Customer experience is the phrase on everyone’s lips right now, particularly in this unprecedented time of COVID-19, so keep reading to see what Andy had to say about customer experience, as our CEO and Founder, James Ker-Reid, asks the key questions…
- Tell our audiences a little bit about yourself and your own journey from photography to entrepreneurship…
I think it’s fair to say that I have a fairly varied background, but the common thread that goes through everything is a sense of being an entrepreneur, meaning wanting to do my own things on my own terms throughout my careers.
It used to be you have a job for life, then it became 2 or 3 jobs, then about 2 or 3 careers. I’ve probably had more, but I’ve essentially woven a path from being a band manager and concert promoter, music photographer and then on to travel, journalism and writing. I’m very passionate about current affairs and different cultures.
Through my travels, I ended up working for Reuters news agency as a correspondent in Vietnam at a time where that country was just emerging from communist command economy, an American embargo was still in place. I spent 7 years there and I found it a fascinating country, a country in transition. Interestingly, you saw the growth from a naturally entrepreneurial society that was completely suppressed by the state to the green shoots of entrepreneurship coming through. There is now extreme wealth in the cities – they’ve seen the opportunity and seized it, now with some of the world’s richest people there. However, entrepreneurship isn’t just about becoming rich, it’s about following your dreams and not really comprising in terms of standards, ethics and ethos in life.
The one thing I learnt is that it’s not about following the crowd. In January 2001, I was posted to Karachi, Pakistan as the bureau chief for Reuters and 9/11 happened soon after. I was suddenly managing one of the world’s biggest news stories and all the world’s media were parachuting in to cover this story in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was at the very heart of the whole thing. The press would behave like a herd, they would all follow each other. The editors would look for journalists to match the stories of their competitors.
However, I would always say go and find your own opportunities, because what you find may well set you apart, put you in that category of one and give you opportunities to build something special. I used that approach to my journalism and also as I moved into commercial entrepreneurship and actually running a business. I founded Yomdel in 2012, growing further in 2014 – I am now a business employing 130 people in 3 countries.
- What do you think we can learn here in Europe and the UK compared to Asia and the Middle East in terms of culture and business and entrepreneurship?
Having lived in Asia for 10 years and then continued travelling there for many many years for business, the thing that differentiates what happens in those fast-growing economies is that when you’re starting from nothing, everything is an opportunity. There’s no time to procrastinate, everyone is learning for the first time.
People are going to make mistakes, so it’s about being prepared to fail faster, being prepared to take risks because if you haven’t got a model to follow, you’re never going to know what’s right and wrong.
For the more established economies in the world, decision making turns into procrastination, bureaucracy and fear of risk. I’ve worked with companies where no-one wants to take responsibility and because no-one wanted to say it’s their fault. I say that’s the best place to be because then you’re in control. If you can put your hand up when it’s wrong, you can take the applause when you get it right. Looking at the incredible growth of entrepreneurship and new business where previously there was no model to copy, and seeing how they’ve made up their own rules, they’ve worked out the things they need to do and they’ve been incredibly successful at it.
- Customer experience is a big part of your company’s mission. What advice would you give to CEOs who want to create and implement a great customer experience?
The key is in the word ‘customer’ experience – it’s not about you, it’s about the customer.
Flipping everything around to look through the world through the prism of the customer’s eyes. You can do lots of research, but the easiest way to do that is to think about yourself, how you do things, what your expectations are, how you make a purchase.
There is such an enormous disconnect between how a business likes to try to position itself with the customer and how the customer wants to position itself in the eyes of the business. The customer doesn’t give a damn about the business, the customer only gives a damn about what they want and need. And if the business isn’t geared up enough to give that to them in the way that they want it, then they’ll go somewhere else.
These days, especially during this time of coronavirus, many people are rapidly adopting new technology and new ways of doing things. They are developing preferences in how they behave which they are likely to stick with as restrictions ease. But many companies do not offer the new digital channels such as live chat that people are showing they’d prefer to interact with – this is the customer experience people want.
When we come out of this, the customer will become more in control than ever before, because they are being empowered by technology. The internet in its broader sense is a great democratiser – it makes everything available to you at the touch of a finger. Companies need to recognise that they have to earn the right to be in the space where their customer is. If they don’t provide what the customer wants, they’ll go somewhere else.
Customer experience is a massive subject in itself. It’s important to say, our entire lives are wrapped up in modern technology, particularly smartphones, both professionally and socially. It’s all intertwined – we will always be multitasking. At my business Yomdel, we provide managed live chat services as our key service, but we also provide mystery shopping and customer research.
What’s very clear is that whether people are looking for information in the B2B or B2C space, they are behaving as consumers and companies need to adapt to that. It’s absolutely critical, there’s no other way to say it. These days, loyalty has to be continuously earned, it’s not something you secure once and then have forever. Research shows when looking at loyalty that you can have the most loyal customer who has loved you for years but if you give them one poor experience, more than a third of them will never come back. Others will question whether they should come back. It’s about always going above and beyond as far as you can. Thinking about the relationship you have, doing the little things that really matter and make a difference. A quote from Maya Angelou I like to borrow says: “People may forget what you said but won’t forget how they made you feel.” That is very very true.
- How has online viewing behaviour and expectations of customer experience changed over the last 2-3 years?
The great enabler, again, is your phone. Most people are obviously no longer using them as a phone, they are using it as a reference device, an entertainment device. Everyone is carrying the world with them in the pocket. Everyone is carrying a camera with them. You used to have a scarcity of a documented event, now there are millions of pictures of the same thing. People have adapted, it’s not necessarily progress, but it’s change. They continue to change and adapt to the technology that’s available to them.
