Why UX Design is Vital to User Satisfaction and Ongoing Job Security

One of the greatest changes that the current pandemic has prompted, is the increase in the use of technology. From smarter homes to an improved online experience, people have a lot to gain from the situation. This is why UX design is vital to satisfying our customers’ demands and needs

To be fair, the trends were already there, covid just speeded them up. Recent reports have shown that:

  • 62% of consumers shop online more now than before the pandemic (Bazaarvoice)
  • 36% of consumers shop online weekly since covid, up from 28% pre-pandemic. (Digital Commerce 360)
  • 29% currently shop more online than in person, while 35% do both equally. (Digital Commerce 360)
  • Ecommerce accounts for 16.1% of all US sales, compared to 11.8% in Q1. (US Department of Commerce)
  • BOPIS (Buy online pick-up in-store) surged 259% YoY in August 2020, as many shoppers are concerned about the safety of in-store shopping. This is a 59% increase in August over July! (roirevolution.com)
  • 12% more time is being spent on digital this year. (Merkle)

Clearly, things have changed dramatically and businesses, both B2C and B2B are scrambling to catch up. Here are some thoughts about what is important to know when trying to meet our stay-at-home customers’ changing desires:

 

FROM TEXT TO VOICE

Most of us have grown up with text communication, but Gen Z, those born after 1996, are more comfortable with voice. They are less formal but far more impatient than previous generations.

They expect Alexa, Siri, Cortana and similar voice-activated personal assistants to be available whenever they have a question. With this type of search expansion into daily life, being on the front page of Google is no longer good enough. You have to be the number one answer to their questions!

Being on the front page of Google is no longer good enough; you have to be the number one answer for voice-activated, personal assistants. #Voice #VoiceActivated #SmartHomes Click To Tweet

 

AI IS NOT ONE TECHNOLOGY

Despite what digital marketers may have hoped, AI is not the solution to all our problems. It is simply a series of technologies addressing various current and future customer needs.

Unlike normal analytical processes, using AI needs developers and users to start with the end in sight. Knowing what we are looking for, rather than waiting to see what the analysis brings us, requires a very different thought process and skill set.

The questions asked become as important as the answers received, if not even more so. Therefore it is advisable to make them the best questions you can possibly ask. Your digital marketing has everything to gain and nothing to lose by better understanding these new customer’ demands and how technology can be used to meet them.

Unlike normal analytical processes, using AI needs developers and users to start with the end in sight. Knowing what we are looking for, rather than waiting to see what the analysis brings us, requires a very different thought process and… Click To Tweet

 

AI IS NOT 100% ACCURATE

AI is still in its infancy, despite great leaps forward in some areas in the past few years. For example, language translation is still far from accurate today, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Anything that moves us toward increased customer satisfaction from our digital marketing efforts is great. However, we must understand their limitations and not be fixated on perfection.

One of the biggest challenges is siloed data – still! It is easy to see that the more information sources we integrate, the more accurate our platforms are likely to become. But until we finally break down our internal silos AI will not be able to deliver to its full potential.

Anything that moves us toward increased customer understanding and satisfaction from our digital marketing efforts is a great improvement. #CRM #CEX #CustomerCentricity #UX Click To Tweet

 

TAKING THE ROBOTS OUT OF PEOPLE

Robots are not new. Henry Ford was one of the first to realise the advantage of taking robots out of humans. In other words, gatting machines to do the boring, repetitive tasks done until then by people.

Today we need to consider the digital workforce as also an HR challenge and not (just) a technical one. Humans are not upskilling and progressing as fast as robots are. This is the real cause of any work losses that may happen as automation rolls out.

Humans are not upskilling and progressing as fast as robots are. This is the real cause of any work losses that may happen as automation rolls out. #Robots #Upskilling #Automation Click To Tweet

 

THE FUTURE OF WORK

Now that I’ve touched on the elephant in the closet, that of job losses, let’s talk about employment. The future is not so much about replacing workers, as in expanding and amplifying their work through the use of AI. And again the trend will only be amplified as businesses look to make serving their customers safer.

The future will be a world of work plus AI, not work minus AI. When, not if, robots take on many of our current tasks, people will need to supplement their knowledge with soft skills, ones that AI can’t replicate, at least for now. This is why I, like many others, refer to AI as augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence.We are not replacing people but increasing their capacities in many areas.

We should probably refer to AI as augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence. We are not replacing people but increasing their capacities in many areas. #AI #Digital #Intelligence Click To Tweet

One area that will certainly need a tremendous amount of human input is in speech analytics. You probably don’t realise it, unless you’ve learnt another language or two, but speech has enormous diversity in the ways to say the same thing. Just ask any owner of Alexa, Siri or Cortana! Sometimes their responses are hilarious, at least at first, but these quickly become irritating when you can’t make yourself understood.

For me, this is when I am trying to get my BMW to call someone. The proposed people are rarely the person I am wanting to speak to and more frustratingly, the list of names have nothing in common with either the spelling or pronunciation of their name. Perhaps it would be easier if I spoke German!

If robots are to understand humans, then the alternative expressions need to be programmed in, before being understood. Although machine learning may speed our progress, the foundations must be identified and created by humans.

 

AI AND CARE CENTERS

Most businesses have customer service departments and many are jumping on the bandwagon of requesting AI. However, most don’t really know why they need it! The case for AI has to be put into terms of its business impact and relevance in order to be valued beyond mere “modernisation.” Just ask anyone who has chatted with a bot or gone round in circles clicking numbers on a self-service phone line! So many corporations today have increased their technology but have not improved their customers’ satisfaction.

AI is already proving to be of great value in following and analysing customer service connections. A supervisor can’t listen in or read every exchange, but AI can. However, as previously mentioned, understanding speech is still in its infancy, especially when it comes to sentiment. An agent will quickly sense when something is wrong or an answer is unsatisfactory, even when the customer is saying everything is alright.

 

CUSTOMER JOURNEY

The sequence of events that led to the customer’s connection, is just as important as the call to customer services itself. This is where total integration of all touchpoints is vital. The customer already sees them as such, but most companies do not. This leads to irritation when a customer must repeat their details and experiences with each new customer service agent.

It could be so easily eliminated, by simply integrating multiple data sources and then assessing the customer’s “effort” in getting the answers they are looking for. The greater the effort has been, the quicker a solution should be found and ideally, it should be more than the customers expects. This would be when surprise and delight become absolutely essential.

I believe that not taking the customer’s perspective here is the root cause of this less than satisfactory situation today. Once again, adopting a customer-first strategy is the answer.

Not taking the customer's perspective is the root cause of many less than satisfactory situations. #CEX #CRM #Customer Click To Tweet

 

If you would like to know just how customer centric you are, complete our complimentary assessment and get a detailed report of the areas of greatest opportunity for you.C3C Evaluator

 

DEVELOPING CHATBOTS

Customers in developed markets already have far more interaction with AI than they probably realise. However, when developing chatbots it is important to allow for far more variation in the words people use than we usually think of. The challenge is not only understanding the variations in vocabulary, but also the jargon, colloquialisms, spelling mistakes, acronyms and alternative expressions. This is one area where I believe we still have a long way to go in UX design.

Instead of aiming for perfection, by brainstorming all possible variants, our time would be better spent in identifying the 20% of variations that cover 80% of the cases. Ideally, we should first collect the information on the words people use and the way that most express themselves when speaking about a topic. Only then should we analyse what the company is most likely to receive and integrate the additional phrases. Perfection is once again the enemy in progressing the use of chatbots.

We also need to be transparent about when chatbots are being used. It may be a good idea to make them respond in a friendly way, but pretending to actually be a human is not a good idea. Customers will eventually understand that they are exchanging with a chatbot when the responses they are getting do not meet their expectations. That can only lead to frustration and perhaps even irritation that they have been cheated in some way.

 

AI TAKING DIGITAL MARKETING TO THE NEXT LEVEL

There are three main areas to consider where marketers are facing challenges that I believe can be helped through the use of AI:

  1. Digital marketing has made our communications’ media choice even more challenging. There are far more channels than ever, many being used concurrently, especially by the under 35’s. For example, it is rare for people to watch TV these days without either their smartphone or the internet catching their attention too. They will frequently switch from screen to screen and not only when the ads come on.
  2. The second challenge for marketing is that there are far more brands vying for attention online. The relative cheapness of advertising on the internet means that those brands that didn’t have sufficient budget to access traditional media because of their high costs, can now communicate directly with their current and potential clients online.
  3. Customers are more demanding and expect real-time responses to their questions, and ever-shorter delivery times for purchased goods.

AI and ML can improve digital marketing through predictive intelligence, content curation / creation, dynamic pricing, and especially by improving the customers’ overall experiences. I think that digital marketing is best used as an amplifier of traditional media, and when connections need to be more individualised, relevant and timely. This is not always the case, so it is important to choose wisely, rather than diluting efforts.

 

It is indeed exciting times for marketing with all the opportunities that technology, AI and ML offer us, to connect with and engage our customers. However, we are still faced with many of the same challenges we’ve always had.

Essentials such as knowing and understanding our customers more deeply, and removing the siloed information hubs within an organisation, remain critical. 

Without finding solutions to these, digital marketing will perhaps be cheaper in terms of investment but could become a more costly exercise and perhaps less effective. What do you think?

This post is an updated version of one first posted on C3Centricity in February 2019.

How Understanding Shoppers Can Save Retail

We need to better understand shoppers. Why? Because retail is in crisis.

Investment in brick-and-mortar stores has declined 30% in the US and a staggering 50% in Europe. In the UK 50,000 of the 500,000+, high street stores are empty, that’s a whopping 10%. But that level can even be higher, double or triple that in some parts of the country. The government in the UK upped its rescue fund to a billion pounds and slashed its rates in the hope of lowering rents last year.

And as if all that weren’t enough, the pandemic has been the final straw. With its lockdowns and restrictions, covid has pushed many shops over the brink and into bankruptcy. If retail as we know it is to return to “normal” – and many, including the HBR have already declared this to be near impossible – it is important to understand what is going on in our shoppers’ brains.

 

Background

Shoppers, that’s you and me, are changing. We have an insatiable appetite for instant gratification and novelty. More clothes stores are shut down than any other category because sales have gone online. And eating at home is now the norm, other than cheap, fast food stores, so restaurants and bars are suffering too. Both of these trends have been further exacerbated by the pandemic of course.

So if bricks and mortar stores are in difficulty, are we helping our customers to buy online? I don’t even think so. It seems as if we are trying to benefit from their desire to do so. Something rather sinister has been happening. Let me show you.

 

Capturing Customer Data

Online, even more than offline depends upon capturing customer data. Retailers need it to deliver products of course, but we all seem to have become data mad! We collect masses of information from our (potential) customers and then probably do very little with it all. But in the process, we have surely alienated a few, if not many would-be shoppers, to the point of them abandoning their carts and buying elsewhere.

Shoppers think brands and companies benefit most from their data
Source: MarketingCharts.com

According to MarketingCharts.com, shoppers now believe that their data benefits companies and brands more than it does themselves.

Shoppers now believe that their data benefits companies and brands more than it does themselves. That's why they are more and more reluctant to share. Prove them wrong by only gathering what you need. #CustomerData #Shopper #Ecommerce Click To Tweet

In the Janrain report “Brand Trust Survey” 48% of US internet users try to buy exclusively from companies they trust to protect their personal data. But most don’t trust us with their data, and for good reason, it seems. As claimed by Thales, 75% of US retailers have experienced a data breach, 50% in the last year, up from 19% in 2017. Despite this high level and mistrust, one thing shoppers do agree on is that technology has made things better for them.

More than three out of five consumers say retail technologies have improved their shopping experiences, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Eight in 10 say that they’ve had better interactions as a result of these technology investments. This is further proof that retailers should be actively seeking out new, advanced retail technologies. And making better use of the data they collect from their customers.

 

The 7  Sins of the Dark Side of Online Shopping

As previously mentioned, we are collecting far more data then we are using and often doing so in an underhand way. Here are some examples of what I call the seven most prevalent sins of the dark side of online shopping today.

 

Credit card details for a free trial

Credit card details for a free trial

This is probably one of the oldest scams on the internet. We are asked to provide our credit card details for the free trial of something online.

The excuse is it saves us going back to complete the form when we decide to buy.

The far more likely reason is the hope that we will forget that we tried the product or service in the previous weeks or months. This then allows the company to automatically bill us because we forget to cancel.

 

 

Making it impossible to say no

Even when we don’t have to give more than our name and email address, companies make it impossible to refuse their offer. The “Yes” button is usually large, the “No” often in a small font and light grey text.

In the example on the left, they make it even more difficult to refuse by getting you to admit that you already have what they are offering, in this case, enough traffic. Show me a website that thinks it already has enough! We always want more!

 

Getting more data than we intended to give

Understand shoppers' needs on the contact page

My next example is from Burger King, who make their customers work unnecessarily if they want to contact the company.

They invite you to complete a survey rather than just contacting them. OK, they are offering a free burger in return, which is generous, but I almost clicked on the “email us” button in the middle of the contact page on their website, when I was looking to contact them for a different reason than giving them feedback on their restaurants.

Now I have no problem providing feedback when I have the time, but I would prefer an organisation to do it openly, rather than trying to trick or force customers to respond in this way. Clearly, they are not receiving enough feedback and needed other ways to get the opinions of their customers.

I am surprised by this since fast-food restaurants almost always include an invitation on their bills, to provide feedback in return for a free item on the next visit.

