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.
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
What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging? Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?
2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession. Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.
One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.
As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012. This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:
The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.
It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession. Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.
When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.
The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners. The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land. The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future. The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.
It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another. Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.
As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential. Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect. When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona. If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.
Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.
The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.
Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.
Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.
Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security. Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.
There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.
On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0. This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.
Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome. The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive. The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.
Merger Projects Example
If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – firstname.lastname@example.org
i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy
email@example.com twitter @davidlaud
Won’t be long and the House of Laud’s doorbell will be getting its annual Halloween workout from the local sweet-toothed, short-person, and some not so short invasion squad. When did we start parading the pumpkin and craving candy? It’s yet another US import that along with “Prom” has the younger generation hooked.
Not that I’m against US imports, I quite like the Apple iPad, a blast of Nirvana always improves my driving and Disney do make great “feel good” movies but not all things US leave me with a warm comfortable feeling.
Politics, now there’s something we shouldn’t import from the US. Or are we too late? The personality driven style of campaigning has worryingly been adopted by all parties. We can only count our blessings that the budgetary decisions are not as the US system and used as an American Football where gaining yards against a team can actually cause global recession part II.
My hope is that those in power and who finally found an answer to America’s “shut-down” will stop playing games in future and find sensible solutions that in some way retain the laudable aims of President Obama’s Health Care Reform Bill.
For the Republicans to be able to wield such a huge political stick and continually seek to beat the President with it is nothing short of a scandal. Of course these are my own opinions and others may well disagree but the basic position is surely one we cannot support. If the US “Shut-down” and budgetary stalemate had not been resolved and they were seen to default on their loans it wouldn’t have just been trick or treaters in the good old U.S. of A. crying at their lack of candy….we’d all be left short and can we afford to face such a dilemma just at the point we looked to be turning a corner?
As I write this Obama has announced a settlement and a compromise appears to have been reached. I applaud his stance with the Health Care Reform but managing a country is really no different to managing a business. When faced with an inevitable and catastrophic outcome that can be avoided through a mediated solution you need to put ego and personality to one side and negotiate to take matters forward. It was more than time to lay the cards down and stop playing political poker.
By finding a solution however the political momentum appears now to be firmly with Obama with the US electorate both angry and shocked at the tactics used by the Tea Party representatives and others within the Republican party.
Whilst not pretending to be an expert on US or Global politics it does strike me that the time has come for such activity to be scrutinised under a process similar to the 7 principles of Nolan Group’s suggested approach to public service.
For me the above are a pretty good rule of thumb for anyone in a public position of authority. From school governor to senate representative to the President himself.
We can all agree to disagree on points of principle but when stubbornness and point scoring prevents progress it’s time to step in. My preference now would be to undertake a review of the process that led to the crisis to put in place measures to prevent such calamities in future. Without this we could be back at exactly the same point in just a few months.
Of course I’m all in favour of balanced mediated non confrontational or posturing approaches but…..if any sticky fingered haribo horror tries to mug me for a sugar rush be warned. I may just say trick… 😉
David Laud Managing Partner – i2i Business Solutions LLP tweet @davidlaud
A few years ago a client turned to me after a meeting and said he would hate to have my job. At the time and as you might expect this took me by surprise not least because the individual making the statement was himself a very successful lawyer and partner in a successful firm and actually the meeting had been very positive.
When asked to qualify why my role might present as a poisoned chalice to him he referred to the constant pressure to deliver results. One winning strategy or campaign would never be enough and that there was a constant demand for positive outcomes borne out of successfully winning work from the competition.
That might sound a bit odd certainly now we’re in such a competitive climate and expectations for delivery are not only directed at the marketers but each and every facet of the business.
What’s interesting is that this conversation stuck with me over the years. The reason is that it made me, for the first time, seriously question my own career path and if indeed the suggestion of unrelenting demand for results would make for a happy working life in the long term.
The reality of course is that there are stresses in everyone’s job from CEO, entrepreneur, director manager, homemaker, carer, doctor, parent, journalist you name it there’s pressure to be found. We can all question ourselves as to our performance, relationships, success and failures and when times have been tough with the economy many of us have been hard on ourselves or had others make unrealistic demands leading to unnecessary stress.
When I have a bad day and let’s face it we all have them, I revisit that conversation and remind myself why I do what I do and why over the years it’s proven to be a good career choice. That technique helps keep me focussed on the positives and avoids dwelling on negative thoughts that can seriously damage your working life MOJO. We all need a healthy dose of self-belief and confidence but it can be a greater challenge when events really turn against us and at those times a little external help might be required.
Questioning our own abilities can be caused by our mood and often the actions of others which can frequently be outside of our control. That doesn’t stop us worrying and spiralling into a feeding frenzy of stress as we think back to the minutiae of our working days or projects in a negative post match analysis that either finds you coming up short or blaming everyone else for their failures.
