Category Archives: Customer Insight

Get more customer insights with these 5 questions

Questions to uncover customer insights

If you want really insightful information from your customers, try asking these 5 open-ended questions:

What is the one thing you think we do really well?

This question will help you identify what customers really like about doing business with you. You may have your own opinions on this, however more than likely you will be surprised by customers’ opinions on what they consider as your biggest differentiator.

What is the one thing we do that you think needs improvement?

This enables you to get real feedback on areas of your business that need improvement from a customer perspective. Some of the customer responses might be unexpected, but this is truly valuable insight for improving your business relative to actual customer experiences.

What is the one thing we do that we should stop doing?

Companies rarely ask their customers this question. The problem is that many businesses do things because they think that’s what customers want or because they’ve always done it. This could be something that a company spends resources on but has no or even worse negative value for customers.

What is the one thing we don’t do that we should start doing?

Your customers have done business with many other related and unrelated companies and have seen good and bad business practices for how businesses deal with customers. These answers can provide great ideas for improving the experience for your customers and developing stronger competitive differentiation.

Would you recommend us to others?

This question will tell you whether or not your customer is someone that will help drive positive word of mouth.

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?

Customer Centric Leadership Practices – Lessons from “the HP way”

the hp way

Source: GIZMODO

In recent weeks I have met several ex-HP employees who told me about the great times they had at HP when the culture embedded by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard prevailed – a culture of innovation, customer focus and respect for individuals as flesh and blood people.

One told me of his early days as an engineer working in one of the R&D labs in the Test and Measurement Division at Palo Alto. While working on a project at his bench he was expected to watch his colleague working on the next bench and through observation and discussion to see what he was struggling with – then to see if he could solve the problem. If he could, there just might be a lot of other engineers in the marketplace who are struggling with the same problem – and this solution might create a new market.

This practice, or cultural discipline, heightened the awareness of engineers at HP to be looking for problems that their engineering colleagues had that created a sensitivity to the potential needs of their “engineer’ customers. In effect, it made the R&D employees at HP customer focused.

Imagine if accountants in CPA firms or in financial services firms adopted the “next bench” theory. Or IT technologists in IT service firms practiced it. Or HR professionals in large corporations did it. We might just see stronger customer focused cultures emerging organically.

What are the opportunities for “next bench” thinking and practice in your business?

Customer Centric Lessons from the Rock Band Van Halen

CREDIT: PHOTOSTATION IMAGES/LARRY MARANO

CREDIT: PHOTOSTATION IMAGES/LARRY MARANO

Van Halen was particularly big in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. David Lee Roth was their lead singer and also somewhat of an technical operations expert.

In fact Van Halen was a pioneer in many ways for touring rock bands. They were one of the first to take a really big action-packed rock concert to smaller cities and towns across America. In one year they did more than 100 concerts across the US. The technical set-up for these concerts was on a massive scale, Van Halen would haul 9 semi trailers worth of equipment to each venue.

Although they had their own road crew much of the initial set-up had to be contracted out beforehand. As part of that process they had developed very detailed specifications to denote the way the stage and surroundings needed to be set-up. David Lee Roth actually described the document as the size of the Yellow Pages. It’s is not the sort of detailed work you would expect from a lead vocalist in a rock band, particularly one that had its fair share of Rock Diva bad behaviour.

In fact they not only threw a TV out the window from the suite of one of their hotel rooms but they had enough extension cable to ensure the TV stayed on all the way until it hit the ground!

Another bit of folk lore from the time was the band’s requirement to have a bowl of M&Ms with the brown M&Ms removed. In fact in the contract they had with venue suppliers it stipulated if this bowl of M&Ms was not available back stage they had the right to cancel the show with full compensation. Many people explained this away as Van Halen making ABSURD demands just because they could. However the truth of the matter is a little different. The clause, called Article 126 was written with a very specific purpose.

If the band arrived at a venue and David Lee Roth saw a Brown M&M in the M&Ms bowl he would demand a full check of the entire production. He believed it was a guarantee there were errors in the way the technical elements of the stage production were set-up as clearly they had not read the “yellow pages sized” instruction book!

David needed a way to check that people were paying attention to the details of his requirements as a customer. So he add this little test as a cue.

In fact as customers we all use cues to determine whether something is good or bad, high quality or low quality and what we might expect in terms of service.

In the airline business, the airlines know that if there are stains on the trays people feel nervous about the quality and safety of the aircraft. So the good airlines pay attention to these details because of the broader message it sends about safety and airline quality.

Do you have customers like this? What cues are your customers using to assess whether you will live up to your promises?

Do you have the type of organizational culture where people are tuned into these customer cues?

2 secrets of Salesforce.com’s success at attracting customers

customerculture_at_salesforce

Jamie Greney, a long standing employee says “In my ten years at salesforce.com, I think one of the most important elements to our success has been the corporate culture. We’ve had a consistent vision regarding the end of software. Three of our top values have been trust, customer success, and innovation.”

Alyson Stone, another company employee says “Depending on how you look at it, resolving a customer’s problem is the beginning or the end of a journey. Companies who decide to put the customer at the center of all business strategies and activities are making a commitment to engagement, yes. But more than that they are making an assumption that each customer is a long-term investment with a high rate of return.”

