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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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?!
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.
#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.
#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 increasesales 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.
#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.
#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 customersvalue 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.
#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!
This 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.
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.
4. That final check is worth it. When 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.
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!
Be 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!
#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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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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is 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.
Do 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.
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.
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.
#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 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.
I 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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:
Information-Savvy Customers Now Control the Marketplace. 70% of consumers agree technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere.
The Culture of Immediacy Drives Mobile-First Expectations. 64% of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Delivering value to our customers.
Investing in our employees.
Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
Bring The Customer To Life
Reach Outside The Organization
Involve The Front Lines
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.
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.
Bain & Companyresearch 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:
With the travel and leisure industries in turmoil at the moment, now is a good time for them to review how they treat their customers. And mapping their customers’ journey is an important step in understanding and satisfying them better.
Through the example of an experience I had with the Hilton Group, I share some important lessons about getting customer service right! These will be invaluable as countries start to open up in the coming weeks and months.
Each year around Christmas time, my family get together for a weekend of fun somewhere in Britain. This year we met up in Bristol. As a Hilton Honors member for more than twenty years I offered to book rooms for all of us in the local Doubletree. I expected to get a better rate with my membership, and especially cheaper than those offered by the booking sites. After all, why pay a booking site when I know the hotel I want to stay in, right? Well, I booked five rooms for the weekend, as well as a table for ten in their restaurant for dinner on the Saturday evening.
I booked directly by calling the hotel, as I always prefer to do. I expect to be recognised for my loyalty – and if possible rewarded too! On this occasion I was proven seriously wrong!
A couple of weeks after booking and pre-paying for all the rooms, I received Hilton’s weekly email offering me a significant discount for the exact same hotel and dates. Clearly their online pixels had identified me as being interested in this hotel, but they hadn’t connected this interest with my having booked directly. Already there, you can see that they have an incomplete customer journey mapping process.
As Hilton offer a “guaranteed lowest rate” I reached out to their call centre and was told that yes I was entitled not only to the lower rate, but to an additional 25% discount for having made the claim. I was told how to complete the claim form and I hung up ecstatic that I could save my family even more money – which we would no doubt anyway spend in the bar before and after our dinner!
Imagine my surprise when the next day I was told that my claim had been refused! I was informed that the guaranteed lowest rate only applied to third-party sites and not to Hilton’s own website!
I immediately responded and was again told that their guarantee didn’t apply to their own rates. In addition, as I had pre-paid I could not get the lower rate even if it was now being offered!
Not being one to take “no” for a final answer, I contacted their corporate customer service group again, as I felt my loyalty was not being recognized. I was once more given the same response, but this time was informed that my request would be forwarded directly to the hotel concerned – no doubt to get me off their (corporate) backs!
The hotel immediately responded saying that although it is corporate policy not to include direct bookings in their lowest rate guarantee, they would in this case give me the special offer. I was very pleased that they at least recognised the benefit of customer satisfaction and restored my faith in the Hilton group – somewhat.
That should have been the end of this story, but it’s not. Hilton have surpassed themselves this time in terms of customer service, or should I say a lack of it?
My brother called me the following week and informed me that the hotel’s website was showing that their restaurant was closed on the day I had booked it. I immediately rang them and spoke to the same person, who remembered me and assured me our table for ten people was booked. She said she would double check again just to be sure, so in the afternoon I called back not wanting any last minute problems with my family.
Surprise, surprise, I was told the restaurant was booked for a private party. What about my reservation made more than a month ago? Shouldn’t someone have contacted me? I demanded to speak to the manger, who apart from profuse apologies, said she would raise the issue in their operations meeting later that day.
She called me back that evening, to say that there was nothing she could do. It was their mistake and they would be happy to book me elsewhere in the city. I explained that my family had booked six rooms for two nights at their hotel so we could eat at their famous restaurant (my married sister had booked separately). No solution offered; an admission of fault but no compensation offered and no alternative other than to book at another restaurant! Their suggestion was their sister hotel down the road, a bland, modern affair, with no atmosphere.
