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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.

Millenials move over – the Smart generation has arrived!

Do you ever wonder what is going on in the brains of younger members of society as they adopt and understand technology better and faster than any previous generation? They are so far ahead of the curve that by the time their predecessors, Millenials, catch up, the technology is passé. These are Generation Z, or iGen, born from 1995 to date. They are the most connected generation to date, and are driven and independent, hard-working and good at solving problems.

Their education is mostly tech-based, using smartboards, laptops, AI, and apps. Their social life is planned – and often carried out – online. They facetime, rather than skype, preferring Instagram and Snapchat to Facebook and WhatsApp. They understand the importance of online privacy and prefer to keep their interactions limited to their known friends (versus Facebook’s cyber friends). Connectivity shapes their lives and dictates how they interact. In fact, globalwebindex published a report in 2017 which suggests that Gen Zers spend around 52% of their daily online time on their phones, accounting for over 4 hours a day. Consequently, older generations regard them to be lazy and obsessed with social media, but they are clearly much more than that.

They stream TV programs and videos, rarely watching ‘live’ TV, living in their moment rather than being dictated to by schedules. They listen to music digitally and they vlog, or follow favourite vloggers. They are confident in their opinions and use YouTube to reach an audience with their own brand of thought leadership.

They take an interest in the world around them, and question the ethics and values of brands, especially if they are not aligned with their own. They have favourite brands and are highly critical when they underperform. Mention Apple’s latest iPhone creation, they know all about it, its functions, applications, Face ID technology, relative performance versus previous gen iPhone, OLED screen and on and on…They may want to keep their communications private but not their customer preferences. They want their thoughts and opinions to be listened to and given importance. All these are significant considerations to future employers and brands.

Brands need to engage directly with Gen Z and be sensitive to their concerns, such as caring for the environment, and respecting social and gender diversity. Content marketing directly to social sites, and personalisation is key to gaining their attention. This new generation have heightened awareness of brands and social memes. They have grown up with the Amazon approach to personalised online instant retailing, and although physical retail channels are still popular, most prefer to window shop on the High Street, then proceed to buy online. For many, high street brands are too predictable and prefer online sites that reflect their individuality, sharing their style with friends.

There are some conflicting findings about this new generation. Firstly, Gen Z are said to be more optimistic about the future and are resourceful and creative. Many are too young to remember Gulf War II, 9/11, July ‘05 London bombings, the introduction of university tuition fees, or the effects of the Recession, whereas the Millenial generation saw the fall of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, figureheads of terror. The new generation are witnessing the horror of ISIS and Syria, and the mass migration of refugees. For them, terrorism has always been around them, (according to Oxford Royale Academy study in 2018) and although they are keen to travel they are anxious about encountering extremism or conflict.

One of the most disturbing aspects of Gen Z is the sharp rise in reported mental health issues among young men and women. A greater number are seeking treatment for low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and self-harm than any other generation according to World Health Organisation statistics. Some experts put this down to the extent of connectivity on social media and feelings of low self-worth when they see friends enjoying themselves or attending parties that they haven’t been invited to. There is also the constant exposure to celebrity images and photoshop’d images of the body beautiful.

This is a generation of tolerance. They are more accepting of difference than previous generations and are more likely to know people who are openly transgender or gender neutral. They expect to be treated the same whatever gender they are or choose to be and dismiss gender stereotyping as irrelevant, as they do political correctness. Across the UK Gen Z and their friends are likely to be a mix of cultures and races, and culture stereotyping is also irrelevant.

We are still learning about these young adults and children, but it is clear that they are very different from their Millenial siblings and forbears. Their innate knowledge of all things digital and their easy adoption of new technology and artificial intelligence augurs great things for this new generation.

Millenials move over – the Smart generation has arrived!

Do you ever wonder what is going on in the brains of younger members of society as they adopt and understand technology better and faster than any previous generation? They are so far ahead of the curve that by the time their predecessors, Millenials, catch up, the technology is passé. These are Generation Z, or iGen, born from 1995 to date. They are the most connected generation to date, and are driven and independent, hard-working and good at solving problems.

