Janus, the Roman God of beginnings and transitions, is usually depicted as having two faces since he looks to the future and to the past. In many ways this reminds me of the role of Customer Service and Support (CSS) within a product company, helping support a product from its inception, through birth and life, to its timely or untimely demise.
To meet this challenge, CSS needs to deliver a range of activities, from fix-it, through improved productivity, to reduced through-life cost. And this is where the schizophrenia comes in, for each has a very different value to the customer.
On one end of the value range you have service contracts, which is like selling insurance (something might go wrong so protection is needed) and this often has low value in the customers’ eyes. You might even say that it is negative marketing because it highlights the potential unreliability of the product.
At the other end, upgrades, training for new operators, performance optimisation for increased productivity, and reduced through-life costs all add significant value to customers.
So, creating a value proposition for Customer Service & Support in a product company is a wonderful exercise in exploring different aspects of value and how they change over time, all for the same product group. Trying to get your head around this
complex situation is great practice for creating incisive value propositions for other products, as long as you achieve the requirements of brevity, clarity, and empathy. Don’t fall into the trap of making it complicated; a good value proposition is always simple.
Mark Twain famously once wrote “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”, and I am constantly reminded of this every time I write or review a Value Proposition. Most start life as a long, bloated attempt to capture all the benefits the company believes it has. The enthusiasm to capture all the good things is understandable, but usually results in the target readers losing the will to live before they are half way through.
There are three golden rules to a good Value Proposition – Brevity, Clarity, and Empathy. For Brevity, it should be less than 150 words. For Clarity, any knowledgeable lay-person should be able to read and get it immediately. Find a suitable outsider to test it on. And finally for Empathy, get inside the head of the reader. They have their own needs. Does your value proposition stop them in their tracks and make them think – that’s just what I need. Again, test it on an outsider who will be very challenging.
A good Value Proposition should ‘do what it says on the tin’ – tell the reader what value they will get from you. To get it right takes a lot of time. But then giving a sales or investment message that the target audience don’t understand will turn
them off, and severely damage the business. It is time well spent.
I was working on a couple of client projects recently when I was reminded of a very relevant quotation by Voltaire – “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” We have just launched a new service called ‘Ask the Experts’, which provides a quick, authoritative answer to a single, key marketing question. The process had been well worked out and all seemed straightforward, till we came to working out the exact question with the client.
We quickly identified several potential questions, but which one should we use; which would provide greatest value; which would get to the heart of the matter? This brought to mind another quotation, this time by G. K. Chesterton – “It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.” Taking this idea to heart, we set about understanding the client’s problem, what they wanted to achieve, and what they needed to do with the answer. This was an interesting journey of discovery for the client and us.
The situation highlighted a couple of salient lessons which we have known instinctively for a long-time, but which hadn’t been highlighted so clearly before:
the relevance of the answer is determined by the quality of the question,
it is often valuable to spend as much time defining the question as it is to finding the answer.
I found it interesting that issues of society and life explored by the literary giants of the past still have relevance in today’s rapidly changing business environment. But then clarity of thinking is essential, whatever the circumstances.
Most Western countries today give privileges for certain kinds of confidential communications, such as those between a lawyer and client or a doctor and patient. It is worth considering why institutions like the United States Supreme Court have upheld these privileges. Without them there could not be a full and frank discussion or disclosure between a lawyer and a client, which would mean that the professional could not provide the best service and advice to a client.
Sometimes I’m inclined to think that the business world is not a million miles away from this kind of thinking. When a client seeks out marketing counsel for some new company initiative, they too need to be able to talk openly about strengths and weaknesses in their current strategy, technology or product portfolio. In the absence of real candid discussions a positive outcome becomes more difficult. The more a client shares, the better and more cost effective the service they are likely to receive. From a marketing counsel perspective we take very seriously client relationships and these confidences. It’s a privilege after all.
I recently organized the CEOI ‘Innovations in Remote Sensing’ Showcase in London which attracted over 70 delegates from a wide variety of industries, institutions and government. The event provided a great opportunity to catch up with the latest Earth observation (EO) instrumentation technologies and highlighted potential areas for licensing, collaboration and supply.
Qi3 runs the industry engagement activities of the CEOI programme, which supports mainstream technical projects and smaller ‘seedcorn’ projects, both selected through Open Calls to the community. Created in 2007 and jointly funded by the UK Space Agency and industry, the CEOI has a vision to develop and strengthen UK expertise and capabilities in EO. It also works to position the UK to win leading roles in future international space programmes. Presentations from CEOI Innovations in Remote Sensing Showcase and further information about the CEOI and its technologies can be found via the following link.