This farcical situation continued during the whole weekend, but I won’t bore you with the details, as I would rather use this incident to demonstrate how Hilton (and you) can be better prepared.
Three Lessons Learned which Every Business Can Apply
So what lessons are to be learnt from this example, even if we work in a completely different industry? I came up with the following points, but would love to hear what other issue of customer journey mapping you would add; just leave me a comment below please.
1. The customer journey map needs to integrate all possible contact points.
In Hilton’s case this is clearly not done. I was personally offered a cheaper rate at the hotel at which I had already booked five rooms! Clearly they had identified that I had reviewed prices online and then offered my the cheaper rate.
Unfortunately without their email, I would never have known and would not have checked prices again since I had already booked. More importantly, I have now become dissatisfied with my booking, having been informed by Hilton that I could have paid less. Now I know that hotel prices can go up and down, but especially closer to the day of arrival. However if this is not true (any longer) then I for one will only book last minute in future!
Lesson: You must include all touchpoints in your customer journey map, to avoid such disappointment. By using an incomplete model, Hilton opened themselves up to angering a loyal customer rather than appealing to potential new ones.
After calling to book the rooms, the hotel put me through to the restaurant to book a table for the Saturday night. Everything was confirmed and I would not have checked details until arriving at the hotel and checking in.
The excuse that the closure of the restaurant is on their website didn’t go down well with me when I called to check. After all, they themselves had taken the reservation in person, so why would I need to go to their website? It was anyway not possible to book the restaurant on their website!
Lesson: An apology for a mistake is not its resolution. Proposing to book another restaurant in their sister hotel was nothing more than I could have done myself. I didn’t feel that Hilton were interested in correcting the situation that they themselves had created. They did not go out of their way to make things right. And I have had their loyalty card for decades!
When your company makes a mistake, find a solution that is acceptable to your customer, not just the quick fix that suits you. Now is your chance to not just satisfy, but to surprise and delight them.
I often speak about delighting the customer but your first aim is to ensure your customer is happy with the solution that you propose. Only after that can you look to see how you can go above and beyond what they expect, so they are both surprised and delighted with how they have been treated.
It takes a strong person to admit when they’re wrong, but a stronger one to want to go beyond just putting it right. Which are you doing? Can you do more?
Lesson: Replacing a faulty product or service is what our customers expect. Offering free samples, a further discount, express delivery or additional attention is not. These are the small touches that surprise and delight. They are also the things that your customers will share with friends and family, if not the whole world through social media. Suddenly you have gone from being the bad guy to the cool guy.
Customer journey mapping has become much more complex today, as the touchpoints our customers are using, before, during and after purchase, have expanded exponentially. However the process of identifying and understanding the complete journey remains essential to delighting each and every customer.
One further element which I suggest my clients add to their journey maps is the emotional state of their customers at each interaction with a touchpoint. This simple addition is a powerful addition in clearly showing where a brand needs to improve its customers’ interactions, It highlights those touchpoints where their customers’ emotional experience is sub-optimal and needs improving.
Do you need help developing or updating your own customer journey map?
C3Centricity offers several 1-Day Catalyst training sessions on the topic. We can also work with your team to review and revitalise your own customer journey map.
Insights are the pot of gold that many businesses dream of but rarely find. Why is that? Are you one of them? If so then I have some practical ideas on how you can get much, much better at insight development.
#1. Insights don’t come from a single market research study
Management often thinks that insight is “just another word for market research”. I remember one of my previous CEOs saying exactly that to me just before he addressed the whole market research and insight’s team at our annual conference. I am sure you can imagine what a panic I was in as he walked up to the mike!
Insights are a challenge to develop and are rarely, if ever, developed from a single piece of market research. Each market research project is designed to gather information in order to answer one or more questions. Whilst it may enable a business to make a more informed decision based upon the objectives, insight development is quite a different process.
Insight development involves integrating, analysing and synthesising all the data and information you have about a category or segment user. Then summarising it into knowledge and turning that knowledge into understanding. Only then are you ready to develop an insight.
