Thursday, December 3, 2009

Great Customer Service Builds Brands

Last year I ordered a free-range turkey to cook for family Christmas dinner. I'd never cooked a turkey before and had some small disasters (another story) but the end result was fantastic and a number of our guests commented on what a great turkey it was.

So this year I decided to repeat it and just placed an order from the same supplier (I've had no dealings with them before last year and no subsequent dealings). I also ordered a ham.

I placed the order via email at 3.24p.m. At 3.42p.m. I received an email back from the CEO (and son of the founder):

Hi Tim,

Thank you for your order.

It’s great to have you back buying from us again this Christmas.

Take care and all the very best.


Anthony Puharich

What a great way to endear yourself to a customer; what a great way to build a brand. It is no wonder they have built such a successful business and it is clearly no accident.

Hats off to Vic's Premium Meats (and I can genuinely recommend their turkeys)

Monday, November 30, 2009

SME Technology Summit

You can find the slides (available for download) from my presentation this morning at the SME Technology Summit by following this link to

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Web Denizens

I am shortly to be involved with an initiative designed to get more small businesses using web search engine marketing. Part of the key to this is that it is available even to those businesses who don't have a website.

Many small (or micro) businesses are stuck in an outmoded paradigm where they have turned their back on the web. They are often fearful of it because they don't see themselves as part of the web generation; sometimes it is because they feel it is unnecessary for their business; sometimes they are mystified by it and don't really know how to approach it. There are myriad reasons (or excuses).

Part of this outmoded paradigm is to continue to allocate the majority of their advertising dollars to the good old yellow pages.

During conversations to plan for this initiative I was asked by those behind it what one thing I could say to small business owners about why they should be concerned with the web. My answer was simple - Even if they are not denizens of the web, the vast majority of their potential customers will be. You make it difficult to for them to access you at your peril.

If you are going to fish in a pond, fish in the one where the most fish are. Get onto the web.

Business Lessons Through Tragedy

We can't fail to be moved by the tragic story of 17 year old David Iredale who lost his life on a bush walk which went wrong in 2006.

The greatest tragedy of the entire story, emerging during the inquest, is that it appears his death could have been avoided. It has been reported that his repeated calls to the 000 emergency number were met with sarcasm, insensitivity and slavish attention to an ill-conceived script. Vital information from the calls, which may have helped pinpoint where David was lost, was apparently not passed onto police until some days after the calls were made.

According to reports :

"The court heard a major failure of all calls was that relevant information David provided about his whereabouts was not recorded or passed on to police rescuers. The operators had been "fixated" on asking for a street address because it was in accordance with their training and the steps they were to follow within the computer program."One particular call, the last call we received from Mr Iredale, the calltaker's demeanour appeared quite uncaring, not responsive to information received and the distress that was evident from the caller," Superintendent Payne said."

The operators were 'fixated' on a scripted call procedure and they allowed this fixation to override their common sense (and perhaps compassion). In this case this slavish adherence to procedure my have helped contribute to a death. Most of us can understand that no street address can be provided for a walker lost in dense bushland - it is common sense.

Perhaps there are factors here which might mitigate the actions of the triple-0 staff - maybe it has been proven that deviation from procedure in emergency calls causes more tragedy than it averts - after all in many emergency situations, such as the evacuation of an aircraft, failure to observe procedure may risk other's lives.

Most of us in business don't live in a world where our actions have life or death consequences (thank goodness), and this blog is about business. But, there are business situations where systems and procedures are allowed to overrule common sense in the same way as occurred in the David Iredale case, and it is generally to the detriment of the customers of the business.

How many times have you bumped into a futile conversation with a call centre operator which defies all common sense; or tried to fill out a web form which demands a field which you can't fathom before you can move on?

