Giving students practical experience in the workplace before they leave education has to be a good thing, yes?
Last summer we were pleased to take on a work experience student from a local grammar school. The placement only lasted a week but it was as positive an experience for us as it was for the student (see July 2015’s post: “Experience a work experience student in the workplace”). While Yasmin gained insights in working in an agency/small business environment, we were able to set her tasks that gave her practical experience and contributed to our understanding of a new business direction.
This year we were approached by Matthew, a year 11 student from the same local school, interested in spending his full 2 weeks work placement with us. This, again, was a mutually enjoyable experience, and re-affirmed our view that these 16 year olds are work-ready, not work-shy as is often suggested. Please read Matthew’s account of his time with us below.
Compulsory work experience for all students aged 14 – 16 years was scrapped in 2012, so the decision to continue offering this service lies with local education authorities and learning trusts. In the county of Buckinghamshire placements happen just after GCSE exams are over and earlier in the school year students are encouraged to approach the businesses where they would like to gain some work experience. For those students who have a career path in mind, and even for those who have no idea, the process of application and subsequent placement gives them confidence in the workplace and a better perspective on the type of work or further studies they may pursue. Moreover, the work placement looks good on a CV. But not all students are motivated to participate and some lack the confidence to make the initial approach. Buckinghamshire Learning Trust steps in and finds work experience opportunities for them doing work that plays to each individual’s strengths, is in a safe environment, and mutually benefits employer and student.
Around this time of year (Summer/Autumn) newspapers fill column inches with articles which condemn students’ lack of workplace skills. They publish studies that describe the increasing gap between student and employers expectations. So placing students in a work environment (preferably of their choice) while they are still at school must surely be a beneficial eye-opener for them? It gives them the opportunity to relate at least some of their retained knowledge to the work environment and an idea of the type of skills they need, as well as the notion of working with people of different ages and abilities. It also serves to remind students of the benefits of earning and apprenticeships in the face of rising university fees and student loans. Work experience helps students make better informed decisions, even if they are only based on 2 weeks’ work.
I have just finished two weeks of work experience at WDG research and feel that I have gained a valuable insight into market research. I decided to try and secure a work placement there as I didn’t really know what career I wanted to follow once I left school and market research seemed like an interesting field to investigate, which I had not previously encountered.
On arriving at WDG I was greeted with a small team who immediately made me feel welcome. In the first few days I spent some time with each member of WDG, learning about the different areas of market research. First I did some quantitative analysis of data collected from a survey. This involved looking at how likely different demographics were to give certain answers and was interesting as it was different to anything that I have done before.
I then did some qualitative analysis, creating charts to show responses to various adverts from three focus groups. This gave me an interesting view of how different age groups respond to the same material.
Another task that I worked on was using a business intelligence website to find potential clients for WDG. This was an interesting experience as there was a wide range of articles from firms in different industries that wanted to find out how to increase their market share. It also felt like I was doing something that was genuinely useful to the firm after all they have done for me.
As well as the insight into market research that WDG has given me, I have also been given a view into the inner workings of a small firm which is very different to what I would have imagined and can only be fully appreciated through personal experience.
Overall I would fully recommend doing work experience, as it has been a unique look at a work environment and the team at WDG has allowed me to gain the most out of my two weeks by finding an interesting range of activities for me to work on.
Great leading article in an earlier edition of Marketing Week this month reminding us to not get too carried away with the terminology and the latest buzzwords. Those of us who cut our teeth in the pre-internet marketing era have witnessed the evolution in tools and channels and they are exciting. However, as this article suggests the basic processes of marketing are the same now as they were then.
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.
If you are given the opportunity to take on a work experience student for a week or two – TAKE IT!
If you’ve been scared off by thoughts of babysitting a dilatory teenager, or read that the majority of today’s kids leave school illiterate, innumerate and unmotivated, then pay attention. They’re not all like that. Take Yasmin for example. During the third week of July this year our offices were visited by this bright year 11 student on the second of her two work experience weeks. Yasmin attends a local grammar school and had just completed her GCSEs.
Yasmin thought that we might be the type of business she would be interested in. Not really knowing what direction she wants to take after sixth form this seemed like as good an idea as any.
