Category Archives: Customer Value

Is this the end of in-store customer service and retailing as we know it?

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You would think traditional retailers when confronted with the undermining of their traditional in store purchasing business models would be reaching out for new ways to create value for their customers……

Although most retailers agree delivering a superior in-store experience will rescue the physical store from the fate of the last buggy whip company. I find it strange that they continue to offer customer service that borders on a slap in the face.

A recent survey released by Motorola has found that the number of shoppers who prefer to rely on their own mobile devices, rather than shop assistants, to guide their purchasing decisions has reached a level that for retailers can only be described as “a major wake up call”.

There are a couple of facts from the research that suggest retailers may have given up on providing better in store service.

Firstly about 50% of Millennials (Gen Ys) and more than a third of Gen X shoppers suggest it’s easier to find information on their mobile devices than from a store associate. Since the Millennials are gradually overtaking baby boomers as the biggest consuming group, retailers are saying to their future target customers –  there really isn’t much point in coming to the store after all.

The second interesting fact is that store managers agree – and are convinced in even greater numbers than their customers – that mobile devices provide better information. More than 60% of managers were of this view!

The Motorola research also revealed that the shopping experience improved when sales associates themselves used mobile technologies.

Digitally-enhanced service is clearly a direction being taken by many leading-edge retailers who are already shifting to mobile checkouts and other technologies that bypass or supplement humans to provide product information.

What is the future of store based retailing?

The shift in retailing appears to be heading in a smaller number of viable directions:

The first is technology-based self-service, with people being largely phased out of store operations. This is already starting to happen at super markets and other high volume retailers.

The second is real value-added  in-store customer experiences provided by passionate “brand ambassadors” – for example Lululemon and Apple in which store associates are so highly trained, informed and motivated that they can make customers feel good enough about the experience to make additional purchases.

The third will be specialty retailers in high traffic tourist areas that will continue to relie on holiday shoppers and serendipitous purchases. The local cannery row and fisherman’s wharf areas in Monterey California come to mind….

Consumers appear to be losing faith in the ability of retailers to deliver on the promise of people powered service.

What do you think? How will store based retailers survive in the future?

Driving high value – low cost customer experiences

emerging_customer_centric_airline_indigo

A friend of mine travelled last week from Bangalore to Dubai on IndiGo Airlines. She said it was low cost, with seats that would lean back giving a feeling of more space, along with great customer service. She travelled coach class and yet was addressed by name by the flight attendant.

IndiGo placed its first order of 100 aircraft with Airbus to start its business as a domestic airline in India. The size of this order ensured low operating costs, full maintenance support from airbus and the latest aircraft technology and comfort. In 2005, when other low-cost carriers were working with older, leased aircraft and battling a reputation for inferior service, Indigo inked a deal to buy 100 new A-320 jets from Airbus, purchasing at volume to ensure a lower price and a partnership-type commitment on maintenance. IndiGo’s investment in the training of its staff and its [aircraft] fleet killed whatever difference might have existed between a low-cost carrier and a full-service carrier by offering equivalent service. By 2011 Indigo had neatly 20% of the rapidly growing Indian domestic market. In September 2011 it introduced its first international flight to Dubai.

Indigo turned regular business travelers into loyal customers because it never acted like a budget airline. From the beginning, its purchase of all new aircraft helped it avoid maintenance problems, and superior planning helped it to match or exceed the on-time performance record of its full-service competitors — even though rapid turnaround of its planes was the key to the company making money.

But it also went beyond the basics to reinvent the first-time flyer segment. When Air Deccan, acquired by Kingfisher in December 2007, was struggling to fight the impression that their planes operated like public buses with wings, IndiGo pushed best practices even when there was no compelling reason to do so. In a country where other carriers shared passenger-stair vehicles and the top airline still had to have disabled passengers carried up the staircase to plane height by ground crew, for instance, Indigo brought in larger, handicapped accessible passenger ramps from day one.

