doing great by daring to be different / breaking the rules

The heart of strategic thinking is difference, few choose to be different

The heart of strategic thinking is difference.  In order for you to act strategically you have to have a particular foundation in place.  What is this foundation?  It is an existential quality you cannot buy it, yet you can choose to be it.  Be what? Be courageous: the willingness to leave the herd, create/follow your own path, be ok with the fear/uncertainty/doubt and criticism.

Few, in big business, choose courage over security.  Which is why for all the talk of innovation, innovation is rare, an exception, in big business.  Having given into and being gripped by the need for security, the Tops and Middles, in big business, love ‘proven’ formulas pushed by brand name gurus and consultancies.  The interesting thing about formulas is that they are available to everyone and if they catch fire they make you/your business the same as every other business.  That is the very opposite of what strategic thinking and innovation is about.

Meet Ling Valentine who is different and built a successful business on this difference

Ling Valentine has built a successful online business ( by daring to be different, breaking the rules.  You are confronted with that difference as soon as you hit her website.  In a world of blandness the website oozes personality – Ling’s personality.  And as a visitor you either love this website or hate it.  Before you read further go and check out the website.

You either liked it or hated it?   If you liked it then great because Ling’s focus is on ‘selling you a car’.  If you hated it then that is also great by Ling.  Ling doesn’t want you – you are boring – she wants people with a personality who are going to be a good fit with Ling and the way that she does business.  How is this working out?  As she says on her website “You can trust me! ….. in 2010 I rented out over £35milion of cars (RRP)”.  It occurs to me that it is working out great.

What can we learn from Ling and

Use the principle of ‘impute’ to attract the right people to you and drive the others away

One of the key lessons that Steve Jobs learned from Mike Markkula was that of ‘impute’.  It is clear that Ling is practicising ‘impute’ powerfully through the design of here homepage.  And thus narrowing down visitors to those that are a good fit for her business.  Put differently the design of the website is so bad that it is great at selecting the visitors who find this bad to be great!  Notice how the design conveys both Ling’s fun personality and comes across as ‘cheap’ thus living the promise of ‘cheap cars’.

Here is the bit that is really hard for big business: you have to turn away , filter out, the ‘wrong’ customers so that you can design and deliver the value proposition and customer experience that shows up as great, the best, for the ‘right’ customers – the ones that you are targeting. 

Focus on the one or two domains that matter – the difference that makes a difference

Did you notice Ling’s focus on Did it scream out at you?  Yes, it’s selling.  Ling is focussed on selling you a car. There are plenty of offers and sales messages on the home page.  Did you notice the livechat?  What you may not know is that Ling and her small team don’t necessarily wait for visitors to reach out to them, they reach out to customers and lead them through the buying process helping them to buy.

Now compare that with other websites.  The key question that most websites fail to answer well is this one: what is the fundamental purpose of this website?  As a result most websites end up being a ‘dog’s dinner’ of objectives and functionality – every powerful group in the business wants a say and real-estate on the website particularly the home page.

Educate customers and openly/effectively address the barriers (skepticism) to buying

As I spelled out in this post if people are hanging out at your website they clearly have a need and think you can help them with that need.  So you do not have to sell to them.  You have to help them to buy.  That means getting that people have to overcome concerns-worries-fear before they will purchase from you.

Leasing a car is a big deal and Ling understands this.  Importantly, she acts on this understanding – you’d be amazed at how many Tops/Middles fail to act as if insight is enough in itself.  LingsCars.comaddresses the worries-concerns about leasing a car head on.  How?  By being upfront about all the charges thus spelling out the total cost.  By explaining the charges – why they are there, what they cover.   In short, she addresses the skepticism through education and transparency.  Which builds trust – it occurs to me that she is practicing ‘Extreme Trust‘.  This is the opposite of what her competitors do.  Notice the difference:  Ling is not claiming to be different (marketing/PR) she is being different!

Want to learn more about Ling and LingCars?

