There’s nowt so queer as folk: dealing with complaints and difficult customers

There’s nowt so queer as folk: dealing with complaints and difficult customers

There’s nowt so queer as folk.

So said a Yorkshireman following a usability test where the participant was just plain awkward.  We wanted feedback on the flow through a check-out process, but this pernickety participant insisted in reading all the terms and conditions on the website. He then refused to continue because he wouldn’t abide by them.

“OK, so let’s assume that you were happy with the T&Cs, what would you do now?”

“But I wouldn’t be happy with the T&Cs so I would leave the site…”

“Leaving the T&C’s aside…”

“I wouldn’t” (and so came an end to this particular session).

There’s nowt so queer as folk is a Northern English expression that means there’s nothing as strange as people. When you are building a product or service that will be used by the general public, before long you’ll come across some strange people. How are you going to deal with them?

Your customer is lying

I once worked at a Pizza restaurant, owned by a fiery stuntman. A woman came in complaining that there was a fly in her half eaten pizza. She opened the pizza box and there on the cheese was a dead fly. She demanded a full refund and another Pizza. The owner listened patiently then told her in no uncertain terms that she was a bullshitter. He pointed to the fly. Look at it’s wings! He then pointed to the oven – “you are telling me that the fly was cooked in that oven and its wings didn’t burn. Madam, you put that fly on the Pizza!”.

Haven’t you got better things to be doing?

Call them outliers, random aberrations, freaks; there are some odd people out there and some of them are going to interact with you. Having customers should delight you but sometimes it is going to infuriate you, none more so when it comes to awkward or difficult types who are motivated to complain. Take a look at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rulings.   Now many of the complaints are one company taking a pop at a competitor, for example price comparison websites complaining about claims made in ads.  But many of these complaints leave you wondering, haven’t these people got better things to do with their time?

Your customer is trying it on

You will get people “trying it on”. You run a promotion – there’ll be folk who bought immediately prior to the promotion complaining that they’ve been excluded and demand the promotion price be applied. Returns policies will be abused, and no matter how much you point to the terms and conditions there will be customers who will accuse and bad mouth you. Introduce any sort of product promise and you will find someone who finds fault with it.

Something goes wrong and not everyone will be like you (understanding and respectful). So what if it outside your control – it’s still your responsibility. You are going to get some pretty rude correspondence. Social media is only going to amplify this.

You #fail. You #suck.

Are you going to be like my Pizza boss and accuse your customer of lying? Or refuse to deal with the customer because you think she is rude as the supermarket checkout assistant did? Or  disbelieve and refuse to engage with as the Scottevest CEO did. Or be proud that customer service is irrelevant if you’re core product is differentiated by price alone, and call your customers idiots as O’Leary does with Ryanair?

Complaints? treat them fairly.

When you are working with people, remember that Yorkshire saying; there’s nowt so queer than folk. When you are building a product, you do all your customer development; you know that people are not like you, but when you launch, be prepared to discover quite how unlike you some people are. And in some cases how you really don’t care for some of your customers at all.

You don’t need to like every customer. You don’t have to be everybody’s friend. What you do need is consistency in your approach and to treat people fairly (if that is what you want your brand to stand for). Most importantly, be ready for the people who you’ll wonder “haven’t you got better things to be doing…”

Image credit: Alan Turkus

Perfect Pitch: three tips for delivering a winning presentation

Perfect Pitch: three tips for delivering a winning presentation

Blah blah blah. All too often this is what it is like. Someone is presenting something to you; they are pitching, promoting, selling, explaining and it just sounds like blah blah blah punctuated by lots of ummms and errrrs. They don’t get to the point. What is the point? The moment is lost and the pitch is lost.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you are pitching or presenting to an unfamiliar audience, and want to make an impact, here are three top tips that will have you delivering winning pitches.

1. Understand sender-message-recipient

There are three parts to the pitch that you need to consider. The sender – that is you. The recipient – that’s who you are pitching it to. And the message – well that’s your pitch.

The recipient: Here’s the first thing to get right. Know your audience. Once you know who the recipient of your message is you can ensure that you tailor the message right.  A little research about the recipient will go a long way; are they already familiar with your product / category / domain? Do they understand the technology. You don’t want your pitch to fail because they didn’t understand what you were talking about by drowning them in acronyms and industry-speak that’s confusing and irritating.

The sender: This is simple. As the sender of the message, be likeable. You are pitching yourself as much as your product.

The message: And finally the message itself. Your goal is to communicate it as clearly and succinctly as possible so that it is understood and engages the recipient. Consider the ‘signal to noise’ ratio. Ummms and arrrs aren’t the only noise you need to cut out. Anything that detracts or is not directly relevant to the core message you are trying to convey needs to be cut out too. Focus on the key take-aways that you want to convey. To do this you need some structure.

2. Focus upon what’s important

If you look at a newspaper article, you’ll see it is structured like a pyramid. It starts with the title and the key points – a summary of what will follow, before spreading out into the detail and the main content in the body. Your pitch needs to be like a collection of these pyramid tops; you want to engage and sell the key points (as much as possible second guessing contentious issues so that you open yourself up to easy questioning rather than being on the defensive back-foot from the start). What you don’t want to do is drill down into the trivial detail – leave that to the questions after you’ve delivered your killer presentation!

In order to focus upon what is important, you need to frame in your mind what, exactly are you trying to convey? Use the elevator pitch to help shape this.

