People, customers, culture … not dollar, greed and cutthroat behaviour

People, customers, culture … not dollar, greed and cutthroat behaviour

Financial Services companies are back in the news again following Greg Smith’s resignation letter from Golden Sachs being published as an Editorial by the New York Times this week. Reinforcing the disdainful public belief that all banker’s are fuelled by greed and that the greedier you are the more career success you will get and that the reward for that success is massive salaries and bonuses.

Fuelling these fires in public may be indeed be driven by the altruistic reasons he states or hide a personal vendetta Greg Smith has against his former employer, but it does ring true. The stench of this fire will drift across more banks and stay rancid for some time. Just when Bankers are desperate to regain trust and rebuild customer confidence, they are facing yet more scrutiny that will achieve precisiely the opposite.

To do this, Financial Companies must focus more on how they work inside their organisations, what their beliefs are, how their culture must support these beliefs and that their people must represent this. To regain trust and improve their reputations, the banks have to put their customer’s front and centre into this process. They will need to ensure that to deliver customer driven initiatives, they change company centric processes. The 2 key words are Culture and Customers.

There is a great article by Shawn Parr in Fast Company Why Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch. A focus on getting culture right brings significantly better return on investment than blindly chasing the dollar…whatever the analysts expect. It needs to start from the top…but those at the top are often the same that got them (and unfortunately all of us) into this mess.

Which brings to mind that Lloyd Blankfein described Goldman Sachs as “doing God’s work”… chasing the dollar at all costs is killing their reputation, their people are noticing and soon their customers will just say no.



A few tips on building customer dialogue.

A few tips on building customer dialogue.

As marketing evolves to understand and harness the power of social media, we hear a good deal about creating dialogue and positive conversations with customers. I was asked this week about a few tips to start having these conversations quickly and am sharing that discussion here.

Dialogue is an interaction between the company and the customers – a chance to listen, to answer, to understand each other. Ways to get insights into customer needs.  Companies know that this understanding is vital and need to find ways to capture this whether through formal functions like customer service or research methods or how to start to use (or perhaps importantly how to react to) social media.

Keep talking after the sale

Some companies forget to increase customer contact and conversations once a sale is complete – and have a customer service function that is really only set up to answer unhappy customers. These can be telephone call centre approaches that ultimately frustrate customers rather than encourage them. They are unlikely to want a dialogue and indeed are unlikely to want to make another purchase. Keep or increase your contact with customers once they have purchased. This is becoming as important to B2C companies as it already is to B2B ones.

It’s more than training, it’s your culture

Staff as an important part of your marketing workforce as they all have their own network of people that they use to communicate and listen. It’s good to have them share good stuff about the company or brand with their networks. Many new staff are much more savvy than we often give them credit for and while many companies do understand the mantra of hiring for passion and attitude then train for skills, it can be forgotten that companies themselves can learn from each other. A company culture that encourages dialogue and sharing amongst its own people will be better placed to have conversations with its customers. It is a company culture not a training program that encourages this.

Online methods over time, rather than moment in time research

Many companies use real-time research to gather insights. These are structured conversations that can, with good questions, illicit smart answers. Panels and diaries and ethnographies are important methods of allowing for broader conversations over time – and all can be improved by using online research which can be quicker, in real time and confidential. By building big panels of customers and having regular discussions with them, you can also share how their inputs help companies change – and this in turn will reward customers as well as encourage further dialogue and loyalty.

Human behaviour not corporate behaviour

Corporate concern over what to do in social media often means delay in using it. Where customers mention your brand or complain about it, this is an opportunity. One that can be ignored by companies not used to unstructured ways of having conversations with customers. How companies act on social media is important and that you do it in real time. Try to do it personally by behaving as humans rather than as a corporation.  Saying sorry, saying thank you, using real names in twitter or Facebook to complaints, is a big step in the right direction.

And do so in real time; in full view and not using private direct mail placating with coupons – because a complaint once posted is out there. The response needs to be seen, not just for the person complaining directly, but for all those who read and watch. And keep the practice up so that it becomes second nature.

