New Year, New You...ser Experience.

New Way Old Way

January is traditionally the time of year where we draw a line in the sand after a bruising 525,600 minutes and say, 'what's next?'

A time for resolutions and commitments to change. A time for better and glossing over the fact you could have made a change long before Sinitta brought in the new year aboard a cruise ship docked in Sunderland.

As January 1st hit, what was your resolution? Lose weight? Stop Drinking? Read 10000 books? Get through the month?

Strava has pinpointed January 12th as the day people fall off the wagon and start to waver. That was a couple of weeks ago. So you're probably back to normal. End of article. New Year done. You're welcome.

But… lets for a second consider that this imaginary line in the sand serves a purpose. What if it is a chance to say 'Look, we need to reset and do things differently and, no, I don't mean stop drinking or eat 800 calories a day and hate our lives'?

January 2021 may feel like month 13 of 2020, but it's a genuine chance for brands to take stock and think 'what could we do better?' Take the new year away, and that's a sensible discussion any day of any year. But it's too easy to get stuck in the day-to-day and keep on keeping on.

I'm not going to mention the c-word (not that one, the other one) but this past year has seen seismic shifts in consumer behaviour that aren't going to disappear when the vaccines have rolled out.

So what should you do? Where do you start? Keep it simple. Ask yourself these three questions.

New Customers, Same Experience?

new-customer2020 saw a massive shift toward digital - a shift of necessity, but one that was well mapped out but accelerated by circumstance. We've seen customers engage with brands digitally for the first time, digital experiences becoming the defacto brand touchpoint and existing customers having to utilise digital all the time.

If your experience seemed flawless before 2020, I could guarantee holes have appeared as your digital offering has been bent and probed in entirely unexpected ways. But it's been a tough year and getting by has been a challenge all in itself. Sites have added queuing systems to protect the experience's integrity, but the experience across sectors is mostly unchanged. Luckily though, the storm of 2020 is over, and things might slowly go back to normal, and your current experience is sufficient.

That’s a nice idea

Customer Experience is a much-misunderstood concept. You will often hear it discussed as the sum of a customer's experience with a particular brand's touchpoints. It's something the brand can control and, if done well, customers will seamlessly flow through a journey and buy many, many things. If your brand exists in a vacuum, that might be the case. But it doesn't. And an individual interacts with a marketplace of brands, each offering differing experiences.

When we consider how relevant and suitable your digital experience is, we can't do that in isolation. Have your competitors adapted their experiences for this age of digital-only? If the answer to that is yes, and you're still rocking the same experience you had in January 2020, you're immediately on the back foot.

Every year this is the case. But, there's a difference this year with new customers flocking to digital. The pandemic has decimated physical experiences. You have a segment of customers who are not familiar with e-commerce or rely on physical interaction to make a purchase decision. You've also got a large segment of customers who are consuming your digital content and using that to make a choice. Without any other input. No conversation with a roving salesperson. No physical product exploration. Just what you offer digitally.

So, question two...

Without physical interaction, would you still buy from you?

This one is a test of your honesty, but it's a valid question that could change your digital outlook for 2021 and beyond.

If you couldn't walk into a store, would you buy your product? How essential is the tactile nature of your offering to the purchase funnel? Are your salespeople the physical manifestation of the brand and now entirely phone-based? If you could only use your digital assets, would you?

We've seen entirely virtual property viewings, removing that gut feeling you get when you first walk through the door of a house. Car sales are now happening online, but does that replicate sitting in a showroom and picturing yourself driving the car, or even the smell of that pristine vehicle? No. It doesn't.

physical-interactionThere is a saving grace here, though, and that is that ‘physical’ will return. People will buy cars in person again. House viewings will take place. And you'll be able to go to John Lewis and see and touch a product before purchasing that new OLED TV. Digital doesn't exist to replicate that experience; it supplements it. And when physical interactions return, it will scratch that itch - for some. But there will still be an expectation that, short of physical sensation, your digital experience can deliver everything a customer needs.

So what can you do?

Use this (last ever) lockdown time well. Spend time understanding what physical interaction means to your purchase funnel, and where digital is offering a pale imitation of that critical step in the journey. You can't replace a physical conversation with an email - but you can substitute a 48hr ticket response system with a video call. You can't replace the physical sensation of a product. However, you can use genuine in-situ shots and augmented reality to help customers understand how the product can physically enhance their life.

