Using The ‘Voice Of The Customer’ In A Compliant Product Lifecycle

In recent years, financial regulators have shifted their focus from a reactive to a proactive approach.

In order to reflect this change in emphasis, companies need to be closer than ever to their customers when designing products; the tighter scrutiny on governance during the product lifecycle means that it is vital that firms show clearly that they are putting their customers at the heart of their business.

The Financial Conduct Authority have made it clear that they are looking closely at the culture of firms, and how any risks associated with the design and distribution of the products are addressed. In a recent speech, Clive Adamson, the FCA’s Director of Supervision, emphasised good product governance throughout the product lifecycle, from initial product design and approval, review and overall governance processes.

Addressing the General Insurance conference in June 2014, Adamson said that good product design involves “understanding the needs of particular customer groups, working through what a fair outcome means for a particular product, stress testing how the product performs in different scenarios, whether it constitutes good value to the customer, how it will be sold, whether consumers’ behavioural biases are being exploited in the sales process and how post-sales service over the product lifespan will be designed”.

Traditionally used mainly by marketing teams, ‘voice of the customer’ (VoC) programmes can help compliance teams and senior management to adhere to the FCA’s new demands for customer engagement in product design. VoC programmes, also known as insight communities, can provide clear, documented evidence of customer-focused review and challenge, leading to a greater understanding of customer needs for each product.

It is clear that the FCA is determined to take action against firms who cannot provide evidence of good consumer outcomes. A VoC programme can enable executive management to have a strategic view of this process; it can be recorded and audited, and changes may be clearly demonstrated to the FCA.

In many industry sectors, VoC programmes are used routinely at the start of any new product or service design, to capture a customer’s expectations, wants and needs; however, financial services firms have been slow to take them up. As a market research technique, VoCs have been seen as the preserve of the marketing department; this now starting to change as other areas within a firm come to understand how useful they are in meeting the FCA’s new challenges.

Not only useful for initial product design, VoC programmes can also take place throughout the entire product lifecycle, allowing firms to continually assess whether products are appropriate for their existing and potential customers. Traditional physical focus groups are able to access only relatively few customers, and may be expensive and time-consuming, but by using a VoC programme, firms are able to assess the views of hundreds or thousands of their customers, on an ongoing basis.

Marketing and compliance teams can use VOC programmes to bring their customers right into the heart of the business, leading to greater insight. For firms working within the current challenges posed by the FCA, being able to articulate the voice of their customers will go a long way towards showing that they have done the right thing.

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Can Leeds become one of the 20 most bike-friendly cities in the world?

On the face of it, Leeds isn’t a great place to cycle. The self-proclaimed ‘motorway city of the seventies’ is still ruled by motorised transport, with large swathes of the city cut off from other parts by motorways, dual carriageways, inner- and outer- ring roads. There is very little quality cycling infrastructure, which is shameful for the third-largest city in the UK.

Only 1.8% of commuters in Leeds travelled by bike according to the 2011 census; although up from the 1.3% recorded in 2001, this is still much lower than comparable cities. Manchester has 4.1% of commuters travelling by bike; Newcastle 2.5%; Liverpool 2.1%. It’s also far lower than the current poster children of bike commuting: Cambridge with 32%; Hackney 14.6%; Bristol 7.7%.

So, can Leeds join the cities that have been deemed to be the most bike-friendly in the world? You’ll find the usual suspects in this list: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Utrecht. The surprising city at number nine is Dublin. Strong political will, plenty of 30km/h zones and good cycling infrastructure make Dublin the safest capital in the EU. Seville has also shown how a city can transform itself in a relatively short period of time: cycling’s modal share has increased from 0.5% in 2006 to 7% in 2012.

What does Leeds have to do to follow in their footsteps?

The recent All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s recent inquiry into how to Get Britain Cycling had a number of recommendations, not least that: more money should be spent on cycling as a mode of transport; that more use should be made of segregated cycle lanes; and that strong political leadership is needed.

This week, Leeds City Council, together with its partners in Bradford MDC and West Yorkshire Metro, has submitted a bid for money from the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Cycle City Ambition Grant Fund which ticks all those boxes. It has the ambition that has been sorely missed in Yorkshire: a 23km cycle ‘superhighway’, a Highway to Health, no less.