All brands should have (at least) one insight on which its image, personality and communications are built. For example
AXE (Lynx in UK): (young) men want to attract as many beautiful and sexy women as possible. This is one of their newer ads, where the seduction is a little less in your face and more subtle – but still there.
Haribo Starmix: There’s a child inside every adult. This “Kid’s Voices” campaign has been running for years and manages to surprise and delight with each new episode.
Dulux sample paint pots: I love to decorate my home, but I don’t want to look stupid by choosing the wrong colour. Although these are now a standard offer for many paint brands, Dulux were the first to understand the problem facing potential home decorators.
Insight development will provide the basis on which you will define the actions that are needed to change the behaviour of your target audience. It also provides a solid framework on which to build your communications’ strategy.
#2. Insight development is based upon a desired behavioural change
When your sales, marketing or management look to improve their business results, their real objective is to change the behaviour of your current or potential customers’ behaviour. For example:
From buying a competitive brand to purchasing yours.
From using your services once a month, to once a week.
Moving customers’ beliefs about your brand from a traditional or classic brand, to a more modern image.
Changing customers’ perceptions about the price of your brand from expensive to good value for money.
Because insights are based on a desired behavioural change, they usually contain an emotional element that is communicated through advertising. The emotion that is shown in your communications is more likely to resonate with customers if it does stimulate their emotions. They are then more likely to remember your brand and may be more motivated to take the desired action you have identified.
If you are looking to increase sales or improve your brand’s image or equity, look to connect emotionally with your (potential) customers. Identifying the behavioural change you need your customers to make is a foundational step of insight development.
#3. Insight development needs more than Insight professionals
Although this may sound counter-productive, insights really do benefit from working from differing perspectives to get to that “ah-ha” moment, that many refer to. A deep understanding of customers and their reasons for behaving in a certain way, comes from looking at all aspects of their lives.
If you only review the actual moment when they choose or use a product or service, it is highly unlikely that you will develop that deep understanding you need. What happens before and afterwards also leads to their choice or that of their next purchase.
This is why it is important to work as a team when developing insights. Depending upon the issue or opportunity identified, the team can be made up of people from marketing, sales, trade marketing, production, packaging, advertising, innovation, and / or distribution. And these people don’t even need to work on the category in question; sometimes it is by taking ideas from different categories that real insights are developed.
#4. Insights are usually based on a human truth
The insights that resonate best with people are those that are not only emotional, but are also based upon a human truth. As you can imagine, these two elements are closely connected.
A human truth is a statement that refers to human beings, irrespective of race, colour or creed. It is a powerful and compelling fact of attitudes and behaviour that is rooted in fundamental human values. It is something that is obvious when quoted, but is often ignored or forgotten in daily business.
Human truths are linked to human needs and although it’s validity has been questioned in the past, it is seeing a revival today. The covid-19 virus has moved all human being back to a search for the basic levels of safety and health.
Examples of human truths used by some brands include:
Parents want to protect their children.
Men and women want to find love.
People want to be better than others.
If you are struggling to find an insight, it can help to review which level of needs your target audience is on and see how your brand can respond to help answer it.
Following on from the above points, it is particularly interesting that once found, an insight can be adapted to be used by different brands. There are many examples of this, particularly amongst major FMCG / CPG companies.
So take a look at your competitors’ communications and see if you can identify the insight on which they are built. Do the same for other categories targeting a similar audience. Sometimes you can use the same insight for your brand as they are using. But I would only recommend this if you are really struggling to develop your own insight.
One very successful example of this is the advertising for Omo / Persil from Unilever and Nestle’s Nido. They are both based on the insight “I want my child to experience everything in life, even if it means getting dirty.” Take a look at the two ads below and see what I mean.
Unilever’s Omo: shows that a good mother lets her child experiment and learn – even if this means getting dirty. If you don’t know their advertising, then check out one example from this long-running campaign.
Nestlé’s Nido: illustrates this need as a mother providing the nourishment for healthy growth which allows her children to explore the outside world safely. If you would like to see a typical advertisement, check it out on YouTube here. Interestingly, Nestlé has used this same insight to develop advertising for its bottled water in Asia and pet food in the Americas too.
