3 tips for being a successful customer centric organisation

29 06 2013

The three rules at the heart of customer centric growth for O2 in Slovakia, are equally relevant to developing high performing NGBs.

At this week’s Marketing Week Live, Jonathan Earle from Telefonica O2 shared three rules upon which O2 have built their success in Slovakia. These are:

1) Stand for something
2) Be consistent
3) Trust your people

Given they’ve taken nearly a quarter of the market share on a shoestring budget, and boast very high staff & customer engagement scores, its worth considering how their success could be applied to growing sports participation.

1) Stand for something – be distinctive
What this means: use market and consumer insight to define a clear and distinctive position within the market. Brands that target everybody end up being relevant to nobody, as one size rarely fits all. So instead focus on creating offers and experiences that are aligned to your brand and are relevant to your target market.

What O2 did: O2 choose to shake up the market by being the “fair operator”, and hence don’t make offers that their target customers would think are unfair. They don’t make anyone sign a contract, when they say unlimited there’s no “but…” in the small print, and if they create a more competitive offer for new customers they automatically extend it to existing customers (not when they ask for it, or threaten to leave, but automatically – otherwise its not fair!).

What NGBs could do: standing for something requires understanding the current market for delivering sport and also the wider needs and expectations of target customers. Understanding the customer’s decision making process when they choose sport, and then specific sports within that, is key to defining a position that will be more compelling than the alternatives (which are usually not sports-related). Of course being distinctive and standing for something takes courage. It means choosing not to stand for some other things, and hence not trying to be relevant to everybody. But that’s how growth and customer loyalty is created – by focusing on being the most relevant and compelling choice for your target market.

2) Be consistent – disciplined execution
What this means: Having chosen to stand for something distinctive, maintain this clear water through being very disciplined about communications and delivery. Consistent communications keep reinforcing the key message to stakeholders and customers. Consistent decisions and delivery reinforce the authenticity of the message through the experience of customers. It’s this consistency that creates brand advocates.

What O2 did: A ruthless focus on consistent messages, offers, and in-store experiences has made the brand experience authentic and compelling rather than just a strap line. This includes considering how staff need to be managed and rewarded so that they too feel that O2 is the “fair operator”. Interestingly, in this respect Earle sees their small budget as an advantage, as they can’t afford to be tactical or distracted by unplanned opportunities.

What NGBs could do: the mixed economy of delivery in most sports involves many organisations with different priorities. NGBs need to clearly communicate how their offers add value to their target customers. They also need to be very clear about what aspects of their products and communications are customisable to local needs and what aspects are non-negotiable.

3) Trust your people – give them room to breath

What this means: being customer focused requires agility and responsiveness to customers. This agility comes from empowering staff to take responsibility and make decisions when talking with customers. This agility can be achieved by shifting budget and/or decision-making responsibility locally, and combining it with a consistent approach to communications and measurement. The motto is clearly define expectations and boundaries, then get out of their way.

What O2 did: O2 believe that their people are the experts, and don’t want them bogged down by bureaucracy. So they “treat their people like adults”, giving them clear and consistent direction and then passing down the responsibility for achieving that.

What NGBs could do: many NGBs are good at empowering local staff to make decisions and even to manage budgets. However, in many cases this empowerment is not supported by clear communication of the chosen positioning and/or success measures aren’t consistent and aligned to the overall outcomes.

In summary, one size doesn’t fit all, and therefore every brand needs to stand for something that is relevant and compelling to its chosen target audience. To achieve scale organisations must then be very disciplined in how they execute across all of their touch points. This consistency of experience comes from treating staff the same way that customers are treated, which means they must be trusted to make the right decisions.

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What’s your sport? A look at what a sport’s brand means to you

6 10 2011

What’s your sport? What is running, swimming or football? As a current, lapsed, potential participant, or as someone that never wants to do it, what do these sports mean to you? What does each sport’s brand stand for, in your eyes?

Strong brands are ones that create an emotional response in people. When you ask them what the brand is, they don’t reply with a list of functions and features. Instead they tell you about it’s benefits or how it’s relevant (or not) to them.

Growth comes from understanding the needs and expectations of the target customers you want to buy/use your brand – a strong connection with them often means a disconnection with others. Those who don’t engage deeply with a brand will usually dismiss it as “marketing hype”. And that’s the point about great brands, they divide opinion precisely because they are distinctive enough for people to have an opinion, as the varying eulogies to Steve Jobs have demonstrated.

Brands drive growth
Growth of the iPad, Starbucks, Manchester United, Ikea – each has invented or re-invented their category and achieved growth and success way beyond the wider market or what was considered normal. Each brand has their passionate followers with whom they deeply connect, and they have passionate detractors with whom they often disconnnect equally strongly. But that doesn’t matter – if you create something genuinely relevant and meaningful, it can’t be relevant and meaningful to everyone.

