Monday, September 28, 2015

VW will bounce back stronger for learning the lesson of Open Business

It's all too easy to join in with the doom and gloom brigade about VW. They have done very naughty things. And they have been caught doing them.
But let's have a little context here. The auto industry has long been accused of tweaking its test performance figures in its favour.
It is not unheard of for motorcycles to be tested with their wing mirrors off and tyres pumped up to super-high pressures to reduce drag, for example.
The car industry is no different with much hemming and hawing from both public and press over their claimed mpg figures for decades. We haven't trusted those figures for a long time. VW's re-calibrated version of the emissions truth is arguably just further along the same continuum.
Even so, all of a sudden VW, and much of the rest of the car industry (don't forget GM and Toyota are both currently paying hefty fines for misleading the public, according to Automotive News Europe and BMW's share price is plummeting on concerns about their emissions) have a mountain to climb to rebuild trust.


Lack of trust is a drag on performance of the intangibles of a business: So your trust in the VW brand will have reduced. That will have some impact on your car choices. But so will how much you desire their designs, mechanical reliability and performance, build quality, drive quality, comfort, style, the sound the doors make, the cache of the badge etc etc. In other words whether or not you trust the absolute veracity of their performance figures is just one parameter and, when the dust settles, perhaps a far less important one than the feeling you get from driving it. Or simply how much you want that car.
So my guess is VW, et al, will bounce back. Nose bloodied, bowed and ready to be better, more open businesses for their experience.
They will be reborn as organisations for whom trust IS more important in future and in which the governance is aligned with building trust.


For example, if they had performed their testing out in the open in the first place they would not be in the trouble they are today.
In the connected car future they will be able to aggregate real-world results from real world users results, in real time, and share those results with all drivers and to anyone else who requires them via open data.
All of this is very do-able with the technologies of the connected car.
Combine this with a new regime of open governance ensuring accurate measurement, and VW has the opportunity to respond and leap ahead of their rivals for trust.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Going Postal

I tried to track a recorded delivery on the Post Office website today.
When you Google 'Post Office' Track & Trace comes back as one of the four most important returns, as selected by Google, relating to the term Post Office.
On the Post Office site it is one of five (and listed at No4) of the Post Office Essentials.
Bear with me...
These to me are indicators of how important both the Post Office and its online customers view the Track & Trace function of the site.
So if you were looking after the Post Office twitter account you may think it worthwhile to stay abreast of its state of functionality - or at least have routes to hand to find out what the issues may be and the fix times estimated?
Or then again... you could regard it as someone else's problem.

This afternoon I tried to track a parcel and got the message that the system was down.
It gave no clue as to when it may return.
So I tweeted the Post Office.

This is how it played out:

  1. how long is your Track & Trace site going to be down for?

Track and Trace is powered by you may wish to tweet them about this. ~ Luke
It's on the PO site - one of the main links offered when 'post office' is googled. Perhaps in your interest to know?

That part is powered by Royal Mail, it would need to be investigated by them as it's their service.
Ah thanks. Does that get ticked as a customer issue resolved then?

In the mean time, I'd tested it for myself - and it was back online. I do wonder why 'Luke' hadn't found the time - I guess he was busy gathering evidence that my problem was nothing to do with him.
I was after a relatively simple answer to a relatively simple question. In return I was getting a lesson in organisational structure.
I'm sorry, but I do find this buck passing at the front line frustrating.
The Post Office and those representing it really can't take so little responsibility for what is clearly an important piece of real estate on their website - and a significant driver of traffic. Who cares who it's powered by - certainly not Post Office or Royal Mail customers.
Here's my advice for a quick fix: 1. Move the Powered By graphic above the fold (old newspaper folk will know what that means, it means in this case you shouldn't have to scroll down the page to discover the Powered By secret... 2. Add a link to Royal Mail customer service, if that's where you would like to point the traffic (aka blame).
Here's my advice for the right fix: Reorganise the business around putting your customer first, but I realise that may be a very large ask for a Thursday afternoon.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Doing The Right Thing

As previously discussed on this blog and in The 10 Principles of Open Business, the value of trust to a business cannot be over-stated.

