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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.

 

SMEs and the Importance of Creating Positive Customer Experiences

By dint of size, growth and contribution to the UK economy, the small to medium sized business is the ‘new black’. But while the UK government is just beginning to recognise its importance by the recent introduction of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act and making strides in encouraging young enterprise, many established SMEs are still in recovery from a long and punishing recession.

With the influence of e-commerce, the increased use of social media and online referrals it has become harder for some businesses to keep hold of customers or clients, so it has never been more important for SMEs to review their customer strategy.

Customer Journey

 

WDG Research over a number of years has used market insights to assist B2B and B2C clients create a successful customer experience (CX). We have also spoken to associates that operate in the SME B2B sector and, for them, maintaining a positive and authentic client relationship is crucial to their success.

 

Here are some thoughts shared:

B2C SME

Business media frequently publishes articles on customer excellence achieved by big brands, paying little attention to customer facing SME businesses. Yet smaller businesses are often more able to deliver a good customer experience and generate brand fans without huge investment, by simply delivering a consistently reliable optimised service.

Why is this important? Customer reviews online has become the ‘go to’ default for many intended customers, from Trip Advisor to Google Reviews, even for local businesses. Facebook and Snapchat provide an opportunity to share and discuss (mainly negative) experiences amongst a wide audience. B2C businesses need all the positive reviews they can get.

There are simple strategies which create CX success which small businesses can adopt. WDG’s insights from CX studies reveal some basic expectations:

  • Reliability: consistent quality and delivery of service/product
  • Personalised service: customer is treated as an individual (i.e beyond the CRM)
  • Uncomplicated channels of communication: navigable website, accessible and friendly call centre, minimal telephony routeing – continue a consistent positive experience across all channels
  • Rapid resolution of issues

First Direct is an example of how to get it right from the very beginning. In 2014 it came top of a list of 263 UK brands in a study conducted by Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre. First Direct consistently delivers a personal service where staff knowledge and empathy play an important part. How do they do it? By way of meeting and often exceeding customers’ expectations, because the customer – rather than the profit motive – is placed at the centre of their business in the knowledge that positive financial results will follow.

Another example is Waitrose, which was in the top 10 brands in Nunwood’s study. The partner-ownership model lies at the heart of its customer experience: MD Andy Street says “being served by an owner…is bound to see you getting better service at the front line.” And while the Top 4 retailers find themselves in an ongoing price war with ALDI and Lidl, Waitrose is able to take an outside position.

Suggested best practice for B2C SMEs: the training and culture within the company should tie in with delivering a great customer experience. Establish social media monitoring and pay attention to negative reviews. Even though they are less able to commit and sustain the same relative levels of funding for CX programs afforded by the big brands, SMEs can adopt a customer centric approach, and consistent good standard of service.

B2B SME

Out of the limelight, customer excellence in business to business is a greater challenge. With fewer customer accounts, a tendency to longer sales cycles, and servicing a range of client roles, planning a CX strategy is more challenging but nonetheless important.

There are a number of cornerstones to achieving a good experience and ultimately greater business opportunities:

  • Handshakedemonstrating a good understanding of the client’s sector and its traditional culture
  • customer confidence that they are working with a reliable company
  • the supplier is seen to genuinely care about making a difference to the customer both in strategic and commercial terms.

 

Every business sector has its own culture and norms. This is particularly prevalent in professional services such as accountants, solicitors, patent attorneys, barristers etc. From formal language to formal suit, suppliers need to understand the rules and processes and assess what approach is needed. Tom Horigan of Horigan Professional Services Marketing says that in this sector decisions are not taken lightly and the process from enquiry to adoption can typically take 18-24 months.

Nick Wake of Awaken marketing and communication services, who primarily operates in leisure, sport and I

T sectors says that availability is important, “the client knows that they can contact me at any time…I will always get back to them as soon as I can”.

Reliability and trust are also important functions of a strong client-supplier relationship across most SME business sectors. Setting the parameters on expectations from the outset and being honest and transparent about issues that arise really benefits the relationship and the overall client experience.