How do you overcome these thoughts and loss of confidence?
Wherever you are in your career, just starting out, at a mid-point crossroads or towards the end you deserve to be making the very most of that time you spend on it. Re-discovering your MOJO, the element which drives you, makes you stand out from the crowd and defines who you are can provide the all-important spark to re-ignite your work life. It can also help you realise your ambitions and life goals by providing a fresh focus to the time you’re spending at work and your priorities and more effectively counteract those negative forces.
The state of our economy can create a number of responses from the corporate world. An increase in the number of companies in administration, change of strategic direction, the board retains a fixed course with no change or they actively look to merge with or acquire a suitable partner.
On the topic of merger this can, if managed well, with clear vision and talent be a very positive step. Unfortunately the catalogue of merger histories is well stocked with its fair share of failures.
The original spark that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.
Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customer, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.
Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security. Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.
There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others.
Interestingly in the world of telecoms there are 2 examples of where we appear to be seeing history repeating itself.
At the end of 2004 US telecom company Sprint announced its merger with Nextel. They were at the time the 3rd and 5th largest mobile phone operators in the US. The potential of such a merger was obvious and had the likes of AT&T and Verizon looking closely at the deal.
Sprint’s acquisition of Nextel ultimately was a financial disaster. In 2008 the company wrote down $30 billion of the $36 billion sum it had paid for Nextel in 2005, wiping out 80% of the value of Nextel at the time it had been acquired. The write down reflected the depreciation in Nextel’s goodwill since the date of acquisition.
CEO Gary D. Forsee was removed in 2007 marking a remarkable and rapid fall from grace. He had in 2004 been lauded as a “best manager” by Business Week only to become regarded as one of the worst CEO’s by Fortune magazine in 2009.
Why did this happen?
Despite much talk to the media of new technologies CEO Gary D. Forsee focussed on the financial savings to be gained out of the merger of the two corporations. He was heavily criticised for initiating programmes of micro management and cutting out costs from the business. The emphasis shifted from churn of customers to profit enhancements through cost savings. Claims of monitoring call centre staff toilet breaks only served to highlight the maniacal zeal Forsee had for getting every possible cent worth from his staff.
Complaints increased, 1,000 customers contracts were terminated by Sprint Nextel as they sought to rid themselves of persistent complainers. But many more followed putting the company at the top of the churn list as customers rushed to join the competition. There were also technical network issues which didn’t assist but overall the lack of investment in bringing customers over to the merged firm and inability to respond to the worrying customer indicators led to disastrous figures.
In the third qtr of 2007 Sprint lost a staggering 337,000 customers.
Fast forward to 2010 and the UK. Orange and T-Mobile announce their merger. A new brand of Everything Everywhere is announced and last year shortened to EE in an attempt to bond the networks together.
It’s a little early to state categorically that this merger mirrors the Sprint Nextel debacle but the signs are not good. Being a once satisfied customer of Orange I have seen a dramatic drop in customer service, lack of knowledge from front line staff and farcical cost management of rebranding high street neighbouring Orange and T Mobile shops to EE.
Efforts to communicate with CEO Olaf Swantee have not been successful – his army of executive office helpers must be very busy handling his inbox traffic too as they take a while to respond.
The @EE twitter feed is full of angry customers who can’t get a signal, or get help in an EE shop, have other technical issues and unable to get a response from the customer service helpdesk. The EE Facebook page is also loaded with frustrated customer comment. It’s worth a browse – raises the question of the logic of having such a facility when it provides such s public shop window of customer dissatisfaction.
Is the CEO of EE presiding over the same drive to save costs, cutting service and technical resource but using the smokescreen of new technologies such as 4G to cover the cracks? All I know is that at the sharp end as a customer things are far from healthy for the UK’s largest operator.
Dutch CEO Olaf Swantee doesn’t take any prisoners in the corporate world. On his first day he fired six of his most senior managers. He then informed a further 120 vice presidents and directors that their jobs were at risk. Not long after a tour of call centres he announced a further 1200 to be put under risk of losing thrir jobs. He’s quoted as saying; “I don’t have an objective to make myself popular,” He’s not wrong there, it’s not a popularity contest but it is an interesting way to generate goodwill and motivation.
EE’s problem is that it’s not as profitable as its competitors, O2 and Vodafone, and Olaf has stated that he intends to close the gap by 2014.
Of course the trouble is you still need revenue, that’s customers and satisfied ones at that. EE need to balance a high level of technical and personal service with a drive to reduce cost. Concentrating exclusively and aggresively on cost will potentially see Mr Swantee joining that Fortune league – do you think he can “Forsee” that?
On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.
If you’re considering growth through merger we’d be happy to discuss.