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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


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.




A random thought to boost business in the community

POSTED ON September 24th  - POSTED IN Business Leadership, General Stuff, Networking, SME Marketing, Social Media

Do you ever ask yourself whose responsibility this is? Aren’t Central and local government and the Bank of England tasked with this?

If your business is doing well and has been one of the success stories to rise out of the recession then hearty congratulations. Your success is no doubt offering a boost in employment and supplier contracts to your local economy and there are additional and obvious benefits to this.

For some localised businesses however, a return to growth seems a long way off. Securing the right amount of funds to invest in business continues to be difficult as banks are still refusing to take the risk and are sometimes downright myopic.

The good news we hear is that the economy is showing signs of growth as reported by Bank of England Interest Setting Committee who have revised this year’s final quarter estimates from 0.5% to 0.7%. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also revised its prediction to a 1.5% growth in the UK economy compared with 0.8% set in May 2013. The Metro reported in 3 Sept that retail spending (excl fuel) was expected to increase year on year to August by 2.3%, this in spite of inflation continuing to outstrip wage growth.

So, with all these signs pointing to a brighter future it is madness that there are good businesses, which are often at the tail end of the supply chain, still caught up in the recession’s grip. Firefighting to keep a business viable, lack of investment, and strident cutbacks in all but the essentials does not give these companies sufficient leverage to bounce back.

It has occurred to me that successful businesses could offer assistance to struggling businesses with a view to passing on knowledge, motivation, physical help, and hard cash. Help could take many forms: mentoring where support and advice is needed, financial investment to enable the business to ‘gear-up for growth’, manpower investment (i.e. sharing skills by deploying employees of the successful business to work in the struggling business for a stated period), the list could go on.

The benefits to the successful business are the positive message it sends to employees and future employees, owning a share of a growing business, developing new skills acquired via supported business, positive PR, developing good community relations.

The community benefits as more successful businesses create employment, demand for accommodation (and schools, health centres etc), increase spending in the community occurs….the positive knock-on effect is fairly tangible.

The downside is if the supported company fails. It is a risk and an important consideration – how likely is it to fail? So this is my random thought, but I would appreciate your view.

Creating better communities through social responsibility

If like me you network among your local business community you have probably encountered brokerage agencies that match socially responsible businesses with the voluntary sector. CSR is moving up the business agenda and a greater number of smaller businesses want to give back to their communities. How to give back in a meaningful and effective way where it has greatest impact is not always obvious hence the emergence of brokers – the ones I have met are genuinely interested in sourcing and distributing funding and manpower to support community ventures and local charities, and are themselves not-for-profit.

In areas where business has been devastated, high streets boarded up, and local charities struggling to survive, there is a greater need for helping hands. Sometimes these helping hands take the form of local businesses that have simply had enough and start to work together towards a better future for their community.

In August 2013 Burnley in Lancashire was named the most enterprising town in UK in the Enterprise Award Scheme run by Dept for Business Innovation and Skills. The idea that gained Burnley this accolade was simple: bond 100 local business and organisations to actively promote the town as a good place to work, live, visit and invest. “What is good for Burnley is good for business”. The Burnley Bond holder scheme has reinvigorated the local economy and boosted its core industries of aerospace and engineering, while creating more local jobs.

It doesn’t always take a group of businesses, or a third sector brokerage to direct investment and help on the ground where it is most needed. Coincidentally, also from Burnley, entrepreneur Dave Fishwick famously challenged the banks for failing small businesses. He formed Burnley’s Savings and Loans to meet the needs of individuals and businesses with loans and a preferable interest of 5%AER on savings. All profits (ex overheads) he has distributed to charities.

Though less high profile there are examples of towns and individuals who have their community at heart. Through co-operative enterprise communities are being rebuilt. You can probably tell that I support the idea of third sector brokerages because they are able to connect businesses of all sizes with a single mission to walk the CSR walk as well as talking the talk. It’s not simply about sponsoring events and charities. Companies are being encouraged to help with the development of environmental initiatives, sponsor business hubs where people can meet and hotdesk, provide pro bono services, mentor other businesses, and run staff volunteering schemes as just an example of the scope of what can be achieved in the name of community action and social responsibility.

It may not be the stated mission of many of the schemes but Burnley has proven that what is good for the town is good for business. Getting involved by investing funds or action in kind creates a positive impression of your business, it motivates staff and has the potential to make you the employer of choice. It is also sends a positive message to prospective clients.

Call it the Dunkirk Spirit or what you will, the length and depth of this recession has created a resolve in securing the future for business by business. Where high street banks have failed to recognise the needs of their customers the resourcefulness of the community is capable of stepping in with support.

Sadly, for communities without forward thinking individuals, there is no template for turning fortune around and for some communities responsibility is about improving the social or eco- environment, not turnover. Either way businesses must want to get involved and be committed for the long run.

