Category Archives: Market Culture in Action

Lessons from REI: Aligning your People

We have just completed one of the busiest weeks in retail in the United States, with Black Friday for the physical stores and Cyber Monday for the online retailers. This week now blends together with doorbuster deals bombarding us constantly online and instore in the week leading up to Thanksgiving as well as weekend afterwards.

What is different this year is that some major stores have decided to stay closed during this period. In the land of the consumer this a really big deal!

One chain in particular stands out, REI, the outdoor recreation retailer with more than 12,000 employees and 140 stores around the US decided to close this past Black Friday. See below, their CEO, Jerry Stritzke’s 30 second announcement:

 

“We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.” – REI CEO, Jerry Stritzke

So what is behind this decision? I believe it is to better align REI’s core values with its actions in the market. REI’s core mission is “to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

What better way to live that mission and align all of their people around it than closing on a day that allows their own people get outside and live the company’s mission.

Now that all sounds great but how does that help their customers? No doubt some customers may be inconvenienced by their physical stores being closed. However they will still have a small number of staff manning their website so they are not completely close for business.

REI are reacting to growing concerns by their customers and others that retail in general is overshadowing the core purpose of thanksgiving which is to celebrate with family and friends. They are betting that this decision will pay off over the longer term by aligning their people with their mission while also meeting the changing expectations of their customers.

Ultimately if you want your people and customers to really buy-in to what your company is about you must walk the talk, for me this is strategic alignment in action!

Interested in what it takes to be truly customer centric? Learn more here

Why real-time customer feedback is the future for customer centric companies

Feedback

Companies have been measuring customer satisfaction levels for many years and yet many of these same companies have not seen significant improvements or changes. One of the reasons is customer satisfaction research has been a static activity. Satisfaction levels are measured once a year or less frequency. The data is discussed and reviewed but is not integrated or used to drive business decisions. The result is a lack of action. Even worse customers make complaints which companies then try to address weeks after any useful resolution is available.

In fact this cycle of asking customers for feedback and doing little or nothing with it is one reason why most customers don’t respond to surveys. Why should customers spend the time providing feedback when nothing meaningful will be done?

One of the challenges facing companies trying to implement a more real-time approach in the past has been limited resources to apply to the challenge. Real time has required surveys been run more frequently and systems to be available to provide that feedback to the right people at the right time.

Thankfully with the technology available today, a number of companies are providing customer centric organizations with new tools to gather insights and feedback on the go.

A great example comes from the healthcare industry, more specifically hospitals. Patient Experience is something that Hospitals can no longer ignore as a large percentage of their at-risk income under the affordable care act comes from their patient satisfaction levels.

Eric LoMonaco, a great patient centered leader, from the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP) in Monterey recently implemented a real time feedback program using QR codes placed strategically around the hospital.

qr-code used for feedback

The challenge they faced was satisfaction was measured by an external body that would provide reporting after the fact. The result was patients left the hospital with problems that were never addressed. Eric saw the opportunity to implement a system that would allow CHOMP to gain real time feedback that could be directed to leaders in the hospital and responded to in real time.

The impact of this system on patient satisfaction levels has been dramatic and immediate. By scanning a QR code or simply sending a text message directly to a leader in the Hospital, Patients are able to provide real-time feedback that leaders can address immediately as issues arise rather than after the fact.

Eric shares the results CHOMP has been achieved so far in a great article he wrote here and a webcast here.

With this type of technology available, the excuses for real-time customer satisfaction improvements are running out.

It is the combination of a customer centric mindset, coupled with technology and processes that will determine the winners in today’s business environment. To learn more about creating the right culture in your business, check out our book, The Customer Culture Imperative.

How to generate customer insights without another survey!

starbucks_ideas

While surveys are useful at collecting information on customers and how they feel about certain interactions, products or services there are other ways to gain meaningful insights.

First let’s define what we mean by customer insights:

Customer Insights Defined: a deep understanding of a customer’s needs and behaviors—both known needs that the customer can identify, and the latent needs that they cannot.

It also helps to begin by framing the type of customer insight you are looking to uncover. There are 4 main categories of customer insights that are useful to driving business performance.

1. Strategic Customer Insights – these are used to inform the company’s strategy by understanding what unique market segments exist in the marketplace. For example in the telecommunications industry there are a wide range of different types of customers with unique needs. Some customers now use smartphones as their primary internet device, their needs will be different from customers that still use cell phones primarily for phone calls and text messages.

A deep understanding of the needs of different market segments allows a company to determine which segments are most attractive. This customer insight also allows a company to identify where it needs to improve its own value proposition in order to attract and retain customers from each segment.

2. Program Specific Insights – these are insights specific to a component of a business strategy. For example, a manufacturer looking to roll out a training program to its retailers would need insight into the most effective methods to educate retailers. Should training be conducted in person, via a webcast or through a self service portal?

