April 2014 - c3centricity | c3centricity

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Four Tough but Essential Decisions Every Business Leader Must Make: Who, What, Why & How?

“Why do I have to do it?” That was what my friend’s daughter provocatively asked him recently. She didn’t want to do something he had requested of her and like many kids was now questioning his reasoning as well as his authority.

This happens in the work environment too. When you are the boss, your team members are likely to sometimes ask you a similar question. And whilst it may be done less bluntly, they will still be questioning your reasoning and authority.

Last week I spoke about honesty in the workplace and it caused a lot of discussion online and in various LinkedIn groups. This week I want to speak about the difficult decisions we, as leaders, are sometimes forced to take.

Organisational structure

Individuals are all too often promoted for good performance in their current positions and not for their people-management skills or because their abilities are suited to the future positions. This is coined the “Peter Principle” in management theory, named after Laurence J. Peter. His book on the topic, co-authored with Raymond Hull, suggests that people tend to get promoted until they reach their “position of incompetence”. In fact  it has been shown that CEOs who fail are quite often found to have made poor people choices  that they have then been unsuccessful in dealing with appropriately.  (>>Tweet this<<)

True leaders accept mistakes, both theirs and their teams, and personally own their bad decisions. However, that doesn’t just mean firing the under-performing employee. It also means firing someone that doesn’t “deserve” to be fired, just because your priorities have changed. It also means taking the time to explain why; no hiding behind HR to do the dirty work or just h anding over the official letters in silence. Taking the responsibility of one’s acts can sometimes be painful, but that’s what distinguishes a true manager.

Portfolio management

In the garden, you keep your plants healthy by regularly trimming them. You remove the dead wood and cut back the longer stems so the plant will bush out and have more new growth and flowers. The same is true in business.

Both P&G and Unilever have done some radical pruning of their br ands over the years. P&G has around 300 br ands today, a third less than just a decade ago. And Unilever continues to frequently reduce the number of its stock-keeping units (SKUs). Since introducing its “ Path to Growth” initiative almost fifteen years ago, the number of its br ands has been culled from 1,600 down to just 400.

Retail organisations are no longer willing to offer increased space for ever-exp anding numbers of br ands and variants. This is especially true in recent years with the start of a clear increase in the numbers of supermarket chains offering smaller stores. Therefore it makes sense to regularly review your own portfolio and cut the “long tail” of slowest movers. The “Pareto Principle” or 80-20 rule helps a lot to make these difficult decisions.

People management

Most major organisations go through periods of growth followed by times of headcount reduction. These latter cutbacks often result in emotional pain for many of the previously loyal employees, and often for the staff who remain too. You would think that someone would notice these cycles and come out with a better way of managing a workforce.

Personnel cuts are usually claimed to be for cost-cutting reasons, but are all too often followed by new hiring initiatives within months if not even weeks of the event! Now I underst and that staffing needs change and new projects may require new skills. But I blame management for being short-sighted when they make such layoffs. Whilst a business needs a core of different staff functions, the requirements of short-term projects should be met with temporary hires. This will avoid the costly practices of first hiring and then firing staff shortly afterwards.

Luckily young professionals are looking for more freedom in their careers today than my security-seeking generation ever were. Therefore why not identify your own staffing cycles and take advantage of this trend to find alternative ways of meeting temporary skill requirements?

Resource allocation

Almost every department must occasionally defend both its headcount and its budget. Whilst intellectually we may underst and that we can’t have it all, we still complain when seeing others getting more than they need (or deserve?).

Unfortunately too many businesses set their goals by looking in the rear-view mirror (>>Tweet this<<), rather than by contemplating plausible future scenarios. Basing tomorrow’s needs on what was done last year, or worse still on what competition did, guarantees that budgets will not be available where they are most needed. If however resources are managed from the top down, in line with company rather than personal objectives, the business is more likely to get to where it is headed. How do you manage yours?

These four decisions are amongst the most difficult a leader will ever have to make. To summarise, they cover the who, what, why and how you run your business. It is in making these tough decisions that leaders prove why they are where they are. What decisions have you found the toughest to make in your own career and why?

