Category Archives: Customer Foresight

Competing for the future – How Australia Post is reinventing itself in this new age of competition

digital post boxAustralia Post recently released its annual results. Revenues from “regulated mail” – standard postage – are $1924 million and falling, and it made a loss of $148 million. “Non regulated parcels and retail” revenues were up 8.5% to $3073 million, returning a profit of $546 million. An important part of its future will be digital services provided to its commercial customers and Australian consumers.

A starting flurry in this new world is the soft launch of MailBox in November 2012 with a full launch to take place early in 2013. Australia Post has announced that several Australian banks, government departments and utilities will use the Digital MailBox. It will be free to all Australians. It will enable consumers to receive and pay bills, track and manage their relationships with their providers and store all of their important documents in one place. It’s accessed with one password, from any Internet enabled device, 24/7, from anywhere in the world.

Enter Digital Post Australia (DPA), a joint venture between Computershare Ltd, Fuji Xerox Document Management Solutions Pty Limited and Zumbox Inc.

Got that? It’s Digital Mailbox from Australia Post, and Digital Postbox from Digital Post Australia. You can see why Australia post is suing Digital Post Australia  over the name. The first court action was dismissed, but Australia Post is pursuing the action.

At the launch of DPA’s Digital Postbox in early December, CEO Randy Dean ridiculed Australia Post’s launch. “Our competitor recently used its trusted and iconic brand to ‘formally launch’ what appears to be a ‘statement of interest’ for their Digital Mailbox Service. We felt Australians deserved to see what a functioning Digital Postbox looks like and how it operates.” Dean invited consumers to preview the service and activate their “secure and free” Digital Postbox.

Dean says Digital Postbox begins a new era of convenient online mail delivery. “Once the consumer’s Digital Postbox is activated, they won’t need to do anything else. Mail will be automatically delivered online and be available on virtually any web-connected device. Consumers can receive, store and manage important documents such as bills and account statements in a trusted and secure environment. Digital postal mail offers businesses an efficient and cost-effective customer channel that can be enabled using their existing business processes and partnerships and can deliver savings of up to 70% per mail item.”

“We have decades of experience in the secure digital processing, storage, management and printing for the largest and most security sensitive organizations in Australia including banks, government agencies and superannuation funds.

The two companies are now readying their products for market, attempting to pre-empt each other with various pre-releases and announcements. There is no love lost between the two, and their sniping and attempts to define themselves and each other are becoming more intense.

But this is not the only competition. Existing systems like BPay, increasingly sophisticated online banking and now the imminent boom in mobile payments systems are making the technology largely obsolete before it is even introduced.

The eventual winners in this digital environment will be those companies that have a strong customer culture – one in which customer insight and foresight will determine the best way to compete, where the future competition will come from, how future profit will be made.

Australia Post, as a government owned organization, still has a way to go to create and embed a customer culture that will enable it to compete profitably in the digital marketplace.

How customer immersion programs amplify a customer culture

customer immersion programs

One of the most significant challenges for large businesses is staying engaged with the lifeblood of the business – customers. As businesses grow people become disconnected from customers at all levels of the organization. It’s the leadership’s role to bring a focus back to customers and how every individual has an impact.

There is nothing like the personal customer insight and impact to be gained from interacting with customers. You get the raw emotion of a frustrated customer appealing for help if you listen in to customers describing the problems they are having with your product or service to a call center rep. It can have even greater impact if you watch customers trying to buy your product and experiencing increasing frustration from time-consuming processes or unwieldy websites.

Senior executives and other non-customer facing staff don’t really understand their customers unless they can experience what customers are going through. Customer immersion programs are designed to do just that – give people a first hand experience of how customers are thinking and acting.

Credit Suisse, based in Switzerland, follows a five step process for immersing executives and senior managers with a customer perspective:

  1. Conduct business: the executive goes into a branch, waits in line and conducts business with a teller
  2. Watch the customer: look at what the customer looks at and see how he behaves when doing business with the company
  3. Talk to customers: ask questions of customers and listen to their responses
  4. Investigate other channels used by customers such as the website, call center and the company’s publications: use these channels as a customer to apply for credit, get an answer from a sales rep and decipher brochures
  5. Review the experience at a workshop: discuss insights, compare experiences and lessons learned

On this side of the Atlantic, Adobe recognized they weren’t always easy to do business with, and were not consistently delivering the level of service customers expected. Adobe’s Customer Immersion Program provides Adobe’s senior leaders with the opportunity to experience first-hand what their customers experience when they engage with Adobe. Like Credit Suisse, executives and senior managers at Adobe have the opportunity to experience what a customer would experience by playing the role of a customer. Also they experience the interaction with customers when they call in with a problem or a need. Check out this short video describing what’s involved:

Adobe’s Customer Listening Post facility brings customer experiences to life –  live video and data feeds showing what’s happing in real-time.