Another example of a shared insight is again from Unilever and the local Swiss supermarket Migros. The insight is “Young women want to be appreciated for who they are and not just their external looks.”
Unilever’s Dove was the first brand to recognise and benefit from this insight. Their famous Real Beauty campaign resonates so well with young women that many other brands copied it, especially their Evolution film. Here is one of their more recent ads that I’m sure will give you goosebumps.
The Swiss Supermarket chain Migroshas a store brand “I am” which uses this same insight across all their health and beauty products. Somewhat unusually, the brand name itself is based upon the same insight, and its advertising repeats it several times: “I am – what I am”.
So there you have them, the five ideas that I came up with and numerous examples to help you to develop better insights more easily.
Although you probably already have your own process for creating them, I know from experience how hard it can be to find insights from all the information you gather.
I hope this short article has assisted you in your search for those “golden nuggets”. Do share your own ideas for making insight development easier, I would love to hear from you.
C³Centricity uses images from Pixabay.com.
Do you need help developing or updating your own Insight development process? C3Centricity offers several 1-Day Catalyst training sessions on the topic. We will work with your team to review and revitalise your own insight process, or will define a proprietary one that integrates into your other internal processes.
How can some companies get customer service so wrong?!
This week I have a longer post than usual, but one that will make you smile, if not laugh out loud.
It describes one recent personal example of disinterested client support, from which I have drawn seven learnings for everyone wanting to deliver awesome customer service.
I can’t understand why any organisation would still have trouble offering superior customer service when there are so many great examples they merely have to copy. (JetBlue, Sainsbury’s, Amazon, Zappos) In fact, Mark Earls wrote a great book on exactly this topic, called “Copy, Copy, Copy” which is highly recommended.
My story this week is just one example of how some companies still struggle to accept that the customer is right, even when they’re wrong! Not that I was wrong in this case (at least I don’t think so, but I’ll let you be the judge of that).
However, they certainly gave me the impression that they believed I might have been trying to cheat them in the information I provided in my emails. They were never satisfied with what I sent, even when it was what THEY had specifically requested!
Perhaps they were just dragging out the process in the hope of not having to “pay up”. You can see for yourself below, or just jump to the seven learnings at the end of the post, so that you can avoid making the same mistakes yourself.
Many years ago I bought a TomTom guidance system to help me navigate the streets of American cities. Although I love to drive and feel just as much at home on a ten-lane LA highway as the two-lane Swiss autoroute system, I decided it was time to stop making so many impromptu visits to unplanned US destinations!
A few years on, I thought that it could also help me in Europe, even Switzerland, when trying to locate a new client or contact. (My car is almost fifteen years old and isn’t equipped with a GPS!) I, therefore, added Europe to my online account, since my unit couldn’t keep both in memory at the same time!
Last May I replaced the European maps by my American ones as I was visiting Florida that month. When I tried to reinstall the European maps in September, they had somehow disappeared from my account. I contacted TomTom customer service to ask how I could get my maps back and this is how our conversation went over the pursuing three months – with their worst English mistakes removed or corrected for better comprehension, but their own font bolding left in. (!)
THE EXCHANGE WITH TOMTOM:
Me: “Hi there, I contacted you in May about changing from European to US maps. I now want to change back and the maps are no longer on my account! Help please!!!”
TomTom: “Dear Denyse, … As per your account details (…), I am sorry to inform you that, I could not see any map of Europe being active on the account in the past. Hence, I am unable to see any European map details. Hence, if the map had come pre-installed with the device, I request you to please provide me the picture of the box (front face of the box) so that I can activate it on your account. If you had purchased the map of Europe, then please provide me the scanned copy of the purchase receipt of the map so that I can activate it…” (We already exchanged a few months previously and anyway didn’t they READ my email?!)
Me: “Here attached please find the invoice concerning my purchase.”