So often in business-to-business interactions the focus is on selling and hitting targets rather than helping the client improve their operational efficiencies or achieving their growth targets. Tom Horigan says “a positive client experience comes from really understanding what the firm wants to achieve and recognising that each firm is different in terms of structure, culture and ambition”.

Some small businesses work with subcontractors. Maintaining a positive client experience extends to the external agents you work with. Nick Wake suggests if you are working together for a client under your company brand, you need to be sharing the same values.

Suggested best practice for B2B SMEs: be comfortable with the company culture before entering a transaction with a new client as dissonant values may hamper a smooth relationship; keep communication channels open, engender trust and transparency; be prepared to take ownership of issues and respond quickly; exceed expectations.

Jeff Bezos quoteIn general

Every small business sector can benefit from placing the customer/client at the centre of its operations and employing staff who are 100% on board with the strategy. It is obvious to most customers when a company has no inherent interest in them and is just focussed on the transaction. Why should the customer return to that business if the same service or product can be found elsewhere?

It is an unassailable truth that all customers arrive at a number of touchpoints with their supplier, irrespective of the length or duration of their engagement. The first touchpoint could be a website, a sales call, or a face to face interaction. At this entry point the supplier’s brand promise is formed in the eyes of the prospect so it has to be spot on. Other entry points could be a referral or introduction, and in that instance the supplier is managing the reputation of the referee as well as his own. Thereafter touchpoints become all and any interaction with the suppliers from communication channels (text, email, phone) and published articles including blogs, to face to face meetings. If any touchpoint fails to deliver this creates a dissonance in the relationship.

There are few companies whose business flows smoothly without any issues. Companies that deliver customer experience excellence know how to resolve issues swiftly to reinstate the customer’s positive associations with them. Often a sincere apology, accepting responsibility for the issue, and rapid remedial action is sufficient. In some instances the issues may conceal a deeper problem which requires greater introspection, and a review of the internal processes of the company.

At the heart of positive customer experience strategy is making every customer feel valued so that they will return and, most importantly, recommend the business to their network.

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

 

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

Corporate Communications taking greater control of Marketing

InterpretSocial media’s mega flow into all aspects of business and personal interaction is having a significant impact on corporate communications. A report conducted by executive search company Spencer Stuart and pr firm Weber Shandwick, and neatly summarised in Warc News suggests that CCOs are placing greater emphasis on content publishing and are taking more responsibility for marketing within their company. The reason? –  The Rising CCO report says that 84% of respondents agree that corporate reputation and brand reputation have become indivisable.

This report is based on research among 203 CCOs in Europe, N America, Asia Pacific, and Latin America 73% of whom are hiring more social media experts in response.

The perfect modern marriage of Marketing and Insight

To drag out an old cliche, everyone’s a critic now. Cliche’d or not it has never been more apt in an era of social media where customers are increasingly airing their opinions and companies are struggling to respond fast enough. Sometimes the opinions are positive, constructive, and affirming, but some are negative and occasionally damaging in their vitriol. The fact that each customer is likely to share their bad experience with, on average, 5.3 social contacts (American Express Global Customer Service barometer) should be sufficient evidence for companies to realise that they need to forge better relationships with their market and pre-empt potential bad experiences. In other Marketing needs to tighten its control over its brands.

If a negative experience can send shockwaves rippling across Facebook, consider the impact of a positive  customer experience. Customers who feel valued and listened to soon become advocates of your brand, and since people are more inclined to take recommendations from friends and peers rather than advertising or marketing, a glowing review is more effective in building brand loyalty and trust.

Engaged customers are invaluable; they understand the brand, have positive associations with it, know what it delivers in the way that they as individuals interface with it i.e. their own personal journey.  This intellectual capital, when tapped into and employed becomes an extension of marketing’s think-tank. The honest opinions and real-time reactions of a social community of brand advocates and influential customers is  invaluable when it comes to creating and progressing concepts and ideas. This engaged community make important contributions to the process and their reward is knowing that they have a say in how their brand is developed and communicated.