What Blood Brothers can teach us about Emotions & Customer Satisfaction

I recently had the privilege of seeing Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers at the wonderful Gr and Theatre in Swansea. This musical is in its 29th year yet doesn’t have a wrinkle. It is still as relevant today as it was when it was first performed and continues to surprise and delight audiences from around the UK.

As the music continued to turn in my head for days afterwards, I wondered how a play that was written so many years ago, could continue to resonate with audiences so successfully. Furthermore, it is a story that is introduced from the end; you see the twin boys dead and go back to their early days to underst and how it happened. As is also the case with the Titantic movie, despite knowing the ending, the story still fascinates and the audience is still surprised when the known event finally takes place.

I realised that in fact this is a similar situation to that in which many companies find themselves today. Their customers know the ending to the story (the product usage), yet would still love (expect?) to be surprised and delighted. So what can we learn from successes such as Blood Brothers and Titanic that we can apply to our own br ands to build more emotional responses into our customer satisfaction? Here are a few that I came up with – once the music began to quiet in my head!

Resonate

One of the reasons for the success of both the Titanic movie and the Blood Brothers musical is that they are strong stories about a multitude of human emotions: love, trust, optimism, fear, sadness, anger. They are stories told by sharing the feelings of all the main characters. People empathise more easily with recognisable emotions and remember or imagine themselves in similar situations to those shown. The events then resonate without them even realising what is happening until their own emotions stir.

QUESTION: Are you identifying the needs of your customers so that you can better meet them from an emotional as well as rational perspective? What could you show or communicate that would stir memories or empathy?

Surprise

As I mentioned earlier, even though we know the story and more importantly the ending, we are still surprised when the fateful event takes place. In the case of the Blood Brothers musical, this was with surprisingly loud, double gun-shots taken from policemen discretely positioned amongst the audience. It  was something for which we in the audience were neither expecting nor prepared for at the time it occurred. There was an outburst of shock followed by nervous laughter amongst the spectators, proof that they were both surprised and emotionally involved.

QUESTION: What positive surprises have your customers experienced when purchasing or using your product, or when contacting you about the usage of your br ands? Can you find more for them to enjoy so they then share their experiences with others?

Delight

Once the shooting of the twins had taken place and the audience had calmed down, the full company came on stage for the final song. The music and voices built to a crescendo and ended to thunderous applause and a st anding ovation. I underst and that 99 times out of 100 this is the case, which doesn’t surprise me. The relief of the engaging music after such a sad event made people happy and thankful for the wondrous performance and climax.

At the end of Titanic, the movie ends with the leading lady letting go of her childhood sweetheart’s memory in an emotional farewell as she tosses the diamond in the ocean and then sees him welcoming her as she passes over. I seem to remember that Top Gun has a similar event near the end, when Maverick is seen tossing Goose’s dogtags into the ocean. How do these all work so well? I believe it’s because they free the audience from all their pent up emotions and people are delighted with their new-found (emotional) freedom.

Customer satisfaction just works betterQUESTION: Is there a way you can work with your customers’ feelings and liberate them from their pent up emotions? In the case of products and services, these are more likely to be feelings of frustration or disappointment with the pre-purchase situation. If you can replace these through a positive experience, then your customers will be delighted and thankful to you, and memories of how you made them feel will remain in their memories for a long time. Emotions beat rational satisfaction every time, so work to stir them whenever you can.

Simplify

Too many things in life today are overly complex and unduly complicated. Those of us who are from an earlier generation, sometimes long for the ‘good old days’. Back then, life seemed simpler, things worked or they didn’t. When something works well, it just works. No bells and whistles, no lost energy, no difficult instructions to follow or manoeuvres to perform.

Apple still excels at customer satisfactionThis is one of the reasons why Apple’s products are so popular. They are solid, they perform as expected and you can use them immediately upon purchase, intuitively, without reading the instructions. In fact, have you seen how few instructions are actually included in the Apple product boxes?

