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Archive for the ‘Value Enhancers’ Category

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Every interaction with a customer including complaints is an opportunity to build or strengthen our bridges with our customers.  Very often we find our customer-facing staff blowing away this opportunity that lands on our lap for free. To better understand this gift recall what we go through when we go out to engage a customer unsolicited.  

And how do we blow it away? Usually by keeping our interaction down to a crisp and a minimal response demanded by the context.  Technically flawless, business-wise not so wise.  Of course at the other extreme, we might have a loquacious rep overdoing it pushing the customer to annoyance.

What then do we do with this opportunity? Well, there are several avenues to be explored: we could gain useful insights into his decision making process (why or how did he settle on our product?), his experience with competitors, his post-purchase impressions, what else would he like to see as features, does he see enough of our brand publicity… If it is a complaint, information about events leading to the failure could be collected.  Did he have other issues/signals before the failure occurred?  Does he have thoughts on how this failure could have been possibly averted? Of course what would work depends on the temperature of the call.

All of these cannot happen without orienting our customer-facing staff adequately, constructing different possible scenarios and outlining avenues for enriching the interaction.  

Note outsourced call-centers are optimized to enhance calls handled in a day rather than quality engagement with the caller, at once totally eliminating this opportunity.

Incidentally all of the above apply to our interactions with prospects too.

Here’s a short well-written piece from Art Petty on this same theme exhorting us to have transformational interaction instead of transactional. A personal experience included. So why settle for less when its potential benefits could be dramatic?

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As English is not our mother tongue, we do not always worry too much about what we say or write. That’s how we promise our prospects/customers solutions that are the cheapest, fastest, most easy-to-use…If for a moment we translate all that we say into our native tongue I’m sure we would never be so generous with the superlatives, hurting our credibility in the eyes of our audience.

Along these lines is also the abuse of clichés. In recent times I came across two such instances bordering on the ridiculous.

value-added1 pmtips.net

In Udaipur, a restaurant chain claiming to hold Guinness record for making largest dosa’s, proudly talked about value-addition in its mission statement prominently printed on the menu cards. I thought they’re in the business of delivering value to their customers in the first place which is far from being convincingly established. As for the ‘additions’ to the arguable value, of course there is no hint to where these may be found.

Value-addition rears its head once again at a least likely place – a IES school on the Jogeshwari link road near Seepz. A large billboard outside the school main-gate claims value-addition through education. Here again, I thought, schools are meant to create values in the first place in their students that become deep rooted over repeated reinforcement.

Of course, I may have completely missed the points they were making. If so, my apologies are due to them.

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Source: Image from pmtips.net

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I am on a constant prowl to collect stories on what companies do to enhance their customer’s experiences employing a variety of different strategies.

While on this subject, not entirely unrelated, I’m reminded of the question of ‘Employee Satisfaction’ in a software services company I was associated with. The attrition of professionals in the company was higher than the industry average. As customary the managers including the HR confidently diagnosed the problem as one of substantial wage disparity – salaries outside were easily 30% or more than what the company was paying. Unfortunately this coincided with downward business cycle leaving not much room for any significant revision. 

While the issue of compensation cannot be easily brushed aside with the younger lot in software industry, I’m dismayed to find it occupying all of the center-stage to the entire exclusion of what other things could be done for the employees.  Mumbai as a city and software services as a job leave very little time for anything else. A good number of professionals spend 2 to 3 hours daily just commuting to and fro in crowded trains/buses.  Many of them hail from other cities living in spacious accommodation before moving to closet-sized apartments in Mumbai. Given this background, reducing the hassle of living in Mumbai is a strategy worthy of serious consideration. But that doesn’t happen. A few token steps are kicked off without a cohesive strategy on this theme, more as an apology – such as providing assistance in paying utility bills, credit card bills, etc.

‘Managers’ don’t much buy into all those industry reports that cite a number of factors up there besides doling out hefty increases in compensation for employee retention/satisfaction. 

 Coming back to customer experiences, here is a simple story on the same theme of making life a wee bit easier.

This is from ‘Through the Eyes of the Customer.’  James Watson makes the point in his post so well I did not try paraphrasing it.  

“…

I love it when someone makes my life easy.

CVS Pharmacy did that this morning.  

