By what measure?
There is a new dawning, and more hopefully, an awakening that many currently applied matrices related to customer service are not truly reflective of consumer experiences, or indicative of their collective satisfaction levels.
Celebrations that echo through the corridors of corporate and public service power are, in many instances, misguided and inappropriate.
Witness the evidence emanating from the Australian Financial Services Royal Commission.
It is damning.
Indeed, it seems that some standards and practices are allegedly or potentially criminal.

Judgements applied do not require a Royal Commission, a Royal Commissioner, a Court Magistrate or jury.
The Court of public opinion is invoking its own verdicts and punishments.

Supermarkets, retailers at large, home builders, property developers, real estate agents, financial planners, mortgage brokers, accountancy practices, law firms and supposed service consultants are all being subjected to scrutiny and review.
The veracity and relevance of external professional resources and the reported innate value of Big-Data and Meta-Data are being questioned and re-evaluated. 
And rightly so.
It is evident that for a significant percentage such spheres-of-influence do not have the right answers.
Indeed, they are often part of both the problem and the cause, because they are asking the wrong questions.
The need exists for Smart Data.

We at Marketing Focus are in a unique position.
An immense bank of market research findings which extends for decades provides absolute and relative advantages and benefits for clients, to enable them to isolate and analyse those factors that satisfy, influence and resonate with existing, prospective and past customers.
One thing learnt, recognised and – to the degree possible – respected, is that in service, as with marketing, plagiarism is alive and well.
Monitoring, measuring, analysing and refining 3 or 4 key service matrices to establish and sustain fulfilment of customer expectations and aspirations do little to differentiate and provide competitive advantage.
Suffice it to say: typically the interactions between customers and service providers – at the point-of-sale – are consistently the most highly and positively rated aspects and attributes of the service delivery.
A natural by-product of that emphasis is that team members quickly become disenchanted and disconnected, when references are made to sub-standard service.


Little wonder.
Some members of their representative trade, sector and professional associations have difficulty understanding, valuing and justifying the presence and activities.
Periodically, attrition rates spike with the receipt of member renewal accounts.
Put simply, members do not renew.

The complexities of modern commerce and society dictate that it is seldom advisable to go it alone.
Collegiate endeavours, learnings and the sharing of experiences underscore the worth of being involved with those of common interests.
Inputs from the disciplines of law, accounting, finance and human resources can be, and are, invaluable, if not mandatory, within context, and up to a point.You can also view more here to know more about accounting.
In times of suppressed demand, intense competition and increasing digital disruption, many association members, the owners and managers of small businesses in particular, find little solace and value in being advised that their own association executives have been busy tramping the corridors of power, often political, to put forward their collective and individual cases.
The need for cashflow-now – can overwhelm thoughts and reset priorities.
More unsettling, disturbing and irritating is the seeming widespread transformation of association activities towards the conduct of networking events.
Compounding the qualifications of such pursuits is the declared or undeclared preference for the repeated, at-no-cost use of Board members or selected membership luminaries to address attendees at gatherings.

Profiling to targeted audiences can be, and often is, a great generator of business, for those chosen few.
But at what cost to individual association members, and their commercial interests?

The membership of elected Boards and governance committees or professional associations can be enlightening.
Large percentages, sometimes majorities, can be made up with lawyers, accountants, bankers and recruitment consultants, none of whom have direct participation in the activities of members.
Doubtless, their perspectives, insights and expertise are valuable and valued: all of these can be solicited from outside the composition of the Board.
Strikingly apparent to some is that Board memberships of associations, institutes and federations of the disciplines of law, accounting and banking in particular, seem totally homogenous.
Each is dutifully qualified in skills but there is a noticeable absence of plumbers, carpenters, travel agents, graphic designers and advertising professionals.

Boards, committees and governing authorities represent an opportunity to enhance the interests of members.
Ideally, they should also be representative of those members.

Understandably, some ethnicity-based associations have similar characteristics.
For non conforming intending members, judgements should be made about if one seeks to be an (inner) planet, or is happy being a satellite.
The light (and benefits) typically shine on those bodies closest to the “sun”.

