One thing that irks me no end is a marketer bandying buzzwords about for no other reason than trying to sound like the smartest person in the room. You have to appreciate the claptrap – making up new words will probably instill the ‘fear of not knowing’ in your audience and, if delivered with enough chutzpah, you may very well seem like the shining beacon that can help an organisation navigate the rocky shoals of customer acquisition.
However, this is not a post that begrudges these kind of marketing tactics, but one that aims to constructively criticise the bastardisation of some of these concepts in the hopes of getting things back on track.
A buzzword that has been doing the rounds in the past few years, especially with the advent of ‘new’ media, is ‘customer-centricity’. Initially an ideal, more executives have cottoned on to the term, and in the aim of boosting the bottom-line, have managed to completely illegitimise its initial intentions.
Customer-centricity is not a buzzword, it’s a culture that every part of your organisation has to embrace. Ask yourself: is a CEO’s focus area on the customer or on the KPIs of the business? I understand that as the most senior employee with a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and the board, keeping an eye on KPIs is essential, but how do you call your business customer-centric if it’s not the CEO’s main responsibility? Nay, priority! The CEO has to ensure that his or her subordinates across the entire business have one specific goal – to satisfy the customer.
Going the extra mile
Here’s a story to explain my meaning: Last year, I attended the TM Forum’s Africa Summit and listened to speakers from across the globe. A talk by chief commercial officer of Kenya Data Networks, Atul Chatervedi, stuck; he recounted a story about an Aiwa outlet in Japan. It was in the late 90s, and his wife sent him on his business trip with clear instructions, “I want a discman.”
Mr Chaturvedi entered the store in downtown Kyoto, bought his wife’s Discman and returned to his hotel. Later that evening, the phone in his room rang – it was the manager of the Aiwa outlet on the line. According to Chaturvedi, the unit he purchased was a demo unit, and Aiwa wanted to swop it out for a new one – the manager called to find out what would be a good time for him to bring the replacement unit.
Now here is what I mean when I say that customer-centricity is a culture, and not just the hollow promise that every second brand would have you believe: The procurement department noticed that the demo unit was not where it should be and asked the sales staff where it could have gone.
The sales staff explained that it had been sold. Considered substandard, the sales department contacted the finance department to find out if they have details for Chaturvedi. Finance contacted HSBC and after the appropriate security protocols were met, Aiwa got the number for Chaturvedi’s wife in India.
They contacted the wife and got the details for the hotel he was staying at, and the manager showed up with the replacement unit, a box of chocolates and a note profusely apologising for the inconvenience caused. As you can imagine, other than spoiling a potential surprise, Aiwa had caused absolutely no inconvenience. Instead, they made a fan for life.
Customers for life
Consumers do not identify with a brand as much as they identify with the product or the service that the brand provides. Having a superior product can’t be considered the only strategic differentiator anymore.
But it seems that so few businesses are really focused on customer acquisitions as opposed to customer retentions, that it’s a rare joy to hear a story about vehicle brand X that collected a customer that broke down on the side of the highway in the rain and gave them a replacement vehicle for the week while their new car is being repaired free of charge.
Sure, I’d be pretty bleak if my new car gave up the ghost within the first few weeks, but I’d always support the brand that treated me with so much reverence. In fact, I’d support the brand that treated my family and friends like that (and my family and friends would do the same).
And there it is: 94% of consumers trust word of mouth, 14% trust advertising. What makes this statistic ridiculous is the amount of marketing budget organisations feel the need to spend when the same budgets could be spent on retentions rather than acquisitions.
A happy customer is an ambassador for your brand – it’s built into us, this sense of community. Take it back to caveman (sorry, caveperson) days. You’d probably get a grunt and a smack from a fellow cavedweller if you tried chomping on some poisonous berries.
Today, if a friend says (s)he’s going to buy a Parker pen, or a Maxwell Williams tea set, or Pirelli tyres, if I have a story to share on why that’s a good/bad idea, you bet I’m going to chime in to save my friend from a potential terrible decision, or reinforce a good one. Think about your own life, what’s more effective, one story from a friend or 12 TV ads, 4 billboards, 3 radio spots and a double page spread in the Sunday Times?
Get everyone involved
So, how customer-centric is your business? If you answered, “We have a Customer Service Department,” then congratulations, you’ve ticked the box for the minimum requirement. Sardonic commentary aside, customer satisfaction is not the responsibility of the Customer Service Department – it’s the responsibility of the top to set the goals and ideals (or mission, vision and values) and inspiring the bottom to follow suit.
Before I ask you all to hold hands and join me for a chorus of Michael Jackson’s Heal the World I think it’s fair to say that Chaturvedi’s story has me despondent – it makes me wish for a perfect world where every provider had that kind of tact when dealing with customers and that more organisations were focused on people instead of the bottom-line. But I suppose you can’t appreciate a sunny day without a few rainy days.