 

Getting us to download something we didn’t want

Understand shoppers don't read

This trick is used by many software sellers. A large download button is shown on the landing page of the software we intend to install. However, the larger button that attracts our attention is for a different service than the one we have previously selected.

I can only assume they are doing this to increase their revenue by showing several advertisements on their landing page. In this example of the left, both ads that I have highlighted in red, attract more attention than the smaller button in the top left-hand corner for their own product. I can only wonder if their poor three-star rating in the top right-hand corner has been influenced by these games.

 

Approving cookies without knowing it

Understanding shoppers are lazy

I almost fell for this one, but was so disappointed, as it is from the website of my favourite airline, Swiss. This same “game” is played by their parent company Lufthansa, so I’ll blame it on them.

However, this is just one example of an organisation taking advantage of our reluctance to read things in detail these days. The red button attracts us and many will click it without reading that it in fact permits Swiss to use a person’s data for more than is strictly necessary.

 

 

Making it impossible to cancel

Understanding shoppers are lazy

This last example shows what I consider to be a very worrying trend. Many organisations, including Stamps shown here and Apple, make cancelling services a marathon for its customers.

In the case of Stamps on the left, they invite you to go to the “manage account” section or to contact their customer services at specific times. Looks fine, except for one thing. They don’t provide a link! They do, however, provide links to many other pages on the bottom half of the page, mostly for changing services and making payments. It would save customers a lot of clicking through if they had just added the link in their explanation.

In the case of Apple cancellationsI noticed between 4 and 6 steps depending upon the type of cancellation you were looking to make! Talk about making your – soon to be ex-customers work to leave you, and making sure their last impression is less than positive.

Other websites give a “sorry to see you go, but we’d love to see you come back again in the future” message, which I think causes doubt in the minds of some of the people planning to leave. Making sure that people leave with a good perception gives you a chance of them coming back one day. Doesn’t that make more sense than making it so difficult to leave in the first place?

 

Those are examples of the seven sins of online shopping platforms today. I think we can all agree that these are not going to build trust or longterm loyalty. But then we have to ask ourselves if brick-and-mortar stores have been doing a better job. The answer is no, but you knew that already, didn’t you?

These are the 7 Sins of the Dark Side of Online Shopping. #Shopping #Retail #OnlineShopping #Ecommerce http://c3centricity.com/how-understanding-shoppers-better-can-save-retail/ Click To Tweet

 

Retail Store Experiences

We have all become used to salespeople in-store saying that a piece of clothing looks wonderful on us when it doesn’t, or that we won’t find a lower price at another store, when perhaps not, but we definitely will online! This is when I became a fan of BestBuy, as every time I wanted to buy something, they would check Amazon and give me the lowest price. And I get the article immediately and without paying shipping costs. They at least have understood the priorities of their customers.

Understanding shoppers like price offsOne of my favourite “discount” offers, is from a 99 pence store in the UK, equivalent to dollar stores in the US, Japan, Denmark and many other countries. It advertised this promotion as shown on the right. I actually laughed out loud when I saw it and had to take a photo.

I think we all consider ourselves to be savvy shoppers instore, but I think that this is because we have become aware of many of the sales tactics retailers use to get us to part with our hard-earned cash. And technology is helping in increasing shopper satisfaction.

According to a recent survey, more than three out of five consumers say retail technologies have improved their shopping experiences, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Eight in 10 say they’ve had better interactions as a result of these technology investments. This is further proof to proof that retailers should be actively seeking out new, advanced retail technologies.

 

A Dozen Shopper Desires

In conclusion, I thought it would be useful to end with a list of the things that shoppers today are looking for – in their own words of course:

  1. That you take my perspective and constantly improve your understanding of my changing needs.
  2. Worry more about the value you offer than the price you demand. Sometimes I’ll go for cheap, but not always and these days less often than before because I want excellent customer service.
  3. Be honest and open with me. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Warn me if my order is likely to be delayed, or take longer than usual – as is happening these days thanks to the pandemic. I can understand if you communicate, not if you hide the facts from me.
  4. Only collect the customer data you need when you need it. If I’m happy with your service, I will gladly share more information when you require it.
  5. Don’t try to deceive me with misleading website design; button colours, text that is impossible to read, hidden additional charges or conditions. I won’t feel very proud of myself when I realise I’ve fallen for your “tricks.” But you’re the one who will miss out in the longterm.
  6. And following on from the previous point, don’t wrangle sales from me by making use of my (bad) memory, misunderstanding of subscription or repurchase automation, my laziness in (not) reading the small print, my innate trust that you will do the right thing. You may get the sale but you won’t make a loyal advocate out of me.
  7. Make it quick, simple and easy for me to do business with you, or to stop should I so desire. You never know, I might realise that the grass is no greener anywhere else and come back.
  8. Show me you care and value my business. It doesn’t have to cost much if anything; a heartfelt “thanks for your business” already goes a long way. But occasional treats will get me talking about you too.
  9. Make my life easier whenever you can. Collecting data for the pre-filling of forms is a great help; merely gathering my information for your own benefit alone is not.
  10. Give me the confidence in my choices to remain loyal. I can forgive a mistake, but not a lie.
  11. I care about your employees, your company culture and habits more than ever. If you’re claiming to be carbon neutral, sustainable, eco-friendly or ethical, be so in everything you do. You can’t be half right.
  12. Shopping is no longer entertainment for me, at least not in the physical world. It’s just too risky and worrying. So make my online experience doubly enjoyable. Offer me improved choices, using your algorithms to predict better what I might like. Be honest, today I feel like I am being hounded and hammered by the continued advertising of things I might merely have glanced at! Know me better and your advice will be far superior to your competitors. Now that’s what I call a win-win.
The 12 desires of shoppers today that retail need to answer. Are you? #Retail #Ecommerce #Customers #Shoppers Click To Tweet

What else do shoppers want today? Have I missed any essential points? I’d love you to add to the list I’ve started, so we all can benefit from your ideas.

What Customers Really Want – And How to Give It To Them Today!

As a customer centricity champion, just like you I hope, I spend a lot of my time researching what customers want. And in this period of reset, understanding our customers has become more important than ever before.

Just a few short months ago, I didn’t think that it would have been possible for customer-centricity to become any more important. But things happen and now everyone is fighting to keep their businesses afloat. So the new and constantly changing desires of our customers have become a top priority for us all to follow.

I’m always trying to understand exactly what our customers’ preferences are, and where they may be going. My regular searches online include customer service, customer satisfaction, customer care and similar topic areas. Google is my best friend!

A couple of years ago, I came across some surprising facts, which prompted this original post. But recent changes have made it important for me to update it once again. At the time, the analysis showed a serious problem in the business of looking after our customers. Today it is clear that any organisation that hasn’t spent the past few years putting things right, will most certainly be suffering in this post-pandemic business crisis. Read further and then let me know whether or not you agree with my analysis.

 

Customer Centricity

Wikipedia, a faithful friend of mine, doesn’t have a definition of customer centricity! If you look the term up, you get directed to customer satisfaction! Unbelievable isn’t it?  Try it for yourself and see.

My other go-to online resource for understanding terms is businessdictionary.com, which defines customer centric as:

“Creating a positive consumer experience at the point of sale and post-sale.”

It then goes on to say:

“A customer-centric approach can add value to a company by enabling it to differentiate itself from competitors who do not offer the same experience.”

Now although I find the definition somewhat limited since it refers only to sales and post-sale activities, I do like the fact that it mentions three important elements of customer-centricity:

  • a positive customer experience
  • adds value to a company
  • enables differentiation

This clearly identifies three huge benefits of becoming (more) customer centric for any and every business:

1. Positive customer experience has been shown to increase both loyalty and advocacy.  As we all know, it costs ten times – if not even more – to acquire a new customer, as it does to keep a current one. Therefore strong loyalty is a valuable benefit for a brand.

Positive customer experience has been shown to increase both loyalty and advocacy. #CEX #CRM #CustomerCentricity #CustomerFirst #Loyalty #Advocacy Click To Tweet

However, with much of supermarket shopping going online – there was a 161.4% increase on March over February – loyalty takes on a whole new meaning. Customer experience is now far more to do with the online ease of ordering than that of store shopping. Unfortunately, most supermarkets didn’t prepare for such an onslaught.

2. Adding value to a company also increases the ROI of its marketing investments. This is something that marketing has been challenged to prove in recent years, with the risk of seeing their budgets cut if they can’t. Luckily, what’s good for the customer is good for business. You can see many more facts and statistics in Forrester’s report called The Business Impact of Customer Experience” 

Of course, what customers are looking for in a company has changed dramatically in just a few months. They now expect organisations to provide more than just their products and services. They expect them to care for their employees and the communities in which they do business. Retailers will need to review their bricks-and-mortar strategy as customers continue to order more online than the pre-pandemic era. McKinsey’s article on this topic “Adapting customer experience in the time of coronavirus” makes a good complement to this post.

Of course, what customers are looking for in a company has changed dramatically in just a few months. Do you know how their behaviour has adapted? #CEX #CRM #CustomerFirst Click To Tweet

3. Enabling differentiation in this complex world is invaluable in standing out from the competition. In so many industries today product performance and services are almost identical, so how can you differentiate your brand? Through your customer service, that’s how. And knowing exactly what your customers want. It has been shown that customers are willing to pay more for excellent customer service. Yes MORE for exactly the same product or service, so why are you waiting? You can read a summary of the American Express research that was recently updated HERE.

In the post-covid reset, differentiation is going to move from products alone to increased service and care. As already mentioned, customers expect brands to support them in such hard times, but also their employees and communities. Companies who cut jobs and/or salaries while their board members take bonuses will be shunned.

What customers wanted until this year was a seamless experience from pre- to post-purchase, both on and offline. But with increased out-of-stock in physical stores and more purchases being made online, customers now want companies to support them and deliver an even better experience and service. This is definitely not the time to cut customer care departments when organisations are looking to reduce costs!

 

The Importance of Customer Satisfaction & Understanding 

There is no denying that customer-centricity is important, no vital to growth and profitability. However some companies are (too?) hesitant to adopt best practices in this area, which concerns me for a number of reasons:

1. Changes are happening too slowly in most organisations. If it is important for the business, then what is stopping companies from adopting a more customer centric approach? The longer they wait, the more they risk being beaten by a more customer-friendly competitor. And this is why so many start-ups are stealing significant share from the major brands.

It’s also no longer (just) about product and service performance any more. It’s about how the customer feels about your brand. Niche brands have understood this better than anyone. And the pandemic has further accentuated the importance of emotions. Many of us have become over-sensitive, even depressed, after months of lockdown and trying to follow the ongoing, constantly changing regulations.

It’s no longer about product and service performance any more. It's about how the customers FEELS about your brand. #Marketing #Brand #CEX #CRM Click To Tweet

Customers have had to become more flexible in their response to constant out-of-stock situations for many categories and brands. However, there is a real danger that once they have accepted to buy a replacement brand, they may then question the need to return to the brand to which that had been previously loyal. I expect to see a lot of brand switching over the remainder of this year as a direct consequence of these forced behavioural changes.

And as if all this is not already difficult enough to cope with, the increased level of layoffs and furloughs, are forcing customers to reconsider their spending, and consider cheaper alternatives that they may never have previously considered.

2. Customers are complaining – a lot – about the way they are being treated. Why are companies not accepting these criticisms as the gifts they are? Acting promptly before the issue becomes yet one more social media viral overnight sensation is essential today. Do it right and your complainers may even turn into advocates if they are delighted with the outcome.

Complaints are also wonderful (free) sources of innovation and renovation ideas. Find out what your customers are unhappy about and then propose a solution. You may even be able to charge more since the new offer will better meet their needs.

Reacting promptly to your customers' complaints may even turn your complainers into advocates if they are delighted with the outcome. #Customer #CustomerService #CustomerComplaints Click To Tweet

3. Customer service is still being confused with customer satisfaction. Companies are happy when their customers say they are satisfied, but that is no longer enough – if it ever was!

All businesses should be looking to surprise and delight their customers! After months of lockdown, customers have a short fuse and react more strongly when dissatisfied with a company or brand. We need to respond faster and more completely to demands, comments and complaints. Find more inspiring ideas on how to respond to customers in this great article entitled “The Revolutionary Marketing Challenge is Not Customer Satisfaction.”

As mentioned above, the research that prompted this post was a Google keyword investigation of terms related to customers. Having seen the strong positive trend for the word customer, I then wanted to understand what it was about customers that was of interest to those searching online.

I found that both customer service and customer care showed almost identical positive trends. However, when I looked at customer satisfaction and customer understanding the trends were flat and worse, minimal. (You can see the trend graph below)

What customer want Google trends
Source: Google

These trends suggest that companies search for how to improve their customer services and care centres, but not about how to understand their customers better or increase their satisfaction!

How can this be? Surely an interest in customer services should come from an increased understanding of how to deliver customer satisfaction? Well apparently not, at least for most companies! They seem to be more worried about the technical side of the process of responding to their customers efficiently, rather than taking the customer’s perspective on what should be delivered.

This is when I realised that perhaps businesses are more interested in the cost of providing the service than in the real benefit of customer connection. That is a serious flaw in their thinking in my opinion. Do you agree? Whether you do or don’t, please leave me a comment below. This is too important a topic not to continue the discussion.

To confirm my hypothesis, I looked into the trends for customer satisfaction levels around the world. After all, many more companies are interested in customer service these days, aren’t they? So you would think it should have a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

According to the most recent report from The Institute of Customer Service on customer satisfaction across Europe, retail, insurance and banking are the three best-performing industries. This was a surprise to me because they used to be the most heavily criticised!

