How Complexity Kills Trust

Customers trust those who give them control — who put them in control — of their lives.

They distrust those who try to control them. – Gerry McGovern

Why do you trust the companies, organisations, and institutions you deal with?

Chances are it isn’t because they have a customer charter, seek to involve you in their decision making,  or publish their performance in a league table.

There’s a curious train of thought entering discourse across the social sector that seems to say “If we involve our customers more, we’ll be more trusted and more accountable”.

I’m sorry – but this is nonsense. The lack of trust in our organisations is driven by overly complex business models that fail to put the customer in any position of power. The idea that this will be solved by inviting them to read the minutes of your last Board meeting is, frankly, ludicrous.

We are in an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them. Organisations have consistently chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations about transparency & accountability in the digital age.

Trust is driven by something more basic than being open and honest: simple customer experiences.

Most of our organisations have failed to keep pace with the requirements of the digital age and remain hugely complex for customers to navigate.

We have complexity baked into us, and most users don’t see us as their problem solvers.

As Gerry McGovern has written: “Old model organizations thrive on complexity. Thirty years ago, a typical customer looked at something complex and said: “I must be stupid.” Today, people look at complexity coming from organizations and say: “They must be stupid.” 

It’s often frustrating for the social sector that people trust companies like Amazon more than public services – but the reasons why they do are obvious.

One reason for the huge success of Amazon is the fact that they solve problems for us that we need to be solved.  They solve them very simply too, and they almost always take the customers side in any dispute. When you solve real problems every single day and you make things simpler and easier for your customers, you build trust.

Most of our organisations do solve problems – but we solve them very slowly, or in ways that frustrate the customer.

The key to trust is to solve problems that matter to the customer and to put them in a position of control.  Too many old model organisations are trying to offer customers ‘influence’ – but this is mere window dressing in an effort to avoid giving up any actual power.

The NHS is a great example of an old model organisation. Whenever I deal with the NHS I usually get what I want in the end – and the people who I deal with are often excellent. However – it’s made very clear to me throughout that I’m not in control. Within the NHS the balance of power doesn’t lie with the frontline staff who understand patients’ needs and concerns, and it certainly doesn’t lie with the patient or their families.

The power is hidden within an old model based on a complex web of commissioning architecture, centralised groups, and specialist networks. It’s kept well away from the patient and the front line – as to cede any power to them would threaten the system itself.

If you’re a user of a housing association, the justice system, or local authority you may recognise this feeling of powerlessness, that the system sometimes works against your problems.

In one sense it’s a simple problem to fix. If your customers believe you’re giving them value, rather than trying to get value out of them, and if you come across as sincere, they’ll be more likely to trust your motivations and intentions.

However, deconstructing systems that have withheld power and influence from customers is anything but easy. It’s a lot easier to make a simple thing complex than it is to make a complex thing simple.

  • We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments.
  • We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly.
  • We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.
  • We need to see they give us control and allow us to navigate their services on our terms

Transparency is good. Unequivocally so. But league tables, charters and involving customers only go so far. They create a lot of jobs for people but they don’t actually change anything.

Most of all we need our organisations to solve our problems in simple ways – and that requires a fundamental rethink of who we are, who we serve and how we operate.

 


Photo courtesy of Yuri Catalano via Pexels

5 Reasons You Need To Question What Customers Are Telling You

Despite little evidence of impact, each year millions of pounds are spent on market research, focus groups, and ‘coproduction’.

The danger of listening to customers is you end up focusing on wants not needs. Often what a customer wants is diametrically opposed to what they need – and want is often more of a powerful motivator.

To really generate quality insight you need to avoid five traps:

Customers Don’t Tell The Truth

The truth is that people lie. They don’t mean to, but they’ll certainly present an alternate reality where an honest answer might cause them embarrassment.

It’s the reason most of us tell our doctors that we drink less and exercise more than we actually do. We are presenting an idealised version of our actual behaviour.

There’s a great bit of advice in the Well Told Story podcasts where they relate the dangers of asking direct questions.

Asking an 18-year old male “when did you last have sex?” almost always drew the response of “last night”.

But asking the question in a non-personalised way – “When would you say your friends last had sex?” resulted in an entirely different response – “within the last two weeks”. 

Asking about the behaviour of a person like you removes the tendency to present an exaggerated version of ourselves.

The Law of Triviality and The Bike Shed Effect

People give disproportionate weight to trivial issues and that takes them away from the issue at hand.

In his book the Pursuit of ProgressC. Northcote Parkinson describes a committee that met to discuss the construction of a new nuclear power plant. He observed how the committee spent the majority of its time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike shed while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself.

I witnessed the bike shed effect just the other day in Bromford Lab. A session about using artificially intelligent stock delivery systems nearly turned into a discussion about who was going to wash the vans.

We can’t help it.

We like to focus on the trivial.

Being Out Of Context

As Stephen Russell said asking customers in false settings is a poor proxy for actual behaviour or preferences.

Focus groups and panels are often wasted time as they take everything out of context

As soon as a customer is in your office – they are in your office  – and that’s not their natural environment.

That was what led to the failure of New Coke. ‘Tell me what you think of this drink in a blind test in a lab setting’ is out of context compared to the experience of drinking a Coke in the garden on a summer’s day.

30 years later and organisations are still making the same mistake.

Confirmation Bias

People search for information that confirms their view of the world and ignore what doesn’t fit.

Someone seeking to dismiss an idea they don’t like will seek out some anecdotal evidence of when something similar failed or went wrong.

That’s why social media is such an effective tool for group-think.

Liberal or Conservative we all get what we want: our viewpoints confirmed.

Distinction Bias

When making a choice, our brains are in comparison mode, which is completely different to experience mode.

And all the evidence shows we are terrible at making choices as we have a tendency to over-value the effect of small differences when comparing options.

We’ll almost always choose the house with the extra bedroom, buy the bigger TV or go for the higher salary. Your brain is (often incorrectly) telling you that more is better.

So if you’re getting customers to compare things side by side instead of living them out – you’ll get a false return.

As Philippa Jones has written, to fully understand what customers need, and how that will impact and shape operational improvements, we need to take a far more bottom-up, holistic and all-encompassing approach.

