November 24, 2011

Empowering the consumer with information

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Customer Service — by xrematon @ 3:57 pm
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I am in that smug minority – amongst the one in five  – who have bothered to switch energy supplier. The process seemed to be painless enough – a bit time on some price comparison sites, before a hop onto the site for the ‘chosen’ supplier (Ovo) to fill in an online form – and then it could have been silence for a long while things went on in the background.

However, Ovo is one of those ‘enlightened’ companies which has been started by someone who was fed up with the way the big existing providers did such a poor job. (If you are really interested, go to their site  to read more of their founding myth, now seemingly de rigeur after innocent led the way with their story).

Ovo think about what is going on from the customer’s perspective and their signing-on letter was representative of this. One of the pieces of information it included was a timeline – as shown below – which tells me why it is that nothing appears to happen for several weeks after I have taken the plunge.

It doesn’t seem like much but it’s one of those simple actions which can make all the difference as to how customers feel. It’s like when you are on a train which suddenly stops, and the driver can tell why you’ve stopped, rather than let you stew in agonising and increasingly frustrated silence.

Another company that does keeping you informed well is Amazon. I’m thinking of their ‘Track your Delivery’ feature, which can contain surprising amounts of information. On one occasion, I was surprised to find a gift had not arrived at a friend’s house, so logged into my account. It turned out the gift had passed through Kingston Park Peterborough where the item was handed over to the carrier for delivery, from whence onto the National Distribution Centre, then to the Northern Countries DC, and then got stuck in the Hemel Hempstead mail centre, following an unsuccessful attempt at delivery.

But there are times which you don’t get this kind of insight into what’s going on behind the scenes and could really do with it. I had an insurance claim to deal with, which turned out to be surprisingly painful. It involved daily calls to the insurance company because I didn’t know what was going on and whether any progress was being made or not. In the end, the call centre staff took pity on me and just processed my claim straight away, without making me wait for all the relevant bits of paperwork. Ironically, I need them now – give me the tools and I will leave the company in peace!

November 17, 2011

Electronic media can be toxic?!

Filed under: Demographics,Technology — by xrematon @ 9:25 pm
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‘Electronic media are not only an inferior means for children to experience and learn about their world, they can be toxic.’

‘On a more serious note, its just a toy not the work of the devil.’

Well, what to make of those two comments? Which side of the argument do I find myself on?

It was recently my son’s birthday, and I decided I wanted to get him something that would last and not be added to the pile of very much loved, but very annoying-to-tidy-up-every-night pieces of plastics. So I thought it would be good to get an ‘educational’ item, but despite my earlier thoughts, I decided to cop out and get a LeapPad Explorer. If you haven’t come across it before, there’s a picture below. Some call it the iPad for kids, but to me, it’s more like a glorified PDA (remember when they were all the rage, before we had Blackberries and smart phones?)

As you can probably tell, I have mixed feelings about the device, and as is my wont when I am not sure about something, I thought I would check out other opinions online. Hence the identification of the above two quotes. The second one is from Mumsnet, where there were a wide range of views, some more relaxed, and others deadset against the whole idea. One of the latter group included a link to the article from which the first quote came.

So what do I think? My views are very boring – I am neither a fervent techie, nor a tech prohibitionist. It’s just about finding the right balance. But I do get fed up with simplistic assumptions that using ‘tech toys’ (for the want of a better word to describe the likes of LeapPads, Wiis, Nintendos etc) are not creative experiences. My own thoughts echo those captured by a friend in a recent post on a similar topic for her company blog at LadyGeek. I was struck by one of her sentences.

‘We have entered a new era where my children’s imaginations are augmented by technology.’

That’s right – technology can add to what’s there. Otherwise, we might as well as only allow black and white crayons in the fear that it would mean children couldn’t imagine colours themselves. (Ok – that’s a bit extreme!)

My final observation: any fears I might have had that my son was going to become a pale-faced, digit-twitching geek proved to be quickly unfounded. The first night he received the LeapPad, he did play with it obsessively, mainly to use the camera, but on the next day, we were onto the next thing.