I’ve been taking an daily allergy prescription for the past three years.  Once a year, my doctor has to re-approve the prescription so  that CVS can refill it.  And that once-a-year event happened to coincide with this month’s refill.

 Pharmacy

So, I expected that  I’d have to call my doctor, and request to have  the prescription renewed.  Or worse, schedule an appointment to get into my car, drive to the office, and endure a check-up. Either way, I’d be forced to break out of my normal routine of simply picking up the prescription at the CVS Drive-Thru and do some extra work…. 

… so I thought….on

But when I dialed the local CVS pharmacy, and punched the Prescription number into the keypad on my phone, that friendly recorded voice told me that my auto-refill had ended, and that my physician must approve the refill.  

“Damn,” I thought… Here goes”….

But the next automated message made my day:

“Press “1′ if you would like CVS to contact your physician on your behalf.”

Yes!!!  One less thing for me to do, because CVS would do it for me; they’ve designed their customer-facing process in a way to reduce work for the customer; they’ve made my life easier!!! I was delighted.

Now, it might only take me five minutes to call to my doctor’s office and make the arrangements myself.  And a five-minute task done once a year may not seem like much of a hassle. Over the course of that year, it’s really not – except when it is.  Like this morning.

The point is not the CVS saved me five minutes; the point is that CVS eliminated a Task from my To-Do-List.

Most people don’t keep track of time as clearly as they keep track of tasks that need to be completed.  Saving a customer “a few minutes” may not be clearly visible to that person, but if you save the customer from having to perform a task, they’ll notice it every time, and they’ll precieve it as a BIG convenience.  And it’s the customer’s perception that drives their behavior and loyalty.

…”

I recall a similar experience I had with a mobile service provider a couple of years ago. I went in to purchase a replacement SIM for my cell-phone. When I took the form with me duly filled in, at the store they pointed out I had overlooked pasting a mug-shot on the form. It meant going back home to fetch a photo. While I was ‘Oh sh##t’ing, they made me stand against a wall, got a camera out and took a shot right there in the store!   

Whether the business is of providing services or supplying products there are opportunities galore to mitigate the hassle factor for the customer in his interaction, surely  a worthwhile goal for businesses to go after.   

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Credits:  jlwatsonconsulting.typepad.com/my-blog/

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It’s about the story of the Blind Man usually credited to the legendary David Ogilvy to illustrate the need to look at things differently and the power of words to evoke emotions. Here’s the ‘original’ piece:

“…One day, there was a blind man sitting on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet and a sign that read:

‘I AM BLIND, PLEASE HELP’


A Coach was walking by and stopped to observe.

He saw that the blind man had only a few coins in his hat.

He dropped in more coins and, asked for permission to change the sign, the Coach then took the sign and added three words.


He returned the sign to the blind man and left.

That afternoon the Coach returned to the blind man and noticed that his hat was full of bills and coins.


The blind man recognized his footsteps and asked if it was he who had rewritten his sign and wanted to know what he had written on it.


The Coach responded:

“Nothing that was not true. I just wrote the message a little differently.”

He smiled and went on his way.


The new sign read:

‘IT’S SPRING AND I’M BLIND, PLEASE HELP’

…”

.
Now, for the interesting part:

Recently a promotional video for an online agency Purplefeather on this story recently went viral with some 14 millions of hits till-date on YouTube aptly titled as ‘The Power Of Words.’ In the final moments of the video the woman (a copywriter?) changes the sign to:

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY AND I CAN’T SEE IT

Do you see the difference between the two sign-texts? And which one gets your vote?

This is what Nick Asbury, a seasoned professional with many credits has to say on the revised sign:

‘…

* Ignoring the existing text written by the hapless blind man, she writes her own line on the reverse, thereby removing any of the wit and charm of the original story.

* She goes further by spelling out what was implicit in the original line. ‘IT’S SPRING AND I’M BLIND’ is a spare statement of fact that leaves the reader to fill in the emotional gap. This is where it gets its power.

* What if it isn’t a beautiful day? What if it’s raining tomorrow, or in a couple of hours? Ogilvy thought of this – ‘spring’ is nicely open-ended. If you watch the video, you can see it appears to be a grey and damp day, even though the woman copywriter is bizarrely wearing sunglasses. Almost makes you wonder which of them is blind.

* Finally, there’s no call to action: ‘PLEASE HELP

…’

So much of design going into crafting so few words?