Collaboration takes the sting out of the recession

It’s an interesting word, collaboration. It labels something that most of us do without thinking and often take for granted in our personal life. For as long as we have been scratching one another’s backs we have collaborated in performing side by side for mutual benefit.

Pop stars collaborate and enjoy a shared audience, screenwriters and authors collaborate to bring the written word to life, governments collaborate to wield a greater share of voice on the world stage.

I have never used the word ‘collaborate’ as much as I have over the last fifteen years since becoming a serious business networker. In fact it is one of my top ten lexicons when discussing business development. Why this has become such an important word to me is historic-ish.

I am a partner in a market research agency which has been around for over 25 years. During the recession in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s WDGresearch held steady with its regular client base and while larger agencies went under we survived. As we came out of that recession I was able to look back and see clearly that we did nothing to steer ourselves away from the precipice, it was the success of our relationship with our long standing clients that pulled us through. It could quite easily have gone the other way if our clients’ budgets had dried up or if our contact within the company had retired, moved on, been made redundant. The shock of realising that simple truth made us review the way we ran the company, analyse our market positioning, overhaul our client and business development, and steer our own ship.

With an ambition to achieve sustained growth we allocated a realistic budget to business development. Our first step was to increase visibility which for us meant collaborating with many of the businesses with which we had strong associations in the past. We realised we were competing with industry heavyweights so we needed to have a greater offering when taking our business to industry conferences and networking events. The collaborations meant that we could make greater use of digital marketing and we had more to say when presenting ourselves in industry journals.

In the year that followed the change we noticed a significant increase in our average billings because we were able to offer more in-house. We received more cold enquiries, our attendance at conferences and networking brought more ‘warm’ contacts to the database, and ultimately our business grew to more than twice the turnover of the previous year. This allowed us to employ more staff to work on client retention and new business.

Subsequent years have seen sustained growth until the current recession started to bite but our collaborations are still working to mutual benefit and support.

This time around, many of our clients have experienced budget cuts and in some cases redundancies. Business information has changed since the last recession and companies rely on CRM systems and digital marketing strategies to get answers about their customers, shaving a complete corner off the marketing research industry. Consequently our business has evolved in parallel. We have new collaborations which reflect the shift in marketing businesses.

We were fortunate to survive the last recession, but now I know that we control the success of WDG Research and the mutual support received from and delivered to our partners in marketing services is the backbone needed to get through this one.

The High Street Manifesto

POSTED ON March 5th  - POSTED IN Brand Marketing, Business Leadership, General Stuff, SME Marketing

I want to start some real debate about the state of our town centres. So much has been written about the demise of the high street, the attitude of the out of town supermarkets, the role of internet shopping and the lack of investment in small business, but nobody, as far as I know, has come up with a consolidated set of answers to an ongoing problem. There needs to be a manifest for action which acts as a template for all towns wishing to revitalise their local centre.

Verdict Research say that retail expenditure is still predicted to grow by 1.2% over the year but this is the third lowest rate in 40 years. Something must be done.

My walk to work is a dismal march past boarded up shops and pubs, ‘closing down’ sales, coffee shop chains, hairdressers, banks and charity shops. Recent closures have been two pubs, an independent book shop which closed as soon as a national bookstore/stationers arrived, two shoe shops (one of which is a chain), two dress shops, two independent opticians which closed shortly after a national chain opened its optician services in the town, Clintons cards and Blockbuster. This role-call doesn’t exactly encourage new retail enterprise in the area. Indeed the lack of shops has driven people away

This pitiful sight is often blamed on the convenience of the large supermarkets of which there are two sitting alongside the boarded-up shops on the edge of the high street. We are also fond of blaming the internet, people like me who find prices online more appealing, and the occasional grocery order a real time saver. Sir Terry Leahy, former Tesco’s boss speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island discs described the growth of the supermarket and the closure of small shops as ‘part of progress’. His comments may have been obtuse and offended some people but I suspect he is not wrong. I am not alone in embracing the progress of the internet and inadvertently demanding the growth of supermarkets because I like the choice, the wide selection of products and of course the competitive prices.

The lack of support for small businesses has to be looked into as a further reason for so many closures. The banks have failed small businesses where they could have delivered better advice, landlords’ rents are squeezing the margins of many high street businesses and we could certainly do with a reduction in business rates.

Here are a few ideas to regenerate our dying town centres, please add more in your comments:

  • Firstly, most importantly make an effort to shop there, be proud of it, own it.
  • Town centre car parking to be affordable for businesses and shoppers
  • Reduction in business rates Mr Osborne
  • Place a ceiling on town centre rents, landlords need to be fair to get a fair return
  • Attract pop-up shops from the larger retailers who can afford to market these ventures and draw people into the high street
  • Attract local producers with quality products
  • If the town has a reputation for a particular type of business brand it and market it (e.g if it has a strong artisan retail community, or known to have live music in its bars and restaurants)
  • Encourage retailers to deliver good customer service.
  • Empty offices above shops and businesses to be converted into affordable accomodation and executive flats to create a vibrancy in the town centre and customers for the shops
  • Attract more restaurants and wine bars to serve the new residents and create a safer and more lively and happening feel in the town.

