helping you master customer insight leadership

How to play to your strengths this year

StrengthsFinder-2.0This book is more of a resource toolkit than a narrative read, but it is one that I’ve found useful for my own development & when coaching clients.

It’s a book for which you’ll want your own copy, not just because you want to make notes & complete the cover with your top 5 strengths, but also because each book has a unique code for you to use to complete an online ‘strengths finder’  test.

That test is grounded in the Positive Psychology movement and in fact this pocket-sized book is dedicated to the ‘father of strengths psychology’ Dr Donald Clifton. The first 30 pages of the book explains the benefits of focussing on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. I have seen this in true with many coaching clients. Too many leaders in business are encouraged to flagellate themselves about perceived weaknesses or have to focus on developing areas where they don’t have natural strengths.

This can be self-defeating for two reasons: first, it often fails – you are asking the person to ‘swim upstream’ against their natural personality which is rarely sustainable; second, that it means people assume they have to be like others in the organisation & so often neglect playing to their natural strengths where they could really excel. (more…)

How to be intentionally Happier, a book to help

HappierThe sub-title of this book is “Can you learn to be happy?” and this question is explored through a series of short chapters summarising the most popular course at Harvard today.

This might seem a strange topic for this blog, but my coaching work with customer insight leaders has taught me the power of Positive Psychology. It is also a short (168 pages) book, fun and very accessible; so a good compliment to some of the weightier tomes that I’ve reviewed here.

For those not familiar with the Positive Psychology movement, it was properly launched by Martin Seligman when after a distinguished career as a psychologist, he used his opening address when becoming president of the American Psychological Association to propose that instead of just focussing on mental illness or helping clients address weaknesses, it could focus on ways of fostering joy/happiness/flow/strengths etc in individuals. In other words to help clients focus on their positive strengths and how to be happier rather than seeking to use models etc to address weaknesses or unhelpful thinking patterns. Prof Seligman has dedicated his subsequent career to this goal. This topic has also of course become popular with politicians on both sides of the “pond” and I’m sure you’ve heard of their work on measuring wellbeing in society.

Anyway, this book by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches a course at Harvard University on Happiness, is more of an accessible self-help book. It’s packed with personal anecdotes, simply communicated psychology and practical exercises for you to put into practice. Divided into three parts, these cover: What is Happiness? Happiness Applied and Meditations on Happiness. These are further broken down into 15 chapters, so many are less than 10 pages and an ideal short-read. Within each chapter you’ll find at least one “time-in”, a moment for you to stop and reflect on how you’d answer a personal question. At the end of every chapter is an exercise for you to try. A number of these are suggestions of new rituals to put into place over weeks or months, not just quick fixes.

Personal favourites for me, from the exercises have been:
1) A gratitude journal: noting down, before you go to sleep, at least 5 things that made you happy that day and for which you are grateful.
2) Reflecting on your four quadrants of Rat Racer, Hedonist, Nihilist & Happy – to learn from past experiences about what really makes you happy.
3) Mapping your life: measuring how you spend your time & how this matches those things which give you most meaning & pleasure.
4) Goal setting: to set long & short term goals to move toward what you really want to do with your life.

I’m conscious that without reading the book, a lot of this could sound like just American positivity, with fake smiles & over enthusiastic language. However, there really is so much more to it than that. Tal does a great job in helping the reader understand the combination of meaning and pleasure that can help you be happier & the joy to be found in the journey rather than assuming happiness is a fixed state at which you arrive. As well as this, his personal anecdotes and the amount of time given to personal reflection and practical exercises continue to keep the theory grounded in the practical day to day reality of your life. It would probably also help if I declared that I was initially very skeptical of this movement and a book with such a title. Overly positive people who appear to be in denial about their circumstances and full range of emotions don’t do it for a natural sceptic like me. However, as I’ve had my eyes opened to the academically grounded theory here, I have found it very useful in my own life and with clients. My time mentoring future leaders over years had already taught me that you make more progress helping people play to their strengths rather than improve their weaknesses.

In the second part of the book, Tal addresses how to apply the theories of part one to education, the workplace and personal relationships. The workplace chapter focuses a number of pages on how individuals can find their “calling”, as Marshall Goldsmith would say their “flow”, that conjunction of meaning, pleasure & strength/capability that make for the most fulfilling work. It is also pragmatic about crafting your existing role and work rather than assuming everyone takes this discover as a Damascene conversion experience and rushes off to a new career. The personal relationships chapter is also a good reminder about expressing love, knowing the other person and expressing gratitude.

