Tag Archives | customer service

Unshackle Your Team’s Creativity

Forward Business Planning

Have you ever wished for more input, insights, and ideas from the employees on your team?

Especially when our businesses are not performing as well as we’d like, we really need our teammates’ creative ideas. But when we gather a group and ask for ideas—whether for new product features, cost reduction ideas, or ways to improve service—we often see the same, recycled thoughts. Or ones that are only a smidgen better than what’s currently being done.

It’s not the employees’ fault. Humans are wired to keep doing what they’ve been rewarded for in the past. We are wired to protect our allies, and to avoid risk. These tendencies tend to hold us back when it comes to thinking in new ways. We are shackled by what’s worked before and have a hard time imagining a new way of doing things.

Here are a few techniques for helping your team break free to develop new ways of thinking about your business. Continue Reading →

Think Like an Explorer

Businessman Walking Outdoors

When I was sixteen, I went on a 2-week horseback trip in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming. Each morning, we were given the coordinates of the location where we would camp that night, then turned loose with a map and compass. It was satisfying to arrive at the destination each night, after navigating our way through the mountains on our own.

Heading a new strategic direction—entering a new market, innovating a new product line, or changing the way we go to market—can feel like heading out into the wilderness. If we think like an explorer would, however, we can find our way to new sources of profit and growth.

Here are four points to keep in mind when navigating new strategic territory:

Continue Reading →

5 Ways to Gain Extraordinary Customer Insight

Composite image of businessman looking on a ladder

Have you ever invested great time and expense in developing and launching a new product or service, only to see revenues fall far short of expectations?

We think we’re delivering exactly what the customer has asked for, but it turns out that we didn’t really understand what our customers were willing to buy.

We’ve all been there. McDonald’s introduced chicken wraps and other menu items to satisfy the demands of health-conscious diners, only to find that customers don’t actually want to eat healthy food at McDonalds. The fries are just too tempting.

Especially in fast-changing markets, companies often get so busy running the business, they fail to understand their customers’ experience and needs. They are blind to what actually goes on when customers use their products.

Let me suggest a few ways to break out of this cycle, so that you understand what your customers value and how they think. Continue Reading →

Growth and Profitability from Outlier Customers

Red umbrella fly out from crowds of black umbrellas

When you deal with the same types of customers, buying the same products and using them the same way, every day, it’s easy to be lulled into a smug confidence that you know everything you need to know about how customer needs are evolving.

Market research and management reporting systems are notorious for “averaging” all customers together. This blends specific needs into a bland summary of general information. As a result, critical “outlier” information gets lost in the mix, and companies lose out on valuable insights about customer needs.

They focus product and service enhancements on the “average” customer, and as long as she’s pretty happy, they think they’re doing well.

This is dangerous.

When we ignore the unusual customers – the ones at the edges of the bell curve – we miss important market signals.

These “outlier” customers are those who do things a little differently.  They may use our product or service in an unusual way, perhaps even in a way that’s never occurred to us.

Why is this important? Continue Reading →

Be Prepared and Take Action Quickly!

Take action key on a computer keyboard, business concept

One Monday in 2013, my husband and I spent the night in our car. Shortly after midnight, on our way home from playing hockey (this is a new sport for us, and great fun), we were amazed to encounter a huge traffic jam on Atlanta’s I-285. As we slowed to a stop, we saw a plume of fire as big as a house rising from a burning tractor-trailer a third of a mile ahead. Scenes from disaster movies looped in my head, and we talked about what to do if things got worse.

We passed the first hour reading books on our iPhones, then slept intermittently while waiting for the emergency workers to put out the fire and clear the wreckage. Someone from a nearby car borrowed our jumper cables, and Rob got out from time to time to walk ahead to see how things were progressing. We started the car periodically to warm up.

This incident reminded me how important being prepared can be. I was thankful to have a warm coat and sensible shoes but thought about a few things that we should keep in the car in the future. Snacks, water, a first-aid kit, at least a third of a tank of gas.

I thought, too, about business preparedness. Business people tend to enjoy planning for good things, like new products, revenue growth and hiring. It’s worth taking the time to prepare for unpleasant surprises as well, since you can tremendously improve your outcomes with a little planning.

Here are a few examples: Continue Reading →

Six Obstacles That Stop Agility In Its Tracks

Professional sprinter jumping over a hurdle

Are you struggling to make your company more agile?

In my work with organizations in virtually every industry, I find that business agility – the ability to spot and capitalize on new business opportunities as they emerge – is a capability that many companies aspire to, but few achieve.

What makes agility so elusive?

I’ve observed six primary obstacles to achieving agility. Continue Reading →

Want to be more agile? Give me the data now!

meat raw data

What’s the best way to use customer data to enhance your company’s agility?

Many companies are pursuing sophisticated data analytics to quantify customer opinions, tailor offers, optimize pricing, and the like.

I’m all for that.

But it takes time – I’ve seen companies spend months developing a strategy to collect, manage, secure, analyze and use the customer data they collect.

My definition of agility is the ability to spot and quickly capture the new opportunities being created by market change.

One of the best things companies can do to strengthen this muscle immediately is to speed the flow of raw customer data into the hands of the “doers” in their ranks.

Automaker Nissan provides a great example.

Nissan’s marketing function responds on a continuous basis to comments customers make on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.  They not only respond, they feed that information immediately to the relevant dealer, engineering group, manufacturing plant or customer service rep.

These are the folks on the ground that can fix the customer’s problem, or take advantage of the new opportunity quickly.

By establishing this fast-feedback loop, Nissan has become remarkably responsive to the market, and everyone in the company—not just marketing—has become more aware of evolving customer needs.

What can we learn from the Nissan example?

That the faster you can get data on customer problems, behaviors, emotions, etc. into the hands of the people who can respond, the more agile your company will be.

The data need not be perfectly “packaged” to be useful. In fact, raw data can be the best and most actionable. What’s raw data?

  • Complaints in the customer’s own words
  • A photo of a product failure, emailed from a customer
  • An product enhancement idea, fresh from a customer’s mind
  • Ideas customers have shared online for how to use your product most effectively in their particular use case, application or industry
  • A customer’s “work around” to a problem they experienced with your product
  • All the online, mobile and social data that gets generated every day

Speeding up the flow of customer data to R&D, manufacturing, customer service, sales and other functions not only increases the chance that you’ll fix customer problems fast, it’s also a great motivator. If I’m buried in the bowels of the company, and I “hear” an actual customer talking to me, I want to help.

So, increasing the velocity of customer data is one of the best ways to engage employees’ hearts, minds and hands in improving customer value.

Sure, you run the risk of overloading employees with too much data. Sure, the data might be messy or anecdotal.  But it’s real, and just might be something you can act on—today—to solve a customer’s problem. And that’s a good thing.

Amanda Setili is author of The Agility Advantage: How to Identify and Act on Opportunities in a Fast-Changing World (learn more) and managing partner of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates, whose clients include Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, and Walmart. She previously held positions with Global Food Exchange, McKinsey & Company, Asia Connect, in Malaysia , and Kimberly-Clark. Setili is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Harvard Business School and has taught as an adjunct professor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. She lives in Atlanta, GA.