Ling giving the keynote presentation at the Future of Digital Marketing 2012:

Do you know the difference between a good strategy and a bad strategy? (Part IV – Objectives)

This is the fourth in the series of posts on strategy making using Richard Rumelt’s masterpiece: Good Strategy Bad Strategy.  If you have not already done so then you may get value out of the reading the first three posts:

Do you know the difference between good strategy and bad strategy?  (Part I)

Do you know the difference between good strategy and bad strategy?  (Part II – Fluff)

Do you know the difference between good strategy and bad strategy?  (Part I – Failing to face the problem)

What passes for strategy and strategy is so often simply muddled thinking or why so many websites generate a poor user experience

One thing that I have noticed is that so many websites are poor – from the users perspective.  Why is that?  I have my point of view which I pleased to see validated by Mark Adams of PortalTech Reply in the May edition of Internet Retailing:

“If your strategy, for example, is to use mobile to generate significant revenues the key considerations, technology choices and approach are going to be very different from setting out to use mobile as brand engagement channel…….. Often the strategy is to accommodate selling, loyalty, brand engagement, in-store integration, social marketing, payments and so on with no clear path on how each of these areas are going to be addressed and at what point.”

Sounds like a ‘dog’s dinner’ of aims/objectives masquerading as strategy to me.  That got me thinking that it is worth sharing what Richard Rumelt has to say on the matter of aims, objectives and strategy.

What does Richard Rumelt say about aims, objectives and strategy?

Richard Rumelt says that strategic objectives are one domain that differentiates good strategy from bad strategy:

One of the challenges of being a leader is mastering this shift from having others define your goals to being the architect of the organisation’s purpose and objectives.  To help clarify this distinction it is helpful to use the word “goal” to express overall values and desires and to use the word “objective” to denote specific operational targets……. Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes.

In his book,  Rumelt identifies two pitfalls in the areas of objectives: ‘dog’s dinner objectives’; and ‘blue sky objectives’.  Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Dog’s dinner objectives

This is what Rumelt says (keep in mind my earlier comment on poor websites and the quote on mobile):

A long list of “things to do”, often mislabeled as “strategies” or “objectives”, is not a strategy.  It is just a list of things to do. Such lists usually grow out of planning meetings in which a wide variety of stakeholders make suggestions as to things they would like to see done.  Rather than focus on a few important items, the group sweeps the whole day’s collection into a “strategic plan”.  Then, in recognition that it is a dog’s dinner, the label “long term” is added so that none of them need be done today.

I absolutely love this paragraph, it strikes as pointing at the ‘truth’ in a similar way to the Dilbert cartoons and leaves me saying “How true!”.  How does it strike you?

Blue sky objectives

Back to Mr Rumelt and his wisdom on strategy:

“The second form of bad strategic objectives is one that is “blue sky”.  A good strategy defines the critical challenge.  What is more, it builds a bridge between that challenge and action, between desire and immediate objectives that lie within grasp.  Thus, the objectives a good strategy sets should stand a good chance of being accomplished, given existing resources and competence.……  By contrast, a blue-sky objective is usually a simple restatement of the desired state of affairs or of the challenge.  It skips over the annoying fact that no one has a clue as to how to get there.

The purpose of a good strategy is to offer a potentially achievable way of surmounting  a key challenge.  If the leader’s strategic objectives are just as difficult to accomplish as the original challenge, there has been little value added by the strategy.”

Lets revisit 1997 and Steve Jobs return to the helm of Apple

Back in 1997 Apple was burning through its cash and was expected to become bankrupt in months.  The imperative was survival – increasing the cash pile and cutting costs to buy time to focus on product renewal.  What did Steve Jobs do?  The very first thing, the most thing, he did was to persuade Microsoft, the arch enemy, to invest in Apple.  By doing so he was able get his hands on $150 million (in return for non-voting shares).  This dismayed the Apple faithful, left them stunned and led to heckling and booing.  Something that Jobs had not experienced before.  Nonetheless it was a masterstroke as it bought him time to:

  • Cut the number of products from 15 to 4;
  • Streamline distribution by selling  through an exclusive national dealer as opposed to many retailers;
  • Focus marketing on a single message “Think Different”;
  • Terminate licensing deals that enabled other manufacturers to undercut Apple with Mac clones.