I once had a situation where I had four separate accounts with a major corporation. I had always wanted one consolidated account but after some of months of trying to organise it I gave up - their systems just didn't allow it. Apart from the fact that this meant frustratingly that I had four separate monthly payments to make rather than one it wasn't much of a bother - until I moved and had to change the billing address. I phoned to change the billing address and first had to "identify myself" to the operator. We went through the long list of questions and my responses until I heard the magic words , "OK, thank you sir, I have identified you so now I can update your address details.", which he proceeded to do for the first account. I then asked him to change the details for the next account and the first thing he said was he would have to ask me some questions in order to "identify me"! On the same phone call to the same operator, for four separate accounts in the same name, I had to go through the same identification process four separate times. As I got increasingly annoyed, he kept on telling me "it was procedure" and he had no choice other than to go through it. I kept on pleading it was nonsense and it was clear to me that he agreed but he had to do it anyway.

Common sense and empathy are the two most valuable attributes any business can apply when dealing with it's customers - unfortunately so many businesses mistakenly don't allow them to come to the fore.

Organisations, particularly larger, distributed ones, need procedures and some rules if they are to function efficiently. But if you really want to satisfy and delight customers, and even potentially turn them into evangelists for your brand, you need to make sure you build 'escape hatches' into processes which allow common sense to override dogma.

It shouldn't be an afterthought. It is fundamentally important in engineering a customer experience in a high growth business.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kochie's Business Builders Bushfire Special

A special edition of Kochie's Business Builders was aired on the Seven network yesterday. It was an episode about the plight of business owners affected by the Victorian bushfires.

We were filming in the area for three days and unfortunately the final program was only a half hour episode so there was much that was filmed that couldn't be aired.

Fortunately you can find it all in the "Video Extras" section on Kochie's Business Builders website - "Surviving a Disaster Extended Version".

There are some key insights which struck us all as we spent time in the affected region:

  • There probably isn't enough focus on businesses when it comes to support - both charitable and government. In regional communities it is small businesses who provide employment. In the case of Marysville, for example, there was one business premise left standing in the main street - the bakery. All the businesses will need to rebuild and re-establish themselves and until they do there won't be a great deal of employment in the town. Much of the support thus far has been directed (appropriately) at re-building homes, but unless the local economy is rebuilt concurrently there won't be much for the residents to do. A separate focus is required to getting businesses back on their feet.
  • This is no time for solos solutions. The community needs to work as a community to get back on it's feet. Sticking with the Marysville example, many businesses are waiting to see whether other businesses will rebuild and reopen before deciding what they will do. Most are waiting to see whether the residential accommodation providers will re-establish first. Many business operators leased their premises and landlords are waiting to see whether other businesses will re-open before they make a decision to re-build. It is easy to understand this waiting game - many of us would do the same - and it will be easy for the business community to fall into paralysis as a result. Everyone needs to move together and that requires leadership and an openness to embrace (figuratively) other business operators, even erstwhile competitors.
  • The importance of business interruption insurance was very clear. A number of businesses had insurance for their buildings but not for their business continuation. It may take months or even years to rebuild and re-establish and it will be virtually impossible for those who don't have an income stream to sustain them until they get back on their feet.
  • Some sort of rudimentary disaster recovery planning is vital for all businesses. In the US about 55% of businesses who experience a 'disaster', and have done no disaster recovery planning, fail within 12 months. This is significantly higher than the failure rate for businesses who have done some planning.
  • Recovery for many businesses is going to require some lateral thinking and perhaps some strategic shifts. For Buxton Trout Farm, for example, it will mean diversification of revenue streams; a shift away from holiday maker customers to day trippers; and some pretty clever concomitant marketing.

If you are in business I encourage you to think now about how you would cope if a disaster strikes. As I say in the program, you don't want to be doing that thinking in the stressful post-disaster environment when you judgement might not be as acute as it is now.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What looks like a problem can become a marketing coup

When nudie was subjected to a devastating arson attack which destroyed the factory and office, we were obviously set back. But I believe every dark cloud contains a marketing silver lining. I used the nudie fire as the basis for a concerted media campaign which positioned us as an underdog and effectively put nudie on the map.

These days, in moments of black humour, I joke that I wish every business I am involved with had a lucky break like an arson attack to propel it into the stratosphere.