The idea of work experience is to introduce the student to an environment where they can apply some of the skills acquired during their education and gain new skills while learning about the world of work – this is something every student is expected to do. The employer therefore has to prepare a proper experience for the student and not simply expect them to take orders for coffee and stand by the photocopier.
We set about planning a timetable for Yasmin which included many aspects of our business. She would be a junior research assistant – entry level for the market research industry. Not knowing her strengths we decided that a little time spent with each team member will give Yasmin sufficient insight, and help her decide if any aspect of market research interests her. We weren’t sure what to expect, but from the moment she arrived in our offices we were presented with a smart, smiling, confident young lady.
Yasmin listened attentively as we each explained our roles in the business, and she then applied herself to a project involving desk research for a new business initiative. She worked hard, asked questions, and smiled constantly; over the few days she became part of the research team. On the fourth day she presented her desk research to us; it was carefully put together on Powerpoint with all the relevant headings and bulletpoints. Her presentation was full of information we hadn’t known about the subject, and has become a useful tool for our new business drive. We all agreed that Yasmin presented with confidence and clarity.
Yasmin said of the experience that she came into our company knowing nothing about the technicalities of running a small business, and by the week’s end she understood “the processes from start to finish and everything inbetween”. She liked the ability to think independently, manage her own time and work out where to find the information needed for her desk research. She decided that she enjoys investigating and prefers the reliability of quantitative research over the more insightful qualitative research. She knows Powerpoint as well, if not better, than any of us, and had exposure to Sage accounting system in her previous work experience role.
Our take on the experience was very positive and the symbiosis in what she learned she gave back to us. Had we not prepared for Yasmin’s arrival the outcome might have been different, which would have wasted this important opportunity for both parties. So this is our advice to any organisation considering taking on a work experience or intern:
- Devise a work plan or timetable
- Set time aside on a daily basis to work with the student, to guide them and find out their skills and interests
- Enable them to do work that they can take ownership of
We know that there are young students who are ready to be an asset in the workplace and will be ready to repeat the process next year.
In this week’s research-live.com it was reported that the Market Research Society – which governs the research industry with extensive and rigid Code of Conduct – is tackling the nuisance callers who sell and fundraise under the guise of research, known as ‘suggers’ and ‘fruggers’. This insidious activity has long been the bane of the market research industry as they undermine its reputation and professionalism.
As a research agency of many years operating in this industry, and feeling at unity with our fellow agencies and fieldwork suppliers, we appeal to the MRS to raise the profile of its stand against suggers. The public has grown tired of the volume of callers claiming to conduct ‘lifestyle surveys’ and has become increasingly aware that these companies are really just harvesting personal data to sell on to third parties – a clear breach of the MRS Code of Conduct. It makes it harder for genuine CATI researchers to break through the wall of resistance and discontent felt by the public who cannot be expected to know the difference between a nuisance call and a genuine research study. While telephone interviewing continues to be an important information gathering tool, the MRS must visibly and audibly defend it.
And while we are on the subject, the public is no stranger to sugging and frugging on the high street, and it has started to invade our digital and mobile spaces too. So, we are calling for a potent authoritative voice from the body that regulates and defends its industry and is supposed to protect the participating public. This is needed now, in places where that public can hear and see it, and not in an industry journal or newsletter.
If you would like to report a sugger/frugger please contact the MRS on 0800 9759955 or email email@example.com. Your complaint will be handed over to the Information Commissioners Office, or for more serious offences the police will be contacted.
For more than two decades WDG Research has enjoyed working on many interesting and varied market research projects. Our client portfolio extends across many industries from fmcg to finance, automative to leisure, advertising to DIY – to name a few – and we are pleased to have a family of clients who repeatedly use our services over the years. Here are some considered thoughts about briefing agencies, specifically marketing research agencies but the rules certainly apply to other marketing services.
It is no surprise that every client has a specific style in briefing a job; some are verbally delivered over the phone, or at a meeting, or more commonly we receive briefs by email and on the odd occasion on LinkedIn. Sometimes we are given an initial general description in return for a ballpark quote, while others prepare an extensive and detailed document, and there are many variations in between.
There is certainly no right or wrong way to deliver a research brief so long as there is a stage where both parties reach a point of clarification on the objectives for the research, method of research to be used, sample size and structure, locations, materials required from the client, timings and of course the cost. The parameters of budget and timescales are important in designing a solid research project – good research cannot be done yesterday but a reputable agency will pull out all stops to deliver. So often research is used as a final sign-off at the end of a development programme and inevitably tight deadlines arise and the client often has only loose change left to spend. We’ve all been there.