Result: operating expenses were cut nearly in half. Within months, Apple was back in the black and could focus on developing and bringing to market ‘killer products’ worthy of the Apple brand as personified by Jobs.

It occurs to me that Steve Jobs was more than creative or a showman (like Richard Branson).  He was a master strategist he focussed relentlessly on the essence.  How different to so many others who call themselves strategist and claim to put forth strategies.  What do you say?

CX / UX: why one etailer won a £500 order and the other one didn’t

Exec summary:  the nugget to chew on

Make it easy for potential buyers to buy from you.  How?  Take the time to understand how people buy.  Design your interaction interfaces and the supporting infrastructure to enable just that.  And that is not enough.  You have to care! Why caring provides the fuel that generates insight and enables actions that make the buyers life easier.  It is the source of “wow”. This is particularly important on digital channels.  Why? Because the buyer, the customer, cannot easily tell you if the interaction is not working for him.

What is the fundamental principle of good customer experience design?

Work with human nature so that ‘effort’ does not show up in the (target) customer’s mind.  Steve Krug wrote a book and I believe the title was ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ – that is exactly it.

What is that we tend to overlook, to get wrong, in customer experience design?

We are not present to non-linearity: that little things can have a huge impact. So we don’t pay attention to the little details, we assume that they don’t matter. We fail to do what Steve Jobs did relentlessly – go for perfection and ensure that each of the little details was taken care of.  Isn’t that the essence of design – to take care of the details so that 2+ 2 = 200 in the users world?

Now that you have the nugget you can leave (and get on with life) or you can come along with me on my latest customer experience with two etailers (PC World, Comet).

My experience of buying a television online

You may remember that I bought a television from Amazon: the television was faulty and the returns experience a most interesting one. I thought I had got away with it and I did for several weeks.  And then my family were on my back about having a bigger television.  So I took another like at requirements, did some research and narrowed my search down to one television.

Who do I buy it from? Using a comparison site I got a list of sellers and prices.  First, I ruled out Amazon – as a result of my last experience I made a decision not to buy bulky stuff from Amazon.  Second, I narrowed my list down to three vendors: PC World, Comet and Dixons.  Why?  All three of them are selling it at the same price and all three of them are notable brands – I can’ tell them apart.

I start buying from PC World

Clearly I had a preference, I just did not know it consciously.  How do I know I had a preference? Because I went to buy from PC World.  Is that something to do with the helpful chap who went beyond the call of duty last time I visited PC World?  Or could it be that the PC World logo stands out more than the other two logos?  Or is it that I have it that PC World is more modern than the other two?  Or is it that PC World was at the top of the list? I suspect one or all of these factors played its part.

The comparison site did its job and I arrived at the at the PC World site I was all ready to buy. This is what I saw and I was pleased with what I saw:

The web page was well laid out, easy to see and understand. Comfortable with what I saw I hit the “Checkout” button; it stands out – someone has been thinking about the design, I say to myself.  And I end up here:

My automatic reaction: “For goodness sake, why have you put this here. This should not be here!  Let me get on with buying the television.” As I am not an existing customer I hit the “continue” button under the “new customer” section of the web page.  And I ended up here:

Why would a sane customer experience / ux designer put this here?  It simply occurred as an obstacle – too much effort! And it showed up as “I am not here to populate your CRM system, I’m here to buy a television. And you’re not letting me so I’m going elsewhere!

I arrive at the Comet site

As I have my comparison site web page open, I hit the button for Comet and arrive at this page:

I love this layout:
it occurs as simple, cleaner and focussed on my needs.  I have high expectations and hit the home delivery button.  The next page asks me for my postcode.  I type in 7 digits and the webpage throws open a list of addresses on my street.  I pick mine: Freshfields.  Easy.  Once I have done that, this page turns up:

“Fantastic”, that is my reaction. 
The layout appeals to me: I like the way that information is presented.  Notice, it is easy for me to choose the delivery option that best suits me.  Notice, all the relevant details are well laid out: the product that I am buying; the price; the address it is to be delivered to.  And notice that the x-selling of products and services is related to the product that I am buying AND does not get in the way of me buying.  For example, it only takes up a small portion of the web page and I do not have to untick any boxes: no effort required!