Their education is mostly tech-based, using smartboards, laptops, AI, and apps. Their social life is planned – and often carried out – online. They facetime, rather than skype, preferring Instagram and Snapchat to Facebook and WhatsApp. They understand the importance of online privacy and prefer to keep their interactions limited to their known friends (versus Facebook’s cyber friends). Connectivity shapes their lives and dictates how they interact. In fact, globalwebindex published a report in 2017 which suggests that Gen Zers spend around 52% of their daily online time on their phones, accounting for over 4 hours a day. Consequently, older generations regard them to be lazy and obsessed with social media, but they are clearly much more than that.

They stream TV programs and videos, rarely watching ‘live’ TV, living in their moment rather than being dictated to by schedules. They listen to music digitally and they vlog, or follow favourite vloggers. They are confident in their opinions and use YouTube to reach an audience with their own brand of thought leadership.

They take an interest in the world around them, and question the ethics and values of brands, especially if they are not aligned with their own. They have favourite brands and are highly critical when they underperform. Mention Apple’s latest iPhone creation, they know all about it, its functions, applications, Face ID technology, relative performance versus previous gen iPhone, OLED screen and on and on…They may want to keep their communications private but not their customer preferences. They want their thoughts and opinions to be listened to and given importance. All these are significant considerations to future employers and brands.

Brands need to engage directly with Gen Z and be sensitive to their concerns, such as caring for the environment, and respecting social and gender diversity. Content marketing directly to social sites, and personalisation is key to gaining their attention. This new generation have heightened awareness of brands and social memes. They have grown up with the Amazon approach to personalised online instant retailing, and although physical retail channels are still popular, most prefer to window shop on the High Street, then proceed to buy online. For many, high street brands are too predictable and prefer online sites that reflect their individuality, sharing their style with friends.

There are some conflicting findings about this new generation. Firstly, Gen Z are said to be more optimistic about the future and are resourceful and creative. Many are too young to remember Gulf War II, 9/11, July ‘05 London bombings, the introduction of university tuition fees, or the effects of the Recession, whereas the Millenial generation saw the fall of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, figureheads of terror. The new generation are witnessing the horror of ISIS and Syria, and the mass migration of refugees. For them, terrorism has always been around them, (according to Oxford Royale Academy study in 2018) and although they are keen to travel they are anxious about encountering extremism or conflict.

One of the most disturbing aspects of Gen Z is the sharp rise in reported mental health issues among young men and women. A greater number are seeking treatment for low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and self-harm than any other generation according to World Health Organisation statistics. Some experts put this down to the extent of connectivity on social media and feelings of low self-worth when they see friends enjoying themselves or attending parties that they haven’t been invited to. There is also the constant exposure to celebrity images and photoshop’d images of the body beautiful.

This is a generation of tolerance. They are more accepting of difference than previous generations and are more likely to know people who are openly transgender or gender neutral. They expect to be treated the same whatever gender they are or choose to be and dismiss gender stereotyping as irrelevant, as they do political correctness. Across the UK Gen Z and their friends are likely to be a mix of cultures and races, and culture stereotyping is also irrelevant.

We are still learning about these young adults and children, but it is clear that they are very different from their Millenial siblings and forbears. Their innate knowledge of all things digital and their easy adoption of new technology and artificial intelligence augurs great things for this new generation.

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.

 

How big does your company have to be to deliver a good customer experience?

This week I attended a most enlightening webinar on Customer Experience Excellence delivered by David Conway, Nunwood’s Chief Strategy Officer. In it, David compared customer experience among USA companies with UK organisations and concluded that, using Customer Experience Excellence ratings, the US is years ahead. It may be something to do with the fact that digital technology and social media are much more an integrated part of business in the USA, rather than the separate disciplines that many UK and European companies consider them to be.

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsMore likely, according to Nunwood – and no way I’d disagree – the main reason why organisations excel at delivering good customer experience is because they excel at getting the culture right in their business in the first place. They employ people with the right attitude, who are motivated to work hard and who understand the company ethos which centers around the customer.   This only really works well if it is driven  from the very top of the organisation, a visionary of how the customer experience should be delivered : : think Walt Disney and the Disney theme parks.

