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Wednesday
Oct242012

Timing is everything

It’s not as if there is not enough data in the world already (we should know) but there seems to be a current fashion for generating even more by canvassing opinions as soon as you open up any number of websites:   “We’re striving to improve and would appreciate you taking a few minutes to complete a survey.”  Give me a chance, I’ve only just arrived on your site and I don’t even know what you do yet!

If looking for 'whats' don't forget the 'whens' 

Now, over the years I have commissioned many customer surveys and what always strikes me is how, along with things like the precise phrasing of the questions and the people taking part, the results are dramatically affected by ‘when’ respondents are asked for their opinions. 

This observation was reinforced recently when I was invited to complete a customer survey for a major technology company.  You can probably guess it wasn’t a great experience and the reason for this blog is to hopefully stop you making the same mistake. 

I knew I was eligible for a new phone so I was expecting my current provider to ring bearing gifts and upgrades.  Sure enough, that day came three weeks ago. 

No such thing as a “free” signal booster.

We have all been there and after thirty minutes on the call, and a lot of me saying “I don’t need that,” I agreed to take a new smart phone.  It wasn’t the highest spec, but it was significantly better than my current phone.  And not only that, since the mobile phone signal where I live is so bad, I managed to wangle a “free” signal booster. So in summary, I had a new and improved phone, an improved signal at home and a lower price - happy days!  As I wasn’t around the next day to take delivery, we agreed it would be delivered two days later, on Thursday.  

For the first time in my life a call with a mobile phone provider was a really pleasurable experience and I was happy.  Of course, cutting a long story short, it went wrong. 

Thursday morning came (and went) and no phone arrived.  I tried to check progress on the courier’s website using the tracking number I had been given but no such delivery existed. 

I took a deep breath and rang my phone company.   “Oh dear, that order was cancelled and it’s not been replaced with anything.  I am sorry,” came the reply. “As a gesture of good will, we will upgrade it to a better phone with double the memory.  Could we deliver it tomorrow?” 

She was most upset when I said “No, cancel the order I will go elsewhere.”  It wasn’t an idle threat as I was with customers the next day and then flying to the US. 

However, two hours later I got another call from my phone supplier.   They were clearly more senior as they had got creative and arranged for the phone and the booster to be delivered to their store nearest my meeting.  To say I was cynical was an understatement, but in fairness to them it worked and I picked up my bigger and better phone plus the booster on Friday afternoon. 

I only wish that was the end of the story. When I got home on the Friday evening my eighty five year old neighbour knocked on my door saying that they had a parcel for me.  No prizes for guessing, but it was the original ‘cancelled’ order.   How many phone boosters does a man need?

Since the answer is ‘one’, the next morning (Saturday) I waited for twenty minutes on a call to the customer service department. I spent a further twenty minutes explaining what had happened and eventually I was told I would be sent a pre paid recorded mail bag so I could return the phone and booster. That was ten days ago and there has been no sign of it.  I’ve given up worrying.  I’ve got a phone (two in fact), the signal is much better at home and if the pre-paid mail bag does turn up I will happily return the extra phone.

Time for feedback

It’s not been a seamless transaction to say the least and I can’t wait to be asked to complete a survey because I will be able to give them a piece of my mind.  But wait, I completed a survey two weeks ago.  It was just after a more than satisfactory experience with their call centre.  It was a survey where, for the first time ever, I gave ten out of tens for everything.   Why haven’t I been invited to complete more surveys?  Clearly they think I am a satisfied customer – maybe even an ‘advocate’ for the company.  What a shame they didn’t wait before canvassing my opinion.  

And this is my point ladies and gentlemen, by asking customers what they think of you during a process and not waiting until you have finished,  you run the risk of generating biased data and remaining blissfully unaware of true feelings which will only come to light at the next renewal date – by which time your customers could be gone.

Wednesday
Aug292012

When meet is better than tweet

Deciding the most effective way to get your voice heard is one of the many marketing challenges businesses face today.  While social media has opened up numerous communication channels, the ease of communication makes it possible to overlook more traditional channels and opportunities to communicate face to face. 

Meeting customers and potential customers has always been important to us – possibly because our platform serves a specialist purpose and is best explained and demonstrated in person. 

However, as much we would like to visit every company across the globe it is not practical which is why we continue to exhibit at trade shows and take part in smaller specialist seminars.  Depending who you talk to, exhibitions have either had their day or are still an effective way to meet large numbers of potential customers.  For us it is firmly the latter and trade shows and seminars provide an effective way to demonstrate our platform. 

However, despite exhibitions being effective for us it is fair to say that compared with a few years ago visitors are under more pressure to justify spending two or three days in an exhibition hall. Individuals are busier than ever and technology today means that half an hour of internet research can often provide much of the information that previously was only available at trade shows.

Trade shows today need to be more than a collection of stands with a range of corporate literature.  