3. Product and Service Insights – these are direct inputs into how products or services could be improved. A great example of this in action is “My Starbucks Idea”, an online brainstorming tool driven by customers. Customers share ideas and other customers can vote on them so the best customer driven ideas rise to the top.

4. Insights for Marketing Communications – understanding what media and mediums customer’s use to get information informs how companies can more effectively reach and communicate with potential customers. For example if the customer group in question is predominantly focused on using social media, understanding which social media platforms they are most engaged in will help direct communication resources.

So now to the question of how to generate insights without surveys…

Customer insights can initially be generated from reviewing existing publicly available research and data as well as data internally available to the company. This often involves internal interviews with experts in markets and front line people that interact with customers on a regular basis. While this is useful it is secondary research, a review of what already exists and while it can generate new insights it is more useful for gaining alignment around what the company already knows about customers.

To gain deeper unique insights an ongoing process should be implemented that involves primary research. This doesn’t need to be complicated or only handled by marketing research profession in fact it is more impactful when people across the organization are involved.

Customer Immersion Activities

The most time and cost effective way to generate insights is to simply talk with customers. In today’s world this can include a range of mediums from one on one interviews to focus groups to online forums like the one Starbucks runs or Ideastorm, Dell’s equivalent.

Now I realize that technology products and coffee are highly engaging products with many willing participants, what if you sell toilet paper or a product that inspires less passion?

For these less inspiring categories a great source of insight can be customer complaints. Barbara Buchanan has written a great article titled “Mining Complaints and Negative Social Media May Have Positive Consequences” including some examples from the banking and manufacturing industry. The key is making it easy for customers to complain and provide feedback in real time, in the moment. For example a Hospital in California installed posters around the hospital with a QR codes. Patients can scan the QR code on their phones and immediately send a manager a message about an issue. Managers receive these in the form of text messages and commit to responding immediately and resolving issues as fast as possible. Patient satisfaction has doubled in the past several quarters as a result.

qrcodes_feedback

Going Deeper by Observing Customer Behavior

Ethnographic research can provide deep insights into people’s behaviors and unmet needs by taking a holistic view of customers in their own environment.

This is a more expensive technique but can yield unique insights. A great example comes from a day in the life analysis of  women cleaning their homes in Italy. A US company after failing to gain success with an all purpose cleaner for the home in the Italian market, undertook ethnographic research to understand why the product was failing. It discovered that Italian women spent 4 times as much time cleaning their homes than US women. They were fastidious and extremely house proud. They used specific cleaners for specific jobs as they believed an all purpose cleaner simply would not get the job done. These insights allowed the company to reposition the cleaner to focus on meeting a more specific need – benchtop cleaning. The repositioning resulted in a much more successful launch into the italian market.

Piloting New Products or Services

This involves putting new products or services in front of customers to gain direct feedback. A modern version of this can be seen on websites like Kickstarter, where entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can essentially describe a product or service and raise funding for the idea. This is really the ultimate way to test concepts, will customers pay for it? One of the most successful products launched on Kickstarter is the Pebble Watch. It launched 18 months prior to Apple announcing their own iWatch. It is now raising funding for its second version and has raised almost $10 million to date.

Mining Social Media

The last incredible source of rich customer insight exists within a wide range of social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, Pinterest and other online communities. There are a range of different companies that can help mine this online data and distill sentiment and feedback in a meaningful and actionable manner. A great list of the top 50 tools is provided here by Pam Dyer.

While surveys remain a great way to elicit direct feedback on specific topics of interest to the company, there are many other ways to generate insights that should be incorporated into every company’s way of doing business.

Is Telstra Australia’s Amazon? – Its Customer Centric Strategy is Paying Dividends

Making Customer Connections

While some may argue you cannot compare a telecommunications company with an online shopping mega star like Amazon, I beg to differ.

There is one core element both companies now share – their absolute commitment to being customer centric.

In 2009 when David Thodey took over as CEO of Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra, he was asked what would differentiate his tenure from his predecessors. He said:

“I want to be an agent for the customer”.

It was a time when Australia’s highest profile company was being criticized on all fronts for its arrogance, poor customer service, unjustifiably high prices and monopolistic practices.

Thodey set about changing the culture at Telstra to a customer focused culture and invested heavily in defining and communicating internally a vision, values and strategy that had the customer at its center and customer service as its catch-cry. It included intense training of its 5,000 people leaders in Australia, India and the Philippines as well as new systems and processes that empowered customer facing staff to provide much better service to customers and solve their problems with least fuss. A new division was set up that enabled staff who heard of a friend’s problem at a barbeque to give them a direct line to a solution if they were having trouble getting it solved. Telstra embarked on a program to create advocacy with its customers and its staff. Use of the net promoter measurement system with daily feedback from thousands of customers fed to the areas in Telstra responsible was a trigger for focus on customers. Other customer feedback measures and progressive culture assessments have supported Telstra’s customer-centric journey.

