At Your Service and With My Love

This is personal post and a philosophical one. If you consider yourself a hard-headed business type focussed on the bottom line, nothing but the bottom line, then I suggest that you stop reading now.  If you are open minded then it is possible that this post will find a listening in you.  Let’s start.

Shopping with my mother

My mother is elderly.  She finds it hard to get up, she finds it hard to move about, she finds it exhausting to go up  stairs, she has to be careful coming down the stairs…. She needs help buying the weekly groceries.

This week, I was with my mother for a day and took her on her weekly shop to her favourite grocery store. Whilst there, I had to put patience into the game. Let her walk slowly, let her take her time.  Some of the products were to low for her so I bent down picked them up and let her touch them to see if they were good enough for her.  Her eyesight is not that good and she struggled to read the prices. So I read out the prices for her.

I also found myself protecting her. How exactly? There were many people in this small supermarket and they were in their own worlds: busy focussing on their tasks, rushing by, and oblivious to the needs of an old lady.  More than once I stood between my mother and someone’s trolley or brisk – shoving – walk.  Finally, we got to the cashiers till and stood in line.

An old man struggles with his shopping

There was an elderly man in front of us. His hand-held shopping basket was full. He found it hard to carry so he placed it on the floor while he waited for his turn. When his turn came  he bent down and started taking one item at a time from the basket and putting it on the conveyor belt. Just watching him I got his situation. I felt for him as one human being for another fellow human being.

So I walked up to him, looked him in the face, smiled and said “Allow me to help you with this!” Then I picked up his basket from the floor and placed the contents on the conveyor belt.  The old gentleman had a huge smile on his face whilst saying “Thank you!” Someone standing in the queue, came up to me and said “It’s great of you to help out this old man. This just does not happen anymore.”  I replied, “Thank you. I was brought up to help those who can do with help.  This is my mum, she’s the one that bought me up that way.”

Now here is what gets me: the cashier saw the old man’s struggle and did nothing; many others standing around queuing saw the old man’s struggle and did nothing.  Where is our humanity?  Have we disconnected from our empathy – our natural way of being?  Have we locked up our natural compassion and thrown away the key? Is all our talk about service, experience, relationship simply empty talk?

Some questions to consider about business, about our lives

I have a deeper questions for you, me, us.  What are our lives about?  What are our businesses about?  What are our organisations about?  What is our society about?  Is selfishness, greed, and money-making the best that we can aspire to?  Is “profit maximisation” the most noble purpose that we can aspire to? Is that how we want ourselves and our age to be remembered?

If business, if Customer Experience, is merely the pursuit of profit maximization then count me out.  I am not inspired by that game.  And, I doubt that many people in your organisation are inspired by that game. How many people do you know that get up in the morning fired up by the idea of filling the pocket of nameless-faceless shareholders with gold?

I yearn to live a noble life: to make a contribution; to generate connection and touch lives; to contribute to co-creating a world that shows up as a kinder world – a world that works for all.  How about you?  Are you happy with a life, a tombstone, that reads “Here lies X s/he did a great job of maximising profits for shareholders.”

If you find yourself called to life a noble life, like the one that I have described then I’d love to hear from you, to know you better, to connect with you, to work with you if that is a possibility.

At your service and with my love

Maz

(e: maz@maziqbal.com)

How does digital impact strategy, marketing, and the customer experience?

I say digital fundamentally disrupts everything: value propositions, communications, the customer experience

“What do you think of digital?” That was the question that the interviewer at the Technology for Marketing & Advertising conference asked me. The bulk of my customer experience work for the last two years has centred on/around digital. So here is the answer I gave:

Digital is disruptive. It disrupts the value proposition, communications with and between customers, the customer experience, and the business model  I say every business has to get to grips with digital and the transformation it engenders in these four areas. Failing to do so is a one way ride to oblivion especially for retail businesses.

