Vizolution: A great way to drive sales conversions and improve the customer experience?

I have mixed relationship with corporate technology given my first hand experience of it. It is true that technology is essential and it brings many benefits. It is also true that most corporate technology is complex and expensive to set-up and operate. Last, and perhaps most important is that it does not show up as being usable nor useful to the people on the front lines that have to use the technology. Put differently, from the user perspective the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. A great example of such a technology is enterprise CRM systems. Can Vizolution prove me wrong?

I met up with Marcio Rodrigues, Customer Propositions Director, at Vizolution to learn about this technology. Here is what I learned:

  • Vizolution technology is being used by three of the top five UK banks and two of the top 5 insurance companies;
  • According to customer surveys, customers (95% of them) like the experience that is generated through Vizolution;
  • By using this technology financial services companies have increased sales conversions anywhere from 14% (mortgage conversion) to 93% (life insurance and critical illness); and
  • The folks in compliance love Vizolution as it sends/receives files using 128 bit encryption, allows complex issues to be explained properly, and enables a consistent sales process.

Ok, the banks and insurance companies like it because it improves sales conversion and improves compliance.  What I was interested in was the customer. Why do customers like it? What does Vizolution bring to the customer experience? This is what I learned:

  • By being able to see what the sales agent is talking about customers feel more engaged in the process;
  • The on screen visuals make it easier for the customer to understand the financial product being discussed; and
  • The process of signing-up for a financial product is so much easier and quicker – there is no waiting for the paperwork to arrive by post, reviewing and signing it, waiting for approval.

By now you might be wondering what is Vizolution and what does it do.  As I understand it, Vizolution:

  • Is patent pending software that allows businesses to engage their customers in sales conversations through an instant, easy, screen sharing session via the internet;
  • Is  simple and quick – with just one click the sales agent can initiate a Vizolution session and it is just as easy for the customer; and
  • bypasses the typical issues in installing screen sharing software locally and navigating around-through corporate firewalls.

My last question to Marcio was on costs: purchasing, installation, and use. What I can tell you is that the pricing showed up for me as being modest even cheap given the difference that this technology has made to sales conversion rates. At this point I could not help being a ‘strategic consultant’ and so I advised Marcio and his team to rethink the pricing!

If you want to learn more about Vizolution then I suggest that you contact Marcio. His email address is marcio.rodrigues@vizolution.co.uk

If you have used this software solution either as a manager, a sales agent or a customer then I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Please note that I am taking a holiday over August and as such I do not expect to be writing any posts until September. I thank you for reading and hope you make August a great month for yourself and all the people you ‘touch’.

Disclosure: I am happy to write about Vizolution as it occurs to me that this is a simple useful technology. I am not being paid, in any way, for writing this post. Please note that I am not promoting Vizolution and with every technology I encourage you to do your research before you buy.

What is the Kernel of Strategy? (Part IV – Coherent Action)

This post is related to and completes the conversation started in the following posts:

Why not stop at Guiding Policy?

“Without action, the world would still be an idea.”  General Georges F. Doriot

Richard Rumelt (Good Strategy Bad Strategy) rightly points out that many equate strategy with guiding policy.  And thus the work of strategy and the strategist stops there.  He says that this is a mistake.  Why?  Because strategy is about action not ideas/concepts/theories.  Only action has an impact on the situation at hand: influences, shapes, alters that which is.  Here is what Rumelt says:

“Strategy is about action, about doing something.  The kernel of strategy must contain action.  It does not need to point to all the actions that will be taken as events unfold, but there must be enough clarity about action to bring the concepts down to earth. “

Whilst Rumelt does not mention this, I can see another advantage of moving beyond guiding policy and grappling with action.  Grappling with action allows me to grapple with feasibility and thus answer the question “Is this a bridge too far?” And thus I find that I am that much more likely to come up with a strategy that occurs as ‘doable’ as opposed to one that shows up us ‘pie in the sky’ for the people who have to enact the strategy.  A strategy that is not enacted is worthless.  A strategy that is badly enacted is not just worthless it is costly in terms of time, effort, money and depletes faith in management and strategy.

Coherent Action: action that delivers punch

Will any kind of action do?  No, serious thought is required.  Why?  Because the whole can be so much more powerful, pack more punch, than the sum of the parts.  Here is what Rumelt says:

“The actions within the kernel of strategy should be coherent.  That is the resource deployments, policies and maneuvers that are undertaken should be consistent and coordinated.  The coordination of action provides the basic source of leverage or advantage available in strategy……… The idea that coordination, by itself, can be a source of advantage is a very deep principle.

Just in case this is not clear Rumelt spells it out more bluntly:

“To have punch, actions should coordinate and build upon one another, focusing organisational energy..”

