Voice of the Customer, or VOC, is a process for systematically listening to the perceptions, needs, wishes, expectations, and fears of your customer or end-user. We do it to ensure that the new products, processes or services we are developing will truly reflect what they want and need.
This means we’ll be able to expect people will want what we produce, and so buy and use it.
When you listen to the Voice of the Customer, you learn what the market demands are, and can develop new products to meet them.
If you are in the business of selling, who are you selling to? Do you know the characteristics of your customers? To target your marketing well, you need an archetype, which marketers call the ‘Buyer Persona’ or sometimes the customer or marketing persona. And sometimes they use ‘Avatar’.
Each of these terms means the same thing. If you do the work, up front, of characterising the people you want to sell to, you can better target your marketing.
We know what the oldest profession is… And the second oldest. But up with them, dating back to the earliest times in human history is the business of retail.
When Ug sold an arrowhead to Og, he became a retailer. And when Ig bought goods from Ug to sell, rather than make them himself, he moved sales from the factory gate to the retail market.
We may not all work in retail, but I’m prepared to bet that every reader of this article has experienced it as a customer. It is so pervasive, that one has to wonder: do we really need an article about it?
Customer Relationship Management, or CRM for short. The idea is simple: learn about your customers, and use your knowledge to strengthen your relationship with them. Use your stronger relationship to sell them more products or services. Repeat.
Not surprisingly, helping businesses to do this is… big business. A myriad of software solutions are available, with a plethora of consultancies and training businesses available to help you implement them. CRM has a lot in common with ERP. Indeed, some of the big players in the ERP space, also seek to sell CRM services alongside.
As a result, businesses focus on the software tools. This is a mistake. A fool with a tool… is still a fool. The secret to good CRM – as with good customer service – is to focus on the culture you build.
What if excellent customer service and great team working could be fun? How could that transform your workplace? Those are the questions behind the FISH! Philosophy. It’s a training programme designed around behaviours that came about spontaneously. And they did so in, of all places, a fish market.
The FISH! Philosophy is a trademarked training programme. So, in this article, we’ll tread lightly in describing its main ideas. If you want to know more, the place to visit is Charthouse Learning’s FISH! Philosophy website.
Kenneth Thomas gained his BA from Pomona College in 1968, quickly becoming a research Fellow at Harvard for a year. He then started a PhD in Administrative Sciences at Purdue University, whilst holding a junior teaching position at University of California, Los Angeles. It was at UCLA, that Thomas met Ralph Kilmann, who joined the doctoral program.
Ken Thomas stayed at UCLA until 1977. He then went on to hold a series of academic appointments; Temple University (1977-81), University of Pittsburg (where Kilmann was then teaching) from 1981-6, and then the US Naval Postgraduate School. He retired from academic work in 2004.
Ralph Kilmann studied for his BS in Graphic Arts Management (graduated 1968) and his MS in Industrial Administration (1970) at Carnegie Mellon University. He then went to UCLA to study for a PhD in Behavioural Science. There, Kenneth Thomas was part of the faculty whilst himself working on a PhD.
Kilmann rapidly became interested in Thomas’ research into conflict and conflict modes. They shared a dissatisfaction with the methodology of Blake and Mouton’s version, though they liked the underlying styles and structure. Kilmann focused his studies on the methodologies for creating a robust assessment.
Publishing the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
Together, they published their work in 1974. Partly by luck and partly good judgement, they chose not to include their 30-question assessment inventory in the academic paper they published. Instead, they took it to a publisher, who made it a widely-used tool. It is still published by the successor (by acquisition) of that original publisher.
Over the years, they have worked with their publisher to use the vast data sets now available to increase the reliability of the instrument, and extend its use to multiple cultures.
The questionnaire has 30 pairs of statements, of equal social desirability, from which you would select one that best represents what you would do. It takes around 15 minutes to complete. It is not a psychometric and requires no qualification to administer and interpret. So, it can be readily used to support training and coaching interventions around conflict with groups and individuals.
