Tag Archives: customer surveys

The “Lean Startup” approach to understanding customer needs


By John Riddell

Notes from a Cambridge Network talk by Eric Ries

I attended the January Cambridge Network meeting, which was focused on a talk by Eric Ries, the author of a new book entitled “The Lean Startup”.

Eric had developed the book based on the lessons learned by entrepreneurial start-ups of software companies that he had worked with in California’s Silicon Valley.  Most of these companies had been driving forward Web 2.0, and had either failed or been taken over.

Opportunities to use Lean to improve start-up success

Eric saw the opportunity to apply Lean principles both to identify value in the eyes of the customer, and to reduce the cycle times involved for gathering and obtaining learnings and so improve on their performance.

He described a “pivot approach”.  This involves “keeping one foot planted in what your idea is and the other moving with learning”.  The idea is that, as you gain feedback on your product or idea, you “pivot” (or change your plan) towards what the customer really wants.

The value of focusing on what your customer wants

The “Lean Startup” approach resonated with me as “focusing on your customers” is RiverRhee Consulting’s first principle for enhancing team effectiveness.  This enables you to identify what your customers want (and not what you think they want).

Of course you need to work out how to find out what your potential customers want, and it might involve recognition of the failure of the bright idea that you were so enthusiastic about!

Experimentation vs. customer surveys

An interesting point in Eric’s presentation was his differentiation between using a customer survey, where a broad range of feedback can be obtained from a wide sample of customers (with the results shaping general direction and strategy), and the use of experimentation.

With experimentation, customers can handle a product (in a trial or pilot), give feedback on the product, and, most importantly, give feedback as to whether they would purchase the product or not.  Once you have that knowledge and recognise that you need to change direction then you need to fire up and go again!

The more frequent the number of cycles in which this occurs the better.

In his presentation Eric emphasised that there is no point in brilliantly executing a start-up plan to produce something that nobody wants.  He also emphasised not leaving change “until the building is on fire”!

Closing thoughts

TV programmes like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice have given us all more exposure to the concept of entrepreneurs and new business start-ups.

Eric’s background with software company start-ups in Silicon Valley seems a long way from the pharmaceutical manufacturing environment that I’m familiar with.  It was very interesting to see both kinds of organisation connected by Lean principles.

Notes

John Riddell is an Associate with RiverRhee Consulting.  He has held technical, operational and project management roles in pharmaceutical manufacturing working with both small and large teams from a local to a global basis. John is a certified practitioner in Lean Six Sigma and is highly experienced in knowledge management.  He has developed a successful programme to coach leaders in developing teams that have multiple cultures and are spread across global locations.

 

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Transitioning Library and Information Service customers from consumers to collaborators – we still have a way to go..


Last week I attended Day 2 of Internet Librarian International 2010 (#ILI2010), to hear the latest on the use of social media in libraries.  The title of this blog is inspired by Dr Hazel Hall’s1 keynote presentation where she talked, amongst other things, about the need to help Library and Information Services users to evolve from merely consuming the information they receive through social media, to collaborating in its creation and evolution.

Two-way communication with customers on social media is hard to achieve.

Hazel Hall, and later speakers Karen Wallace and Nancy Dowd described how social media such as Flickr, Twitter, Facebook or just simple text messaging, can be used to extend information services.  Many Library and Information Services are using social media in this way.  However, from recent discussions at NetIKX2 seminars on social media, and also on SharePoint, truly two-way conversations and interactions with customers that will lead to actual collaboration and innovation are much harder to achieve via these media.

There are still untapped face-to-face opportunities for achieving strong customer engagement.

My train journeys to and from London and France, are great opportunities to catch-up on my reading, and the CILIP article on ‘customer journey mapping’3 was an excellent illustration of what more can be done to better understand customers’ needs and engage with them in service development.  Erika Gavillet gave examples of how sitting with customers whilst they use some aspect of her services, or having staff members be ‘a customer for a day’ can identify re-designs to make work spaces more effective, result in improved instructions, and generally help staff to engage more closely and effectively with their customers.

I particularly like the ‘customer journey mapping’ approach as it resonates with my view about the need to get closer to our customers.  Questionnaire-based surveys tend to be the default approach to understanding customer requirements.  However even short face-to-face or telephone discussions are so much more powerful in building the kind of relationship with our customers that can ultimately lead to collaboration and partnership.

