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?
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.
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’.
Sir Philip Green is rarely out of the news. A self-made business man, he has long been a dominant figure in the UK retail scene and a figure with much to admire and much to criticise. When a TV audience is split 50:50 in loving and loathing a programme, it usually becomes a hit. On those grounds, Philip Green is a business hit!
Philip Green was born in the Surrey (now South London) town of Croydon in 1952, where his parents were both involved in property and retail businesses. At the age of twelve, while at boarding school, his father died, leaving his mother to continue to run the family businesses – something she carried on into her eighties. Green, who had been used to earning money from a young age on the forecourt of the family’s petrol (gas in the US) station, left school as soon as he could, to enter the world of work.
His endeavour allowed him to work his way up through all levels of a shoe importer, to discover a real talent for selling. When he left the company he travelled the world, learning practical lessons in business, which he brought back to the UK. Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, he became adept at deals involving buying stock nobody else wanted and selling it quickly. He operated primarily in the retail apparel market. He then turned this acumen towards buying and selling companies. His deals got larger and more profitable, his reputation for rapid deal-making grew, and so did his asset base.
In 2000, Green acquired BHS – the former British Home Stores – which he rapidly transferred to his wife, Tina Green. He followed this acquisition in 2002 with the purchase of the Arcadia Group of fashion retail companies, that included some of the big names on the UK high street: Topshop, Burton, Wallis, Evans, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins. This was also transferred to his wife’s name. As a Monaco resident, the tax implications of this ownership structure have attracted much criticism in the UK.
Already owning the second largest share of the UK clothes retail market, Green tried in 2004 to acquire Marks & Spencer – the largest clothes retailer. His bid failed with much vitriol between him and the then M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose. In 2006, Green was knighted for services to the retail industry. The 2010 general election saw him coming out strongly for the Conservative party – a move that was reciprocated by the new Conservative/Liberal coalition with his appointment to chair a review into Government procurement – of which he was highly critical.
Perhaps Green’s largest business was BHS, so his business story is not one of total success. By 2012, the company’s fortunes were waning and in March 2015, Green sold the now loss-making business – debt free but with substantial pensions liabilities – for £1.
As a multi-billionaire (with his wife), Green’s spending and tax affairs attract as much media attention as his business activities. He is famed for lavish parties (spending several million pounds at a time) and equally known for his charitable and philanthropic spending. Forbes rate the couple’s joint wealth in 2015 at US $5 billion.
Business Lessons from Sir Philip Green
Whatever your view of him, Sir Philip has a talent for making decisions and turning a profit. Here are some lessons I draw from his experiences and choices.
Pace and Decisiveness
Green built his business on fast deals: rapidly doing the deal (often making a multi-million pound acquisition in days) and quickly turning that deal into a profit. Yes, Green is adept at risk taking, but taking risks is not a secret to success. Quickly assessing the risk and understanding your own capacity to handle it is what matters, and Green was a master – particularly during the 1980s and 90s.
The Rich get Richer
Money begets money, and Green used a very simple ploy (conceptually) time and time again, to grow his wealth. He would convince banks to lend him money to make his acquisitions – of stock in the early days and of businesses later – and then turn a profit and repay his debt quickly. On one occasion in 1985, he bought a bankrupt business with a large loan, traded for a short while and sold it six months later for nearly twice as much as he’d borrowed. He then went to his bank and asked ‘what do I owe you?’ They replied ‘3 million 430 thousand pounds’ and so Green wrote a cheque there and then, putting it on the counter and saying ‘Done.’
Discipline and Control
Green has a fiendish attention to every detail of his business, devoting much of his energy to driving efficiency into every last nook and cranny. Why did BHS fail, then? I wish I could ferret that one out, because his regal processes through his London Oxford Street empire of shops are well known within the business for ferreting out even tiny discrepancies in the selling process.