However, this suggests that they have taken action, albeit because they had little choice, and are now leading the pack. But most other industries continue to ignore what their customers want. You can see the full Infographic overview below; click on it to see the full-sized original.

 

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Unfortunately, as would be expected, all the more recent statistics available are from surveys conducted pre-covid, so I decided not to include them until we have a better grip on the impact the pandemic has had on people.

I then went back to Google to search for any ways that were suggested for increasing customer satisfaction. I found over 133 million articles on how to do it, but very few on the results of doing it. While this is certainly a significant increase on the measly two million I found five years ago and the less than one million articles available just a couple of years ago, it is still extremely worrying.

The increased interest in customer satisfaction is certainly coming from a steady decrease in satisfaction levels over the past couple of years – long before covid struck. The latest results of the US ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) report shows customer satisfaction has been declining since mid-2018 and is now at a level last seen almost a decade ago! With behaviours changing radically during the pandemic, I will be watching with interest how the increase in online ordering and the decline in retail outlet shopping will impact these levels.

What customer want and satisfaction trends usaIt has been proven that changes in customer satisfaction are a predictor of future consumer spending. So it looks like we are not out of the woods yet, nor will be this year, if not next year as well.

David VanAmburg, who is Managing Director at ACSI once said:

“Customer satisfaction will need to increase for the economy to grow at a faster pace. It’s tough to pinpoint one cause of the stagnation, but unless it budges, the national ACSI score paints a dire picture for consumer spending growth.”

 

Key Takeaways

So what does a business need to do to deliver what their customers really want today and increase their satisfaction? There are seven facts that become apparent from this analysis:

  1. Businesses should always provide positive customer experience and do whatever it takes to not only satisfy but ideally delight their customers. With frustration and lockdowns impacting the emotional stability of many, people are likely to react extremely positively to the slightest thing that goes beyond their expectation at the moment. Take advantage of this opportunity to solidify your brand’s reputation and that of your company too.
  2. Companies need to go beyond the mere technical process of customer-centricity, to truly put their customers at the heart of the organisation. This means adopting a customer-first strategy of course, but also responding to the increase in contacts resulting from customers staying and purchasing at home. This is not the time to cut costs in the area of customer services, but to invest extensively to respond more quickly to requests for help from their house-bound customers. Read “What a Customer First Strategy Is (And what it’s not!)” for more on this topic.
  3. Customer centricity adds demonstrated value to a company; it should be a no-brainer for every single business, whatever the industry, to adopt a customer-first strategy. And as previously mentioned, now that layoffs and furloughs have become the norm, it is vital that customer services remain at the heart of the business and are even expanded if customer connections increase – which they no doubt will in almost every consumer-facing industry.
  4. Customer centric improvements are happening too slowly in most companies, especially when customers are becoming ever more demanding and verbose when dissatisfied. Frustrated customers stuck at home these days, are reacting even more quickly and negatively to being ignored or kept waiting at the end of the line when they call an organisation. After all, they have nothing much to do at home, so will concentrate on getting answers to their questions and complaints. This is confirmed by Matt Wujciak in his analysis “Global Contact Center Trends During COVID-19 Pandemonium.”

    ‘..the contact centre is experiencing an unprecedented increase in overall call volume, with a particular surge in aggressive (if not fanatic) customer inquiries.”

  5. Providing customer service doesn’t guarantee customer satisfaction. Responding to customers in a timely manner has become the table stakes for competing in most if not all B2C industries. And yet investment has not been increasing at the same level as the demand from customers. This has to change.
  6. Positive customer experience always increases loyalty and advocacy. It has been shown that a totally satisfied customer contributes 2.6 times as much revenue as a somewhat satisfied customer and 14 times as much revenue as a somewhat dissatisfied customer. Read “5 Reasons why customer experience is the pulse of every business right now” for more on this.
  7. Excellent customer service enables differentiation and even higher prices. Perhaps now is not the moment to increase prices for your over-sensitive customers, but it is definitely the time to excel at providing the best possible service.

In summary, in this post-covid era, people want businesses to listen and understand them. When a customer takes the time to contact a company because they are unhappy, or even just for information, they expect a satisfactory outcome as a minimum. Those organisations who go beyond, to deliver surprise and delight, will see their reputations improve, as well as an increase in their customers’ loyalty and advocacy. 

Customers also want companies to be more open, honest and transparent. They have a right to know the source of ingredients, the ingredients themselves, the country of origin, the charities the company supports, or the organisation’s policies on waste, water and sustainability.

One additional demand has surfaced this year, that for companies to protect their employees, to reduce layoffs, protect salaries and for management to show that they are adapting their own situations to match what their employees are going through. No bonuses or golden parachutes, when those below them are being furloughed or worse.

So how are you doing? Are you living up to your customers’ expectations? Are you delivering what your customers really want? How have you made progress in this area, especially in the last six months? Please share your (success) stories below. 

You know you can no longer wait; you’re getting left behind by those organisations – and competitors – who are taking action today! Take the FREE C3C Evaluator™ quiz and find out exactly where your greatest opportunities for improvement lie. 

And for more ideas on how you can understand what your customers really want today, why not organise one of our 1-Day Catalyst Training Sessions? We have them on many areas of customer understanding and service, so you are sure to find exactly what you need to inspire and energise your team. Check out and download our brochures. And yes they can be run online as well as in person.

If you would rather talk through your specific needs first, so we can personalise our support for you and your team, then feel free to contact me. It would be a pleasure to help you in these daunting times. 

This post is an update of one that was first published on C3Centricity in 2018.

What a Customer First Strategy Means Post Pandemic

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I know, you probably don’t want to read yet another article about the post-pandemic era, especially when the infection numbers in many countries are once again headed in the wrong direction!

But with people having changed their purchasing habits and perspectives due to lockdown, this seems the perfect time to reconsider your customer-first strategy.

Up until the covid-19 virus hit across the globe, almost every single organisation, big or small, recognised the importance of satisfying their customers. But most of them were only giving lip service to customer-centricity and very few were actually going beyond voicing their opinions. This is no longer possible as customers are sharing their experiences of companies and brands far more than just six months ago.

After all, what else have they to do than surf the internet all day long! According to the latest global statistics, social media usage saw an increase of 21 per cent, and news consumption has risen by 36 per cent. You can see the individual country breakdowns at Statista.

A recent NYT article clearly confirms these significant changes in behaviour in the US. Another study summarised on Forbes and run across 30 markets globally, shows that engagement has increased 61% over normal social media usage rates. Companies can no longer hide like they once did; customers are out to highlight their dissatisfaction and point the finger when they are less than happy with a product or service.

A customer-first strategy is not so hard. Just think customer first in everything you do. So how come most businesses get it spectacularly wrong? I think the reason is that they don’t see the immediate return and it costs money to implement. What do you think?

A customer-first strategy is not so hard; just think customer first in everything you do. So how come most businesses get it spectacularly wrong? #CEX #CRM #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity Click To Tweet

And even when an organisation decides to become more customer centric, there are many mistakes that are commonly made. This article “7 Reasons for Failure When Adopting a Customer First Strategy” gives the main ones and makes a complementary read to this post.

But today’s world has accelerated the upward trend in the importance of a customer-first strategy and makes it one of the most, if not the most important one for all organisations.  It is no longer the norm or even the new-norm, of successful businesses, it is becoming the make or break criteria in surviving the pandemic. And many companies are already failing fast, although it is said that for many retailers, the pandemic only sped up their likely appearance in bankruptcy courts. For more on this I suggest you read “As pandemic stretches on, retail bankruptcies approach highest number in a decade.”

While retail is clearly suffering as purchases in lockdown went online, it is not the only industry to have been hit hard. Another CNBC article highlights others including cruises, fitness, energy and airlines. Whether or not these too were headed downwards or not, customers hold the key to success more than ever before as their spending becomes less impulsive. The 20 biggest companies that have filed for bankruptcy because of the coronavirus pandemic are listed in this article on Forbes.

 

Reasons for having a customer-first strategy

There has been enough research done to prove that the return on a customer-first strategy is significant. Here are just a few of the numbers I have found.

  • 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. But only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations. CEI Survey
  • 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report
  • Walker forecast that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Customers 2020 Report
  • A 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. Bain & Co
  • 94% of consumers say they are more likely to be loyal to a brand that offers transparency. Label Insight

These are numbers that would make any CEO sit up and take notice! But will it make them act? What’s holding them back from investing in their customers rather than (just) in the products and services they offer?

I believe that those numbers can no longer be ignored. It’s time every CEO started initiating a move to a more customer centric organisation. NO more excuses; this has to be (OK, one of) your top priorities!

 


If you’re ready to put your customers first, then C3Centricity can help, inspiring your team, no matter where in the world you operate. Contact us today for more information on adopting a customer-first strategy.

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Marketers are too busy building brands

With so much information available today, marketing is being challenged to demonstrate its ROI. This might explain why they are still putting their efforts into brand building, sometimes to the detriment of their customers, consumers and clients.

However, an analysis run by IBM on research carried out in the UK last year by the Callcredit Information Group gives a different reason. They found that the majority of marketers is feeling overwhelmed by all this data. Their explanation for this is that:

“Only 29% of marketers believe they have the necessary skills to analyse data, with 44% planning on investing in further training over the next two years to boost confidence within their organisations around the handling of information.” 

 

According to a Forrester report, 44% of B2C marketers are using big data and analytics to improve responsiveness to customer interactions. But of equal importance in terms of top two mentions, is the desire to generate insights. ( Source)

Top 3 critical factors to marketing program success

It saddens me that despite the constant flow of data into companies they still lack insights into their customers. As I’m often quoted as saying:

“We’re drowning in data but thirsting for insights.”

Marketing is clearly so busy using data to manage pricing, distribution and their communication channels, that they are not using the information to get to know their customers better. This conclusion is confirmed by a Forbes article which mentions that marketing is using big data to provide answers to “which content is the most effective, how to increase conversion rates and customer lifetime value.” It would be good if they used it to increase satisfaction and loyalty, no?

Marketing is clearly so busy using data to manage pricing, distribution and their communication channels, that they are not using the information to get to know their customers better. It would be good if they used it to increase… Click To Tweet

Big data has actually done customer understanding a disfavour since organisations are hardly increasing their spend on market research according to ESOMAR’s latest industry figures. The industry grew a measly 2.1% in 2018, once again confirming that there continues to be no “significant” growth recorded in the past seven years! Compare this to the more than 4-6% increases recorded for ad spend over the past five years.

 

Ad spend growth trend

But there is some hope. A recent report from OnBrand Magazine on the KPIs used by marketing showed that Marketers are using a variety of metrics to measure the impact of their brand marketing activities. In surveying more than 560 global brand managers and CMOs, the analysis concludes that new customer acquisition (75%) and social media engagement (72%) are the two primary ways they determine the success of their brand marketing efforts.

KPIs used by marketing

However, there is still a lot of room for improvement. A 2016 Spencer Stuart survey shows data analysis and insights are one of the three main areas where CMOs need the most development as a leader. Unfortunately, they are also the skills which more than half of them say are most difficult to find when building a team!

Difficult skills to hire for

So if CMOs can’t develop insight about their customers, shouldn’t market research be more not less important to them? After all, it’s the one profession which spends its whole time trying to understand the market and customers. So what’s going wrong?

 

Market research is seen as a cost, not an investment

Companies still need market research to understand their customers. Yes, there is a wealth of information flooding into organisations with the IoT, but those numbers don’t tell you their “why.” That’s where market research comes into its own. It needs to provide more “why” answers and not just the mere statistics they seem comfortable dropping on the laps of executives and marketers alike.

I believe that (a large?) part of the issue is also the researchers themselves. They’re not sociable, speak a language others don’t understand and seem afraid to voice their own opinion, let alone make recommendations.

This was recently confirmed in The Vermeer Millward Brown Insights 2020 research. It clearly showed the advantages of a senior market research position at board level. But to get there, the majority of researchers need new skills. The critical capabilities which were said to highlight the biggest differences between leaders and laggards were in business acumen, creative solution thinking, storytelling and direction setting.

It seems a real pity to me that the very people who should benefit from the explosion in data availability are not profiting from it. As if their needed analytical skills are not enough, there is also a real opportunity for them to lead the customer-first strategy in many organisations.

Customer services are seen as complaint handlers

When I was first hired to head up the global consumer excellence division for Nestle, I found a group of siloed departments which rarely shared information. Even worse, the customer care centre was seen as mere complaint handlers. Their image was of a group of women who spent their days on the phone talking to other women!

I don’t think Nestle were the only ones who had this image at that time. And sadly I still find similar perceptions in many organisations which become my clients through a desire to make the much-needed changes.

You only have to take a look at the financial results of companies which excel at customer care to realise the business benefits of putting the customer first: Amazon, Southwest, Zappos to name but a few.

An excellent article by Shep Hyken called “Ten Customer Service Tips for Customer Loyalty Month” details the essentials of a forward-thinking customer-first strategy and what it means today. Even if it is now quite old, I still believe the article is of immense value, which is why I mention it here. In the post, he mentions that

“According to Forrester, 72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority. A study from NewVoiceMedia indicates that companies lose more than $62 billion due to poor customer service. No company can afford to be a customer service laggard.”