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The video is at youtube.com/watch?v=Hzgzim5m7oU. Nick’s article may be read at
asburyandasbury.typepad.com/blog. Thanks to picgifs.com for the clipart.

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Coming back after a long hiatus.

Many products and services are not bought by customers for they think ‘it’ won’t happen to them. This is the ‘Invulnerable Customer’ syndrome. This is not something new in the market segments of Insurance, Healthcare, Vehicle and Home Safety. It is in this context, the following interesting story comes from Roger Dooley writing at: http//www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/ articles/invulnerable-consumers.htm

“…The prescription for this marketing dilemma was found in a hospital, of all places. Can you imagine a group likely to be more careful about hand-washing than healthcare professionals in hospitals? Not only are they well educated about hand hygiene practices and the reasons for them, but they actually see patients who suffer from the same kinds of infections that can be transmitted when hands aren’t washed properly. Surprisingly, according to Penn psychologist Adam Grant, even among health care professionals hand-washing practices leave a lot to be desired.

Grant attributes this behavior to a feeling of invulnerability on the part of the healthcare pros. This feeling is amplified by the fact that they are exposed to germs often in the course of their work but rarely become ill. So, Grant conducted an experiment by placing a sign next to a hand hygiene area. One version of the sign read, “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases,” while another version said “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.”

Bearing out the invulnerability theory, the sign that pointed out the threat to the healthcare professionals didn’t change their behavior at all. In contrast, the sign that changed just one word but pointed out the danger to patients (a group seen as vulnerable to disease) increased the use of soap and sanitizing gel by 33% and boosted the probability that the healthcare pros would wash their hands by 10%. (See Science Daily and the original paper. HT to Wray Herbert.)

Many products are sold on the basis of self-concern, and rightly so. But, if that’s not working with some customers, alter the message to reflect the risk to others!…”

Well, Insurance companies are already on this track talking about protecting near and dear ones.

How about relooking at civic-minded injunctions that presently score nil impact and may even be distracting like:

‘Do not litter here.’
‘Keep Your City Clean.’
‘Do Not Cut Lanes.’ …

And, throw in visuals too for drama and numbers for emphasis. Well, at places, statistics on road accidents or the run-away population count do appear.

There are numerous other scenarios, I’m sure, where this principle could be tried out. For instance, should we apply to pithy time-worn injunctions in ethics?

While the above expresses it as a sales/marketing problem and a possible solution, let me point out a interesting manifestation of this principle of concern for others in an entirely different area: Information Systems!

I recall how we designed an application for an insurance company. Our UI design experts claimed their design had taken care of many things: colors, images, etc. Shorn of these frills, the main business was done on a screen displaying a form to be filled in by the customer. And on this screen, the usual UI gimmicks meant very little as it was a plain and simple form-filling exercise. How can the user-experience be improved at all in this all-too-common context of form filling? I wasn’t happy with what we came up with though I could not put my finger on how it could be done better to push our experts.

That’s when I got onto the net and zeroed on software solutions providers in the same space. And I found my answers with one vendor! He had used two devices that vastly improved the interaction, I thought:

a) He called the column that we had titled as ‘Persons to be covered’ as ‘Beneficiaries’. A small thing, you would say. But the word ‘Beneficiaries’ is much more positive encouraging the user in what he is doing for his near and dear.

b) More importantly there was a small pie-chart that showed what is the coverage he is buying presently and what he has left out, prompting him to think about including more. The dreary form-filling chore now has a little more punch of value to the user as well as the service provider!

While these may not be the ultimate in what could be done, it certainly gives you a flavor of what could magic could be wrought by an imaginatively designed IS application. A small sliver of what is meant by IT as a business-enabler.

Let us not settle for less with our designers!

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More interesting stuff at http//www.neurosciencemarketing.com.

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An earlier post on ‘Enhancing Values’ talked about some simple ways of enhancing the value of custom-made software. This post is also on the question of enhancing the value delivered by a software solution, with a slightly different perspective.

Projects involving development of custom-software are especially great opportunities to deliver significant and special punch for the business; something an off-the-shelf software solution often falls short trying to address the needs of the widest cross-section of customers with the commonest capabilities.

These opportunities are not readily served at the table – they need to be excavated. The efforts get handsomely rewarded when the business gains in real from exercising the punch.

Very recently there is an interesting experience of this kind illustrating the point being made.

