Post-truth is the Oxford Dictionary 2016 word of the year. This new addition to the English lexicon is an adjective, not a noun.
Among the consequences are the now qualified value and validity of words like projections, predictions, forecasts, expectations and facts.
United States of America President – Elect Donald Trump, with his post-truth representations of “Making America Great Again” and “It will be wonderful”, has contributed greatly to the currency of the new word. His utterances and emphases appealed to the emotions and personal beliefs of the electorate as a means to influence the shaping of public opinion. Those are the essence of post-truth.
Delivering the promise could be another thing.
Time will tell.
In businesses it is currently prudent to only accept and register sales, contracts and revenue once the facts are in one’s possession. Payment of financial consideration seals the deals. Truth was once interchangeable with facts. Not anymore.
“Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts” is a phrase some post-war baby boomers may recall from the television show, “Dragnet” which was telecast from 1967 to 1970. The repeated use of the catch-phrase was attributed to lead character, Sergeant Joe Friday.
That is, in fact a post-truth, rather than fact. Friday never spoke those words. It was comedian Stan Freberg who did so when he parodied the show on a competing television channel.
This is no laughing matter. The noun, truth, has morphed into an adjective and as a consequence everything seems to be a little less assured, particularly in commerce.
FILTERS IMPEDE SALES
Filters impede flows, be they water, oil, consumers, sales or revenue.
The impacts are often immediate, widespread and lasting, with improved quality and sustainability not necessarily natural by-products or direct consequences.
Filters in commerce abound. Most disturbing is the apparent insensitivity of the perpetrators, often business owners and managers, who introduce, install and allow these impediments and barriers to persist.
The nature and character of filters are divergent. For example, automated telephone systems, which supposedly increase internal efficiency, remain the most commonly referenced to annoyance, frustration and cause for brand-switching by consumers. There is clearly an imbalance between saving the time of staff members and imposing time-wasting “hoops” and steps on many unsuspecting customers and clients.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
In the winter months a common practice by some retail outlets is to close entry doors. Not a good idea, particularly when poor lighting standards can project an image that the business is not open.
“Air Socks”, which ensure the cold external ambient air is denied access to premises, while the benefits of climate-controlled ambiences are retained, are effective and create compellingly attractive retail environments.
“Fly-trap” sales offices at new house -builder display centres can control visitors and traffic-flows. Sadly, they lose control of the sales- process, are considered annoying, manipulative and ineffective by intending or interested purchasers.
NOT A GOOD IDEA
A recent case-study highlights the potential for back-lash and consequences of the introduction of physical barriers and filters.
Within a shopping centre in Pinjarra, a regional centre in Western Australia, it was reported that the Coles supermarket introduced tables of merchandise to its wide and open entry point.
This restricted and redirected consumer traffic to a narrow entry to the supermarket. The impact on the customer- flow to the adjacent independent specialty butcher shop was immediate and dramatic, compounded by the signs which announced that the supermarket was offering 10% off many meat prices.
Murray Cowper, the local state-based politician responded by entering blogs on social media. The message went viral, stimulating exposure in mass circulation newspapers – extending to London.
Consumers responded positively. Traffic counts to the independent butcher store spiked, sales increased and goodwill was extended to the small business.
Sometimes filters create flow-backs and redirect flows to the advantage of competitors and substitutes, big and small.
For those home-based start-up business owners who have “call-restriction” provisions on their mobile phones, a word of advice. The essence of effective marketing is communications and opportunism.
When you filter incoming calls you do get to speak less, do make fewer sales and probably restrict your customer base to a select clique of established associates. Accordingly, one should dismiss considerations of growth and an expanding customer base.
BRITISH RETAILING TODAY ………TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY
British retailers are like the nations’ economists. They are talking a lot about Brexit, but can’t arrive at a consensus about its consequences, agree on when the impacts will hit or make capital investment decisions to develop businesses (as distinct from business).
Trade is generally good ….- on a day-to-day basis. There is little evidence of significant variances to the trading patterns which were evident prior to the Brexit referendum. Making well-informed strategic decisions is not possible.
Subjective assessment overrides objective valuations. The downside is limited and, seemingly, short-term.
Internal efficiency is the key focus. Inventories are being well managed. External effectiveness, together with sustainable competitive advantage, appear to be secondary considerations …- concerns for another time.
The full forces of the prevailing national marketplace are conducive to smaller retailers being able to, and enjoying relatively stable consumer demand. Good shop-keeping practices are being rewarded without the need for major capital outlay. The renowned and established stoic nature of the British has come to the fore among the retail fraternity.
