I’m not the first to write on this topic nor the last but it’s the subject of today’s blog because I feel quite strongly about this growing phenomenon.
There are an estimated 1.8 billion of us using smartphones and this year alone will see a further 25% increase in ownership. By 2017 a third of the World’s population will be glued to their touch screen devices.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m someone with a long record of smartphone ownership from early HTC varieties through to iPhone but I’m not such a fan as I was.
Millions of us are struggling with an addiction to the smartphone. The proliferation of these super slim, super smart devices gives us a look of that 24th Century imagined world of Gene Roddenberry. How long before we’re moving from “hang outs” to “beam ups”?
So what of this reference to making us stupid and why am I not such the fan that I once was?
It’s not that your smartphone contains anything other than a deep pool of wonderful treasures. We have ready access to apps that can help with every single facet of our lives. They keep us fit, healthy, on time, up to date with international, national, local and personal news and entertained with games, TV, radio and our favourite songs.
We can’t hold back progress with technology and let’s face it we’re pretty insatiable when it comes to the fast moving consumer gizmology but I do think we’re struggling to keep up.
As humans we are undeniably an adaptive species. Evolving from hunter gatherers to hot shot gamers with each generation bringing their own unique code of knowledge and rules factoring the software into their lives so that it becomes intertwined with everyday living.
It’s this interdependence of human and technology that is starting to bother me. It’s also a reason why primary schools are starting to build lessons into the curriculum to help explain how these instruments work.
Our recent trip to the USA was great save the occasions the location visited either A) didn’t supply wifi or B) did supply wifi but at such a poor level that it brought immediate frustrations. I even went to the trouble of buying a portable wifi hotspot so we could retain connectivity whilst traveling up the coast from LA to San Francisco. It cost a few dollars but nothing compared to the potential costs if we’d relied on the local networks for our downloads. We ALL had smartphones and we used them, pretty much constantly.
At work they can be a real boon, mobile access to e-mail, online searches on the move and that feeling that “you’re always in touch”. Trouble is, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Here are a few of the issues I have with how we are currently using our smartphones;
Selfie time. No please, don’t take another profile pic for Facebook, instead take a look at yourself properly. When was the last time you truly studied how you’re running your life. Heads up from the screen and take pen and paper to write a list of positive actions that can help you take back control.
Last year for the whole month of October I ran my #Offtober experiment. I turned off my smartphone at 8pm each evening and didn’t switch it back on until 8am.
The result of this simple step was improved sleep it also had a positive impact on mood and overall well-being. Like many of us I’ve since drifted back into bad habits but rather than wait for October to come around I’m going to set myself clear rules so I can get the benefits of the tech without the downside.
No doubt many smug readers, my wife included will nod sagely and say, I told you this ages ago. Well yes, you probably did but I was face deep in technology at the time.
Preparing for a presentation I found myself reflecting on the seismic global events of the recent weeks.
Once untouchable monoliths of the corporate World, the oil corporations were running scared, BP setting aside £1bn just to cover their restructuring costs. Others pulling back from investing in new fields as the costs would not be covered by the sub $50 a barrel price point.
Then there’s the supermarkets, another fall from a significant height for Tescos as the new CEO serves up the trimmings, 43 store closures, 2000 job losses and that’s just for starters. Morrisons are also re-thinking their store strategy and withdrawing from projects that now look to be wholly unprofitable.
It’s funny, an election in full swing and of course the incumbent leadership is talking up an economic recovery the opposition shouting this down as hugely overplaying the dire position we’re all in. The reality is, as always, somewhere between the two but one thing is for sure….unlike the Aldi bear, we’re not quite out of the woods.
Just hopping back into the international events of 2015. Just when you thought bankers were back in their box, up pops the Swiss with an unexpected decision to drop the Euro cap. No it doesn’t mean that their international footballers have failed to qualify for the European Championship finals. Just a small matter of the bankers deciding that the Euro currency was no longer a safe bet and they’d be better off taking their chances letting their friend Franc free to find his own rate. And find his rate he did…settling about 15% higher than the Euro which had immediate and for many devastating consequences. Don’t be rushing to buy your great Aunt that original Swiss made cuckoo clock, it will now cost you 15% more, as will army knives and of course heartbreakingly… Swiss chocolate.
The financial markets took the Swiss roll (sorry!) and then went into round two, following the Greek election results and the success of the anti-austerity party Syriza. A good deal of uncertainty surrounds the Euro and the future of the Eurozone especially as the answer to recent difficulties appeared to be Mario Draghi’s 60bn a month bond buying programme, a variety of quantitative easing.
Before you start throwing your Euro coins in my direction in despair there was of course good news from certain fruity businesses. Well…one in particular.
Apple’s record $18bn profit for a quarter was nothing short of staggering and a clear indication of the World’s obsession with smartphone technology. It also demonstrated the power of the brand and lack of concern over the pricing of the new IPhone 6. This result was swiftly followed by news of the corporations’ reserves – some $143bn, a figure so staggeringly huge it could fund the R&D and delivery of a manned trip to Mars or buy Lithuania 3 times over. Unbelievable!