Branding is also a route to greater partnership with our customers

As Antony Brewerton and Sharon Tuersley of the University of Warwick Library explain in the October issue of Library and Information Update4, branding is not only about names and logos, but also about the quality of our information products and services, and, most importantly but least tangibly, about the actual and perceived value of what we deliver to our customers.  When customers truly identify with our brand, not only will they use us in preference to others, but they will also advocate us to friends, family or colleagues, and take greater interest in how we develop our products and services.

As Karen Blakeman powerfully illustrated with an anecdote in her presentation at #ILI2010, a library user might tweet about the lack of books by a particular author in their library, so that social media can be a valuable, and possibly essential way to monitor user feedback on our brand.  But we still have a way to go to really engage customers so that they become not only consumers of Library and Information products and services, but real partners in their development.

Notes

  1. Dr Hazel Hall is Director of the Centre for Social Informatics in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University. She also leads the implementation of the UK Library and Information Science Research Coalition. Hazel was named IWR Information Professional of the Year in December 2009.
  2. NetIKX – www.netikx.org
  3. Erika Gavillet (2010).  Short cuts to satisfied customers.  Library and Information Gazette. 2-15 September 2010 p.11
  4. Antony Brewerton and Sharon Tuersley (2010).  More than just a logo – branding at Warwick.  Library and Information Update. October 2010 pp.46-48
  5. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners


Employee involvement is of course fundamental to the success of any business process improvement initiative: without the close involvement of those who are involved in an organisation’s process, it would be futile to try to identify opportunities for improvement, let alone to try to implement them.  So it was with some interest that I read the results, in this Sunday’s business management article in the Observer : “Are more firms listening to their staff or are they just paying lip service?” (22 August 2010, pp38-39) – commissioned research on how the FTSE 100 companies report on employee engagement, and of how they ranked the top 30.

The research on employee engagement and the findings

The full report carried out by Transparent Consulting, with assistance from Snap Surveys, Call Britannia and Tomorrow’s company is available from http://www.transparent-consulting.com/engagement-index/.  It evaluated the FTSE 100 companies’ annual reports up to June 2010, and compared them to the 2006 Companies Act requirements, which include the need for companies to report on their impacts on employees.

Amongst the report’s key findings are, that: “Companies and sectors which prioritise customer satisfaction are also the ones that seem to find it worthwhile to give attention to employee engagement.”  (Banks, insurers, utilities, telecoms and media were the highest-scoring sectors.)  Such organisations are thus addressing some aspects of the two key components for effective business process improvement: customer relationship management, and employee involvement.

The report’s detailed data make for an interesting review of the FTSE 100 companies.

Examples given of how companies engaged with their staff fell into the following categories:

  • Communication – 80% used company intranets or newsletters; 13% sent senior executives ‘back to the floor’ (e.g. Marks & Spencer, Tesco, J Sainsbury, Kingfisher); only 4% conducted exit interviews when employees left.
  • Employee surveys – nearly 70% conduct regular surveys, with 41% of the total conducting annual surveys, and some conducting quarterly ones (Lloyds Banking Group, British Airways, BT and J Sainsbury).

There are also other important aspects of employee engagement covered by the report such as diversity policies and Health and Safety practices.  Pharmaceutical companies: GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are also mentioned in the report.

Case studies on employee engagement and customer satisfaction from BT, Sainsbury and Centrica

The following extracts from the Observer article’s description of the case studies in the report speak to aspects of employee engagement and customer relationship management that could support a business improvement culture:

  • In BT, each manager gets a report on their team’s collated responses to the employee engagement survey, and is expected to work with their team to address the results.
  • Sainsbury operates a process for collecting ideas from employees and putting suggestions into practice.  They also have a “daily huddle” where employees talk directly to managers, and senior managers / executives are expected to visit their stores on a weekly basis to talk to front-line staff.  Sainsbury also have an online “community” to collect employee feedback.  Finally, they also conduct monthly customer surveys.
  • Centrica ensures that clients’ opinions about their service are fed back to their employees.