TomTom: “Denyse, many apologies, but it seems the purchase invoice is not attached in the correct format since I am unable to open it. Hence, I request you to please send me the scanned copy of purchase receipt in PDF format so that I will be able to view it and help you accordingly.” (They can’t open an email with an image when they had originally asked for a picture of the box?! OK, well it’s true it wasn’t in pdf format!!!)
Me: “Apologies for my delay in responding but I have been busy with trips – without my TomTom! As requested, I attach a PDF of the invoice.”
TomTom: “Denyse, I would require the purchase receipt of the map of Europe that must have been provided to you after you purchased it. If you are unable to find the receipt of the map, please provide me the picture of the box (front face of the box) to check the device details.”
Me: “Please find enclosed the invoice for the Europe maps that have disappeared from my account after replacing them with the US ones for a trip…”
TomTom: “Denyse, we are unable to find the invoice of the map on the attached documents. I would request you to take a screen shot of the entire invoice or the part which has the order number and the date of purchase and the details of purchase.” (They can’t read the email that THEY sent to me when I made the purchase and now want a screen shot!)
Me: “This is already what I attached to my previous email. Here it is again.”
TomTom: “Denyse, the attachment that you are sending us is the screenshot of the email that you have received from TomTom. I would request you to send us the invoice which is sent as an attachment in PDF format with the email. Kindly download the invoice on your computer and while replying to this email, please attach the PDF file on your reply.” (Isn’t a screenshot what they asked for?!!)
Me: “Is TomTom just trying to irritate a long-standing customer? I have replied to each email with the requested information and each time you come back asking for a different format. You have the order number, the date, the item and the relevant item code of the maps I purchased directly from you online; what difference does the format of the document have? This is how the attachment appears on a Mac, which obviously you are not aware of, so I resend you the attachment as a pdf.”
This last exchange seemed to wake them up! Finally, they accepted that they had all the information they needed to confirm that I had indeed purchased the European maps, so they could once again reactivate them!
It took three months to get what I had requested, which could easily have been shortened to about three minutes if their customer services had had access to our previous email exchange – I am here assuming that they didn’t, because otherwise I would be extremely “disappointed”.
THE SEVEN LEARNINGS:
This is a great case study, as it shows numerous errors that so many organisations are still making in terms of customer care. These are the takeaways that you might want to consider in order to avoid similar long drawn-out – and resource-wasting – exchanges with your own customers.
1. The customer is right and has a valid request. This should always be assumed until such time as it is proven otherwise. After all, this is the premise of the legal systems in many countries and for good reason.
However, an article in the Huffington Post last year questioned this well-known customer service quote, first coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridges department store in London. In today’s fast-paced world, I believe that a customer’s satisfaction should always come first; comment below if you disagree.
2. Respond as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence in helping the customer to perceive the incident as positively as possible, especially after a negative experience with a product or service. According to Forrester Customers want companies to value their time.
71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.
3. Take action just as soon as you have the minimum information that will enable you to do so. According to the 2002 Mobius Poll, 84% of customers are frustrated when a representative does not have immediate access to their account information.
If you need further details to complete your files, they can be gathered from your happy and satisfied customer once a solution has been found. They will also be in a better frame of mind to answer any other questions you might want to ask.
4. Use your customer’s language, not corporate speak. It is important to ensure that your care center personnel speak and write the language of the customer as fluently as possible. In the above case, it is clear that the responses are from an offshore country using standard scripts.
This does not make the customer feel important let alone cared for and in my case, frustrated that I was not being listened to or understood.
5. Authority to resolve issues. Give your customer services personnel permission to respond appropriately to most requests, without the need for escalation or verification with managers.
Working to “standard” procedures for every case, often delays the customer getting full satisfaction as quickly as possible.
6. Resolution doesn’t mean satisfaction. Even when the issue is resolved, the customer can still be left with a negative feeling about the whole experience, especially if it has taken considerable time and effort on their side.
Remember that it is likely that they will share their negative experiences with far more people than they would have done, had the incident been dealt with in a speedier fashion.
Therefore set guidelines on speed of resolution not just the number of cases solved. And always follow up to make sure the customer remains satisfied with your handling of the issue.