We don’t read as much nor as thoroughly as we used to; communications must be simple, easy to scan and of minimal length.

QUESTION: Could you simplify the way your br and is purchased, used, consumed? Can you simplify its packaging or the information that is printed on it? Is you product information too complicated and long-winded; could it be shortened?

Engage

customer satisfaction comes from storytellingI can’t conclude without a mention of storytelling. I know everyone speaks about it these days and we all now underst and its importance. But for me it’s not just about storytelling, it’s about engagement. Entertain, share, teach; make it worthwhile for your customers to spend their time, money and emotions on your products, services and communications.

QUESTION: Are you engaging your customers and do you underst and how your stories are being heard, understood and shared?

 

One week after watching the Blood Brothers musical, the music is beginning to fade in my head, but the memory of how it made me feel is as alive and raw as it was seven days ago. This is the power of emotions. This is how to remain in your customers’ minds, memories and more importantly hearts. How will you do the same with your br ands?

C³Centricity used images from Swansea’s Gr and Theatre, Dreamstime, Microsoft and Apple in this post.

Is Honesty still the Best Policy? Walking the Talk of Customer Centricity

I got an email today that irritated me, I mean it really insulted me, and prompted this post on customer centricity. I am sure it would have annoyed you too; in fact you have probably already received it or at least something similar yourself in the past.

It announced a “massive 46-page eBook” that I had been chosen to receive for free. It sounded as if I should be happy and feel privileged to receive it. I wasn’t. I don’t know about you, but I don’t call 46 pages massive. A jumbo jet is massive; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is massive; not a measly 46 pages – even if it was for free.

ASA Logo protecting customer centricityWhy do companies continue to think that they can treat people like idiots? In my opinion, it can only be a very short-lived business strategy. People will quickly learn the truth, especially in today’s connected world. Or should I blame the advertising agencies for coming up with these “lies”? However, it seems to me to be just a little too close for comfort to the “misleading claims” from which the Advertising St andards Authority in most countries should be protecting us.

If you are looking to be truly customer centric, here are some other examples that you are hopefully NOT doing.

Claims

The above illustration is just one example of many exaggerated claims which seem to have become prevalent these days. This is most probably because the internet makes it so easy to reach new, “naive” customers, who still trust organisations to do the right thing. Why do so many companies use overly attractive adjectives that their product or service can’t live up to? They are setting themselves up to disappoint their potential customers, especially if they don’t register what comes after that word before buying.

Massive, mouth-watering, heart-stopping, mind-blowing, huge discount, best price ever; most of the time the products are not, which is probably why they feel they have to use such words. Customer centric companies don’t use these claims unless they can substantiate them.

Packaging

One area that often suffers from exaggeration is packaging. How many packs have you opened to find the product sitting miserably in the lower half of it? What a disappointment from the promise of the packaging. Or worse still in my opinion, are companies whose packs have been discretely reduced in contents over time. Companies may print the weight of the product that is inside the pack, but customers recognise and buy the pack without checking its weight each time they buy.

What is particularly offensive in this example is that it is the company’s most loyal customers who are being cheated. The company reduces the pack’s quantity but not its price; they are getting a price increase without informing their customers. That isn’t customer centric.

Value

Customer centric companies price on value not costAnother area that often suffers from exaggerated claims is price value. I was recently offered access online to a video “worth more than US$ 997” for just US$49.99. I don’t know any videos, even those of the classics or Oscar-winning films, that are worth that amount, and certainly no such offers proposed on the internet.