When Rumelt speaks coordination what is he referring to?  He is not talking about the commonly accepted way of thinking about coördination:  “continuing mutual adjustments among agents”.  So what is he talking about, pointing at?

“Strategic coordination, or coherence, is not ad hoc mutual adjustment.  It is coherence imposed on a system by policy and design.  More specifically, design is the engineering fit among parts, specifying how actions and resources will be combined.”

Why is coherence so powerful

Whilst this sounds easy, I can say from experience that this is one of the hardest feats to accomplish.  Whilst the talk suggest that we dealing with one/unity (one team, one organisation, one society..) the reality is that we are permeated by decentralisation/fragmentation/silos.  What does Rumelt have to say on this?

“Strategy is visible as coordinated action imposed on a system.  When I say strategy is “imposed”, I mean just that.  It is an exercise in centralised power, used to overcome the natural workings of a system.  This coordination is unnatural in the sense that it would not occur without the hand of strategy.”

Hold on, is Rumelt questioning the free market and decentralisation?  Here is what he says on the matter:

“…decentralised decision making cannot do everything. In particular, it may fail when either the costs or benefits of actions are not borne by the decentralised actors.  The split between costs and benefits may occur across organisational units or between the present and the future.  And decentralised coordination is difficult when benefits accrue only if decisions are properly coordinated.”

If you are working on customer based strategy or customer experience you should be at the edge of your seat.   Isn’t one of the key challenges that focussing on the customer does mean taking a hit now (giving up bad profits) in order to win in the longer term through generating ‘good profits’.  Isn’t another challenge that the customer orientation requires diverting funds and status from the marketing & sales functions towards the folks that come up with products and the Customer Services function?   And how is that going to happen if we leave the product guys to pursue their agenda, the marketing girls to make the numbers that matter to marketing, the sales guys to do whatever it takes to make the numbers and collect commission and we are busy swapping human beings for technology to cut customer service costs?  I do hope that you get what I am getting at.

And finally I leave you with some more wise words

“.. strategy is primarily about deciding what is truly important and focusing resources and action on that objective.  It is a hard discipline because focusing on one thing slights another….. In many situations, the main impediment to action is the forlorn hope that certain painful choices or actions can be avoided – that the long list of hoped-for “priorities” can all be achieved.  It is the handcraft of strategy to decide which priority shall take precedence.  Only then can action be taken.  And, interestingly, there is no greater tool for sharpening strategic ideas than the necessity to act.” 

As your read these words I draw your attention to the failure of the customer-centric orientation to take root and flower. And the failure of governments to do what needs to be done when it comes to banking, financial services, deficits and the structure of western economies…..

Culture Change: what does it take to change culture in a business? in the banking industry?

The ‘banking scandal’ and Ed Milliband got me thinking about culture and culture change

The latest ‘banking scandal’ and a statement from Ed Milliband (Leader of the Opposition) caught my attention and has inspired me to write about culture and the role/contribution of the CEO.  Let’s start with the statement and take it from there:

“It was clear Bob Diamond was not the man to lead the change that Barclays needed. But this is about more than one man.  This is about the culture and practices of the entire banking system which is why we need an independent, open, judge-led, public inquiry.”

I am going to start with tackling culture, then what it takes to change culture in a business organisation and I will end up with my take on what it will take to change the culture of the financial services industry.

What is culture?  And are culture and practices distinct?

A lot has been written on culture and most of it is not particularly useful – as in actionable. Some of it is even been written by people who have pretty much always swam in the one culture and/or spent their lives in the ivory tower of academia.  And I say people in academic ivory towers make stuff more complicated than is necessary or useful.  Isn’t that the job of professors, gurus and other ‘witch doctors’?

Let’s attack this question of culture differently.  How do you know that you are in presence of culture?  Put differently, how does culture manifest itself?   Look into this and you are likely to find that you and I do not have access to the ‘beliefs’, ‘shared assumptions’, ‘mental models’ of others.   No, you and I are up to our necks in language and practices.  What we notice, what impacts us, what we participate in is language and practices – we cannot escape language and practices.

Languages and practices are not neutral – they both indicate cultures and they shape/influence/change cultures.  Allow me to give you an example – the dramatic changes in the UK’s public sector.  Have you ever wondered why the ‘humanity’ / the ethos of ‘public service’ has been driven out of our public institutions in the UK?  I have traced this  to the introduction,and subsequent growth, of the ‘language of business’ into the public sector which drove out the language of ‘public service’.  And the introduction of ‘private sector management practices’ that drove out the ‘public sector administration practices’.  If you have not noticed this then let me make it clear – language and practices go together like two sides of the coin.