I make my delivery selection and hit the “continue” button and I arrive here:

Now I am in awe. 
I absolutely love the thought that went into the design of the customer experience, the purchasing process.  Notice that the designers have taken the information I supplied/confirmed (postcode, house name) and pre-populated the form so that I only need to supply the missing information!  What is my thought at this point? “How thoughtful!”  I supply the rest of the details and hit the “continue” button.

I arrive at the “Payment” screen – again this is excellently laid out.  I select one of the pre-defined, well presented (images) payment options.  The designers have been thoughtful again:  by ticking the box which says that my delivery address is the same as my credit card address, I avoid the need to enter my address again.  I supply the credit card details and viola: up pops the order/payment confirmation screen.  This screen is also well laid out and plays back all of the key information: product, price, delivery address, delivery date, order confirmation number. And it shows my email address and tells me that an email confirmation has been sent to this address.  I open up my email and sure enough all the relevant details are there.  Fantastic!


Comet got my order because they made it EASY for me to buy. Specifically, the designers behind the Comet site:

  • have studied / thought about how people buy – in detail.  And then they have designed the buying process to work with human nature.  In the real world, I’d turn up at the store, choose the television, tell the salesperson what I wanted to buy and pay. Ask if they would deliver it to my home, when they could deliver it and how much delivery would cost.  If I am happy then I would pay.  Then I’d end the encounter by supplying the delivery address and asking for paperwork as proof of our agreement.
  • have given considerable thought to how to reduce the effort that customers have to put into buying.  This includes: the layout (look, feel, structure) of the web pages; the sequencing of the web pages; the content displayed on each page; and using information that the customer has supplied so that the customer is not asked for and thus does not have to enter the same information twice.

The designers behind the PC World site have clearly not done their homework – they have not looked at the buying process through customer eyes.  And so they have put up a big barrier to purchasing right up front.  I wonder how much revenue PC World are losing by working against the grain of human nature?

Questions for you

  1. How much effort have you spent observing, studying, questioning the process that your target customers go through to purchase the products/services you are selling?
  2. Have you designed the purchase process such that it works effortlessly for your target customers and they are left with a pleasant experience?
  3. Have you rigorously tested this purchase process to make sure it actually conforms to the design specification (“the customer experience”)?
  4. What are you doing on an ongoing basis to spot the flaws and the opportunities to improve the customer experience?
  5. Are you allowing and encouraging users / prospects / customers to let you know what is and is not working for them?

14 Customer Experience lessons: how you can improve the customer experience and help yourself

What is the ‘anatomy’ of a great customer experience?

What makes a great customer experience – the kind that one remembers, talks about and possibly writes about?   The logical answer is that each of us is different (even from one interaction to another) and so there is no definitive answer.  So let me ask a different question: what is the ‘anatomy’ of such an experience for me, Maz Iqbal?  So let me share my latest experience with you.

I travel, nowhere near what I used to in my younger days, yet I still travel.  On my business trips my trusted companion is a piece of Samsonite luggage (“cabin suitcase”) which I find useful and easy to use.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I lifted my ‘trusted companion’ to put it into the boot of taxi only to hear a loud pop and notice that the handle had become useless:

Given that the suitcase is both in a good condition and it was a birthday gift from my sister, I made my mind up to get it fixed.  That is when my wife mentioned that Samsonite offer a lifetime guarantee.  So I went online to find out about the lifetime guarantee.

Samsonite: the online experience sucks!

I found lots of vague, ambiguous, words and what occurred as lots of exceptions.  This just left me confused and thinking that the lifetime guarantee was anything but a lifetime guarantee.  You could say I was left thinking that the lifetime guarantee was simply the usual marketing bull****.

Lesson 1:  If you are going to make a promise of any kind then describe it clearly so that you customer knows exactly what you are and are not promising – be specific, use simple and unambiguous language.  For ordinary people “lifetime” means “for the rest of my life” and not 3, 4, 5 years.  Furthermore, when you litter your promise with a long list of exceptions then you create work / confusion / anxiety for the customer.

