Be nice

I’ve just returned home from a week’s break in Berlin – my first visit to the city since 1990, shortly after the Wall came down and when there were street vendors selling fragments of it (I have a piece somewhere).

I saw many great things, ate some good food and drank some even better beer. Berliners are on the whole very friendly, and the vast majority responded to my poor attempts at German (my GCSE was gained through rote learning and memorising key phrases) in near-flawless English.

However, this isn’t a travel blog so I’ll limit this blog post to a quick contrast.

  • At one bar, we were welcomed in by the barman who made friendly conversation while pouring our drinks. We were there to see the blues band playing (this was actually our second choice of entertainment, but the New Indie Bands night at Lido was sold out), When we realised we were in the wrong room, the barman personally took us to the right place. When he saw the doorman was distracted, he stamped our hands and waved us through. A thoroughly nice fellow.
  • Whether it is because Germans are particularly fond of going to restaurants on Sundays, or whether the rain drove everyone insides to make it seem busier, but the restaurants in Hackescher Markt were particularly crowded. The restaurant we chose was the wrong one. From being herded to wait by the bar to the long waits between courses, it took 2 hours to get our main meal. The service was pretty poor and the food wasn’t much better – I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt to the staff who looked overworked, but it is the restaurant owner’s fault for not employing enough staff on what was clearly a busy time

The second venue was in a primer location, and was far busier. Yet the experience was far worse. Location is undoubtedly a factor in success, but it pales in significance to customer service and customer experience. Venues survive and thrive via word of mouth – the internet and social media is amplifying its power.

Things can and will change. I’m but one small player in the constant interactions between nodes and networks, but I am nevertheless a player. Therefore…

I recommend going the the Junction Bar in Kreuzberg for some live music and a friendly atmosphere (nearest U-Bahn is Gneisenaustraße).

I recommend avoiding Dante am Hackeschen Markt in Mitte (nearest S-Bahn is Hackescher Markt).

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bump/758310/

Chosen as a more mature alternative to my original choice of image

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Treating respondents as commodities

Treating respondents as commodities – don’t do it, kids.

Yet it happens, particularly with online surveys.

I recently had a sales call with a provider who said that their panel was no better or worse than any competitor; they sought to differentiate themselves via client management and survey aesthetics.

This experience is backed up by a pithy comment from Tom H.C. Anderson in his Linked In group (NGMR – I won’t link to it, since it is only visible to members) who said “There is really only one panel that is used by everybody. Counting panelists is like counting fish in the sea and or clouds in the sky. One day they’re being used by company X, the next by company Z & Y”

Online panels aim to be as representative as possible; thus there is little difference in their make-up and so companies compete on other grounds. Primarily, this seems to be price. This means providers are continually trying to squeeze more out of their respondents for less.

This has contributed to the commoditisation of sample (it is by no means the only reason – it is perhaps an inevitability given the need to maintain respondent anonymity and confidentiality) and the research process. The research experience is at best variable (at worst, terrible) for respondents.

Surveys are now analogous to Farmville – drones click on different parts of the screen to complete monotonous tasks for a tiny reward.

This has to change. Perhaps it will – two recent articles on Research Live have broached the topic

As a user of online panels, I know I am part of the problem. But it is the panel providers’ responsibility to protect its users. This would require coordinated action across the industry. Given that market research is regulated, this shouldn’t be an issue.

And the providers could start by treating their panel members as humans, and not commodities. Notwithstanding the inefficiencies of asking questions rather than capturing data (I’ve written about this previously in “If data is the new oil, we need a bigger drill”), some simple user experience testing could provide opportunities for easy, impactful changes.

For instance, why do surveys need to always ask demographic information? I’ve been stonewalled on this by several different companies, who say that it is “standard” (which sounds like commodity-speak) or that they need to ensure information is up-to-date. It is conceivable that a panel member may have changed their gender in the interim period between surveys, but I wouldn’t expect their ethnicity or age birthday to change. Cutting out extraneous questions can easily reduce survey length, and the burden on respondents.

This is a discussion the industry needs to have, and one I’m happy to be a part of.

sk

NB: I’m not concerned about whether they are called respondents or participants. Actions are more important than semantics.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/baconandeggs/1490449135/

Customer retention shouldn’t be inferior to business development

New business development is obviously an important part of business.

But client retention is integral.

It is far more important than new business development in terms of sustainable growth, yet doesn’t always have the prominence necessary to achieve this.

In some respects, it is a false comparison since client retention is a form of business development. Sales and revenues can increase from existing customers – increasing volumes, increasing margins or benefiting from advocacy and referrals.

And this is what the core focus of a business should be – servicing and delighting its core customers.

A successful business doesn’t need the most customers in its category, but it helps to have the happiest and most loyal segment (or “tribe”, to insinuate some of Seth Godin‘s beliefs).

This shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of bringing in more customers.