If we look at live chat which is one of my key areas, when I started the company in 2012, there were no other companies doing what we did. My idea was simply to bring the real world into the digital experience. If you walk into a shop, someone will probably say ‘how can I help you’. If you went on a website it was the equivalent of someone walking into a shop and turning the lights off. User experience was poor, architecture was poor, the connection was poor. But if you could bring human interaction into that space, you could start to make the experience that bit better.
That was the starting point. However, when we first started to create the idea and take it out into the market, people were really interested but they weren’t prepared to pay to find out as they didn’t get it. Once smartphones and iPhones started to really take off, people started to get it. Now, for live chat, the majority of people would specify that if it was available, it would be their preferred communication channel online as opposed to picking up the phone or sending an email.
Years ago it used to be there was an ad in the paper for a mail-order catalogue, you’d get your catalogue, and then you would order stuff and the small print would say you would receive it within 6 weeks. You’d send off a cheque and wait for the cheque to clear. These days, if you don’t get it the next day, you’d start to say ‘that’s not very good’. Businesses and organisations that are doing best are those that move with the consumers that recognise their own behaviour and they move with them.
Very interesting in this time of coronavirus, you look at how different businesses are behaving, especially customer-facing businesses because they have suddenly had the ability to interact with their customers face-to-face taken away from them. They fall into 2 broad camps – those that have turned out the lights and ignoring the situation, thinking that they can emerge in the future and start again; and those who seek to adapt, try new things and plan for a different future.
Sitting and waiting and hoping is wrong. The most successful businesses under the coronavirus lockdown were prudent enough to look at their cash flow situation, work out what’s essential, what’s not and then actively planning what they are doing next. They have reviewing all their business practices – do we need an office? who is doing what? what staff are needed? questioning what they have always done.
The smart guys now are the ones that are looking at the opportunities that are being created right now. This could sound morbid during these sad times of hardship, but it’s not about taking advantage of anyone else, but instead taking advantage of this new normal that is emerging, in order to be able to provide people and companies, the services, support and products that they need. There are going to be restrictions for years to come so we need to adapt.
- What are some of the tips or advice that you can give to founders to rank or prioritise these new opportunities that are coming from this new norm we find ourselves in?
Review all your expenditure, checking you haven’t got any kind of the equivalent of old gym memberships that you’re paying for every month, but you’ve never really used. Bin those.
Understand the complete ecosystem from start to finish from everything you need to do and ask a very important question of yourself and your business which is ‘Do I need to do that myself or is there a better person or more efficient way of doing it?’ Outsourcing can have a bit of bad press, but building partnerships with key suppliers, driving efficiencies into your business, meaning expensive in-house resources can be used for high ticket critical activities, can be incredibly beneficial.
With the markets as they currently are, for the vast majority of us, it’s been really tough, one of the toughest times. The world has changed. This is not the time for bickering, it’s the time to potentially get in touch with your competitors, seeing what you can do to potentially work together. It’s not about stealing each other’s market. Don’t expend your energy fighting with your competitors when the problem is out there in the market. Bringing it back to customer experience, customers really don’t care, they just want their problem solved.
- What’s important now for many business owners that they are often overlooking from what you’re seeing in the market now?
I think now is the time to be preparing for the next opportunity. The next opportunity might be diminished compared to what it was in March. My business had just come through four record months and then the rug was pulled from underneath us, that’s just the way it is. Now it’s been about rebuilding, banking bucket loads of goodwill with people. Talking to people, being honest, open and human, showing some of your frailties, as we’re all experiencing the same thing. There’s a natural tendency for people, particularly in this country, to not be too emotional with things and try to pretend that things are ok when they are clearly not. Looking for ways to engage and support with others, others who are facing the same thing, together you’re stronger. Making those tough decisions now, because if you have lots of staff furloughed, the likelihood is that some of those people won’t come back – hard for business owners to confront. Decisions on people’s welfare. Need to now rethink the business and what’s the new look of it.
- What are three pieces of advice you can give to founders in their first few years of entrepreneurship who want to be in it for the long-term?
If you’ve been successful in your first couple of years and doing something that the majority of small businesses aren’t doing, seeing significant growth, is that there’s a hill you’re climbing that is very very steep.
From the start to getting to £2m revenue with some good people around you and you have a good idea, you should be able to do that pretty well.
Moving to the £3-4m is really hard. Because suddenly you’re not just dealing with the baby that you’ve been in control of, the scale starts to multiply and that’s when you need other people coming in, relying on other people. To get over that hill is really hard.
The first piece of advice is to make sure you find the right mentors, associates, shareholders – people with the right experience who are going to be honest with you. People need to question what you are doing. It’s really important right now to make decisions with the right advice as the decisions you make now will affect your future. Get people to ask you the hard questions about what you’re doing.
The second – go and talk to all your customers. There might be a tendency to avoid talking to your customers as you fear they might cancel or reduce their spend with you. You think by avoiding that conversation you’ll avoid that happening, but in fact, if they haven’t heard from you, they are more likely to cancel their services with you. Speak with them, maintain a steady stream of communication, call of key contacts in your client base. Listen to them, ask them what they need.
The final bit of advice, don’t give up. Simply put, there are plenty of times in any entrepreneurs’ experience and life that it might appear to offer huge relief to just give up, but you can’t just do that, you have to get your head down and believe that it’s going to be alright. Keep calm and carry on!
We thank Andy again for his time with James today!
That is all from us at Sales for Startups today, be sure to tune in soon for more interviews with CEOs and Founders of some great companies that are shedding some light on the current issues we are facing. If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.