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.


The power of a one-phrase strategy in driving growth

8 03 2013

Sports psychologists talk about being in flow, in the zone. It means the athlete is focused, with no distractions, and performance becomes almost effortless. But this state of effortlessness, requires a lot of effort to achieve it, whether in high performance sport or small businesses.

Re-reading Margaret Manson‘s CEO Online article “The power of the ‘One-Rule’ in productivity and growth” has been a valuable reminder of the importance of maintaining focus if market scale is to be achieved. In effect it recommends developing an organisation-specific way of challenging whether a proposed idea or project will “make the boat go faster”.

This strategic focus is much harder to agree and execute than a simple phrase suggests. It needs to be the organisation’s “north star” that helps people trade off competing priorities by being able to hold up a new project against the number one strategic outcome. It needs to be specific enough that everything can be justified against it, but broad enough to align the whole organisation.

Vern Harnish, business growth guru and author of The Rockefeller Habits, adopts a similar approach with recommending a “one-phrase strategy“. Vern often uses the example of the “wheels up” strategy of SouthWest Airlines. This simple phrase drove every strategic and operational decision from reservation systems to cleaning processes to the types of aircraft they bought. The single focus of every decision was to keep the planes in the air where they generate profits, not on the ground waiting or being repaired.

Do you have a “one-rule” or “one-phrase strategy” within your department or organisation? And is it one that helps clearly focus strategic and operational decisions as well as “wheels up” or “THE low cost airline”? Please share in the comments below.

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.

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