If you ask someone “what is Manchester United”, you wont get a list of features about ground capacity, employees or their upcoming fixture. Instead you’ll get a story about the role the team has played through someones life, the glory of a great victory, the thrill of watching great craftsmen at work. Or you will get the complete opposite – I’ll stop there before my inner Fulham fan takes over. But regardless of where you stand, its clear they’ve succeeded in growing the revenue and success of the club, by becoming a brand that people want to be part of and engaged with, both on and off the pitch.

The same dichotomy occurs if you ask people “what is Ikea” or “what is an iPad”. But all these brands have achieved stellar growth because their brand has deeply connected with enough people to drive it.

Branding and participation
So in terms of sports participation, my question is this, “what is sport?”. Or to make it more specific: “what is swimming, running or football?”

I chose these sports to get a mix of what gemba sports research call “franchise” sports (those where the number of fans vastly outweighs the number of participants) and “grass roots” sports (where the opposite is true).

The sport of football has a strong brand for spectators and sponsors, whether people and companies choose to engage with it or not. Likewise with the Olympics around the corner, the spectator brand for elite swimming and running will get more and more coverage – which will delight some and annoy others. But that’s why the Olympics works, if everyone cared then no-one would care. It creates a deep level of inspiration and excitement, because it connects with most people but not everyone. If every elite sport became relevant to everyone, they would be passionately relevant to no-one.

But what do any or all of those sports mean to you, as a current lapsed or aspiring participant? What does running, going for a swim or playing football mean to you? Does the idea thrill you or fill you with dread? Are you constantly trying to get friends to join in, or are you always planning to start playing it “tomorrow”? Are you looking forward to your next session, or is it something you keep saying you will do but probably never will (like I do about parachuting)?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below…





The overwhelming fear of being wrong

4 07 2011

Seth Godin has made an interesting post about a consumers underlying fear of being wrong, and how they behave as a result of it. His final sentence, that this is “the lone barrier almost every product and service has to overcome in order to succeed” is particularly relevant for the sports industry.

From a sports participants perspective, the fear of being wrong could be the fear of having:
– the wrong level of skills (too rusty to try)
– the wrong level of fitness (waiting ‘another week’ until they’re a little fitter)
– the wrong friends (not in the clique)
– the wrong gear (looking like a newbie)
– the wrong attitude (not wanting to be serious / competitive)

In developing, packaging and promoting participation opportunities, sports need to be considering (which means they first need to be asking) how current and potential customers feel about their sport. And the good news is that some sports are already creating some good practice for addressing these fears. Back to Netball helps overcome the fear of no longer having the right skills, as participants can all be rusty together. Likewise the different group speeds available within RunEngland Networks and SkyRide Local’s help people get over the fear of not having the initial fitness to keep up.

But until sports fully understand how current and potential customers feel about their sport (and the same person may have different perceptions/experiences, and hence fears, about different sports), they won’t be able to talk to potential participants in a way that addresses these fears. And until then, they’ll never know what they were missing!





The 3rd place…

3 04 2011

I was reading the Starbucks entry on wikinvest the other day. The bit that particularly interested me was the short entry on Starbucks 3rd place – a market positioning based on delivering a differentiated customer experience that became a catalyst for growth within the coffee shop market. growth.
The entry reads: Starbucks’ success is due in large part to the trendsetting triumph of its coffeehouses as an informal and convenient “third place” outside of home and work, ideal both for informal meetings and a quiet moment away from the hubbub of daily life. Wi-fi internet access in all stores also makes it a place where customers can work. Book and music events also take place at Starbucks, in accordance with the company’s goal of making each location a community center of sorts to garner the loyalty of local customers.

It made me wonder whether sport can build on it’s current position, for some customers at least, as being their 3rd place between work and home. What Starbucks did wasn’t new, coffee shops were already a 3rd place for some. But what Starbucks did was build it up into a relevant and compelling customer experience, and one they could use to grow their whole market (not just their share of the existing market).

Golf is a sport that often combines business with sport, and team sports like football create social and community bonds around playing. But how could a sport deliver a customer experience – consistently across all it’s touch points – that set a completely new standard? What would it take for a sport to no longer be seen by its participants as an either/or to working or spending time with the family? Could it be West Wing-style mass jogging networking events, using voice to text software on an iPhone? Or family canoeing days that start with brunch at a cafe, and end at a cinema?

The answer probably isn’t either of those suggestions. But it is out there…





Poor customer experience from low staff engagement

4 08 2009

Seth Godin posted recently, about employees who take a “dont blame me, all I do is work here” approach to customer service. They distance themselves from the customer’s experience, rather than empathising with (and taking responsibility for) the situation.