For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product is (unique differentiator). We forecast (top-line revenue projections) through (how you’ll monetise it).

This alone is not the perfect pitch. You need to be able to back-up any assertion you make, and you also need to remember that you’ve only got a limited time to make the pitch and you’ve only got one chance to make an impression and sell the idea. When you know what you need to pitch, now let’s look at how you are going to do it.

3. Form the flow

I’ve seen someone practice a pitch before understanding the approach I’m about to describe, and doing it again after learning it. The difference was amazing. Learn this and you are guaranteed to deliver a perfect pitch. It’s simple:

Tell ‘em what you are going to tell them (Line it up)
Tell ‘em it (back it up)
Tell ‘em what you’ve told them (knock ’em out).

Let’s illustrate that.

Key point to killer statement

Think about the key point you want to convey. State it. Back it up with three succinct supporting facts. Then, with the point built up,  deliver a killer statement that you want to stick in the recipient’s mind. I’ll bring that to life with a random example:

Line it up with the key point
Global warming is a problem we must address

Back it up with 3 supporting facts

  1. In the 20th C the surface temperature of the earth increased by 1.2-1.4oF
  2. In the same period sea levels rose by 4-8 inches
  3. September was the 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th Century average

Knock ’em out with the killer statement:
The world is getting hotter!

But that’s not enough to deliver the pitch. We need a story. And that means using the above technique to string together a number of statements, each building upon the previous to deliver a coherent and compelling narrative.

Building the narrative

So for our global warning story, it might look something like this:

1. Global warming is a problem we must address

  1. In the 20th C the surface temperature of the earth increased by 1.2-1.4oF
  2. In the same period sea levels rose by 4-8 inches
  3. September was the 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th C average

The world is getting hotter!

2. The impact is already being felt

  1. Global warming is causing more intense rainfall and droughts across the world.
  2. 150,000 deaths per year are blamed on the effects of global warming (WHO)
  3. At least 279 species of plants and animals are migrating north to escape rising temperatures (source)

If humanity doesn’t act we are doomed!

OK, so maybe that’s rather a large leep to make, but you get the point. You string the narrative together, taking care to build up with too many points (do that and this process looses its impact; seven is always a good number!) and if appropriate end on a crescendo. Remember the serial position effect , that people remember the last things they are told and forget the things in the middle. Do don’t want to end your pitch with a whimper, you need to end it with your audience understanding and liking you, and forcing a positive impression at the end that will allay feers and objections that would be more forefront of mind if the content of your pitch was weak, meandering and indistinct.

Pitch building blocks leading to the key takeaway

Good luck and let me know how you get on!

A tale of two innovation approaches

Last week I attended the kick-off meeting for the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board initiative “Collaboration across digital industries: creating sustainable value chains“.  They have £5.8m (of tax payers money) to award to “Successful collaborators… to demonstrate how their proposed activity improves or creates new value chains and networks, and show where value is to be created from information, content and services.”

In plainer English, they are looking for companies / universities to come together to develop new digital products.  They talked about “pipes” (the ISPs), “Poems” (the content) and “people” (customer demand), with the sweet spot projects being at the interaction of all three.

Last Monday was the kick-off and the competition (document filling) starts on 14th March.  The funding will not be awarded until 19th August.  Five months before any innovation actually starts.  The funding is to support projects that “are expected to last 12 to 24 months”.

During the kick-off, attendees were invited to present their innovation product ideas.  These were then voted upon.  None were particularly earth-shattering (but then I suppose no-one was going to be putting their best ideas forward in a public space).  Moreover, none of them seemed to justify this long and over-engineered process.

Now compare that with this story.  Following the floods in Queensland, Australia, on a Thursday afternoon three ThoughtWorkers  came together to build a product that would support a Government Telethon to collect donations to help the flood victims.

They had “a little over 48 hours to develop, test and deploy an application that was expected to handle thousands of users. Not only that but an application that, should it fail, would prevent millions of dollars from reaching the people in need in Queensland.”

On Sunday the Telethon aired.   “720 requests per minute… with fast response times…  In about two hours [they] had over AUD$2,000,000.00 (two million) donated through [the] website”.

It has gone on to raise over $25m.

Another story.  Another 48 hours.  This time LeanstartupmachineEric Ries has a great write up on it. Teams get together and in 48 hours strive to get a customer validated product to market.  In some cases this meant ‘pivoting’, discarding the original idea to focus on something else it spawned.  (Flickr is the classic example of this, it started out as an online multi-player game, but the photosharing proved to be more feasible and the game was ditched).  Eric writes:

In one notable case, a team was able to conclusively invalidate a business that I have been pitched by venture-backed entrepreneurs many times – with a full day to spare. Compared to entrepreneurs who’ve blown millions of dollars pursuing the same vision, this is a way better outcome. Since they had extra time, they tried a pivot into a much more promising idea. By the time of the judging, they had an MVP in the market with real customers signed up.

The UK government has the best intentions with the Technology Strategy Board.  But do they need all the process?  Why can’t they do what these two case studies did?  Indeed it’s the same with most large organisations, innovation is rarely rapid in the way it could be.    Bring on the entrepreneurial enterprise that nurtures a culture of rapid experimentation, test, learn; confidence to fail and desire to invest in the successes.  Bring on Lean Start Up thinking into the enterprise.