Last week I had the opportunity to speak at Marketing Magazine’s Customer Experience Evolution event. I planned to co-present a case study with my client Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan, but unfortunately Sara’s dodgy back gave out on the morning of the event and she was unable to join me.
Below is a transcript of my talk, with Sara’s notes included.
We started with a one minute exercise asking the audience to tell each other about their most recent customer experiences and what made them either good or bad. In the midst of a professional interest in ‘the customer’ it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we are all customers. We all know what makes us feel good or bad in our interactions with organisations — and the impact that has on our attitudes and behaviours in the future.
The talk was structured to take the audience from big ideas to practical action by way of a case study.
We started with some scene setting and context, moved into a case study about the work Sara and I have been doing together at Pan Macmillan, and finally we offered some practical takeaways.
Around us we see a world transformed by a business environment characterised by VUCA — it is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
VUCA, an acronym derived from the American Military’s response to the new conditions of warfare post Cold War, is now being adopted by business leaders to describe our chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly changing business environment.
We’ve only got to look at any news outlet to see these conditions writ large — and look at the high street and financial papers to understand how it’s translating into business.
Denise Caron says it well:
We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis, and elimination of uncertainty to solve, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense-making, and an engagement of uncertainty.
A short Unilever case study describes this in practice:
When asked by Forbes contributor Avi Dan why they changed their business model, Keith Weed, chief marketing and communication officer for Unilever, responded:
“We look at the world through a lens, which we call VUCA, which stands for ‘Volatile, Unstable, Complex, and Ambiguous.’ So you can say, ‘It’s a very tough world,’ or you can say, ‘It’s a world that’s changing fast, and we can help consumers navigate through it.’ Two-and-a-half billion more people will be added to the planet between now and 2050, of which 2 billion will be added in developing countries. The digital revolution, the shift in consumer spending, all this suggests that companies have to reinvent the way they do business.” (Dan, 2012.)
We’re no longer living in the old economy, based on industrial-era principles. That’s over.
We’ve crossed into a new ‘Normal’ — it’s not just that things have sped up, it’s the changes that this degree of speed brings.
- Rapid changes driven by technological & societal developments like social media
- Business models challenged and made obsolete by new agile competitors
- Changing populations — growing, ageing & massively interconnected
- Disruptions to lives, economies, and businesses
It’s not going to stop!
Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future believes that the VUCA world presents opportunity as well as risk. He has proposed a model he calls VUCA Prime as a leadership paradigm that uses values-driven leadership to face the challenges with hope.
- Vision addresses volatility
- Understanding addresses uncertainty
- Clarity addresses Complexity
- Agility addresses Ambiguity
How do we apply this to our day jobs? CUSTOMERS are the key
- No longer about service or satisfaction, but putting customers at heart of business is a strategic imperative
- Delivering a vision that is meaningful to them, help them choose in a sea of options
- Listen to and learn to understand not just what they have bought but what needs/dreams/fears & motivations they have for the future,
- Work with them to develop the products or services that meet those needs
- Be clear and help them make sense of your offer so they can make better, informed decisions
- Be agile — respond to feedback, communicate across your organisation & move quickly to apply it to your solutions
Marketing is vital to making the change. John V Willshire has expressed it brilliantly in his phrase ‘Making Things People Want beats Making People Want Things’ — there’s a whole world of possibility in getting closer to customers’ needs and dreams and connecting that to what companies make and why.
It’s curious how the simple truism that we are all customers should be so easily forgotten in our day-to-day ‘professional’ lives. We talk about customers as data sets, segmenting and analysing them, but in doing so we forget that behind the data lies a rich pool of human emotion. And this is reflected in the way we speak to customers in campaigns and communications. We need to reconnect companies with customers by recognising that we are all just people with a shared set of common experiences.
As Bryan Kramer wrote:
- Businesses don’t have emotion, people do
- People want to be part of something bigger than themselves
- People want to feel something, to be included, to understand & be understood
It might be difficult to grasp how human-2-human can be made real — luckily Nunwood Research have done a whole body of analysis to break down what people really appreciate in terms of their experience with companies and created a handy toolkit to help us align our business practices with customers’ needs/dreams and motivations.
They call this the Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence.