Telstra: Improving Customer Advocacy

Now it is paying dividends. The company has posted seven successive half years of earnings growth to AUD$2.1 billion for this latest half – up 21% on last year. Dividends have been steady, but are now set to increase. Telstra is on a roll with its customer-centric strategy and stronger customer culture proving Thodey’s stance. Stock price is at an all-time high at around AUD$6.50 per share with steady and continuing growth up from around AUD$4.50 two years ago.

Telstra posts 22pc net profit rise

David Thodey is the first to say that Telstra still has some way to go. But his leadership of a strategy and culture in which the customer is at the center of decisions and service delivery is creating a highly sustainable profitable business.

If you want to see how it all began you will find it was originally initiated first in the Finance Group at Telstra and described in a case study about the CFO’s value service culture initiative. See Case Study Highlight: Telstra Transformation.

Telstra’s transformation story can also be found in “The Customer Culture Imperative: A Leader’s Guide to Driving Superior Performance”

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.

If you want to build this capability in your organization check out our MarketCulture Academy.

Diagnose Your Customer Culture

I hope you enjoy our post from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network

The Customer Insight Lab of the Future

Uncovering customer insights

Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, like other large organizations has a powerful research, analytics and insights hub. Liz Moore, who heads that group in Telstra says

“You need deep seated curiosity to develop insights.”

So she has hired people with those characteristics and developed an operating model that links the data supplier with an “insight manager” and the stakeholder (decision-maker) to solve a particular customer problem and gain real insights into current and future customer needs.

This group provides insights from customer value analysis, churn analysis, market share changes, communication effectiveness of the company and its competitors’ marketing campaigns, financial modeling of key competitors as well as analysis of qualitative customer feedback.

Liz says “In research we have changed from the rear-view mirror to headlights” and with access to a panel of 15,000 consumers whose behavior is tracked, she can put together focus groups within a day of the request. Her group proactively shares analytics and insights on customers and competitors throughout the company using weekly bulletins. It also reacts to requests from decision-makers in the business to research, analyze and develop insights on particular customer and market situations.

Above all this group is action oriented. Liz says “We don’t build anything unless there is a pathway to execution and measurement.”

This really is a great model for the customer insight lab of the future. Rather that seeing this as an isolated research function, forward thinking companies are building a multi-disciplinary team of people focused on using deep customer insight to help move business forward.

Does your organisation know more about customers than your competitors?

How customer centric companies make service recovery a priority

In the below video, Chris Zane of Zane’s cycles, probably the most customer centric bike store on the planet, tells the story of how they got things wrong.

Not only did they gets things wrong but on Valentine’s Day of all days!

We all get things wrong from time to time, what matters is how we handle things when we make a mistake. People that work for customer centric companies take ownership, take charge and make things right for the customer.

Is this how your team operates?

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?

Extreme customer service on top of Mt Kilimanjaro

climbing_the_customer_centric_mountain

Source: crewtreks.com

It is amazing where you will find people with a “customer first” mindset and an innate sense of understanding customer needs and how to fill them.

Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, at 19, 340 feet, is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Mt Everest stands atop a mountain range. The climb from Everest Base Camp to the summit is between 11,000-12,000 feet depending on whether you start from the south or the north. But the continual climb of Kilimanjaro from base to the top is over 19,000 feet. So, when you start climbing the mountain you climb for a continuous six days increasing your elevation by over 3,000 feet per day. It is not a technical climb, so the biggest danger is altitude sickness, which will effectively end your mission to get to the top.

My friend, John, booked with a Tanzanian expedition company with experienced guides and travelled to Kilimanjaro last December with both excitement and anxiety. He dearly wanted to make it to the top, but could he? Climbing high mountains plays on you both physically and mentally. On the lower parts of the climb he kept hearing stories of how hard it is to reach the summit. He saw people being rapidly brought down the mountain suffering from altitude sickness.

After five days of climbing, John, his fellow climbers and their guides set off at 11pm for the remaining 3000 foot climb to the summit. The oxygen deficit at that altitude impacts the body and the mind. John was feeling tired, but good. The Tanzanian guides were continually encouraging the climbers – “go slow. You’re doing great!” At one point a guide came back to John and suggested he carry John’s backpack for him. John felt OK and said he could carry it himself. The guide persisted and said he would only carry it as far as the next rest stop. When they arrived at the next rest stop, John could see that the guide had carried an additional three packs apart from his own. When John approached him, the guide said he would just carry it a little further for him.

They reached the summit at 7.30am the next morning and the guide was waiting for an exhausted John with his backpack. Who knows whether he would have made it carrying his own pack. But, the guide could sense that John may have difficulties making the top – not only in the first part of that summit climb, but for the last bit of it. He was thinking ahead of his client’s future needs. He was almost literally “walking in the shoes” of his customer. He was checking with his client to understand how he was feeling and sensing what else he could do to help him achieve his goal. Most of all he was thinking of his client as a human being.

John was overcome by a sense of gratitude to his guide. The emotional connection was intense.

Isn’t that what real customer service is about?