On the website it took me a little time to find the right people to talk to.  Once I got to the Contact Us page it was poorly laid out and I had to work to find out who to contact.  When I finally clicked on the right link I had to specify “country” and “city” to get the location/address of the nearest repair centre.  When I got there this is the information I saw:

 American Tourister
k2 global
unit 11, cordwallis business park
sl6 7bz maidenhead
+844 8809989

At first I was confused, can you figure out why?  Look at the number – which country is associated with country code 844?  Then I used my contextual knowledge to figure out that as the repair centre is in the UK the number was most likely: +44 844 8809989 or simply 0844 8809989.

Lesson2:  Design your website so that it is both usable and useful.  That means figuring out what jobs your customer has in mind when he comes to your website.  It also means using a web agency that gets usability (including information architecture) and as such puts forward a layout and signposting that is in alignment with how users use websites.

Lesson 3:  Some of your content is so much more important (to you, to the user, to the customer) than other content.  As such the impact of getting this content correct or incorrect has a higher impact on revenue, costs and the customer experience.  Therefore you need to put in place stringent quality control mechanism to make sure that this content is correct and up to date.

The K2 Global customer experience: an almost perfect experience!

I rang K2 and immediately I was talking to a helpful lady.  After listening to me describe my problem (unusable suitcase) and the job I wanted done (fix the broken handle) she clearly explained that it would not be easy for me to get the repairs done free of charge as I did not have the necessary documentation: proof of purchase and or completed warranty/registration card.  I told her that I was prepared to pay and asked her how much the repair was likely to cost. She told me that she could not tell me until the engineers had a taken a look at it.  I told her that I lived locally, she invited me to bring the luggage into the repair centre.  She went on to tell me the opening hours (7am to 3pm).  Before hanging up she advised me not to come at lunch-time as the workshop was busy and I would have a long wait.  I confirmed the address, thanked her and hung up.  How was I feeling?  Happy – this lady had been helpful and presented me with a route to getting the job I wanted done, done!

Lesson 4:  Make it easy for customers to get hold of you – answer the phone / email / tweet quickly.

Lesson 5:  Make sure that the person who takes calls from customers actually enjoys talking with and helping people out.  Notice that the lady on the phone did more than she needed to do, she used her knowledge to be helpful – she advised me not to come into the repair centre at lunchtime.   If she had not told me this then it is likely that I would have turned up at that time and been upset with the wait time and/or having to go back another time. By being proactive she tilted the scale towards a positive customer experience rather than a negative one. 

Lesson 6: If a customer contact you then he/she has a ‘problem’ needs a ‘job’ done and clearly thinks that you can help him/her get that job done.  Do the job there and then.  If this is not possible then clearly spell out (paint the picture) of the route the customer can take to get his/her job done.  Make sure that this route has been thought through and designed to occur as reasonable and wherever possible EASY!

Lesson 7: Ensure that your customer facing people in call-centres work in an environment where the customer experience is primary and AHT is secondary.  Not the other way around!

Next, I drove to K2 Global’s offices, call centre and repair centre in Maidenhead – a small building in an industrial estate.  Upon entering the office, I found myself confused: there was no receptionist, no signposting to guide me to the right person, just two doors (one marked “call centre”, the other marked “repair workshop”) with number pad locks on them and some stairs leading upstairs.  I tried the stairs and found myself facing another door with the a number pad lock on it.

Using logic and seeing no other way of going about things, I knocked on the door of the “repair workshop” and waited.  No response, so I knocked again, this time I saw a blond lady wearing a pink top.  She smiled at me and waved at me suggesting that I should come into the workshop.  Surprise: the door had a lock (and I had assumed that it was locked) and yet the door was not locked.

Lesson 8.  Take the time to look at your business through you customers eyes and use that to ‘signpost’ correctly. Show the customer what path she needs to follow and in particular make it clear what the next step is.  Poor signposting confuses the customer, causes the customer to experience stress and often to waste time trying to figure out what to do or doing the wrong things. This is particularly important on websites where the next website is just a click away!