But does that mean you are doing the right thing?
Trust is the core component of the value of any brand, institution or organisation.
And - as we make clear in The 10 Principles - we don't mean the 'we trust you to deliver' kind of trust that Ryanair used to rely on, we mean the 'we believe you have our best interests at heart' kind its more recent marketing has been tilted toward (yes, even Ryanair has grasped the essential difference and how important that has become to their sustained success).
What this all boils down to is a shift in staff behaviour from Jobsworth to Doing The Right Thing.
When the horse-meat scandal hit the European food-chain, Tesco's senior team didn't stop to ask themselves what they could get away with, or to investigate which suppliers they could point the blame at and pass the buck to, or spend weeks with the legal department honing what they would say to the press and on social media. No. Instead - as CMO at the time Matt Atkinson tells us in The 10 Principles - they simply went about doing the right thing; telling the truth as they knew it, opening up to provide transparency, giving money back without a quibble - acting as if they had the best interests of their customers at heart.
That's really at the guts of my complaint about Hargreaves-Lansdown published yesterday. They are taking a Jobsworth attitude, hiding behind regulations, letters of the law.
Today we expect something different: We expect them to Do The Right Thing.
I don't blame the front line staff I have had to interact with for this - it is an organisational stance and that comes from the top.
Tesco shifted theirs, thanks in no small part to ambitions to become an Open Business. The rebuilding of trust was (and remains) essential to that business.
And if you want me to believe you have my best interests at heart you had best Do The Right Thing rather than what a set of terms and conditions protect you for. When The Computer Says No but your heart and head tell you Yes, it's wise to consider it's the computer that may be wrong...
Contracts and regulations rarely cover every circumstance, every nuance. The relationship between customer and business, or business and supplier is built on trust. The moment you have to refer to the terms and conditions, the contract, the relationship is essentially at an end - you no longer trust each other or believe the other party has your best interest at heart.
How do you make Doing The Right Thing endemic in your org? It's all about permission. I rather like what Avis has done in the US (again referred to in my book) where every member of staff (every member of staff, not just folk up the tree or behind the management desk) is empowered to give up to a set amount in dollar terms to resolve a customer's problems as they see fit, right there and then.
That makes the ability to Do The Right Thing a genuine possibility to all.
So ask yourself - in your organisation are the teams being encouraged to Do The Right Thing or keep the Jobsworth hat on? It could make all the difference to how long folk are prepared to keep trading with you.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Taken without consent

Apparently, if a financial institution changes what it charges you (including creating brand new fees) it can do that as long as it tells you. It doesn’t need a response from you. It just needs to tell you that from now on you get to pay them for something you never requested.
It does not even need evidence that the message was received. Message sent,  it can get on with taking the money from your account.
I’m not making this up – and according to the folk at Hargreaves-Lansdown –it’s all perfectly legal and within the rules.
I bought some Royal Mail shares when the  last government was fool enough to give them away some time ago. I followed this trade with one other in which I sold the amount of Royal Mail shares that covered the cost of my investment within a few days. I left the rest in the Hargreaves-Lansdown account I’d opened specifically for the purpose. I used them because they were relatively easy to use online.
That was my last transaction with them. And the last contact from customer to Hargreaves-Lansdown between then and now.
In the meantime they sent me many letters in the post – pretty consistently marketing material aimed at getting me to invest in other shares with them. In short order I began to view them just as I do the regulars from Virgin about broadband – spam that goes direct to the bin – for the most part, unopened.
A CRM or even learning business process could have saved them heaps in postage. The spam wasn’t working. The evidence is clear in my empty trading record.
Unbeknownst to me, among this deluge of spam were letters informing me that they were now going to charge me for paper reports. Now, if you know me, the last thing in the world I am going to opt for is paper reports when a digital version is available. The fact is I didn’t opt in for either. But HL’s argument is that because I didn’t respond to their letters, telling me they were going to charge me for something I had neither requested nor had any intention of using, they could merrily take cash from my account.
At first they took the share dividends my Royal Mail shares paid out without telling me. Then (and this is when the penny dropped for me at last) they sent a letter (one I did open) telling me my account held insufficient funds to cover fees that fell due. Fees? I thought. What fees? I didn’t k now I was paying these guys fees? Annual ones? I don’t recall opting for that? I never had, that’s why I couldn’t recall it.
But because they had sent me a letter saying they were changing their terms from what was a free service to one which would now be billable, they were within their rights to bill me and then charge me even more.
I don’t like being in debt to these types (it can ruin your credit rating), so I paid a further £20 odd at the weekend on a DD card. I do so without any grace.
Now if all of this is within the letter of the law then I say shame on the law (or in this case the regulation). It’s clearly been designed to protect the institution over its customer.
Think of other reasons why I may not have responded (apart from my learned behaviour of binning letters I consider spam). I may have moved house. I may have been in a coma. I may have been dead.
So what? Ker-ching and another fee gets taken on another account to pay for something another person never requested or agreed to pay for. I wonder how many of us there are? (And if you have ever done a trade with Hargreaves-Lansdown I suggest you make checks).
Oh – for the record – since December last year they have sent me around 40 emails. None of them refer to taking any fee from me for paper services. All of them are general marketing messages.

