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A developing and increasingly frequent conversation we are having with our C-Suite clients revolves around the concept of productivity. We are even seeing the role of Productivity Directors reaching the boardroom.

In bygone years productivity used to be a byword for cost cutting; a polite way of saying downsizing for many, and for others the harbinger of redundancies.

Now, however, it appears to be taking on a new, exciting and more acceptable role – a cultural driver that can inspire your people and put the brand at the heart of the experience you improve.

With the digital era opening up endless possibilities for customers and the business alike, the idea of getting more from less is challenging everyone to think differently about how they organise themselves. It is also challenging their use of valuable resources, from people to capital, from raw materials to transport, and from plastic to fuels.

In this incredible world of opportunity where the ‘high-speed’, the ‘frictionless’ and the ‘easy’ are everyday expectations of brands, regardless of the sector they operate in, finding ways to meet the challenges of an ever-changing set of customer demands is calling for new ways to look at and solve the issues businesses face.

The biggest challenge faces those businesses that didn’t start up in the digital age. They have become successful and grown through multiple acquisitions, but the price they pay is that they have become complex and difficult beasts to control with layer upon layer of “bureaucracy”. They tend to be overrun by systems and ‘patched up’ processes that not only get in the way of people being able to deliver the brand promise, but load cost into the system as employees work around the processes enforced from above.

The management of the company have become detached from the most important moment the company has, and it has a lot of them - all the time. That moment is when the customer interacts with the business, to transact, research, complain, praise and ultimately decide whether to give their money to it or another brand in the same space doing more or less the same thing.

Customers expect digital performance even in the physical world, because all they see is one brand interacting with them. It is nothing more than they have been led to believe they should expect.

Not only that, they want to know what the business is doing about its purpose, its contribution to plastic in the ocean, how it treats its people, the impact it has on the planet’s limited natural resources and a host of other issues that tell them whether it is a good corporate citizen.

These are some of the challenges any Productivity Director or Strategy Director must face. Getting this right is essential, but at the same time a huge and risky task.

So, it makes sense to me to think about how we can tackle these operational issues and use them to re-inforce a differentiated position in the minds of the many different customer groups we interact with. There is a famous and probably inappropriate saying that one should “never try to eat an elephant in one sitting”. Whilst it probably needs updating, the image it creates is very appropriate.

What this calls for is a different approach to customer experience improvement. One that re-imagines how to deliver those improvements blending well-proven approaches with the digital world’s data driven, highly iterative and agile techniques. All seen through the lens of the brand that seeks to differentiate itself against the onslaught of competition.

So, thinking about the poor elephant, we need to break the challenges down into manageable pieces that the business can consume, afford and build on – to use another old saying “from small acorns, mighty oaks do grow”. We need to get the teams closest to the customers to help us develop the responsive models our customers seek, and therein lies one of the clues.

If we define Productivity as the process through which a business seeks to deliver ways to use less resource to deliver more, we can scope out a number of different approaches, both tactical and strategic to answer these challenges.

At one level, the business can deliver a series of time limited, brand driven projects focused on finding where the cost and time is being wasted through the inefficient delivery of the brand promise and the creation of customer friction, where the promise is not delivered and expectations are not met. It engages those vital people who actually interact with customers and it uses agile techniques to rapidly deliver ever-improving customer experiences. This not only delivers a quantifiable result to the business, it also helps to get the flywheel of change turning. The benefits can be projected across the business and the total return on productivity calculated, all at a pace that gets closer to the digital world and away from the analogue, siloed approaches of the past. It can also be the start of an omnichannel approach to thinking about the customer experience wherever and whenever they interact with the brand.

At a strategic level, the approach can contribute to the cultural aspect of Productivity in which the whole business, and everyone in it, is driven by a responsibility to get more out of the limited resources it has at its disposal.  For too long consumers have seen big business and their brands as exploiters of the resources they have. Pollution, corruption, greed and exploitation are just a few of the communication “campaigns” big business has inadvertently run over recent years, so Productivity as a corporate responsibility may be an idea whose time has come.

The removal of customer friction and making engagement easy for them, demands efficiency from a business. It demands that silos, which slow the whole customer journey down, are “busted” and the concept of collaboration and flexibility right across the business becomes part of the culture, based on doing the right thing for customers. This can only really work if the business is able to see the value this creates, otherwise why would they invest in getting that flywheel turning? 

This approach also gives some degree of ownership at the sharp end of the business and can create a culture of responsible and productive freedom in teams delivering the brand promise through the experience they give customers. That experience must be built in the way that reflects how the customer interacts naturally; the omnichannel way where they expect a seamless interaction with the brand. After all, that is why the brand is in business – to serve them, not itself! The devastating logic and brutal truth of customers!!

Either approach to the productivity challenge will deliver rewards to the business and its customers, through the improvement of the relationship between the two and an increased return to the business. It can deliver an increase in the speed and sustainability of change and returns to the business. If done properly, it will grow into a Productivity approach that continuously seeks to get better and more efficient at meeting the needs of the business and its customers, whilst building an ever more connected and differentiated brand.

The fun bit of all of this is that it is possible to improve the customers’ experience through the reduction in friction and effort they need to put in. At the same time, it will increase the productivity of the business in a structured and quantifiable way.

We take a 5-stage action plan to and apply a totally unreasonably short timeframe - a deadline always brings the best out in high performing teams:

  1. Map the customer journey with an overlay of internal and external data to identity the brand leaks and pain points from business, customer and employee perspectives

  2. Analyse and define the brand leaks and the pain points in terms of brand impact and quantify the improvement opportunity

  3. Find the most severe pain points for customers and the team – where the customer experience is causing the most friction, duplicating cost, causing workarounds or just leaking money through inefficiency

  4. Dig to find the real (not perceived) root cause of that pain and work with the team to develop innovative solutions

  5. Prioritise actions, develop a pilot process, execute, measure and iterate as the project is in play whilst measuring actual outcomes and what they deliver to the business, customers and the people of the business.

Once the project(s) has run its course, the team build a model of how it can be rolled out across the business, together with a framework for passing the benefits and the approach on. After one or two successful results it is amazing to see the interest that this approach can generate. Also, the visible outcomes are the best recruiting tools to get more people involved in taking the Productivity approach into everyday operations. It might even start a movement that will eventually become cultural, who knows?

A cautionary note, gained from the school of hard knocks, is that without the brand at the heart of the approach, any improvement can fall back into the bad habits of only being internally-focused and differentiation becoming commoditisation!

So, don’t delay, start getting more productive today. Start doing what is right for your business, its customers and its people.

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