Customers first: Owners second
Perhaps Green’s most closely held business belief is that shareholders drive the wrong decisions. Everything should be about giving your customers what they want, rather than pandering to shareholders. This is why he turned both BHS and Arcadia from publicly listed to privately owned companies. Maybe it is also why BHS failed for him: he could no longer figure out how to give customers what they want in a general purpose multi product store. It will be interesting to see if and how its new owners can square the circle that Green could not.
Of course there are other things too, but most of them are what any manager would tell you are obvious ‘no-brainer’ habits; like: know your business inside out, respect and trust your people, keep working hard, stay alert for opportunities, and protect your supply chain. But the fact that Green does all of these does not make him different from many other successful business leaders. It’s the fact that he does them well and consistently, on top of the differentiators that make him exceptional.
David Maister was described to me by a friend and colleague* as ‘the first good consultant’s consultant’. A former Harvard Business School professor, who hails from the United Kingdom, Maister carved out a niche as perhaps the most influential thinker about professional services and and the role of trust in business.
David Maister was born in London, in 1947,and studied Maths, Economics, and Statistics at the University of Birmingham. He went on to achieve a Masters in operational research from the London School of Economics and a DBA from Harvard Business School, in 1976. He then taught, first at the University of British Columbia, and then, from 1979 to 1985, at Harvard Business School.
During this time, he specialised in transportation and logistics. His books on the topic are now all out of print. He left academia to establish his own consultancy and started to focus on advising professional firms, like accountants, lawyers, marketers and consultants. This led to his keystone work, in 1993, ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm‘. This remains in print and a strong seller. Maister had found his niche. I came under his spell when given a copy of his 1993 book, ‘True Professionalism‘, while a manager at Deloitte. It was written for people like I was then: professional services managers, looking to build a career, a reputation, and a client portfolio.
Perhaps Maister’s most influential book, however, was his 2000 book (co-written with Charles Green and Robert Galford), ‘The Trusted Advisor‘, which introduced us to ‘The Trust Equation’. His last book (to date) is ‘Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy‘. The subtitle summarises the book’s thesis succinctly. At the start of 2010, Maister announced his retirement, shortly after being awarded the Carl S Sloane Award for Excellence in Management Consulting. He now spends his time in his home town of Boston, having forsworn air travel, enjoying the arts with his wife. How unusual and refreshing to see a top business person enjoying a fulfilling retirement.
Five Inter-connected Ideas
I’d like to summarise and interpret some of Maister’s ideas and how they link together by isolating five inter-connected themes, and showing how Maister joins them up.
1. The Trust Equation
At the heart of ‘The Trusted Advisor’ is The Trust Equation, which Maister and his co-authors use to illustrate how the ‘four realms’ of trust interact, to answer questions like: ‘My client knows I am credible and reliable, so why doesn’t my client trust me?’. Trust (T), they argue is the result of four factors: Credibility (C), Reliability (R), Intimacy (I), and Self-orientation (S).
T = (C + R + I ) / S
But trust, they say, is not about knowing and it is not about tactics: it is all about attitudes and character. People will trust you if you show an interest in them, demonstrate a genuine desire to help them, and have a low self-orientation – that is, you are less interested in yourself than in them. Excellence, Maister says, arises from acting according to agreed principles and values, which also build trust (through reliability – or being predictable in your ethical choices).
Here is the first link: A high trust business will experience high growth. Trust is the best business strategy.
2. Business Strategy
Maister observes that many professional services firms in the same market will often have near-identical strategies. So what will determine which one wins, competitively. Since they are all smart, it isn’t the choice of customers, products, services or marketing: it is the drive and commitment to implement the strategy effectively. And this comes from people and how the leaders of the business manage and lead them.
Here is the second link: To deliver a business strategy, you need energy, excitement and enthusiasm from your team
Management is about people, passion and principle. Maister says that one-on-one management is the only real managerial activity, because this is the only way to properly engage with people. A manager’s agenda must be to create a great place to work, rather than working at building their own career: that will follow.