I went on to say:

The days of putting a warehouse with a glass front and minimum wage employees, who are generally clueless, on a high street, are fast running out.  Why?  Because if it can be bought digitally then it will be bought digitally. You cannot beat digital for research, for price comparisons, for ease, for convenience and even for instant access to the product/service – for some categories of goods and services. And if you get your logistics right then many customers can wait a day or two to get what they ordered online.

Which means that If your value proposition and the associated customer experience is not good enough to charge an entrance fee then you should close up shop. Why? Because you will simply end up being a showroom for a digital master like Amazon.

Michael Schrage says “Invest in your customers more than you brand”

It isn’t often that I come across a piece that speaks to me the way that Michael Schrage’s piece speaks to me.  I say that if you are in the game of business, the game of customer-centricity, or the game of customer experience then read and memorise that which he says.  For my part, I want to pull out his wisdom as it relates to the impact of digital on business strategy, marketing, sales, service and the customer experience.

Digital technologies push firms to recognize, rethink and reorganise how they should make their customers smarter and more confident…How are you using digital media to help your best customers and prospects to better educate themselves?  How are you making them smarter and more capable? Companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, IKEA and IBM have answers to that question. What’s yours?

The distinctions that make a difference will be value-added aducation and advice.  After decades of complaints about the poor quality of its instructions and documentation, for example, Ikea set up a YouTube channel…showing people how to easily put together its most complex furniture.

The advice/aducation marketing challenge comes from redefining advertising as an investment that makes your customers more valuable to you, not just an investment that makes your brand more valuable to your customers…

The digital and digitizing future belongs to the best aducators and advisors who make clients, customers, prospects measurably smarter and authentically more confident.  That a challenge a David Ogilvy, Jay Chiat and Rosser Reeves would appreciate.

Credibility comes from commitment to facilitate decision, not calculate persuasion. “We [Amazon] make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.”

Bezos’ bet is that relevant recommendations and reviews – good advice – are better brand investments than digital sales pitchesClose the deal by being openly helpful and helpfully open, not by “selling better.” Amazon transformed customer behaviours and expectations by consistently favouring innovative “advice” over sales-oriented “advertising” and promotion.

Sales don’t drive the UX; they’re it’s happy byproducts. That digital design sensibility has yet to seep into marketing’s mainstream…..

And finally

If you are busy firmly planted in the call-centre working on improving the ‘customer experience’ then I say get that you are at best improving customer service. Not the customer experience. You are mired in operations and as such you may just be missing out on the bigger picture – the opportunity and the challenge.

If like me, you are fundamentally a strategist and you passion lies in value propositions and customer experience innovation,  I say get passionate about digital. Learn digital. Use digital. Why?  Because digital enables transformations in the value proposition, communications with and between customers, the customer experience, and the business model.

Is there a serious issue with the whole customer-brand relationship thing?

I came across this great quote from Anthony Robbins on relationship and I want to share it with you:

The only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place THAT YOU GO TO GIVE and not a place that you go to take.

Coming across this quote has rekindled the struggle that I have had with the relationship thing between the organisation/brand and customers.  Why?

We live in a self-seeking, self-interested, self-centred ideology and context. Customers are expecting companies to reward them for their loyalty. These rewards can be in terms of price discounts, higher levels of service, special privileges etc.  Brands/organisations have engaged in the relationship thing because of promises made by gurus/consultants/marketing professors. What promises?  Promises of  higher revenues, margins and profits.  How? According to these ‘gurus’ customers in a relationship will paying higher prices and buy more from the brand.

Do you see the issue?  From the brand viewpoint it is worth entering into the relationship so that the brand can take more – revenues and profits – from the relationship.  From the customer viewpoint it is worth entering into a relationship if they can get more value (price discounts, higher levels of service, privileges..) out of the brands.

This reminds me of the prisoners dilemma where the ideal course of action is for you to encourage the other party to cooperate whilst you defect.  And as such this occurs to be the use of the word/concept of ‘relationship’ masking a ‘selfishness/greed’ orientation/behaviour.  Which may explain why it is that with all the talk of ‘relationship’ there are so few brands that actually build relationships and cultivate loyalty.