Similarly, the company equipped check-in staff with hand-held scanners that allowed passengers without baggage to avoid the dreaded scrum at the counter. And at least in the beginning, flight attendants manning the beverage carts addressed even lowly economy class passengers by name (with the aid of the seating chart).

The strategy paid off: Since 2008, when the company booked its first profit even as high fuel prices and the economic downturn ravaged its competitors, IndiGo’s net income has grown more than five times — from a shade under $20 million to more than $120 million.

With Boeing forecasting that Indian air traffic will grow 15 percent a year over the next five years and that India will require more than 1,000 commercial jets over the next 20, according to the Wall Street Journal, that may just well make IndiGo the fastest growing airline in the world’s fastest growing aviation market.

IndiGo President Aditya Ghosh says India is a hugely under-penetrated market. We have just one commercial aircraft for 1.9 million people. The United States has one plane for every 50,000 people.”

The airline, which earlier ran role specific training programmes like any other airline, decided to merge training into one central operation with three segments: one, functional skills training aimed at specific roles like that of pilots, in-flight crew, ticketing attendants, baggage handling, among others.

The next segment was coaching for customer service and soft skills.

The last came leadership training at all levels.

This last segment of training, designed to encourage all employees to take ownership of customer issues, Ghosh insists, has really helped the airline develop a strong loyal customer base.

Do you have the right skills sets in your organization to drive high value at low cost?

How to attain premium pricing in a discount world – Lessons from Starbucks Steel Card

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How do some businesses manage to attract premium prices while others struggle to get sales at any price?

The answer is a combination of branding, customer loyalty and the creation of customer value.

Companies that invest in creating a brand that stands for something and delivers on that are able to attract high prices Why? Customers trust those brands, they connect with them emotionally and feel comfortable working with them. They will pay more for the feeling they get from doing business with those companies, in short they are getting more value and are willing to pay more.

Who would pay $500 for a steel card that only buys $450 worth of coffee? 5,000 loyal Starbucks customers did just that – all within 24 hours. In fact Helaine Olen reported that a card sold for $1074 on ebay soon after.

What drives this behavior? Certainly there is an aspect of “exclusivity and conspicuous consumption” but more than that these are customers that have connected with the value Starbucks offers. Starbucks is part of their lives, it has connected with them on a level beyond a simple business transaction.

Great companies that create unique value for their customers consistently and have a culture that really values customers will attract premium prices.

What can you do to create an emotional connection with your customers?

How much is the Starbucks experience worth?

The starbucks premium customer experience

“Starbucks represents something beyond a cup of coffee”, says Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. He’s right. Consumers are not quibbling about the new $7 cup of coffee. In fact, it seems to be a runaway success.

When consumers are connected with a brand emotionally, as many are with Starbucks, they are prepared to pay a premium, or in this case a super-premium, particularly if they believe that the product is scarce. The Costa Rica Finca Palmilera beans come from a relatively rare cherry of the Gesha tree. Scarcity is one thing, but the coffee also needs to be distinctively different. Reviewers say the fancy beans, are being dubbed the Sauternes or Sauvignon Blanc of coffee. They have described the taste as “crisply sweet, quietly but profoundly complex.” It sounds a bit like a wine review, doesn’t it? It won’t be long before we have consumers doing blind taste tests and entering coffee tasting competitions to see who has the best palate.

But, it’s even much more than that. Starbucks has created a bond with its loyal customers based on creating a superior experience from the connection with their personal barista in the shop to hanging out with friends over a Starbucks coffee and a snack. It is the consistency of this experience and the trust that goes with it that enables Starbucks to charge a super premium and for a segment of its market to happily pay it.

We see this in a broader perspective if we accept Howard Schultz’s view: “We help customers discover entertainment”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Starbucks is pressing ahead to achieve leadership in the tea market with its intent to acquire Teavana. It acquired Evolution fresh in 2011 offering pure juices and natural foods with added nutrition, launching its first shop in California in October 2012. All of this along with massive growth in the number of shops led by expansion in North America and China.