It means that trade shows today need to provide visitors with information that cannot be collected online and they need to be much more than a collection of stands with a range of corporate literature.  This is why when we first started sponsoring Multimodal, the UK’s premier transport and logistics show,  five years ago we wanted to use our stand to host a series of industry briefings that would be a draw in their own right.  Over the years this format has proved extremely successful with an impressive range of speakers from industry and academia which in turn has generated high numbers of visitors to our stand. 

The format is attractive to our customers as well since they are able to meet with other companies and those who we have asked to give presentations are able to use the presentations to highlight the innovative work their companies have been undertaking.  Despite the event’s success we are always wary of taking up too much of our customers’ time but the feedback we receive is that generally they would like to spend more time at the exhibition but it just impractical to be away from the office for a large chunk of the week.

When we started putting together the speaker programme for Multimodal 2012 this feedback was ringing in our ears and we wanted a way to encourage more of our customers to visit the show without taking over their diaries for the week. It was then we had the idea that if people can’t spare time away from the offices, why don’t we put their offices on the exhibition floor?  Initially, it sounded intriguing but the more we thought about the concept, the more the idea made sense.  Providing our customers with a fully functioning private office – desk, telephone, broadband, meeting area – would allow them to base themselves at the exhibition for the week, fix meetings with their suppliers and carry on with their day job.

The ‘Shippers Village’ provides an office away from the office - meet suppliers and carry on with the day job.

Working with the event organisers this idea developed into ‘Shippers Village’ and the opportunity to take an office for the duration of the exhibition was opened up to all companies and not just our customers.

It proved such a success that the concept is being repeated at Multimodal 2013 and companies including Coca-Cola, Ericsson, Cabot, Kellogg's, Mars, Tesco, and Jaguar Land Rover have already signed up.  

In the transport sector, shippers like this are a big attraction so we have ended up in the situation where the conference organisers are happy, suppliers who can request meetings with big name companies are happy and the shippers who can attend the trade show, meet existing and potential suppliers and do a week’s work in their private office are happy.  And because a number of these shippers are our customers, when they are happy we are happy.

Creative solutions to make customers' lives easier

Although the Shippers Village concept grew from an almost throw away idea, it’s important to realise that we were trying to solve a problem for our customers which was in effect how can they be in two places at once?  While we haven’t quite managed the impossible we have at least made it practical for our customers to attend a three day trade show.  We pride ourselves on our creativity when comes to developing sourcing solutions and this creativity flows through the entire company and shows how an open mind combined with the drive to deliver can provide a solution that is far more effective than was initially imagined.

In all types of communication, the channel and messenger is as important as the message itself. Social media is incredibly useful for mass communication and will be relevant in some instances for some audiences but face-to-face meetings and human interaction often repay the additional time and effort required in fixing the meetings which is why we generally prefer to meet rather than tweet out customers.

Multimodal 2013 takes place 23-25 April 2013 in the NEC, Birmingham, U.K. For more information visit the website www.multimodal.org.uk and to book a place in the Shippers Village email Robert Jervis on robert.jervis@clarionevents.com

Friday
Aug102012

Maja joins the team

Maja Milic joins Trade ExtensionsWe are delighted to introduce a new member of the Trade Extensions team with the appointment of Maja Milic Deighton. Maja joins as a Senior Sourcing Consultant and will be based in Portugal.

Maja has a wealth of experience in e-sourcing and has worked in range of in-house and consultancy roles since the late 1990s seeing techniques progress from simple auctions through to multi-round tenders with sophisticated optimisation and scenario analysis.  

Maja said, "It’s fantastic to join Trade Extensions because it is a company that I know well from my time as a consultant.  As a consultant you use all the main sourcing platforms on the market and Trade Extensions has always been the leading platform in terms of flexibility and analysis."

In addition to her sourcing and technology knowledge, Maja is fluent in 11 languages so, more often than not, is able to work with customers in their preferred language. 

Trade Extensions' reputation as a  leader and innovator is something else which  drew Maja to the company.  Maja said,  “I’ve always known the company has incredible brain power with some of the most intelligent people I have worked with, but it is also a company with a big heart and that is why I am looking forward to working here.”

Trade Extensions, President, Arne Andersson said,  “Maja has worked with us on many projects over the years so it is great that we have persuaded her to join us on a permanent basis.  She has great experience which will benefit our customers but also us as a company.”

Friday
Jun222012

Price and flexibility are key factors for transport buyers 

In light of American Shipper magazine’s recent benchmark study on transport procurement, Trade Extensions, Chief Executive Officer, Garry Mansell has written an in-depth  ‘Perspective’ commenting on its findings. 

American Shipper reports how the best transport buyers are using technology to provide flexibility in bid collection and analysis and Garry reflects on this and how it allows them to achieve their overall objective - controlling costs.

Read Garry's Perspective - here.

Wednesday
May162012

Guest Post on Sourcing Innovation, Parts 1 - 4