It leads to overpromising and underdelivering, causing problems for both current and new customers. I’ve witnessed a couple of examples of each

1. Making unsustainable promises: New customers may receive incentives to convert – a discount price or an extra level of service. Sometimes this is made clear, but often it isn’t. At work we were initially happy with a new supplier, but gradually the price rose and the quality of service deteriorated. It is understandable that quality of delivery varies by employee, but companies should ensure the bare minimum is of acceptable quality. This wasn’t.

2. Misselling a service: I find this issue more prevalent when the person/department for business development is different to that for ongoing account management. The sales peoples’ bonuses are short-term and based on bringing customers i; this incentivises them to oversell and make unsustainable promises. The project team then have an impossible task to live up to. And so it proved.

The above two examples highlight the problem of churn. There will always be some level of churn but a high level of departing (unsatisfied) customers completely counteracts the work that has gone into developing new business. Eventually the opportunities dry up, and the company retreats to its core.

If that core remains

3. Alienating the core audience: Moving into new markets or new segments risks alienating the core audience, if the messages used to entice the potentials aren’t consistent with what attracts the core audience. A couple of years ago ITV1 spent a lot of money on contemporary drama to try and bring in a more upmarket audience. Unfortunately, the programmes weren’t received well by the core audience and viewing figures were dismal.

4. Offering sub-standard products or services: Reaching out to new audiences may divert resources away from maintaining the quality of a core product or its associated service. I’ve seen this with MLB.tv. I’m a casual fan living in a timezone where most games don’t start until after midnight. I’ve found the archive service perfectly fine. But the core product – live games in HD and with DTR functionality have developed several faults. Not only are the core fans being deprived of their need to support their team, but the online customer support has been completely inept. Two examples of this are (you may need to click on them to enlarge and make them readable):

Crappy mlb.tv customer supportCrappy mlb.tv support

When this happens, the company ends up as a doughnut – it has some mass at the edges, but no centre.

Business development might make some short-term gains, but losing sight of customer retention will only hurt in the long run. An organisation needs to ensure it delivers on the factors that causes its core to be loyal advocates – whether uniqueness, timeliness, durability or aspiration. It’s brand promise, essentially.

Customer lifetime value might be factored into business development strategies. But without adequate support across the organisation, it remains unfulfilled as core customers depart and new customers reject the offer.

Companies need to avoid turning into doughnuts. Well, the ring kind anyway. They would want to be the other type of doughnut – with all the good stuff in the centre.

The mantra that Rob Campbell gives in this short interview sums it up better than my terrible analogy*

“We treat all clients like they’re new clients – it’s the lifeblood of our survival.”

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hackett/159428076/

* I’d even rejected another analogy; one inspired by X-men. Wolverine and his adamantium skeleton is good. Penance and his empty body is bad

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Bigger isn’t always better

As part of my ongoing Diploma, I have to write several assignments based on the company I work for.

This is pretty good in that it means my studying ultimately has some practical benefit. But the reading literature isn’t making it easy.

Leaving aside the fact I’m not a marketer (and that Essential doesn’t even have a marketing department), the textbooks all carry the implicit assumption that the reader is working in a large consumer-facing organisation. Which is silly.

Obviously a lot of marketing theory surrounding processes becomes redundant in small companies, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

According to government statistics recently published, “Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) together accounted for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, 59.4 per cent of private sector employment and 50.1 per cent of private sector turnover.”

Another constant theme in the literature is that companies should strive for “bigness”. Growth is the engine of the economy, and thus organisations should aim to grow.

Fine, but growth doesn’t have to be in unit sales. If there is an excess demand, basic economics states that the price should be increased. Growth can be maintained through higher profitability.

And for the service industry, bigger isn’t always better. Quality should be prioritised over quantity. A company is built on the vision of the founder(s) – the larger the company gets, the harder it is to maintain that vision and the more reliant the company becomes on work delegated to colleagues. Careful training and recruitment (“Always hire someone smarter than you”) are one thing, but they don’t compensate for that experience or existing relationship.

A restaurant is a good example of this. I enjoyed reading this article about the Great Lake Pizza shop. The founders insists on making each pizza by hand, and are unwilling to compromise. In their words:

Ms. Esparza: [Expansion] would change our values. That is the American way — to expand without really thinking.

Mr. Lessins: We really enjoy the work that we’re doing and we don’t want to cheapen it. Consciously or unconsciously — probably both — we’re trying to create a manageable way to earn a living and still maintain our sanity. We value time as much, if not more so, than money.

I believe Franco Manca, in Brixton, operates on a similar principle.

It might seem painful, but putting a notice outside of the restaurant saying it is fully booked can often be the best thing it can do. It must be busy for a reason, and so people are prepared to queue, and even pay a premium for it. A restaurant relies on its good reviews, and for this it needs to have satisfied patrons.