Walking into the workshop I was greeted by Stephanie. I showed her the Samsonite cabin suitcase, she took a look at it and told me that she could repair it.  I asked her how much it would cost and she told me it was free if I had the right paperwork.  I didn’t have the paperwork and so I asked her how much it would cost to repair it, she told me between £10 and £15.  That occurred as a reasonable price.   Looking around the workshop I noticed many suitcases lying around and I noticed a man busy repairing a suitcase.  So I assumed that I’d have to leave my suitcase, wait for it to be repaired, get a call then come back, pay and pick up my suitcase.  This was something that I really did not want to do.  So I asked Stephanie if she could repair it there and then.  To my delight she said yes and got busy on the work.  I asked her if I could watch and she said yes so I stood next to her watching her repair by suitcase.

Lesson 9:  Provide that little extra that surprises and delights the customer. Stan Phelps calls this “Marketing Lagniappe”.  It is defined as “a creole word, originating in Louisiana and literally translated means ‘the gift’.  It refers to a small unexpected extra gift or benefit presented by a store owner to a customer at the time of purchase. The people of Louisiana have embraced the term and have broadened the definition to include any time a little something extra is given.”

I struck up a conversation with Stephanie and Peter – the man opposite us repairing the suitcases.  We talked about luggage and how it is possible to own/run a business repairing luggage.  I learned from Peter and Stephanie that the key driver of repairs is the way that luggage is thrown around at airports by baggage handlers.  Now that made sense.  My suitcase had no problems for years because I was carrying it on and off the plane carefully.  Then on my last three trips I had checked it in and hey presto it is damaged!  Now I knew what to do if I want to protect my luggage – take it on the plane with me.  We talked about the state of the economy and the impact it is having on ordinary people, ordinary lives.  We talked about politicians…. We LAUGHED together.  And within 10 minutes my suitcase was fixed.

Lesson 10:  Take the opportunity to educate your customers so that you enrich their lives and leave them better off.  If you are any good at your business then you will know more about certain domains of the world than your customer.  You can use what you know to contribute to the lives of your customers – leave them better off.  For example, insurance companies can educate customers on how to take care of their health or how best to deal with health issues just like Shelley Beaumont of HCML did with me.  Amazon has both improved the customer experience and built a sales engine through its recommendation engine……  I strive to do this during my consulting and coaching engagements.

Stephanie punched in the details into the repair system, told me that the cost came to £10.80, printed out two invoices and took me through to the ‘Call-Centre” – she explained that she was not allowed to take payments just repair suitcases.  I thanked Stephanie and promised to write about her (and how marvellous she is).  Then I paid and left with a HUGE smile on my face and spring in my footsteps.  Why? My problem was fixed, the ‘job’ that I had come to get done was done.  I learned something interesting about the luggage business.  I throughly enjoyed the way that I was treated by Stephanie and Paul:  Stephanie, Paul and I had shared views and laughed together!  And all of this in a total time of about 15 minutes!

Lesson 11:  People are the difference that makes the difference so create a context and an environment in which your people can be great with customers.  I have spent 20+ years working in all kinds of businesses and I can state with absolute confidence that most people want to do a good job, to work for a company and people that inspire them, to provide good service and it do it in way that occurs as natural – playful rather than heavy, burdensome, meaningless and stressful.  How many unsung heroes do you have in your business?  I wonder if Stephanie has ever got an acknowledgment for how great she is?  Well, I acknowledge you Stephanie – I hope that this post does you justice.  To me, you occur as fabulous!

Lesson 12:  Bring customers into the heart of your business, let them talk with your people, let them share stories with your people, let them hear the genuine voices of your people, let them see how you do what you do.  If you cannot do this in the offline world then use digital technologies.

Lesson 13:  Laughter is a great sign of an emotional bond between you and your customers. When your customer is laughing with you (and you with the customer) rather than laughing at you then that is a sure sign that barriers have come down: you have entered into each others inner lives (even if just a little) and you have made that important emotional connection.  When is the last time your customers laughed with you?