The Forrester report from which Shep quotes was from an ongoing analysis that has been run each year since 2010. The key findings from the 2016 report showed:

  • In all five sectors they covered, companies with higher customer experience (CX) scores outperformed their rivals in revenue growth
  • CX leaders showed an annual growth rate of 17% compared to just 3% for the others.
  • The cable and retail industries beat the field in CX by 24% and 26%, which is a huge boost to the bottom line.
  • Even in the sector with the smallest range (airlines), there was a 5% difference between companies.
  • This also translated into subscriber growth – in the cable industry leaders grew internet subscribers by 23.9% more than others and video subscribers by 13.9%

Along with the previously mentioned statistics, I can see no reason for a company not to invest in a customer first strategy. If you can think of any yourself, then I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

 

In conclusion

To answer the title of this article, a customer-first strategy needs an organisation to recenter itself behind what must be a company-wide objective. Customer centricity can make a real difference in terms of both sales and profits to those who follow this direction. But it is essential to have executive support and a true commitment from every employee to think customer first.
It will take skill upgrades for both marketing and market research departments to translate the data and information gathered into actionable insights. But that is a small investment for the huge returns that have been proven.
And being customer centric will mean that every employee finally has the chance to get close up and personal with customers. This is the only way for them to understand the role they play in satisfying and delighting them.

Are you ready to adopt a customer-first strategy? If so, then check out our website for more tips and answer our free assessment here: https://www.c3centricity.com. You will immediately see how to prioritise your actions. 

 

The New Qualities for Customer Service Excellence

The current pandemic has clearly highlighted those companies who care about their customers and who provide them with customer service excellence.

If you claim to be customer centric are you sure you’re truly walking the talk and not just talking about customer service excellence? Many companies are and the pandemic has brought them into the spotlight.

A few years ago I was prompted to question this of the local Swiss cable company Cablecom. It had been desperately trying to address a long-term deficit in customer service excellence versus its main competitor Swisscom.

Swisscom has made customer service their MSP (main selling point or value proposition) and they are renowned for putting their customers first. Cablecom, on the other hand, had, until then, been trying to win customers through aggressive price cutting. In today’s connected world, especially when internet connection is concerned, dissatisfied customers will be quickly heard – across the net.

Back to the incident that prompted this post. After a few days of being ignored by Cablecom – my perception at least because my emails and phone calls were not being answered – I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I resorted to Twitter.

It is more than five years ago that Twitter was first referred to as today’s call centre. Social media usually guarantees a quick response whereas contacting customer services through the usual channels often results in nothing.

Twitter is often referred to as today's call centre. Social media usually guarantees a quick response whereas contacting customer services through the usual channels often results in nothing. #CustomerSatisfaction #CustomerCare… Click To Tweet

 

What makes a great customer care centre?

Customers these days expect a response in minutes or hours rather than days. Recent research shows that 88% of customers expect a response from your business within 60 minutes, while 30% expect a response within 15 minutes or less! How good is your own customer service?

Most call centres today are a frustrating if sometimes necessary experience for customers to endure. In many cases, they are automated, with an often long and complex self-selection process of button pushing to arrive at the department one needs – if you are lucky that is!

Usually, the result of all that effort is just a recording that either announces that the department needed is not open at the moment, or that the collaborators are currently busy and to please stay on the line at best, or to call back later most often.

We are next subjected to music supposedly designed to calm our nerves, interspersed with messages suggesting alternatives to waiting on the line: going to the website to find a solution, to check their available FAQs, to complete a contact form, or to send an email. And then, of course, to add insult to injury, we hear the infamous message about our call being important to the company! Really? If so you’re not showing it, you’re not walking the talk.

Companies that have understood customers’ frustration with help-line queues have found alternative solutions, such as arranging a callback or providing sufficient staff to cover the busiest times, or at least to be available when the customer is most likely to need support.

Today there is no excuse for a consumer goods company to not be ready to help their users when they need it the most; for example:

  • Early morning or late at night for personal care products
  • Breakfast, lunch and evening meal times for food manufacturers
  • Evenings and weekends for TV and technology products
Today there is no excuse for a consumer goods company to not be ready to help their users when they need it the most. #CustomerSatisfaction #CustomerCare #CareCenter #CustomerFirst Click To Tweet

Whilst in a few cases, there may be customers who use Twitter to jump the call centre queues, in most cases, it is a customer’s final cry for help after being frustrated by long waits on their careline calls, or self-service selections that led nowhere. 

 

What makes a great customer service representative (CSR)?

Taking the customers perspective is the absolute right thing to do for a company. But perhaps we as customers, should also take the company’s perspective when reaching out to them? Or at least that of the poor customer service representative who is subjected to our frustration and anger at the end of our email or phone call?

Jimmy N. from UPC-Cablecom, was one of the very best examples of what a CSR should be, based upon my considerable years of working on both sides of contact centres. What did he do so well and what might we all learn from him, despite his relatively young age (mid twenties)?

I have summarised below what I see as the most important skills of a customer services representative, which I call the 7Ps.

The new 7Ps of customer service excellence

  1. Private: He immediately took the conversation offline, asking for my email address and then calling me to speak in person. This is a win-win for both the company and the customer. It made me feel important as he called me straight back, but it also enabled the company to take my complaints offline and away from the eyes of other current or potential customers.

2. Patient: He let me talk first, just listening until I had finished ranting, or stopped to ask a question. Sometimes a good listener is all it takes to defuse a potential issue from escalating. The customer wants to be understood and in this case, I felt real empathy from Jimmy as I shared my negative experiences.

In customer service, sometimes a good listener is all it takes to defuse a potential issue from escalating. The customer wants to be understood and an empathetic ear is a great place to start. #CRM #CEX #CustomerCare #CustomerSatisfaction Click To Tweet

3. Polite: He never lost his cool, even when I did! I admit I would not make a good CSR. I am generally calm, but when I get angry I really explode, especially when I feel I am being treated unfairly or being taken advantage of. Having reps who can remain calm even when the customer is accusing the company or even their call centre person of exaggerated shortcomings, is essential to defuse the emotional tension of the connection.

4. Perceptive: Jimmy empathised with me, knowing when to push forward with the next topic and when to go back to reiterate what had been agreed. He ensured that I understood the information he was sharing and that I was comfortable with his comments and explanations.

5. Professional: He was an expert, knowing his topic and more importantly how to explain its complex details in simple terms. Have you ever called for help and found that you knew more about the topic than the company representative? I know I have on several occasions. As a result instead of feeling supported, I became more frustrated as I was forced to explain my problem in different terms of in more detail until it was understood.

It is vital that care centre reps are knowledgable and are able to explain complex details in simple terms. Don't let eh customers get frustrated by knowing more than the person they have turned to for help! #CEX #CRM #CustomerCare… Click To Tweet

6. Pragmatic: Jimmy worked with me to find solutions that worked for us both. Unlike many call centres where the clear objective is to get you to accept the least costly solution, this time I really felt that Jimmy was working for me not against me. I felt confident that the solution we found together would be the best result for me.

7. Perseverant: He continued to ask and answer questions until he was sure I was happy with everything. Many companies now add a question at the end of the discussion, asking if there is anything else that we need. However, in most cases, it sounds artificial, especially when we have thanked the CSR and said goodbye. I can understand why it is important to make sure the customer is fully satisfied before hanging up, but it would be better if the question is adapted to each individual situation.

Are these the seven best qualities for call centre advisors, or are there more “Ps” that you would add? If you have suggestions, then please add them in the comments below, especially you Jimmy if you read this!

 

Do you believe that your CSRs could do more for your customers? Then we would love to support you. We know we can help, just tell us where and when. Contact us here and check out our website for more information on our services: http://C3centricity.com/training

 

This article is an updated version of one that was first posted on C3Centricity in February 2013.

Did you enjoy this post and all its tips, tools and ideas?

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You’ll be amongst fellow marketers who are there to support others as well as ask for help.

See you there.

How to Succeed in Leadership, Marketing, Innovation and Insight

Although I love quotes, especially about how to succeed, I love success even more. Do you?

One of my favourite quotes on the topic of success comes from Winston Churchill during his address to the Harrow School (UK) during WWII in 1941. It was one of his shortest speeches but probably one of his most quoted. He said:

“Never give in, never, never, never, never”

If you are interested, you can read his full speech – which is not a lot longer! – here.

 

Hearing this quote again recently, got me thinking about failure. Failure in our lives, our businesses, our jobs, our relationships. And you must admit that we are just at the beginning of the impact of covid on the world and I know we need to prepare for a lot of failures in the coming months and years. But I ask myself how often we fail merely because we give up too quickly?

Another of my favourite quotes on success and failure comes from Napolean Hill:

“Most great people have achieved their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.” 

Now whereas I do advise people today on how to find more happiness in their lives (See my new website on intuitive coaching at Finding-Your-Happy.com), I want to address here the many current and possibly future failures in business.

Another recent post of mine concentrated on why companies fail in their adoption of a customer-first strategy. You can read it here: 7 reasons most companies fail to adopt a customer first strategy. This was a follow up to another popular post on what a customer-first strategy is, and what it isn’t. If you missed it, then you can read it here: “What Customer First Strategies Really Are (And What They’re Not!)”

Over almost a decade of blog posting, I have written many other articles which include my solutions to failing in countless areas of marketing. I, therefore, thought it would be useful to share four of the most popular ones here in a single post (Links to original full-length posts in titles). Let me know what you think.

 

How you React to Failure Could Make You a Success

Failure's only a failure when you don't learn from it
Source: Microsoft

For this first summary of a post, I’d like to share not a list of solutions but a selection of inspiring quotes on reacting to failure. I think it sets the stage beautifully for the other articles to come.

In the full post (which you can read by clicking the above link) you can also find suggested actions for each of them. They will make you realise that there are great opportunities in every failure! So don’t be afraid to fail. Just never give up!

1. “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure” Bill Gates, American Businessman

2. “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be” John Wooden, American Coach

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be” John Wooden, American Coach Click to Tweet

3. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin, American Politician

4. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” Henry Ford, American Businessman

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” Henry Ford, American Businessman Click to Tweet

5. “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure” John C. Maxwell, American Clergyman

6. “Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure it just means you haven’t succeeded yet” Robert H. Schuller, American Clergyman

“Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure it just means you haven’t succeeded yet” Robert H. Schuller, American Clergyman Click to Tweet

7. “Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success” Sir James Dyson, British Designer

8. “Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something” Frederick W. Smith, American Businessman

“Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something” Frederick W. Smith, American Businessman Click to Tweet

9. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” Nelson Mandela, South African Statesman

10. “Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure” Jack Lemmon, American Actor

“Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure” Jack Lemmon, American Actor Click to Tweet

They say that pride comes before a fall; I say success follows failure! I wish you much success in failing fast, learning faster, so you can enjoy more success! And remember the full post linked in the above title contains suggested actions for each of these quotes. What are you waiting for?!

 

How to Innovate Successfully (What You’re Still Getting Wrong!)

This post mentions the ten reasons innovation fails and then shares ideas on finding a solution to each of them. If you are struggling to fill your pipeline (and shame on you if you are still using a linear approach – see why below), or can’t seem to get the same number of successful launches you used to have, then this article is for you.

successful innovation process

#1 The process: Introduce some creativity into the process. Use a virtuous circle (as shown above) rather than the usual linear or funnel approach.  All innovation processes should start with a deep understanding of the potential customer segment you want to attract and then the insight developed about them.

All innovation processes should start with a deep understanding of the potential customer segment you want to attract and the insight developed about them. Click To Tweet

#2 Meeting company quotas: Instead of company quotas on the number or proportion of new product launches, a better target is a percentage of sales. This should eliminate all but the very best ideas, which are expected to increase sales rather than merely replace current products or expand on-shelf display.

 

#3 Lack of customer understanding: The best way to innovate successfully is to start by looking at the target customer’s lifestyle and seeing how you can make it easier and more enjoyable for them. Watching and listening to your customers with an open mind, rather than with a pre-prepared hypothesis in your head, will enable you to identify pain points the customer may even be unaware of.

The best way to innovate is to start by looking at your target customer’s lifestyle and seeing how you can make it easier and more enjoyable for them. Find a solution to their problems. #Innovation #Brand #Marketing Click To Tweet

#4 Lack of category understanding: Never assume you are competing in a certain category until you have identified how your customers are choosing and using it. You might be surprised to learn that your competitors are not those you thought they were!

 

#5 Not living up to your promises: In today’s connected world, false or exaggerated promises are quickly identified and shared on social media. Nothing is every hidden for long these days, so if you make a mistake, admit it, own it, correct it and move on. It will be forgotten or forgiven quicker than if it becomes a scandal.

If you make a mistake, admit it, own it, correct it and move on. It will be forgotten or forgiven quicker than if it becomes a scandal. #Mistake #Brand #Marketing #Scandal Click To Tweet

#6 Not being sufficiently differentiated: With such an abundance of information available to everyone, comparisons are easy to make.  Solution-based offers will always be able to charge more than product-based ones. It’s up to you to decide which you want to be.

 

#7 Being too different: Identifying a sub-category of users with a precise need and then meeting that need better than anyone else, is the more successful way to differentiate.

 

#8 Pricing yourself out of the market: Understanding how much potential customers value your offer is essential to the success of any product or service. Neither cost nor price is relevant to your customers other than in helping them to decide to purchase when they see the value you offer. If they perceive greater value then they will buy, otherwise, they won’t. Pricing really is as simple as that.

 

#9 Inappropriate distribution: Appropriate distribution doesn’t mean being in stock everywhere at the lowest price. But it does mean being available in the retail outlets that your target customers visit more often, whenever they are ready to buy.

