Friday, 31 December 2010

Faceless Registration - A bad customer experience.

Several electronic products needed registration over the holiday period and most give a web site reference for registration; bearing in mind this is perhaps the first experience of the organisation one gets you think it would be a good thing to get right.

On two occasions the websites failed to allow an account to be registered and so followed a phone call only to be held in a queue for ages and an abandoned call. For the first organisation in the end the post card was filled in a stamp applied and the old fashion contact strategy used. A mail was sent pointing out this rather daft situation and I still await a reply with bemusement.

The second company a well known camera manufacturer with the initial letter "N" where having failed to set up an account to register I tried to email a message through "contact us" only to be told I need to register an account to send a message - oh dear!

OK next step use the phone, having listened to a message about defrosting frozen pipes for 3 or 4 minutes, remember this is a N**** camera , I eventually get through to an operative in a general maintenance and warranty company who is operating this outsourced activity on behalf of this photographic manufacturer, who to be fair to her registers the product quite efficiently.

On mentioning the website failure she says " nothing to do with us sir but I can put you through to N**** to talk to them" reply "no thanks I have wasted enough time on this already sorry; Oh by the way what has frozen plumbing got to do with photography?" answer " I didn't know we had that message running and as we operate insurance for plumbing cover that's probably why it is there".

So apart from this "Meldrew rant" what is the point of this post from a business design perspective?

Do any of these large corporates every really realise what their customer experience is really like. Customer journeys must be mapped correctly and clearly understood else the consequence is creates serious confidence and brand damage particularly for a prestigious brand like the photographic manufacturer in discussion here.

The second observation is that outsourcing, although saving costs, can create a disparate customer experience with processes and activities operating in non communicating silos.

The third observation is if you use a web site to stand at arms length from your clients for please ensure other channels of communication are easy to access as not only are you alienating your customers but you don't even know you are doing it and can't be given constructive criticism - blissful ignorance and corporate group think prevail yet again.

My summary message from all of this is "for goodness sake step outside and look in because from out here it looks pretty bad".

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Best Practice - Is it always best?

There is a constant focus on aiming to follow best practice in many corporates at present. Best Practice means to many the best way of doing something, but is this reality.

Is best practice perhaps the most common way or excepted way of doing something - does the word best really serve us well here?

Best practice based on the normal way of doing something is really attempting to minimise risk by following what most people do on the basis of if most people do this and failure is rare then by definition this is the best practice way.

There are some issues with this: "insanity is doing things the same and expecting different results" Einstein I believe. So if you want to differentiate or achieve a step change in results is best practice really the way forward or will it limit your results and ambition.

My other point is that best practice way well have lots of waste in it as people move from one organisation to another and accumulate activity by wanting to create a position and a set of activities to sustain their existence; then that all becomes best practice; is this really agile or lean, probably not.

Is the adoption of so called best practices actually creating corporate overhead and management fad or does it give benefit? - most smaller businesses would not understand much of what goes on in large corporate because they are to busy serving customers and making ends meet to spend time engaging with corporate best practice. Is that in itself a clue to answering the question?

Best practice may well the safest way of doing something but is it the most effective way of achieving results and is perhaps a limit on creativity?

I think if we are continually striving towards best practice it is important to challenge and assess whether it really represents a good way forward because at the end of the day it may well a serious constraint to creativity and downstream performance.

Monday, 6 December 2010

121 Distance Learning some useful experience.

Having just finished a distance learning version of the Business Architecture training I thought it was worth talking about the delivery process and technology.

Being it was 121 facilitated via VOIP and screen sharing I was pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of teaching like this. The learning management system provided bespoke material to the learner and made an easy place to leave material to be browsed securely whilst between sessions.

The Skype worked well as the new version 5 seems to be bug free and didn't have any of the disappointments of the previous versions ; no video freezes or issues whilst flicking from video to screen share. Whether I would use this for larger groups is another question but some of the more familiar commercial versions of web conferencing are a bit pricey for low casual use like this.

Upsides are substantially lower delivery costs and therefore lower pricing for the client, no travel costs no venue charges, overnight accommodation or travel time to be billed. A classroom event needs a minimum number of people to make it financially fly; so this is ideal for individuals particularly those who are self funding.

The other upside was it fitted the clients time scheduling an hour session once a week - well we often over ran in reality but that was OK - as long as value was perceived I am happy with that.

Downsides are you loose the flow and ebb of group discussion facilitated by social interaction over a more traditional residential delivery model. Kinaesthetic exercises obviously are not so clever and neither is syndicate work for obvious reasons; syndicates with one member aren't that effective!

Overall from a trainers point of view this approach has some merits and we will be pursuing it further as part of the mix of offering.

Strategy and the SME

I have been putting some material together for a business strategy unit and it contains the usual candidates Ansoff, BC Matrices, SWOT and Pestle; most of the literature is written about big corporates and very little on smaller organisations SMEs and even less on micro businesses and in particular life style businesses. Banks don't seem to understand life style businesses underwriting loans based on balance sheets rather than income generation.

It seems that many seem to look down on life style businesses and yet these form much of the small business economy. In fact if you look at your average local authority facilitated business group most of the members will be life style businesses.

What is needed in terms of a strategic point of view is a different perspective on some of the techniques deployed which are clearly emphasise on growth and value creation. Lifestyle businesses give focus to enjoyment of an activity that a so called lifestyle business creates. i.e. the fun or delivery of an activity, perhaps an interest or hobby, that also creates income is clearly a different matter.

I don't think corporate types and bankers should look down their noses so much on these businesses; lets face it making a living doing something you enjoy rather than commuting up to London three hours a day and attending meetings filled with corporate group think isn't really all that clever - is it?

SMEs and lifestyle businesses at the smaller end of the SME spectrum have specific strategic and tactical issues that need addressing.

These ideas need to be explored more and my new unit will contain some thinking on this as well as the traditional blue chip large corporate approaches.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Security and productivity

An organisation that restricts access from the outside in terms of emails both in and out although best intentioned creates great delays and extended delivery times when it tries to work with outside suppliers or contractors. What happens here is an organistion that has made a decision, usually by risk people, who have not considered the consequences to the organisation as a whole.

It then begins to complain when deadlines are missed as working productivity dives for the partner as it sends its staff into the client building 200 miles away to use a PC; after of course the obligatory 6 weeks it takes to set up a new user. When companies are paying time and materials just why do they do this?

The decision may well be right; but has the downsides been discussed and agreed, or is this a risk decision made without recognition of the overall needs.

A colleague once said "the easiest job for a risk manager is to say no - the real skill in risk is in knowing when to say yes".