Fear of Failure
This simple three-word phrase that profiles and explains in a large part why so many entities and individuals are reluctant, or resistant to change, innovation and original creativity.
The implicit, if not explicit consequences of this phrase provide a measure of the power and force of three words. The presence and outcomes are accentuated in many circumstances for subordinate staff and team members. Concerns about fear of failure tend towards inertia and tokenism. The fear provides insights in the culture and philosophy of the Board of Directors and Senior Management.
The dynamism and resilience of high-performing corporations typically indicate a high tolerance of risk and a leadership style which is prepared to delegate…
Authority to Fail
This is a profound belief system and sentiment.
It is breath-taking, compelling, supportive, understanding and, yes, authoritative.

There is no suggestion of an abrogation of responsibility, accountability and transparency. The flow of each is up. The natural progression of authority is downward. It breaks shackles, dismantles bureaucracy, shatters constraints, facilitates personal actions and expedites performance, growth and competitive advantage. Natural outcomes include enhanced morale, confidence, loyalty and commitment.
So many business and professional disciplines are limited by adherence to the need to comply and conform. Thus, the status quo – rapidly acquiring obsolescence and irrelevance – is retained.
Losses in competitiveness and resonation soon mount.
Fear of failure does not afflict alone the meek and the mild. Disturbingly, it’s infectious.
The best and the most immediate antidote to Fear to Fail is:
Authority to Fail
It works every time.

4. THE LOST ARTS – Of Prospecting and “Closing” Sales
On-line, social and digital channels have numerous upside attributes and consequences. On the face of it, operational and financial efficiencies are compellingly attractive. Exposure to increased and increasing numbers of prospective customers and clients at ever lowering direct costs is alluring.
Not so apparent is the disturbing evidence of progressive losses in the skills and commitments in the arts of prospecting and closing (expediting) the sale. Those factors have a huge, marked impact on the bottom line (read: profits), in many instances greater than the advantages of being registered on the top-line (volumes).
Work-practices have changed, possibly forever. So too, have work ethics.  A new generation of sales people are totally, or largely dependent on algorithms to identify, isolate and provide the contact details of prospects, based on their use of on-line portals and platforms.
Many are dependent upon, or subservient to external resources that have control over the digital processes. As a consequence, the need to share income streams, has questionable control over data bases and relationships, with constraint in establishing and sustaining on-going schedules of communication.
Individually and collectively, these forces are contributing to accelerating or exacerbating the trend for interactions being transactional – limited to one-by-one deals – at the expense of mutually beneficial relationships. The innate characteristics of repeat, referral and loyal business suffer accordingly.
Purist omni-channel and multi-channel marketing utilise all available communication streams. There are no silos. Indeed, the structure is more horizontal than it is vertical.  Therefore, cross-marketing opportunities are fully exploited.
In short, the business “prospector” and “closer” is the first among equals.  Individuality usurps any sense of dependence or subservience. That is, the arts of prospecting and closing are recognised, respected and deployed – complemented with on-line and digital channels.
In so doing, the effectiveness of personal input is complemented with the efficiency of being on-line and connected.
Hopefully, I’ve stitched up that deal – to your advantage, benefit and reward.

