Are you listening to your customers?

I recently blogged about Shortly afterwards I had a comment from Geni thanking me for “checking out our website”, asking me to”Stay tuned as we add other great features to our site”.

Now I like to think I’m popular, but I doubt that anyone on the geni team subscribes to my blog and it is doubtful they just stumbled across my words. More likely they used Google Alerts. Now there is no reason for marketing departments not to know what people are saying about their organisation. PR is changing, it is no longer enough to carefully manage the messages that are broadcast from the organisation and be deaf to what your customers, critics and champions are saying about you (other than in satisfaction surveys and mystery shopper exercises – which tend to be occaisional, anonymous and a rather blunt instrument for addressing individual customer issues). Now there is no excuse for not hearing what is being said, when it is being said. Google Alerts does the listening for you. What you choose to do about it is another; copy and paste the offending article into a email to be circulated to an Action Team who might eventually address the issue, or engage in a dialog with the blogger as Geni (and Norwich Union) did.

If you make a promise, don’t break it

I should have known better. I’ve been with BT for as long as I can remember, inertia has prevented me from changing. When I finally got round to calling BT to inform them that I was thinking of leaving them I was kept on hold for 12 minutes before I gave up. Yet I persevered, the next day I finally got through, and talked to a decent fellow who ended up tying me into another 12 month contract, this time with a bit of BT vision. Fair play fella!

Now BT have a site for tracking customer orders. I went there yesterday to see that I’d reached step 4 in the process. My equipment had arrived and a faster broadband was connected.

BT order tracker claiming they've completed the order

Well not quite. No equipment arrived and the broadband connection was down.

If you are going to offer on-line order tracking, make sure it reflects fulfillment reality.

Brand irreverence

Brand has importance and value, but sometimes organisations can get too hung-up on the sanctity of their brand.  They don’t seem to like it if their brand brings on a smile…  Remember Coca-Colas attitude to the exploding mentos in a bottle of coke.  Rather than seeing it as free advertising (and associating their product with a positive emotion) they got hung up on the rational connotations and considered it didn’t “fit with the brand personality”.  This is certainly not the case with a kitchen appliance from Blendtec.  How is this for brand irreverence, blending the product of the moment, an iPhone on their viral marketing site

Make something consumers love

Bubblegum generation presents a compelling model for Apple’s iPhone strategy:

1) Pick an industry which sucks (ie, imposes significant nuisance costs/menu costs/externalities on consumers)
2) Redress the imbalance by making something consumers love
3) …Which disrupts the long-standing industry equilibrium, and shifts market power
4) Use said market power to redesign (a hyperefficient) value chain

Don’t think that organisations in industries that suck don’t aspire to “do an iPod”. Go to any proposition development or product strategy workshop and it won’t be long before someone is mentioning Apple products. Yet all too often they fail to do anything truly revolutionary; they end up doing something different rather than “Redress(ing) the imbalance by making something consumers love”.

Do customers want something that is different or something that is just better?

Interestingly, little functionally in the iPhone is new. Like every other phone on the market it makes phone calls, sends messages, receives emails, takes photos and allows users to listen to music. Nothing different or new there… other than being better than every other phone on the market.

What Steve Jobs espouses is the experience of the phone. He says “So, we’re going to reinvent the phone. Now, we’re going to start with a revolutionary user interface… Now, what’s the killer app? The killer app is making calls! It’s amazing, it’s amazing how hard it is to make calls on most phones.”

He’s not looked to do anything radically different, rather do it radically better.

So how do you bring revolution to your product set? Rather than trying to be different, why not try to better. Make something that consumers love?

Take a leaf from the Apple book and focus upon the experience. Design and attention to detail are critical. Moving beyond purely functional and satisfying products to crafting experiences that engage the emotions. In agile product development it is often easy to focus upon delivering functionality that is perceived to deliver business benefit, yet end up with a mediocre product that has little resemblance to the original idea it was meant to become. Incremental delivery is a key feature of agile; it means you get stuff out there early and often. The challenge is to identify what that stuff is. To make something that consumers love using the agile approach, in addition to great developers and focussed project management, you need three people;

1. A passionate sponsor who has a dream and a vision and can articulate that to the team, banishing mediocrity from the outset
2. A business analyst who will help the team slice the functionality according to consumer needs and desires; that take the consumer of the journey they want to travel, not a predefined route that constrained to picking those features that eventually will deliver greatest value.
3. A customer experience architect, interaction designer or graphically minded usability dude who can champion the product aesthetic and usability.

Get them on your side and maybe you might be taking the first step on developing a better gizmo that your consumers will love, and sleep outside your retail outlet for hours to buy one.

How to loose your customers

Last year, Barclays offered a fairly compelling home insurance proposition. They beat your current deal by £50. A friend took advantage of this offer. A year later they sent the renewal documents through. Being a reasonably busy and disorganised guy, he never got round to renewing the insurance until six weeks after it had expired. He rang the call centre explaining that he wanted to renew; yes, he had been without insurance for the past six weeks, but wanted to take advantage of the premium they had quoted. But Barclays refused to honour the renewal quotation. They told him that as the policy was not continuous he would be treated as a new customer. The policy he was now being quoted was significantly more than on the renewal letter. He asked to speak to a manager and was again told the renewal quote was no longer available.

So he went to Money Supermarket and got a competitive deal from Halifax. Indeed it was much more competitive; five times cheaper than the Barclays call centre was offering.

So despite all the cost of acquisition, Barclays were quite happy to loose an otherwise loyal customer who was prepared to pay their original quotation. They then gave him good reason to shop around and have now lost him for good.