To paraphrase the infamous quote of Oliver Platt:

 

“Value is in the eye of the beholder, not the seller” (>>Tweet this<<)

 

How are you pricing your own product and service offerings? Do you base it on company cost or customer value? If not the latter, you may also be leaving a lot of money on the table, as your offer might actually be worth more than you are charging for it. The most important information you need to decide on your price is what your customer is prepared to pay for it; that is what value is all about. Customer centric companies know and apply this on a daily basis

Promising but not delivering

Airlines are renowned for this, especially the low-cost ones. They advertise flights at ridiculously low prices that few, if any, end up paying, since you need to add on the cost of paying by credit card, booking your seat, taking a bag on board etc. etc. Yes the advertised price attracts attention, but once you have made a few attempts at reserving these low prices, you underst and the “game” and compare before buying. And most of the time the “normal” airlines are cheaper. As I’m sure you’re heard many times and to quote Thomas (Tom) J. Peters:

 

“The formula for success is to under-promise and over-deliver” (>>Tweet this<<)

 

Zappos

Amazon and Zappos are two companies who regularly do this; in fact it’s a part of their business model. They occasionally provide priority delivery at no extra cost, as a delightful surprise for their customers. Amazon also proposes useful suggestions of other books, music or other products to buy whilst you are surfing their website to purchase something. Yes, I know it is in their interest to get you to buy something else, but it is a service and highly valued by most people. Customer centric behaviour is always a win-win for both the customer and the company.

Hidden renewals

You subscribe to a service on a free trial basis, or a one-off monthly fee as many Telecom companies now offer. What you don’t notice or remember, is that it is automatically renewed at the end of the trial period unless cancelled. Yes I know it’s written in the terms and conditions or at the very bottom of the online page if you scroll down, but I don’t read font 8 very easily, even with my glasses! And be honest, none of us reads to the very end of the terms and conditions, and the companies that use this tactic are counting on it.

Of course, when you are informed that your subscription has been renewed, you realise what has happened and immediately cancel, with hopefully only a one month and not an annual unwanted payment. Yes the company has gotten a payment it probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, but they certainly didn’t make us a loyal and happy customer, did they?

If you are using this type of “hidden selling” to get customers, please stop. Customer centric companies invite people to continue their subscription, perhaps at a special price. In this way they will get almost as many customers, but they will most certainly be happier and more likely to continue to purchase from them.

These are just a few examples of how companies are intentionally aiming to get customers to buy something that is not worth the money being asked in many cases. If the product or service they propose did offer true value, then people would buy or repurchase without the need for such tricks. As Peter Drucker said:

 

“The aim of marketing is to know and underst and the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself” (<<Tweet this<<)

 

I would go one step further and say that it is the aim of customer centric businesses.

With today’s ease of sharing experiences on the web, why do companies continue to try to cheat unsuspecting customers? It is most definitely a short-term business strategy. Unhappy customers used to tell ten people, now they tell tens of millions, with a simple Tweet. And if there are several unhappy customers who Tweet about similar experiences, then others will start to see the trend and become wary. Whilst there will always be a few disgruntled customers who complain, more than that will highlight a real issue.

This reminds me; I hate doing it but I am one of the people who have tweeted about poor customer service because I am not getting an answer when using the provided phone and email contacts. Customer service is all about taking the customers’ perspective (>>Tweet this<<) and offering multiple ways to be contacted and then responding quickly. Companies do respond to negative tweets, usually in record time and certainly faster than connections by other means. Why are companies forcing their customers to go public with their dissatisfaction to get heard? Most would be happy and would probably prefer to share their complaints with the company in private – IF they get a quick response.

So coming back to my question, the answer is a resounding yes. Most companies now speak about the importance of being customer centric, but so many of them are still doing many of the practices mentioned above, which are most definitely NOT customer centric behaviour. Are you one of them? Do you have other examples that you yourself have experienced? Why not share them here?

C³Centricity used images from the ASA in the UK, Dreamstime and Microsoft in this post.

Try a New Perspective on Business Intelligence: How to get More Impact & Answers

Last week I presented at the first Swiss Business Intelligence Day. It was an inspiring conference to attend, with world-class keynote speakers opening the day. They included Professor Stephane Garelli from IMD, Philippe Nieuwbourg from Decideo  and Hans Hultgren from Genesee Academy.

After such an illustrious start, you can imagine that I was more than a little nervous to present my very non-IT perspective of business intelligence. However, the presentation did seem to go down well, so I want to share with you some of the ideas I talked about. Not surprisingly, with my passion for customer centricity and always with the end-user in mind, I took quite a different perspective from that of the majority of IT experts who were present.