Instead of thinking about what digital can't do, think about what the lack of physical interaction can do. Look at your various paths to purchase - what is going to happen if physical interactions only return to 60% of their previous levels? Where will digital pick up the slack?

And if nothing else, rest safe in the knowledge that Gary Barlow is selling tickets for an o2 show this December. Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse…



Does your DXP know your customers in the way that you do?

Merchandising in stores is an age-old game of jostling for position, with stores manipulating product placement to drive sales and brands dispatching their ‘collateral warriors’ to offer an engaging shop floor experience and funnel undecided customers to their product.

It relies heavily on an innate understanding of footfall, dwell times and consumer psychology. There's a vast data operation behind it - there has been for years, all the way from understanding physical customer flow through a store to which staff members sell which products. It was even the case back when I worked for an electrical retailer some twenty years ago. None of this is new.

If that happens in physical stores, it's 100% happening on every digital property across the country. Every brand offering a digital storefront or lead generation knows who is buying, what content they consume, their thoughts and feelings, what device journey they take and where the friction points are in the journey. Every brand, right? Let's stick with some, or even just a handful.

What I can promise you is that your market has a mix of laggards and trailblazers. At least one of your competitors has their digital audience mapped and is actively interrogating that data to find a competitive advantage. Hand on heart, can you say that's you?

Every brand can measure and improve their digital experience. Internal legacy issues may make this difficult, whether logistical or tech, but there is a solution to each problem. And it can't be overstated just how critical this is in 2021 and beyond.

Without rock-solid measurement and an accurate view of the digital path to purchase, you're at the mercy of opinion and imitating the competition, in the hopes that they have got the right approach.

This last bit is where I'm technically supposed to sell you something. Still, I'd prefer you took these three questions to heart and thought 'actually, it's not a case of being sold something, it's a case of us needing some external support to understand where we are and where we can improve'.

We've delivered success for e-commerce titans like YPO by doing just this - and we can do the same for you. Just get in touch, and we can work with you to make a positive change for 2021. One that doesn't stop you from drinking.

Top of mind when ensuring your brand and business becomes Fit for the Future is efficiency. If processes feel lumpy then now is the time to look in the mirror. Even if things are running smoothly on the surface the approach still may not be optimal for the best possible results and outcomes. Here are my 5 Top Tips to becoming Future Fit by improving delivery efficiency whilst successfully maintaining a portfolio of projects. 

Our Sagittarius ‘Production Machine’ has stood the test of time. Yes, it’s continuously evolving with new technologies and processes but our framework remains consistent at its core. Crucial for us is the recognition of challenges and issues from our past experiences, learning from them and adapting to improve this next time around. With digital engineering and martech optimisation accelerating so rapidly the agility we adopt in our approach will become increasingly more important over time.

Having worked in Project Management, Programme Management and now Portfolio management there are 5 key things I believe you can do with relative ease to focus on improving the efficiency of your teams whilst working on a mixture of fixed budget projects and augmented teams with retained external members (like our Business Transformation Retainer model - BTR).  

When striking the right balance, the impact this has across Production can be considerable resulting in an increase in profitability and revenue - always a bonus! 


Tip One: Utilisation  

We define utilisation in two parts - billable and non-billable utilisation. Depending on the type of organisation you are this might be better phrased as core business and supplementary or something simpler just to delineate the split between output that drives you forward fast vs standard working practices/exceptions that exist in any role. 
Both are equally important to understand team capacity. If there is a high proportion of non-billable work booked on a team, then there are generally three potential reasons – leave (sick, vacation, dependent), training or no billable work. 

Leave is necessary, training is an investment and non-billable work is manageable if you know this in advance.  

So how do we manage this? 

  • Understand your headcount target – what are they there to achieve? is your target in £ and hours or something else highly measurable?
  • Understand your available working hours per headcount – each month how many working days are available excluding public holidays and vacation. 
  • Benchmark acceptable non-billable time – review important must-have meetings against others and assess what is a realistic target to hit. Also, assess training and how this slots in within your team and project commitments. 
  • Understand what your sold or no fail commitments are each week/month and match this against availability. 


Tip two: Forward planning 

Like all businesses we have many projects and initiatives running across multiple teams and it’s key to assess those that are on track, require extension plus navigate new work scheduled to land. Sounds like a no-brainer but often in organisations this quite federated and not adhered to with any strictness. It's always the first thing that shows up in any time and motion study. Yes priorities change on a daily basis however we plan our baseline at the end of each month, then each week, we look at the movements or additions to this over the next 3 months onwards to ensure we have the right people, on the right projects for our clients. 

