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Thinking about taking on an Apprentice but not sure if it will work out (or they will work)? Read on…

POSTED ON April 13th  - POSTED IN Apprenticeships, Generation Z, Market Research, Online Communities

At the end of last year we were looking at our options for replacing one of our research team who has taken a sabbatical to look after her 3 small children. Rather than replace like with like, we decided to give a young person with little or no work experience an opportunity to learn about market research and develop skills in the industry. This was, in part, because we work with Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership in giving career talks to secondary students, emphasising that market research requires a diverse set of skills, some of which they may already have when they leave school. University is not for everyone, so we feel that it is important for students to know that there are options for them.

We decided to ‘try out’ the Government’s National Apprenticeship Service rather than employ a university graduate, and having interviewed a selection of applicants on the NAS website and shortlisted by our appointed training provider, we offered the role of  Assistant Research Exec (apprentice) to Will. In the five months he has been with us we have been very pleased with Will’s enthusiasm and interest in the work, and his contribution as a Generation Z representative, has been valuable. He is a fast learner and a real asset to WDG Research.

Will is working and learning on the job, but he is also carrying out coursework for a level 2 Marketing qualification which he will complete ahead of the anticipated time of 18 months. He does not attend college but allocates time for coursework during the working day, and he has one on one time with his trainer every 6 – 8 weeks. Below is Will’s account of being an apprentice and working in a market research agency.

I have been an apprentice at WDG Research for roughly 5 months and I have learnt a lot in this short time about market research. Already I have been involved with a number of different projects and have helped to prepare proposals and quotes for many more.

The first job I worked on involved focus groups discussing what people thought about health and wellbeing and how it affects what they buy. It was a very interesting project as people talked about their experiences with food and what aspects of health and wellbeing influences their choices and motivates them. These ranged from product quality and cost, to ethical issues, as well as many more influences, which gave us the information to present back to the client. My role was assisting the moderator and observing in the viewing facility, taking notes on each of the groups so that we could refer to them later. I found the analysis stage to be extensive and detailed but something that afterwards was worth the time spent on it. Being involved and dissecting what each group said and structuring it in a format that is easy to follow and understand is crucial to the work.

Other projects included focus groups to understand the potential of a new leisure facility, and another managing an online community for toothpaste users. These, together with the other jobs we have lined up, means that we are heading into a busy period, allowing me to be thrown in “at the deep end” and of course, learning more about the job.

What I like about the Government’s apprenticeship scheme is that you learn while you work. Where university students learn theory and information, and may do a few weeks in the workplace before going back to university, as an apprentice I am constantly expanding my knowledge while being employed. Not only that, but I will have a qualification at the end of my apprenticeship as well as practical and valuable experience. The duration of my apprenticeship is determined by how long it will take me to complete the coursework for my qualification. My trainer suggests a year to 18 months for my Level 2 Marketing qualification.

University students are paying to learn and gain relatively no experience. I, on the other hand, am getting paid to learn and gain some qualifications as well. Many students believe that apprenticeships aren’t for them, however they couldn’t be more wrong. The aim of both university study and apprenticeships is to gain qualifications to enter the workplace, to make a career for yourself and to earn enough money to live off securely. The difference is that university courses take 3 times longer, cost £27,000 plus accommodation, food etc and you have no real practical experience in the workplace.

Being an apprentice has taught me that holding down a job is very different to being in secondary education: at school you could get away with not completing your work, or not following up on specific tasks, however, in a job you need to be on the ball about each and every aspect of your work.

As I have stated, apprenticeships are a fantastic way to enter the job market. They help people to learn and get a qualification, gaining valuable experience (something which a lot of employers are looking for right now), earn money (rather than accrue student debt) and be involved in projects from the start. In addition, when the apprenticeship is concluded there is a good chance that you will be offered a permanent position with the company, especially if you have put in hard work and shown yourself to be a committed and loyal member of the team.