BI should Collaborate More

With the explosion of data sources and the continuous flow of information into a company, managing data will become a priority for everyone.

statistic id forecast big data marketThe Big Data market, which more than doubled last two years, is forecast to triple in the next four, according to Statista. BI will have to exp and its perspective, work with more varied sources of information and exp and its client base.

In the past BI was inward looking. It ran data-mining exercises, reviewed corporate performance, developed reports and occasionally dashboards. It was, and still is in many organisations, mostly concerned with operational efficiencies, cost-cutting and benchmarking.

How business intelligence fits into the data world of businessThe above plot is my own, simplified view of how BI fits into data management within most organisations today. The other three quadrants are:

  • Competitive intelligence (CI) uses external competitor knowledge to support internal decision-making. Although BI is sometimes considered to be synonymous with CI because they both support decision-making, there are differences. BI uses technologies, processes, and applications to analyze mostly internal, structured data. CI gathers, analyzes and disseminates information with a topical focus on company competitors.
  • Investor Relations (IR) uses internal data to get external people, such as shareholders, the media or the government, to support and protect the company and its views.
  • Market Research (MR) on the other h and is mostly outward looking. It studies customers’ behaviours & attitudes, measures images & satisfaction, and tries to underst and feelings & opinions. That information is then used, primarily by marketing, to develop actions and communications for these same customers.

The four quadrants, even today, usually work in isolation, but that will have to change with this new data-rich environment in which we are working.

BI is Ripe for Change

 

According to a recent (Jan 2014) Forbes article, BI is at a tipping point. It will need to work in new ways because:

  • it will be using both structured and unstructured data
  • there will be a consolidation of suppliers
  • the internet of things will send more and more information between both products and companies.
  • thanks to technology, data scientists will spend more time on information management & less time on data preparation. At present it is estimated that they spend 80% of their time on data cleaning, integration and transformation, and only 20% on its analysis!

Google glass provides access to business intelligence

In February GigaOM echoed these thoughts, claiming that we are not in BI 2.0 but rather 4.0. They said the volume of data and the number of people now exposed to it, makes data availability to everyone essential. No longer does BI involve only the CEO and IT specialists, it concerns everybody.

Google glass provides access to business intelligence
Google glass, as tested by Virgin
, is a good example of this. It delivers real-time, on time and relevant information to Virgin’s hosts and hostesses, to meet, greet and advise its passengers. Their customer support team can accompany their VIP guests and warn them of delays and gate changes as they happen. Google Glass enables them to get out from behind their desks and interact more with the guests they are trying to please.

BI must Deliver More Synthesised Knowledge

According to a recent Business Intelligence report on management’s opinion of their data, they are currently frustrated. They say that it comes from many disparate sources and is rarely if ever available in real-time. They can’t easily access it without the help of IT and it takes too long to customise it to what they need. What is particularly interesting in the findings, is that management were not saying that they don’t need information; in fact it actually looks as if they want to have access to more data. BUT more of it in a way that makes it easy to find what they want, when they want it.

Another finding from the survey shows executives’ thoughts about data delivery. Currently they are getting their information primarily through emails and spreadsheets. I find this shocking that today we still expect management to take the time to wade through all the data in order to draw their own conclusions. Less than one in eight of the C-suite is getting dashboards, which is their preferred medium (>>Tweet this<<). They also want mobile delivery so that they can access information on the go.

This study provides us with a simple plan to satisfy their needs and to help us meet our own challenges of data abundance. This is what we should prioritize, since we can no longer continue to do what we’ve always done in the same way we’ve always done it. The BI priorities are as simple as ABC; accessibility, business impact and consistency (>>Tweet this<<).

BI needs to Provide Simplified Access

Information should be provided where and when it is needed and in such a way as to have most impact on the business. This means making it easy to review, and quick and simple to draw conclusions. This is why the number one dem and from business is dashboards.

Dashboards have the advantage of imposing consistency (>>Tweet this<<) so no time is lost in underst anding what the information is showing. With the availability of more information, comes the challenge to make it available to more people. And more people will also mean more and different needs.