Here’s a thought for Hargreaves-Lansdown: Instead of opting-in people to pay when you don’t hear back from them, stop sending out the paper documents instead. And when they contact you requesting you switch the service back on, have that conversation about paying for it. Somehow that would seem altogether more honest.
The sums involved here may be small - but the principle is an important one. Everyone's mother teaches them: "Don't take without asking".

And just before anyone tells me I should have opened my spam... a reminder on the importance of making sure messages are received by those for whom they are intended - from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

UPDATE: On July 21, 2015 after a series of lengthy exchanges between myself and increasingly senior members of the H-L team, I finally received a refund for the latest report (though not, it has to be said, for previous fees taken on other occasions). 
I was told of this in a message from the CEO. I'll be fair and say the tone was not somewhat questioning with a degree of surprise retained that I had not read their communications (to which I refer you to the video above).
That being said, the CEO did say that their policy was that where people were unaware of the paper fee and contacted them then it was usually waived (provided they then swapped to paperless). That hadn't happened in my case costing both parties considerable time and effort.
I will also note that I have only been refunded the most recent paper fee.  I'm still out of pocket on reports it seems I must continue to receive, though at least - as the digital option is now well and truly selected - future ones will be at no additional cost.
The victory may be small (£12 back for - all my dividends on the shares I hold there plus a recent payment of just over £20) but at least the CEO knows in detail how his customer experience is working out right now...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Trust should be priority 1 in digital transformation

Many companies are waking up to how far behind they are on the Digital Maturity scale referred to in the recent Copgnizant sponsored paper by Brian Solis.

But it seems to me too few are seeing their efforts toward digital transformation as more than a way in which they get to do more/faster to their customers. In my work on Open Business I have always argued that the single biggest win of digital transformation for organisations comes from the shift in relationship it enables.
Yes there is great efficiency and effectiveness to be had from learning more about your customers' behaviour, their needs and their implicit and explicit desires. But it's unlikely you'll generate a meaningful relationship of trust purely by serving needs (think of the difference between helping to fix and then enjoy a family meal, and rushing in and out of McDonald's to grab a bite on the run).
I don't argue that servicing need (and making it as easy as possible) isn't of extremely high value. I do argue that it is the tip of the iceberg that can be released through the shift in relationship with the consumer; from customer to partner. Trust, sense of ownership, shared purpose - all drive loyalty and increase spend. One regional co-operative I worked with boasted 50% membership among its customers. They accounted for 70% of the spend.
The transparency and free communication digital delivers offers the promise of making all organisations accountable to their customers in the kind of way member organisations have always enjoyed.
Trust accounts for the vast majority of the value of any brand.
It therefore remains a mystery to me that building trust isn't always top of the digital transformation agenda.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?