Unfortunately, Qantas were proving Godin’s point to me while he was still typing. I was due to fly from Sydney with Qantas last week, arriving back in Wellington at midnight. I even checked-in for the flight, which at that stage was running 45mins late. Still the Qantas employee at the check-in was smiling, helpful and empathised with the impact of the delay. Sadly the empathy wouldn’t last.

When I arrived at the Qantas Club lounge, a deadpan lady told me “your flight has been cancelled”. So deadpan, that I laughed at her joke and kept walking. Alas the joke was on me, and I was dispatched immediately to the Qantas Transfer Desk.

Now if this transfer desk had been a country, it would have been Antartica. Cold and inhospitable. The staff were grumpy, huffing and puffing and barking orders at both customers and each other. Customers stood looking sheepish and confused. One lady asking politely for help, kept being interupted by a staff member with a deep sigh saying “let me start again and explain to you…” not once actually answering the passenger’s question.

Without eye contact or achnowledgement, I was told at one point that I was only wait-listed for a flight out that night. When I asked what would happen if I didn’t get on the flight, I was told with more deadpan delivery “we overnight you, and get you on a plane sometime tomorrow”.

I realise this is standard process for airlines. But how the process is followed doesn’t need to be. After all, queueing for a ride at Disney theme parks is a far from standard experience. Yet the transfer desk staff didn’t acknowledge the impact potential over night delays might have on passengers, let alone appear to care. It was clear the staff weren’t enjoying themselves, and despite them getting me on the flight at the last minute, I left there feeling it was my fault Qantas had cancelled their plane.

So why was the customer experience so bad? The Qantas man whisking me through the airport on the buggy was quick to defend his colleagues. He suggested their attitude came from having to deal with irrate and grumpy customers, and that after a while the body shuts down and they become immune.

But is this true? At what point in the customer experience should the roles switch, and customers be expected to empathise with the impact on staff? If they are responding to an emergency then fair enough, but the transfer process is all too common. The desk is permanent and they are being paid to do a customer facing job.

Airlines are a logistics business, just like postal or express deliveries. But DHL & FedEx have built their brands on employees taking pride in making sure parcels are successfullly delivered. The bigger the problem, the greater the satisfaction there is in a successful outcome. Stories are told, and the people celebrated, of how far staff go out of there way to ensure timely delivery. I doubt anyone was celebrating the efforts of the Qantas staff in getting passengers home that night. But maybe they should start thinking about it, because the experience I got from Air New Zealand when I rushed up to the gate was a stark contrast.

The plane had been held 20mins to collect the reject passengers. I was expecting to be rushed on-board, feeling bad for delaying the plane. But instead the staff were all smiles, greeting frustrated passengers with a warm “glad your here now, you can relax, we’ll get you home on time”. Later, as we disembarked, the usual “thanks for flying with us” announcement wasn’t just a script. Instead they acknowledged that not all of us had had a choice in flying with them, but they were glad that we had and it was their pleasure to serve us. And this despite the fact that the last minute passengers had led to food choices running out. But this too was handled with a smile and a joke.

Empathy has a huge role to play in customer experience, and that can only come when staff feel engaged with a brand. While the Qantas staff took the “I just work here” approach, AirNZ ackowledged how passengers were feeling about the situation and did something about it.

Now some would argue AirNZ were just being nice, to try and win passengers from Qantas. And if they were, they succeeded. Just don’t tell Qantas until they’ve sent over my luggage.





AirNZ’s ‘bare essentials’ ad campaign becomes an in-flight experience

7 07 2009

Something wonderfully strange has happened to Air New Zealand – they’ve developed a personality! Following hot on the heels of their nothing to hide ads, comes their bare essentials in-flight safety briefing. I often rave about VirginBlue adding personality to their safety briefings, but AirNZ have successfully stripped away almost everything except the personality!

This is a great example of brand authenticity. They’ve taken what is already a catchy ad campaign and embeded it into their service proposition. The behind the scenes video shows how the campaign has engaged the brave staff in the ad, and my experience last weekend confirmed it (minus the body paint). The staff on my flight from Auckland seemed to be having more fun, the announcements felt less scripted, and they were giving out double helpings of cookies/lollie mix as standard (always a winner for me).

The customers are getting in on the act too, with a website to let them confess their own ‘nothing to hide’ stories. Putting the advert, safety video and bloopers on YouTube has added to the buzz, with overseas media like the NY Times and Daily Telegraph sharing the story.

The outcome has been game-changing. Airlines regularly struggle to get even a captive audience to watch the safety briefings. Yet AirNZ have already gained  3.5 million armchair viewers! Now that’s world-class thinking!








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