The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann are neither the first nor last to categorise your possible responses but, measured by popularity, they are by far the most successful. Like Jay Hall before them and Ron Kraybill later, their model looks at our responses on two axes.
The first axis is ‘Assertiveness’, or the extent to which we focus on our own agenda. The second is ‘Cooperation’, or our focus on our relationship with the other person.
The Five Conflict Modes
As with other models, there are five Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes.
A high degree of assertive behaviour, with little focus on the relationship, is referred to as Competing. In this mode, we seek to win above all else. It is a suitable style when success is vital, you know you are right, and there is a time pressure.
The opposite extreme is Accommodating. Highly cooperative and non-assertive behaviour is useful when you realise the other person is right, or when preserving the relationship or building emotional credit is foremost in your strategy.
When we want to invest little effort in the conflict, we use the Avoiding mode. With no effort deployed in either getting what we want or building a relationship, this is appropriate for trivial conflicts, or when we judge it is the wrong time to deal with the conflict. This may be due to hot tempers or a lack of sufficient preparation.
The good old 50-50 solution is Compromising. When you and I give up equal portions of our objectives, neither gets what we want, but it seems fair. Likewise, whilst our relationship is not optimised, neither is it much harmed. Compromise suits a wide range of scenarios.
What can be better than compromise? When the matter is sufficiently important, it is worth putting in the time and effort to really get what you want … and build your relationship at the same time. This is the Collaborating mode, sometimes called “win-win”. Reserve it for when the outcomes justify the investment it takes.
Critique of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
The Thomas Kilmann Instrument has its critics. Many users find the forced choice questionnaire frustrating – sometimes wanting to select both options; sometimes neither. There are also concerns about applying the examples to users’ real-world contexts. Unlike the Kraybill tool it lacks distinction between normal and stress conditions.
Accepting these weaknesses, the model finds a range of useful applications, even beyond conflict; in team development, change management and negotiation, to name three. Above all, consider it because most users value the insights it gives them.
John Grinder and Richard Bandler are credited as the co-founders of NLP. This is a basket of behavioural, therapeutic, and influencing techniques that comes in and out of fashion in the organisational world.
However, in the self-help world, its ups and downs are less pronounced – it has continually received accolades and steadily grown its influence.
So here then is the central dilemma of NLP for managers and professionals: how important is it? And therefore, how seriously do we need to take Bandler, Grinder, and their ideas of NLP?
John Grinder was born in 1940, and studied psychology at the University of San Francisco. After graduating with a BA, he joined the US Army as a Captain in a special forces unit. He then joined a US intelligence agency, before studying for a PhD in linguistics at The University of California, San Diego.
Grinder completed his PhD in 1971, and after a short time in George Miller’s lab at Rockefeller University, he joined UC Santa Cruz as an Assistant Professor in Linguistics. His research interest was the then very new and fashionable transformational grammar pioneered by Noam Chomsky.
In 1972, a psychology student called Richard Bandler came knocking, looking for help with a research project in which he was transcribing hours of Gestalt Therapy sessions. Bandler wanted help in analysing Fritz Perls’ language.
This was the start of a collaboration that led to the founding of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The story of their collaboration, and of the other people involved – it was far from a two-person endeavour – is well documented elsewhere. So too is the acrimonious breakdown of their working relationship, and the court actions over ownership of the NLP name and ‘brand’.
The upshot of this, by the way, is the court’s decision that NLP is a generic term and no one can own it. This meant that, after the split, Grinder could continue to develop his own new ideas, which he came to call ‘New Code’ NLP in contrast to the earlier work he did with Bandler, which he refers to as ‘Old Code’.
Grinder has authored many books with Bandler and others, and continues to teach NLP, through his own business (Quantum Leap) with his wife, and for other NLP schools.
Richard Bandler was born in 1950. His first few years were spent in New Jersey, before moving to California. He studied Philosophy and Psychology at US Santa Cruz, where he graduated in 1973.