In other words, we get to the truth by understanding stories, by listening carefully, observing behaviours and not by ticking boxes.

Organisations don’t always value customer insight because they value predictability, they love perfection, and they don’t like not having all the answers.

If you really listen to customers and really observe how they behave – they’ll surprise you and make you question everything you do.

And most of our organisations hate surprises.

If You’re Still Shying Away From Using Technology To Improve Customer Experience – You’re Doomed

You must relentlessly ask: Is this harder for the customer to do? Relentlessly. Because, today, in an increasing number of areas, if it’s not easy-to-use, it’s dead in the water. – Gerry McGovern

Re-entry into the world of work after immersion in a completely different culture is always a disorienting experience.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Myanmar – a country with a complex and troubled past and present – and one of the most fascinating examples in the world of technological growth.

After decades of being cut off from the rest of the world, internet users in Myanmar increased by 97% in 1 year. And 70% of those are mobile users.

If you travel to places like Asia – where innovation is running riot due to a lack of legacy systems and thinking – you can see that change takes place in weeks rather than years.

There’s no ‘change management’ or time spent preparing people for change as folk have lived their lives facing one seismic shock after another.

For three weeks I’ve not dealt with any paper, any spreadsheets,  and very few emails. I’ve negotiated seven hotels, seven flights, taxi’s and boat trips through a mix of apps, increasingly powered by automation and artificial intelligence.

In some respects coming home seems like arriving in the third world, rather than coming from it.

One of the most interesting developments on this trip is how artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots have broken through to the mainstream. On many occasions, I’ve found myself updating hotel plans through a chat application very aware I’m not actually talking to a human.

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When we talk about AI and automation we too often focus on the loss of jobs and of meaningful human contact rather than the value-added to the customer.

I missed two connecting flights but both were rebooked for me before I even got off the plane. 

A temporary hotel was arranged for me in Dubai before I knew anything about it.

I didn’t have to send emails to hotels confirming arrival details as a chatbot did it for me. 

In the West, it seems more time is spent writing blogs worrying about the threat of AI than implementing AI to introduce better customer experiences.

The big threat to our jobs isn’t actually AI, it’s our inability to move away from existing business models and to explore new ones.

What we are seeing in customer experience now is really interesting and splits us into roughly six camps:

  • Those who are disengaging from AI as it’s science fiction or a bit spooky.
  • Those who are actively resisting it because it threatens their incumbent position and business model.
  • Those who think it will upset their staff or their customers – as if somehow their staff and customers live in a parallel universe where Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google don’t exist.
  • Those who see it as an opportunity to cut costs or realise benefits to the organisation.
  • Those who are seeing this technology as a way to move to better and more personalised customer experiences.
  • Those who see this technology as a way to transition to entirely new business models providing new opportunities for customers.

If your organisation is going to shy away from using technology to streamline its customer experiences, then you’re obviously doomed.

However, the debate is more nuanced than that.

On leaving my delayed flight with my first 24 hours travel plans in tatters I was met by a real-life human being. She handed over my new tickets and explained how to get to the hotel they had given me. She explained that all meals would be paid for and apologised for the inconvenience.

It’s this sweet spot we need to aim for – where technology becomes an enabler to a greater purpose.

People trained in listening and empathy supported by AI that understands and is able to adapt and personalise complex service offerings.

I’d buy that. 


 

 

I’m chairing an event on 7th February in London that will consider issues around AI and automation in the context of housing sales – you can book for free here 

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Holiday in Cambodia: 13 Innovations in Pictures

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In 1975 Cambodia attempted the most radical reinvention of society and community in history.

This was ‘Year Zero’ – a beginning of a new era where people would return to a mythic past. Self sufficiency and collectivism were promoted, technology and creativity mistrusted. City dwellers, professionals and intellectuals returned to toil the land alongside peasants.

About 1.7 million people , 20% of the population, died in the ensuing madness.

Proof – if it were needed – that not all social innovations are good ones.

Cambodia truly has been to hell and back. Today economic growth is robust, poverty is still high (but falling) and there is a burgeoning startup movement. Siem Reap has been named the top tourist destination in Asia and number 2 in the whole world.

Here’s my pictorial guide to 13 things I found creative, quirky or were simply great experiences.

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Making Flights Less Boring: I’m always interested to see how airlines are making the experience of spending 15 hours in a cramped metal tube less traumatic. In flight wifi is gradually rolling out and although far from perfect enables you to squeeze out an occasional instagram shot. I loved the Qatar Airways boxsets collecting themed films. Marvel cinematic universe and free drinks – perfect!!

 

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Tuk Tuk Customer Care: It’s hard to describe the traffic carnage of Phnom Penh. I asked a driver what the road rules were – he just shook his head sadly. But the proliferation of cheap transport encourages all sort of entrepreneurs determined to standout from the crowd.  This driver pulled over and bought us a couple of face masks to protect us from the fumes. Another gave us a couple of bottles of water. It’s like Uber – just without someone in Silicon Valley taking all the cash.
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Connected Travel: This driver has taken his Tuk Tuk to the ultimate bling level and installed free wifi. There are large parts of the UK with poor public transport and no connectivity – is it far fetched to imagine this as a solution? Note: I did see this Tuk Tuk but failed to get a picture. My instabuddy Miss Mel Travel kindly donated her pic – check out her instagram it’s awesome.

 

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The Future of Alternative Protein: Insects should become a staple of people’s diets around the world as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat. That’s not me saying that – but the UK government’s waste agency. Cambodians are a step ahead in that they’ve overcome the yuck factor. Seriously, this is healthy stuff and tastes a lot better than McDonald’s. Insect banks rather than food banks anyone? (I did do a shaky vine of me eating a deep fried tarantula but I wasn’t a fan. That abdomen was a bit mushy and funky)
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Weirdness: I asked a local guy the significance of this statue and he replied “everyone likes big dragon”. You can’t argue with that.

Wifi in the Sea: Our desire for connectivity knows no bounds. Hotels and bars are competing with each other to offer ever better wifi connections. This place on Otres Beach nailed it with connectivity that worked a good 100 metres into the ocean. My first experience of vining, instagramming and downloading music (the new Bowie album) from the water.