Taking Care Of Business
Do you want to grow your business in 2019? Bear these tips in mind.
SMEs are the lifeblood of the South African economy, accounting for approximately 29% of employment in the country and forming a critical pillar of the government’s 2030 National Development Plan. With funding scarce and the economy volatile, small businesses remain increasingly vulnerable to economic pressures, with many failing to last beyond the five-year mark.
Thanks to the abundance of new and affordable technology, bringing with it the potential for new industries and market gaps, there has never been a better time to conduct business without crippling costs. It is not all doom and gloom in the small business sector, despite findings in the 2018 SME Landscape Report that suggest that a meagre 6% of all start-ups have received government funding.
Do not be afraid to delegate
Many entrepreneurs are so passionate about their own undertakings that they are unable to simply let things go. Rather than empowering and enabling others to take responsibility, many Type A business leaders instead opt to do it all themselves – usually with disastrous consequences.
Learning to delegate is key to alleviating bottlenecking and freeing up capacity in your business, so make sure to utilise all your available resources if you want your enterprise to expand.
While billboards and TV ads are expensive, marketing a business can now be done quite cheaply, thanks to the abundance of relatively affordable digital channels. So while you might not be able to have your brand staring out at you from the pages of a glossy magazine just yet, digital channels like Facebook and Google now allow you to achieve the same audience reach for a fraction of the cost.
Offering the best service in town is one thing, but it is worth nothing if nobody knows about it. So make sure to pay close attention to your website and its search engine optimisation (SEO). By using the correct keywords and even putting a small investment into Google Adwords, you will ensure that people who are looking for what you offer are able to find you easily.
With over 50% of all web traffic in South Africa coming from mobile devices, businesses simply can’t afford not to take a mobile-first approach to business. If you are offering an online service, make sure it is optimised for a mobile experience and ensure that any communication touch-points – be they blogs, social media posts or online check-out pages – are designed with mobile in mind.
One of the key advantages SMEs have over their larger counterparts is their ability to be flexible. Without outdated systems and reams of red tape to wade through, small businesses are far better able to adapt to market conditions and revise their offerings based on consumer needs. So make sure to listen to your customers and be willing to accept that some of your great ideas simply are not feasible.
Your willingness to accept failures and move on, will ultimately be what gives you the edge over your competitors.
Plan your finances
Cashflow is king when it comes to entrepreneurship and many a micro enterprise has come undone thanks to their inability to manage it. As such, financial planning is a critical tool for any business, especially for those operating without significant investment capital. Understanding potential pitfalls and keeping tabs on your profit margins will help to ensure you keep your pricing realistic and enable you to avoid finding yourself in the red.
Operating in isolation can only get you so far, so it is important that you put yourself out there and make proactive attempts to connect with other like-minded businesses. By joining a business network or attending industry events, you will be able to arm yourself with useful contacts, handy insights and perhaps a few new clients in the process.
Remember that owning a business is like raising a child – it requires constant supervision, nurturing and care if it is to succeed to its utmost potential. So make sure to look after your business and one day it will end up looking after you.
MiWay is a licensed Short-term Insurer and Financial Services Provider (FSP. 33970).
How Taking Risks – And Failing – Can Lead To Business Success
Don’t let fear of failure stop you from taking the risks you need to, to carry your business forward. But as your business grows, you’ll have to re-evaluate what risks you can take.
Innovate, innovate, innovate. The war cry is so often repeated that it has become something of a bore. Yet, true innovation remains a rarity – and to our huge detriment. As South Africans, we seem to carry a deep shame associated with failure. Yet, facing the very real possibility of failure is the only arena in which a culture of innovation can take root.
The biggest business failure of my life was an investment into a software company that wrote a piece of software that was set to revolutionise the mobile landscape. It was going to be huge. It was going to take the world by storm. But unfortunately, we backed the wrong horse.
We developed the software for the Symbian platform because Nokia was way ahead of the pack. Nobody else even came close. But, given the fact that there’s a good chance you currently have an iPhone or Android device in your pocket right now, you know how that story ended. Nokia seemed untouchable, then almost collapsed. We lost a lot of money.
Get back up
But, we learnt valuable lessons from that. Of course, there’s the general lesson that everyone should take away from failure – to get up and try again. As General George Custer said, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”
The other lesson was more specific to our business. In developing the software, we learnt a lot about different technology platforms and those lessons were invaluable as we took the next steps in Fedgroup. The same people who built that software helped in the initial stages of developing Azurite, which today is the backbone of our company’s entire operation.
Because we’d been involved so heavily in developing for mobility and the future, our minds were opened to what technology could do. It gave us the mindset to get where we are today.
Investing in education
It sounds like a terrible cliché, but there’s value in failure. Take the lessons you learn in failure – the genuine lessons – because even if you lose money, consider it school fees, and cheap at the price. Arguably, our failure was the “fees payable” that bought us our competitive edge.