All of this massive news and yet it’s happened within just a few weeks of 2015 emerging into the light. If anyone thought the pace of change was slowing or we were returning to a more stable economic climate these first few weeks of the year have proved if anything things are heating up.
But what’s that got to do with marketing?
Pretty much everything in my view.
When there is so much negativity, uncertainty, financial pressure and posting of big success we can become disorientated within our own business. What does the future hold? Should we invest or just stick as we are? Can we afford to hire new staff, move premises or give bonuses?
In addition to the worries there’s the added concern of planning to grow the business through proactive marketing. In my experience the greatest success of a business often coincides with a flush of confidence, borne from belief in the team, products and/or service offering. With so much going on we can hardly find time to catch breath let alone plan the next 12 months. But that is exactly what you should be doing.
Look at where you want to be, hold on to the vision and harness the resources of your business to a set of clear objectives that take you towards your long term goals. Don’t be swayed by politics, rhetoric, negativity of other business leaders and those who would rather head for the bunker.
Now is a time for cool heads and clear thinking and as a leader in your business you need to show how it’s done. If all else fails quote a little Kipling to ease the furrowed brows and inspire others to rise above the negativity.
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” If by Rudyard Kipling
If you are looking for help in planning the growth of your business please drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.
David – follow me on twitter @davidlaud
Back in the early 1980’s a US sit com hit our screens and almost immediately became a hit. Centred on a small bar in Boston the show introduced us to a series of characters who were the regulars and staff of “Cheers”. The theme song was catchy and used the phrase “Where everyone knows your name”. One character personified this tagline more than any other. A large chap with ill-fitting suits, tie almost always askew and mop of curly hair, his name was Norm Peterson an *accountant played by the wonderful actor George Wendt. *In later episodes Norm becomes a house painter.
Each time Wendt’s burly frame stepped down the stairs and came into view he was met with a chorus of welcoming voices “Norm!”
That friendly welcome became one of the most popular aspects of this hugely successful show which ran continuously from 1982 to 1993 and produced a number of spin offs including Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier”.
But rather than offer up a history of popular US sit coms I’m highlighting this specific element as an example of how we should be looking after customers.
Business owners and managers in the hospitality sector appreciate all too well the importance of knowing the customer and making a personal connection. Restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs they all rely very heavily on the power of personal recommendation and with the advent and growth of TripAdvisor they know they cannot afford to let standards slip.
Just for a moment put yourself in the role of a customer looking to use your business to buy or enquire about a product or service. If you’re a first time customer it’s highly unlikely that the communication is going to be as warm and familiar as that enjoyed by Norm but the objective should be to get to that level. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they’re recognised, remembered and ultimately valued by the establishments they frequent?
At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive and the winning of new customers more complex and costly, it’s logical to invest time to understand their experience, their needs and without being too intrusive more about them as individuals.
Starbucks are a great example of a business that invests in exactly that element of their marketing. You can buy a decent coffee in any one of a number of nationally branded and local establishments in most towns and cities. Why would you choose one shop over another? Some may genuinely prefer the taste of Costa coffee but the vast majority of us weigh up the overall experience.
The simple task of taking your name for the cup makes you feel as though the staff are taking a personal interest in you, yes it has a functional purpose but I suspect it was introduced for more reasons than you may think. Trying to remember hundreds of regular daily customers by face for the average person is quite a task but if you take their names you are adding a neat memory aiding process to the task and chances are they’ll not need to ask after one or two visits. Then how good do you feel when your name is remembered? Would you want to return to such a store? Of course you would.
Keeping with Starbucks their attention to customer’s behaviours extends to the queues waiting to place their orders. Ever noticed what most of us do when we’re waiting to be served? We reach for our smartphones, check our social media accounts, e-mail and then when we’re ready to place that order we scrabble for a wallet or purse. Noting this behaviour Starbucks developed a function of their smartphone App which enables customers to not only earn rewards and get free food and drinks but essentially pay using those phones they already have in their hand. Just look around at your average Starbucks and count the Apple Macs and smartphone usage, they understand their market and how best to engage with them. What I like about the Starbucks example is that they took the time to consider the customer experience and find a way to improve it. I also like the fact that it’s a great combination of offline and online but at the heart is the desire to make that trip to buy your coffee and snack that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt Starbucks to have an app that requires your personal details to register and use it but by now you’ve built a level of trust having been a “regular” and happy to share a little personal data.
For those of you now complaining that you don’t have “Star-bucks” to throw at such projects (see what I did there) don’t worry it doesn’t need to be expensive.
The best marketing and customer service solutions are often simple, common sense and can be implemented without breaking the bank. The essential part of this process is to initiate direct action and start taking a greater interest in that over used phrase the “customer experience”.
Here are 10 suggested steps to get things underway
1. Take time to stand back and become a customer of your own company, be honest and objective.
2. Look at what you’re delivering, break down the elements into stages.
3. How are customers responding?
4. Become more familiar with competitor approaches but avoid following their lead.
5. Build on the positives of the current offering.
6. Address the negatives.
7. Adapt to take advantage of the intelligence gained from the exercise.
8. Train staff to become more aware and develop empathy with the customer.
9. Introduce communication channels to keep feedback flowing.
10. Review and refresh regularly.
If this is an area that interests you or you would like more information please feel free to drop me a line.