Appropriate distribution doesn’t mean being in stock everywhere at the lowest price. #Distribution #Brand #Marketing #Sales Click To Tweet

#10 Being too far ahead of the customer:  If you can’t afford to wait for your customers to catch up with your new product or service idea, then you should certainly reconsider your launch decision. Keep the concept in your “back drawer” until customers are ready. You will then be the first to respond to these new needs and beat the competition to market with the correct solution. Launching too early and failing, gives the competition time to catch up and probably launch at a more appropriate time.

 

The full article goes into more detail on each of these solutions of course. So if any of them resonate with you, it is worth checking out the full post.

You must innovate to stay in the game, but that doesn’t mean launching anything just to meet the company’s innovation targets. Launch bigger, bolder and better, as one of my bosses used to say. And never give up!

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What Great Leaders Know and You Probably Don’t

LeadershipThis post summarises my easily applied learnings that will make your leadership style more efficient and effective, no matter the industry in which you work.

1. We should never stop learning. As we age and rise in the corporate world, we seem to forget that we don’t know it all! We even think that we should have all the answers, or worse still, think that we do!

 

2. We should accept help. Some people find it hard to ask for help or even to accept it when it is offered. This is foolish since we cannot be an expert in every area of business. In fact, if we lead a team, whether just a few people or many thousands, we should be good at managing people first. 

If we lead a team, whether just a few people or many thousands, we should be good at managing people first. #Leadership #Management Click To Tweet

3. Practice really does make perfect. It’s not only perfectionists that think they’re never good enough. We should always strive to be the best we can be. We should never compare ourselves to others, only to our previous selves. 

We should never compare ourselves to others, only to our previous selves. #Leadership #Learning #Management Click To Tweet

4. That final check is worth itWhen I was learning to fly, my instructor never stopped reminding me that the pre-flight checks were vital to do thoroughly. He reminded me that once you’re in the air, it’s too late!

The same goes for meetings, events and conferences once they’ve started. Make and use checklists, like pilots do, and complete that final check thoroughly and completely.

 

5. Accept defeat and mistakes. We all make mistakes sometimes and get defeated occasionally. We’re human after all.

However, those mistakes and defeats are great teachers. If we learn and grow from them, then the pain involved should be short-lived, as we move on to bigger and better things.

 

6. Honesty is always the best policy. Somehow honesty is rarely discussed these days and yet we all know that trust is one of the main reasons people do business with companies. Trust built over the long term will enable companies to be forgiven for any occasional mishaps that may occur.

Trust built over the long term will enable companies to be forgiven for any occasional mishap that may occur. #Trust #Failure #Mistakes Click To Tweet

 

7. Business isn’t only about Millenials. Everyone is speaking about the Millenials these days. While Millenials may be trendy, there are other groups which are arguably just as important if not more so, to consider for a successful business. For example, there are now more Baby Boomers that Millenials in the US; and guess which has the money?!

Great leaders are aware of these seven points; are you? If not, then read the full article for further details. Leaders don’t know it all but they do know how to learn, and especially from failure. Never give up on your plans, just adapt them when needed, which these days is almost monthly!

 

How the Best Marketers are getting More Actionable Insights

Developing insightBe honest! Everyone struggles to develop true insights about their customers. Most times we accept summary information or facts about the marketplace and call them insights.

But we all know that insight development is difficult. So hard to get to that “aha” moment when what we have said about our customers is so obvious we can’t understand how we – or anyone else for that matter – never realised it before.

If you are struggling to develop insights that truly resonate with your consumers or customers, I suggest you follow these 8 tips.

#1. Turn business objectives into customer-centric ones. Identify what you want to change in terms of your customers’ behaviour or attitudes. This way you will be thinking about your customers’ objectives rather than (just) your own.

#2. Insight generation should start with customer connections. When was the last time you personally spoke with your customers? If it wasn’t in the last week or two, you’re not getting out enough!

Insight generation should start with customer connections #Insights #MRX Click To Tweet

#3. Have regular contact with all other departments. It is impossible to really understand the business if your contact with other groups is limited to meetings and presentations. Make a habit of taking a coffee or lunch with people from other spheres of the company and exchange your latest ideas and learnings. You will both discover a lot about the organisation and its customers!

#4. Get MRI (Market Research & Insight) to share their nuggets of information regularly. Market research and insight teams learn new things about the business every day, so why not ask them to share more? Don’t wait for a formal presentation of the results of the latest piece of research. Get them to share findings and analyses with you on a regular, (at least) monthly basis.

#5. Get into the habit of speaking with consumers at every chance you can. Suggest to join in when research projects are being run. Listen in to call centre conversations, speak to demonstrators and merchandisers, or even talk to shoppers at retail (but always ask the permission of the store owner).

#6. Ask MRI to analyse more than market research information alone. They are the best synthesisers you have and can integrate multiple data sets from all available sources. Ask them to manage more information and you will both be happier.

#7. Remember that insight development takes energy and time. It usually takes days, if not weeks or even months to refine, group and synthesise information down to an actionable insight

#8. Insight development should involve more than the insight team, which is why it is important for them to build relationships with other departments.

Following these 8 ideas will make your business one of the most successful in insight development. How would that feel? Read the full article HERE. Insight development may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Never give up.

 

And if you want to improve even faster in any areas of learning from failure, you can invite us to give a 1-Day training that will catalyse your team in record time. Download the summary brochure of all our current training courses HERE.

 

These are some ideas and processes for avoiding failure or even more importantly, learning (a lot) from them. Whether it is in business management, innovation or customer understanding, you can learn from the best, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes. I hope you appreciate it!

 

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From a Good to a Great Website: 9 Ways to Engage More Successfully

Listen on Apple Podcasts“Never miss an episode. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts to get new episodes as they become available.”

What makes a great website?

What makes a website great for your customers?

What makes a website great for your potential customers?

The answers to these questions will help you to publish a successful website. One that encourages current and potential customers to both see and engage with your content. And hopefully buy your products and services too!

I published a post on this topic years ago, which included the seven things that must be on your website. It is “The 7 essentials of Customer Centric Websites.” and still makes a useful (and short) read, even today.

One of the major changes since then, is that today, with mobile more likely to be the screen of reference, we have gone from a “no scroll” to a “must-scroll” format. Words have given way to more images and now also to videos. We have gone from information to entertainment, from push to pull, and from “ours” to “theirs.”

The  “Top nine attributes of effective websites” is a post published by Craig Reardon on  smartcompany.com.au. It explains what makes a good website for small businesses. I found it to be a great starting point for my topic for any sized business, so I would encourage you to check it out as well.

Still, I do have a couple of criticisms about the post – sorry Craig. It starts with technology and also includes company rather than customer priorities. But you, fellow customer centricity champions, know that everything should start with the customer! So I’d like to build on both his post and my earlier one, to lay out what it takes to win online these days.

 

9 Essentials of a Customer Centric Website

Checking a website is often the first step a customer makes when they are interested in a brand or manufacturer. Therefore we should ensure that ours responds to their needs, whatever the reason for their visit. I have chosen the nine essential elements of a customer centric website below.

Please let me know what you think, by adding a comment below.

 

1. It’s for the customer, not (just) you

Although your website is about you and your company and/or brands, it is your customers, both current and potential, that need to like it.

Therefore, start by thinking about for whom you are developing the site and what their desires and needs are. Use our  4W™ template to ensure you go as deep as possible in your understanding of them. I also suggest you read “12 things you need to know about your target customers for more on what you should know in order to understand them and be able to describe them in depth.

Who is your website for? If it's not for your customer it's time to rethink. #CustomerCentricity #CustomerFirst #Website #Engagement Click To Tweet

 

2. An intuitive structure

We don’t have time to read, let alone learn how to navigate a website. Customers will leave if they can’t immediately find what they are looking for. This explains why many – dare I say most? – businesses have a 50% plus bounce rate. (See the RocketFuel analysis for more on this)

It may still be necessary to have a sitemap for those visitors who need help in navigating or are less logical. However, it no longer needs the prominence it once did. Put it at the bottom of the page and don’t waste valuable real estate by placing it at the top.

If you make it easy for people to find what they are looking for, they will never need to revert to a sitemap, and even less to leave for a competitor’s website.

If you make it easy for people to find what they are looking for on your website, they will never need to revert to a sitemap, and even less to a competitor's website. #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity #Customer #Website Click To Tweet

 

3. Customers can contact you however they want

Contact links or your full details must appear on the home page, including telephone numbers, email, postal and street addresses, and social media accounts. With the global nature of the internet, a customer has the right to know where you are based.

Your customers have the right to connect as they wish, by whichever media they prefer. Do you give your own customers a choice? #CustomerChoice #CEX #CustomerCare Click To Tweet

Do away with impersonal forms and drop-down menus, which force customers to use your classification. Instead, make them feel special, valued and appreciated. Make them feel like you are waiting to hear from them, and that you want to know what they have to share or ask. Above all, customers want to be treated as individuals, not as just one insignificant member of a mass.

Customers want to be treated as individuals, not as just one insignificant member of a mass. How do you treat your customers? As the precious clients they are for your business? #CEX #CRM #CustomerCare #CustomerSatisfaction Click To Tweet

 

4. Full details of your products, brands and services

Today’s customers demand information. They want details about ingredients, sourcing, limitations of usage, distribution and availability.

They want reassurance about your practices. Are they sustainable? Is your vision acceptable and your practices ethical? The more information you provide, the less need people will have to contact you with such requests for more information.

Today's customers demand information. They want details about ingredients, sourcing, limitations of usage, distribution and availability. But also reassurance about your practices. Are they sustainable? Is your vision acceptable and your… Click To Tweet

One more recent addition to this already long list, is company purpose. There is a lot of debate about whether or not customers care about companies and brands, but the covid pandemic has brought company support to the forefront. The best have been able to demonstrate their purpose through their actions. McKinsey wrote a great article on the topic that  I highly recommend. It’s called “Demonstrating corporate purpose in the time of coronavirus.”

 

5. Details about your company

Anonymous websites are no longer tolerated. Customers demand to know with whom they are engaging. So you can no longer hide who you are, as mentioned above. But customers need far more than just your contact details.

A detailed “About” section must also be provided, with clear information about all aspects of the company. Topics to include are your management structure, operational areas, mission statement, values, strategy, culture, and if you have one, your company societal purpose too. You also need to add the latest company news, both for investors and customers.

With the continued rise in the interest of visual content, incorporate a media section too. In it, you can provide images and films of your products and advertising. This will ensure that your brands are correctly presented online, as everyone will have access to professional, quality photos and videos.

A company website should include a media section. This will ensure that your brands are correctly identified online, as everyone will have access to professional, quality photos and videos. #CompanyMedia #Advertising #Brands Click To Tweet

This visual section also has one further advantage. That of making it easy for customers to both comment on and share their favourite ones. Advertising, in particular, is popular for sharing on social media, so make sure you have the best possible selection of both the latest and historical but popular material available.

 

6. Valuable content

Regularly updated content is good for your SEO rankings as well as for appealing to customers. Think about the topics of most interest to them. Perhaps you could answer common questions they have through a FAQ section or blog. Or provide useful recipes, styling tips or other relevant information that your customers will find appealing. Frequently added new content will also have people coming back to visit your site more often.

As mentioned above, visual content is vital today as people read less. If you struggle to create sufficient new content, or just want to get your customers more involved with your brands, then inviting them to provide it is a win-win for both of you.

Visual website content is vital today as people read less. If you struggle to create sufficient new content, or just want to get your customers more involved with your brands, then inviting them to provide it is a win-win for both of you.… Click To Tweet

User-generated content (UGC) as it is called, enables customers to share their real-life experiences with your brands, products and services. You can take advantage of this by offering space for them to add photos, videos and comments. Their stories help convey your brand’s values to other people and build trust.

Purina has been doing this successfully for many years, as owners love to show off their pets. They have even turned user-generated content into advertising. And many other brands have been inspired by what their customers share with them. For an insightful overview of some of the best campaigns, I highly recommend “14 Inspiring User Generated Content Campaigns.”

 

7. A responsive design

We are all multi-screen users today, moving seamlessly from smartphone to tablet, and from a laptop to TV. We expect the same quality of experience no matter what screen we are using. So a great website needs to be optimised for this.

We are all multi-screen users today, moving seamlessly from smartphone to tablet, and from a laptop to TV. A great website needs to be optimised for mobile. #Mobile #Responsive #Website #CompanyWebsite Click To Tweet

I am always amazed when I view a website that is not optimised for mobile; it really does negatively impact the customers’ experience and will certainly damage the brand’s image in the medium term.

A further reason for having a responsive design is that in the last year or so Google has started to penalise those which are not optimised. Your potential customers may never learn about you because you won’t appear on the first pages of search results.

 

8. Engaging content and entertainment

Even if your customers come to your website looking for information, they are often also expecting some form of entertainment. Whether through useful tips and guides, or quizzes, games and competitions, customers demand to be surprised and delighted by their experiences online.

Even if your customers come to your website looking for information, they are often also expecting some form of entertainment. Whether this is tips and guides, or quizzes, games and competitions, customers demand to be surprised and… Click To Tweet

We all love to learn more about ourselves and the rapid rise of fitness bands and Facebook quizzes are a clear indication of this. Who can resist an invitation to discover “What your favourite colour means” or “What your favourite foods say about you”? or “How male/female is your brain?”  Incidentally, the second one was developed by Unilever’s Knorr brand.

I bet you just clicked or plan to click on one of those links, didn’t you?! See how powerful quizzes can be?

And don’t forget our very own C3C Evaluator™ for assessing how customer centric you are. 

