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Everybody Likes Good News

Both were offering e-commerce sites for fashion – one based on personal advice, the other on hire of designer glad-rags for special events. While each had different backgrounds and experience, there were some common lessons that we can share with our readers, as they are important for us all. Common to both services was a considerable investment in IT infrastructure (hence our interest….) which required innovation from each team.

First, if you are offering a service, the people who use the service are, ultimately, those best placed to determine if it’s good or not. These are the key source of feedback and interaction that can help you optimise your offer. Meeting KPIs in service delivery are all very well, but if the service doesn’t satisfy your customers in some way, you have to ensure you find out, listen and act. Sometimes providers think they know what their customers want or that the service is performing as expected, but neglect some small detail or minor change. Effecting such changes can dramatically increase business.

We’ve met vendors who come up with a similar story. But this is the best product – who wouldn’t want to buy it?! Ah, but is it the right product for the people to whom you want to sell? The lesson is to always stay in touch with your customers and really listen to what they say. And, if they don’t like it, act, and act fast.

Secondly, we’ve often heard people talk of perpetual beta in the telecoms industry. It’s been used as a stick to beat traditional telcos, when analysts compare their 5x9 practices and rigour to the development cycles in the IT world. Telco perfection is sometimes seen as an impediment to innovation. Well, it certainly has its place (who would like an E911 service that didn’t work perfectly, for example?) but – and here’s the crucial point – not always.

But both speakers referred to scrum development practices in their organisations. The adoption of such techniques ensured that they moved forward rapidly but also completely in-sync with their customer base. They didn’t try to get it 100% perfect at first, or if they did, they soon realised that their idea of perfection may not be the same as their customers.

They also made mistakes, but fixed them and, rather than keep quiet about it, shared the updates with their users. In short, they built a community around their offer, based on openness and transparency. The problem in telco land is that few seem to be able to differentiate between those services that really do have to be mission critical from those that do not. Learning to tell the difference and act accordingly would surely help unlock some innovation potential.

Thirdly, both admitted that first-mover advantage is completely over-egged. This is probably well known now, but it’s still refreshing to hear successful people talk openly about the value of emulating offers that already exist. The relevant point, though, was that you need to do something better with your version – be it customer service, product range or whatever, just do something a bit better and avoid mistakes of your peers. This means that, if you are late to market with a service, you can catch up, but at least try to be better than your peers.

The upshot of this is that we need to listen to our customers more. They are the users of our services and thus are part of the process. It’s all very well designing something to the nth degree, but that’s not always necessary or relevant. We must learn to differentiate between situations in which it is and those in which it isn’t.

Customers are more willing to accept failure than we might otherwise think. They appreciate candour, honesty and our attention. If they are properly engaged with and properly listened to, who knows, they might start to become advocates for us too.