There, Bandler met John Grinder and other early collaborators in developing what became NLP.
Bandler and Grinder became close colleagues studying and teaching the communication patterns of a number of therapists, like Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson. They gathered a number of other interested researchers and teachers around them.
Inevitably, as what they were teaching became more popular – and therefore more commercial – tensions arose. Like Grinder, Bandler formed his own business and continued to teach and develop new ideas. He too still teaches NLP, along with hypnotherapy, around the world.
Bandler and Grinder were co-authors of a number of the seminal books in the emerging subject of NLP. None are aimed at ‘lay’ readers. They are written for aspiring and experienced practitioners and, even having studied NLP and received Practitioner and Master Practitioner certificates, I find them barely readable.
There are many more modern books aimed at introducing NLP to interested readers. Browse your favourite book site and take your pick.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming: NLP
So, what is NLP? It stands for Neuro-linguistic Programming (yeah, I know), and it is fundamentally an assorted bag of methods and models designed to help understand communication and behaviours and elicit behavioural change.
At the root – and this is something Grinder constantly emphasises – is the idea of modelling. Whatever you want to be able to do, find an example of someone who does it to a level of excellence. Document everything they do, say, and think when they are doing it. Then try out being exactly like they are. Start to strip away elements, to find out what parts make no difference and which parts, when lost, become significant.
You’ll end up with a core of beliefs, behaviours, and communication patterns that materially affect your outcomes. Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson were the first people extensively studied in that way.
From them, Bandler and Grinder extracted two of the biggest and most influential models within the NLP corpus: The Meta Model (from Satir and Perls) and The Milton Model (from Erikson).
The Meta Model
The Meta Model documents language patterns that allow the therapist, coach, salesperson (choose your role) to spot patterns of thinking in the other person. A long list of linguistic patters betray distorted perceptions, generalisations, and subconscious deletions of possibly relevant information. By challenging these, coaches and therapists can open up new possibilities to the person they are helping, and salespeople can breakdown objections to buying.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were The Structure of Magic, volumes 1 and 2.
The Milton Model
Milton Erikson was a masterful user of hypnosis in his therapy. Indeed, his style is sometimes called Eriksonian Hypnosis. Once again, Bandler and Grinder documented his language patterns. They found a similarity to the meta model, but that Erikson was being deliberately vague, to elicit gaps in thinking, through which he could insert therapeutic suggestions. The Milton model can help move a listener into a more receptive state. Again, this is useful to therapists, coaches and salespeople.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. volumes 1 and 2.
Evaluation of NLP
NLP is like Marmite: it evokes love and hate reactions in broadly equal measure. And its popularity goes through peaks and troughs – big ones for business, smaller troughs for the self-help industry. It is currently a multi-million dollar industry world-wide.
Three factors are perhaps responsible for the extreme views:
NLP is presented with a lot of complex and intimidating jargon. Indeed, the name Neuro Linguistic Programming suggests a level of mind-control which can intimidate or seduce. Some wonder if the jargon is merely designed to create a quasi-academic glamour the discipline does not deserve.
Some practitioners make extravagant claims for what NLP can achieve. Everything from magical sales efficacy to curing phobias, to curing serious mental and physical illnesses.
There is a limited research base. A lot of the evidence for the efficacy of NLP techniques is anecdotal, and many serous academic therapists have offered detailed critiques.
On the other hand, there are also three good reasons to learn more about NLP:
Many people find that much of it really does work. The ideas are taken from observations of effective behaviour. You can apply the modelling process to find out how to replicate the results of your best performers
NLP is respectful of our potential. It encourages personal responsibility and asserts that we can all access the resources we need to make the changes we want
The criticism that much of NLP is ‘just common sense’ can also be seen as a strength. By codifying common sense, we make it more accessible.
You can find much in NLP that is of value to you; and much that is not. If you are prepared to be selective and evaluate each tool on its merits, NLP is a powerful resource.
Here’s a video I did for another business that will echo much of what’s here.