Lesson 14:  Cycle time matters – do the ‘job’ that the customer is ‘hiring you to do’ quickly.  In the developed economies people have lost the capacity to wait – they expect instant response, instant results.  Furthermore, whilst many in these economies have done well in terms of income they have done badly in terms of time: they are time starved – not enough time to do all that I need and want to do.  So help your customers out and do it right first time and do it quickly.  As I write this I get present to how delighted I was that I simply walked into the repair shop, no queuing, no waiting, just talking to the right person first time and getting the job done in a flash!

How USEFUL are you to your customers?

Take a look at your business through SD Logic

If you use the Service Dominant Logic lens (as opposed to a good dominant logic) it opens up a new way of looking at the interaction/interface between your business and the Customer.  The key aspects of the Services Dominant Logic (for me) are:

  • the Customer approaches your business because he/she has a job (something to do) and an outcome (the desired end state) in mind;
  • the products and/or solutions you sell are better thought of as services your provide to help the Customer get the job done and achieve her desired end state.

SDLogic gives rise to the question: how useful am I to the Customer?

If you look more deeply into this you are likely to see that a key question arises: how USEFUL are you and your products/services/solutions to the customer in terms of the job he has in mind and the outcome/s she wants?   It seems to me that many are attracted to all manner of toys’ and yet few are focussed in excelling at being USEFUL to the customer across the customer journey.  I would go further and say that what I find most stunning given the whole thing around customer-centricity, customer focus, customer obsession is the lack of conversation around the following questions:

  1. What phenomena (devices, environment, cues, messages, touchpoints…) would have to be present for us to show up as USEFUL in the Customer’s world?
  2. How useful are we?  Where do we excel?  Where do we fall short?  (As viewed through the Customer’s eyes)
  3. What is present that needs to be taken out to be useful?
  4. What is missing the presence of which would make us useful – as viewed through Customer eyes?

Why USEFULNESS matters

It is 3am in the morning as I get up and get ready to drive my eldest to Gatwick Airport so that he can catch is 7am flight to France.  By 3:45 I have walked up to the top of the hill where I parked the car last night and have filled the boot with shovels, supplies (food, drinks, blankets, torch…) and luggage.  I have also dislodged all the snow sitting on all the windows – overnight we got some 15cm of snow as predicted.  At 3:50 we set-off.  This is journey that should only take about 50 minutes and I know that it is going to take at least twice that long: the snow covers the roads and pavements like a thick blanket and so I am driving around  15 mph.  Finally, we make it to the motorway and we are travelling between 40 mph and 60 mph.   Not great but it is ok as I had allowed for this: when you have done enough big projects and programmes then identifying risks and coming up with contingency plans becomes second nature.

It is now 4:45 and we are only half an hour away from Gatwick Airport.  There is one problem – the motorway ahead is closed and so I need to figure out how I get to the airport.  As it happens my son has my wife’s Garmin sat-nav on.  He can’t work it so I get off at the exit, pull over and take the Garmin.  I tap it like I am used to tapping my TomTom, it should take me to the main menu where I can work around obstructions on the route and it will recalculate.  Nothing happens.  I look at the display and I cannot figure out how I get access to main menu or the route navigation menu.  I am in a hurry so I hand it over to my son and reach for my TomTom in the glove compartment.  Within three minutes the TomTom has plotted the route (which includes the blocked motorway), I have told it to avoid the next two junctions (as they are blocked) and it has come back with a new route.  Excellent, I feel great even though it is dark, the snow is falling and the route is about twice as long.  Why do I feel great?  Because I ‘hired’ the TomTom to do a  job quickly – to work out a navigable route – and that is exactly what it has done!

Now here is the point to get.  I am in the process of buying a new sat-nav as my TomTom is old and bulky.  I had been considering whether to buy a TomTom or a Garmin and up to that point I had favoured the Garmin.  Then that incident happened.  Which product am I going to buy?  The one that is USEFUL of course – the TomTom – even though it is about 50% more expensive.  Lets ask that question differently: why would any intelligent customer willingly buy a product/service/solution that is not useful or less useful than a competing product that sells for the same/lower price?

What is the access to being perceived as useful?

