is talking about customer service.  No, the in-term is customer experience.  Is it marketing?  No, whilst it has taken a back seat many authors do recognise the importance of marketing communications (brand, advertising, direct marketing….) on the customer experience.  Is it the website? No, many of us get the need to design websites so that they are attractive, usable and useful and thus contribute to the Customer Experience. So what is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?

The ‘product’ is the missing piece

Just imagine that you head to the hairdresser and everything is perfect: the name, the location, the ‘store’, the welcome that you receive, the pricing, the staff that serve you….Yet your hair does not turn out the way that you expected?  What impact does that have on your entire Customer Experience?  Turns it negative right?  In this case the ‘product’ has failed to meet your expectations and that one failure has turned what had been a positive experience into a negative.

The product is the missing piece.  Nintendo turned around its fortunes and claimed the number 1 slot when it launched the Nintendo Wii.  Dyson did the same thing for vacuum cleaners.  And of course Apple with the ipod, the iphone and now the ipad.   The product is the reason that the buyer searches you out and becomes a customer.  If you have the right product then the customer will put up with all kinds of interaction hassles to buy that product of you – and come back to buy accessories.

Why do I say that the product is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?  Because it simply is not mentioned in Customer Experience speeches, articles and conversations.  The assumption seems to be that Customer Experience = Interaction Assessment and Design.  The need to pay attention to the product was brought home to me this week because two products failed to meet my expectations in a big way.  Allow me to share those with you.

A headset that is uncomfortable on the head

I needed a headset and was in a hurry to buy one so I did not do any research.  Instead I popped into a store and picked the first one that looked like it would do the job at a reasonable price.  The headset was well presented.  And I was delighted that some thought had gone into the packaging – making it easy for me to open up the packaging without having to get a chainsaw to cut through the plastic packaging that is all too common for some electronic products.

The surprise came when I put on the headset – it simply is not comfortable and does not fit around my head.  After about ten minutes of using it I took the headset off because it pinched by head – I could feel it pressing into my skull.  I would call that a major design flaw: a headset that cannot be worn because it is uncomfortable. Being scientifically trained I decided to see what other users had to say about the product.  I found it on Amazon and sure enough there were people complaining about the fit/comfort about the headphone.  Will I buy any other product from Creative?  Unlikely.

Twinings Earl Grey tea – new coke / classic coke?

I am a tea drinker and the tea that I drink the most is Earl Grey and as my wife is the one that does the shopping she buys Twinings Earl Grey tea.  I have got used to it and I like it.  Except that now I don’t like it at all.  Let me explain.

Twinings have changed the Earl Grey formula – to my palate it simply does not taste the same.  So I did some research and found that I am not the only one: “Twinings changes its Earl Grey tea formula and customers revolt”.  Digging into it deeper it appears that Twinings have changed the formula for the UK but will stick with the “classic” formula for all export markets.  And due to the customer reaction Twinings will allow customers to buy directly from them via their website.  Here is the Twinings statement and customer comments on that statement – worth reading the customer comments to see how much the product matters.  Personally, I have asked my wife not to buy Twinings Earl Grey anymore – I will give other brands a go.

Conclusion

The product is the centre-piece of the customer experience in the sense that if you get this wrong then it does not matter what else you get right.  You can add all the customer experience wrapping that you want but if the product is weak then you are fighting a losing battle because the flaws in the product noticed and shared with the world – like I am doing right now. I will never buy a Creative product again: if they can’t make a simple headset what can they make?

If you have a winning product with a loyal customer base then think twice before changing that product.   In the customer age ‘products’ belong as much to customers as they do to the companies that make them.  Changing these products without involving the customer base (co-creation, new product development) is asking for trouble.  Customers like to be in control and they do not like to have things taken away from them.  I wonder how many letters, emails and calls Twinings is receiving from customers?

Make sure that you think deeply about the ‘product’ and your customer’s experience around the product.  There is no surer way to build an empire than to create a ‘must-have’ product and then promote this through the right marketing and advertising.

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