Culture and practices are not distinct.  Practices are culture.  Change practices – let go of existing practices, adopt/model new practices – and you change culture.  Language is a special case – an incredibly important practice.  A practice that shapes/changes other practices.  And also a practice that is in turn moulded/shaped by practices.  Just think of how the English language of today is so different to the English of Shakespeare.  Or think about ‘human rights’ – the term did not exist once upon a time.  It was invented and its invention led to practices associated with human rights.  Think about the practice of science and the conquest of nature.  When did it take off in a big way?  After Descartes changed language so that language glorified reason and science.

Who/what does it take to change the culture of a company, a business?

Lets say that you want to change the culture of your business from product-centred to customer-centred.  Or from command and control management to collaboration (social business).  Or simply from command and control to  Upside Down Management where the focus is on empowering/inspiring the front line to do what is right for the customer and delivering great customer service.  Who is the person in the business that you should entrust with this mission?  And how should this person go about it and what can this person expect?  I say it is worth listening to what John Timpson (Chairman of the high street chain Timpson) has to say in his book Upside Down Management:

“It is now 10 years since we decided to introduce Upside Down Management and it is making a massive difference.  Nevertheless, it is not easy to change culture.  Anyone who is thinking of following in our footsteps should take note of the vital ingredient that is needed to make it work: the Chief Executive must be the champion of Upside Down Management.  He or she is the only person who can make it work.  If you’re in personnel, sales or marketing, don’t dream of trying to introduce Upside Down Management until you have your CEO’s 100% commitment.  Upside Down Management is all or nothing, only the CEO can do this, and in doing so he or she must understand how it will change everyone’s job. The CEO must have the determination to replace orders, memos, KPIs and nitpicking with praise, lots of listening, and clear obstacles out of the way to give people true freedom to operate.  The Chief Executive must be on a mission to change everyone’s perception of management Doing things upside down is nothing like what they teach at management school.  In doing so, they must understand the importance of personality and identify the drongos who would obstruct progress.

Don’t expect Upside Down Management to take root overnight.  Give it plenty of time – you have got to promote it, sell it and nurture it.  Everything has to be introduced by persuasion because that is the way you run an Upside Down business.  Upside Down Management may take years to establish, but eventually it will start to work….”

In a nutshell: the CEO must be 100% committed; pick the right people to help you make it happen; no compromises – none at all; and patience – can take five years.

What will it take to change the culture of the financial services industry?

Let’s answer this question of culture change in the financial service industry through the lens of game theory and the Prisoners Dilemma. At its simplest level we can say that there is a game going on between the financial services industry and customers/society at large.   The financial services industry can choose one of two options: co-operation or defection.   The same choice falls to customers/society.   Put this way it sounds like there is a balance of power between the financial services industry and customers/society.  That is not the case and that is the heart of the issue.

The setup is such that it ALWAYS pays for the financial services industry to adopt the practice of  ‘defection’ – to pay back the co-operative behaviour of customers/society by taking advantage of it to benefit the financial services industry.   So the challenge is to shift the industry and the key players (the shareholders and the Tops) to the practice of ‘co-operation’.  How to do that?  The simple answer is to change the structure of the game between financial services and customers/industry such that the practice of ‘defection’ hurts (a lot) and the practice of ‘co-operation’ pays.  That means putting place strong penalties for the Tops (going to jail) and the shareholders (massive fines) for practices that constitute ‘defection‘.   Which in turn means getting rid of ‘light regulation’ and replacing it with ‘smart regulation’.  And it means putting teeth into the regulators – so that they have the will, the skills/expertise, the resources, the permission needed to detect and punish ‘defection’ practices.   This means more than adequate funding, it means getting rid of the conflicts of interest at the heart of regulators.  Too often the regulators are cheerleaders for the industry players.

How likely is that to happen?  Not likely.  Why?  First, there is the practice of those at the heart of government going into the financial services industry, when they are no longer in government, and making vast sums of money.  Second, there is the practice of the revolving door between those that are in/represent the financial services industry. Who was brought into advise and help deal with the mess of the credit crunch?  The people who had played a substantial role in the mess and whose careers/livelihoods were invested in the financial service industry. To effect culture change in the financial services industry would require a change in these practices.  For example, making it illegal for any person in government to work with/advise anyone in the financial service industry during their time in government plus 5 years.

Now we come to the who question: who is willing to take on that task?  Which prime minister is willing to forgo the many millions to be made through consulting/advising/sitting on the Boards of the financial giants?  Yet, I am open to surprises and being surprised.  Who would have thought that Bob Diamond would be pushed out of his role as CEO?

Summing up

Culture is constituted and shows up through language and practices.  If you change the language and the practices – and make this change stick – then you have changed the culture.  Culture is always changing because practices and language are changing.  One of the biggest drivers of change in practices and culture, today, is technology.  The reason that the financial services industry does what it does is because there are no practices in place to punish players in the financial services industry for the behaviour that costs customers, cost society at large.