Does your customer experience create an emotional connection with your brand and your company? Is it strong enough for you to be able to introduce premium price products that customers will happily pay for?

Think outside the box and profit from your competition

Creative Competitive Strategies

An in-depth understanding of your competitors – their strategies, behavior, intent, how they make their money, how they view your company – is a competitive advantage that can help you increase your market share and profit.

A great story about deep competitor insight comes from Overseas Shipping Services (OSS) – an Australian moving company specializing in moving people’s household goods internationally.

This story comes from a time when a large part of their market still preferred to find information on moving services in newspapers.

For years OSS had run a small ad in the Saturday paper’s “travel” section, while their competition were advertising in the “moving” section. This was based on a unique insight that people who were relocating first organized their travel before considering a moving service. The ad brought in many enquiries, most of which were converted into business.

One day the team discovered to their horror a much larger competitor’s ad right next to the OSS ad.

They had to consider how to respond so they reached out to some connections. One of the team members had a friend in an advertising business  so she asked him for some ideas. He suggested simply increase in the size of the ad to match the competitor. He said “you are in with the big boys now you need to start spending more on advertising!” An advertising man suggesting OSS spends more on advertising, what a surprise!

Recognizing there probably was not a quick and easy answer, the team decided to step back and ask themselves the following questions:

What do we know about our competitors? How do they compete? What is our competitive advantage? Are we facing a tactical decision or this strategic? How do our customers’ buy? How would they view two alternatives presented side by side in the newspaper?

The advertising team set-up a cross-functional meeting attended by the CFO, sales, operations, pricing, advertising and the call center to get everyone to weigh in on these issues. Here is what they came up with:

1) How to compete: OSS can’t compete with their competitor’s budget – just to match them requires five times its current budget and this will raise its cost structure for this market segment. What’s more, it might force it to reconsider our pricing. Its knowledge of its competitor’s resources told them that they can spend much more on advertising and still hold their prices where they are.

2) Competitors’ advantage: If OSS matches its competitor’s ad size, it will double the size and will keep doing this if OSS keeps matching. This strategy is based on a traditional dominant competitive position. He competes by out-spending his competitors and relying on his brand name to get business.

3)  Customer behavior insight: OSS already knew more about customers than its competition. Another unique insight they had was that customers nearly always get at least two quotes.

4)  What to communicate: Now that OSS is in a directly competitive media situation it will need to change its message to ‘get your second quote from OSS’.

5) How much to spend: Since its competitor was now doing the advertising for this market segment OSS could reduce the size of its ad just a little and save money.

The OSS team were tuned into competitors and customers. They could all agree on the comments being made because of strong customer and competitive disciplines embedded in the OSS culture. They all had a clear understanding of the customer’s buying behavior as well as their competitors’ current strategies and how to effectively compete with much larger organizations. They were basing a decision on clear customer and competitor insights.

The decision was made quickly and the call center and field sales team developed a process to obtain ongoing customer and competitive intelligence relevant to this market segment to monitor the effect of this decision. The results were outstanding. OSS received more enquiries from this advertising than before and converted about 80% of them into new clients with a positive trend in sales growth and profit margins.

This example shows how a small tactical decision can have a big impact on the profit and growth of a business. But more, it shows how a team that is tuned into customers and competitors as the way in which they make decisions can make a good decision quickly.

Does your team operate that way? Can they make decisions that are right for the customer and the business, in the context of your competitive position, quickly and effectively? Do you have that kind of creative, collaborative culture?

Why some companies succeed without focusing on customers

Ben Wignall, when owner of the Tasmanian firm, Blue Banner Pickles, used to get a lot customer complaints. Each time Ben’s response would be the same – he put his prices up.

The complaints were from supermarkets that were not able to get enough stock of the famous (in Tasmania only) pickled onion brand. Ben figured that if he put up the price it would dampen down demand and the complaints would disappear. He was right – and very profitable. Blue Banner had 90% of the Tasmanian market for pickled onions – a virtual monopoly – and, like other monopolies, it could dictate the terms and not be too concerned about focusing on customers.