So how do we manage this?

  • Get the right tool in place. A tool that has all project plans, project scope, team skill sets, team members and real-time utilisation data all in one place.
  • Create genuine sight of the project/task pipeline and its shape well ahead of time. 
  • Focus on being proactive instead of reactive.
  • Assess anything that overruns (no matter how small) and cater for this in utilisation

Tip three: Budget management 

I’m not teaching you to suck eggs here. All good managers keep a handle on the finances but here perhaps go that extra mile and treble check if the money really does align to all the component parts of a project or campaign. This is relatively simple to do at the start and making sure this is right before the team begins is an important part of our Project Management role when handling fixed budgets. Warning - ‘creative accountancy’ maybe required. Our priority is to allow as much creativity and innovation within a set output for the greatest outcome. Generally the initial time-boxing presented to us within a project is a guide however the trick is to keep to this scope, total hours and costs in check to ensure profitability if you’re generating revenue or efficiency if you’re deeper inside a brand’s organisation. Poor planning and budget management can creep silently throughout a project and have a sometimes surprising knock-on effect on timelines, resources, and ultimately dissatisfied stakeholders - so our role is to stay on top of this. 

So how do we manage this?

  • Project plans should be done on a granular level with hours and costs attached throughout including a map of all levels of risk.
  • Actual time/production estimates are done on a granular level and monitored daily 
  • Budget management is done on a phase level and continuously cross-checked with the overall budget per skill set or department.  
  • RAG reports are submitted weekly for transparency and visibility.

Tip four: Scope and risk management 

This is an important requirement for any project we handle and tends to be ‘dialled up’ when the budget is fixed with zero contingency. This is not a factor in our agile BTR model as scope is moved to the backlog and product owners prioritise this with the team. However,  for fixed priced projects, a risk log is identified upfront and managed throughout the project’s lifecycle. The scope is fixed at the start, refined throughout and based on additional features/enhancements or by complexity.  

So how do we manage this?

  • All risks need to be identified no matter how small. Ask lots of questions and analyse; what is out of your control and which stages in a typical project may have a strong likelihood of growing (i.e., feedback stages, sign off stages and content population). This is documented via a Risk log and each risk identified has a mitigation plan attached. This is textbook stuff but so often overlooked.
  • The scope is assessed against the level of effort required and how this fits into the original deliverables, costs, hours, and the project plan given. For us we manage this via tools like Jira and Forecast. 

Tip five: Resource management 

When referring to resources, I mean exclusively people of various and specific skill sets that can be utilised to deliver a project or programme of activity. This ranges from Engineers and Creatives to CRO consultants and Scrum Masters and everything in between. Each has a level of experience and expertise and therefore depending on the project presented, we need to actively reduce lead time and ensure that the best suited talent is engaged. If this is not managed effectively then resources that are unable to achieve their outputs become a drain on efficiency.

So how do we manage this?

  • RAG reporting is done each week to Senior Management, and Leadership are kept in appraised of where we need to pivot or offer support to teams. 
  • Less experienced team members are overseen by Seniors. 
  • Training and skill set gaps are managed via training plans and PDP (personal development plans) sessions with Line Managers every 6 months. 
  • Team retrospectives are done either regularly across the delivery period. 
  • This ensures the teams are syncing, communicating challenges to each other and highlighting any support required. 

 As you can imagine there are other techniques that we employ but in summary, these are the core areas within a Delivery function to ensure  your ‘Production Machine’ is well oiled. It’s made up of many parts and when they all move together progression happens smoothly. If there is a piece missing or the fit is wrong, then inefficiency arises and can grind or impact other parts. Whatever processes you follow ensure you have the gauges or temperature checks baked in to warn you if something needs and urgent review. This has enabled us to grow and will help you do the same.

If you need support with your digital projects in any way or would like to talk more about our Business Transformation Retainers then speak to our team.

want to speak to one of our experts?

Kier Humphreys
Kier Humphreys
Head of Customer Experience
Kier has worked both agency and client-side, with 13 years experience taking in the full marketing mix and a passion for insight-led business optimisation. His career has seen him working with national and international brands across a variety of sectors, from multinational professional services to tech start-ups.
Kier Humphreys

Kier Humphreys

21 Jan 2021 - 5 minute read
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