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RIP Dave: 48 hours later and Blackstar sounded a very different record. I didn’t get into Bowie until my mid twenties largely due to my good friend Kirsty Nicholls. (I spent most of my teenage years listening to Prince and Public Enemy and generally wishing I was black.) To anyone working in innovation Bowie will always be an inspiration for his constant experimentation – and total fearlessness when it came to failure. I’m not sure what it would look like if he’d designed public services – but they sure as hell wouldn’t be so boring. Salute.
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The Rise of the Selfie: So you get up at 4:30am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Problem is, so has every other tourist – all looking for the perfect photo. A load of semi-pro photographers stood around with the tripods getting annoyed whilst 14 year old girls with iphones and sticks got in their way. Photography just got democratised. Buyer’s tip: You need to rise above the crowds, size really does matter when it comes to a decent selfie stick…
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Business Doing Good: I visited some amazing non-profits in Cambodia but one thing struck me – they didn’t look like non-profits. I’m generalising terribly here but a lot of the social sector in the UK has an image problem and I think many could look and learn from examples in the developing world. The wonderful Sandan Restaurant  is part of an alliance of training restaurants working with youth in need. The students serve you aided by a teacher, giving them vital skills in the world of work. It’s busy – we had to wait for a table. But people aren’t there to be kind to kids – they are there for the awesome food.

 

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Frugal Innovation: A wallet made from trash and old noodle packets. This is an initiative of M’Lop Tapang a local non profit who help street kids and parents who might be tempted to send them out begging.  The profits go to supporting at risk families and keeping kids in school. Cambodia has a huge trash problem – so this helps in a small way to keep the streets cleaner too.  
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Keep It Simple Stupid: This was brilliant – a hotel that gives you an old Nokia with just three numbers in it. Dial 1 for reception. Dial 2 for your personal driver and if you ever get lost or are a bit drunk Dial 3 and we’ll come and bring you home. No other tech needed. I’ll be devoting a whole post to the radical retake of the traditional hotel concept from De Saraan Villa.
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Street Level Entrepreneurs: Loved this pop up bar. Literally a bar grafted onto the side of a motorbike. The guy drives around to where the crowds are. It would never work in the UK, we’d think of 50 health and safety reasons to prevent him from kickstarting his business.
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Mobile Child Care: OK.. so we do need some some rules…

 

 

A country bouncing back from the brink with fresh thinking , drive and determination. Loved my trip and hope some of the ideas inspire you as much as they did me.

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Why Great Customer Experience Requires Great Design

Note to reader: This post was written on a smartphone over 14 days sitting on a beach. It was completed at an altitude of 35,000 feet after several white wines.

I’ve chosen to publish it unedited to retain a tropical , stream of consciousness vibe. Subsequently it’s a bit more disjointed and a lot longer than my usual posts.

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Almost everyone who returns from a truly great travel experience comes back to work with the same mindset.  Zen-like calm: pondering why the world has to be so complex.

They’ll change the system this time though. They’ll go through the organisation from top to bottom removing needless bureaucracy , silo thinking and those perverse policies that punish the customer.

A week later and they’ve given up.

It’s easier to just book another holiday.

I’ve just returned from Dhidhoofinolhu in the Maldives , staying with the wonderful LUX resorts. It was a surprise break for Karen’s (special) birthday. I’d stayed at another LUX resort about five years ago and was wowed at how they had created an environment – a stage if you will- for truly special occasions.

LUX operate towards the higher end of the travel market – they aren’t cheap. It’s Apple travel. But a lot of the things they do that are special just take thought, not money.

They design well , join the dots and execute brilliantly.

So few organisations design customer experiences.  They let them happen.

Design is thinking about the exact experience you want people to have.

It’s about creating the right environment, with the right ‘back-stage’ support – and then enabling your people to facilitate an experience that will be truly valued.

It’s not the sole preserve of upper-end travel brands. Anyone can do it.

Many would deny this. Indeed many in the public sector deny the existence of customers altogether.

Customers are regarded as tenants or service users or patients or something else. The public sector is different – people don’t have the same degree of choice so the rules of customer experience don’t apply.

Bullshit.

Total bullshit.

Service is service. You can create an environment for a great customer experience in almost any scenario.

The public sector excuse of a different operating context is just convenient cover for a paucity of imagination and chronic laziness.

Here’s five things that LUX did that we could all do too:

Think of the day your customer just had and make it a bit better

You’ve been travelling for 16 hours , you’re tired and hot. You’ve almost certainly forgotten something. “Do you have your camera ready sir?” , I was asked as we prepared for a seaplane transfer. “I’d suggest you get it ready – you are really going to want to capture this.”  Normally you get on a plane to be told to put away your electronic devices but these guys did the opposite, even making sure our devices were charged. “If you don’t have any charge take your chargers out of your cases now – we’ll have about 15 minutes to get you ready.”

That’s thinking about the day you’re customers have had – and thinking how you can help get the experience off to the very best start.

And on arrival – they didn’t just land. They did a long circuitous sweep of the island – for us to get the very best pictures of the experience. Awesome.

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Get up close with customers 

Managing By Wandering Around (MBWA) – the idea that service gets better just by having managers walking the floor – is one of most hackneyed phrases in the management lexicon.

There isn’t a manager alive that wouldn’t claim to do it.

Doing it and making it truly meaningful are two different things. I was struck at LUX at how the manager , Mamoun, met every single guest arriving by seaplane or speedboat. That’s a phenomenal number of customer interactions. Not only that – he bids farewell to every customer as they leave.  Additionally we had at least two conversations with him when he was wandering the restaurants seeing how customers were being treated.

That’s not just MBWA – that’s being ever present and making yourself as close to the customer as you can be. He even left us his business card!

Don’t rip people off if you don’t have to

Virtually every hotel I’ve ever been to tries to rip you off with international calls. But this place has turned that on its head with this free phone box that you can use to call anywhere in the world.

As it says in the picture below “We don’t like to see faceless international telecommunications companies profiteering off our guests through excessive roaming fees.”  This is designing services to be deliberately different. Plus I love how they’ve hosted this internet based service in a traditional box with retro phone.