Oh, if you are up for a refreshing take on the customer/brand relationship thing then I recommend the following slide deck from Martin Weigel, head of planning at Wieden+Kennedy, Amsterdam:

This is the deck that brought to the surface my unease with the relationship thing.  And it shows up for me as a great deck – one that speaks uncomfortable/unsettling truths. I’d love to hear your take on this.

Want to grow your business? Build a Roadmap to Revenue – sell the way that customers buy!

Why are you focussing on the Customer Experience?

Isn’t the answer something like:

  • turn more of the people who have a need for and/or an interest in buying the ‘products’ you are selling into customers of yours;
  • increase the happiness of the people who have bought from you (customers) because you have made it easy for them to buy what they are looking to buy.  And because what you sold them does the job they expect it to do for them / enables them to arrive at their desired outcome.  And because the experience of using your ‘product’ matches and/or exceeds their expectation; and
  • helps you to get more interested buyers to turn up at your store and/or website (without heavy marketing spend) because they have heard good, even great, things about you from the people who have already bought from you?

How exactly are you going to find out what matters to your customers and convert that into a roadmap?

The question is how exactly are you going to find out what really matters to your customers and then convert that into roadmap that helps the people who are in the market to buy (buyers) to buy from you rather than your competitors?  That is the answer that Kristin Zhivago has answered comprehensively in her book Roadmap to Revenue.   Roadmap to Revenue is a book that speaks to me, it occurs to me as being grounded in experience (not theory), speaks/points at the ‘truth’ as shown by experience and is useful/actionable.  What makes that good?

The tag line for the book says it best “How to sell the way your customers want to buy”.  In this book Kristin lives up to what she preaches in the book – she delivers on the promise set out in the tagline.  Roadmap to Revenue provides a actionable, pragmatic and robust method (and tools and tips) for generating insight into customer needs (as buyers) and converting this into an actionable roadmap for giving giving customers (buyers) what they are looking for and thus growing you revenues.

The skeleton upon which the book hangs, the heart of the book, is the Roadmap to Revenue method that consists of three steps:

DISCOVER is concerned with figuring out how to make buying easier for the people (buyers/customers) who would benefit from the ‘products’ you are selling.  Kristin gets that there are various ways of getting at this insight including interviewing employees, conducting focus groups and using social media.   She also gets their limitations.  Based on that understanding and the kind of actionable insight customer interviews provide, Kristin strongly advocate interviewing existing customers to get at buyers needs and experience.  Furthermore, Kristin is clear that these interviews should be carried out over the phone, not face to face.  Why?  Because, our customers are that much more open, more honest, more disclosing when this interviewing happens over the phone.  If you have questions/doubts then think back to the faux pass Barclays made in asking me for my feedback face to face.

DEBATE involves the key players in your organisation to take part in conversations where they discuss, analyse and prioritise the feedback provided by your customers in the earlier Discover step.  The objective is to come to an agreement on the “essence of your promise to your customers” (in my framework I refer to this as the value proposition) and to determine which buying category your ‘product’ falls into so that later you can determine/get to grips with the customers buying process.  Kristin recommends a 2 day offsite “Brainstorming and Planning Meeting”  to do the work that is necessary in this step.

DEPLOY involves taking all that you have learned and turning that into a “Buying Process Roadmap” for each of the distinct ‘products’ that you are selling.  This map will show: the different stages of the customers buying process; they concerns that show up at each stage; the actions they take; the questions that customers are asking/grappling with,;the answers that satisfy them; and the best tools for providing those answers.  Once the Buying Process Roadmaps have been constructed it is time to put together the “Revenue Growth Action Plan”.  This is the implementation plan which sets out what you are going to do to improve what needs to be improved, to fix whats broken, to create what is needed and is not there……

Highlights from Roadmap to Revenue

Here’s a truncated list of the stuff that jumped out at me, resonated with me, created value for me:

1. “In order for you to sell, someone needs to buy.  If you make it easy they will buy from you.”  This is the essential concept out of / from / on which the entire book is constructed.

