When I saw the piece in Fast Company about Clotaire Rapaille, showman anthropologist, I wondered if my acquaintance Grant McCracken would comment on the article. He has, and brilliantly. Both articles worth reading. Take particular note of Grant's definition of good research, which is bang on.
When I was a bank employee some time ago, I recall hearing about this Rapaille guy from my boss, who was enthralled. He made people lie on the floor and remember their first experience of a bank branch. His big insight was that people remembered pillars as part of bank branches, and that this solidity was an important part of bank branch design. Therefore, don't give up on solidity. At the time, this sounded so facile I thought I must be missing something. I was: this guy is a genius at marketing the Rapaille brand.
There is no single "code" for a culture. Do you think someone unfamiliar with Canada could talk to a bunch of us for a while and understand what makes us tick? What would they make of the 300,000 people we import from the rest of the world every year? And translate that code to marketing a product? Maybe, maybe not. We love Kraft Dinner, but think Red Lobster is boring. Frankly, we struggle to understand ourselves.
If you've been reading my blog recently, you know I was working in Jamaica last week. Jamaica is itself an amalgam of many cultures, including Chinese, Portugese, Lebanese, and many African nations, plastered over by the British, and now being re-engineered by Jamaicans themselves. "One Love, One Heart". It is not an easy culture to understand, even though they speak English better than I do, for the most part, and share many British traditions. I have definitely had some insights that have helped my client. But I've also been run into the boards quite painfully a few times for reasons I still don't fully understand, and continue to obsess about. [Run into the boards is a hockey analogy, BTW]
Let me give you one simple example. My hotel put little cards on the pillow with Jamaican phrases in Patois and their meanings. Here's an example: Dawg mawgre but him head big. Translation on the card: no matter how much the dog's body shrinks, his head cannot shrink: some things cannot be changed. My hosts at dinner one night said this was all wrong. One thought the saying referred to someone you would underestimate who was smarter than they looked. Others thought it meant that even a mangy dog thinks well of himself. These were smart, well-educated, Jamaican-born executives who speak Patois as well as they speak English and THEY disagreed about the meaning of the phrase. Is this part of "the code"?
I often ask people what jokes they tell about themselves to try to understand what I don't understand. [What's a joke accountants tell about themselves, for example? What's a joke Canadians tell about themselves? What jokes do the French tell about the Belgians?] What is most remarkable to me is that the jokes are almost never funny to an outsider.
In any event, I don't think there's one code. And this is the beautiful complexity of humanity. I know lots of elegant models, lots of psychology, lots of social science and I speak business reasonably well. And none of this stuff explains it all. And thank God for that.
Although they are an essential and pervasive element of the customer experience, airports are institutional and bureaucratic at best, and struggle to address the customer experience in a meaningful way.
Customer Experience of Waiting: Chairs
Let's consider airport waiting areas as an example.
The seating is designed to be easy to clean and durable. Some of it, like the IMAT chairs in the picture, is quite attractive.
When you watch it in use, here's what you see:
The cleaning staff tend to place seating for maximum efficiency with minimum work, not to improve the experience of waiting. At Pearson, this means great huge areas with no seating at all. (Maybe they need a plan-o-gram?)
JP Morgan Chase Targets Business People Seeking Plugs
J.P.Morgan Chase feels our pain: they have started placing stickers around the electrical outlets in airports. Indianapolis was first, as reported in Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and brought to my attention by Quirk's. The stickers read, "This outlet works. Now you can too." Also on the sticker, the e-mail address and local phone number for their commercial banking unit. This is brilliant, IMHO.
Getting Your Exercise in an Airport
In the larger airports, figuring out which carousel has your bags can be a major challenge. What, you mean you can't read the single monitor located at the far end of the hall? But exercise is good for you, right? No wonder so many people refuse to checks their bags now.
This might sound just grumpy, but why are the taxi stands in newer airports (like Pearson) always so far from the baggage exit??? You definitely don't find that in small airports (like Kingston, JA or Edmonton, Alberta), where the taxis circle like sharks around chum, and are happy to carry your bags to their car.
[I'd love to work on this for someone, but I don't think airports actually compete for business in the usual sense, so it's pretty unlikely they would hire a customer experience consultant.]
Pricing to Captive Markets, Reprise
A few days ago I spoke about timing and price changes in the context of air travel. When I left Kingston, I took one look at a line-up that seemed to have about 300 people waiting for about two clerks, and said, "I think I'll upgrade". On the whole, I'd rather see people fix their service problems with actual good service. But if you can't quite get your total customer experience there, you might want to consider letting people pay for a premium service of some kind.
Blue Mountain Coffee, Reprise
More on the coffee: just in case I wasn't clear, Blue Mountain coffee is delightful. But there aren't many coffee bars, and they mostly don't invite you in to sample the local product. Just my observations about marketing in other places. I have no idea what the situation is in the resorts. Anyone?
Still here in Kingston, Jamaica on business -- and making observations to share...
In-room coffee versus coffee bar coffee and cannibalization...
When I first started working here a few years ago, I knew of only one place to get a good coffee, at the Pegasus Hotel. So, like many of the foreigners here, I dropped by their coffee bar fairly regularly for an outing and a fix.