The final part of this short book contains a series of seven shorter chapters or meditations on different aspects of happiness, from self interest to beyond the “happiness revolution”. The conclusion to this work ends on a useful y practical note, focussing us back on the here & now, thus what we are going to put into practice today. Overall the book does well at avoiding false expectations but also helping readers try different ways of thinking and new practices in their life which could make them intentionally happier.

During much of my coaching work with customer insight leaders, we come back to the source of motivation for that individual and the meaning + pleasure which keep them motivated to lead effectively and consistently over the long term. So, I would encourage any leaders to not be put off by what sounds like a fluffy title and try engaging with this short book. It may just reignite your passion & motivation to make a real difference through work that makes you happy.

How to better measure your Marketing Payback

Marketing PaybackBack in 2005, when this was published, I was in the right job at the right time, so as to get a free copy. However, having since read and valued this important work, I would now happily of bought copies for myself and my team.

Professor Robert Shaw is one of the early gurus of applying analytics to marketing. In this text he steps the reader through how to both make your marketing profitable and prove that ROI to the rest of your business (especially Finance).

In fact this usefully comprehensive and practical guide is equally relevant to a Marketing, Finance of Customer Insight audience. However, in my experience, Customer Insight (or Database Marketing) are best placed to bridge the gap between these two disciplines.

The book itself is divided into 3 main sections. Part 1 covers “Is Marketing profitable?”, Part 2 “Solutions to common problems” and Part 3 “Financial Planning and Control”.

The first of those sections really builds the case as to why this topic matters and frankly why you’ll want to read the rest of this book. It critically assesses the immaturity of much current marketing measurement and how the culture of some marketing departments mitigates against a more mature and accountable approach. Despite being written nearly a decade ago now, I sometime feel like nothing has changed, as I fear some marketing departments have been lured by the glitter of digital/social/mobile channels. Thus many have not carried across the kind of discipline which became the norm for direct mail effectiveness measurement. Shaw was also ahead of most thinkers in this area by highlighting both the importance of a basket of researched & analytical metrics, and the need to consider behavioural psychology biases, in your own decision making and consumer thinking.

Part 2 then focusses the reader on some of the key tools used in implementing a comprehensive framework of measurement, across the full range of marketing investments. Topics covered here include: allocating budgets to above and below the line media mixes based on optimising payback; measuring integrated campaigns; the role of price and promotions; and the more advanced stage of customer equity management. Shaw and David Merrick consider the role of brand spend (both brand changes and using a portfolio of brands to best advantage), plus more straightforward targeted direct marketing (with the complexity of integrated comms). Finally, they help you assess the adequacy of your Marketing MI, another topic I find is too often ignored in favour of reporting from Finance or Sales.

The final part of this book may seem to be more focussed at Finance professionals. It is true that there is sound advice here on planning, budgeting, accounting, and tools to use in Excel. However, this section is also beneficial for both Marketing and Customer Insight professionals to understand. From a customer insight perspective, it helps to highlight key data that needs to be captured, and once again the translation role that CI can play in meeting the needs of both Finance and Marketing (e.g. when developing evidence based marketing plans and budget allocations). Finance business partners will also find useful checklists of elements needed, from Marketing or Customer Insight, in order to reach sound assumptions and the forecasts they require.

Throughout this, now classic text, Shaw and Merrick offer practical solutions in the form of suggested processes, templates and even a few equations for key ratios. I heartily recommend this book, hopeful that Customer Insight leaders will once again ensure a focus on Marketing Payback, not just adding more channel/media complexity without first understanding profitability. As Kotler says on the cover, “A landmark book…”.

Have you benefited from applying this expertise? If so, we’d love to hear your comments.

Redesigning Customer Experiences from the Outside In

Outside InThis book has a dull cover and lacks any colour graphics within its pages. So, if you spot it, you might not be enthused. However, persistence is rewarded, as there is much customer experience and customer insight leaders can learn from this book.

Written by a couple of leaders at Forrester Research, it provides the reader with an overview of everything to consider in order to improve customer experiences. As anyone who has worked in this area will know, that’s a tall order.

Peppers & Rodgers “Managing Customer Relationships” is usefully comprehensive but at 481 pages not a quick read. So, to provide this overview in only 224 pages is an achievement for Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine.