Closing thoughts

As Simon Caulkin points out in his aptly titled accompanying commentary to the Observer article: “Britain’s companies can’t afford to continue wasting the human capacity in their grasp”, it’s time for companies and financial analysts to think beyond economic efficiency, and recognize that “in a knowledge-based economy it’s worker’s ideas and inventiveness that matter most.”

Companies’ focus on employee engagement and on the tools to facilitate and measure this engagement are important, but will only work if the people involved are: doing the jobs that they enjoy; supported in the skills that they need to do them effectively; ‘empowered’ (or have control over) how they do their jobs and can improve them; and have a belief (endorsed by their managers) that what they are doing is worthwhile.

Although neither article, nor the report mention this, a strong awareness of what is important to the success of the organisation, including up-to-date information on the needs and views of customers, are all key complements to effective employee engagement, and to the success of Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.

Notes

Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Achieving more value with less


As Stephen R. Covey, Bob Whitman and Breck England point out, in their one-hundred-and-ten page “Predictable results in unpredictable times”1: “in bad times, the distractions are more severe than ever… As people get laid off, the survivors have more to do.  The distractions pile up to the sky as the economy grows rougher…”

In our increasingly lean organisations, we all need to achieve ‘more with less’.  But rather than indiscriminately piling on more work with the stress and burn-out that this will entail, we need to find ways to ‘work smarter not harder’.  We can do so by focusing on what our customers value, and examining how we and our teams can deliver that value more effectively.

Covey et al’s book is a very readable synopsis of modern day thinking on how to tie a strong focus on strategy, keeping score and customer value with process improvement, engagement and empowerment of the people in our teams.  This blog picks out and discusses some of the book’s main points.

Build customer loyalty vs. customer satisfaction

We all know the importance of understanding what would satisfy our customers, but the concept of ‘customer loyalty’ takes this further.  What would it take for our customers to be emotionally connected to us, so that they would miss us if we were gone?  How far do we understand what we would need to do to achieve either customer satisfaction, or customer loyalty?

Covey et al quote a Bain survey of senior executives in 362 companies where:

  • 96% said their companies were customer focused
  • 80% believed their companies delivered a ‘superior customer experience’
  • Only 8% of their customers agreed

From my conversations with people in various organisations, there are many opportunities for companies to gain a much better understanding of what constitutes value for their customers.

Covey et al suggest that companies should look for opportunities to reduce the complexity and diversity of what they offer to their customers, and so do less than their competitors, but do it better.

Develop employee engagement, empowerment and loyalty

It’s a sad paradox that in difficult times, many of the people that get laid off are those who have the knowledge that could help the organisation out of recession.

Covey et al make a number of references to how Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox in 2001, managed to turn the organisation around.  One of the key ways she did this was by making fewer people redundant than others might have done, and by appealing directly to people throughout the organisation for ideas.  It may seem obvious but, as the authors point out, “only knowledgeable people can create the solutions you need to succeed in a crisis.”

These 2 other extracts from the book are also I think particularly pertinent:

“Even in tough times (perhaps especially in tough times) people want to contribute, they want to help, they want to make a difference.”

and

“When a company aligns the customer experience with the employee experience, they create employees who are passionate about what the company stands for.”

These thoughts remind me of the points Stephen R Covey makes here and in his book “The 8th Habit”2, which I’ve written about elsewhere3 about how much more effective we can be in our work if we find our ‘voice’, and also in my commentary4 on Goffee and Jones’ book “Clever”5 about the need to clearly and regularly communicate the organisation’s vision and goals to your  ‘knowledge workers’.

Push the ‘reset’ button to align around goals and continuously improve your work

Covey et al close the loop on ‘doing more with less’ by having organisations realign what they do around the priorities set by customer value and employees ideas to address them.

The priorities are in effect the organisation’s one, two or three ‘wildly important goals’.  Effective team leaders will ensure that everyone understands what they need to do in relation to these, and also that there are good measures in place to monitor performance against these measures.

Covey et al differentiate between ‘lag’ measures and ‘lead’ measures. Lag measures are typically the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or output measures that organisations use to demonstrate to what extent they have achieved their goals.

Lead measures are more effective indicators of anticipated performance because they are based on ‘in-process’ performance.  Teams should be able to regularly review how they are doing against these lead measures, and share knowledge and lessons learnt to continuously improve their performance and so achieve the final goals more effectively.