In an article published in 2002 (Business: The Ultimate Resource), Maister sets out 13 rules on which successful managers model their behaviour. I have selected some of my personal favourites:
Act as if not trying is the only sin
Act as if you want everyone to succeed
Understand what drives individuals
Know all your people as individuals
Here is the third link:Management is about doing what’s right over the long term for your clients and people. This is the route to great client service.
4. Client Services
Maister sees the world of client services in a fairly simple way. But his work has been able to justify this with logic and evidence. A manager’s role is to energise their people. These people will then serve their clients excellently. Clients will reward the company with their patronage and loyalty. This will lead to great financial performance.
So stop focusing on the financial results – they are a lagging indicator of what matters: focus on energising your people. Maister notes that formal systems, policies and procedures do little to build a business: what it needs is managers to use their informal influence on employees, and demonstrate honour, character and integrity.
Here is the fourth link:Honour, character and integrity are the foundations of a meaningful career
5. Career – Professionalism
True Professionalism was where I started with Maister, and his subtitle neatly summarises Maister’s point of view: ‘the courage to care about your people, your clients, and your career’. His definition of professionalism takes in four critical commitments:
to provide the best, most effective services to your clients
to caring about your clients
to not compromising your values
Here is the final link, back to the start:Not compromising your values is the key to ‘values in action’. Without this, there can be no trust.
* Michael Coleman, who sadly died in September 2011.
This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
In business today, price is no longer a major differentiator. So many companies offer promotional promises and will try to undercut their competition. The one aspect that will mean your customers come back to you is how they are treated and the level of customer service. There are some statistics to support this:
A company can increase profits by 85% if it retains 5% more customers each year.
It is 5-8 times as easy to sell to an existing customer as to a new prospect.
Some direct mailing tests to groups of “customers” and “prospects” found that approaches to customers were four and a half times more profitable than approaches to prospects.
Source: Research from Bain & Co
Customer service is all about attitude.
Nurturing and retaining customers is crucial to the success of your business. Customer service is all about attitude rather than techniques. A member of staff can have all the techniques in the world but if they do not believe in the business and do not want to do it, they won’t. Are all your staff focused on making the customer the focus of their world?
The Big Secret to Customer Care
… is to care!
What do customers really want? The most important thing you can do for your customer is listen to what they want and be open about whether you can provide it. The big secret to customer care is to care enough to listen, and to respect what you hear, so:
Offer only goods or services that truly meet their needs
‘Satisficing’ is doing the minimum to meet a set of criteria. This is the approach that many organisations take to customer care. It is certainly the easiest way to deal with complaints. Easiest is rarely best – and certainly not in this case. Treat complaints as an opportunity to have a good long conversation with your customer and go way beyond satisficing. Go beyond pleasing; aim to delight.
A recent customer service experience taught me a real lesson. I bought a new service which didn’t work first time. I contacted technical support, who first denied there could be a problem, and then treated me as if I were foolish “You don’t do it like that – that won’t work …”. After many calls, I did speak to one engineer who said (I am quoting verbatim – I wrote it out in my daybook): ‘this is a bug’.
After a week of ever more frustrating emails, I figured out what to do. The service worked perfectly, the advice on an online forum was good. The customer care, however, means I’ll never recommend that service to anyone without warning them. If an email takes three minutes to rush off, it will only take five to write with care. Word of mouth is the best – no, THE BEST – source of new business. Are you chasing quick responses from your staff or are you seeking first class customer service?
A Customer Care Review
When did you last have your monthly customer care review? Thought so! Set one up, if your answer was not 31 days ago or less. Here are five great questions to ask your colleagues and discuss:
What annoys our customers most at the moment? If you don’t know: ask them.
What have we improved on customer care this month? This is what your customers notice, not what you worked hard on.
How do we compare with our competitors? What are people saying on forums, for example?