When you build communities with customers who have actively contacted the company – whether for a positive or negative initial reason – remember to behave like a person would – treat them like you would want to be treated. . Invite (don’t demand or expect) feedback.  Use the feedback to create further dialogue and share progress. Ask don’t tell. Say please and thank you. Say sorry. Use their name and your own personal name – not the brand’s name.

What other tips would help build meaningful dialogue?

The need for speed

The need for speed

Get creativity into your organisation: change for the quicker – change for customer.

Turning round your business is tougher than for years – customers are more demanding, more cautious, more reactive.

Businesses are under increasing internal pressure from budget cuts, higher expectations (more for less) and increasing uncertainty.

Clients themselves have reduced their own teams and are trying to achieve the same tasks. Time & focus are their most precious resources.

And everything must be delivered more quickly.

Expectations for quality improvements & for better value can increase the pressure for being faster. Businesses rely on quarterly reporting periods to satisfy shareholders & use leadership models that rely on management by objectives to ensure conformity and consistency rather than change. Short cuts and new innovation are stifled by bureaucracy.

In the risk-driven inertia that many businesses are in, decisions take longer and tend to be safe – often familiar and repeated from past. Falling budgets can result in shaving a bit off everything rather than a refocus on doing just one or two things really well. Silos have built up internally, with a sense of protectionism leading to poor internal communications and mistrust.  This can be replicated externally with too many agencies focused on their own specific disciplines – with each agency duplicating similar processes in dealing with the client – so adding to further delays.  These pressures also sour culture which in turn causes delays and further inertia.

However, quicker is the norm for many businesses and organisations especially those influenced by new technology – where the use of creativity is ingrained in their business models. Fantastic crowd sourced content is uploaded every minute and quickly spread to people who look for their recommendations on social media. Millions of apps and upgrades are beta tested and rolled out every week on technology we already cannot live without. News is delivered 24/7.

If customers are demanding better experiences and best quality on one side of the value equation, price differentials are getting narrower on the other. Price comparison sites and supermarket price wars mean the price isn’t a differentiator but a similarity. Premium prices are harder to justify.

So how can creativity in business be applied to help speed things up, to unleash new initiatives for customers without compromising quality so building trust rather than losing it?

Creativity in its purest sense is forming a new solution from existing elements. Therefore it is always good to start by interrogating exactly what is happening inside the business, breaking it down into small discernable elements and reconfiguring them again into a simplified, customer focused approach. Ask the organisation direct questions (some are illustrated below) to get the answers that bring these elements to light.

The solution will come from being bold in questioning what’s working and why as well as what’s not. Collate the answers into groupings that can be reassembled. Prioritise the answers to ensure they are  relevant to each part of business and importantly to each business leader.

  • Is everyone in the business clear about what we do & why? Is there clarity and conviction about the purpose of the company?
  • Is our own story inside the business as clear as it is when we communicate outside?
  • Are we all about the customer or all about ourselves? Do we think inside out or outside in?
  • Do we have a dialogue with lots of our customers – daily not annually, sentences not tick-boxes?
  • How can we simplify everything…and after ask again, can we simplify further?
  • Do we share & train each other in what works?
  • Do we regularly work together outside of our own internal teams – on behalf of the customer?
  • When we undergo performance reviews for our leadership and staff, are there consistent KPI’s about collaboration & the customer?

By understanding the answers to these types of questions, you can creatively develop new initiatives, new processes & new teams. Restructures don’t necessarily have to mean redundancies – they can mean new responsibilities.  By simplifying these processes and ensuring each is strictly evaluated on a customer focused basis, things will get faster. Today, it is cost effective to use real time customer feedback in developing and spreading these initiatives – online dialogue is flexible and rewards the customer who expects their voice to be heard.

Once they do the results on culture will be positive. As a few directions become clear, it will be wise to quickly try out a few small tests – start with manageable, realistic goals, ensure leaders support these teams overtly and that failure is supported as much as success – to ensure a do/learn/do approach to learning is invoked – and when these tests work, roll them out & start a few new initiatives. Taking action quickly via business creativity creates actions that break inertia, break silos and start a road to growth.

So while many companies use creativity to communicate to their customers, they can start to seed creativity into their business structure, planning and processes too – with valuable outcomes such as improving speed to market, rewarding customer experiences and an improved internal culture.