Closing the Gap that Lies Between You and Your Customers

Wouldn’t it be great if consumers queued up to be your customers, rather like the queues outside Apple Stores? You would have customers in the palm of your hand, clamouring to know what you were going to do next to make their lives that little bit easier and happier.

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsThis is not beyond most companies’ reach, it is a simple case of understanding how to please your customers, who in many ways, have the same expectations as yourself.

In over 30 years as client and agency insight specialist I have witnessed many market research departments and market researchers scratch their heads over economic models of consumer behaviour as predictive tools. Consumers are unpredictable and prone to impulse which creates a gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do.

Over the last decade WDG has been looking into this phenomenon, and has worked with customer experience specialists and behavioural economists and we all agree that organisations that direct their business model to achieving customer excellence are more successful at closing the gap. They achieve greater control of consumer behaviour by understanding how they can optimise the customer’s experience at each point of interaction.

By looking at your business through a different lens, for example, how customer-focused are you as an organisation? and what happens at points in the customer journey where they interact with the business? you can start to develop a program that is all about creating positive and, importantly, memorable experiences for the customer.

Shifting slightly to the left of complex rating systems and behavioural models, WDG has  developed an intuitive process that is easy to understand and implement. It is also one that the entire organisation can invest enthusiasm for and put into practice. We use CX insights and metrics to understand from the customer’s perspective the key touchpoints where company/brand and customer interface. We use the same process across each customer segment and journey map. Working with your internal teams we can develop performance targets to each significant touchpoint in the customer journey.

Customer excellence is achieved where companies have operational confidence to far exceed customer expectations at each touchpoint. In effect, treating your customer as you would want to be treated as a customer. Not only is this an income generating initiative it has positive effects for your team in terms of emotional reward and job satisfaction.

 

Are you serious about your CX strategy?

It has been over a decade since the penny dropped in B2C marketing departments across the globe:  the internet and social media has made consumers more powerful  so it is more effective to treat them as individuals rather than customers as a whole. This same message has got through to B2B businesses, albeit somewhat later.

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsAcknowledging the importance of Customer Experience as a key component to company strategy is one thing, but getting the right amount of investment is the biggest hurdle CX teams have to overcome. There is a plethora of quotes from CEOs of companies that have successfully adopted customer excellence citing full staff engagement with the mission to treat each customer as an individual. These organisations talk about a top-down approach to achieving customer excellence, building a product that each member of staff from CEO to sales team would be proud to own, and taking their eye off the profit line to focus on the customer. How they actually achieve this is by constantly investing in their people, systems and products to create a positive customer-centric experience.

Customer-centric begins with having an in-depth understanding of each individual customer, and not just about why they buy the product or service. It means profiling the customer at the start of the relationship, and monitoring how it changes as the experience becomes more relevant to the individual.

‘Now’ is the benchmark containing ‘needs fulfilled, nothing special’ and ‘Tomorrow’ is the goal with ‘needs fulfilled better than expected, memorable service, outstanding value’ and ROI.  Success is about creating meaningful, relevant and engaging experiences for the customer  and for each element of change to reach ‘Tomorrow’ it is important to set KPI’s and intermediate goals. Frequent monitoring importantly removes surprises, minimises bad decisions and allows the CX team to adapt the strategy to new information and protect its investment. Companies that crack this realise their reward in increased market share and profit growth. (e.g. Amazon, John Lewis Partnership, First Direct Bank, Delta Airlines)

There are still companies that fail to see the point of market research (we understand our customers/our CRM tells us all we need to know) and do not invest in marketing technology to facilitate better understanding of the customer. They rely on 2 dimensional data, social media monitoring and internal software. Some companies fail to set measurable goals – or set the goals but do nothing if the plan misses the target – and wonder why ‘Tomorrow’ never comes. They lose C-suite support and investment shrinks further. Believe me, it really happens.

Too many companies do not fully embrace the importance of creating a positive customer experience, some attempt it at the coal face but its relevance becomes increasingly diluted the further away from the customer the business is. The result is under investment in CX and losing out to competitors who do take it seriously. This first quarter of the first century in the third millenium has seen so much power handed to the customer that ignoring them is perilous.