Social Styles form a model of personality that focuses on our outer behaviour, rather than the inner you. Its founders described it as ‘the you that’s on display’.
In the early 1960s, two industrial psychologists, David Merrill and Roger Reid wanted to understand whether they could predict managerial, leadership and sales performance. To do this, they explored how people behave in social situations. They chose not to concern themselves with why.
Starting with BF Skinner’s ideas of behaviourism and James Taylor’s structured list of behavioural descriptions, Merrill and Reid discovered that people’s behaviour follows two continua, which they labelled: assertiveness and responsiveness.
Assertiveness and Responsiveness
Assertiveness styles range from ‘asking’ behaviours to ‘telling’ behaviours, while our responsiveness varies from ’emoting’, or displaying our feelings, to ‘controlling’ our emotions.
From these two dimensions, they defined four behavioural styles that we each display. As with other models, we each have our preferences, but can display all of the styles from time to time.
The value of the model lies in using it to assess the people around you, and knowing how to get the best from people with each preference.
Merrill and Reid labelled our ability to adapt to other people’s styles as ‘versatility’.
Four Quadrants: The Social Styles
The four quadrants that the two dimensions of assertiveness and responsiveness create, give the four social styles.
The analytical style of interaction asserts itself by asking, rather than telling. It is also characterised by a high level of emotional control. It values facts, logic and accuracy, presenting a disciplined and unemotional – some would say cold – face to the world. This manifests in a deep need to be right about things, and therefore a highly deliberative, data-driven approach to decisions. As with all styles, there is a weakness, which is a lack of willingness to state a position until the analytical person is certain of their ground.
The driving style is the typical task-oriented behaviour that prefers to tell rather than ask and shows little concern for feelings. It cares more about results. This is a fast-paced style, keen to make decisions, take power, and exert control. Often unco-operative, this is an efficient, results-driven behaviour, the inevitable compromise of which is to sacrifice personal relationships in the short term and, in extremis, in the long term too. The weakness of this style is evident: a frequent unwillingness to listen and accommodate the needs of others.
The expressive style is also assertive, but uses feelings to achieve its objectives. The behaviour is highly spontaneous and demands recognition and approval, and favours gut instinct in decision-making. At its best, this style comes across as charismatic, enthusiastic and idealistic. At its worst, however, the expressive style can be seen as impulsive, shallow and even manipulative.
The amiable style expresses concern for people above all else. Keen to share emotion and not to assert itself over others, building and maintaining relationships dominate behaviour. These concerns manifest a slow, deliberate pace, coming across as sensitive, supportive and dependable. The corollary is a certain nervousness about, and even a resistance to, change. This arises from a deep need for personal security. The weaknesses of this style are the reverse of the strengths of the opposite quadrant: a low willingness to initiate change, and take action.
Assessment of Merrill and Reid’s Social Styles
Is this just another four box model?
Well, yes and no. In its current form, the company that David Merrill formed, Tracom, uses the model with a third, fully-integrated dimension: versatility. This is about how the four styles manifest in the real world, to meet other people’s needs. It is closely related to ideas of Emotional Intelligence.
Even as ‘just another four box model’, it’s a good one. As a result, it has been widely emulated. A very similar model by Tony Alessandra uses the styles of Thinker, Director, Socialiser and Relater to replace Merrill and Reid’s four social styles, and dimensions of relationship and task orientation, to replace responsiveness and assertiveness.
Both models have considerable power in helping managers understand their behaviours and those of other people around them. And by adapting their style, the models allow managers to get the best from any social situation. And work is, of course, if nothing else… social.
Richard Branson went from academic under-performer to being the first serial entrepreneur to create eight $8 billion businesses (and many other successful ventures too). He is an adventurer, a risk taker, and a visionary. Above all, he is a business person who sees business as a means to an end or, in his case,many ends. But despite the galactic scale performance of his business mind, there are many lessons we can learn from him, that apply equally to the day-to-day business and management practices of Pocketblog readers.