Being small isn’t a hurdle, or a restriction. In many ways, it is a benefit.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeryjl/2676435494/

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Orange Wednesday

Orange Wednesday is a great example of a marketing initiative adding value for mutual benefit

  • The customer gets (essentially) half-price cinema tickets
  • The cinema gets to use up spare capacity on what was probably the quietest day of the week (the day before the new releases)
  • The brand gets the advertising, and the associations

The campaign is very popular. So popular, that I had to wait 40 minutes to get my cinema tickets last Wednesday as the crowd of people in front of people slowly moved forward. Each transaction, where the voucher number was manually recorded and the transaction was made, seemed to take an age. Surely there is a more efficient way of processing the tickets?

Am I justified in being disappointed? Or should I accept it, given the saving I made? £3.25 isn’t a great return for a 40 minute wait. I will go again, but the campaign isn’t as essential to me as it could so easily have been

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wgyuri/

PS A hectic week means that the next link update has been delayed. It will probably go up on Sunday.

Three lessons from ATP: Explosions in the Sky

ATP Explosions in the Sky flyer

Lesson #1: Pick the right environment

The environment is a hugely important factor in consumer enjoyment. Design, location, time and atmosphere all affect our consumption and they should be managed as closely as possible to maximise the experience. 

Good practice: Scheduling Jens Lekman‘s sunny, infectious indie-pop to open the afternoon on a glorious day (admittedly, the weather can’t be predicted)

Bad practice: Scheduling Stars of the Lid‘s neo-classical orchestrations at midnight while a room of inebriated patrons restlessly await the opportunity to dance to Battles

Lesson #2: Accurately gauge demand

Too much of something and you have wasted resources on surplus inventory. Too little and you alienate potential advocates. Supply needs to be accurately forecast, or at least flexible enough to meet any unanticipated changes.

Good practice: The bar staff – seeing the number of people getting hot at the front of the audience – preparing a load of glasses of water in preparation for the onslaught of dehydrated fans at the end of the set

Bad practice: Not having a coloured wristband system in place for Battles (where a different colour signifies which set you can go and see). The resultant debacle meant that on Saturday, demand far outstripped capacity. Priority wristbands for the Sunday performance were handed out to those that failed to get in but this then meant the entire venue had to be emptied in advance of the second performance, and people without wristbands could not be admitted until the set started

Lesson #3: Over-deliver on expectations

Experience dictates expectations to an extent. But they can still be managed through providing the customer with additional, up-to-date information. Making a realistic promise and then exceeding it will stand you in good stead for repeat business

Good practice: Our car broke down on the journey back to London. The repair service said a technician would be with us in 30 minutes. He showed up in 20. We were impressed.

Bad practice: The problem with the car was critical, and we needed to be towed. We were told a tow truck would be with us within the hour. Three calls and two hours later, it showed up. Our goodwill had completely evaporated.

A fourth – personal – lesson would be to extend forward planning from the immediate to the longer term. With particular reference to the amount of sleep required to sustain oneself for the week ahead.

sk

Links – 31st April 2008

Quite a lot of links this week (I had a quiet weekend) but the highest quality update so far. Some really excellent articles in here – well worth a bookmark!

Blog-related:

  • Clay Shirkey’s widely blogged-about speech on social surplus NB: I have left comments on several blogs about this. I agree with his underlying point – there is a social surplus and creating great things like Wikipedia take up relatively small chunks. But social surplus is something that I think we are running short of already, and there does need to be a balance between active and passive entertainment. TV and gin are friends, not the enemy! A great, thought-provoking speech though – required reading for those yet to see it
  • The full Heroes media experience (Fast Company) NB: When the makers of Heroes say there is a 360 experience, they aren’t kidding. Transmedia in all its glory
  • Pre-experience design (Russell Davies) NB: Extremely thoughtful post on the importance of the entire brand experience – the product as the service and so forth
  • On a similar theme, attention-deficit advertising (Business Week) NB: Linking on from the product as a service to the advertising as a service. If a company can provide something useful and brand it, it is win-win. Research shows people are willing to accept advertising if they are opting in to receive something useful
  • Starbucks coffee at home NB: Brilliant new website, again linking back to providing something useful for consumers. Apparently, the Africa Fatula is the coffee blend for me

    Random

    • World’s biggest useless things NB: This really struck a chord with me. One that I can’t really describe. Both melancholic and uplifting. How something essentially meaningless can reward people with pride and achievement. An analogy to blogging??
    • Supermemo – the memory-improving tool recently featured in Wired
    • Is anti-virus software overrated? (Lifehacker) NB: I had a tremendous amount of hassle trying (and failing) to change virus-scan software last year. Seems anti-virus companies are monotheistic

    Among these excellent posts and articles, those I would recommend most highly are:

    Blog-related: Clay Shirkey’s widely blogged-about speech on social surplus, How Newton’s law works with brands, Pre-experience design, White paper on content marketing strategies, Wieden+Kennedy’s philosophy in illustrated format and Starbucks coffee at home

    Random: World’s biggest useless things, Guerrilla gardeners, 15 great Kurt Vonnegut quotes and The “Amen break” drumbeat and the golden ratio

    Phew!

    sk