In the ‘olden days’ marketers rejected the idea of customers as creatives. Today Co-creation is a valuable insight and development process. It uses the creative energy of engaged consumers, brand experts, designers and stakeholders to significantly reduce the idea generation and gestation stage of a new product or marketing campaign. Physically bringing these groups together in a day of co-creation activity can’t be described as an exact science but is a hugely successful approach to Big Thinking where  disruptive ideas emerge, are refined and developed until desirable concepts emerge. The entire approach is inclusive to all groups and entirely transparent.

Co-creation online is sometimes criticised as unwieldy with no control over intellectual property. However, many companies have achieved success using this approach. Coca Cola most famously used a global online community to co-create ‘Energize Refreshment’ as explained by Leonardo O’Grady ASEAN Director of Integrated Marketing Communications http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyLh9jwVCGs

Insight techniques are developing as fast as consumers are becoming digitally sophisticated. That’s not to say that keeping close to customers and involving them in brand decisions has become less complicated. It hasn’t but the advantage with today’s insight tools is that companies can  engage 24/7 with their customers, identify brand advocates, and tap into their intellectual capital. It’s all about using insight to deliver better understanding of customers, build brand loyalty and respond in real-time to marketing challenges.

 

 

Have clients become more risk averse?

An interesting article in Campaign asking is risk taking in marketing dead and gone. More clients are playing safe with their brands which can in part be blamed on the recession but also the influence of social media in shaping brand perceptions.  If marketers are using brand-focused communities to co-create ideas then the element of risk is undoubtedly diminished.

What is True Brand Loyalty and the Secrets of a Long Shelf Life?

As a company that has spent over two decades talking to customers, consumers, companies and employees there is not much we don’t know about the importance of having a healthy brand. The ideal is to have loyal customers (and employees) who have an emotional and rational connection with the brand based on a promise they have absolute trust in.

Very few brands however hold the golden chalice of true brand loyalty, those that spring to mind are Heinz Beanz (note the absence of ‘Baked’ recently changed as seen as a bit of a mouthful, and respelling of ‘Beanz’ as a tribute to the slogan ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz‘), HP Sauce, Apple, Google, Coca Cola. Famously with Coca Cola we know that the brand is more powerful than the product and the sheer weight and global influence of Google has made it almost indispensable. These brands have become a generic in their categories with consumers in the UK asking for HP, or a ‘coke’, or  ‘googling’ for information.

What is it about these brands that keep customers tuned in to them? In every case there is an emotional connection, an assurance that the brand understands them. Advertising reinforces this by tapping into the emotional values of the brand; just think about the Christmas campaign for Coca Cola, or the numerous Beanz Meanz Heinz family-based campaigns. The parent companies are not complacent in reminding customers why they engaged with the brand in the first place.

These successful brands are not just about the products they represent, but the ideas and aims behind the products. Apple’s mission written and declared by the personable Steve Jobs is about its commitment to delivering the best personal computing experience around the world through innovative hardware, software and internet. This is their brand promise and it allows the customer to be patient and forgiving of small glitches from time to time. Take the iPhone 4S which was launched with unexpectedly short battery life. Although it took Apple several months to fix following numerous complaints the brand’s reputation has remained intact.

None of this is achieved without confidence in the market, the competition and the consumer, all of which is achieved using market insights and research. For aspiring brands the road to customer loyalty is hard fought on social media and through distribution channels. Customers have a shorter attention span than 10 years ago; sites like Facebook and Twitter can persuade and influence change and of course there is the internet shopping mall. But just like successful brands companies can use social media to engage with consumers, create interest around the brand, tap into the emotional link and communicate its promise, resulting in powerful brand advocates..