How long will, and can this last? No agreement is apparent.
Many retailers have taken on the nature of the key consumer segment ….- that is, NOW customers. They strive to have a good time – today. Considerations for the longer-time are for another time.
DIGITAL IS NOT BINARY
There is no great divide.
The insatiable pursuit by some to all things digital needs a degree of balance, measure and understanding.
Those in the millennium market sector are not binary by nature. They continue to use emails, sometimes listen to analogue radio, watch television on big screens, read paper-based publications and, yes, patronise bricks and mortar retail businesses.
NOT BLACK AND WHITE
Digital is a spectrum. It has many incarnations and applications. The advantages are many, for the benefit of businesses, consumers, society and the economy.
Sustainable, enhanced productivity is within reach, if and when adroitly applied.
When it comes to digital, optimal is an appropriate word and outcome
Sacrificing the old, the established, the analogue and the traditional in an endeavour to attain maximum by the use of digital has considerable downside costs.
Large and diverse market sectors and opportunities are forsaken. Some people, entities, professions and clusters simply remain in the “late majority” and “laggard” segments. Individually, and collectively they present good business, good revenue sources and potentially, loyal customers.
Being exclusively digital can be a dividing line.
BEWARE ‘SIREN’ CALLS
Digital consultants and advocates, typically, have financial interests in migrating existing and prospective clients to the digital spectrum.
Moreover, many have limited skills and experience in the utilisation of existing channels, and means.
As with most things in life, commerce and technology, digital should complement, not replace analogue and, often, established channels.
Astute practitioners of omni-channel and multi-channel marketing are fast recognising and deploying the concept as horizontal, integrated channels, rather than the restricting vertical silo models, which currently abound.
Key lesson: Digital is best when it is inclusive, not exclusive.
HAPPIER WITH LESS CHOICE
Consumers are happier, make purchase decisions faster and prefer those retail stores which offer less, but good choices.
Those attitudes seem counterintuitive. However, they are not. Indeed, they are a logical consequence of the philosophy: Less is more.
Choices between commoditised competitive products, services and applications are not considered choices at all. Rather, in some instances, the whole selection process is deemed to be an annoyance, because of too many choices.
Aldi discount supermarkets are a good case study. Their product range of some 1400 SKUs (stock keeping units) is just 4% of the 35,000 on the shelves of the typical national full-range supermarkets.
Choices need to be between significantly different offerings, or, as psychologists would verbalise: Optimally Distributive Choices.
Too much of a good thing (choices) is not a good thing.
Knowing the existing and prospective customers, their needs, expectations, aspirations and buying criteria is a strategically important and competitively advantageous attribute. It enables product ranges to be narrowed.
The promises held for Big Data, customer data mining and loyalty program generated information remain largely unfulfilled.
Much of it exists as un-discriminated information, never having been collated and effectively analysed into intelligence. In short:
Too much information……Too little intelligence
Such pervading attitudes explain, in part, the marketplace acceptance, success, productivity and profitability of flagship outlets.
A solus brand in one retail outlet is the ultimate simplification of the choice process. Little wonder Apple, Nespresso and Rolex flagship stores are the envy of a broad cross-section of the retail fraternity.
Loyal brand ambassadors are committed, satisfied customers return; and qualified prospects are attracted.
Suspects, “tyre-kickers” and “carpet-crushers” find little appeal in the narrow offerings of branded flagship outlets. Nirvana, optimal productivity, is within reach.
Retail business leaders and managers need to have the information, intelligence, skills, expertise and the confidence to determine and implement one philosophy in their inventory and product range management practices: Less is more.
It can, and does have a great influence on customer happiness, decision making, preferences, repeat business and loyalty.
THE CUSTOMERS’ JOURNEYS
An evolving and new awakening.
The consumer journey to purchasing, utilising, enjoying and benefiting from a product, service, application or experience typically involves up to six phases before direct interaction occurs between individuals in the company and the customers.
Many images, perceptions, expectations and preferences are determined and influenced in this period.
Disturbingly, recognition, respect for, and awareness of the importance of the initial steps to a successful transaction and establishment of a sustaining relationship are spasmodic among many management ranks.
Attention to, and enhancements in the prompt responses to telephone calls (within 3 rings – 9 seconds), recognition of customers entering premises within 5 seconds, the asking of not less than six questions to establish the specifics of need, exhibiting pride in and enthusiasm for the company, its products, services and people, and the methodical and caring manner in which the deal’s value is presented and endorsed – are laudable.