2. “The fundamental problem: When you thinking like a seller, you’re not thinking like a buyer.”  I absolutely love this oneWhy?  It is the ‘disease’ that infects just about every Customer initiative and the people who are infected cannot see that they are infected!  So any ‘customer-centricity’ is always driven by the needs and vantage point of the seller and selling. 

3. “Nothing gets the attention of a customer or prospect more than giving them what they want”  Why?  Because most sellers don’t give buyers what buyers are looking for and want in order to buy.

4. “There are dozens – even hundreds – of ways to market your product or service.  Only your customers can tell you how they want to buy what you sell.” People inside your company are so disconnected from buyers that they fall for whatever is the latest fad (think social media) or the most convincing salesperson.  They forget that the right person to ask is the buyer – only she can give you access to her world.  Only she can help you to find the right ways to market your ‘product’.

5. “If the CEO isn’t speaking up for your customers, there’s nothing that anyone else can do – regardless of their position – that will turn the company into a customer-centric organisation.”  I absolutely love this as it speaks to my experience of what is so within organisations and why most customer-centric efforts wither.

6. “Branding is the promise that you make.  Your “brand” is the promise that you keep.”  How many brand marketers really get that?  How many CMO’s get that?  How many Tops get that difference?  That small difference is the difference that makes a difference – the difference between the sellers perspective and the buyers perspective.

7.  “If the product or service is substandard, the word will get around.  Marketing won’t be able to save it.  The Roadmap to Revenue system is designed to get people together with good products and services, not to trick people into buying bad products and services.”  How much of current business practice is the latter – focussed on tricking people into buying ‘bad’ products and services?

8.  “The critical characteristic is the function that is so important to the customer that it compels the customer to buy the product.”  This reminds me of the needed to focus, to keep present to the 20:80 rule – to concentrate on that which really matters and do that excellently.

9.  “Perception is reality.  More specifically, your customers’ perception is your reality.” That is the way that organisations should work.  And almost every single one that I have interacted with, worked for/with, consulted with does not practice this.  The default condition in organisations is the opposite – it is the reality of the people (with power) in the organisation whose reality counts everyone else is mistaken including customers!

10.  “Desire is what starts the person on his buying process.  However, as soon as he begins the buying process, his skepticism kicks in.  The more expensive and complex the purchase, the greater the scrutiny that the customer will apply to the purchase.”  Why?  This is clearly spelt out in this aptly titled post by Kristin: Why Do Buyers Agonize?  Because Sellers Lie and Minimize.

Final words and disclosure

Kristin has written a gem of a book and I wholeheartedly recommend that you put this on your reading list.  I’d go further and say don’t do what I did: buy it from Amazon and have it sit on my Kindle for a month or so.  I am grateful for Kristin for sending me a physical copy (free) and inviting me to review it on this blog.  It is only when the physical copy turned up that it got my attention and I started reading it.  Once I got started I had to read it all as I found it that insightful, that useful.  If you do read it and don’t get value out of it then I’d love to hear from you!

giffgaff: what impact will the 8 hour service interrruption have on brand reputation and customer loyalty?

The giffgaff network: 8 hour service outage

Last Friday (16th) the giffgaff network went down and it stayed down for 8 hours.  It is not unusual for a mobile network to go down, it happens and many of us don’t even notice it because the outage last a couple of hours.  The giffgaff outage did get noticed – it got noticed by my wife, my son and plenty of other customers.  In our case the impact was not earth shattering.  Yes, my son who was feeling unwell was left hanging around outside for 50 minutes because he could not reach his mum.  As he said, it was annoying to have wait for 50 minutes when you are feeling ill but it’s not a big thing. For me, it is no big deal as I have two phones and had access to a second network that was working fine.

