Posted on November 22, 2013
Had a bit of drama over the past week. I’ll recap it for you as quickly as possible – as most readers of this blog don’t work in the same sector as I do.
Essentially Mick Kent, my CEO, wrote a challenging piece setting out why we have embarked upon a different service vision. Bromford are celebrating 50 years in business - so you wouldn’t think it particularly controversial to reflect on the past and consider the future.
Not so. The piece sparked some astonishing responses – especially on social media. Many in the sector expressed derision and even outright contempt. How could one of their own say such things?
But experience suggests this is just a natural crowd reaction to someone stepping out of line and being different.
You’ll never see a sector – be it Housing, Care, Support or Health, drive innovation. It’s simply not in the interests of the majority to reward disruptive behaviour.
It’s one of the eternal challenges for industry bodies – they have to reflect the views of their average member. And the views of the average member are, by definition, average.
You’ll never find a sector that is wholly admirable either. Be it banking, retail, travel or charitable – you will find the good, the indifferent, and the bad.
And you’ll also find a few disruptors – pacesetters who are pushing forward with a bold new vision. Often that vision will be treated with initial scepticism – sometimes by customers as well as industry peers.
In the last month the 2013 UK Customer Experience Excellence Top 20 was announced. You’ll see that it’s made up of companies who have faced criticism precisely because they challenged the accepted order of things.
Let’s glance at the Top 10 :
10 – Waitrose – Broke out of their southeast heartland despite people saying, “It’ll never work in the north”.
9 – M+S – Launched Plan A (“because there is no Plan B”) a programme to instil innovation across 81,000 employees and lose their old fashioned image.
8 – Ocado – A High St store “without any stores “ founded by three guys with no experience of retail. “A disaster waiting to happen” said critics.
7 – Lush – Showed cosmetics can be ethical and environmentally responsible, whist also being super indulgent and pleasurable. ” We hire for values , not skills”.
6 – M+S Simply Food - Darling of the middle classes opens branches in railway stations , airports and hospitals. Critics predict failure – “People will resist the idea of carrying high cost food shopping around with them.”
5 – Virgin Atlantic – Challenging the establishment, improving service and astounding its customers: “We’ve never been afraid to upset people”.
4- Amazon – From “destroyer of Book Shops” to “destroyer of the High Street”. Adored by their customers.
3 – First Direct – The only bank people love. Launched with two ad campaigns: a negative one showing the everyday aspects of normal banking. A positive one showing how good First Direct would be. The banking sector was appalled. Customers applauded.
2 – QVC – Almost universally derided on its UK launch in 1993. Now a global leader in video and eCommerce retail. Just launched QVC Sprouts, a crowdsourced competition to search for the best up-and-coming entrepreneurs and new products
In first place? John Lewis.
A few years ago I was talking to John Lewis employees at a conference where they had been speaking. They told me that far from being lauded by their own sector they were often criticised. People said it was arrogant and pretentious they had their own language (colleagues as “Partners” for example). Their recruitment practices and culture had been described as “a cult”.
“People just think we are a bit weird,” they told me. “But we’re not bothered by what the industry thinks. Just the customers.”
I imagine the retail sector were cynical about the fuss around The Bear and The Hare , the Christmas advert by John Lewis . As was I.
Nearly 8 million YouTube views. Number 1 in overall UK Customer Experience. Profits of 415 million.
A lesson for innovators – don’t listen to your sector: Be Different. Be More Weird.
Posted on October 25, 2013
A new report puts Amazon, McDonald’s and First Direct as the leaders in the top ten of the UK’s ‘simplest’ brands. The companies that are the easiest to deal with.
Whatever you think of them most of us could learn from their “frictionless” customer service. It’s interesting to ponder how sectors might be transformed if we had Amazon Health , McDonald’s Housing and First Direct Care.
“Our survey reveals that both in the UK and on a global scale, consumers would pay more for simplicity” says the report.
There is a huge irony here in a week when three of the brands in the bottom ten , Npower , British Gas and SSE, have announced huge price increases. Simply put – we are being asked to pay more for the companies we value the least.
I’ve been out of the UK recently and it’s led me to ponder how – as customer experience seems to get more complex – it gets easier in places like Indonesia. Now the worlds fourth most populous country and packed full of newly aspirant Generation Y , Indonesia is tech savvy and connected. The number one consumer purchase is the smartphone. It’s a country unencumbered by bureaucracy, rules and rigid infrastructure.
No-one tells you that’s not the way to do it.
Here are 5 examples I saw that remove the friction from customer service:
You know that moment when the plane hits the runway and everyone takes their phones out only to be told you can’t use them? Annoying right? Well Qatar Airways say it’s OK – you are free to use your phones. Texting your parents to say you’ve arrived isn’t going to kill anyone. Which is why it’s great to see that British Airways is the first European carrier to end this outdated “rule”. Don’t create rules for your customer that are meaningless. Or at least revisit your rules often to check they are still relevant.
At Circle K and the convenience stores that are on every corner – WiFi is freely available. Benches are put up to encourage locals to park their mopeds , buy a coke and sit chatting and browsing online. These community hubs – dotted all over the place , bring the internet to everyone. If all the supermarkets in the UK did the same – we’d have a better connected society. And people would spend more in stores. Simple.