 

9.   High level of security

Companies record more and more information about their customers than ever before. At least we now have the possibility to define what we are willing to share and what we are not. However I, like many of you too I am sure, never bother going into the details of the cookies we are asked to approve.

But in return, we all expect their details to be kept safe. While it remains your responsibility to ensure a secure environment, you can also help, by only asking for details that you will immediately use for business purposes.

Do you really need telephone numbers if you will never call or text? Do you need postal addresses, occupation or other details that may be possible to collect? By only requesting the information that you will use, you will not only reduce the chance of being hacked, due to the lower value of your database, but you also risk losing fewer customers than you would if you require detailed information, especially at the beginning of the relationship before trust has been built. You can always build up your information on your customers over time and they are happier to provide it to you.

Only request the customer information that you will use, not everything you can. You risk losing fewer customers than you would if you require detailed information, especially at the beginning of your relationship. #CustomerInformation… Click To Tweet

Of course, no matter how much information you collect from your customers, you need to protect your database from cyber attacks, whether the risk is high or low.

 

When I wrote the original post on customer centric websites, I mentioned Reckitt Benckiser as a best-in-class example. Today, when I look at the leading CPG / FMCG websites, I find many that deserve a mention. I, therefore, decided to ask you, the reader, to vote for your favourite customer centric website and why you consider it to be a great example? Please share your ideas below in the comments.

And if your own website doesn’t pass the above nine essentials test, perhaps it’s time to make some changes? We can help with a detailed website audit which will pinpoint how to optimise it for your customers’ experience.

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10 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Customer Centricity

We all know that customer centricity is essential; even more so these days with the lockdown in most countries due to the pandemic.

Now more than ever, businesses need to put their customers clearly at the heart of their organisation. But I know that many struggle, even in more normal times, to be customer centric. They just don’t know where to start. Am I right? If you’re one of them, then this article is for you.

This week I give you ten simple actions to accelerate your organisation along its path to an improved customer-first strategy.

 

#1 Review & Revise the Description of your Target Audience

Do all your brands have a clear description of their target audience? These days we tend to speak about personas or avatars.

Complete this 4W persona template for customer centricityIs it as complete as it should be? If not, then regular readers will know about and probably use the C3Centricity 4W™ template for storing all this information. You can download it and get the accompanying workbook here.

Include not only your customers’ demographics and consumption / purchasing habits but also information about where they do these things, what values they have that you can tap into and what emotions motivate them to purchase and use your brand.

 

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#2 Assess the Optimum Way of Connecting with Your Customers

Do you know the best way to contact your target customers, as well as their preferred place and time to connect?

Review how you communicate with your customer and what information exchange there is at that time. Is it one-way or two? Are you in a monologue or a dialogue?

Obviously the second is what it should be. You can learn far more about your customers when they are ready to share their information with you.

For an original take on engaging your customers see “You’re missing out on A Free Communication Channel! (Any guesses what it is?).”

Review how you communicate with your customer and make sure its a dialogue not a monologue. #Brand #Communications #Marketing Click To Tweet

 

 

#3 Identify the Needs Your Brand is Addressing

Maslow's hierarchy of needsDo you know what needs your customer has and which of them you are tapping into?

They certainly have more than one need, but you must identify and address only one.

If you attempt to address more than one and especially if they are not sequential, your customer may be confused.

Mixed brand messages on what the brand can do for them will leave your customers perplexed. This will, in turn, reduce the likelihood that they will be convinced your offer can meet their needs and objectives.

Knowing where your brand sits on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has one additional benefit. It can increase the success of regional and global launches by identifying cultures with similar levels of a specific need.

For more on this, please read “How to Take Local Brands to Global Success: The 5 Rules to Fortune.”

Knowing where your brand sits on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has an additional benefit. It can increase the chance of success of regional & global launches. #Brand #Values #BrandEquity Click To Tweet

 

 #4 Make your Customer Everyone’s Responsibility

Is customer care only on the objectives of one or two departments in your organisation? Perhaps it’s only for the care centre employees or merchandisers to do.

It should, in fact, be on everyone’s annual objectives, to watch, listen and engage with your customers regularly. This will help them to understand how their work fits into the company’s objective to satisfy and delight them.

Every employee has a role to play in customer centricity and connecting with the customers on a frequent basis and sharing experiences with colleagues will ensure that everyone understands this.

Every employee has a role to play in customer centricity and connecting with customers on a frequent basis. #Brand #Marketing #CustomerCentricity #CustomerFirst Click To Tweet

 

#5 Plan for the Unthinkable

Do you know where your business is going? Do you know what might happen in the future and what you would do in each situation? How would you react to new laws, new customer demands, and their new sensitivities such as ecology, sustainability, sourcing or ingredients?

It is better to plan for such events before they happen, so that you can quickly react to challenges as well as opportunities.

I am in favour of developing plausible future scenarios, rather than merely following trends. Why? Because everyone follows trends so they provide no competitive advantage. However, by developing scenarios, they will be unique to your organisation and provide a clear path to answer all possible future opportunities and threats.

For more on scenario planning read “5 Business Success Factors (So You’re Ready for Anything!).”

Developing plausible future scenarios, rather than merely following trends provide a competitive advantage that trends don't provide alone. #Scenarios #Trends #Brand #Marketing Click To Tweet

 

#6 Review Your Business Plans for Customer Centricity

Are your customers clearly identified and described in your plans, as well as the customers of your major competitors?

Review your plans by considering how your customers will react to each of your scheduled actions. Not just the outcomes you are hoping for, but a true detailed analysis based upon your understanding of them and their desires.

Have you planned any actions to surprise and delight them, or are you only relying on the “same old” activities, repeated from year to year?

People get bored quickly and you can also “train” your customers to expect your promotions. They then wait for them before purchasing, often in quantity, and will also eventually become of less interest, and perceived value, to them. Plan at least one unexpected WOW action each year.

Are you relying on the “same old” promotions, year to year? If so you are training your customers to expect and only buy when you are on offer. Surprise & delight are the solutions. #Brand #Marketing Click To Tweet

 

#7 Expand Your Innovation Thinking

Are you blocked in an innovation box, relying on your internal technical and expert skills? If you know your customer well you can offer them more successful innovations, perhaps through additional sensorial experiences.

Consider adding sound to taste, colour to services, touch to packaging, aromas to retail displays. Give your customers more reasons to stay with you and they will become more loyal.

For some true inspiration on new ways to approach innovation read “The Best Ways To Improve Innovation With Better Ideation & Insights.

 

#8 Stop Testing Your Communications to Death

Customer centricity means observing your customersI can feel your shock as you read this, but why not review your process for developing your advertising?

If you spent more time and resources reviewing how to connect with your customer, and then reviewed early-stage work up-stream with them, you would be more likely to develop winners.

It would also reduce or totally replace your usual tests just before airing, when in most cases it is too late to change anything.

 

#9 Define Your Image

Your brand has an image but it might not be what you think it is. Make sure you are measuring it regularly and not only on the attributes that you ideally want to perform well on. You need to include attributes important to your competitors, as well as the category in general.

I so often see biassed attribute lists which, while providing exaggerated, over-positive images, lull companies into a false sense of security. When you are not measuring what is important for your competitors, you will always come out on top.

Another advantage is that the coverage of the total category will be more complete and you may even find a new or adapted positioning that no-one else is currently occupying.

If you’d like to read more about brand image measurement, be sure to check out “What you need to know about Brand Image, Personality & Archetypes.

 

#10 Update Your KPI’s

You know that what gets measured gets managed, well are you measuring what needs managing or only the easy metrics to gather?

If you know your customers well, who they are, what they do, what they think of you and your competitors, and then compare these to where you want to take your brand, the metrics you need to be measuring become evident.

Too many organisations rely on financial KPIs alone. Make sure you are not one of them, by adding metrics to cover customer awareness, satisfaction and perception.

Too many organisations rely on financial KPIs alone. Make sure you are not one of them, by adding metrics to cover customer awareness, satisfaction & perception. #Brand #Marketing #KPI Click To Tweet

 

 

I hope this list has helped you to identify a few areas that need revision in your organisation. Actioning even just one of them will improve your customer centricity and your profitability too (according to research).

Of course completing them all will ensure that your customer is really at the center of your business, as well as in the hearts of your employees.

If you would like to know just how customer centric you are, complete the C3C Evaluator™ assessment. It’s free! The Evaluator™  will help you to identify where you are today as well as how to prioritise any needed changes in your organisation. 

For further inspiration on making your organisation more customer centric, check out our other articles on C3Centricity, or contact us here:

https://www.c3centricity.com/contact

 

C³Centricity.com uses images from Dreamstime.com and Pixabay.com

 

 

How to Improve Customer Centricity in Hospitality

The title of this week’s post might surprise you. After all, the hospitality industry should be highly customer centric, as it relies on satisfying its guests.

However, it can learn a lot from consumer packaged goods (FMCG/CPG), as I shared with industry experts at a Faculty Day of one of the leading hospitality schools in Switzerland. Having spent most of my career in consumer goods, I was invited to share what the hospitality industry could learn from the industry. From the reactions at the end of my talk it seems that the answer is a lot!

It might surprise you, but the two industries have a number of similarities. They both (should) have their customers at their heart. And they are both founded on pleasing and hopefully delighting their clients in the quality of the products and services they offer.

As the world changes, customer demands are changing too and companies need to stay current, if not ahead of these demands, in order to ensure continued growth. #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity #Future #Trends Click To Tweet

 

During my presentation, I shared many ideas; here are a few of the points I covered:

 

#1. From ROI / ROR to ROE

There has been a lot of discussion in the past few years about the need to move from a return on investment to a return on relationships. While I agree with the importance of relationships, I believe that what we should be talking about is engagement. Despite many books touting the need for our customers to “Love” our brands, in reality, I’m not sure that any of us want to have a deep relationship with brands.

Brands that have a high following and loyalty, have found a way to consistently engage their fans and keep them coming back. #Brand #Marketing #Engagement Click To Tweet

The relationship is based on more than just the brand. It is founded on trust and confidence in the product, the brand’s website and their engaging communications. Think Coca Cola and Red Bull as great examples of this.

 

#2. Build Relationships with Strangers

The hospitality industry is based on serving and satisfying its guests. But in today’s connected world it also needs to consider people who are currently strangers – but could potentially become guests. These may include the friends of past guests, who have heard about the hotel or restaurant and are interested in visiting it for themselves.

One good example of this, but I know many hotels are also doing it, is the Rosewood Mayakoba resort in Mexico. This wonderful hotel encourages its guests to photograph their experiences during their stay at the resort and then to post them on Facebook.

This not only provides free publicity for the hotel, but also enables it to start engaging future guests before they even arrive. In addition, the posts will certainly have a positive influence on website visitors. And the guests who publish their photos, will have an even stronger positive impact on their friends and followers.  After all, they will more than likely have similar tastes and desires.

 

#3. Value is more Important than Price

Having additional control of our lives today, means that customers are re-evaluating what they are offered. They have higher expectations and are more discerning in their choices. They expect recognition at every touchpoint, even if in reality their decisions are influenced by their peers, more than by traditional marketing.

In addition, the internet enables us to compare multiple offers, so we are far less interested in bundled propositions than we once were. Today we often prefer to decide what is best value for us personally, by buying individual elements for our very personalised vacations. For example, we may overspend on experiences and then choose a more modest hotel and car rental. Each buyer will make choices upon their individual value perceptions.

 

#4. Renovation is more than Buildings

Most CPG companies have annual targets for Innovation & Renovation, sometimes 30% or more of annual revenue. They also have mid-term innovation pipelines which can include partnerships in joint ventures with what were previously only competitors. These help each partner, by building on their individual talents and enabling them to develop better products and services.

To improve customer centricity in hospitality, innovation can no longer be purely physical or rational; we need to consider more emotional and relational ways to satisfy. The Rosewood Mayakoba resort, already mentioned above, is one good example of this; check the link to see the latest photos published on their Facebook page.

The Art Series Hotels are another example of how well they excel at understanding their guests. Their unique offer is called Art Series Overstay Checkout, and means that if no guest is checking into your room the next day, you can stay a few extra hours or even days for free.

 

#5. Loyalty is never really Won

One of the reasons that I believe we need to work on building engagement and in all industries, not just hospitality, is because customer demands are constantly evolving. What satisfied them yesterday can bore or even disappoint today.

To acquire and retain our customers, we need to be constantly upgrading our products and services, so that they will be surprised and delighted. This also means that loyalty is much less long-term than in the past and lifetime value is now measured in months or a few years, rather than in decades.

Loyalty is never really won, so all industries need to work on building engagement. Customer demands are constantly evolving and we need to keep up with the changes. #Customer #CustomerUnderstanding #Loyalty Click To Tweet

 

#6. Dialogue don’t just Communicate

In today’s connected world, customers want a say in not only what they consume, but also where, when and how they are marketed to. They want the chance to inform companies about what they want to buy and expect a rapid resolution to any queries or complaints they may have.

According to a recent Edison Research, 20% of respondents expect a company to answer to their social media posts within 15 minutes, 42% within the hour! That means that 24/7 monitoring for all organisations is now essential if we are not to disappoint are most engaged customers.

These are just six of the many ideas I shared during my presentation. If you are interested in seeing the full talk, you can find it on SlideShare here.

Are you struggling to improve your own customer centricity? Whatever people-facing industry you are in, we would welcome the chance to support and catalyse your efforts. Please check out our website for more information on our training and consulting offers, and then contact us here.

This post was first published on C3Centricity in 2013 and has been regularly updated since.