That said, there are good briefs and bad briefs. The bad ones blindfold the agency, preventing it from designing a good solid research method that will meet all objectives. Bad briefs withhold the context of the research or its role in the development and marketing programme. Agencies need to know this information to create data and insights which will move the project further along in its development. Remember, if the agency is a member of the Market Research Society it is governed by conduct codes which include client confidentiality – code B6. So please clients, trust your agency and regard it as a member of your team at least for the duration of the project.
Sometimes the details of the research are not always delivered contemparaneously as different departments have their input. As client researchers, a role more commonly found pre-Millenium, it was our responsibility to gather inputs from all relevant departments and design a complete brief before approaching an agency. At WDG we are all ex-client researchers and we care about the value of the research to the client. We aim to understand the client’s objectives for undertaking research and as the direct link to their customer/audience it is important for us to make worthwhile and salient recommendations.
A good brief on the other hand is fully considered before the research agency is approached – sometimes discussion with an agency can help the client to reach this stage pre-brief. Ideally the client is able to explain the context of the subject to be researched and the brief will include how it impacts on subsequent activity. The agency can then design a research study that is timely, that uses the optimum methodology, and explores all the issues. Moreover it can deliver recommendations that are relevant.
Ultimately, any brief is a good brief, but the client will get sharper results with a brief that is complete in itself and embraces the agency’s knowledge and skills in delivering great insights. Try it out and know that you are spending your budget wisely.
I contribute articles to a wonderful collaborative e-magazine The 3RDi and for the January issue we were invited to comment on being a businesswomen in 2014 – visit http://goo.gl/fOLbLV for a sneaky peek. The contributions are varied and interesting and all contributors reflect a sense of confidence and fulfilment, although many are women of a certain number of years in business.
Being a woman in business in 2014 is no different to being a woman in business in 2004, except that the economy is very different. There have been no strident changes in gender equality at the coal face even though the Equality Act in 2006 with amendments in 2010 should make everyone feel more confident about non-discrimination. There is still pay disparity, and insufficient female senior managers suggesting that companies are paying lip service only to the idea of equality in the workforce.
Equality may still be a long way off but today there are more women and men fighting for change. The government supports change through the Equalities Office advised by the Women’s Business Council but so far it has only been talking about it, action seems unlikely in 2014! It is encouraging that some public sector businesses and corporations are encouraged to be transparent about their employees, giving job applicants a heads up on the type of employer they are. I believe all companies from mid-sized upwards should do this.
Something more positive about being a businesswoman in 2014 is that there are so many like-minded women who are willing to support and mentor other women in business. Understanding the pressures and likely obstacles makes this invaluable to women at the start of their careers and helps direct women to make important choices. Magazines like The 3RDi enables women and men to discuss these issues and investigate ways to create better working relationships. Some of the contributors are business owners and some are business advisors, all of whom focus on improving the work environment for sustainable and successful business.
Networking and social media interactions encouragingly demonstrates the weight of feeling towards inequalities socially and at work. While we await clearer legislation to force companies to change, it is happening anyway. Our children are encouraged to study a wider range of courses, universities are trying to attract more women into engineering and heavy industry-based degrees and there are frequent press and media references to local businesses across the country who are succeeding by recognizing and rewarding talent irrespective of gender or any other discrimination.
The evidence of success will be when discrimination tribunals become a thing of the past, and more importantly on gender disparity, women and men enjoy the same workplace benefits and opportunities, and they have the potential to earn the same income.
At WDG Research we spend a fair bit of time checking brand health on behalf of our clients. Often when companies approach marketing research agencies like ours they have brands with recognisable identities and customers who have bought in to their proposition. The issue is holding on to customers (as well as increasing!) and with every marketing activity companies take a risk in upsetting the rational and emotional constituents that make up this complex brand proposition.
Gallup have conducted an extensive survey among customers, and found that a break in a brand’s promise explains why one in five disengaged customers no longer patronize that brand. Gallup eloquently explain their findings in Gallup Business Journal and advise companies to look beyond the rational and cognitive customer measurements and study the emotional factors which play an important role in determining customer behaviour and ultimately the health of the brand. Words that WDG wholeheartedly echo.