A delightful mix of old and new tech. Innovation!

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Surprise people at every opportunity

So you’re walking along a picture perfect beach and everything’s great but the one thing you really need is a cool drink. You went out walking without thinking of taking a bottle of water. But the guys at LUX have thought of this and put these juice and water stations in the trees with a couple of seats for you to take five.

Most organisations don’t think of these small things that go a long way to creating an awesome customer experience. Or they think of them but just can’t be bothered to implement them as the only person who truly benefits is – the customer!

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Also who can the resist the idea of a treasure hunt for a secret bar – that moves around the island to a different location every day? Genius!

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Design the ending to be as good as the beginning

You’ve got an outgoing customer. They are leaving you. They’ve spent their cash and you don’t really need to bother anymore.  That’s how most organisations treat the departing customer. Here they did things differently.

They noted the food we most enjoyed most throughout the holiday (admittedly I kept raving over the reef fish curry) and did a special dish on the last night even though it wasn’t on the menu.

They noted our favourite spot in the day so set up a night table for us with our feet in the water. They gave us some handmade gifts and some a couple or personalised t-shirts that probably cost a couple of pounds all in.

But it’s not the economic value of an experience that leaves an impression. It’s the emotional.

The way you left somebody feeling. The fact that they even noticed the small important things that you value.

Here they designed an experience from beginning to end and executed it flawlessly, without the technology and systems that too many of us think will transform our services.

Your next IT or business transformation programme is virtually doomed to fail. It’s likely to be focussing on your organisational aspirations rather than those of your customer. You’re making it far too complicated.

The challenge is how to design your business to be more simple and human in a complex and digital world.

For the first time in a long time this trip made me think about career change. I came away pretty envious of Mamoun and the experiences he was creating day after day.  I’m wondering if I can ever achieve truly radical change in the sector I work in.

I’m bored of reports and meetings and conferences and campaigns. I’m bored of mediocrity, barriers, and things taking years that should take weeks.

We shouldn’t even need Innovation Labs and Think Tanks and Accelerators (there weren’t any on Dhidhoofinolhu – I checked).

We should be redesigning services and making them truly astonishing.

So here’s my new mantra:

  • Let’s redesign from start to finish rather than just making our services a lighter shade of grey.
  • Let’s challenge ourselves what we’d do with unlimited resources and work back from there.
  • Let’s surprise our customers at every opportunity and set a stage for unique experiences.
  • Let’s make people talk about us rather than keep talking about ourselves.

I’ve been back five days. And I’m still hopeful.

Digital by Design: Making the connected organisation more human

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I must get at least four or five emails every day offering me help becoming digital by default.

Every single one gets deleted. Not because I don’t need help , but because they talk of cost savings and efficiency rather than beautifully intuitive service design or of creating a rewarding customer experience.

Don’t believe me? This is how the agenda to get more customers using online services is described (“Channel Shift” – ugh!) on a prominent consulting website:

Achieving channel shift is what the council website is all about – about moving customer contacts and transactions from more expensive options (people) to less expensive options (the web)  and moving from services which require staff to be involved to those which do not.

I’ve not provided a link to spare blushes but you can google it if you think I just made that up.

I agree that those ‘more expensive options’ (formerly known as people) do cost quite a bit. But they can be pretty wonderful at connecting with fellow humans, personalising service and , you know , just being nice to chat to once in a while.

If you listen to people who want to remove the humanity from organisations it will almost certainly lead to the death of your business.

Many who glorify channel shift and tech have forgotten that most of us are in the business of providing human centered services. And our digital presence should embrace this , not seek to repel it. The reason that social networks are so popular – with their gossip ,  selfies and memes – is they celebrate our humanity and the power of our connections.

The businesses that are truly successful in changing the way customers contact them have done it by prioritising a better customer experience overall – not through just moving people to a cheaper channel as though they were an inconvenience. 

I recently attended a talk by O2. In the past two years they have seen over 2 million fewer phone calls as people increasingly choose to use their web and social offerings.

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I’m a long term customer of O2 and have seen their progression to digital up close. Dealing with them via social media or Live Chat is mostly a joy. After using their digital services you simply wouldn’t think to phone them.

Here’s some things I took away:

Design your organisation for mobile customers

As mobile becomes the default way the internet is accessed so the culture must be designed around serving people on the go. Designed around people who are time poor and impatient. If you haven’t tested how your customer service works from a smartphone , accessed whilst sitting on a bus – you simply haven’t tested it properly. 

Invest in the right team and the right skills

Just because you have a team that has delivered an outstanding call centre does not mean they are equipped to serve the connected customer. It requires new skills , thinking and a culture of digital leadership.

To drive change people will need to be retrained. To drive transformational change you will need new people.

In a social business people are recruited to speak like real people and not to broadcast. Leaders implicitly understand social. What companies like O2 are achieving is the exact opposite of the prevalent public sector culture of “I don’t understand digital – I”ll get some 22 year old to do it for me”.

Be relevant in time

Response times matter – particularly in social where service expectations work in minutes rather than hours. O2 were generous enough to name the leaders in this field as the airline KLM – if you haven’t seen their wonderful Twitter feed that estimates the time it will take to give you a response – it’s worth a look.

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If you’re going to do social – be social

O2 have a lively, social and fun brand. They are known for the humour and unique tone of voice in their social response.  But the message is clear – don’t try and be cheeky and fun if you’re not. It’s embarrassing. Establish your brand values and stick to them.  By the way – they didn’t let me down when I name checked them on Twitter during the conference.

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What can we learn? The digital agenda risks getting derailed by the rush to technology as the solution for everything. It’s inherently flawed. As Tony Smith has said – only 25% of great customer experience is about technology, 75% is made up of people and deployment.

Really we shouldn’t be talking about channel shift and digital by default at at all. We should be talking about digital by design.

I will never phone O2 again because they have designed a Live Chat and social experience that is rewarding to me as a customer.

I went back to my organisation with the aim to make our digital experience so enjoyable that people choose not to phone us anymore. It’s an important shift of emphasis.

Let’s stop talk of “less expensive options”. Let’s use the power of digital connectivity to make our organisations more human , not less.