7. Aim to surprise and delight not just satisfy your customers. Although your customers may be looking for the resolution of their problem when they first reach out to you, there is an opportunity for you to surprise and delight them with much more.
If they complain about a damaged product, don’t just replace it, provide a complementary sample of another product or a discount coupon for them to purchase it.
If they are unhappy with your service, offer an immediate discount and not just a rebate on future services. The latter can be perceived by the customer as their being pressured into a further purchase, something they are unlikely to be ready to do at the time of the exchange.
So these are the seven learnings that I took away from this incident. Basic? Yes sure, but instead of just saying to yourself “I know this” ask yourself “Do we do this – always?”. It is surprising how many of the basic elements we forget to check as we advance in experience – and years!
If you have other examples of frustratingly poor but easily resolved customer service mistakes, then please share them below. We all need a laugh from time to time, especially as more and more of us are in quarantine because of covid-19. And learnings from others are so useful in helping us avoid making the same mistakes ourselves.
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Marketing is a great profession and the marketing 5Ps is the code by which we live. I’ve worked in or with marketing teams for almost my whole career and I am passionate about brand building.
From the outside, others see marketers as those who come to work late and seem to party all night. They always seem to be watching TV or jetting off to exotic places to talk about advertising!
For people working in operations or finance, marketers just don’t seem to be doing a very serious job; they’re always having too much fun! I’m sure you’ve already heard such comments.
Well, as you yourself know, marketing IS fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work, often close to 24/7 on some occasions.
So does all that hard work pay off? Not often enough in my opinion. And why? Because marketers simply don’t always ask the right questions!
The 5 Questions Marketers Should Ask
If you work in marketing, you already know the 5Ps – people, place, product, price and promotion. However, the problem with those is that when you find an issue with one of them, you know the “what” but not the “how”.
So I suggest you work with my 7Qs instead. Each of my seven questions explain not only what to check, but also the how and why you need to examine the area.
And if you can’t immediately answer more than just a couple of them, then perhaps you need to do a little more work and a little less partying!
Q1. Who are your customers?
The first “P” stands for people and often this is taken to be “Do you know to whom you are selling?” The answer is always yes and that’s accepted as sufficient.
Instead, ask yourself who your customers really are. I don’t mean just their demographics, but what, where and how they use or consume your brand and the category in which you are competing. And especially the why of their attitudes and behaviours. If you can’t give all these details about your customers, then you’re in serious trouble.
Hopefully, you answered Q1 without any hesitation – you did, didn’t you? Did you also download our template and complete it? Many of my clients find it a useful way to store and rapidly access the information whenever they need it.
It’s great that you know a lot about your customers, but people change. Are you following how your customers are changing? Are you keeping up with them and their new opinions, needs and desires?
Do you know the impact of the latest societal trends and new technologies on your customers’ behaviours? Do you know how these changes may alter your market in five, ten or even twenty years from now?
There are countless examples of brands that have disappeared because they didn’t keep up with the changing needs of their customers:
Kodak who didn’t understand the impact of digital photography.
Borders bookstores who didn’t get into eBooks.
Motorola, once the leader in smartphones, who didn’t embrace new communications technology.
Sony who resisted MP3 and lost the portable music player market that they had led for years.
Blockbuster who survived the transition from VHS to DVD, but failed to adapt to consumers’ demand for home delivery.
Don’t be another one on the list. The current coronavirus outbreak is clearly demonstrating that we can never be too prepared for the unthinkable, because it might just happen!
The easiest way to be ready for any future changes is to prepare for them, by developing future scenarios in advance.
How many possible future societal and customer changes have you already prepared for? If you would like help in this area, we and our partners offer both standard and ground-breaking new ways to develop scenarios using science-fiction writers. Contact us for more details.
I don’t mean it’s marketing identity or slogan; I mean how your customers or your competitors’ customers would describe it?
Is it strong and consistent? Does it align precisely with its identity or the positioning you want today? Do you follow the developments in its image regularly?