I read today about the plight of Damien Tscharke, a vigneron who for the last five years has been making "Girl Talk" wines using albarino grapes - of Spanish origin. They have proven to be so popular that other wine makers have raced in and planted albarino grapes as well. And now it appears that the albarinos are not albarinos at all. They may in fact be a French varietal -savagnin blanc - which is not the same as sauvignon blanc. Apparently those tricky Spaniards exported the wrong root stock and all the Australian vignerons who planted albarinos have been duped.

As I read he story I imagined much figurative cursing and gnashing of teeth amongst the growers as the cry has goes out - "Ruination!! Oh woe is me! Its the wrong grape!"

Indeed Mr. Tscharke is quoted as saying, "It's the largest volume wine we make, we have several hectares under cultivation, and I'm facing significant financial losses potentially."

Initially I was tempted to dismiss it as a storm in a teacup. So, its the wrong variety of grape - who cares? It looks the same as it did yesterday before they knew, it tastes the same, it makes the same wine it has done for five years now. What's the big deal, it all seems like humorless nonsense to me.

And then it struck me that this is Mr. Tscharke's fire! What fun he can have with it on his "Girl Talk" labels - "Girls, have you heard? They're keeping schtum at head office, but there's a rumour we aren't who we think we are. The French sabotaged our Spanish sugar daddy's and we aren't albarino we're trashy savagnin blanc instead!"

There is an endless stream of marketing creativity and publicity which can be generated from this slip up. Far from being the undoing of the enterprise it could be the making of it.

All that is required is to look at it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Wine Clubs

It seems that out of every second envelope I open these days spills a letter, brochure or flyer for a wine club associated with the initiator of the post. I decided to count them up.

Apart from the monthly mailing I get from the Wine Society, and the bulky post I get from Cellarmaster, both of whom are in the solos business of selling wine, I have received another eight entreaties to participate in wine buying from other organisations in the last fortnight alone.

They come from credit card companies, retailers with charge cards, airlines, industry and professional associations, and a whole host of others. Newspaper publishers even want to get in on the act and insert invitations with the renewal notices for my newspaper deliveries. Today I received a letter announcing the National Trust was launching a new wine club for it's members. What has wine got to do with the position or brand values of the National Trust?

It strikes me that almost none of the myriad wine club offers can demonstrate a point of difference. They all claim to have wine no one else can get, from boutique little wineries that are so small that they can't supply the majors; they all claim to be able to provide wines which I can't find in any high-street retail shop; they all claim to know more about wine than anyone else, or to have a more extensive selection or a better selected range. The fact is that to an average punter like me they all appear the same and the clamour from them is deafening.

This seems to be analogous to how many business operators get into business in the first place. Rather than thinking about customers, and what they want or need, they think about what they can do.

You can imagine the thought process behind some of these wine club launches. They sit down and think along these lines - 'We might be a professional association, but we have a database of university educated professionals, who have high disposable incomes and in surveys of our member base we have found 6 out of 10 have an interest in drinking wine; they trust us and are affiliated with our brand. We could provide them with wine and it would be seen as a 'value-add' and will generate some incremental revenue for our association. Most importantly we like wine ourselves.'

And so they get into the wine business. And how do they do that? Of course they need scale to make the economics work, and they don't really know anything about procuring, selling and distributing wines, so they outsource their wine club to one of the handful of providers who also supply wine club services to all the others. So they have the same offer as everyone else differentiated merely by the badge of their association.

They get into the wine club business because they can. Not because they have a startlingly different proposition or perspective; not because they have spotted an unmet need, an opportunity to step into a gap; probably not even because they have abiding passion for wine.

Powerful, high growth businesses are those that do something differently and better than anyone else does or can do in favour of their customers. By innovating and creating value for their customers they build at least a temporary monopoly which allows the creation of enterprise value. This is what nudie did when I created it and this is why it grew like a weed, carried along by the energy and enthusiasm of it's delighted customers.

If you are going to build a business don't do so just because you can; ensure you stand out from the crowd and deliver something to your customers they can't get anywhere else. Otherwise you risk being just more junk mail.