C³Centricity uses images from Pizabay.com

Why Technology Won’t Help You Understand Your Customers

Were you surprised to read the title of this post? Do you believe that using technology to understand customers is the only way today? Then let me explain why I believe it’s not quite that simple. 

In today’s data-rich environment I’m not really suggesting that you actually ignore data nor technology! However, in working with clients around the world as well as in numerous industries, I have found that many are lost by the wealth of information that is available to them.

In fact it seems to drown out their reasoning of what to do with all the data and they remain frozen in indecision. Or worse, they invest in the latest platforms and systems in the hope that using technology to understand customers will help them with their knowledge void. Is this your case? If so, then just follow the steps I detail below and you will soon be doubling, quadrupling, if not getting 10x the ROI from your data.

 

The Current Situation with Data

Data is everywhere and most organisations are drowning in it! Technology is being blamed for disrupting businesses, but in most cases these companies have simply not adapted to this new data-rich world.

If you're drowning in data, perhaps you have still not adapted to today's data-rich world. #BigData #Analysis #Customer #CustomerUnderstanding Click To Tweet

I admit, a lot has changed. Consumers are adapting their behaviours to the trading of their personal information. Companies are changing business models as their value shifts from products to services, or even to the sale of the information they gather.

Some organisations are reinventing themselves to take advantage of these changes. Others are ignoring them – at their peril – since they are at risk of becoming the next Kodak, Borders or Blockbusters. And of course the latest covid-19 epidemic will hasten many others to unfortunately follow suit in the coming months.

If you’re interested in reading an analysis of the US Retail Apocalypse and the 23 big retailers closing stores then I highly recommend this post on Fox Business from last year. No doubt it will need updating in 2021 when the fallout from the current pandemic becomes clearer.

So what should you do? Well, I believe that you should start by renovating your business model to take advantage of the countless new opportunities all the data and new technologies open up for you. And in my opinion, you had better do it sooner rather than later, because your competition will almost certainly be investigating ways to make use of it all!

 

The Opportunity

Yes you have data and information, but if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will know that you have to turn these into knowledge to understand your customers. And then develop insights and actions. But this can only be done by asking the right questions of your data and information. The latest technology is not going to make up for your lack of thinking!

If you are struggling to take needed action despite a wealth of information, then this is certainly where you should start making changes – fast!

A 2015 Capgemini and EMC study called “Big & Fast Data: The rise of Insight-Driven Business” showed that:

  • 56% of the 1,000 senior decision makers surveyed claim that their investment in big data over the next three years will exceed past investment in information management.
  • 65% admit they risk becoming irrelevant and uncompetitive if they do not leverage data. This is especially true given that non-traditional providers, like startups thriving on big data processing, are moving into their industries.
  • Although companies realize they desperately need to dig into data analytics to maintain their business position, 45% surveyed think their current internal IT development cycles are not sufficient for new analytics and don’t fulfill their business requirements.
  • Making matters worse, over half (52%) of those surveyed see the speed of their organization’s insight generation from data analytics as constrained by its existing IT infrastructure.
According to @Capegemini, 65% of executives admit they risk becoming irrelevant & uncompetitive if they don't leverage data. This is especially true given that non-traditional providers, like startups thriving on big data processing,… Click To Tweet

So what has happened in the past couple of years? Not a lot in terms of usage, but a lot in terms of data gathering; just check out the graph below from Kleiner Perkins for current and estimated growth of data volume. It is expected to more than triple over the coming five years.

 

 

Of course big data has been big news for years, thanks to its 5Vs (volume, velocity, variety, variability, value). These were the driving forces behind the need and finally the upgrades in computing power that made it possible to adopt a new and significantly faster way of analysing it all.

This article by Olivia Ryan sums up the “6 ways big data expansion can significantly damage our privacy.” These are the same major points that the GDPR hoped to address.

The EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), with its stricter rules that came into force last year, focuses on many of the data privacy issues that have people the most concerned. It is definitely worth checking out the details here if you have still not made the necessary changes within your own organisation.

Interestingly, there is no equivalent federal law in the US (for now), but that doesn’t mean you can ignore it if your business is based there. Find out more in this other excellent article on Forbes.

It’s true that companies do recognise all the threats detailed in the earlier mentioned study, and while startups flourish in every industry, the mastodons of commerce are generally much slower to change, hence the need for GDPR. (see below for an alternative approach to individualised data utilisation)

 

An Alternative Approach

Data comes into its own when used for personalised engagements. However, there is an alternative or complementary approach that some organisations are now using. This is to address global issues such as resource management, water usage or pollution, which certain customers feel passionately about.

One example is Nestle whose relatively new CEO Mark Schneider is finally bringing some fresh air to the dark and dusty halls of their Vevey offices. However, cutting costs, selling less attractive business units (such as their US candy business to Ferrero completed in 2018) in the hope of upgrading their image, will not bring sufficient changes that consumers demand of large corporations today.

Compare this to the efforts made by Unilever’s previous CEO Paul Polman. He turned the organisation into one that is admired by consumers and shareholders alike. As they say in their website

“We aim to use our scale and influence to help bring about transformational change in four key areas where we believe we can make the biggest difference:

  • Taking action on climate change and halting deforestation
  • Improving livelihoods and creating more opportunities for women
  • Improving health and well-being
  • Championing sustainable agriculture and food security.”
Bold words indeed! And Unilever can only do it with the help of data and metrics to measure and follow their progress.
Given these very different approaches to preparing for the future, I know which company I am betting on. And you? Let me know in the comments.
The appeal of this alternative approach is confirmed by the results of SalesForce’s recent research findings reported in the “State of the Connected Consumer.” To summarise their six conclusions:

  1. Information-Savvy Customers Now Control the Marketplace. 70% of consumers agree technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere.
  2. The Culture of Immediacy Drives Mobile-First Expectations. 64% of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time.
  3. Customers Still Value Human Connections in a Tech-Driven World. Two-thirds of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they’re treated like a number instead of an individual.
  4. New Data-Sharing Attitudes Spark Next Era of Marketing Personalization. 63% of millennial consumers agree they’re
    willing to share data with companies that send personalized offers and discounts.
  5. Smarter Use of Customer Information Expands Opportunities for Sales. More than three-quarters of consumers say it’s absolutely critical or very important to work with a salesperson who is focused on achieving customer needs instead of making a quick sale.
  6. Fast, Personal Service Is Directly Linked to Customer Loyalty. 71% of consumers say that customer service provided on any day at any time has an influence on loyalty, and almost as many (69%) say the same about personalized customer care.

According to @SalesForce research, fast, personal service is directly linked to customer loyalty. 71% of consumers say that customer service provided on any day at any time, has an influence on loyalty, and almost as many (69%) say the… Click To Tweet

Looking at these findings, it gives me hope for a more human approach to customer connections by manufacturers and retailers alike. I believe that those that fail to take this now highly informed customer into account, are unlikely to survive the next decade.

 

From a Linear to a Circular Economy

One interesting approach to sustainability that first appeared in the seventies, but which has been gaining increased momentum in 2020, is a new mindset for business, that of the circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy as:

“A framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design”

They go on to explain that the approach is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources. The circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital, and is based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

Those who are supporting this approach are hoping for a positive response from customers to favour their products, since they produce no waste.  It will be interesting to follow the trend in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic and the increasing unemployment that has hit almost every country in the world. Will consumers be ready to pay more for a better future for our planet, or will their recent suffering make them more egotistical in trying to return to as normal a life as possible post virus? Only time will tell.

I for one hope that the pandemic has given us all time to reconsider our values and that we will make better choices going forward. From buying local, to recycling and sharing more, to shopping our own wardrobes rather than buying new, the planet will benefit from a more responsible approach to using resources.

 

Making Data Analysis the Beginning and Not the End

I already mentioned it above and also dedicated a previous post to the topic of technology being an enabler not a disruptor of businesses. (Check out “Technology is the Enabler not the Disruptor (So Stop Using it as an Excuse)” for more on this)

Many organisations think that their problems with data will end when they get the latest technology platform installed or start using the newest system for analysing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps technology does enable improved analysis, but as previously cited, data is only as good as the questions you ask of it. That’s why using data and technology to understand customers on their own are not likely to lead to success.

Data is only as good as the questions you ask of it. #BigData #Analysis #Information #CEX Click To Tweet

In addition, in “The Impact Of Changing Consumer Expectations On Manufacturers” Steve Smith spells out the situation very clearly for producers:

“With new consumer expectations being set by companies that disrupted their respective markets — Uber, Amazon, Netflix — the previously accepted levels of customer service are no longer good enough.”

What these three companies demonstrate perfectly is that technology has merely enabled the consumer to get more of what they want, whether that is travel, retail or entertainment. Therefore it is vital to understand your customers and what their needs are behind their stated desires.

Although these are three very different industries, they have attracted a growing number of customers because what they offer is a trustworthy service. No, rather they offer fewer surprises, and whenever there may be disillusionment, they sort out the problem quickly, and usually far above and beyond the customers’ expectations. Surprise and delight are the table stakes of today’s world of customer service.

Surprise and delight are the table stakes of today's world of customer service. #CEX #CRM #CustomerSatisfaction Click To Tweet

 

 

In Conclusion

Coming back to the title of this post, as you can see there is a lot to consider before using technology to analyse all the data you have. And probably it’s a lot more than you even know about at present, at least from my experience!

You can’t go wrong if you start with the customer and identify what you need to know and understand about them, in order to go beyond their expectations.

You can't go wrong if you start with the customer & identify what you need to know & understand about them. #CEX #CRM #Customer Click To Tweet

Make a list of all the things you want to know and then see if you have the information to answer them. In many cases you do, it just hasn’t been analysed in a way that makes the solution obvious. That’s when you should review and eventually update your platform and systems, not before.

Doing this any earlier will be like buying a fancy new hammer to crack a nut! What you need to understand is the best way to crack the nut; often times your current hammer is fine for cracking if you use it correctly.

 

If you’re drowning in data and thirsting for actionable insights, then we should talk. Click the button below and I’ll give you some ideas on how to crack your own nut!

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This post was first published in March 2018 and has been updated regularly to reflect the latest ideas, research and opinions.

 

 

7 Reasons for Failure When Adopting a Customer First Strategy

By now, every CEO knows that a stronger customer focus is the answer to many of their business challenges. Why therefore do so many companies still struggle to adopt a customer-first strategy and culture?

Read on for my own thoughts and perspectives on what should be a top company objective which results in proven business success. 

I provide answers to the seven main reasons why companies fail to adopt a customer first strategy; which one are you struggling with today?

 

1. The CEO has stated it as a company objective but has not detailed what nor how the organisation will change

While it is essential that a customer-first strategy has a board-level sponsor, it is important that every employee understands their role in making it happen. It should not be treated as just another project but as a long-term company top 3 objective.

When this happens, every division is obliged to see how they will be impacted and what part they will play in meeting it. This is one area where the CEO can’t set it and forget it. He/she needs to be regularly informed of progress and then ask “awkward” questions to ensure that everyone is truly embracing it. Without company-wide support, it will never succeed.

The CEO needs to ask the awkward questions to ensure everyone is embracing a customer-first strategy. #CEX #CRM #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity #Customer Click To Tweet

In August of last year, the Business Roundtable, which is an association of over 180 CEOs leading US companies, agreed to put people before profits. They specifically said they would be:

  1. Delivering value to our customers.
  2. Investing in our employees.
  3. Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers.
  4. Supporting the communities in which we work.

With many organisations now struggling with the impact of covid-19, it will be interesting to see whether they will have all moved forward on these objectives one year later. For more details on this announcement I suggest you read the Forbes article.

 

2. The organisation has not fully embraced the strategy

As mentioned above, everyone has a role to play in satisfying and delighting the customer. It is not the job of marketing, sales or market research alone to understand their needs. It is vital that each employee thinks customer first and ensures that every action and decision they make is customer centric.

One easy way to do this is to ask this question at the end of every meeting:

“what would our customers think of the decision we just made?”

If there is something they wouldn’t like or you know that you yourself wouldn’t approve of, then it needs to be reconsidered.

What would our customers think of the decision we just made? #CEX #CRM #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity #Customer Click To Tweet

I would also suggest reading the recent post “7 Ways to Deliver Awesome Customer Service.” It includes seven recommendations so that everyone in an organisation can treat the customer with the respect and great service they deserve.

 

 

3. The project is treated just like any other

As with every well-defined objective, it is important that there is a responsible leader supported by a well-rounded and experienced team to lead the customer-first adoption. They will be responsible for ensuring that every department identifies and makes progress in the desired direction. They will also be able to adapt and adjust the plans as challenges arise in its execution.

This is the same for every project, not just that of adopting a customer-first strategy. For more on project management I suggest reading the post “Getting to Yes: A 7-step Roadmap to Successful Project Management.”

However, unlike most other projects, adopting a customer first strategy will not have an end date! It should have a timeline to identify milestones, of course. But as the customer will continue to change, the actions needed will need constant adaptation. I like to say that “customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination.”

Customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination. #CEX #CRM #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity #Customer Click To Tweet

 

4. The initiative does not have a visible leader

The initiative must have an executive sponsor and a passionate and charismatic leader, to excite and drive the whole organisation towards a more customer-centric approach to business.

Once the board has endorsed the initiative, the every-day leadership should be handled by someone who exemplifies customer-centricity and has a passion for customer delight.

In the most customer-centric organisations, this person is a CCO (Chief Customer Officer) or CXO (Chief Experience Officer) who sits on the executive board alongside the CEO, CFO and CMO.