Business Intelligence data warehouses are like a tree of knowledgeTo underst and the accessibility challenge I find the tree is a great metaphor for what we struggle to achieve. The roots can be compared to all the different sources of information we have at our disposal. The trunk is like all the integrated information that is reported in dashboards and the branches, twigs and leaves are the different data warehouses we create.

Whilst a one-page overview is sufficient for management, others will need greater granularity. Therefore we need to make information available at different levels of detail. My experience suggests three types of information sharing.

  • The leaves are like data warehouses where the raw or nearly raw data sits
  • The twigs are the information repositories where analysed data and information resides
  • And the branches are the knowledge libraries where the integrated actionable insights sit

What I have learned from setting up numerous data warehouses, information repositories and knowledge libraries, is that it is not easy. Not because of any technical complexity, but because of winning the needed  internal support for the project and getting the essential acceptance for global access to the information. It takes more than technology, it takes a culture change in many cases too, and this is the real challenge. Stopping the “information is power” mentality means finding ways to counter the opposition who claim  confidentiality of their own data whilst also requesting access to everyone else’s. In addition, even if people need information, they will generally not make the effort to go looking for it, if there is an easier way, such as by asking someone else! All these issues need to be resolved for an integrated database project to succeed.

Business Impact

One way to encourage the culture change mentioned earlier, is to demonstrate the business impact of what you are providing. The desired impact won’t come by delivering spreadsheets, it will come from dashboards (>>Tweet this<<).

So how do you summarise a company in a one-page dashboard, especially those which are present in multiple categories, globally? Well, often the simplest way is not to try to cover the total business, but rather the top categories and markets that would cover 70% – 80% of total sales. In most cases this would be sufficient to underst and the main priorities for management.

Of course at category level each business unit should be able to get access to more detailed information, as should the regional presidents, if you are working in such a complex business environment.

The real power of dashboard information will come from data integration, where both internal and external information are synthesised, for a holistic view of the business. I have worked on several projects that combined internal information with consumer data for a complete business report. The consumer information came from promotions, call centres and CRM activities, and was combined with market research on product and communications performance, to provide a solid base of consumer underst anding. This can then be presented alongside the more usual financial information that executives are already receiving. Having a complete overview of the business has far more impact than individual, silo’d summaries and enables management to make decisions more quickly and easily.

Increase Consistency

Another challenge when setting up and integrating databases, is in the harmonisation of their master data. When you are working with consumer data, this challenge can be multiplied by ten if not one hundred. For example, consumers will talk about a pizza, without specifying the br and, sub-br and, variant, flavour, packaging and size that would be used by the business to define it. So you have to find a way to translate what the consumer is saying, into the products as recorded internally.

The consistency of the master data will even increase in importance and complexity, with the expansion in available data sources. In addition, the fact that more people will get involved, will confound things even more, since their needs will differ.

Asking Better Questions of the Data

Accessibility, business impact and consistency are vital to the success of the new BI’s data management and usage, but I feel the urge to add one more thing. That of asking the right questions of the data. Although BI is used to asking questions, I think Market Research (MR) are the real experts in questioning. Therefore they should be involved in ensuring integrated databases are combined in such a way as to permit easy extraction of whatever level of information is required, or whatever perspective might be taken.

For example, BI is used to running forecasts. Those usually start from a review of past data and current reality to develop forecasts based on complex algorithms. They will do this within their teams with perhaps input from finance. MR on the other h and, is more likely to work from societal trends and develop plausible future scenarios, brainstorming across the organisation to gather a wide array of perspectives. Both perspectives are complementary and combined, they make a powerfully readied organisation.

Making more data more accessible to more people will certainly help this question development, as I think getting the right answers depends upon asking the right question, don’t you?

These were just a few of the ideas I shared at the Swiss BI Day in Geneva. How do you see business intelligence adapting and changing as a result of the increased information availability happening today?

C³Centricity used images and graphs from Statista, Microsoft and Virgin in this post.

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