It is clear that Salesforce’s customer culture is embedded in the business and has been central to its ongoing delivery of value to its growing customer base. Salesforce is on Fortune’s 2012 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For ranked number 27.

In a report titled “Salesforce’s happy workforce”, David Kaplin describes what happens inside the company.

 “There are plenty of reasons Salesforce is cool to work for: its downtown San Francisco vibe, its matchless end-of-the-year revelry, its embedded philanthropy, and its idiosyncratic leader.”

He quotes Marc Benioff, the CEO, “We achieved our market position by being born cloud,” Benioff writes in his book titled Beyond the Cloud, “but we are being ‘reborn’ social … We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook and other social sites like Twitter have changed the consumer conversation and created incredible loyalty — and love.”

Kaplan reports that Salesforce’s new social-networking app, Chatter, functions much like a Facebook inside a company — and helps enhance office culture. Whether on a computer or mobile device, Chatter is dynamic and collaborative — e-mail, by comparison, is static and private. In open groups or news feeds like Finance or Sales, multiple employees can share ideas in real time on projects, analyze data, and compare drafts. “I learned more about my company in a few months through using Chatter than I had in the last three years,” Benioff says.

At Salesforce itself — where there are about 3,000 daily Chatter posts, and internal e-mails have decreased 30% since Chatter went live — there are groups designed to get employees across departments and rank talking to each other about work life, including Tribal Knowledge and Airing of Grievances. Kaplan says you can’t post anonymously, so complaints and queries are rather tame. But it nonetheless generates a degree of cooperation unseen at large organizations.

When you think about it, by providing business software on the web as its core mission, the collaborative model that the company has with its customers engenders cross-function collaboration within each customer as they use the Salesforce software.

Success has many elements, but there are two secrets underpinning Salesforce that stand out:

1)   A Customer Culture as noted at the start of this post, is fundamental to Salesforce’s growth and profitability.

2)   Collaboration across functions and with customers fuels trust and innovation resulting in a happy workforce and more value for customers.

How strong are these cultural attributes in your company? What could you do to strengthen them?

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

starbucks_premium_steel_card

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?

The Secret to High Impact Customer Communications – Lessons from Virgin

A challenge all businesses have is to be noticed by their potential customers.

How do you grab attention with a message that resonates with customers and keeps your business top of mind?

A really great example comes from Virgin Mobile in Australia, they developed a new campaign called Fair Go Bro . It is a very cleverly designed campaign that plays on a major cultural theme in Australian society that is the idea of “fairness”

By starring none other than Brad Pitt’s brother Doug, Virgin has “borrowed interest” via the borrowed interest’s brother!, saving millions of dollars. According to the press release from Virgin it had 1.3 million views in the first week with “no media support”.

No doubt Doug exorcized years of sibling resentment by becoming a advertising star on Australia TV.

So what is the secret? Virgin understands the customer’s environment and how they “feel” about purchasing mobile phones in Australia – they have deep customer insight. They are able to connect emotionally by leveraging the “fairness” idea and make people pay attention by leveraging an unusual idea. Instead of hiring the celebrity everyone expects you to hire do something different – it is this “unexpected” element that makes the campaign stick.

Where does the appetite for creative customer focused campaigns like this come from? From an organization that is truly passionate about the value it has to offer its customers. Virgin has a customer centered culture that wants to stand out, be different and provide products and services that exceed customer’s expectations.

Can you imagine a competitive company running a campaign this creative and unique?

Where is the innovation in American retail banking?

customer_innovation_in_banking

More than 150 nominations representing over 30 countries were received for the 2012 BAI-Finacle Global Banking Innovation Awards for breakthrough innovations that positively impact banks and their customers. Of these, 27 were from banks operating in the US and 4 from Canada.

The awards are designed to recognize banking organizations for game changing products, services and practices in retail banking. The award winners were selected by an independent international group composed of prominent industry thought-leaders, academics and retail banking professionals. The winners were announced on October 12, 2012.

The award for the Most Innovative Bank of the Year went to First National Bank in South Africa.  The Product and Service Innovation winner was the OCBC Bank, Singapore, the Channel Innovation award went to DenizBank, Turkey and the Disruptive Innovation in Banking award was won by Alior Bank in Poland.

Here’s how the judges described the First National Bank, a Division of FirstRand Limited:

“First National Bank was named as winner for its culture of innovation and advancement of retail banking. As part of their innovative culture, the bank holds an internal competition, called “Innovators,” that formally encourages and supports the process of innovation and related competencies. Business units within FNB are empowered to innovate through leadership buy-in and advocacy. As a retail banking institution, FNB takes a top down approach to innovation to embed it into the culture. It shows visible support of innovation through internal programs designed to develop new-to-the-world products and services that provide access to retail banking for all who want it. FNB’s commitment to innovation can best be seen through their annual contest – “Innovators”.