Do you adapt your advertising and promotions to strengthen its desired image and eliminate negative changes before they impact your brand’s identity? Is it authenticated by your customers’ experiences with your brand? It should be a direct reflection of your brand’s (internal) identity and promise.
You should be able to describe your brand in one or at most a couple of sentences, using the words and ideas you want it to stand for, like these:
Hero Group’s mission is “to delight consumers by conserving the goodness of nature.”
McDonalds offers “quick, convenient, family-oriented and fun, casual dining.”
Bic disposable pens, lighters and razors offer “high-quality products at affordable prices, convenient to purchase and convenient to use.”
Dollar Shave Club: “Shave and grooming made simple.”
What you notice about all these examples is that they clearly define the benefit to the customer and what the brand is promising to provide.
There is a synergy between what the internal image of the brand is and what the customers would say about each. When that is achieved, you have a strong brand that your customers relate to and to which they are more likely to remain loyal.
How would you describe your brand in one short sentence? I’ll be happy to provide feedback in a short call if you’d like to share it. Just contact me to set up a time.
Q4. How are sales and distribution?
I am not referring to just the totals, I mean the local specificities. The regional differences and anomalies. Do you know why they occur? Do these differences result from cultural differences, alternative traditions or usage, historical reasons or just distributor practices?
Even if you work in marketing and not sales, understanding your brand’s weekly, monthly and annual sales trends, means you will gain an increased understanding of your customers and their differences.
If you don’t know why your brand is doing better in some regions than others, then you’re probably missing opportunities for growth. Always play to your strengths and correct your weaknesses as soon as they are identified.
I don’t mean how much it costs to manufacture and distribute. I mean how it is valued by the end user. How does your brand’s value compare to its current price? Incorrect pricing could mean that you are leaving money on the table!
If you are priced lower than your customers’ perceived value of it, you could be asking for more. If you are priced above the perceived value of your potential customers’, you are stopping many new customers from buying into your offer, as they may not think you’re worth it. This results in your having to offer frequent promotions and price-offs just to keep your sales stable.
If this is your situation, it is certainly time to get a true evaluation of your offer by your customers. I can help if you’re not sure how to do this.
Whether you are over or under-priced, you could be earning more and possibly selling more too. Don’t stay ignorant to your true customer value.
Q6. Are you using the right communication channels?
Many marketing plans are still just a rehash of last year’s, especially when it comes to advertising and promotions.
With today’s huge array of media opportunities, both on and offline, it is important to choose the most appropriate ones for your customers.
If you answered Q1 completely, then you know which ones they are currently using most often. In particular, it is important to understand their social media behaviour, as this can vary widely by customer segment.
In addition, if you are also able to answer Q2 you will know how usage is likely to change in the future. This will give you ample time to adjust your plans and move seamlessly from offline to online when necessary.
Wasting money with outdated media plans, based on channels your customers no longer use, is still one of the biggest errors of marketing, even in this data-rich environment in which we live today. Make sure it’s not yours.
Q7. Is your messaging consistent and complementary?
Answering Q3 means that you know what you want to stand for and the image you want to portray. Image metrics will tell you which of them need to be boosted, depending upon any desired changes you need to make.
Do you want to attract new customers, support current customers, or develop your image in a certain direction? Appropriate analysis of your brand image data will give you all the information you need to adapt your messaging and strengthen the positioning you have chosen for it.
It’s been called “A must read for today’s and tomorrow’smarketeers” by none other than Paul Pohlman, Unilever’s former CEO! Why not follow many major Fortune 500 CPG companies and get your own copy, or buy copies for your whole team?
So there you have them, the seven questions that I believe will bring you greater results than just using the traditional marketing 5Ps. What do you think?
Next time you review your brand’s performance, why not give the 7Qs a try? They will provide you with a clearer picture of your brand’s current and future development opportunities, and more importantly, will identify the actions you need to take to progress its growth. Then leave a comment below on how useful you found this new way of looking at your brand.
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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.
There are many reasons why projects fail; I like to summarise them as the 3Ps:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.