 

  

Big up your customer contact charm offensive

 

wordcloud (3)Customer Experience is something I expect we all know a fair bit about. We are all customers and at the user end of hundreds of products and services daily, the experience of which is mostly subliminal until something exceptional happens. At this point we are propelled towards delight in one direction (tweet, tweet, fb, fb!) or deep disappointment in the other (tweet, tweet, tweet, fb, fb, fb!!)*.

As a CX researcher I pay close attention to the performance of companies called to deal with complaints, requests for refunds, dispatch of replacement items or booking appointments for repairs. Most of us understand that a company that cares about its customers will employ people who are well trained in dealing with the public empathetically, and who have a good knowledge of the company’s products. Retailers like Waitrose and John Lewis, and online retail like Amazon, First Direct and Office Depot (Viking Direct) have taken creating a positive customer experience to a fine art. They understand the equation:

Happy customers = loyal customers = customer advocates = £££

The many organisations that outsource their customer contact services needn’t lose out on achieving positive CX so long as the appointed agency understands its value to the client, and the need for training consistent with the client’s internal programme.

But just think how many times you have contacted a customer enquiries or credit control line only to be transferred multiple times across some complicated telephony system before speaking to someone who is ill-equipped to deal with your enquiry. Or, you become stuck in a queue with other equally frustrated customers. When the time comes to replace the product or renew the service contract this experience will inevitably be a factor in deciding to stick with the company or go elsewhere.

Yet, the path to CX enlightenment is not overly littered with obstacles if the company’s focus on its customer is in the correct place: at the heart of the business. So here are a few basic steps towards creating satisfied customers:

  • Employ people for front line positions (sales floor, customer services, contact centre, credit control) who stand out in interviews as personable, energetic, eager to learn and empathetic
  • Ongoing product and services training across the business. Of course the level of knowledge required depends on the department, but a customer services agent who can converse with a customer about a product, understand the issues and reach a good and rapid resolution is a powerful advocate for the company.
  • Treat every customer as an individual, their relationship to the product or service bought (or intending to buy) is as important to the company as it is to the customer
  • Improve the telephony process: reduce call answering times, speak to an operator rather than an automated redirection message, good training (as above) will ensure the caller is directed to the correct department.
  • Select outsourced services such as contact centres and logistics on the basis of shared customer focus and empathy, good training and personable call handlers. Outsource agents should share the company’s values
  • Go beyond the CRM in trying to understand the customer
  • Set performance indicators to measure improving customer relationships, and to identify where greater attention and training is needed.

For more details on measuring customer experience levels, or any aspect of CX please contact WDG Research.

 *The reference to social media where more comments are posted when customers have a negative experience than a positive one is borne out by years of CX (customer experience) research carried out by WDG Research.

 

Latest Research from MRS Says Banks are Most Trusted Institutions

How secure is our personal data?

How secure is our personal data?

Market Research Society has published findings from a study on consumer privacy that shows that despite continuing negative publicity surrounding banks, they are still most trusted with our personal information. According to the research, concerns about increased government surveillance and websites and communications platforms that soak up personal data has led to only one in ten of us feeling in control of our personal information.

Read more in the article:

Banks are trusted more with personal data than government, charities and supermarkets

Websites redundant? Surely not just yet….

iphonefaviconA number of recent business articles have been banging on about the reduced need for websites as businesses and consumers have become more interested in using community platforms and user generated content. In other words, they have lost relevance to todays aggregated digital information streaming society. As one article put it ‘the delivery of content and interaction has been set free from conventional web design’.

Last year we launched this website. It may not be perfect but it explains our market research business, and we anticipate that we make subtle changes when needed to keep up with digital technology, and we overhaul the site every 2 to 3 years or when larger changes are afoot, whichever comes first. We operate B2B and use blogging and social media to drive traffic here, and with over a third of our new business last year coming through the website I am reluctant to describe it as redundant, at least not yet.