The challenge for aspiring brands is respecting the value customers place on the brand promise. If the promise is consistently broken and the emotional connection is not established then the company has a brand in name only. This proves that brand loyalty is as important a relationship for the company as it is to the consumer. To grow a strong brand that sits confidently on the balance sheet requires an unwavering promise to the customer and a connection that taps into different emotions.

A further challenge is ensuring the brand is not left behind in a dynamic commercial landscape. We encourage our clients to regularly monitor the health of their brands across all channels as well as keeping their finger on the customer’s pulse when the competition is active, and pre- and post-campaigns.

For more information about establishing brand loyalty contact the WDG team at info@wdgresearch.co.uk

You busy person, marketing your small business 24/7

POSTED ON October 19th  - POSTED IN Brand Marketing, Networking, Personal Branding, SME Marketing

You may not realise this but you could be marketing your small business at this very moment. Are you sitting at your laptop in an office or on a train, or are you reading this on a mobile device in a public space? Wherever you are you create an impression of yourself to the outside world, and there are times when this impression matters to you and your business.

For instance, when you meet new people each of you is assessing one another for all sorts of cues (how old, interesting, funny, intelligent, wealthy, single, married ….). In a business environment you may be looking for integrity, common values, knowledge, experience etc. People can generally see through insincerity, and more often than not are tuned in to blaggers. The visual cues are constant and even when you think people aren’t noticing you – they are.

Standing at the edge of a rugby/football/hockey pitch on Sunday mornings cheering on little Oscar/Wayne/Pippa may not be the obvious place where you are marketing your business, but just think of the conversations you have with other spectators/parents. Initially the chat is casual, bantery and overall convivial. Simply by shooting the chilly breeze with a fellow you inevitably market yourself, and by extension what you do. Eventually – perhaps not on the first meeting – you mention your business or what it is that you do. This is when what you do and who you are should have some positive congruence in the mind of the listener (“I like this person, she comes across as intelligent and switched on and is good company on a cold day. Interesting, she says she is an accountant, I bet she’s not lazy/unconscientious…”). Next time his accountant gives him grief you will be on his list of replacements.

The clothes you wear are also part of your marketing kit bag. Some businesses have uniforms or logo’d sweatshirts, or a colour preference. Your personal marketing effort has to be in line with the company’s positioning or it can be a truly disappointing experience for everyone else. The miserable and indifferent airline rep at the check-in desk can create a bad experience for the customer even if the airline is known for delivering a first class customer experience. The uniform that represents all the brand values that the customer has come to expect is totally incongruent with the service.

Dress for success is a seasoned adage used by stylists which doesn’t necessarily mean suited and booted. Wearing clothes that suit you, are comfortable, stylish and get you noticed are far more likely to create a confident impression. Even if your business requires overalls or a hard hat, dressing smartly when making a first contact with clients is always a favourable move.

Social media is another place where we need to take care how we present ourselves – it is becoming increasingly important as a marketing tool. Remember to stay true to yourself and not follow the crowd for added popularity – it often backfires and at the very least you end up with 00’s of followers who you would prefer not to have. Blogs, photo files, profiles all reflect an image of you so make sure its the image you want people to see.

I do a lot of formal networking and have run networking meetings. What you say and how you behave at such events will affect how people perceive you and your company. Many people just don’t ‘get it’ and within minutes of arriving are delivering non verbal negatives. In such environments focus on being you and show an interest in others. Be the touchline buddy who can engage in conversation, be authentic and impress your fellow networkers with your integrity. You may be surprised how many good networkers regard contacts as business buddies because they know about each other and have shared values in business. They refer business opportunities to one another and work in association because they know that this will enhance their business. Networking success doesn’t happen overnight but it can deliver the sweetest business in the long term.

In a perfect world we should all be marketing ourselves with the same open authentic approach, but while there are still plenty of people who remain oblivious to this need there are opportunites for you to make it work to your advantage. Focus on your subliminal marketing activity so that you always send out the message you want. Get followers who follow you because your message resonates with them and remember (without paranoia) that people notice you when you are least aware. When they meet you, they should get a feel for what a great business you run.

 
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