Don’t Listen To Your Sector: Be More Weird

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Had a bit of drama over the past week. I’ll recap it for you as quickly as possible – as most readers of this blog don’t work in the same sector as I do.

Essentially Mick Kent, my CEO, wrote a challenging piece setting out why we have embarked upon a different service vision. Bromford are celebrating 50 years in business – so you wouldn’t think it particularly controversial to reflect on the past and consider the future.

Not so. The piece sparked some astonishing responses – especially on social media. Many in the sector expressed derision and even outright contempt. How could one of their own say such things?

But experience suggests this is just a natural crowd reaction to someone stepping out of line and being different.

You’ll never see a sector – be it Housing, Care, Support or Health, drive innovation. It’s simply not in the interests of the majority to reward disruptive behaviour.

It’s one of the eternal challenges for industry bodies – they have to reflect the views of their average member. And the views of the average member are, by definition, average.

You’ll never find a sector that is wholly admirable either. Be it banking, retail, travel or charitable – you will find the good, the indifferent, and the bad.

And you’ll also find a few disruptors – pacesetters who are pushing forward with a bold new vision. Often that vision will be treated with initial scepticism – sometimes by customers as well as industry peers.

In the last month the 2013 UK Customer Experience Excellence Top 20 was announced. You’ll see that it’s made up of companies who have faced criticism precisely because they challenged the accepted order of things.

Let’s glance at the Top 10 :

10 – Waitrose – Broke out of their southeast heartland despite people saying, “It’ll never work in the north”.

9 – M+S – Launched Plan A (“because there is no Plan B”)  a programme to instil innovation across 81,000 employees and lose their old fashioned image.

8 – Ocado – A High St store “without any stores “ founded by three guys with no experience of retail. “A disaster waiting to happen” said critics.

7 – Lush – Showed cosmetics can be ethical and environmentally responsible, whist also being super indulgent and pleasurable. ” We hire for values , not skills”.

6 – M+S Simply Food – Darling of the middle classes opens branches in railway stations , airports and hospitals. Critics predict failure – “People will resist the idea of carrying high cost food shopping around with them.”

5 – Virgin Atlantic – Challenging the establishment, improving service and astounding its customers: “We’ve never been afraid to upset people”.

4- Amazon – From “destroyer of Book Shops” to “destroyer of the High Street”. Adored by their customers.

3 – First Direct – The only bank people love. Launched with two ad campaigns:  a negative one showing the everyday aspects of normal banking. A positive one showing how good First Direct would be. The banking sector was appalled. Customers applauded.

2 – QVC – Almost universally derided on its UK launch in 1993. Now a global leader in video and eCommerce retail. Just launched QVC Sprouts, a crowdsourced competition to search for the best up-and-coming entrepreneurs and new products

In first place? John Lewis.

A few years ago I was talking to John Lewis employees at a conference where they had been speaking. They told me that far from being lauded by their own sector they were often criticised. People said it was arrogant and pretentious they had their own language (colleagues as “Partners” for example). Their recruitment practices and culture had been described as “a cult”.

“People just think we are a bit weird,” they told me. “But we’re not bothered by what the industry thinks. Just the customers.”

I imagine the retail sector were cynical about the fuss around The Bear and The Hare , the Christmas advert by John Lewis . As was I.

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Nearly 8 million YouTube views. Number 1 in overall UK Customer Experience. Profits of 415 million.

A lesson for innovators – don’t listen to your sector: Be Different. Be More Weird.

Your Own Personal Social Media Policy: 10 Top Tips

“Companies often want this one single voice but when you have thousands of employees there’s no way you can have a single voice and be authentic,”  – Professor Joonas Rokka

One of the best links I saw last week was about how employees active on social media play a crucial role in corporate brand management. According to the article there is now evidence that social media empowers employees. It recommends companies need to spend more time nurturing people to harness this new and unexpected form of marketing.

But despite this research , which hints at the incredible possibilities of a highly engaged and massively social workplace, another survey tells us that 47% of senior managers believe social media is the biggest threat they face.

Yes – the single biggest tech threat to organisations isn’t an impending cyber attack.  It’s what people are saying on Facebook.

It’s increasingly obvious that there’s a huge fault line between organisations who are on the social business journey and those who want to try and hold back a digital tsunami.

How can we bridge it?

I think this article by Joe Ross contains a really good idea. Everyone take the time to create a personal social media policy. 

Let’s relieve employers of the responsibility for social media (It’s clearly keeping 47% awake at night!). Let’s devolve everything to the employee!

OK I exaggerate. But It made me realise that I do have a personal social media policy. Just mine has not been written down and is constantly developing based upon my learning.

Company social media policies are written at a point in time and can be restrictive – whereas writing one for yourself is hugely empowering.

  • A personal policy is you taking ownership and setting out your own rules and objectives.
  • It’s you saying I’m an adult and I’m capable of representing myself online both personally and professionally.
  • It’s about owning your digital identity in a way an employer simply can’t.

So here’s my personal social media policy:

1: Have a clear strategy for what you want to be known for

For me – it’s at the header of this blog: Customer Experience , Innovation , Social Business. I can still post pictures of funny cats , but that’s the top three subjects I share content on. What are yours?

2: Never say anything online you wouldn’t say to your boss’s face

Assume that anything you post could be published to the whole world and can never be removed. Even things you private message. It’s safer that way

3: Don’t be afraid to be provocative 

This might seem to contradict the previous tip but there’s a difference between being provocative and being stupid and offensive. If your employer doesn’t get that I’d really start looking for somewhere else to spend your days.

4: Don’t talk about yourself all the time

Social media is partly about ego. Having a blog is about ego. But don’t let your ego get too big. Always share others content more than you share your own. Ideally at a ratio of 80:20. Look at most corporate feeds. They usually only ever talk about themselves.

5: Don’t argue with idiots

I’ve done it. I’ve tried to engage trolls. You almost always come off worse. It’s great to see a spat break out online. But just like playground fights – it’s far more entertaining for the crowd than the participants. And when you’re online the bruises last longer.

6: Be clear on how you follow back

Personal choice. But if you follow everyone you might be accused of trying to game your follower count. If you follow just a few you might appear arrogant and self-obsessed. My personal rule?  If you look like the sort of person I’d talk to in a pub – I’ll follow back.

