room44 innovates

Let’s be honest, innovation doesn’t interest most companies as much as sales.

Companies tend to inspect their future when they’re already seeing a drop in sales because their market moved on without them, or because they are doing really well and need to invest some profit.

It’s more often the former than the latter.

So, the first step to getting more customers through the (metaphorical or actual) door is to try to gain referrals. Even in the digital age, referrals and testimonials are the cheapest sales conversion tool. Cheapest, quickest, simplest.

Customer Experience Management

Customer Experience Management (CEM) became a thing for that very reason: to put some numbers around customer behaviours when referrals tail off.

A common acronym used is NPS – Net Promoter Score: the number given to the consumer’s response when asked if you did something right.

Primary research you can’t buy

I’ve got a friend who, like all of us, sits across many consumer segments and tells it differently to NPS.

He’s domiciled in the UK, spends a few months a year in the US, and travels across Europe for his work in SAP. Not your average consumer, but well placed to see good and bad treatment of customers by brands. Where the average shopper might have favourite stores in different towns, he has favourites in different countries. 

Last week I wrote a blog about the (Emotional Quotient) EQ factor and how it’s an emerging way of understanding and keeping customers loyal so you don’t need to keep looking for new ones. Afterwards, he and I got into an e-mail trail on the subject that I’ve reproduced here with a very few amends.

The message is: brands that are renowned for their good NPS performance need to wake up. Assumed bastions of great customer service aren’t doing so well and they need to work harder to stay in business. 
The chat started with this blog. Enjoy this particular perspective.


Is it great value for money, product quality, service or all three that makes consumers loyal to a brand?

Him. Very few have all three. LL Bean comes [to mind] right away.

Me: I wonder what LL Bean would have to do to lose the loyalty you’ve shown it since we first met [over twenty years ago]?

Him. Yes it’s hard to pick another company in the US. And difficult to pick one in the U.K. besides hotels and B&Bs – which still count as they are businesses. 

To me it’s a combo of value for price. And either never fucking up or, if they do, they fix it promptly and kiss your ass for next time. 

I find the kissing ass for the next time doesn’t happen much anymore. 

Still cheaper to kiss my ass and keep me as a customer than getting a new customer. Because I’ll refer the company if I like them. And the referral will be even better if they fucked up, fixed it and did something to keep my business 

There are hotels in Yorkshire and Scotland that get our repeat business.

Dead models

Volvo [cars] are great but not a UK business. And the [Volvo] dealership experience blows but that’s all over. Such an antiquated business model. Like real estate agents. 

The Paul chain in London is great. Does stuff to keep our business. But they are not UK either. 

Maybe John Lewis. But my negative experience with them when I first moved to the U.K. tarnishes their standing. Maybe I’m too tough therefore can never be satisfied. 

I’ll tell you my favorite section of the Saturday Times and I flip to it first: Customer service horror stories. And of course the [brands] always change their tune when the Times contacts them. I’ll never do business with Vodafone just from reading that over the years. 

Businesses always seem to be interested in new customers rather than retaining old. And now they are hot on data mining BLAH BLAH but core values that keep me as, not just as a customer but, a loyal customer meaning I recommend them to friends seem to have been lost. 

Take Amazon. I really don’t like them. 

I think they are having an overall negative impact. But most times I go to the store or online direct I get more expensive or out of stock product cheaper on Amazon. Free shipping (I’m in prime so my Dad can watch their stuff) and it’s usually in stock. 

Aviva insurance seems good but I’ve never claimed. I get loyalty discount.

CapitalOne credit card (US) is great. Cash back and the best exchange rate around. 3 decimal place from interbank and no fees. 

BA used to be awesome. They were the best at fixing problems and keeping your business That stopped mid 2000s.

Now they are just like everyone else but more costly. Steve (our local car service garage of choice) the mechanic has been good. He fixes bulbs on the car all the time at no charge other than the bulb. That (Volvo) car blows 5 to 7 bulbs a year. 