According to this article in Forbes, the responsibilities of a CCO are to:

  1. Bring The Customer To Life
  2. Reach Outside The Organization
  3. Involve The Front Lines
  4. Embrace The Data

As you can see, these are actions that demand specific capabilities that complement rather than replace those of the heads of sales, marketing and PR. That is why a customer-first strategy needs a separate functional head. Trying to integrate these into the responsibilities of these other leaders is unlikely to meet with much success.

Some of the best CCOs / CXOs come with a background in customer service or market research. This is because both professions prioritise the need to not only know but also understand the customer.

Another Forbes article highlights some of the dangers of appointing a CCO or CXO. These include thinking that the job is then done, or that the person remains just a figurehead without any power to change company structure nor culture. It certainly makes interesting reading if you too are contemplating recruiting a customer representative and will help you to avoid many errors.

 

5. No-one understands how to move the initiative forward.

When you don’t know where you’re going, most people are afraid to take the first step. But that’s the only one you need to know. It’s easier to course-correct when you are moving than when you’re standing still. As already mentioned, customer centricity is a journey, not a destination.

That’s why many organisations now work with a business catalyst to help them take those all important first few steps. Once the project is up and running, occasional sessions are then sufficient to keep the internal excitement for the customer growing.

If you are nervous about “going it alone” then let’s discuss your first moves. Just contact me for an informal chat.

Successful businesses work with a business catalyst to help them take the important first few steps when adopting a customer-first strategy Click To Tweet

 

6. Everyone in the organisation is unclear about their role in satisfying and delighting the customer.

It is well-known that companies such as Amazon and Zappos have new employees enjoy direct contact with the customer from their very first days’ working in the company. However, this is something that should also be encouraged on an ongoing basis as well.

Ideally, every employee should get the chance to watch, listen and interact with customers regularly. The best organisations have such connections on every employee’s annual objectives, specifying such exchanges on a monthly basis as a minimum.

If you would like to start making regular contact with your customers in person, rather than through your care centers, then I would highly recommend you read “Five Rules of Customer Observation for Greater Success.”This article will help you to avoid the mistakes many make when observing the customer for the first time. It is also a useful reminder for those who have been connecting for a long time and may have some bad habits they need to correct.

 

 

7. They think it costs too much

While this may be the perception, in reality, it costs a lot more NOT to adopt a customer-first strategy. It makes both business sense AND customer sense.

There has been so much research done on the impact of adopting a customer- first strategy that there is no doubt that it provides a positive ROI (return on investment):

  • Walker found that 86% of buyers would pay more for a better experience.
  • Genesys showed that improving the experience for customers is the key to increasing retention, satisfaction and sales.
  • Deloitte and Touch claim that customer centric companies are 60% more profitable.
  • Bain & Company research shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by between 25% and 95%.

These numbers should be sufficient to convince every CEO that a customer-first strategy is worth investing in. In fact, it is an essential strategy every CEO would be wise to adopt, no matter what industry they are in.

So what are you or your CEO waiting for? Did I miss a different problem you are currently facing? What other challenges have you faced or are now facing in adopting a customer-first strategy? Please let me know by adding your comments below.

If you would like to know what support we can provide in helping you to adopt a customer first strategy, check out our website then contact us here:

https://c3centricity.com/contact

 

 

Getting to Yes: A 7-step Roadmap to Successful Project Management

I’ve been involved in hundreds of successful project management initiatives over my career. I’ve been the leader, sponsor or team member, which means that each time I had different responsibilities.

What they all had in common was the desire to get the project approved quickly and easily, with the right resources of people, time and money.

There are many reasons why projects fail and I’ve experienced many of them over my career! The one project that stands out in my memory is unfortunately not my best, but one that demonstrates everything that can go wrong! It happened just after I got a new boss. That in itself is not always easy, but our working relationship was made more difficult when he gave me his pet project to run.

My team had the necessary skills to see the project through, but it was not the most adapted to their experience nor preferences. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my new boss obliged us to work with his preferred supplier without running an RFP. (request for proposal)

I didn’t have a very good opinion of the supplier, as not only were they far more expensive than most of the other agencies, but in addition they always seemed to mess things up! It was much later that I learned that the supplier had a particular relationship with my boss, who was receiving a share of every project paid.

The day of the presentation arrives. The supplier has ordered champagne and a huge cake decorated with the names of his company and ours. He is anticipating a successful outcome that we will celebrate together. However, there was no celebration.

You see, his company made a basic mistake in their calculations. The same one in fact as they had made the year before! My boss didn’t tell me about it and the supplier clearly forgot about the previous year’s incident.

Could the project have been a success? Of course it could. If we had followed the seven-step roadmap I am going to share with you now.

 

Why projects fail

But before sharing how to succeed I want to discuss why projects fail.

According to research undertaken by Forrester, 70% of projects fail! Even the highly rated IBM consultants fail 60% of the time. Only 2.5% of companies successfully complete all their projects! So why do so few succeed and so many fail?


Another piece of research, this time from Workamajig, shows that more than a third of IT projects fail due to changes in objectives or inaccurate gathering of requirements. More than a quarter fail because of an inadequate vision, or risk assessment, poor communications, budget estimates or other lack of resources. All of these should be covered in the primary planning phase of a project, which clearly shows poor change management.

Source: workamajig

 

There are many reasons why projects fail; I like to summarise them as the 3Ps:

PLANNING

Planning, or to be more precise, a lack thereof. We all know the infamous quote

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

And yet we continue to jump into action before really knowing what our actions should involve. Time spent planning is time well spent.

Think about playing chess. Beginners contemplate on their next move, but champions think about their next three to five moves. The same should apply to project planning. Considering what might go wrong before it happens, means we are prepared for alternative actions and thus our project is not delayed while we search for a solution.

Another problem with planning is accepting shorter, usually unrealistic deadlines. Sometimes we are asked to add other elements to the project and when these requests come from senior management, we feel compelled to accept.

But there is a better way. Accept the new deadlines only with increased resources. If timing is cut, then we need extra people and budget in most cases to complete the project. Ask for them before agreeing to shorter deadlines. As another infamous quote says

“Under promise and over deliver”

A third challenge in planning follows on directly from unrealistic deadlines and it is scope creep. As with the previous example, we again should ask for increased resources. An even better solution is to note the additional requests and then suggest that they form a separate project or are addressed once the first project is completed.

 

PEOPLE

The second P of project failure is people. People are the cause of many management challenges not just in project teams! But issues do seem to be more critical in keeping a project advancing as planned when there are issues.

I believe that project teams are usually made up of people chosen by the project leader and are often used for various projects with different objectives. A better way to form a project team is to choose members based on the needed skills. This clearly means that teams will be different for each project.

Choose project team members based on skills not relationships. #ProjectManagement #Planning #Skills Click To Tweet

The next challenge is to get everyone to work together. The leader must clearly valorise each member so that everyone knows the expertise of each and why they are there. Problems can sometimes arise when more than one member has the same skill set and disputes arise. While disagreements are not necessarily a bad thing, it does help if there is one person who is the lead expert on each topic. This way they can have the final say on an issue, as otherwise it falls to the leader to decide, which makes the team feel less valued.

The third challenge with people is communicating effectively. Not only does the team need to exchange ideas and work well together, they must also communicate with those outside the team, including the many stakeholders. This can become a delicate issue at the best of times, but becomes critical when the project is not going well.

Communications can be particularly challenging with a virtual team. Members often don’t know what others are doing, so there is a lot of waste in both expertise and experience.

Monthly meetings for local members plus regular calls with remote members, grouped by time Zones, is a minimum. These connections are particularly valued by smaller, emerging markets, which most people in larger organisations ignore and never consult.

 

PROCESS

The first process problem is isolation. Working in isolation, whether for the team leader or the team as a whole, will usually result in wasted effort. This is particularly true for multi-departmental or multi-country projects.

The second area involves data gathering. Often the information you get is in different formats when coming from different sources. You may also find similar information coming from multiple sources and you have to make the difficult decision as to which is the most reliable.

We all gather information that fits our precise needs, which can explain some of the differences. Again a review and comparison will usually highlight the best data for your project’s objectives.

When I first started consulting almost a decade ago, a leading CPG company asked me to help their marketing team get board approval to create a global consumer database. This was ten years ago, so they were certainly ahead of most businesses at that time.

Their thinking was dominated by their project. Mine wasn’t. In conducting an audit of current internal processes and gathering global suggestions, I discovered three other projects already in progress that would impact or be impacted by our project.

In addition, one was actually reworking all the company’s product definitions and SKU names & groupings. We could have done our project in isolation and repeated the same exercise!

Integration of the two projects made ours better and more important. It also freed resources for one part of our project, which made it easier for the board to give their approval.

The third aspect to help prevent process failures is to ensure learnings are recorded. These are invaluable, not only for the current, but even more important for future projects.

In my opening example, we could have avoided the disaster if the supplier had recorded the error they had made the previous year. They didn’t. And my boss didn’t warn me and my team, so we were not looking out for it.

 

The 7-Step Roadmap

Here is the recommended project process to use. Note that it is a circle not a line, as learnings will be fed into future projects, as already mentioned. Projects also should never be treated in isolation.

7-step project process

 

#1 PLAN

One of the most well known quotes about planning is this one:

Failing to plan is planning to fail

We all know we should plan first, but we are also all very keen, especially at the beginning of a project, to start getting into the actions.

One of the most useful suggestions about starting a project comes from none other than Albert Einstein. He is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend

Fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution

Now I’m not suggesting that we spend almost all our allotted time on defining the objectives, but I know we could all benefit from spending more time doing so. How long do you spend before jumping to action?

 

#2. STAKEHOLDER ANALYSIS

We usually need an executive sponsor for our projects, but that doesn’t mean that other managers should not be informed about the project. Their opinions can help define the project early on and they are more likely to support you when involved. Their input may even improve the quality of the project and help you to acquire more resources.

Building support early and often, can ensure that any risks are anticipated and planned for. Understanding your stakeholders also means you are more likely to  predict their reactions as the project develops.

Not all stakeholders are of equal importance. You therefore need to identify which ones are the most important for your project and plan your communications accordingly.

The simple matrix analysis below is an effective way of identifying whom to inform, how often and with what information.

Stakeholder prioritisation for successful project managementThe position that you allocate to a stakeholder on the grid shows you the actions you need to take with them:

High power, high interest: fully engage them and make your greatest efforts to satisfy them.

High power, less interest: keep them satisfied, but not so much that you overwhelm them with information so that they become bored with your messages.

Low power, high interest: adequately inform them. As they are interested, talk to them to ensure that there are no major issues arising. They can also be very helpful with finding and sharing information about your project with other departments.

Low power, less interest: monitor but don’t irritate them with excessive communication.

Who would you put in the top right-hand corner for your own projects? Do they vary by project? Of course they do, so always run an analysis for each new project you run.

One analysis I ran for a project I led, helped me to identify the best sponsor for it. I found that one regional president was new in the position and was keen to make his mark. It was therefore easy for me to convince him to support my project and he in turn found a market to beta test the system before rolling it out worldwide. Talk about a win-win!

 

#3 & 4 GETTING THE RIGHT TEAM & PARTNERS

I have put these two steps together as there are a number of similarities. It’s about getting the right people to support you with your project.

Internally, you need to hire for skills. Many project teams don’t work because the leader chooses team members based upon their relationships with them. While this may make for a fun project, it may not lead to success. There may be an overlap of skills, or some may be lacking. Therefore always choose skills first and people second.

For external partners, you can be tempted by a similar bias. Therefore you go for the big consultancies that your board knows. Some executives may even oblige you to work with certain agencies, as was the case in my example at the beginning.

While big consultancies may impress by their professional pitch given by one of their partners, it is unlikely that that particular expert will have anything more than a cursory involvement in your project. So don’t be impressed by their slick presentation, alone.

Sometimes (often)  it makes more sense to hire a smaller, boutique agency that has the precise skills you need. You are more likely to get the involvement of the people you meet during the pitch, and small usually also means agile, creative, and a more personalised service. Keep that in mind.

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#5 IDENTIFY REASONS FOR PAST FAILURE

As a part of your pre-project planning, I suggest you find the last 5-10 projects that failed in your organisation, ideally in your own department. Then find out why they failed and match those reasons to your project, both similarities and differences.

For each, identify what you will do differently to achieve a successful project management. You can also check on social media for comments and questions that are relevant, especially in Facebook groups and on Quora.

 

#6 UNCOVER & INTEGRATE PROJECTS

Undoubtedly, there are other projects planned or running at the same time as yours, in your organisation. You therefore need to find them and see whether integration makes sense.

As in the example mentioned earlier, if there is a need in your company, someone is probably working on a solution or about to start. Take advantage of working together and pool resources as needed. Another easy win-win.

 

#7 GATHER LEARNINGS

You should record learnings the whole way through the project, from start to finish. So many teams sit down at the end of a project and try to remember what went well and what went badly. If you do this you will miss so much!

At the end of the project, gather all the learnings that have been recorded and have the team discuss and note the most useful of them and why. That way the risks and opportunities will be more quickly identified and can be easily input into the next project you run.

 

Conclusions

The title of this article refers to getting approval for your project. If you follow this roadmap, not only will you succeed in your project management, but you will also be seen to do so as well. It will make future projects all that much easier to get approved and you might even get yourself a promotion in recognition of your great management and organisational skills!

This 7-step process is a virtuous circle and it starts and ends with planning. My suggestion is therefore to plan, plan, plan – and then plan some more!

If you would like some help in running your own projects or in better understanding this process, I’m here to help.

 

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