5. GOING TO HELL – In a One-use Plastic Bag 
It’s not all wrapped up.
Particularly so, with one-use plastic bags.
It’s difficult to comprehend accept or rationalise the flip-flop decisions of the supermarkets, – above all others Coles, on the replacement policies of so-called
one-use plastic bags.
Consumers are confused and bewildered. A coterie of marginal, but stridently vocal environmental activists have become emboldened. It seems, that if one agitates sufficiently and aggressively, corporate Australia will yield.
With corporate idealism, no one will be happy, or be a winner in this imbroglio involving the fluid state of one-use plastic bags policies.
Just two decades ago, Wesfarmers and GE (General Electric) were held up on pedestals as consistently successful corporate icons, disproving the contention that corporate conglomerates were redundant.
Since that time Jack Welch has moved on from GE and in recent years the corporation has needed to sell-off companies, products, brands, IP (intellectual property) and geographic-specific networks to survive.
Its share price, and thus value, has contracted by over 90%.
That is a long way from its genesis with Thomas Edison, the incandescent light, and entrepreneurism.
Wesfarmers, the past beacon on the Australian corporate hill, seems to have lost a lot of its sheen and brightness in recent times.
The costs incurred with the ventures (or misadventures) of Bunnings UK, Target, coal mining and now plastic bags, will be carried forward well into the future.
Consumers, like investors, appreciate and reward consistency, transparency and continuity.
Short-term, oscillating and, often, contradictory policies and practices are frowned upon, and elicit emotive personal reactions, which have been imposed upon countless front-line service providers, throughout the Coles supermarket network as a consequence of the stop-start decisions about one-use plastic bags and their replacements.
Utterances that contend “putting the customer first is part of the corporate DNA” are often, at best, questioned or summarily discussed. For the deeply inquisitive and scientific, better understanding may be achieved from the fact that medical practitioners will readily acknowledge mutated DNA is not rare.
In the seemingly parallel universe of the Australian parliamentary Senate, many elected members on the cross-benches are held in contempt, because of a lack of consistency and focus on voters. Populism, opportunism and political adventurism cast a poor light on the science, or art of Australian politics.
Grid-lock is common in the legislative schedule.  It is expensive, with substantial long-term and short-term consequences.

The words and sentiments of the Hot Chocolate 1970’s hit “Everyone’s A Winner” sound hollow in the one-use plastic bag scenario.
Voluntarily withdrawing them from two large-population states, that did not have enabling legislation, appears – in hindsight – ill-advised.
“Plastic Bag Rage” became an all-day, everyday reality for many front-line retail staff members, who found it difficult to understand and articulate the policy, and its underlying rationale.
Surrendering the need for consumers to pay 15 cents for a heavier duty, multi-use plastic bag – by providing them free-of-charge – riled environmentalists, particularly Greenpeace spokespersons. The alternatives had more plastic content, heavier duty form and accordingly, degraded slower than what it had replaced.
And what about health and hygiene?  Multiple-use of plastic carry bags for conveying food, especially fresh merchandise, is potentially and ultimately unhealthy and un-hygienic.
No measures appeared to be in place to protect and enforce the well-being of the unthinking, naive and unknowing consumers.
Significantly, extensive and intensive attitudinal research quickly established that no one business would be greatly or sustainably advantaged or disadvantaged with plastic bag policies.
Consumer emotions would be and were being piqued in-store. However, there was little evidence of mass changes of loyalty and store visits because of unavailability of “one-use plastic bags” or the need to pay 15 cents for each of their replacements.
So, who is the winner and why was this issue brought on the agenda?
Having, exhibiting and being driven by the desire to “do the right thing” are laudable.
The sentiments resonate in the corridors of power, read well in corporate literature and look good on plaques on head office walls.
Care needs to be given to who decides, determines and implements those values. It is not for businesses to arbitrarily impose their values on the marketplace. That seems inconsistent with the ideals of customer-first.

And, when corporate leaders prevaricate on what is the right thing, consumers, customers, clients and the public at large become confused.
They look for evidence and verification of leadership.
Expressions evolve, many of which reflect poorly on senior management, and the Board of Directors, rather than on the brand, the products and front-line service providers.
The plastic bag debacle was responsible for many memorable quotes, including:

  • Management is a “confused circus”
  • Mockery
  • Betrayal
  • Corporate cowardice
  • Slapstick gymnastics 

Brand authenticity is questioned.  It is a difficult, complex, involved and long path to recover from such perceptions, sentiments and expressions.
Audie Murphy was a World War II American military hero, reportedly, the most decorated soldier of his time.
The title of his auto-biographical movie was “To Hell and Back”.
Retrieving the journey to hell in a one-use plastic bag seems to be long and complex.
Barry Urquhart  
Marketing Focus
M:        041 983 5555

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