Ben was in for a shock when he expanded into other geographic markets in Australia where there was strong competition and his Tasmanian strategy would not work. He hadn’t realized that the remote island state of Tasmania acted as a market fortress where he could act as a monopolist – but not elsewhere. If you have a monopoly you can probably succeed without focusing on customers….

In fact where everyone in an industry provides a poor customer experience it is still possible to be profitable. Forrester’s Customer Experience Index shows this to be the case in the wireless services industry in which all competitors show similarly low scores. Customer experience is not a differentiator and other factors like market footprint and price dictate results in this growth industry. As my college marketing professor used to tell me:

“Even Donald Duck could run a company profitably in a rapid growth market!”

Dominant market leaders can survive offering poor customer experience for a time due to better distribution or a broad product range. Inertia carries these companies through. But a time comes when these factors are not enough to retain leadership. We have seen this with the successful emergence of online (only) banks and online retailers that have decimated competitors in those industries that could not provide a consistent high-level customer experience.

These are some of the reasons why companies can be successful while offering poor customer experience.

“Make sure you know why you are winning.”

If it is not based on good customer experience, it is likely you are on living on borrowed time.

How long can you continue ignoring your customer’s experience?

Are you paying attention to your customers? A lesson from Wholefoods

wholefoods bike stand

Companies highly focused on customers are always paying attention to what is going on in their lives.

Here is a great simple example from Wholefoods. After seeing an increasing number of shoppers coming to the store on bikes the local store manager decided to install a bike fix it stand. The stand provides a range of tools and amenities that cyclists can use to tune up or service their bikes while visiting the store.

From a business point of view, Wholefoods are adding value to their cycling shoppers experience. Will this positively influence these customers to choose whole foods over other supermarket options? Time will tell.

The message this action sends however is very powerful, it demonstrates Wholefoods is committed to its customers. It is willing to invest in helping make customer’s lives easier without an obvious return.

How do you show you are paying attention to your customers?

Do your customers inspire you? How Virgin Rail was saved by its customers

inspired by customers

Sometimes our customers inspire us to great heights. 

Recently Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains created a major bureaucratic turnaround by sheer force of will and the inspiration of their customers.

On September 10th 2012, Richard Branson and his CEO of Virgin Rail, Tony Collins, were answering questions at a Parliamentary Enquiry in London initiated by Branson. This was about the awarding of the West Coast train franchise (London to Glasgow) to a competitor, FirstGroup – a franchise that had been held by Virgin Trains for the previous fifteen years.

Branson said: “We submitted a strong and deliverable bid based on improving the customers’ experience through increased investment and innovation.”

He added: “Our team has transformed the West Coast line over the last 15 years from a heavily loss-making operation to one that will return the taxpayer billions in years to come.”

Branson, who had considered abandoning the rail industry in Britain after this 4th unsuccessful bid (second each time), decided to put up a fight this time. It was not because of the money – he has plenty of that – it was because of the customers and the staff of Virgin Rail.

Buoyed by 170,000 passenger signatories to an e-petition supporting the company, rallying support from unions and staff, he decided to press the government for an investigation into the transport franchise tendering process and how decisions were made.

When asked on 10th September by a member of the Parliamentary Inquiry why he was objecting, he said: “The customer is the heart of our business”. He went on to say that customers and staff had given overwhelming support to him and the CEO, Tony Collins, and he did not want to let them down. The growth of over 10% per annum in passenger numbers over the previous 10 years was testimony to the customer appeal and quality of the service provided.

The parliamentary Enquiry overturned the decision to award the franchise to the competitor, citing irregularities and lack of transparency in the bid decision.

Here is a man who believes that the most important thing in business is to have satisfied customers and fully engaged, happy staff around a customer culture that delivers increasing value to all stakeholders – and he has proved it in Virgin Rail and other Virgin businesses.