One of best things about South East Asia is that everyone seems to be an entrepreneur. It’s hardly ever “not my job”. A lovely example of this are the Pop-Up Bars on many of the beaches. Take one cool box, an umbrella and a couple of chairs , and hey , you’re a bar owner. On hearing that he didn’t stock what we wanted, the “owner” left us for 10 minutes while he popped out to stock up – specifically for us. As a counterpoint – two nights after I got back to the UK I was in a bar where I heard the waitress tell a customer that they had “run out of chips”. The customer asked whether she could go to a local supermarket (literally next door) and buy some potatoes. The waitress replied that company policy said they couldn’t buy potatoes from another supplier.
On arriving at Komeneka – everyone seems to know your name. Even the gardeners greeted us as “Mr Paul and Miss Karen” as if they’d known us forever. We only stayed a short time but in 72 hours Komeneka had built a deep and meaningful customer relationship that most businesses couldn’t build , or rather couldn’t be bothered to build, over a lifetime. The Manager also told me about his unique service vision “We compete on experience. We try to be unique. Our food and wine doesn’t come with the usual hotel surcharge – we want you to stay here so you have a better experience”.
Arriving at another hotel I apologised for being so early and said we’d wait around whilst the room was prepared. “It’s OK” they said “The boat company you used told us what time you were getting here – so we got ready early”. Despite the fact I’d used a fairly budget boat transfer they had noted where I was staying and had forwarded on my arrival time. To make it easier for me. How many times does your organisation make your customers day a little bit easier – not because there’s anything in it for you – but just because you can?
The lessons here?
- Don’t create false rules – check them for relevance
- Give your customers something free – or something that “feels like free”
- Go out of your way to personalise – people remember you for it
- Build deep and lasting relationships – even if the experience is brief
- Make your customers day a bit easier – just because you can
It’s not complicated. Let’s get simple.
Posted on October 17, 2013
I’m thinking it’s about 6 minutes to midnight on the Digital Doomsday Clock.
Time is running out on the organisations who are yet to board the bus. Yet to start the journey to being different businesses serving changed customers on a multiplicity of screens.
1 in 4 Executives from around the world believe the time has already come to implement digital transformation across their organisations, and that doing so is already a matter of survival. For 63% – the pace of change isn’t happening quickly enough.
I’m in agreement – there are 3 things we need to do , and quickly
1 – Get Social
Having a Twitter account and using a hashtag at a conference doesn’t equate to digital leadership.
“Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value – they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers – they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress”.
They embrace disruption.
2 – Agree It’s Not So #FutureTech
The future doesn’t arrive next year. It’s here. Now.
John Popham has remarked in a post that there is a ”real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest.”
Having a Customer Services Leader (at any level) with a peripheral interest in social and digital service is no longer fit for purpose – we need to support and re-train people to face up to the connected customer. But we need to balance this with the ticking clock – new skills and thinking may be required.
And don’t make assumptions about your customers. That 75 year old lady you think won’t like the internet is a level 85 Tauren Druid on World of Warcraft.
3 – Reimagine Connected Customer Service
Let’s not digitise our existing customer service offering . Let’s look at the possibilities and build a new vision. Look at how Amazon have innovated within the digital space. Look at how Wonga have made the user experience really simple and intuitive. Whether you like these brands and what they do is irrelevant. Look and learn.
The steps I would take are these:
- Align digital with business goals and strategy (If need be , review them)
- Have a flexible vision. Keep it under review , daily if need be. Don’t try and guess what it’s like in 2020. Nobody knows.
- Secure buy-in from your Executive team. And continually reinforce it.
- Develop a project roadmap but make sure this is kept under review too. New tools can emerge very quickly. Agility is key.
- Develop guidelines for how social and digital tools should be used. Avoid policy as much as you can. Build trust.
- Agree resources (social and digital are not free). GIve people the tools for the job.
- Nothing is certain. Accept failure is OK. Just kill things quickly and humanely when they are not working out.
It’s six minutes to midnight on the digital doomsday clock
Better start serving the Connected Customer
Posted on August 12, 2013
It’s hard to imagine anyone not knowing Helen Reynolds – such is her reputation – but it would be rude not to give an introduction.
Helen is Digital and Social Media Manager at Monmouthshire County Council , and one of the foremost innovators in digital communications. She’s also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. This brilliant guest post came about following a recent post I did about introducing innovation in the workplace. Take it away Helen!
In work, I can get frustrated when I feel like my fabulous ideas are always in ready supply but my work programme can’t catch up.
So I’ve looked back on my career so far, and the times I got cool stuff done, and I’ve found I use one or more of three ways to get a idea into action.
Disclaimer! Everything I’m talking about here relates to work ideas which are ethical, thought-through and which improve my organisation or, in a little way, society. I don’t advocate the approaches here for stupid or unhelpful ideas, obviously.