As I worked my way through this book, two things became the major benefits. The first is a set of frameworks to act as guides or checklists for action needed in different areas. First up is their definition of a Customer Experience Ecosystem Map, a useful term for ensuring you consider not just processes but also people, perspectives, culture, etc. Another is the structure of identifying six essential customer experience disciplines each with their own required practices (strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance and culture). This risks “motherhood and apple pie”, but provides some sensible customer insight advice especially on measurement.

The other major benefit of this book is a large number of  case studies contained within it, as examples of frameworks being put into practice. Given my background and clients within the Insurance industry, it was good to see 5 of these alongside the many other sectors covered. Their analysis of the threats to Allstate in the US and opportunities for Progressive is interesting and backed up by Customer Experience Index scores to date. Aviva’s focus on mapping customer journeys in China is also interesting, with the chance in emerging markets to start with customer experience strategy at an earlier stage.

Given I will be speaking at a conference in London next month, on the role of Customer Insight leaders in more senior positions than ever before, their chapter on ‘The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer’ is also interesting. Their research in US echoes my own experience in the UK, that CCOs (or CKOs – as I am more interested in customer insight leaders) are disproportionately common within Financial Services firms. Their findings about a bias toward COOs for B2B businesses also makes commercial sense.

I hope that review was useful, I share such a book because I believe the only point of generating customer insights is to act on them. This can sometimes be to deliver shorter term commercial returns, but longer term the real prize is for customer insight to be guiding the transformative work outlined in this book. Delivering and then sustaining significantly improved customer experiences,

This book is a relatively easy read, although at times resembling someone who talks too quickly at you. The volume of human interest stories included helps, as does the use of short chapters. Bite sized chunks for reading each day, is one way to look at them. I hope you find it useful.

Please do share your experience if you’ve read this work or alternatives.

How are you navigating the leadership pipeline?

Leadership PipelineIt’s unusual for me to recommend a book that I don’t consider that well written, but Leadership Pipeline is such a book. The reason for my recommendation is this book effectively covers a key challenge for leaders & organisations. It also introduces a really useful model and set of tools.

My criticism is only the writing style. Perhaps I’ve spent too many years enjoying well crafted prose in fiction but I find the style used throughout this book to be a little wooden or clunky, certainly not a joy to read.

However, I would encourage you to persist as the rewards are worth it. (more…)

Book Review: Time to Think by Nancy Kline

time to think

Do you have time to think in your leadership role?

I first read this book over a decade ago, but it made such an impact that I have kept coming back to it over the years.

It is not specifically about customer insight, although it’s implications for how to create a ‘thinking environment‘ should be of interest to researchers and those designing customer experiences. However, for me the biggest lessons from this book are for leaders (including customer insight leaders).

As you read through the initial chapters on the ten components of a thinking environment, it’s easy to be struck with how different these are to the typical corporate working environment. Giving colleagues time to think for themselves, use of appropriate incisive questioning to help them problem solve and giving regular appreciation can all feel very alien from being ‘part of the machine’. (more…)

Are your customers thinking fast and slow? Irrational advice

Thinking Fast and SlowIt hardly feels like I need to write a review on this book, as I often hear to recommended at conferences. However, chatting to a few peers in customer insight leadership roles, I realise that many of you have still not read this classic or have stalled part way through reading. So, I hope this helps motivate you.

The first point to admit is this is not as easy a read on Behavioural Economics (BE) as more approachable writing styles like “Nudge” by Richard Thaler. You do get used to the style through the book but there are a couple of things that make it harder for the business reader, the depth of theory that is covered and the amount of case studies (which provider an insiders view of challenging accepted wisdom within academia). I also found that after having read ‘Nudge’ I was initially a little frustrated that this book is not structured around a simple list of biases. It appears to be deliberate as Daniel Kahneman wants you to understand the principles not just pick up some buzzwords.

That said, this is well worth reading. From the initial explanation of System 1 and System 2, through the evidence provided on multiple biases, to how poorly basic statistics and logic are applied in our decision making; this book has much to share. The deliberately more narrative style of the book also does reward the persistent reader, as you begin to see how models and principles interact and build on each other (like loss aversion and framing).

The other advice I would give if that this is a good guide to the pitfalls to beware of when making decisions or seeking to influence key decisions in your company. In that regard it goes much wider than just a textbook on Behavioural Economics. For instance the evidence Daniel shows of a failure to regress to the mean in forecasting is often beyond the scope of popular BE but very relevant.

I would recommend any Customer Insight leader to read this work. This is particularly important for those working within Financial Services, where your regulator requires consideration of how consumers really make decisions and where your research team can help your analysts with interpretation.