“Innovators” is a companywide initiative that supports and enables innovation with leadership buy-in and advocacy from the CEO and his direct reports. Winners of “Innovators” win real money (up to $120,000 USD) for innovations that meet the test, such as e-wallets and mobile phone offerings, which FNB is known for.

FNB encourages innovation at the lower levels of the organization, too, with its “Minivation” program, which rewards back office employees with “e-bucks” that they can redeem at FNB clients for suggesting more day-to-day, incremental improvements. A minivation is anything that takes less than three months to implement that provides some business benefit.

From an organizational strategy design perspective, there is a bias towards innovation in the FNB overall strategy in that it is both a strategic pillar and organizational value. FNB’s decentralized structure gives discretionary decision rights to business units who are enabled and encouraged to innovate. This top-down leadership and support evidenced through the sheer volume of innovations in all categories at FNB makes them The Most Innovative Bank of the Year. “

Of course, this is not the final word on innovation in American retail banking, but there was only one US bank finalist amongst the 12 finalists in the four categories suggesting that innovative practices can be learned from banks operating in other countries.

But what does successful innovation require?

Sustainable innovation, well described in the First National Bank case above, requires an embedded culture led from the top and supported and recognized at every level and in every group in the organization. To be successful, this innovative culture must incorporate behaviors that focus in 5 areas:

1)   Customer needs, especially foresight of future customer needs

2)  Competitive advantage, especially foresight of future competition

3)  Broader external changes, especially changes around the periphery of the industry

4)  Collaboration, especially internal  across functions and with external partners

5)   Alignment, especially innovation aligned with the company strategy

How innovative is your culture compared with your peers? Do you see strong behaviors noted above that are requirements for successful innovation in your business?

5 traits companies must have to play in free-for-all energy industry

customer centricity in the energy_industry

Traditional electric utilities are on the verge of facing massive competition. The barriers to entry have fallen and a large number of new and old companies have entered the power generation business.

Numerous and diverse competitors non-utilitieshave already entered the electricity business. Wind farms are expanding. More than a hundred Silicon Valley startups are developing new power technologies. Many of these have venture capital funding. Several like the Bloom Box fuel cell, have the potential to transform the industry by bringing power generation to the home.

Real estate companies and builders are supplying rooftop solar on new homes. Schools, government buildings, and businesses are deploying their own solar panels. Chevron Energy Solutions, a Chevron subsidiary, is one of the nation’s largest installers of solar energy systems for education institutions

Tie this to consumer and business resistance to higher energy prices and an increasing drive to seek out lower cost alternatives and we will soon see the competitive floodgates open putting the traditional players with big traditional infrastructure investments at risk.

It is not clear where all of this is going to go.  Everything is in the mix – technology, the economy, politics, globalization and societal trends towards “green and clean”. The government plays a big part with its energy policy along with regulation, subsidies and incentives for varies parts of the industry.

The one factor that is common to the longer-term success of each player in this industry is the adaptability of its corporate culture. In this environment it must have a culture characterized by 5 traits:

  • Customer understanding and insight
  • Competitor awareness and foresight
  • Peripheral vision of industry changes and impacts
  • Strategic alignment around value for all stakeholders
  • Collaborative and empowered workforce

Those players that have these 5 cultural traits embedded in their DNA will be able to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions and challenges in this disruptive industry. Those that don’t will disappear or be acquired.

Could your business survive in a competitive free-for-all like this? Does it have the 5 traits required for success in any industry undergoing major market and technology shifts?

2 Massive Trends impacting your customers in 2013

scanning a QR code

Understanding the broader customer environment is crucial to managing and meeting their expectations. For example all retailers customer’s expectations have been impacted by the innovations and success of the Apple retail platform. Customers expect to be able to walk in speak to anyone in the store and buy something immediately with a receipt emailed to them instantly. This raises the bar for all retailers regardless of what you sell. This peripheral vision is a core discipline for customer focused businesses.

Likewise there are a number of major trends impacting all customers that will accelerate in 2013.

1. Mobile Computing goes Mainstream

It is predicted that more people will access the web via mobile devices than traditional PCs during 2013. This means companies need to understand the implications and opportunities this presents their businesses. It may simply mean you need to optimize your website for mobile devices. For some companies it means creating mobile versions of their products or services, new apps for the app store or new ways for customers to purchase on the go.

2. Innovative use of QR codes

Target is leveraging its in-store consumer traffic to compete with Amazon by offering shoppers the ability to scan a QR code with their smartphone and have a product shipped for free anywhere. Where this is particularly valuable is when products may be out of stock. Shoppers still prefer to see certain products in person so this is a great way for target to display products and allow customers to make instant purchases. You may recall Amazon has its own barcode scanner application allowing users to scan products in its competitors stores and compare prices. The competition continues to heat up!

Can you imagine a supermarket with no physical stock? Tesco has been testing virtual supermarkets in Korea. Essentially product images with QR codes are displayed on a high resolution poster and busy commuters can scan what they need as they go past and have it automatically delivered anywhere.

virtual supermarket shopper scanning QR codes

The use of QR codes will continue to ramp up in 2013 as businesses test different ways to provide value to customers.

What do these trends mean for your business?

Happy New Year, make 2013 a great year for you and your customers!