The journey that websites have taken in just two decades shows that they are willing to change and function as part of a digital strategy. However, there will come a time when website will mean something completely different, possibly a generic term for all content generated by a single user held in the cloud.  What websites succeed in doing today will be incorporated into new technology tomorrow and that’s fine by me.

Why are Companies Loving Their Private Online Communities?

Corporate and brand image is indivisible in today’s global social streaming online culture. It is not enough to listen in on conversations, marketing needs to be at the heart of it all, steering consumers’ views in positive directions and using a tone of voice across all media that is compelling.

investigate Private Online Communities have become a popular research tool amongst marketers for trying out ideas amongst an engaged population of consumers. Companies benefit by developing products and services that are co-designed by the people who will use them, they also benefit because they have a deeper understanding of their customers. Marketing communications become more in tune with the language that motivates and works for their audience on different media and devices.

Private because few marketers want to share their ideas with their competitors.

What is a Private Online Community?

This is an invitation-only targeted community of consumers brought together on a web platform for the purpose of enabling marketing to gain valuable insights over a period of time.

Communities are frequently built around internal CRM databases and often use people who are already signed up to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc and are active in expressing their views and sharing posts.  The community will share a common interest in a brand, product or service, or represent a specific customer segment. Their views and opinions are important and marketing can dip in and out to test ideas and hypotheses amongst this brand savvy audience.

Examples of types of research for online communities:

Co-creation, Concept development and progression, Semiotics, Surveys, Customer journey development, Tracking studies, Advertising development  

Are communities an expensive way to do research?

Yes and no. There are of course limitations to a defined panel and it is not ideal for all research needs; factoring in the cost of a panel as well as other research requirements may be prohibitive.

But if the client has a regular requirement for research of the type listed earlier which a defined community can address there can be considerable cost and time savings over traditional online research methods. For companies which require frequent feedback, and may be going through a development or change process, or who are running a long term customer engagement or communications program, a panel is a cost effective solution.

Who manages the community?

insightA community manager keeps the panellists active on a day-to-day basis. The manager ‘listens’ to conversations and feedback from panellists, and regularly feeds them with activities that will deliver important insights to the client. The WDG Community Manager is a researcher and insights specialist who can moderate groups and interpret the ‘voice’ of the panel to the client.

For more information about our panel services contact Margot or Louise on 01494 772436 or email info@wdgresearch.co.uk

Does Supply Chain Experience Impact Customer Experience?

investigateI was passed an interesting report to read on Customer Experience and it created more questions for me than it could answer, which is no reflection on the report itself – it is worth a read. It is the Customer Experience Index 2014 by Forrester Research in USA which benchmarks the customer experience for 175 US brands in 14 industries including retailers, hotels, banks, credit card providers, insurance firms etc.

As you can see Forrester’s research was conducted among service industries, and shows that companies can make improvements and adjustments which result in a demonstrable positive shift in their Customer Experience Index. This CXi is arrived at by averaging the net scores to three questions: is the company effective at meeting my needs? how easy are they to do business with? how enjoyable are they to do business with?

A positive CXi shift is clearly good news for the company, particularly the customer facing end but what of the supplier-customer chain that finishes at the end user? How far back in this chain do improvements and adjustments need to be made in order to impact on a positive shift in end user CE?  I suspect not that far back in service industries such as those under Forrester’s scrutiny.

So let’s think for a minute about the supplier-customer chain that exists across all industries. In our own business we could be close to the end of the chain, or further back, nearer its beginning. Doesn’t it behove us as much in B2B as in B2C  to meet our customer’s needs, be easy to do business with and at least make the experience enjoyable so that the customer will want to come to us again? And our suppliers who had a second degree input into our customers’ positive experience, how much does our own experience of them have to be positive for it to have an effect on customer attitudes and buying behaviour; and what of our supplier’s supplier?….. What I am questioning is the existence of a virtuous spiral.