I think about switching until I get this email

The interesting thing is that the service outage did get me wondering as to whether I should switch the family over to say O2.  That was until Fri 16/03/2012 21:24 when I got this email:

We’re sorry

You may have experienced loss of service today (Friday 16th March), we’re sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused you.

This was due to a burst water pipe which took out the power at one of our 3rd party suppliers. Engineers have been working on this and have put a fix in place which we are now monitoring for stability. During the period where service is restored you may notice that your service is intermittent.

We’re continuing to work on this issue and regular updates will be provided in the community Noticeboard. Additional information is also available via our Blog where our CEO Mike Fairman has popped up a quick update.

Once we are sure that full and stable service has been restored for all members we will look at ways to make it up to you.

Again, sorry for the inconvenience.

Regards,

The giffgaff team”

Upon reading this email my reaction was “I’m sticking with giffgaff!”  Why?  The email struck me as the kind of response that I would expect from a decent and professional human being who had mistake and was now doing everything to make things right.  No, that is not enough.  It occurred to me that this is the kind of email that can only come from someone who has heart – who cares about doing the right thing.  Specifically:

  • The subject header is exactly right -“We’re sorry”.  Isn’t that what we expect and what our friends/family say when they have messed up?
  • The cause of the outage is explained;
  • It provides reassurance (we are continuing to work on it) and access to more information (Noticeboard, blog) for those who need it;
  • The line “Once we are sure that full and stable service has been restored for all members we will look at ways to make it up to you.” is a perfect line.  giffgaff get that whilst it is important to make it up to their customers, it was even more important at that time to deal with the issues (e.g. number porting) that had piled up (and were impacting) customers.
  • The email doesn’t just start with sorry it also ends with sorry.

What does the customer base think?

I trawled through the comments left by customers and the ratings of the comments.  Based on that I’d say that the customer base is split into two camps – polar opposites of each other.

The first camp is not happy with an 8 hour outage and it is best characterised by the following comment:

“I’m with the people who are wondering how this can possibly happen.

We get it, accidents happen, you can’t plan for everything etc… but for one water burst to knock out your entire network is unacceptable. Sure a lot of people just couldn’t text their friends or whatever, but some people might have had an emergency and were without a phone.

I’m glad I had the foresight to buy myself a backup pay as you go orange sim card in case this happened, I would never have done that with any other network…but with giffgaff, I felt it was necessary.

You can’t keep customers with your amazing prices alone, you have to provide a good and reliable service.”

The other segment of customers get that the service outage was a pain and yet give giffgaff full credit what they are about (the value proposition) and how they went about addressing the service outage.  This is best captured by the following comment:

“Thank you GiffGaff employees for getting our network back up and running. Was a hell of a pain without service but hey these things happen, maybe it can be classed as a learning curve for the future. I love GiffGaff and won’t leave you because of the occasional hick cup. Im sorry that so many people feel the need to complain, we have all suffered one way or the other because of this, but for god sake people find something to moan about that really is worth moaning about. You get great value from GiffGaff and they work hard for us when things do go wrong. So stop whingeing and give them a cheer and a big thank you for working so hard to fix the issue.

THANK YOU GIFFGAFF AND ALL YOUR EMPOYEES FOR WORKING SO HARD.”

What are the implications for giffgaff?

If I have read the comments correctly then I’d say that giffgaff have not burned their bridges with the bulk of their customer base.   To the contrary, most of the comments were positive about giffgaff.  Yet giffgaff does have an issue.  Why?  The phone is not just a device, it is THE device for most people; once customers sign-up with a network they expect it to work perfectly and all the time.  They might not notice short service outages, they definitely notice longer service outages: 8 hours is a long, long service outage.