Indeed, the phrase little things mean a lot, is founded on a universal and consistent adherence to these principles. Setting an enjoyable ambience is conducive to ensuring a great, positive customer experience.
However, they will account for little if, from the outset of their purchase journey, a prospective and, – alas, a returning customer – is required to negotiate a series of annoying, frustrating and unnecessary barriers, filters and impediments from the outset of their purchase journey.
The pathway to a sale should never be an obstacle course.
All too often the impediments to an expedient closing of the sale are readily recognisable. Typically, they include:
AN INERT WEBSITE
Window shopping, or browsing, is now usually done on-line. Across a broad spectrum of sectors, products, services and applications, up to 72% of intending buyers seek out and visit websites to collate, retrieve, and then analyse available information to enable the conclusion of informed decisions.
Websites that are not interactive reflect poorly on the business and its offerings. Those which are incompatible to mobile devices are deemed antiquated and indicative of the probable service and experiences that await those who persist with the contact. Smartphones currently total around 61% of operational mobiles, they are utilised in 41% of initial contacts and in 37% of sales and payment processes.
Individually and collectively, these statistics represent an immense leaking of forsaken sales opportunities.
LIMITED CONTACT OPPORTUNITIES
Websites and links which limit contact to electronic interactions imply that the tech-savvy external design consultants do not comprehend and have not responded to the fact that 43% of people seeking to buy or to have access to service use “on-line” chat on their mobile as the preferred communication channel.
A suite of, say seven contact options, without immediate access to a local human may improve internal efficiency. However, effectiveness in the interactions with the external marketplace will be trashed.
An absence of complaints – lodged on-line – is not indicative of service excellence. It may well be that the customers have been lost, without registering their dismay, displeasure and disappointment.
AUTOMATED TELEPHONE SYSTEMS
Commerce, marketing, sales and service are founded on opportunism and communication. Denying existing and prospective customers the opportunity to readily and personally communicate with individual service providers is insane.
The business treadmill is getting faster. Customer and client expectations are greater.
A recent national Australian study found that 54% of consumers expected to make six attempts for contact before satisfactorily resolving an issue. In stark contrast, a parallel study among contact centre managers revealed that a majority contended that customers need only make 1 or 2 contacts to have their needs fulfilled.
Just how well do company team members know their customers, and are aware of their recent experiences?
The three greatest and most recurring annoyances nominated by customers and clients in their dealing with supply companies are enlightening:
· Automated Telephony Systems – 51%
· Restricted Access to Human Representatives – 37%
· Wait Times to connect with people – 34%
Ouch! Those facts hurt ….. – particularly on the bottom line.
In the present NOW marketplace, in which value and premiums are placed on timely, full, open and immediate disclosure of key information and intelligence access is imperative.
In the recent past, information was power. Today it is a commodity and retrievable from multiple sources. Inventory levels, supply lead-times, warranty details and performance standards are factors that expedite the sales process.
Indeed, the promotion of such can be, and often is, a distinct competitive advantage.
Sharing such freely is a virtue, because it facilitates the making of informed decisions.
Multi-channel and omni-channel philosophies are not and should not be vertical silos by nature.
Cross- referencing is both supportive and highly productive.
Customers and clients value having the capacity to exercise their personal choice of the means with which means they prefer to conclude a purchase. Over the course of time it is probable that many of those channels will be utilised by the individual customer.
A significant percentage of customers have sacrificed their privacy, through membership of loyalty and relevant programs in the hope for more measured, targeted and customised interactions.
The immense promise of Big Data, with its capacity to collect, retrieve, analyse and selectively convert huge banks of general information into discrete intelligence has seldom been realised.
A lack of resources being allocated to capitalise on this invaluable storehouse is a major contributing factor for the continued distribution of generalised, irrelevant and annoying communications and offers, many of which are meaningless and valueless to recipients.
This distracts from the journey being undertaken, and from the optimally compelling image of the company, its products, services, and people.
It is these hurdles and others that mitigate against subsequent positive interactions which have the capacity to satisfy customer needs, to offer value and to sustain mutually rewarding relationships.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
Correcting and remediating the nature, context and content of earlier phases of the consumer’s journey does not discount the importance of effectively installing the product, service or application; initiating and maintaining a regular schedule for communications; ensuring service standards that are at all times optimal; and of making readily available updated information on all developments, innovations and enhancements.
In commerce, as in many aspects of life, the journey is not lineal. It is circular. What comes around goes around …… – only faster, for those who are astute enough to recognise, understand, monitor, respect and enhance all phases of the customers’
Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is an internationally respected business strategist, consumer behaviour analyst and conference keynote speaker.
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