We at WDG have conducted customer experience studies at different touch points in our clients’ businesses but most commonly among end users. If it was possible to have comparative measures across the whole supply-customer chain  it could prove the existence – or not – of a virtuous spiral of CE. So, if it does exist and it could be measured and controlled it would have a phenomenal impact on how business is conducted. It would focus attention on delivering the best service to our customers and there would be greater emphasis on performance indicators and quality control in the supply chain, and perhaps more loyalty shown to suppliers.

Companies in a competitive space need to stand out in delivering a great customer experience, and there are an abundance of examples of marketing programs designed for just that purpose, but mostly targeting end-user customers. Including the supply chain, setting CE indicators and creating quality standards is a step towards evaluating the potential to directly influence our customers and create a better working environment.

If anyone out there has carried out a comprehensive supply chain CE study and it’s impact on the end user I would be pleased to meet with you!

 

 

Could this be the future for business?  As part of a product or service development process is inbuilt

Digital Natives: voices that demand to be heard

cheering crowd at concert

Wouldn’t it be great to really understand the needs and desires of a whole generation….in detail??

Over the last sixty years generations have been defined by the generational  influences of their parents and political, economic and technical developments of their times. Research has further defined specific groups in the population to help marketing, politicians and the media focus their messages. Understanding what the population wanted and what they thought involved a process, but now, thanks to Generation Y we understand a lot more about their motivations, likes and pet hates. They have delivered in the moment reactions to television programmes, government policy, celebrity behaviour, and brand activity. But who are they?

Around 20% of the adult population in the UK was born between ’80s and early ’90s. These are Generation Y, born mainly of Generation X who are educated, active, and grew up in an era of social diversity and change in music (glam rock, new wave, punk..). Generation Y has emerged into a world of rapidly expanding technology and social change. They have grown up plugged in to games consoles, computers,  and mobile phones so no surprise that emails, text and social media is their preferred communication format.

WDG recently carried out a study of this sector of the population. Digital Natives, so called because of their reliance on their smart phones and laptops, access a wide social network, giving them vast connections and ‘friends’, but what is important to them is family connections. Many have grown up with overworked parents or single working parents, and this has informed a different approach to work/life balance. Where Generation X live to work, Y generation live then work.  Unsurprisingly, traditionally structured companies are less of an attraction for Y’ers; they don’t subscribe to corporate rules and culture, classic business models, and working hours. They seek meaningful work with constant change so that they can develop professionally.

They comprise a mosaic of traits which often seems incompatible. They are often perceived by older generations to be egotistical and brash, possibly because Digital Natives are confident and express their views honestly, but really they are eager to learn and contribute. They assert themselves frequently through their online networks and understand the importance of digital media. They want to make a lot of money, but they also believe in supporting non profit causes. They will pay a high price for brands but are aware of a good savings plan. Most significant is their unceasing optimism despite the fact that they grew up in an era of world terrorism and economic  recession. Far from being fearful and introverted Y’ers are positive with a ‘can-do’ approach to their lives.

Many Generation Y who completed further education have found it difficult to secure a job in this recession, yet the UK is one of the countries most geared up to educate children at the highest level. These tech savvy digital natives are a real catch to employers who are willing to embrace their traits. They use technology to work efficiently, they do not conform to traditional working hours, their behaviour is authentic and honest, and they work best when the job is meaningful to them.

This generation is a golden chalice for Marketing. Their honesty and confidence in sharing their views, likes and dislikes with a wide online audience means that companies get ‘in the moment’ feedback from their customers. Brand developers are now able to have a dialogue with their market, harvest ideas, and create brands that are assured success.

The top 5 desirable brand characteristics as defined by Generation Y are:

1. it has its own style

2 it makes me feel happy and rewarded

3 it is up to date, of the moment

4 it has a clean reputation, is ethical in manufacturing process and raw materials, it is not associated with negative press

5 it is clear and simple

For more information about Digital Natives please contact WDG Research directly.

 
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