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.
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.
Last week, I attended a winter beer festival at Cambridge University. A beer festival is a great place to find out about unfamiliar and new beers from the growing number of microbreweries around the UK. This, however, can bring a dilemma for the consumer. When I arrived, there were approximately 90 beers available to; so where to start? At first, I asked for a recommendation, but got the answer, “well what do you like”? I realised my simple error. I hadn’t asked the right question to the right people. I resorted to using the tasting notes on the Festival website, and it occurred to me that good, up to date information is vital in so many settings – whether helping in making a purchase as a consumer, knowing how to get from A to B without getting caught in heavy traffic, or guiding the commercial decision making process when determining which market to target for a new product.
One of the most difficult steps in market research is working out information is really needed and what questions should be asked to tease out the answers that address the big issues. Qi3 has recently launched “Ask the Experts” as a quick and easy method of getting to the right answer without the need for an extensive market survey. The concept is a simple one. For a modest fee, we offer to ask a single question to a handful of experts in a given field. That’s it. Short and to the point.
This approach of insisting on a single question focuses the mind to that information that is really needed to make a significant difference to a business’ market intelligence. Cutting everything down to that one question takes a surprisingly long time, but is in itself a useful process. The people we go on to talk to are carefully selected either from our large database of contacts, or sourced on a project by project basis, depending on the technology and the market. By limiting the scope and targeting the right people we can quickly get an insight into a defined marketing challenge. We believe that this methodology is going to be invaluable in helping companies guide product strategies in times of stringent budgets. The first projects using this methodology are underway. Watch out for case studies in the near future.
By the way, if you’re interested, the beer of the night for me was “San Jacinto”, an American IPA brewed by Bexar County Brewery near Peterborough, closely followed by Lord Conrad’s “Zulu”. That’s just my opinion; I guess it really depends on what you like.