Google Country Director talks about multichannel marketing and creating a positive customer experience
As talk of omnichannel marketing gains momentum amongst the visionaries in the industry, multichannel is still the way forward for most retailers. Getting it right and creating the optimum customer experience is central to success. Peter Fitzgerald, Country Director of Google expresses his views in The Marketing Blog ahead of the Internet Retailing Conference this Wednesday in London.
The more I read about the future of our town centres the more hope I have that they will continue to play an important role in the community – it just takes foresight, embracing change, a desire to be part of that change, and money.
Last week the Centre for Retail Research published its forecast of what the retail landscape in the UK will look like in 2018: ‘Retail Futures 2018’. This report documents statistics upholding the rapid growth of online retail at the expense of shops. The UK has the highest online retail share in the world and is currently forecast to grow from 12.7% in 2012 to 21.8% by 2018. Meanwhile 41% of town centres will lose 27,638 stores (in spite of Mary Portas). The report also points out that consumer spending has increased 12% since 2006 while retail operating costs have risen by 20%.
Looking at the statistics, you would think that they make gloomy reading, but predictions only show what will happen if contra-action is not taken. The future hasn’t happened yet, some trends are clearly irreversible but progress may intervene to swing the statistics in a new direction (e.g arising from the growth of mobile shopping and advent of virtual supermarkets). The good news is that ‘Retail Futures 2018’ concurs with my view and that of many others who responded to my original blog ‘The High Street Manifesto’ – that we (meaning high street businesses, town planners and local councillors, in fact all stakeholders) need to recognise that the change is progress and we can steer the direction of change into one that makes sense for our towns. Already the government has reduced business rates for small shops and handed greater levying control over to local government.
Our town centres are an important part of the community and local economy, creating employment not just for the shops and staff but for ancilliary businesses (IT specialists, financial services, employment agencies, electrical, plumbing and heating services, shop fitters and cleaners, distributors, office furniture and equipment suppliers…). There is property asset in the buildings that house the shops and small businesses. These assets are affected by the economic conditions and a shop closure instantly devalues the whole property. Many of these properties are tied up in pension funds, or are owned by investment managers or even shopkeepers. Maintaining a thriving town centre or high street has a greater impact on the economy than just giving the community a central point to be proud of. Town planners need to get it right with a clear vision of their successful high street and a sizeable fund to achieve it.
I conducted a straw poll of shopkeepers in my high street and found that change for them is already happening. Landlords are waking up to the fact that a fair rent for a fair return makes sense. Some have reduced rent for a period of time, others have maintained rent without any rises for an extended duration. The benefits of lower business rates are beginning to sink in which means greater income reinvested in the business. These all help to give businesses an opportunity to compete with cheaper prices on the internet.
However, every shopkeeper I spoke to complained about parking charges: how shoppers are unable to spend time in the town due to excessive first hour fees, and comparisons with other nearby towns offering free parking or free first hour. There was also the problem of poor service by other shopkeepers. While some place value on creating a positive customer experience, others seem not to care. This problem is widespread and given there is a cheaper, more convenient alternative, good customer service has to be the USP that keeps high street businesses afloat.
A Vision of My Town
There will be some retail – a mix of independents specialist and artisan and multiple retailers with an internet business.Some of our empty shops will be allocated locations for pop-up retail for stores such as M&S, John Lewis, Debenhams etc (attracting national chains is important to increase footfall).
We are a market town and have some great markets including local produce, Italian and French markets. We will increase the number and range of markets carrying produce that doesn’t compete with the resident shops.
Erstwhile empty shop buildings will be converted for use into offices, community buildings and residential premises. This latter is key, turning valuable space into much needed accomodation will address so many issues: it will help with housing needs across communities, it will create a demand for local services and shops, and it will generate a vitality in the town centre 24/7, improving property values in the town and surrounding community. People living in the high street will also attract more restaurants and cafes as well as many other leisure centred businesses.
Let’s start with a positive view of the future for our town centres and offer ideas, support, and action to make it happen. Investment is key to achieving the right sort of change; a townscape that can evolve successfully will require investment and Retail Futures suggests a centrally sourced prime fund of £320millions for the most needy town centres.
Please contribute your suggestions for change required in your high street.