This trip, I see the Hilton has finally caught on, and built their own coffee bar. And I see the other consultants hanging out there at the tables pretty frequently, just as we do at Starbucks at home.
One weird side-effect of this change: the Hilton still has coffee makers in the rooms, but they only provide instant coffee now. I presume this was to force us to go buy the cappuccino. IMHO, this was a mistake that makes them look cheap. In a Hilton anywhere else, I would expect to find the in-room coffee AND access to many other coffee bar alternatives.
The room coffee was never a substitute for the other stuff in terms of coffee quality. (D'oh) Aside from which, as I noted above, people like to hang out somewhere, and the new coffee bar has quickly gained standing as this third place.
Still in Kingston, Jamaica, and still making observations about business travel.
Lesson #4 – You can charge big with a captive market
One of the odd things about lesser developed countries is that everything is expensive. Prices seem to begin at what you’d expect to pay in a major US city downtown, and go up from there. And if you are staying in a big hotel, by definition you are wealthy, and can therefore pay a lot for everything.
Wireless internet, which is cumbersome to set up, and somewhat patchy, costs $12.00 USD daily or $143 USD weekly. You could buy the router for less than that. Still, after fighting with dial-up yesterday, I bit the bullet and signed up.
Printing a page in the business centre is roughly $5 USD per page. [That one is still a stunner.]
Oddly – or perhaps not – you can get a one page letter typed for less than that, about $2 USD. Paper may be extra, I’m not sure.
No doubt there are cheaper business services somewhere nearby, but with no car, they pretty much have you. [Trust me on this, only the locals drive themselves here.] And all the business centres have the same prices.
The trick seems to be charging just below the rage point. At least that’s how it feels.
I hit the rage point once -- I wanted to order a room service salad as a light meal. Wwhen I realized it was going to cost $ 25 USD, I said forget it, and dragged my exhausted butt down to the deli.
Lesson #5 -- Timing is everything where price is concerned
I have paid big to print handouts for workshops -- that's what you have to do when you are racing against the clock.
Here's another example, perhaps more familiar:
When I was boarding the flight here, I was offered the opportunity to upgrade for $185. A very good idea for the airline to do this. I wavered, but decided to brave economy class. Fortunately, it was half empty. If I had found myself sitting in the midst of screaming kids, I would have gladly paid the $185, but by then I would be stuck. Once you board, no more upgrades.
The foregoing is a good example of letting your process drive the experience, and losing opportunities. Because airlines don't want to load extra meals, they don't offer on-board upgrades.
They should figure this out, because lots of people would go for it.
This is the view from my office this week: I’m working out of a hotel room in Kingston, Jamaica. In the past few years, I’ve spent many weeks here, and I’ll be sharing some observations about customer experience on the road.
There are four business hotels in New Kingston that a business traveller would stay in, and I’ve stayed in them all at one time or another. Here's what I've learned in the process.
Lesson #1 – Being closer to the competition is not a bad thing
Terra Nova evokes an old plantation house. The rooms are cozy, and the food is outstanding. The chief problem with Terra Nova is that there is nothing within an easy walk, so after a couple of days you feel really trapped without a car.
As a result, I always try to stay along the strip of hotels along Knutsford Blvd., where there are three hotels right beside each other: Pegasus, Courtleigh, Hilton. It’s easy to go for a walk to one of the others, and all of them are near a large public park with security guards. And if I really want a fast food fix, that’s available too a short walk away.
Lesson #2 – Breakfast is critical
All of my favorites offer a good buffet breakfast without a lot of fuss and bother. The whole business travel industry has gone this way, because none of us have time to waste in the morning. I’ll tell you later this week about coffee…
Lesson #3 – Travel is a lonely affair
The Courteigh is friendly and cozy, but there’s not much public space to hang out in. So I tend to eat there, but rarely stay there.
The Pegasus, a former Mandarin, is very fancy. It has pretty good public space, and you can hang out in a variety of locations. I love their 1/8th mile walking path where you can see hummingbirds and gekkos in the morning.
Social space is where the Hilton wins. And they take a big edge on friendliness too. Hilton has a huge enclosed space with a pool in the middle. There are always people at the outdoor bar having a coffee or talking business. There are always people working on laptops at tables by the pool. In short, there is company.
The seasoned regulars always choose the older cabana rooms. They’re not as fancy, but you can sit on your balcony and work. You can hear other people around you. You never have to wait for the elevator. You just don’t feel as lonely.
The staff makes a huge effort to learn your name. Even though it has been over a year since I was last here, several people recognized me and welcomed me back.
It took me a while to warm to the place. But it's my first choice now, and it has nothing to do with status. It's all about feeling comfortable.
"The Weber Q has become a favourite with consumers who love the power of this grill and appreciate its additional portability and ease of use," said George Rassas, marketing manager for Weber. "We also gave these grills a totally new, stylish look that caught a great deal of attention - particularly among females - and that's why it's now the number one selling table top gas grill in America."
It's amazing what you can achieve when you listen to customers and ask your design team for something better.