If there is a moral in this story, it is when developing new products, propositions or supporting technology, play out all potential scenarios. Customers are not always rational beings, they don’t always behave in the way you assume they will. Don’t just design for the “happy path”, but challenge your thinking with “what if” scenarios for what happens in the real world outside your idealised customer model.

Buy my bus to learn about community!

When VW beetles, kombi vans, or any Volkswagen air-cooled motor pass each other, their owner’s wave. There’s an unofficial community around the product. How cool is that to have people passionate about product?

Do your customers wave each other? Do your products inspire a bond, knowingness amongst their owners, a community?

Maybe you’d like to experience that VW passion. Look no further than the baddest bus in town; my head-turning 15 window is for sale on ebay!

VW 15 window Split Screen camper for sale

It’s how you ask it…

Prioritising requirements

You’re running a workshop and the group have come up with a bunch of new propositions. You want them to vote on which ones to take forward to the next stage. Or maybe you’ve identified a bunch of functionality and features and you want the group to prioritise what they’d like to see built first. What question you ask the group next is critical to the answer you will get.

You need to frame the question appropriately and make it clear to the group the criteria by which they are making their vote…

Do they need to be thinking about “do-ability”, the ease to implement, or do they need to be focussed upon the innovation and the idea itself. Should they be considering the cost to implement, time to market, return on investment, or should they be thinking about the art of the possible; the “blue sky”; the destination, regardless of the journey to get there.

Which line of thinking they should use will depend upon where you are in the process. Get them thinking about practicalities of implementation too early and you are likely to dilute the vision. Too late in the process and you will have candidate propositions or features that by their complexity or uncertainty will never the light of day.

So two tips. Before you ask the group to vote, or to prioritise, clarify the objectives and the critiera by which they are to decide. Maybe ask them to assume a ‘persona’ and vote in the way they’d expect the persona to vote, for example a customer will have different priorities to a developer.  Whose vote is it anyway?
And after they have made their vote make sure you manage the group’s expectations. Don’t let them leave the room thinking what they’ve decided upon is final and binding. It rarely is.

Are you building a potato or a Sensation?

The humble potato is not worth a lot. The farm gate price for a 150g spud is negligible. How do you add value? How do you turn a worthless Maris Piper into a valuable commodity?


Potato crisps (chips) are a great example of a low value product being turned into high value one.

Walkers salt and vinegar crisps

But that’s the easy part. The real value add is further transforming the product without fundamentally changing it. Innovation through packaging and marketing, making a basic product appear more desirable. Appealing to higher sensations beyond just satisfaction; differentiating the same basic product into an up-scaled, up-market luxury item. The same item that customers will happily pay more for.

The retail price for a 50g bag of Walkers Salt and Vinegar crisps at my local One Stop is 35p. The price of the Sensations bag is 47p. (For reference the retail price of a 50g potato – is 5p). Now I’m no crisp expert, but I’d guess that the incremental cost for adding a couple of new ingredients to the flavour is marginal. There’s some sunk cost in product development- creating the new flavours and developing the new brand, but this is little effort compared to the benefits that will be accrued.

Walkers Oven Roasted potato crisps

But that is not the end of the story. Focussing upon the experience of the Sensations product, Walkers see an opportunity to change the packaging – to increase the bag size. Now their basic Sensations product is a whopping 150g bag that retails at £1.35.

Walkers Lime and thai spices crisps

Sometimes it is easy to focus upon just delivering the basic package, to just satisfy the customer. Is there anything you can do on your project to transform delivering the hygiene of customer satisfaction, to selling a compelling value-added experience?

Won’t you please… be concise

Won't you please give this seat to the eldery or disabled

Seen on the New York subway.  Is the “won’t you” really necessary?  The tone of the notice is trying to be friendly, but surely when you are writing signs or labels it is better to be concise and to the point. Afterall, it’s a sign, not conversation.

Heard on a suburban comuter train going into London, a pre-recorded generated message.  “London Underground inform me that there are currently no delays on the system”.

“Inform me?”

The “me” is a recording.  Again, the tone is trying to be friendly, but it is not real.

When communicating to customers use a style that is appropriate to the media.  If it is impersonal information you are providing, be concise and unless it is coming from the mouth of a human in real time, don’t try to fool me that it is otherwise.

Humanising the corporate voice

Friday evening, the train is pulling into East Croydon railway station. There’s an announcement.

We are now approaching East Croydon, please mind the gap between the train and the platform. Don’t leave any of your belongings behind…

The usual scripted stuff. Then…

Hey! I’ve just realised its Friday! The Weekend is here.

People on the carriage look up. Did he really say something, that’s something that breaks the mundane monotony of the commute.

Remember folks, drink sensibly!

I looked around and people on the carriage were smiling. An unscripted, personal touch. It wasn’t a canned message from an anodyne voice. For a brief moment South Eastern Railways became really human. It made commuters smile. And commuters travelling into East Croydon rarely have anything to smile at.

There is more to Customer Experience than homogeneity and consistency in interactions. It is more than scripting customer contacts. It is more than sheepishly adhering to the corporate line. It is about empowering employees to have the confidence to be human. It is giving employees some degrees of freedom to do things differently if it is in the interest of the customer. To be spontaneous.

There’s the story of the Ritz-Carlton bell boys being given a budget to help customers. To be spontaneous without having to jump through hoops of approval. No “I’m not really sure, wait a minute and I’ll ask my supervisor (because even though I’m grown-up enough to want to help you the Rules by which I’m employed don’t let me)”.

Maybe I’m getting a bit carried away. But customers remember these human touches. And if they have the seed of a positive emotion planted in their memory, an emotion associated with your brand, you have the seed to grow lifetime value.

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