With the recurring theme that the only certain thing about the next year or more is the fact that we will all have to be dealing with uncertainty. We are bombarded with the scenes of political, economic and social challenges both at home and abroad and yet we still have to manage our brands and make progress.
So it felt to me that it was a good idea to take a deep dive into what we have been hearing from brands, their consumers, the people who run them and influence them to see if we can add a little bit of certainty to the coming months and years.
As always with this sort of analysis there are upsides and downsides to what we hear. The one thing that is for sure is that if we stop listening and retreat into our corporate silos then we will emerge from our bunkers and the people of the world will have moved on leaving us in a difficult and costly recovery programme.
So here are a few of the things we are being told through our 360⁰ view of the world working for a wide range of sectors from B2C, B2B and B2B2C, a wide range of organisations who share one common theme, they all have a customer experience.
We all do.
Here are a few thoughts that we are hearing from our customers around the world some of the thinking that is helping them to build irresistible customer experiences in very challenging conditions.
I hope you find them stimulating and most of all, helpful.
1. Your people are experience critical - they need to know that and be inspired to help you and your customers.
It strikes me that the irony of the relentless pursuit of creating personalised experiences for our customers is that the geeks continue the relentless drive towards de-personalising them seems to be passing many brands by.
I am all for efficiency but I am also all for humanity. Just being efficient is good but being effective often requires a deeper understanding of the issues. AI, data analytics and bots are amazing things and are very much a part of CX, just as the ability to manipulate them to a KPI will become.
Looking at your talent in a more holistic way is going to be critical for our futures. I am not just talking about the front of house but also your digital gurus, finance geniuses, human resource talent and of course your operational heroes. They all need to be hard wired into the customer and the experience the whole business delivers.
To do this they need to be engaged and involved in the creation of the holistic customer experience, as they will often know more than you do about customers and their needs at any one moment of contact.
They will also know your current gaps in delivery and internal alignment between your silos.
Listen to them and engage them in the solutions, they will make things happen that will astonish you.
2. Seamless and friction free are hygiene factors and expected they don’t differentiate
I don’t know about you but I love friction free experiences but struggle to identify too many that deliver at 95% - 100%, what most customers call great experience delivery!
If ever there was a definitive argument for busting the many silos in a business in order to improve performance this is it.
It may well be easier to achieve as a new disruptive start up in a sector that has been slow to change and brands struggle to deliver the seamlessness we all expect.
The fact of the matter is that we expect it from all brands and if they don’t deliver we move on, very quickly. No biggy to us.
In fact the more we talk to customers the more we hear that they expect brands to be easy to live with and for them to fit into their lives and not the other way round.
It may differentiate your brand in your sector but beware your customers may not be comparing you to your direct competitors. We hear customers comparing great experiences of seamlessness between totally disparate brands and sectors but in their minds they are looking at best in class not best in sector
When you are listening to your customers get them to talk about this and where their benchmarks are being developed.
3. New and fresh creates repeat purchase not same old, same old
The nightmare that faces all brands especially those with large and often unresponsive structures and silos.
Once again the customers are acting very irresponsibly as they expect brands to keep fresh and introduce new things all the time in order to keep them interested, what a cheek!
Don’t they know that it isn’t that easy to continuously introduce new stuff, it takes ages to bring to market?!
Sadly they don’t care as they see new and fresh everywhere, every day, so some brands are managing to do it, so why can’t you?
What we seem to have forgotten in this crazily fast world we live in is that we have the approaches that we can all use in order to keep up and get ahead of the competition, we just need to reimagine them.
Using a combination of digital agility and continuous improvement thinking powered by a clear sense of brand purpose and vision your teams can develop, pilot and roll out new and fresh surprisingly quickly. You will also find that the returns on this sort of work are not just customer satisfaction but also financial, colleague satisfaction and engagement (they’ll smile a lot more being involved in making exciting progress than from a workshop where they are told about the power of a smile!) and your brand’s position in your customers’ minds.
All you have to do is look at those brands that believe in always getting better and that have evolved beautifully in our digital/physical world – Disney, Nandos, Center Parcs, Emirates, The Devonshire Bakery, Cowards Butchers to name but a few.
4. All the surveys in the world will never replace getting out there and looking.
I am concerned that brands are relying too much on surveying customers for the answers they want rather than those they need. So many surveys are so evidently designed to fulfil an internal, silo driven need rather than to discover insight into what is really going on out there where the brand competes.
In one project we recently ran our customer translated the feedback they were getting as a customer need that their machines didn’t break down. Fair enough you might say but all it did was drive the production teams and ultimately added no value.
So we got out on the road across 3 European countries and visited their customers and competitors’ customers to dig below the “survey acts”. The answer was not as they heard. Customer’s put their machines through very testing operational conditions and every brand broke, it was seen as inevitable.
What customers wanted was to be able to stay operating and therefore spare parts and immediate effective repairs was brand critical.
So beware what your surveys tell you and invest in some comfortable shoes and get out there amongst the people who give you their hard earned money.
In the uncertain world we live in and that only seems to be getting more uncertain it’s feels reassuring to know there are things we can do to improve the performance of our brands both qualitatively and quantitatively.
The future has always been about change and how brands handle it. Many will struggle and some will disappear but those that not only embrace change but actively push for it will survive and thrive.
If nothing else past and recent history tells us this.
I will be writing this blog as often as I can to let you know what we are seeing and hearing from our customers, their customers, investors, associations and influencers so that you will be able to thrive and survive.
Have a brilliant 2019 running at the challenges and not away from them!