Symptoms of disruption

A quick glance around the room you are in, and note first ten products you interact with, or think about the next few services you use, and consider everyone (at businesses both big and small) working hard to make them better for you. You’ll find a continuous disruption and innovation being created around.

Value creation and preservation will be the defining asset for many of these companies – those that do this will continue to surf the wave of disruptive innovations and stay atop their markets.

Unilever and P&G are masters at traditional marketing, mostly offline, but their struggle with the direct-to-consumer brand-building is evident from the some innovative startups eating into their core market shares with disruptive customer engagement strategy.(More about it in my next update) Again, the failure of large consumer and retail players to innovate is clear in the Walmart vs. Amazon battle.One category after another is being transformed by new brands as consumers demand more personalized offering.

 

Business Managers are oft seen struggling to keep customers, by dropping prices or offering comparable product features.This short term strategy won’t work since they might lack the the intrinsic advantage of the disrupting competitor.

Innovation is often the product of mistakes made, of caution thrown to the wind,and yet, the ability to be disruptive and quietly meticulous might just be the difference between a bubble-fueled fad and a business built to last.

Several businesses have exhibited this in recent past. And for a change today I am not going to speak a lot about e-commerce.

Living Spaces, a California based company started with a simple goal to provide a whole range of furniture under one roof at the same or better quality than some of the leading furniture brands at a fraction of the price. They blended in unique advantages ready stock and assured delivery within 24 hours, even special orders with furnishing of choice within 2 weeks. This was unheard of in the $100 Bn+ US furniture markets. In 16 years the company has expanded to 19 stores in California and aspires to be the leading lifestyle brand of the country.

During a time of one of the most profound shifts in America’s population, due to the silicon valley growth, Trader Joe’s has proven how cultural awareness can cultivate business growth, and a grass-roots marketing niche that draws viral consumer activity. Their non-conventional culturally-tailored approach and attitude is one that is deeply embedded in the roots of their business model:  from their packaging, product selection, store layout and graphics, to their vendors, employees and management.  Trader Joe’s knows its audience. Trader Joe’s is focused on product innovation and selling groceries and wine at a cheap price. Because customers know they can get high-quality stuff at a low price, they pack Trader Joe’s stores. Eighty percent of Trader Joe’s products are in-house, meaning that customers can’t get them anywhere else and the grocer can sell them at lower prices.

Warby Parker, the innovative eye ware company started by four Wharton B-school students,  is, overall, a daunting model to emulate, growing from 0 to 30 stores in six years.From Customer in store experience to the pricing the entire retail strategy, the company has disrupted local traditional optometrists who had been serving their local communities at much higher cost.By designing and manufacturing their own frames and selling directly to consumers over the Internet, they’re able to charge as little as $95 per frame, a fraction of what a similarly nice pair of glasses would cost at a typical optical shop. That price also includes prescription lenses, shipping, and a donation to a not-for-profit such as Vision Spring.

The learning here is to focus on what Clayton Christensen  would advise – to understand “what jobs does do customers want the product to perform ?” Successful entrepreneurs naturally look at opportunities in terms of the jobs they can do for customers to make the product work at a cost advantage.

Customers now expect to be welcome and respected participants in the brands they love. They don’t want to be persuaded that something is worth buying; they want to contribute to making that brand better.

 

Romancing the customer

In today’s world of information abundance and choice at fingertips, it’s important to make your customers feel special and to create a bond, just as you would in a romantic relationship

The digital revolution of ‘apps and taps’ enables quick choices and every brand is on the brink of getting chucked out by single swipe of the bargain seeking customer.

The biggest impact of the app disruption has been on the brick and mortar retail businesses. America’s leading home appliances brand Sears is closing 150 stores and selling its vaunted Craftsman tool brand, rival Macy’s saying it would close 68 locations, the department store concept itself is looking like an endangered species in wake of the online shopping explosion. In a retail landscape now dominated by online sellers like Amazon and big-box chains like Walmart and Home Depot, Sears finds itself in a search for a reason to exist. One of the reasons people liked to visit/browse/shop at omni channel retail stores was for a wide choice and selection, whereas today there is no wider choice than on the Internet, so a lot of the reasons for going to those department stores no longer exist.