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.

Are you your own brand?

Having a strong brand in marketing terms means that it has a positive and consistent image amongst its customers.

However, the growth in social and business networking on-line and face to face has given the marketing game a new twist and an important new role: the personal brand.  This is hailed as the new marketing phenomenon and is reinforced by the emergence of a wave of personal brand agencies and workshops on the subject. People now see how important they are in representing their business, and the networking mantra of people buy from people has finally sunk in….

Definition of personal branding: the art of attracting and keeping more customers by actively shaping public perception of the benefits of associating with ME, but at its basic level it is everything about you that  makes you YOU.

But it isn’t new: Alexander the Great would have been just another forgotten Greek warlord had he not surrounded himself with scribes and followers who would broadcast his successes.

More recently Simon Cowell would be just another A & R executive, Madonna another female singer from the eighties who we can barely remember. They are the architects of their own unique Personal Brands.

It represents the individual’s values, strengths and experiences, it’s the difference they make and the value they add in their business and personal life.  So to be a strong contender in business today our most important job is to be marketing director of brand ME.

Why would I want to create a PB? Why is it important?

What people think and say about you will dictate the level of influence you have both within and without your network.

People will rely on your Personal Brand whenever they meet you. What makes you different is not what you do but how you do it. It’s the HOW that differentiates you and your business – your USP. You are the X-factor that determines why people become your customers – they are buying into you.

Similarly, successfully employing staff or engaging businesses to collaborate with is influenced by your Personal Brand. The impact and impression you create in communicating your vision will be the deciding factor for others. People want their careers to flourish surrounded by like-minded people. And a great business is built on a great team of people.

Investors also have to be convinced by your Personal Brand. A great business model needs the right individual to make it succeed. As with the Dragons Den, banks, venture capital, and angel investors frequently say that it is the person they invest in.

Finally, we are in the digital age. People will have checked you out online long before they meet you and have formed an opinion based on what they see. So, be aware of what you put on the internet, You Tube, social networking sites – a lack of consistency can lead to confusion in what you are about.

How to create a strong Personal Brand

Most important: don’t just do it for the sake of it. Having an authentic and well constructed Personal Brand will shape the way people perceive you, will draw the business you want towards you, and will carry you throughout your life.

  1. Think of your personal goals in life, create a mission statement for Brand Me; what am I passionate about; what do I want for the rest of my life
  2. Think of yourself as your own personal asset; what do I do that most brings value to my company;  what am I most proud of
  3. Be honest about who you are, your attributes and qualities. If you know yourself you can promote an honest brand
  4. Learn from the Big Brands – what is it about you that makes you stand out vis a vis the competition. What do your customers say is your greatest strength
  5. Learn from Personal Brand masters. During Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign his competitors took a traditional approach to raising funds with celebrity hosted gala dinners and appeals. But he built the biggest war horse campaign ever using the internet and encouraging small donations from individuals – and won.
  6. Use words wisely. Research shows that communication skills are one of the top determinants to professional success. To have a strong Personal Brand you need to be a good communicator. Join organisations like Toastmasters or hire a professional coach to make sure your verbal and written skills are at their best.
  7. Realise that your network, your boss, colleagues and clients can be your most powerful ally – or enemy. Never speak ill of them, their perceptions of your abilities and accomplishments can make or break you.
  8. Be ubiquitous. Attend as many networking events as time allows, get on the speaker circuit, volunteer to run or chair events, run workshops; build your profile on relevant networking sites and use a consistent profile with a consistent ‘handshake’. Don’t forget a decent photograph

What if they can’t find you, read about you, or perhaps they have never heard about you? Not having an online presence is almost as bad as having an inconsistent profile. Actively managing your digital presence and ensuring it reflects accurately who you are is key to having a strong Personal Brand.

Your brand = your reputation, and your reputation is what people are saying about you so try to monitor this. Set up Google alerts ( and search Twitter at

But what happens when your actions are incongruent with your Personal Brand: take Barack Obama, for example. He spent time and effort on the campaign trail  promoting a winning personal brand. The decisions he has had to take in his presidency, the biting recession, the ongoing problems with Afghanistan and Iraq have made a second term look less of a possibility. In politics a strong personal brand is a must-have, because everything else aside, it gives Obama’s supporters a reason to trust him as a person.

We may not be running for a second term presidency but this demonstrates the importance of protecting our Personal Brand in all aspects of our lives. We may not be a celebrity but if our crown slips so does our credibility.  Nobody is perfect and we all accept this as a fact of life, so let your Personal Brand reflect the real you.

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