In the United States, they are less afraid of failure. They wear their failures like a badge of honour. Elon Musk, for example, misses his targets, but he’s always pushing the boundaries. Recent (questionable) antics aside, Musk’s risk-taking drives innovation.
If people in an organisation are terrified of failure, they don’t try new things, they don’t innovate, they don’t move forward and they certainly don’t disrupt. Even though now, as the CEO of a large financial services company, I can’t afford to bet the whole business on a risky proposition, I still encourage risk-taking and a spirit of adventure – within reason.
Reckless vs reason
This is not to say that we can – or should – be reckless. There should be accountability, and the reasons for making the mistake should make sense. And, you shouldn’t make the same mistake twice. But if you take risks within those parameters, you’ve got a better chance of making a real difference in your organisation.
We have recently launched an app that is fairly disruptive, and as far as we can tell, the first of its kind in the world. Before we launched, we put our personal money behind the idea to test it. We had done our homework, but it was still a risk. If it hadn’t worked, we would have lost our personal money, but because we took that risk and proved it worked, we were able to launch it safely to the public one year later.
Parameters, limitations, and the ethics of risk
When you’re an entrepreneur, when you’re just starting out, you can bet the farm. You can take risks on new ventures and potentially build something out of nothing.
Once you’re an established organisation with staff and clients – and in our case, clients who have invested their pension with us – the scope of risk takes on a new set of parameters. When you are dealing with a client’s security, it is simply not acceptable to expose them to additional avoidable risk.
However, because risk taking is where the magic of innovation happens, encouraging a framework where creativity, experimentation, and risk is possible within your organisation, is critical. One of the ways to encourage this is to examine your attitude towards failure. Build an environment where failure is not taboo, but presents a strong learning opportunity, and ring fence those areas within the organisation which absolutely cannot be jeopardised. This is risk in a helmet – you might get a roasty, but you could win the race.
Proven Strategies To Grow Your Start-up On A Scale Following These Guidelines
The following strategies can help you make the start-up scalable and grow it to accommodate a larger demand.
Scalability and flexibility are important properties of any business. Let’s say you’ve managed to build a successful start-up. It’s profitable and promising, but you want it to become better. The scalability of a business involves its ability to adapt for bigger workloads without losing revenue.
Even if your business is currently small and doesn’t generate huge profits, scalability can help it turn into a large enterprise. The wrong approach to developing a start-up can deprive it of an opportunity to become better.
The following strategies can help you make the start-up scalable and grow it to accommodate a larger demand.
Scaling Vs Growth
Many companies make a mistake of thinking that scaling and growing a company is the same thing. In fact, growth involves increasing revenue or the size of the company (the number of employees, offices, clients).
Constant growth requires numerous resources and may not always lead to a proportional revenue increase. In many cases, the growing number of services or products needed to boost revenue involves high costs related to the growing number of employees and equipment.
On the other hand, scaling allows you to increase the revenue without the costs involved in growth. You can handle the extra load and boost your profits while keeping the costs to a minimum.
At some point, a successful start-up needs to make a choice between growing at a constant rate and switching to the scaling business model.
Even though a single clear method for scaling your business doesn’t exist, there are some guidelines you can follow.
1. Get Ready To Be Patient
Scaling is not a quick process so you have to be patient. The overnight success story is not about you. In fact, scaling too fast usually results in unfortunate failure.
Allow yourself to spend the time to understand who your ideal customers are and how you can solve their problems in a better manner. Make sure you understand how to be confident about the new volume of your work.
Do research to find out how you can find the right resources to achieve scaling rather than growth.
2. Choose The Right Software
The lack of time and team members is a common problem for a startup looking for scaling methods. That’s why they need to try and automate as many processes as possible. This can be done with the assistance of the right software.
- Trello – to simplify in-office and remote teamwork
- MailChimp – to improve marketing campaigns
- Brand24 – to get insights about your business
- Survicate – to collect customers’ feedback
- Voiptime – to increase connectivity.
3. Take Advantage of Outsourcing
Since you are hoping to limit the expenses while growing the revenue, you have to find ways to spend the revenue in the right manner. The biggest mistake made by business owners who think they are choosing scaling is hiring a big team. By doing so, they turn scaling into growing.
Your best bet to avoid hiring a large team and paying large salaries while achieving your plans is to outsource. Using your resources wisely involves finding freelancers and remote employees who are willing to work for a lower pay on a one-time (or several) contract bases.
For example, you don’t need a lawyer or a computer specialist sitting in the office all day long. Why should you pay them a monthly salary?
4. Don’t Do It Alone
Even though certain team minimisation is necessary to improve your scaling efforts, don’t try to handle everything on your own. It’s important to have at least one person you can rely on to manage the business-related problems.
Scaling your start-up is possible as soon as you understand what scaling is in detail. You need to be careful not to start growing your business instead of scaling it in the process. Once you have all the fundamentals figured, resources managed, and the right people in place, you are ready to start.
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