Having just returned from a trip to California I’m inspired to write about customer service. Not that we encountered the very best at every turn, yes it was mostly very good but my TripAdvisor reviews did include the odd horror.
Yes, even the great land of “awesomeness” and “super excitement” didn’t get it right all the time. Anyone who’s visited the USA will know that the policy of tipping can be delivered in a variety of ways depending on who, where and sometimes when you’re visiting. What you quickly realise is that “service” is very often included and if not added automatically you’re strongly encouraged by guideline % figures.
But if you don’t feel the service matches the promise it can get very interesting, almost as if the business refuses to accept they could get anything wrong.
On the downside we found attitudes were at times curt and clippy in certain establishments. The approach to customers tired and cynical. Service in a couple of restaurants started well but quickly fell away as other patrons arrived and their well of goodwill and friendliness quickly dried up as visible stress levels increased. One hotel in particular responded so poorly to my observations of their hotel on Trip Advisor that it will only serve to generate poor review number two. If a customer is not happy don’t poke them with a sharp stick. I was rather astonished at the arrogant dismissive response. If you’re running a business you need to take all feedback on board and respond in a balanced sensible way, even if you do think their experience somewhat far away from reality. The fact is it was their reality and their shoes you need to stand in.
On the upside we encountered many excellent examples of good service. The Café Los Feliz lived up to their Instagram presentation with the delivery of an outstanding breakfast. The Arch Rock restaurant in Santa Barbara who’s superb food was only matched by the excellent chat we had with the waiter and the Italian Seafood restaurant in San Francisco – Cioppinos so good we went back for more on another day. Their promise of finding a table for us in 20 minutes evaporated to 5 when the maitre d came to us whilst we were ordering drinks at their bar to say she’d loved the way we’d been so happy and polite and offered to jump us forward to the next available table.
So the US are not, in my view, the custodians of all that is “excellent” in customer service. Of course they’re still very good in so many areas but to my surprise there are a number who are clearly not as good as they should be. Not a perfect piece of research, we were on holiday after all and not handing out questionnaires or interrogating staff and fellow customers. Our perception however is real and nevertheless valid. Perhaps the recession has had its impact and service levels have as a result been adversely affected as profits became harder to find.
We did all love our Californian excursion a truly memorable experience but it’s clear you don’t have to travel so far to see excellence in customer service. This weekend we took our dog to the nearby beach at Saltburn. We stopped off for a cuppa and a bite to eat at a small café near the beach and noticed the many purple blankets at each table. The owners had considered the experience of their clientele, the UK climate and possibility of children and adults who’d taken a recent dip shivering as others decide to have a pit stop before heading home.
The blankets were a small but very important touch, showing that the Café understood its customers and cared enough to keep them comfortable whilst sipping tea and eating scones or ice cream. When it comes to customer service Camfields Espresso Bar in Saltburn have got it well and truly covered.
It’s the little touches that can make such a big difference and that’s true of any business. The result you want is a happy customer and for them to spread the word like warm butter on those Yorkshire scones.
Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution. If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”. It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today. Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.
If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development. He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.
A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.
Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration. The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone. They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.
Why are we hearing of so many failures? The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward. The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.
The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period. Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates. Without it they are unable to carry their work.
The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;
These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event. The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice. On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.
The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future. The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.
David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP
I’m fed up with hearing that we’re living in “interesting times” we’re not. We’re actually living in the times outlined by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities. I’m sure you all know the opening chapter of the book word for word but just to remind us……
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – [Extract from chapter I, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
Anyone else feel the contemporary connection with these words?
2014 has presented as a year where we are seeing economic recovery, employment levels rising and an all over feeling of optimism, well so certain politicians would wish us to think. I’m not against a healthy bit of optimism, by nature I’m drinking from the half full cup most of the time but in reality there is still an awfully long and hard journey ahead for many businesses and thoughts of instant solutions are really not helpful.
If a business is going to survive and thrive it needs to have a strong realistic vision of its future, a plan for managed growth and control over its costs. Leaders of these businesses need to retain and recruit the staff that share a passion for making that organisation the best in its particular sector/ sphere of operation. It’s not easy, it takes time. Things go wrong, deals don’t come off, recruits fail to live up to expectation and customers can change their preferences at the least expected moment. What you shouldn’t do is panic. Retain the belief in the business and acknowledge that the World is partly mad and partly sane, you cannot predict everything nor expect to be continually on the back foot.
Even though we’re in what still feels to me like a futuristic date, 2014, the words of Charles Dickens in the opening of the classic Tale seem as appropriate today as when they were first penned some 150 years earlier.
Whether you do face the best or the worst of times I see it as a period for calm heads and a return to the principles of good solid business practice with, of course, the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and originality that will deliver sustainable success.
David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer
follow me on Twitter @davidlaud