This only happens when your customer culture is so strong that your customers not only like your products and services, but they love you and your organization. When the going gets tough, your customers will “go in to bat for you”.

Would your customers help save your business?

How to be insanely service centric – Lessons from Zappos

Customer Culture Car from Zappos

Zappos is renowned globally as a legend in customer service, partially for the e-retailer’s unique approach to customer interaction management. Zappos invests in the call center not as a cost, but as a marketing opportunity

Recently, Software Advice  Analyst Ashley Furness sat down with the company’s Customer Loyalty Operations Manager Derek Carder. He said the company’s whole strategy is to create loyalty through incentivizing ‘wow’ moments and emotional connections. Here are the four KPIs they use to monitor, track and improve performance:

  • Measure Total Call Time, Not Time Per Call

Instead of valuing quick time to resolution or processing high call volumes, Zappos looks at the percentage of a time an agent spends on the phone. Agents are expected to spend at least 80% of their time in customer-facing communications. This measure – called personal service level – is a way to empower the team to utilize their time how they see best promotes customer loyalty.

Reps who achieve this target get receive rewards, while those who fall below the 80 percent line are coached.

  • Quantify and Reward Wow Moments

Zappos measures calls against a 100-point scale called the “Happiness Experience Form.” This is based on answers to the following questions:

  1. Did the agent try twice to make a personal emotional connection (PEC)?
  2. Did they keep the rapport going after the customer responded to their attempt?
  3. Did they address unstated needs?
  4. Did they provide a “wow experience?”

Agents are expected to achieve a 50-point average or higher. Again, agents earn incentives for meeting their goals, while under performers are required to take extra training.

  • Mine for Idle Chats

Zappos monitors “abandonment time,” or periods when an agent has a session open even though the customer already disconnected from the chat.  Carder said sometimes agents do this purposely to avoid responding.

This strategy of looking for idle chats zeroes in on the cause of unproductivity. When agents aren’t productive, customers wait longer. And the longer they wait, the more apt they are to abandon the session.

  • Reward Perfect Attendance and Punctuality

Zappos uses a program called Panda to combat absenteeism. Employees receive a point for every day they miss work or come in late. Staff with zero points in a given period receive a varying number of paid hours off. These hours can be accrued and stacked for an entire paid day off, Carder explains.

The primary take away is that Zappos created metrics that emphasize creating a relationship with the customer rather than rushing them through the call. At the same time, these KPIs still successfully improve performance and make employees feel appreciated and rewarded.

This is what call center metrics look like when they are designed to maximize value for customers, rather than minimize costs for the company…..

Thanks to Ashley Furness for providing great inputs for the content of this post, for more on this story visit her here

How you can create killer customer insights

Customer Insights

Customer insight comes from a deep understanding of customers’ needs and drivers of customer behavior at a level well beyond what customers themselves can explain. These needs are understood from what customers tell us, but more deeply from what we observe customers doing and the frustrations they have in using particular products, services and companies.

Richard Branson, when trying to identify industries to enter a new Virgin service, asks the brainstorming question – “What are 10 things that nobody would say about this industry?” He and his team then prioritize those ideas that would create value for customers and profits for virgin. The next step is decide if a Virgin service can be designed to deliver some of these unspoken values in that industry. It is a great example of outside in thinking, starting with the customer’s pain points or needs and working backwards.

At Mercedes-Benz, rather than asking customers “What do you think of Mercedes-Benz?” a standard question that gets the standard answers about high quality, luxury and so on, they reverse the question -

“What do you think Mercedes-Benz thinks of you?”

This unique twist on a common question results in much deeper insights. Many customers responded initially by saying thing like “ you think we are made of money … that we have all the time in the world”. These responses  led the company to find ways of making its car servicing much more convenient for customers and to build in servicing costs to the initial purchase or lease arrangement.

In both cases these are questions designed to get customer insight that goes beyond what customers will normally tell us.

Are you asking the right questions?