So – here are three things to do if you want your amazing project to happen:
1. Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing
Some people like to bounce ideas around a team, this can really fine-tune your concept. But if your idea is brilliant, the reality is that too much talking to every other department will water it down, slow your progress and add to your workload. You find extra barriers to jump and more people to spend time granting you permission.
It may be a cliche but it’s worth weighing up: will asking for forgiveness be easier than gaining permission? It should be a calculated risk – sometimes we have to crack on if we’re passionate that our project will be good enough to warrant this approach.
In a nutshell: work on a ‘need-to-know’ basis or end up with the guy from accounts inviting you to a project board about your idea.
2. Ask ‘blockers’ to prepare a business case for why you shouldn’t do it
The lovely and very innovative Dyfrig from Good Practice Wales asked me recently about how the organisation I work for opened up social media access to all staff - what would I do differently if I could do it again?
Easy. I’d have brought out the reflection business case!
Years ago I was asked by a reluctant fella from IT, after weeks of meetings, to produce a business case for why we should give staff access to social media. I was advised I’d need to look into all sorts of IT security stuff which sounded to me like technical gobbledegook and sounded like it’d be expensive. I briefly had a crack writing his business case before giving up and taking a different route (which, incidentally, was getting buy-in from leaders on the larger issues facing the organisation and how the idea would help).
If I could do it again, I’d have said: “OK, I’ll write a concise summary of what I think should happen and you write me a business case for why it should not happen.”
Some people find it easier to be negative than to come up with a solution. The reflected business case makes being a negative Norman a bit harder.
3. Be excited and really care
You’ll never follow through anything difficult unless you really want it to happen and you really care. If you’re thinking, ‘I’m not sure I can do it, maybe this won’t work’ – this isn’t the idea that you should slog your guts out on.
My best work has been the projects I’ve given up a night in the pub for, spent nights over a laptop with, got excitement butterflies in my stomach at. Everything else is day-to-day nice stuff.
For the sake of your health – use your passion and energy on the great ideas, not the good ones.
It’s true, honest
I used all three of these ‘techniques’ on various projects I’ve won awards for, including a 2011 SomeComms award for innovation. So it must work huh?
Would it work for you?
I hope so – good luck with your cool work.
Posted on August 1, 2013
Unless you are a fortune teller, long term business planning is a fantasy.
Why don’t we call plans what they really are: guesses.
Start referring to your business plans as business guesses , your financial plans as financial guesses and your strategic plans as strategic guesses.
Now you can stop worrying about them so much.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson – “Rework”
One of the reasons that your organisation or sector has largely stuck to “business as usual” is the great little idea that you , your customers or colleagues have in your heads has stayed there.
You might be worried that your suggestion of a different way of doing things may be dismissed as fanciful , naive or even WTTOIDW (“We Tried That Once It Didn’t Work”).
But supposing you take the plunge and your idea lives beyond its first breath: You now have something far worse to contend with.
The business plan.
One of the reasons why innovation fails to take hold in many organisations is our relentless focus on long term business planning.
Your great idea is going to get mortally wounded the moment it hits a 20 page project initiation document. And if it does survive that it has to go through a series of internal approvals culminating in the trial by fire that is the 30 page Board Report.
The odds of a turtle hatchling reaching adulthood are said to be 1 in 1,000. But in most organisations the chance of an idea reaching maturity has significantly worse odds.
But why is this?
Most businesses would agree that innovation is vital for future success – but very few can articulate how they protect new ideas from becoming an endangered species.
And this is one of the problems we have: Innovation is treated the same way as everything else – whether it’s forecasting how much coffee people drink or estimating annual sick days.
We seek certainty where this is none and assurances of success where it can never be assured. We have grown afraid of failure. And if there’s one thing we all know it’s – if you fear failure you cannot innovate.
There are very simple and easy ways to reintroduce the creative capacity in our organisations. One is to skip the business plan altogether and start backwards. Literally.
A company who do it well are Amazon.
After an idea is generated they start by writing a press release as if the product or service is ready for launch. They bring it to life.
It’s mocked up with pictures of the product and quotes from (imaginary) customers about how life changing it has been. It’s passed around internally at the company, so that they can get feedback on the product, and to solicit any questions.
After getting an initial response (did it create a buzz?) and people adding their own ideas (building ideas – never destroying) it’s passed to a product development team to work it up.
But the team are fairly small – in fact they have to conform to the Two Pizza Rule. That is , there can’t be more of them than can be fed on two pizzas. If you have to buy more than two large pizzas – the team is either too large … or the team members are. (There’s an important point here – large groups often become an average of themselves – they can kill innovation.)
Only when a shared vision is produced does the actual design stage begin. And guess what? It happens quickly. As the idea has matured more people have contributed to it , bought into it, and are dying to see it take its first steps.
It’s no longer an idea. It’s happening.
I’ve used the starting backwards approach on a few occasions and feel its a great way of introducing new concepts. In the past year I can think of at least two projects that have reached Board level – without a paper ever being written. I’ll be sharing how this can work in the context of non-profits over the next few weeks.
But what do you think? Do you agree that business plans and risk assessments can stifle innovation?
(Note: You can read a fascinating insight into the Amazon working backwards approach on the Werner Vogels blog from all the way back in 2006)