Based on semantic analysis of over 500,000 consumer reviews, six pillars consistently emerge as defining customer experience excellence for the world’s best brands. Examples come from The 2013 UK Customer Experience Excellence Top 20 report.
Personalisation — using individualised attention to drive an emotional connection: e.g. Amazon recommendations
Integrity — being trustworthy & engendering trust e.g. John Lewis “Never knowingly undersold”
Valuing customers’ time & effort e.g. First Direct — get straight through to a person as soon as you call
Expectations — managing, meeting and exceeding e.g. Virgin Atlantic “brilliant basics & magic moments”
Resolution — turning a poor experience into a great one e.g. Laithwaites has a simple motto “if you’re not happy with a bottle don’t pay for it”.
Empathy — achieving an understanding of the customers’ circumstances to drive deep rapport e.g. Lush
Now onto our case study….
Why did Pan Macmillan need the Reader Engagement programme?
- Book market flat to declining — physical stores dwindling
- Formats and channels moving physical to digital
- New competitors — e.g. self-publishing, retailers becoming publishers, agents becoming publishers — making environment more competitive
- Stream of new media (games, apps, online entertainment e.g. YouTube) all competing for customers ever more fragmented attention — where do books fit?
…So: we needed to get closer to readers, speak to them directly and understand better what they wanted:
- to give us a competitive edge
- to ensure we delivered what readers want at the time they want it, in the format they want it in
We decided we needed to:
- Put the reader at the heart of the business
- Generate consumer insight — and use it to inform publishing & marketing decisions
- Demonstrate publishers’ continued relevance & added value to authors
So, it was about internal culture and process as much as anything else.
We could have set about it by recruiting a team of ‘consumer insight’ bods…
Instead we felt the better way was to look at our entire business, our culture, and change ourselves from the inside out… Shifting everyone’s attention to focus more definitively around readers.
The whole business faced the same challenges — so we engaged the whole business to work together to address them.
We needed everyone to recognise the value of the relationship with readers and to consider what they need to do differently to connect with them.
A big part of this programme was about taking people on a journey — a learning journey that would build experience and give them clarity about how to shape the future for Pan Macmillan.
A broad and complex programme but boiled down into three main elements:
We needed to effect a mindset shift: to realign our focus from retailers to customers, to learn from customers and evolving solutions to meet their needs.
This isn’t about competing with retailers but rather leveraging the relationship with the author to build relationships with readers. This in turn generates insight that can be offered back as something of value to the author.
The core publishing process is based on perfection. It involves taking a manuscript and crafting it into a finished, packaged, marketable product. Its a process that been honed over years and although there is opportunity for innovation within the process it doesn’t allow for a world in which stories can live in new and different forms.
The reader engagement programme set out a new approach in which customer-centric initiatives would be piloted, enabling the company to develop an innovation layer outside of the core process. The pilots offered a chance for the company to learn to experiment, to test new ideas and iterate quickly and generate new understanding of what customers want from a publisher.
There were nine pilots in total which included testing a new social media manager role, commissioning authors to curate web content, merchandising, an author-lead writing workshop and testing a trends service.
Key to delivering this strategy was the ‘REG’ or Reader Engagement Group. This cross-functional group were convened to collaborate, test new ideas & learn together, in the end delivering a more agile company.
The Reader Engagement programme delivered the following benefits:
- Developed an innovation framework & embedded capability
- Established cross-functional working practices
- Created new structures & roles focused on customer needs
- Embedded the test & learn approach into business-as-usual
Three key takeaways
1. You can’t change your market impact without changing yourself.
What fun internal disruption can you start tomorrow?
2. Get to know your customers as people — not just data.
Listen to or talk to a customer every day. It could be a neighbour, your brother, on Facebook.
(Pan Macmillan always thought they needed more insight, but they had loads and didn’t use it.)
What quick and dirty ways can you find to keep in touch with your customers?
3. No one of us is smarter than all of us.
Customers don’t care about the crazy ways we organise ourselves — they want a consistent, coherent experience whatever they’re doing.
What group could you convene to join things up on the inside and meet your customers’ needs in smarter, unexpected ways?
I hope this transcript makes some sense — and if there’s anything you want to explore further then please comment below.