7: Don’t be a robot

It’s fine to automate posts. But just don’t over do it. I did once – posting pretty much 24 hours a day. A few of my friends pointed out that it looked robotic. I listened. I learnt.

8: Share the love – share your sources 

This can be difficult ,especially on Twitter with the punishing character limit, but attributing your sources is the pinnacle of social media etiquette. It’s also the fastest legitimate way to build a tribe. People love a sharer. Sharers get followed.

9: Be clear on mixing personal and private

There’s no correct rule here other than your own. But whether you post 100% work related content or share every Foursquare check-in – you can still add personality to your posts. Write tweets that only you could write.

10: Wash your mouth out

Don’t swear – unless you are funny with it. Like Charlie Brooker – who once said that a social media policy should really be written in four words: Don’t be a dick

Over to you…..

I’d love to hear some of your personal social media rules in the comments box!

5 Lessons in Simple Customer Experience (Indonesian Style)

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A new report puts Amazon, McDonald’s and First Direct as the leaders in the top ten of the UK’s ‘simplest’ brands. The companies that are the easiest to deal with.

Whatever you think of them most of us could learn from their “frictionless” customer service. It’s interesting to ponder how sectors might be transformed if we had Amazon Health , McDonald’s Housing and First Direct Care.

“Our survey reveals that both in the UK and on a global scale, consumers would pay more for simplicity” says the report.

There is a huge irony here in a week when three of the brands in the bottom ten , Npower , British Gas and SSE, have announced huge price increases. Simply put – we are being asked to pay more for the companies we value the least.

I’ve been out of the UK recently and it’s led me to ponder how – as customer experience seems to get more complex –  it gets easier in places like Indonesia. Now the worlds fourth most populous country and packed full of newly aspirant Generation Y , Indonesia is tech savvy and connected. The number one consumer purchase is the smartphone. It’s a country unencumbered by bureaucracy, rules and rigid infrastructure.

No-one tells you that’s not the way to do it.

Here are 5 examples I saw that remove the friction from customer service:

You know that moment when the plane hits the runway and everyone takes their phones out only to be told you can’t use them? Annoying right? Well Qatar Airways  say it’s OK – you are free to use your phones. Texting your parents to say you’ve arrived isn’t going to kill anyone.  Which is why it’s great to see that British Airways is the first European carrier to end this outdated “rule”. Don’t create rules for your customer that are meaningless. Or at least revisit your rules often to check they are still relevant.

At Circle K and the convenience stores that are on every corner – WiFi is freely available. Benches are put up to encourage locals to park their mopeds , buy a coke and sit chatting and browsing online. These community hubs – dotted all over the place , bring the internet to everyone. If all the supermarkets in the UK did the same – we’d have a better connected society. And people would spend more in stores. Simple.

The Pop-Up Bar
The Pop-Up Bar

One of best things about South East Asia is that everyone seems to be an entrepreneur. It’s hardly ever “not my job”. A lovely example of this are the Pop-Up Bars on many of the beaches. Take one cool box, an umbrella and a couple of chairs , and hey , you’re a bar owner. On hearing that he didn’t stock what we wanted,  the “owner” left us for 10 minutes while he popped out to stock up – specifically for us. As a counterpoint – two nights after I got back to the UK I was in a bar where I heard the waitress tell a customer that they had “run out of chips”. The customer asked whether she could go to a local supermarket (literally next door) and buy some potatoes. The waitress replied that company policy said they couldn’t buy potatoes from another supplier.

On arriving at Komeneka – everyone seems to know your name. Even the gardeners greeted us as “Mr Paul and Miss Karen” as if they’d known us forever. We only stayed a short time but in 72 hours Komeneka had built a deep and meaningful customer relationship that most businesses couldn’t build , or rather couldn’t be bothered to build, over a lifetime. The Manager also told me about his unique service vision “We compete on experience. We try to be unique. Our food and wine doesn’t come with the usual hotel surcharge – we want you to stay here so you have a better experience”.

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Arriving at another hotel I apologised for being so early and said we’d wait around whilst the room was prepared. “It’s OK” they said “The boat company you used told us what time you were getting here – so we got ready early”. Despite the fact I’d used a fairly budget boat transfer they had noted where I was staying and had forwarded on my arrival time. To make it easier for me. How many times does your organisation make your customers day a little bit easier – not because there’s anything in it for you – but just because you can?

The lessons here?

  • Don’t create false rules – check them for relevance
  • Give your customers something free – or something that “feels like free”
  • Go out of your way to personalise – people remember you for it
  • Build deep and lasting relationships – even if the experience is brief
  • Make your customers day a bit easier – just because you can

It’s not complicated. Let’s get simple.

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How To Keep Your Customers Loving Your Brand

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” – Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

Inside the wallets of Generation Y

This is one of the most interesting infographics I’ve seen recently.
  • The huge advocacy for Amazon is amazing.  95% of those surveyed say they “Love the Brand”.
  • But TUI – the German travel company that most of us know for operating Thomson and First Choice Holidays have the opposite relationship with Generation Y. An astonishing 99.4% say  the brand “is not for me”.
What have Amazon done to get pretty much 100% of an age group as fans? 
And what on earth has TUI done to disengage an entire generation?
To help us understand – I present my experiences of the two brands over the past few years.

amazon-banner

I’m unashamed in my love of Amazon.

Amazon , for my money , provide the best low cost customer experience in the world.

Amazon.co.uk isn’t a website – it’s a living breathing eco-system. The reason Amazon are lousy at social media is they don’t have to be good at it. It’s all contained in Amazon World.

Amazon got to know me on our first date. They discovered what I like and since then have made some really helpful recommendations.  They never let me down. When one of their suppliers has messed up they have taken full responsibility without us arguing.

They never , ever , talk about themselves. Only about me.

I have only spoken to the mythical Amazon people once. I broke my Kindle. It was my fault. But they didn’t even want to know that. All they said was – ” Mr Taylor – our priority now is to get you a new Kindle as soon as possible”. That was on a Sunday evening in a telephone call from somewhere in the US.

I had a new Kindle the following morning.

I love them and it feels like they love me too.