The organization is into manufacturing or sourcing basic equipment and executing infrastructure projects using the same. It is rolling out ERP for the whole enterprise. In the pre-sales phase, the marketing function receives the requirements from the customer. It responds with a design that includes the specs of major equipments. When the customer order is received, these go as inputs to the R & D. R & D prepares the engineering drawing using a PLM solution, prepares the BOM and triggers other processes in procurement, manufacturing and contracting functions.

The PLM and the ERP are not tightly integrated. The PLM generates a BOM for a drawing. The Codes for the Items in the BOM would have to be appended manually before the completed BOM could be uploaded into the ERP.

A simple application was needed to close this process gap.

The requirements were outlines as: the BOM would be imported into the application and would be processed for all Items contained in the BOM. For each Item in the BOM, the application would search its database (the Item Master would be periodically downloaded from the ERP; a real-time interface was not envisaged) and would produce a standard Code for the Item by matching the attributes specified for the Item in the BOM against the Item Master. For example, an electric motor may have its type, horse-power, number of poles, etc. specified as attributes. These would be used to obtain a match in the Item Master and retrieve the Code for the standard Item. For sheet-metal Items, the set of attributes was different. Once all Item Codes are appended, the BOM would be exported in a suitable format. This would be uploaded into the ERP by the ERP Support Cell. The process is complete with the filled-up BOM available for all down-stream processes.

Continuing with the requirements: The exception handling was a little more involved – when there was no match and the Item was new. New Item Codes are created in the ERP by a designated member in the ERP Support Cell. He sits a few tables away from the R & D section. How he creates new Item Codes is known to R & D. So the R & D takes it upon itself to design a Code for the new Item using his logic and send it to him as its recommendation along with a duly filled-in indent for creating this new Item in the ERP. In the meanwhile, assuming the new Item Code would be created in the ERP, R & D completed its BOM with standard and recommended new Item Codes and exported the BOM ready for import into the ERP.

Taking the simpler issue first: The last part of the requirements needed to be cleaned up. The process of R & D designing a new Item Code and proactively exporting the BOM with these new Codes plugged in is error-prone and hence cut out. In the revised wrinkle-free process, the R & D merely forwards its indent for a new Item Code to the member in the ERP Support Cell and waits for him to create the new Item and download it for this application. In the second run, the application will find now the Item Code. In this way the logic for creating a new Item Code could change independently without any impact. Of course, now it means that the BOM cannot be completed until the process of creating the Code and downloading the Item Master is completed. Multiple iterations could be avoided if in the first run itself, a consolidated indent for all new Items is generated to be processed by the ERP Support Cell in one shot. In this revised process all Codes are assigned by the application without any manual step.

Now to the nub: The requirements even at this stage miss an important business opportunity – is it not possible to negotiate on the BOM? After all, the BOM made up for over 70% of the total cost. Any savings on the BOM cost would reflect significantly on the last line. For every Item in the BOM, match or no match, there could be opportunities for a) substituting one Item by a cheaper equivalent b) use a similar Item (may not be an exact match) readily available in stock c) use a similar Item (may not be an exact match) from a more reliable supplier etc. etc.

When this important possibility was pointed out, user expressed legitimate fears of abuse of the negotiation capability to cut corners compromising quality for the customer. Negotiation on the BOM need not always mean dilution of specifications or quality. There could be genuine opportunities to affect some savings. The kinds of permissible negotiation and approval levels may be specified to guard against abuses. The second objection was: the equipment specs are laid down and costed by the customer-facing marketing function as part of its solution to meet the customer’s needs and hence are not negotiable. While this may be true, it is quite possible that certain attributes of an Item are non-negotiable while the other attributes are, leading to a few possibilities.

The user is still not very convinced about negotiating the BOM, but has promised to give it a deeper thought. If the user finally finds legitimate room for negotiation, the implication for the application is that it would be required to present a palette of exact (if there is one) and approximate matches when the Item Master is searched using a set of attributes. It could also indicate the impact of making a specific choice from available alternatives. It may also mean that the application may have to be aware of many other things like Work-In-Progress, etc. when it performs the search.

An analyst must tirelessly strive for providing in the software solution aggressive support to business objectives when he is engaged in the process of collecting requirements. A feel for the business domain certainly helps. Anything short is a missed opportunity!

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