My advice to giffgaff? You have done a good job in the way that you handled the service outage.  And that kind of service outage should not have happened.  So you should do the following:

  • take this opportunity to learn what needs to change (technology, processes, people….);
  • let your members (customers) know what you are doing to make sure that this kind of outage NEVER happens again;
  • invite (and engage) your members to play their part in what needs to happen – that way it becomes something that we do together, that way the ‘ownership’ of giffgaff continues to be distributed;
  • keep your promise and make it up to them – you can use this as an exercise to build more rapport with your customer base if you go about it in the right way.

Final observation

The impact of the  CEO’s post setting out the position (status) and offering an apology is interesting: many customers found that comforting / reassuring  and as a result it generated goodwill for giffgaff.  That strikes me as being an example of a leader leading.

Brand Experience: highlights from the 2011 Best Experience Brands Global Study

I have read the Best Experience Brands report published by Jack Morton Worldwide and want to share the highlights with you.  For the purposes of the report and this post a ‘Brand Experience” is defined as “any of the interactions (direct, indirect) you have with the specific company or its products and services”. The findings of the report are based on 1,603 consumers (USA, UK, Asia, Australia) completing an online survey during Aug/Sept 2011.

Which brands deliver unique experiences?

It is probably no surprise to you that Apple comes at the top of the list.  Who else is on the list?

  1. Apple
  2. Disney
  3. Google
  4. Microsoft
  5. Mercedes
  6. Coca-Cola
  7. Sony and IKEA
  8. BMW
  9. Amazon
  10. Louis Vuitton

I find it interesting that this list is made up of such a diverse range of companies: industries, business models, value propositions etc.

Three key insights emerge from the research

I doubt that the key findings are any surprise given that research study after study points towards the same direction:

  • The brand experience drives consumer purchasing decisions.  60% of consumers agreed with the statement “My overall experience with  a brand is the single biggest factor in whether I decide to purchase a product or service” – only 5% disagreed.
  • Consumers will pay more for unique experiences.  44% of consumers agreed with the statement “I am willing to pay a premium price for a product or service if I know that I will have a unique experience with that brand in some way”. Not surprisingly the consumers that have more money (are the least affected by the recession) are the ones that are more willing to pay this premium: 58% of consumers in Asia v 28% of consumers in the UK.
  • There’s a big gap between what matters to customers (in terms of the brand experience) and what brands provide in terms of unique experiences. Only 26% say that their past experiences have been unique; 62% are looking for that unique experience.

What are the top experience drivers?

Given that customers have jobs to do / get done (including elevating their status or looking cool) and that is the primary reason that they interact with companies it is not surprising that the product/service  should be the top experience driver.  What are the other experience drivers?  Here is the most important experience drivers:

  • Products and services that meet your needs
  • Understands your needs
  • Continues to serve and engage you after you’ve become a customer
  • Exceeds your expectations
  • Makes it easy to find information and buy their products, wherever and whenever I shop.

What is interesting is that the experience drivers that deliver a UNIQUE brand experience are somewhat different:

  • Initial impression the brand makes on you
  • Continues to serve and engage you after you have become a customer
  • Understands your needs
  • Differentiates from similar products
  • Employs people who anticipate your needs

I find it interesting that consumers do not want to be forgotten (or taken for granted) once they have become customers -they want brands to continue to serve and engage them.

Which experience categories matter the most?

The report subdivides the “Brand Experience” into categories: Product Experience; Shopping Experience; Customer Experience; Discovery Experience; Community Experience; and Digital Experience. If you put the experience drivers into categories and then look at which ones matter the most to customers (listed earlier) then it becomes clear that the Product Experience, the Shopping Experience and the Customer Experience categories are the ones that matter the most.  Lets take a closer look at each of these three categories – specifically what they are made up of and how highly they are rated by consumers.