Many acres of newsprint (and Branson’s own autobiographies) have documented the life story of one of the world’s favourite entrepreneurs, so here it is in brief.
Richard Branson was born in 1950 in South London, to a comfortable professional middle-class family, which was able to send him to a privileged private school, Stowe. However, Branson was not academically strong, due to dyslexia, despite being evidently highly intelligent, so he left the education system at 16, only to return for a number of honourary degrees in later life.
His first business, so named because he and his staff felt themselves to be business virgins, was a mail order business selling records below store prices, which he set up in 1970. This allowed him to enter the high street in 1972. In the same year, he created Manor Studios where his first recording artist was Mike Oldfield. The Tubular Bells album became (and continues, 30 years later, to be) a massive seller for the new Virgin Records label.
Branson’s achievements span far more than his business ventures, but we’ll leave it to the glossy magazines to cover his record-breaking, kite-surfing, books, island buying and publicity-seeking activities, and simply list a selection from his business ventures.
1973 – Virgin Records record label
1979 – Buys the gay nightclub Heaven1983
1984 – Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin cargo
1985 – Virgin Holidays
1987 – Virgin Records to the United States
1987 – The Virgin Group, along with Granada, Anglia and Pearson, founds BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting)
1987 – Virgin Airship & Balloon Company.
1987 – Mates condoms
1988 – Virgin Broadcasting
1991 – Virgin Publishing (Virgin Books)
1993 – Virgin Radio
1994 – Virgin Vodka and Virgin Cola
1995 – Virgin Direct Personal Financial Services
1995 – Virgin Express (a European low cost Airline)
1996 – Virgin Brides (indeed!)
1997 – Virgin Trains
1997 – Virgin Cosmetics
1999 – Virgin Mobile
2000 – Virgin Energy
2000 – Virgin Cars
2004 – Virgin Galactic
2006 – Virgin Fuel, to produce a clean fuel in the future
2007 – Virgin Media
2008 – Virgin Healthcare
2009 – Virgin Money Giving
2010 – Virgin Racing, a Formula One team
2010 – Virgin Gaming, for people to play competitively on popular Video Games
2012 – Virgin Money buys Northern Rock
2012 – Virgin Galactic announces the development of orbital space launch system LauncherOne.
Five Management and Business Lessons from Richard Branson
Lesson 1: Have Fun
It is easy to look at a multi-billionnaire and say ‘of course he has fun; he is rich and can leave other people to run his businesses’. The fact is though, that Branson remains fully engaged with the strategic aspects of his business, and that he prioritises having fun and spending time with his family. There are plenty of comparably wealthy people who do neither. If he can make these choices, so can you.
Lesson 2: Get Things Done
To make these choices, Branson is ruthlessly efficient at making lists and getting things done. He disparages those who write off To Do lists as a waste of time and is a compulsive note-taker and list maker.
Lesson 3: Persevere and Fight Back
Branson’s ventures have often faced opposition from incumbent market leaders and sometimes political figures. Branson has deployed every form of response he can to fight off this contention and see his ventures succeed. His battles with British Airways (on behalf of Virgin Atlantic) and, more recently, with the UK Department of Transport (supporting Virgin Trains) are notable successes.
Lesson 4: Master Public Relations
Brand and public perception are a vital, and maybe central component of Branson’s business strategy. Very few of his ventures have eschewed the Virgin brand. Branson is a charismatic figure who has been adept at using his own personal brand to gain media attention, which of course has assisted in his public battles on behalf of his corporate brands.
Lesson 5: Be an inspirational leader
The central holding business of Virgin is tiny (much like Berkshire Hathaway’s) and there Branson leads, rather than bosses – recently setting highly innovative and permissive HR policies in place, which truly demonstrate exceptional levels of trust in his staff. When Virgin Atlantic won a legal case against British Airways and both he and the company received significant sums in compensation, he distributed this to the staff as a ‘BA Bonus’.
Richard Branson in his Own Words
Here is Richard Branson speaking at TED 2007.