In addition to Sears, many retailers, including Kohl’s and J.C. Penney, have failed to innovate in ways that will continue to attract and keep shoppers continuously engaged. In the new era of e-commerce may witness the demise of many of legacy players, because of their inability to create a romantic interlude that keeps their customers connected.

Research reveals that the connections we make with brands can be as deep and emotional as the relationships we have with other people.  With some brands, we have wild, short-term flings. With others, we “fall in love” and enter a mutually beneficial relationship.

Having arrived at the above conclusion let us pin point to the single most contributor for a long lasting relationship- Respect !

A new study published in the Harvard Business Review recently in November 2016 reveals that Customers trust companies that they feel understand them and that they respect companies that they believe respect them in return.

In the survey of 20,000 customers, five of the top 10 performers were grocery stores, naturally a daily consumption item to which customers are naturally intimate. And because relationship is so constant that they have the potential to inspire intense emotion, loyalty, and passion. The tech-savvy empowered consumer expects to be heard and respected by their favorite brands, and it isn’t necessary they’ll stay loyal to the current leaders. Even a standout brand like Apple cannot afford to rest on its past and present successes.

Interestingly on a matrix where customers felt most or least respected by the class of businesses, the top rankers were household , personal care and technology industries while at abysmal bottom were the Telecommunications, Health Insurance and Government.

Recently the CEO of T-Mobile said in an interview revealed that their industry’s early ways of marketing where mobile manufacturers hid behind carriers where the phones were apparently given free under 2 year contracts where wireless carriers charged customers more than the phone retail price.  Moreover, it is well known that each smartphone is equipped with some unique features which some unaware customer doesn’t know triggers off data roaming and excess charges.

Customers would value companies they see as honest. Companies and brands that ‘mean what they say’ !  And so, consumers place a premium on brands that they believe to be direct, forthright about their values, and ‘Consistent’ in acting on them.

Are you asking the right questions?

 

Trust and respect are usually key experience sought in every human interaction. More so in case of customer service.

Every Company starts out to solve a customer issue with the best intentions. Unfortunately, success, growth and stakeholder’s interest (read business analyst’s strategic initiatives) change the culture as they mature and so the customers interest goes for a big toss as it gets institutionalized by a large department aka Customer service.

(Therefore, B2C has overtaken the go to market models and will be critical to success for emerging companies. But more about it my next update about digital disruption in retail)

And as companies grow into a self-absorbed mode, they tend to focus more on their needs as opposed to the customer’s needs. The simple act of calling a company for help with their product can be fraught with frustration because the company has set up systems that are non-friendly to consumers. To begin with there is quite frustrating and often irritating self-serve automated system which one has pass thru. They would hope a helpful sympathetic listener will serve the purpose but no there are idiots of customer service reps who escalate a comfortable and just curious caller into an irate or impatient one.

When they actually require a rep to act towards a quick identification of the problem and solution it gets into a long costly call (for the service provider/BPO). Listed below are some classic questions asked by the ebullient customer service representative after narrating the scripted welcome and acknowledgment of the reason for your call.

Customer : I have a question about my Bill?

CSR : What is that which different than every month ?

Interpretation : You are probably dumb or do not know what services you pay for.

Customer : I have set up an Auto Pay but it seems they charged me twice last month.

CSR : Let me ask you this , did you verify this information in your bank statement?

Interpretation : Probably you are duffer at managing your finances and don’t understand.

Customer : I have not received my last statement or bill.

CSR : Can I verify the address on account and have you recently moved?

Interpretation: You are not a organized person and didn’t bother to inform us.

Matthew Dixon, Lara Ponomareff, Scott Turner & Rick DeLisiv in their recent article in HBR “Kick-ass Customer Service” list 7 distinct type of customer service reps. According to the article while empathizers are the most preferred type of agents by the hiring managers and customers it is the   controller who is outspoken and opinionated actually do best at solving customers’ problems.

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If companies don’t hire the right people as front-line reps, or equip them to handle the increasingly complex challenges that come with the job their ratings will slide southwards and long term consequences could be a loss of bid for future contract.

Companies should also revamp their training practices, using new curricula and on-the-job coaching to help all types of reps learn to act more like Controllers. Another key step is building a culture that values and rewards Controller behavior. That might mean evaluating reps on their ability to use good judgment rather than follow a script, and soliciting their ideas to improve the organization.

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