TUI

I love holidays. And there was a time I was in love with Thomson.  But Thomson don’t pay me much attention except when they want my money.

I used to spend a lot on them. I don’t have kids and am lucky enough to travel fairly often. I always complete their surveys on the flight back. But I’ve never once heard back from them.

I arrive home and they send me an email to say “When are you booking again?”.

Once they asked me to take part in an exercise to design a new loyalty scheme. I told them that I didn’t like their proposals but had lots of ideas I could share with them. They never got back in touch with me.

Last year I forgot to pay the balance on my holiday. By one day. It was the first time in 10 years I had ever done this.

They said they were sorry but they had resold the holiday. They had a new policy on late payments as a lot of customers were letting them down. I pointed out that I was a loyal customer with two other holidays booked with them at that time.

They said the policy applied to everyone regardless of loyalty.

They said I should speak to complaints and see if I could get my money back.

I’ve never had a bad holiday with them. But sometimes in a relationship you can get taken for granted.

It was time to call it a day whilst we were still friends.

What do these two experiences tell us?

Generation Y are no different from you or I . They like companies to engage with them and treat them like they are special. They hate companies talking about themselves – they thrive on being part of an experience. A relationship that matters.

But this post isn’t really about Amazon or TUI.

  • It’s about the Charity who takes £5 out of a donors bank account every month and keeps asking them to pay a bit more.
  • It’s about the Housing Association tenant who has been resident for 20 years without a thank you for paying their rent each and every month.
  • It’s about mobile phone providers who don’t proactively offer you reductions in your contract before your renewal date.

It’s about organisations not listening to what people are saying about them when they are not in the room.

So listen to Jeff Bezos.

Be in the room.

HEY , Where are you? – Why your company needs to Google itself

I recently explained to a group of managers why they should google themselves. After the initial “what, me? I’m not famous!” responses,  they see their search results , look intrigued, and then get it – the dangers of a badly curated digital footprint. But although many of us have gotten into the habit of doing this as a check on ourselves, I’m not sure that many businesses practice this.

In this guest post , Tim Smith – someone I rate as a “go to” source for advice about Generation Y and Z – explains why companies need to start with the basics if they want to provide a great customer experience:

A few weeks ago, I drove to a local business because they stocked a few items that no other business did.  Like many members of Generation Y (and Generation Z), I used Google Maps to locate the address that was listed on the website and drove accordingly.  I encountered one major obstacle: they didn’t exist according to the physical location.  As I learned a few days following, Google Maps pointed to the wrong physical location.  After speaking with friends, I learned that this is a common problem – they try to visit a business, using a mapping tool, yet the business doesn’t exist at the location where the mapping tool points.  What is the result?  Almost all responded that they find another company which exists where the mapping tool points.

Walking in their shoes

Before we swear that this is not a big deal, let’s be the customers for a moment.  Imagine driving twenty minutes to a business by following its website address and arriving at a wrong location.  Then imagine calling the company, after losing twenty minutes, and asking them where they are actually located.  At this point, we’re feeling, at least, a little frustrated.  Depending on the attitude of the company’s representatives, we might feel better or worse – but we’ll still be annoyed that their website address was wrong.

When we think about it, customers give us time and money.  If we have a physical address, the least we can do it give them right address.  If we give them the wrong address, the least we can do at that point is apologize profusely and offer them a discount – after all, it was our failure, not theirs.  How can we ensure that our customers can find us?  And what can we do when they can’t because of our error?

Google It.

Easiest thing to do - Google your business
Easiest thing to do – Google your business

Seriously.  If we are going to run a business, we need to Google our business.  If we’re a brick-and-mortar shop, can we find it?  If we can answer yes, “good” – if not, we need to consider that customers will experience similar (or the exact same) problems.  Let’s contact Google immediately and get that corrected.

Also, do we have an image of where we are located on our website?  If we respond “no” we should correct that immediately.  The steps are quite easy:

1.  Using a mapping tool (like Google Maps), locate the actual address.  If the mapping tools point to the wrong location, find the right one.  Make sure that common mapping tools all point to the right location – for instance, Google Maps might, but another tool might not.

2.  Take a screenshot of the correct location and using image-editing software (something as basic as MS Paint), mark your location with a colored geometric shape, like a red circle.

3.  If the mapping tool identifies the incorrect location, it might be a good idea to also put – in a different color and shape – that location so that customers can see where the mapping tool points, yet where the business is actually located.  Remember, we want to make it convenient and easy for our customers to find us.

4.  When adding the map to the site, below the map, write a synopsis of the address.  For instance, “Turn right at Street One, and left at Street Two.  You’ll see a sign that shows ‘Turner Business’ and that’s us!”  This helps customers find us visually and verbally, as it paints a fuller picture.

In this example, the red arrow points to the right location, the blue diamond indicates the wrong location
In this example, the red arrow points to the right location, the blue diamond indicates the wrong location

Done!  This may take as much as fifteen minutes, but it’ll help ensure that we don’t lose customers for the simple reason of our location.

Respond quickly

Respond to questions like this ASAP
Respond to questions like this ASAP

So, what about these Generation Yers that couldn’t find the business on the map?  They gave up and found someone else.  Why?  For several reasons:

1.  Where we are is basic.  If we can’t even tell our customers where we are, have we encouraged our customers to trust us?  Think about it: we’ve wasted their time.

2.  These Generation Yers tried connecting with no success.

If a customer can’t find us, they won’t be happy.  They might reach out (which, when we think about it is a gracious act) and they may not be happy when they do, as we’ve already wasted some of their time.  We should always make it easy for customers to reach us and reply quickly.  If a customer sends us a message (in some form), “HEY WHERE ARE YOU GUYS LOCATED?” this is not a time to sit around for a few hours and wait to reply.  Let’s respond immediately and by accepting responsibility for our failure (because it is): “Very sorry for the inconvenience, we’re left on Second street.”  Also, when we do greet our customer, let’s find out what they were using that pointed them in the wrong direction and correct that error as soon as possible.

Conclusion

By following these simple steps (it won’t require more than an hour), we can show our customers that we respect their time and money by helping them arrive to the correct location.  We can also sidestep worrying about an angry customer, who lost time trying to find our business.