What are we doing to really delight our customers at the moment? Go beyond satisficing.
Is it time for a “mystery shopper”? There are a number of companies who can offer this service, but unless you are a small business, you can do it for yourself.
Moments of Truth
Moments of Truth are those tiny moments when a customer learns something about your business organisation. Every interaction, however small, has a moment of truth in it. What will that truth be?
What does your front door look like? Estate agents will tell you that it is easy for viewers to fall in love or out of love with a house, based on its front door. We aren’t saying repaint your front door when you want to sell your house (though you should): we are saying get the entrance and reception area of your business right. Tomorrow morning, come in through the customer entrance and see it through a customer’s eyes.
Director of Welcoming
Okay, you say receptionist, I say Director of Welcoming. A receptionist sits behind a reception desk, takes names, and makes calls. A Director of Welcoming welcomes people in and then does everything they can to make them feel welcome. Small difference in the work: vast difference in the results.
First impressions really do matter. It might be the voice on the end of the phone when a new customer first calls. It might be the first email or letter a new client gets. It might even be the greeting they get when they first visit your office, factory or warehouse. What’s the common thread? Your receptionist. And often these undervalued colleagues are required to multitask with the minimum of training. This is just plain wrong, because it puts your business in danger.
Steve Jobs famously eschewed focus groups and market research in designing new Apple products. He did not want to supply what customers wanted. He wanted customers to want what he created.
Whether Apple will be able to sustain that level of creativity is a question only time will answer. But Jobs’ attitude did not mean that Apple was deaf to its customers – quite the opposite. Having created the kind of loyalty that just about any other corporation can only dream of, everything Apple does has been tailored to retaining that crazy loyalty.
Marketing departments typically spend their time and resources looking for ever better ways to ensure that potential customers hear their message. Customer service departments focus on fixing customer problems. Who in your business is dedicated to listening to the customers you have, to build loyalty? It’s cheaper and easier than acquiring new customers, and it’s cheaper and easier than fixing relationships with disappointed customers.
The big question is ‘How?’
How can you really listen to the voice of your customer?
Surveys are great – especially low cost, easy-to-implement online surveys using tools like Zoomerang or Survey Monkey. These have the benefit that they take little effort from your customer (and why should they make a big effort?) and can be supported by an appropriate incentive like a small reward or a competition entry.
The gold standard for good feedback on what you do (and don’t do) is follow-up calls or meetings from someone separate from the team that serves your customer. To make it work for both you and your customer, you must welcome absolutely frank assessments and ask good questions to secure details that make appropriate actions easy to target accurately.
But what if your customers won’t talk to you? You can always employ a ‘professional customer’ – mystery shoppers. They are great for thorough, detailed and accurate assessment of what you do. Unlike real customers, however, they cannot give you information about what else they want, from your product or service lines.
Customer focus groups or ‘customer panels’ can do that. They are a lot of work to plan and organise and expensive too – often requiring specialist consultants, room hire, and inducements to participate. This is a form of market research and the Marketing Pocketbook offers eight more variants on what we have above.
The forgotten question is Why?
In case ‘why would you listen to your customer?’ seems like a pointless question with an obvious answer: ‘of course you must’ – stop for a moment.
Of course you must, but unless you know why you are going to do it, you rune the risk of asking the wrong questions, choosing the wrong format, and mis-using the answers. It is all too easy to feel like you are doing something useful by sending people out to listen to your customers, but before you do so, make sure you have a purpose and design the process accordingly.
Arguably, Apple has neither, with high prices for products that are being successfully emulated by their main rivals. So how are they succeeding? I believe by a third source of competitive advantage: brand loyalty.
As a prevailing business strategy, this is new force in big business, but one we can all exploit, by building an organisation that excites and values its customers so much that we win the kind of fanatical following that Apple has.
If you can do that – with or without one of Porter’s two other sources of competitive advantage – you have the basis for a long-term business.