Neuromarketing is the commercialized version of all that brain-behavior science you've been hearing about recently.
The basic method is to put someone's head into an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine, then give them various sensory stimuli. This could be food to taste, a print image to look at, an advertising clip.
The subject's brain reacts to the stimulus, and various special parts of the brain light up. Trained analysts can tell from these patterns of brain activity whether the subject likes the stimulus, is disgusted by it, etc.
The most interesting thing that I heard was that this technology appears to be able to detect lies, which may ultimately be its most marketable benefit. [When they get portable ones, maybe all they'll do at airport security is ask you if you are a risk to others, and they won't paw through your briefcase looking for nail trimmers.]
You may have heard of a study of Coke versus Pepsi done using this technology. When subjects were told they were drinking Coke their liking of the beverage increased.
This should hardly be a surprise, since Coca-Cola has one of the most valuable brands in the world. Even people who don't use the product have strong brand associations.
As we stay tuned for developments in this area, keep a couple of things in mind:
On the other hand -- If you are about to spend a ton of money on a new product launch, you could certainly add this to your research arsenal, and potentially take more of the risk out of your decision. Make sure you get out there and observe some customers in their natural environment first -- you might be surprised how much you can learn with a low-tech approach.
In Web 1.0, we wanted to design online spaces to be closer to physical environments, and tried to create online experiences that were as good as having a decent sales person at your side.
Web shopping is often so good now that people are starting to run this model in reverse: trying to make real world shopping as convenient and informative as online shopping.
David Weinberger's article in Feb 2006 HBR article in "The HBR List: Breakthrough Ideas for 2006" talks about this phenomenon. [Yes, I'm behind on my reading again -- aren't we all?]
It's surely true, isn't it -- when you know what you want, online is easier in many ways. There is so much more information to support the sale, for one thing. If you can't read the print, you can make it bigger with a simple CTRL+. Just try that in your local pharmacy.
Physical stores can capture the best of online shopping by stealing a few tricks.
Utilize better signage -- give people good navigational aids, Ikea does this well.
Give customers access to online -- or paper -- catalogs at the store. Mountain Equipment Co-op does this well. And they also post hand-made signs on items that tell you other important stuff you might want to know about products on display.
The web's huge strength is cross-selling: pointing you to the other things you will likely want with that product already in your shopping cart. Or even solving the whole issue for you, with kits and bundled selections for common requirements.
Some grocery stores do this exceptionally well. I remember being in a grocrery store after a day of downhill skiing. The first thing I saw inside the store was a display of ready-made dinners like meatloaf and lasagne, situated right beside bags of pre-washed lettuce, a selection of salad dressings, and basically everything else you might want after a day of skiing. I grabbed the meatloaf, snagged some wine from the wine boutique, skipped the cigar boutique, and headed back to the chalet.
Now that is a store that is paying attention to customer needs.
Public relations firm Edelman released their sixth annual global trust barometer study, available online (click the chart).
Among the opinion leaders surveyed, "someone like yourself or your peer" is the most trusted source of information about a company, exceeding even doctors and academics in most of the countries they surveyed. And we have much greater access to the opinions of "people like me" through the internet.
If people lose trust in your company, they won't purchase your products or services (70-80%), they'll tell other people bad things about you (70-80%), they won't invest in your shares (65-75%), and they won't even work for you (40-50%).
The communications channels that worked so well in the past-- controlled messaging to specific stakeholder groups like investors, analysts, employees and customers -- are being supplanted by horizontal peer-to-peer communications. Articles in business magazines are still a trusted source of information about a company, right up there with family, friends, and peers.
Beyond this lack of confidence in traditional sources of information, they see a "yearning to move beyond the simple act of consumption of information to social networking."
Remember that co-creation trend we talked about a few days ago? Well here it is again.
Edelman's recommendation? "Smart companies must reinvent communications thinking, moving away from a reliance on top-down messages delivered through mass advertising."
Other ways to develop trust:
The most important drivers of trust are company of origin (not easy to change), industry (not easy to change) and company behaviors (this ball's in your court).
Quality: the quality of your products and services is a key driver, but not sufficient (Sony piracy scandal).
Accountability: companies that put their name on their products show that they are accountable. Unilever realized a big lift in their trust ratings as a result of putting their corporate brand on their packaging: people know them now, not just their brands.
Attentiveness to customers: showing you understand and care about their needs, (P&G).
Employees: Showing concern for employees is especially important in some labour markets. But communicating with your employees is also critical: "they want contextual information on the business, including the company's strategic direction, how decisions are made, and competitive issues."
Being socially responsible: participating in disaster relief efforts (Wal-Mart), being environmentally responsible (GE), and cleaning up your third-world-labour issues (Nike) are all good for increasing trust. The social responsibility program must be consistent with your core brand values to make an impact.
CEO: celebrity CEOs are no longer a trusted source of information. In fact, CEOs and CFOs are now among the least trusted sources of information.
However distasteful it may be, you are going to need to become more transparent, more open, more consistent in all your activities if you are going to build and keep a strong brand. To get the dialogue going, look at how Amazon has brought customers into the communication and co-creation of the product, and see what you can borrow or build on from them.