Technology such as camera phones, videography, button cameras and online diaries to document the immersion process enable you to play back customer interactions and experiences with your business.

The power of the immersion program is when it challenges people’s perceptions of who their customers are and how they use their products. A key benefit of immersion is its ability to create a culture of consumer-focused thinking within the organization from top to bottom. First-hand experience and advocacy by senior executives dramatically enhances a customer culture in the organization. Companies best internalize the consumer perspective when executives at all levels can experience its impact. It fosters a greater appetite for customer understanding. It ultimately leads to an improved customer experience.

Come and hear more about how to create a customer culture at these two great live events put on by GlobalHRNews and the Executive Next Practices Institute:

November 13, 2012 – Global Leader Conference – Chase Building New York


November 29, 2012 – A Re-Set of Strategy and Opportunity Capture for 2013 – Academy of Motion Pictures in LA

Just 3 weeks after the US elections, join top CEO’s and other leaders from the FORTUNE 500, regulators, authors and industry thought leaders as we view a “360″ of the economic and leadership world for 2013.

I will be presenting on  “The Seven Disciplines of a Customer Centric Culture” and part of a panel discussion on the implications of the election results and what to expect in 2013.

Stop listening to everything customers say!

stop listening to customers

Now I realize this is a strange heading for someone that evangelizes creating a customer centered culture. However, there is a subtle nuance to one of the core elements of our model – the customer insight and foresight dimensions.

This nuance is significant as it relates to the biggest challenge in innovation – how do we know what customers really want?

Henry Ford has one of the most famous quotes on this idea, to paraphrase:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have told me to build a faster horse”.

This is the dilemma that faces all innovators, you need customer input, but you also have to take what customers say with a grain of salt. Customers often don’t really know what they want, in fact many will tell you “I’ll know it when I see it”.

No one asked Steve Jobs to build an iPad. What Job’s recognized was that tablet devices did not work well enough for them to ever be adopted on a mass scale. The unmet needs existed but customer’s could not articulate them into a product. As an innovator it is up to you to do the hard work of uncovering these unmet needs and devising a way to build a product.

A related challenge is  customers often don’t do what they say they will. Asking a question like “If this product had these features, would you buy it?” can often result in a great response from customers but when it comes down to buying the product customers don’t follow through.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and innovators? You need to test and learn constantly throughout the product development cycle and track actual customer behavior. Actual behavior is the barometer of a successful innovation.

Customers will vote with their attention and ultimately their wallets – making progress is initially about learning what resonates with customers and what does not.

A new way to innovate and get funded

Customer Focused Innovation

One of the biggest challenges in businesses is determining whether your new product or service actually fills a need. It maybe a cool product, you may like it yourself but if no one will pay money for it, its just a hobby.

There are some really interesting emerging online businesses designed to help entrepreneurs with just this problem.

Kickstarter is one site that has received significant exposure thanks to the incredible success of the Pebble Watch project. Essentially a smart watch that connects to your iPhone apps so you can control music, view text message, get news feeds right on your wrist.

The project raised almost $3 million in 3 days from its “backers”, essentially its future customers and supporters. When the project finally closed it had over $10 million in pledges that was used to get the business off the ground and get production going. In return for the pledges the backers will receive the first editions of the final product.

What’s great about this approach is how it leverages social media and the online world to get projects in front of supporters and early adopters and asks them to commit funds upfront.

We know from working in market research that a lot of potential customers say they like a new product idea but when it comes to actually purchasing they don’t follow through. This is a great way to get commitments to a project before invest time and money.

Another cool success story comes from Scott Wilson a designer of the Apple Nano wrist band. Experts told him it would never work, no one would pay a high price for a premium wrist band for the Nano.

The Nano Wrist Bands

Within a month Scott raised more than $1 million dollars to fund production and a large number of the wristbands sold at twice the price predicted by experts, $79. In fact 76% of customers said they purchased the Nano because of the wrist band, now that got Apple’s attention!

Kickstarter is only available to entrepreneurs in the US at this stage so some other alternatives are listed here ( I found this list on Quora): is a successful Nordic platform for crowdfunding that will soon add the element of equity crowdfunding – a kickstarter-like platform for social good initiatives globally.
PleaseFund.Us – pretty similar to Kickstarter but in the UK, using paypal – A crowdfunding plugin for WordPress. – Just like Kickstarter, but with more options. – A site devoted to reviewing kickstarter alternatives (English and French, open to all) – “Crowdfunding Platform for Social Good” ”

Source: Quora