Nunwood isolates the key constituents of good CX into ‘6 Pillars of CX Excellence’:

  • Personalisation – treat the customer as an individual, understand their needs, show them you know them
  • Integrity – trust, demonstrate that the company stands for something bigger than profit
  • Time and Effort – value the customer’s time
  • Expectations – raise the bar, go the extra mile and surprise the customer with something relevant
  • Resolution – transform a poor experience into a great one, assume the customers’ innocence and see their point of view
  • Empathy – show emotional intelligence to the customer

Companies that embed each of the pillars into their culture and across every channel, who continuously listen to their customers and innovate their approach to CX, are at the top of the customer experience pyramid.  Companies like USAA, Publix, Disney, Costco and Southwest airlines in the USA,  Amazon in USA and UK, and First Direct, Waitrose, John Lewis, Nationwide and Specsavers in the UK. All excel at their customer experience.

But what about SME’s? Adopting Nunswood’s 6 Pillars is more than just a simple case of sitting the workforce down and explaining that a few things around the place are going to change. Smaller organisations are, on the whole, more adaptable to change but possibly less committed to make the financial investment required to imbue the business with a customer-centric culture. This might involve redesigning the CRM, retraining all customer facing employees and salesforce, digitising the business for social engagement, reviewing customer support agreements – indeed whatever it takes to bring the customer into its heart.

In fact, creating a good customer experience needn’t involve massive costly change all at once. For instance, take  Telephony: reduce the time taken to answer customer calls AND employ a real person with product knowledge to answer calls OR reduce the number of steps in an automatic call system before customers reach the intended department. Take e-commerce: make sure your site is mobile friendly AND customer friendly signposting AND information such as carrier tracking and returns policies are clearly shown before payment is made AND the customer can get instant feedback to questions. 

Of course, as most of the great CX organisations understand, putting the customer first and central doesn’t mean losing touch with the bottom line. In this inverse relationship with business the internal investment in CX becomes the main contributor to the bottom line. 

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better” Jeff Bezos CEO Amazon

 

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.

Big Data: do you control it or does it control you?

Online paymentThe last few years of marketing press has been about Big Data, it’s impact and effect of every one of us. We are surrounded by data noise but we continue to feed the data baby with social media, instant messaging, purchase transactions, GPS signals, mobile phone usage etc. It is insatiable.

Famously, IBM recently stated that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, so much so that 90% of the data in the world has been generated in the last two years alone. Does this mean that we are becoming more enlightened and sophisticated in the sharing and use of information? Much of the time we are responsible for creating data without even realising, which is a frightening thought. Servers record our every move / opinion / image posted, building a massive footprint for every one of us.

When we are in control of the information we generate it can have a huge impact on our lives, enabling us to make informed decisions about our spending, the products we use, travel, health issues, investments etc. Social media has transformed the lives of many creating a wide network of ‘friends’ to share thoughts, create ideas, post images and videos, and stream media. When it is out of our control it we can simply feel disconnected at best, or it can inflict serious damage to our reputation at worst.

Companies perceptions of why consumers use social mediaBusinesses on the other hand have only scratched the surface of Big Data. Too often it is seen as a CRM tool, as a means to capture prospects, to broadcast their brand message across the net. Many companies still do not have a social media marketing policy. They generate the same content across Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter et al without understanding the different platforms, audiences, usage patterns etc. Multi media advertising is seen as a great opportunity for many advertisers, but it risks alienating customers: consumers can find it ‘annoying’, ‘intrusive’, or skip it as soon as it appears on their screen.

Companies can benefit from getting to know their customer beyond the CRM metrics. Engaging with them on social media creates a greater opportunity to manage what is being said about the brand, and identifying advocates creates a mouthpiece for positive marketing. Crowd sourcing and co-creation treats customers as part of the team and engages with them in a way that was hitherto seen as risky by marketing teams.

Big Data has so many more applications for business it is almost unfathomable. Detailed knowledge of suppliers, supply chain and prices can deliver efficiencies and greater control over the costs and timescales impacting the business. As for consumers, we are benefiting from the impact of information through greater choice of products and services, more intelligent pricing, and a broader knowledge of the world around us.

Like it or loathe it, like the universe Big Data can only expand.

 

 

 

 
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