Closing thoughts

Large sections of Covey et al’s book are devoted to the importance of execution and trust.  To me these are enablers of the 3 main themes I’ve pulled out above.

Effective execution relies on focusing on a few key goals, making sure everyone knows what they are, keeping score, and ensuring that the team reviews and improves performance.

Trust is the trust between leaders and their teams in ensuring that there is transparency around the goals and where the organisation is in relation to them, keeping commitments (on the leaders’ part), and extending trust to the team.

But trust is also about having trustworthy systems and processes such that, as for the Formula One pit crew: each knows their job: “Silently they do it, and they get out of the way.”  Great Ormond Street Hospital, London studied the Formula One team’s approach to improve the serious issues they were facing and, as a result of this, “introduced a system that defines carefully who does what, and in what order.  Every action is focused and productive; everyone has a contribution to make.”

In all of this thinking, there are strong analogies with Stephen Spear’s 4 main steps in “Chasing the Rabbit”6, which I also describe in one of my blogs7: design (or define customer value, processes and roles to achieve them), improve and share knowledge (involving everyone in these), build capabilities (through the interaction between leaders and their teams).

I’ll close with this quote in the book, which I particularly like:

“Focus on your customers and lead your people as though their lives depended on your success” Warren Buffett

Notes

1. “Predictable results in unpredictable times”, by Stephen R. Covey, Bob Whitman and Breck England. FranklinCovey Publishing, 2009.

2. “The 8th Habit. From effectiveness to greatness”, by Stephen R. Covey. Simon & Schuster Sound Ideas,1980.

3. Empowerment and self-employment; (A consultant’s) life is like a game of rummy; Aptitude, Attitude, Plenitude and Servitude.; Social networking tools, empowerment and knowledge management; Project leaders empower, project managers organise; Powerful quotes for strong performing teams… – see https://elisabethgoodman.wordpress.com”

4. Why conventional knowledge management, process improvement and project management won’t work with ‘clever’ teams.  Or will they? http://wp.me/pAUbH-1n

5. “Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.” By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Press, 2009

6. “Chasing the Rabbit. How market leaders outdistance the competition and how great companies can catch up and win”, by Steven Spear. McGraw Hill 2009.

7. High performing organisations – interweaving process improvement, knowledge management and change management http://wp.me/pAUbH-1V

8. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement, knowledge and change management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.

Using surveys and other approaches for determining customer value in Medical Information


Understanding what your customers value is a key criterion for the effectiveness, and indeed the success, of any business support team.  It’s a criterion that Medical Information (MI) teams in the Pharmaceutical Industry understand well, as evidenced by the presentations and discussions in this year’s Medical Information and Communications track of the DIA’s 3rd Annual Clinical Forum in Nice, France (1)

Elisabeth Goodman, principal consultant at RiverRhee Consulting (3) was fortunate to be accepted by the Medical Information and Communications Programme Committee as a speaker on “Using surveys to understand what our internal customers value”, for a session on “Raising the Profile of Medical Information”.  Elisabeth took the opportunity to listen to what others have to say on the subject.  This article, with the kind permission of the speakers involved, documents what she learnt during the course of the conference.

Andrew Williams, Senior Director of European Medical Operations at GSK, has this definition of MI: “The production, maintenance and delivery of medical information content to unsolicited enquiries from healthcare professionals and consumers.” MI customers, as described by Jin Tompot-Vermaat, Manager Medical Information Center, Centocor, include the obvious external ones (HealthCare Practitioners (HCPs), Physicians, and Patients), but also internal staff (Medical Affairs, Marketing, Sales, Regulatory, Pharmacovigilance).

Jin Tompot-Vermaat also, in her description of the competencies needed by MI staff, nicely illustrated the qualities that any customer of a global MI team might also value: customer orientation, flexibility, an understanding of cultural aspects, ability to meet target timelines, verbal and written communication skills, bi- and tri-lingual fluency!  Other service qualities, listed in “The Certified 6 Sigma Green Belt Handbook” (2) that MI customers might value include: responsiveness, reliability, competence, access (to the service), credibility, confidentiality, accuracy and completeness.