Product Experience

  • Products and services that meet your needs (6.1 out of 7)
  • Invents new ways to enhance their products or services, after you have become a customer (5.6)

Shopping Experience

  • Makes it easy to find information and buy their products wherever and whenever I want to shop – store, online, mobile  (5.8)
  • Provides an efficient shopping experience (5.8)

Customer Experience

  • Understands your needs (5.9)
  • Continues to serve and engage you after you have become a customer (5.8)
  • Exceeds your expectations (5.8)
  • Educates you about how to use their products and services and become a smarter customer after you have become a customer (5.6)
  • Employs people who anticipate your needs (5.3)

Other key highlights

If you have read my posts you will know that I am of the view that there are important differences between women and men when it comes to needs and wants.  Here is what the report has to say on that and other demographic differences:

Women are more responsive and receptive to experience.  Women are more likely to agree with the statement that the experience influences their brand choice.  They are also more likely to be willing to pay a premium.  Furthermore, women rank some experience drivers much higher then men: “Understands your needs” (73% v 65%); “Continues to serve and engage you after becoming a customer” (71% v 62%); “Exceeds expectations” (72% v 60%).

People over 55 are a less willing to pay a premium for brands that offer a unique experience.

Affluent consumers value experiences more and are more willing to pay a premium for unique experiences.  The experience drivers that particularly important to these people include: “Understands your needs”; “Continues to serve and engage you after you have become a customer”; and “Educates you about how to use their products and services and become a smarter consumer, after you have become a customer”.

US consumers (of all the consumers who took part in the survey) have the highest expectations around the “Customer Experience” categoryof the “Brand Experience” as defined in this report.

UK consumers are much less demanding than US consumers – they are much less likely to cite “Exceeding expectations” as an experience driver that motivates/influences their purchasing decisions.

Asian consumers are the ones that are most likely to say that the experience is the single biggest factor in brand choice and they are the ones that are most willing to pay a price premium for unique brand experiences.

My point of view

All research should be handled delicately.  Bias is present in most research in a number of ways some deliberate and some unintentional.  Also there can be a big difference in what say, what people do (and will do) and what people say they do or will do.

The research ‘supports’  my point of view that the most important lever for improving the “Brand Experience” and growing your business is to make/sell great products/services that create superior value for your customers – allow your customers to get their jobs done cheaper, faster, easier, better.  A little while ago I wrote a post titled The Missing Piece of the Customer Experience Puzzle – to point out that the product/service was being neglected by the Customer Experience movement.

What men and women want is different and women are more experience driven – the softer (caring) dimensions of the ‘Brand Experience” matter more to women.  I wrote a post on what matters to women: how to engage the female customer and deliver the right experience

“Exceeds expectations” is a key driver – which tells me that just delivering to expectations is not enough.  Does that mean that the ‘just get the basics right and forget about delighting customers’ school of Customer Experience is wrong?  I’ll let you make your own decision.

We do not need more research to tell us what matters to consumers.  What is missing is the Tops who are willing to act on what the numerous research studies tell us.

How to increase (online) sales by focusing on the customer experience

Let me share an interesting experience with you

Last week I got fed up of lugging a heavy backpack around whilst travelling on business – it was putting a strain on my neck, shoulder and back.  As I was busy doing some consulting work with/for a bunch of fabulous people in Ireland I asked Sue to look into some suitable laptop bags with wheels and a telescopic handle.  This is the bag she ended up buying for me:

What is so great about this bag?  Before I answer that question I want to backtrack and let you in on the process that I went through to select this bag.

Sue did her research based on my sketchy requirements and offered me two options – two URLs.  I clicked on the first link and it took me to this bag.  I clicked on the second URL and it took me to another website and a bag that looked remarkably similar to this one.  So why did I ask Sue to buy this bag?

The first etailer is practice Sales 2.0 whilst the second etailer is firmly stuck in Sales 1.0.  What is the difference you might ask?  From my eyes, the customer’s eyes, the first etailer has looked at the sales process through my eyes and designed it such that it is a no brainer for me to buy from this vendor.  The second etailer has a product and is simply putting it on display and hoping that someone will buy it.

Who is the first etailer? Amazon.  Who is the second etailer? Some online luggage etailer – I think because I cannot even remember the name of this etailer.

Why did I buy from Amazon?