So now should I be worrying that he has too many toys? It is true that we  British parents buy an average of 41 toys per year, which is almost a toy per week, creating the biggest toy market in Europe.

Or maybe I should be worrying about the fact that my son will be a luddite after all!

November 10, 2011

Death of a salesman – part 2

Filed under: Customer Service,Futures — by xrematon @ 8:15 pm
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I wrote about a recent sales experience in my last post. After this, I was particularly interested in a piece I came across in the Economist which talked about how the death of the salesmen has been exaggerated.

A quick rehash of the arguments on why such people might disappear: with the internet, consumers can find out what’s right for them on their own, getting unbiased information from other customer reviews; in the B2B world, things have got a lot more exciting with reverse auctions and the like.

However, as the article goes on to point out, sales still matters. It is essential if you want to get anywhere in Asia, where the people buy from people. And doing it well can make a big difference to the bottom line. According to a recent study from McKinsey the performance of salespeople within a single company typically varies by a factor of three.

Trying to find the piece online, I came across an interesting discussion among the ‘sheltered ecosystem’ of salespeople (as one of the contributors described their world). I was struck by some of the comments.

Firstly one about the need for change, and within this, to avoid the ‘technology as saviour’ approach:

Yet we, as a group, really haven’t changed a whole lot in the last XX years. The scary thing, is the buyer has changed….Somehow, we have found the answer, and the answer is in the clouds with all sorts of Sales 2.0 tools. If only we buy the right set of tools, we will immediately find ourselves aligned with the new buyer, we will immediately become “respected,” we will transform our relationships with customers. Or maybe the attraction to those tools is that when we fail, we can blame the tools rather than ourselves.

Another proposed a name change to avoid the negative connotations associated with the word ‘sales’:

Today’s salesperson is really a business improvement specialist whose focus is on helping the customer achieve their specific objectives. Sales is simply an outcome of doing that work right.

One of the final contribution (to date) on the discussion makes clear the bottom line is that there is lots of chat and agreement, but little action.

 Aren’t we all saying the same thing? That despite the preaching, teaching, writing, training, speaking and consulting that we all do, and despite how much we ARE attempting to change things for the better, that change has been VERY slow to occur. People get it – but don’t do it. They understand it – but don’t execute.

As my previous experience shows, it’s still important to get the basics, like correct pricing, right!

November 3, 2011

Death of a salesman – certainly not the discussion about it! Part 1

Filed under: Customer Service — by xrematon @ 12:53 pm

I recently experienced some fancy salesmanship. I was rather impressed, except it all fell apart in the final stages. I am not sure whether the following was all part of an elaborately planned sales process or not, but let me tell you the story….

About a month ago a postcard came through the door, inviting me to sign up for a visit to see if my house would be suitable for an extra special kind of waterproof, weather-resistant covering – zillions of times better than paint. As I am obsessed with making my house less cold and damp, I was tempted and filled in the card.

A couple of days later, I got a call to fix up a time and was told more about the product. Then I got my visit from the jovial salesperson, Simon, who wore the regulation shirt, tie and blazer (the company had clearly decided to do an ‘Eddie Stobart’ with the uniform; as my husband observed, the effect was also Alan-Partridge-esque). Simon looked carefully around my house, answered all my questions, even those I sneaked in about general house maintenance not relevant to selling his product. He took me through the brochure and then came up with a sum so huge it was an easy decision to make (£15-£17K!).

But then, he told me about how we could agree to become a marketing home for his company and, by agreeing to small things such as giving permission for photos of our house to be taken and putting up their board outside for a couple of months, the price could drop very significantly (to £10-12k). This was still far too much.

A couple of days later, I had a call from Phil, their commercial sales manager. He had had a job in the local area fall through and so was looking to see how he could use his team out here. He felt he could offer me an even better deal as corporate rates are lower than those for private individuals (not sure what I think about that). So we had a visit from Phil, who carefully measured everything up.

So what happened? Well, it turns about that Phil couldn’t even match the offer made by Simon. Phil was very perplexed (and irritated) that Simon had clearly measured the house incorrectly to suggest his figure.  Needless to say, the conversation ended there!

I’ll put some thoughts on sales in another post.

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