Bio: Tim is the lead researcher consultant at Y Research Partners.  He advises companies on Generation Y and Z, as well as helping companies build strong technical marketing teams.  He can be found on Twitter @echoboombomb. His must read blog is located here

Do You Love Your Customers Enough To Follow Them Back?

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“We are a live, work, play company. When we first started using Twitter, it was a way we could stay connected while also helping our customers if they needed it.”

This quote comes in an article I shared about Zappos , the online shoe and clothing store. It says a lot to me about customer engagement. Here is an organisation recognising that social media presents an opportunity to stay connected. To engage with others. And to help customers.

This contrasts sharply with many companies who see the opportunity of the social stream to promote themselves, sell product or broadcast.

I’m sure no-one would admit that, but the behaviour often indicates otherwise.

Unlike Zappos, who don’t just talk it – they walk it.

A couple of hours after I shared the article – the following happened.

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Zappos favourited my tweet.

I was engaged and appreciated.

And finally I was followed.

Zappos don’t ship internationally. They have nothing to gain from me. But Zappos isn’t present just to sell. They are there to engage. In fact they have over 1,200 conversations each month with their customers. And they love them enough to follow them back.

Now, I don’t for one minute think that your follower/ following ratio is a complete measure of how engaged you are. For our personal Twitter accounts we all have our own “follow back” rules , and many people don’t like to follow lots of people. I get that.

But there is a difference between not following a complete stranger and choosing not to follow a customer. Or a potential customer. If you really wanted to engage, you’d surely want to hear what they had to say?

Zappos following a customer back says a lot about their culture. And a lot about how they achieved such rapid commercial growth.

They’re making an overt statement to customers – “we are no more important than you are”

I was discussing this issue with Shirley Ayres (a fount of knowledge on digital engagement).  We talked about whether an organisation could be considered truly engaged if it didn’t follow back. Shirley highlighted an organisation that followed back just 1% of its followers. (I’m not naming them here as this blog is not written with the intention to judge anyone.)

But it’s a great question.

What does your online behaviour say about your customer engagement?

A check on the twitter account of @monmouthshirecc (possibly the Council with the most “truly social” attitude) reveals they follow even more people than they have as followers. And they have a LOT of followers.

Zappos follows back over 90% of their audience and engages them in conversation about pretty much anything.

So , imagine you are a customer of a company or local authority and you follow them and they DON’T follow you back. They never acknowledge you.

Now , imagine you are a customer of Zappos or Monmouthshire.

Who do you think would feel the most engaged?

Disrupt your Industry. Or be Disrupted.

A customer called us recently. His call was answered really quickly. A repair was needed to his home. His problem was diagnosed with just a couple of questions. He was given a time and date for the repair. He was told it would be in two weeks time  – a part was needed that wasn’t in stock. He thanked the Advisor for the call and went away happy.

Pretty much textbook service.

Except – he called back 10 minutes later.

He had looked for the part on his smartphone and it was available at a local store, 5 minutes from his home. So he wanted to know – why will it take 2 weeks?

This is the just the beginning of the end of 20th Century customer service.

The 21st Century customer is smarter.

  • They can find things out quicker than we can.
  • They can install an app on their phones that can solve their problem in seconds.
  • They can draw all their data and applications into one place in the time it takes for us to say the words “Customer Relationship Management”.

And if they can do it. And you can’t. Then what if someone else comes along who can?

“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” – R.D Laing

This quote – and the context in which it is used – has made me re-evaluate everything I’m working on.

It’s used in Smart Customers , Stupid Companies , a book that I’m ever so slightly in love with.

The scenario it describes is pretty simple. Disruption is coming to the way we work. Massive disruption. And it’s all going to be caused by customers who are smarter than us.

The only question is – are you going to be one of the disruptors? Innovating and implementing change at a pace that the rest of your sector just can’t keep up with.

Or are you destined to be disrupted?  Losing ground and competitive advantage. Your customers regarding you as a dinosaur. Inching ever closer to redundancy and eventual oblivion.

The sector in which I work is ripe for disruption. Not because it’s bad. Not at all.

But it has loads of interactions with customers that could be made easier through smart technology and the removal of “pain points”.

A typical applicant for housing will speak to multiple people , multiple organisations and answer a thousand questions – before they even get the keys to a door.

The technology is here to reduce all of that to a single interaction with just one person focussed on the applicant. Or – if we wanted – we could remove the human element completely.

So if the technology exists, and it saves money , and it leads to better customer experience – why hasn’t anyone done it?

  • Because it’s difficult. ( Yes – very , very difficult)
  • Because no-one can disrupt the legal contract between landlord and tenant. (At the moment yes. But they should be able to. And they will be able to. )
  • And because we – in this speeded up moment of history – cannot see the present until it has begun to disappear.

But it’s a stark choice.  Disrupt your industry. Or face being disrupted.

I know where I want to be.

Bridging the Digital Divide – Project e-Bromford

I read an article today about “apple babies”. That’s kids under the age of two who automatically try to use a touch screen when handed a phone, conditioned as they are to expect that if something has a screen it should be capable of manipulation. There are clips on YouTube of japanese kids trying frantically to change TV channels by swiping the screen with their hands- the same things they can do with things like Xbox Kinect, Wii and PlayStation Move.

But this can seem a world away when you work in social housing.

FACT: Only a tiny percentage of our customers do any online business with us. We have very little knowledge of their internet habits , smartphone use, social networks

FACT: We have customers – in their thirties and younger- who attend work clubs, who have no access to the internet, never used it, and look at a mouse the same way one of those Japanese kids would look at a typewriter. Excluded from work as well as technology – they exist in a genuine digital divide

I’ve started this blog as I’m working on a number of projects that depend upon our customers dealing with us online.

These include:

  • A new customer deal – where we want customers to self serve , and be less reliant on us
  • A social media project – where we want to tap into communities via facebook , twitter and google +
  • Our Social Investment/Enterprise proposition – which aims to get 2000 residents into work by 2016. Primarily through an online application matching their profiles to opportunities
I’ll be blogging here about the things we learn along the way – the successes and the failures as we try to bridge the digital divide.
Not the reality for many Social housing users
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