I’m still thinking about any company in the world I like as much as LL Bean. You can use a product for a year or more and can return it for a refund if you are not satisfied. I’ve never done that but they have replaced zippers on backpacks I’ve used for years. 

Zipper quality seems to have declined in recent years. 

The brands here are listed and tagged because this is useful, and primary, market research that they’d never receive by sending out a NPS questionnaire.

They’re very welcome to discuss this insight and how room44 can help them work our a consumer-centric plan. All they, and you, have to do is click here.

Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

If ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, strategy is what culture feeds on. Seeing customer experience from the customer side.

To get an idea of what goes on in the minds of people working in the same industry, go to a conference and get a bucket of whatever they’re drinking. It might taste funny to you, but it could help you work out why they’re the way they are.

Put a group of professionals from the same sector in a room for a couple of days, and watch what happens. At the start of the agenda, there’s some jockeying for position and a bit of posturing to see who can tell a better story than the rest. This establishes a pecking order. After the first night in the bar, though, the barriers come down and the natural order is resumed, with the bigger companies swinging longer tails.

From the outside looking in, it’s a game that gets interesting after a few guests have stood up to speak. I went to a conference this week, for the bit of the mobile telecoms industry that concerns itself with ‘customer experience’. Inevitably, I made some observations.

Billing is a problem that won’t go away

Despite the advent of AI and ML, biometric monitors in wearable devices and robots lining up to steal jobs, a large part of the agenda was taken up with how difficult it is to match customers’ expectation by producing a bill they can make sense of. Billing preoccupies telcos as much as anything else. Billing loses customers; billing creates work in call centres; billing is responsible for such huge numbers of calls that chat bots are being brought in to handle them. Billing is the focus for companies who service CEM in telcos, by producing platforms they’d like consumers to use as a lens through which they see their bill.

It may sound a bit glib to say that it seemed like a herd of elephants were thundering round a room, and it wouldn’t be so bad if the ‘industry’ had more of a sense of concern. Actually, there was just a pervasive aura of ‘that’s how it is’. While it’s easy to find people who recognise the problem, it’s harder to find anyone who’s prepared to take on the issue as a mission on their customers’ behalf.

Design thinking

Some adventurous telco folk, however, have taken on board the concept of Design Thinking and, keen to use the latest buzzwords, have begun calling it ‘human-centred design’. Herein lies a twist though: just as IDEO lumbered us with a phrase that was supposed to imply innovation without saying as much, ‘human centricity’ sounds like we’re moving innovation into HR at the very time that robots are lurking just around the corner.

This is another example of the market struggling to know how to conduct itself. On the one hand, it sells smartphones to customers keen to do all their shopping on a mobile or tablet; on the other hand, it sells in very rural areas where there is no internet, where coverage is only achieved by satellite or beaming between houses, and where users have no need for a smartphone because Amazon is never going there. It’s said that 66% of the global population doesn’t have internet access. If you want to see a disparity in usage patterns, there’s an example right there. Maybe Punkt and Lightphones will give us pause for thought.

Artificial intelligence

And so, to AI. While the parochial billing issues are waiting to be resolved, the macro trends facing telcos are still interesting to discuss. Alpha Gen is in second grade and it’s generally agreed that, where countries have made a national decision to teach coding in schools, and where human-centred design is a feature of the curriculum, the battle for AI supremacy is already lost. Even the Germans, who made a virtue of vocational education a few decades ago, aren’t rushing to win this one. Whether it’s apathy, organisational inertia, or resignation may be a moot point, but the job to be done feels huge, and there’s no easy starting point.

See it differently

If telcos are a window on a more general sense of awe in the face of a mountain to climb, we can expect the technological change, that’s forecast to hit every industry, to be here very soon. As an observer and commentator, it’s easy to pick holes in other people’s modus operandi. But that very objectivity provides a naivety that could be valuable if the companies most in need of a new perspective decide to seek a different approach.

Peter Drucker was quoted as saying that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. I’d be inclined to agree, so long as we also note that strategy is what culture feeds on. Without one, we can’t have the other, and right now, it’s strategy that seems to be missing.

Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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