When I was faced with making a simple choice – two similar (but not identical) bags from two different etailers – how did the situation occur for me?  The most important question was this one: which bag will perform the service (‘the job’) that I have in mind?  I was not looking for a bag – I was looking for a solution to a problem!  Amazon provided reviews of this bag.  The reviews were from actual users of this bag (including a pilot) and through these reviews I was able to picture how well this bag would do the job. The competing retailer simply provided a list of product specifications – data – that simply had no meaning, no imagery, in my mind and thus did not provide the assurance I was looking for.

What was my other main consideration?  Can I count on Amazon to get this bag to me this week when I return to the UK?  Notice that I had already favoured Amazon and Amazon would only be selected out (and the competing retailer in) if it failed this test.  This was an easy question to answer because I have bought many times from Amazon and it gets my order to me within 2 -3 days. And recently, the next day – when I paid for next day delivery.

So, lets revisit this through the lens of my favoured formula: Customer Value = Benefits – Effort – Risk – Price +/- Treatment

I asked Sue to buy the bag from Amazon because Amazon created more value for me. How?  The ‘Treatment’ variable does not matter because I was interacting with websites not human beings.  The ‘Price’ variable did not matter because the price of the bags was almost identical – this bag from Amazon was slight more expensive.  That leaves three variables: ‘Benefits’, ‘Effort’ and ‘Risk’.   I had done business with Amazon before and it has an outstanding reputation (as evidenced in the latest survey) so it won hands down on ‘Risk’ – that is to say no risk in doing business with Amazon versus unknown risk with the competing etailer.  Amazon won again on both ‘Benefits’ and ‘Effort’ – Amazon, through the user reviews, did a better job of illustrating the benefits and made it easy for me to find out about these benefits.  The interesting part is that for all I know the other bag from the competing etailer may have been stronger on actual ‘Benefits’ – that is to say that it might have done the job better than this bag from Amazon.  Yet, I will never find that out because the competing etailer did not do a good enough job of illustrating those benefits.

What are the lessons?

1. We, the customers, don’t buy products we are looking to get specific job/s done through products and services. So go and figure out what the job/s are.

2. You can have the best solution to the job that your customer wants done and lose the sale if you don’t really know the customer’s needs and buying process.  So go and figure out what matters to customers (during the buying process) and how exactly they go about buying (notice I made the product decision before the vendor decision, someone else may have done it the other way around). Different customers will buy differently so ensure that you have flexibility in any process / interface that you build.

3. Take the risk out of the buying process – the product and your company.  Provide a product selector that makes it easy for the customers to select the best product for the job the customer has in mind. Provide testimonials from credible sources: customer like them, trusted independent bodies like Which? Provide figures on how many of these products you have sold and what kinds of people buy them.  Provide easy to understand, no quibble, guarantees.  By the way the more important the purchase the more the importance (weighting) of the ‘Risk’ variable: there is more risk in hiring a consultant than buying soap powder.

4. Make it easy for the customer to buy from you – take all the effort out of buying.  Look at the buying process from the customer’s eyes and take out all the obstacles.  Take out all the industry jargon that confuses customers.  Take out the complexity in any decisions the customer has to make – reduce the number of decision and reduce the effort needed to make a decision.  Reduce the number of steps.  Ask for the minimum information that you need.  Make it easy to pay through a number of different payment options.

5. Brand (reputation) matters.  I cannot help but think that I was already favouring Amazon even before I clicked the URLs.  How do I know?  Because I clicked on the Amazon URL first.  Why? Because I recognised the brand and have a positive story running around in my mind about Amazon being a great company to do business with.  If I have not done business with you before then all I have to go on is your brand (your reputation) – if I have any concerns around your brand then you increase the ‘Risk’ and that may drive me to your competitor or lead me to ask you to reduce your ‘Price’ to compensate me for that risk.  So brand is particularly important for winning new customers. 

Do you see anything that I do not see?  What are your thoughts / experiences?