Category Archives: Customer Value

Lexus – a beacon of customer centricity

lexus_windy_road

The auto manufacturing industry will soon be under siege – impacts are already being felt with easy consumer access and convenience of services like Uber, better public transport, parking costs and restrictions in increasingly large cities around the globe and technological advances in communications propelling less commuting between home and work.

Traditionally auto dealers have focused on each transaction – just getting a sale – and not on nurturing the long term relationships with their customers that will make them lifetime brand loyalists.

Lexus is an exception. Nick Dieltiens, a customer centricity consultant based in Europe, tells us of his experiences when working with Lexus in Europe. First the mindset. It’s not about the “car”, its about the “customer’s journey”. This is illustrated by the fact that on the rare occasions when a Lexus broke down in the French Alps, Lexus arranged for a helicopter to be flown in to collect the stranded family and fly them to their destination.

Also, customer service people at Lexus in Europe are empowered to make the decision to take back a car if the customer is not entirely satisfied with the purchase. Nick tells the story of a senior Lexus executive taking back a car from a customer because the remote control would not connect to the customer’s garage door and the issue could not be fixed. So the executive purchased a Mercedes at a discounted price and provided it to his customer at that discounted price.

The next car the customer bought was a Lexus.

The customer culture in many Lexus dealerships in Europe is strong. Staff are trained to observe Lexus vehicles on the road. If one is see with a broken tail light, they would wave down the driver where safe to do so, give them their car, take the car to get the light fixed free of charge and return the car to the owner.

You may think this costs Lexus a lot of money. It may cost a little more in the short term, but it pays off in a big way with high customer loyalty in car servicing and repeat purchase.

The most important investment by Lexus is in building and retaining a customer culture! This will be essential for all auto companies if they want to grow their businesses in future.

Why smashing hierarchy and driving collaboration is essential to customer experience

Source: BRW Australia Photo: Nic Walker

Dr David Cooke, MD of Konica Minolta Australia.  
Source: BRW Australia Photo: Nic Walker

When Dr David Cooke was appointed managing director of Konica Minolta in Australia he was faced with a culture of strict hierarchy, strong silos and task oriented behavior.  He realized this was the first thing that had to change.

Why? Because the market for multifunction copiers and printers was changing. The market for these products was declining and the demand for outsourced solutions and services was emerging. The hardware was less important than it was in the past, customers just expected the devices to all work well and be built with high quality engineering. Quality products did not differentiate, customers wanted more, they wanted more sophisticated services and solutions to help them manage the costs of running their fleets and value add solutions that would streamline workflows and improve their operational effectiveness.

These new market conditions required a more flexible, agile and collaborative culture that focused on the changing customer needs if Konica Minolta was to thrive in the future. So his vision of KMA as the “company that cares” for its customers and its community was a means to differentiate KMA from its large competitors, promote a unified company view of improved service and value for customers and one that he felt his staff could buy in to.

His view was validated by a staff survey that benchmarked the level of customer-focused culture in the business by measuring market responsiveness on a 7 factor index. It showed that there was some work to do, but that staff were overwhelmingly ready for change, wanted transparency of information across the organization and expected the senior leadership to lead it and show the way.

David immediately looked for tangible initiatives that would demonstrate a unified company with increased collaboration and communication. In the first few months of his tenure he made the following changes:

  • the large corner office that was originally the haven of the previous managing directors was re-purposed as a “quiet lounge” for all staff
  • he moved into a glass fronted office next to the lunch room where he could wave or nod to his staff as they used this heavily used walk-way.
  • he replaced several of the functional heads with new leaders to strengthen the cultural change program and break down the silos
  • he increased transparency in the HR function by moving it from closed office walls to join others in the open plan office and appointed a new leader to facilitate the change program
  • he promoted an external focus by encouraging all staff to work for non-profit community organizations by enabling them to take days off to directly contribute

David’s approach to creating a less hierarchical structure, sharing of financial results and customer successes across the business is leading to more engaged staff, better customer service and growth in revenues at a time when overall market revenue is declining.

What’s the secret? Customer Focused Leadership – leaders that genuinely care about creating value for customers, the business and the communities that operate in.

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

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?

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?