Demonstrating the value of Medical Information to managers and other decision makers in the Pharmaceutical Industry is, according to a 2008 European survey of Medical Information managers, one of the top challenges that teams face.  Janet Davies, Director of International Medical Information for Gilead Sciences, and co-chair of the DIA Medical Communications Special Interest Area Community, shared other challenges that MI teams face such as: managing headcount, including ensuring efficiency, and defining competencies and roles within the team; responding to the parent organisation’s need for a global approach with resultant reorganisations and outsourcing / off-shoring implications.  Each of these challenges also in fact offers opportunities for better understanding customer value.

Dialogues around role definition, with internal customers such as Medical Affairs and Brand Teams have been very beneficial within AstraZeneca. Richard Jones, Medical Information Manager, shared some video interviews with these internal customers which demonstrated how regular interactions have enabled a better understanding of how MI can really add value to them.

Many MI teams are looking at ways of taking a more global approach to how they deal with queries from external customers.  Aaron Cockell, European Medical Information Director at Pfizer, believes that having a central platform to record MI enquiries will be an invaluable source of customer insight that can be used to influence company strategy.  Companies are approaching globalisation in many different ways, and Claire Laville De Lacombe, Medical Knowledge Manager, Sanofi-Aventis, described a range of models that they use, which take account of local cultures and ways of working both for the MI staff, and for their customers.

As a final note on this theme, Bob Winslow, Global Director, Medical Information Drug Safety and Medical Affairs, Quintiles, described the questions that MI CROs (Clinical Research Organisations) would want answered to support parent organisations effectively; these would be similar questions to those that a parent company would want to know to ensure that they are effectively supporting their customers.

As many of the above approaches show, there are various ways to determine what MI customers value.  Surveys need not be the default approach, and indeed should be used wisely given the extra burden that they put on customers, and that they won’t necessarily produce the best quality feedback.  Regular dialogue with customers, and analysis of historical queries will produce high quality insights, without extra demands on the customer.  Requesting feedback as a follow-up to completed work can also be productive.  Kirsten Rohl, Senior Scientist Medical Information in Lilly, described a telephone ‘spot survey’ that they conduct soon after a query has been addressed to check for customer satisfaction.

If surveys are used, care should be taken to boost the response rate.  Marco Migliaccio, Head of Medical Communication & Information (Neurodegenerative Diseases) at Merck Serono, gave a powerful illustration of how reminders can achieve this.  Nancy Hijmans, System Support Specialist & Manager at Centocor, also demonstrated how response rates to repeated annual surveys can progressively decline, although they are still achieving the accepted norm of around 30%.  There may also be cultural issues affecting the willingness of individual countries to adopt customer satisfaction surveys as discovered by Charlotte Wormleighton, European Medical Information Director, AstraZeneca, during an internal audit of their affiliate locations.

However, surveys do have some advantages over other methods for obtaining customer feedback.  Marco Migliaccio described how his organisation uses them to validate ad hoc views, provide important data for management, and differentiate between those MI services that really add value to customers, as opposed to the ‘nice to haves’.

Finally, Andrew Williams nicely summarised what MI customers might value: the right information to the right patient at the right time (in the case of external customers); and a scientifically meaningful discussion about products (in the case of internal customers).  It would seem that Medical Information teams have a wealth of approaches at their disposal to corroborate and understand the finer detail of what constitutes value to their customers.

Notes

(1) The DIA (Drug Information Association, http://www.diahome.org) is a neutral, non-profit organisation with about 18,000 members worldwide whose primary concern is the discovery, development, regulation, surveillance and marketing of pharmaceutical and related products.  Its vision is to provide a universally respected forum for the quality exchange of information.  It includes SIACs (Special Interest Area Communities), one of which is Medical Communications.  This SIAC has held annual US workshops since 1989.  The European group kicked off with a 1-day track in 2006, and has had a dedicated track in the DIA Clinical Forum since 2007.

(2) The Certified 6 Sigma Green Belt Handbook. Roderich A Munro et al. ASQ (2008)

(3) This article focuses on the first of RiverRhee Consulting’s 4 main areas of expertise for enhancing team effectiveness for improved productivity and team morale:

  1. Focusing on your customers
  2. Simplifying and streamlining what you do
  3. Optimising information and knowledge assets
  4. Ensuring successful business change

Follow the links for more information about RiverRhee Consulting, and about principal consultant, Elisabeth Goodman.  To see a previous blog by the author relating to the DIA Clinical Forum follow this link here.