Given my sat-nav experience and the work that I have done in helping design websites I would say that you absolutely have to get the following right if your non-human interfaces / touchpoints are going to occur as useful in your Customer’s world:

DEFAULTS:  you absolutely have to understand the default (the automatic) ways that your customers think and behave.  Notice that I used the Garmin the way that I am used to using a TomTom. Why?  Because the TomTom was my first sat-nav and my world of sat-nav is built entirely around my experience in using the TomTom.  Having looked into the Garmin I have found that it has similar route navigation functionality including working around blocked roads.  The issue arose because I had to access this functionality in a different way to the TomTom – a way that I was not used to and appears strange to me even now. Another example is that I always get caught out when I use computers in FranceI touch type and only when I look up at the screen do I notice that the French keyboards are set out very differently to English/American keyboards!

RESPONSIVENESS and FEEDBACK:  when the Customer touches you have to respond within a specific time and ‘speak in the Customer’s language.  We are exquisite feedback organisms – feedback is always going on and we rely on it to orient ourselves and act upon the world.  Just think of the ‘social dances’ that we are immersed in every day.  For example, conversation: those of us who do not pay attention and cut in at the wrong time do damage to the flow of the conversation sometimes bringing to an abrupt halt and/or being considered rude, dominating, inconsiderate etc.

What constitutes responsiveness to a Customer depends on the particular state that the customer is in (relaxed, hurried, stressed….), the particular job that the customer has in mind (urgent, critical, important, sometime…), the nature of the interactive device and who visible the Customer is to other onlookers.  Feedback to occur as feedback (useful feedback) in the Customer’s world it is necessary that the designers understand the backgrounds of the Customers e.g. their culture, their language, their educational level….. And of course feedback must be timely: the Customer must be able to match, easily, the feedback to the action that he last took and use that feedback to take the right next step.

When it comes to my sat-nav experience I notice that the Garmin occurred as non-responsive to my touch and the TomTom came across as responsive.  The issue with many IVR systems is that they utter (speak) rubbish: speak corporate jargon rather than use words/phrases that real Customers think in terms of and speak and as such the Customer is left pondering stuff like what menu option to hit to progress and get his job done.  Put bluntly the Customer already has a schema (mental model) or schemas of the kind of response she is expecting and your response had better fit into one of these schemas if you do not want to disrupt the harmony between you and your Customer.

USABILITY: designing the interactive touchpoint so that it lends itself to the way that customers view, process, use information, manipulate objects of its kind.  Some phones are easier to use than other phones simply because some designers better understand and cater for Customers (users) being human beings.  Some books are easier to comprehend because the information is written and presented in a way that is natural for human beings to process.  Some website are easier to user because the website designers have immersed themselves in usability and have made use of the key tricks and avoided the key traps.

You can make an interactive touchpoint highly useful (it has the content, the tools, the functionality to do the job that the Customer has in mind) and yet it does not occur as useful.  Why?  Because the designers have not put in the time, effort and love that is needed to make that touchpoint usable.  One of my key contributions in my previous role (Head of Customer Analytics and Marketing Solutions) was to take the useful models built by expert modellers and make them easy to comprehend and use by the average marketing manager who had no affinity for numbers and did not know or care about data mining or predictive analytics.

Final Words

If you are not willing to invest what it takes to make an interactive touchpoint responsive and usable then don’t waste your money making it useful!  Very few of your Customers will ever get to the stage where they will actually find the useful stuff and then actually use it: the lack of usability and responsiveness will make sure of that.

I notice that there seems to be crisis when it comes to B2B sales.  Has this something to do with the fact that most B2B sellers are simply not coming across as being USEFUL to the jobs and outcomes that B2B buyers have on their minds?   It occurs to me that the typical functions of providing information and doing demos of products and solutions is really not that compelling anymore.  Prospective buyers can access information, case studies, demos on websites, on YouTube…..  So the question becomes what jobs and outcomes do prospective buyers have in mind and what do we need to be/do to occur as useful?

Finally, I cannot help thinking that a key measure of customer-centricity is how USEFUL you occur to your Customers as view through their eyes.  What do you think?  I invite you to share your views.

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