It will link the planned housing growth in east Leeds with east Bradford, connecting the two cities, whilst passing through key employment areas and Leeds city centre. Much of the route will be fully segregated in the Dutch style and many of the adjoining areas will be covered by 20mph zones. The £18m required from the DfT will be supplemented by £11m of local funding.

If successful, the bid will surely become a catalyst for Leeds to become a world class cycling city. This year has also seen the awarding of the 2014 Tour de France opening stages to Yorkshire, which will start in Leeds. July 2013 will also see the first ever Sky Ride in Leeds, which will see Leeds city centre closed off to traffic.

Will we see Leeds in the top 20 bike cities by 2025? Time will tell, but the last few months have given cyclists in Leeds real hope that we can finally pull away from the legacy of the motorway city.

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How to network effectively at a conference

Conference season is coming up fast, kicking off with next week’s Buy Yorkshire event at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Are you a seasoned conference veteran who knows how to work the room? Or do you sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by the size of an event? Here are a few tips for you to make the most of your conference experience.

1. Start networking before you even get to the conference. If there is an
attendee list available, check it for names of people and companies you would
like to connect with. Make yourself a wishlist of the key names as, let’s face
it, you’re not really going to make contact with a few thousand people. Check
their social media profiles, starting with LinkedIn and Twitter; start following
delegates on Twitter so you can see which events they will be attending. Many
people will be live tweeting during the conference so you will be able to
connect with them in real time.

2. If you’re attending a seminar and want to ask a question, take some time to
research the speakers’ social media. Finding out about their wider work will
help you to plan your questions beforehand; a unique question is more likely to
be selected.

3. Do you need to update your social media profiles? If you meet someone at the
conference and say you work for ‘X Co’ but your LinkedIn profile still says you
work for ‘Y Co’, what impression will that give a new potential contact when
they check you out after the conference? While you’re doing this, check to see
if your photo needs updating so people may actually recognise you at the
conference: ditch the photo with the ski goggles. My dilemma for next week is
whether to post a new photo or shave my newly acquired beard off!

4. More conferences are developing apps to enable you to get the best out of
your sessions; use these to see who is attending which seminars and link in with
other delegates beforehand. Likewise, check to see if there’s a LinkedIn group
or Facebook page where you can contribute to the discussion and connect.

5. Don’t forget your existing contacts. Conferences are a great opportunity for
strengthening existing relationships, not just for making new ones. Schedule
catch-ups over a coffee or beer; don’t just hope to “run into them”, which is
very unlikely at a large conference with dozens of seminars and thousands of
visitors. Remember, this is a great time for you to introduce your contacts to
each other. Be a connector at conferences; your contacts will then want to
connect you to theirs.

6. Also, it’s not just about the people you already know or feel you should
know: don’t forget to talk to everyone you come across. Some of the best
relationships start by chance, whether with the person you just happen to sit
next to at a seminar or are queuing with at the bar. Again, be a connector for
your new contact: who should they meet? If you introduce them to someone,
chances are they’ll do the same.

7. Following up after the conference is key. As well as following a new contact
on Twitter or LinkedIn, make a brief post about your conversation with them or
the great things they’re doing with their business. Promoting other people will
create value for them and builds your relationship.

8. You’ll probably find you can’t attend all the seminars you want to, so start
a discussion on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to discuss the ideas that you came
across in the ones you attended; encourage others to do the same for the ones
they went to.

9. A key rule of making new connections is: don’t sell. We’ve all been given the
“elevator speech” within seconds of meeting someone for the first time. Have a
conversation with them; ask them questions about themselves first. (That’s not
to say a crisp description of who you are isn’t important; just don’t launch
into it straightaway).

10. Finally, put down your phone, BlackBerry, laptop. You’re at a conference to
meet real, live people so don’t spend breaks staring at a screen. Connect!

If you’re going to the Buy Yorkshire conference, I’ll be in the “Bar Mafia” each
evening so please come and say hello. You can find me on LinkedIn or on Twitter.

P.S. Don’t forget your business cards!

This post was first published on Network Marketing’s blog in April 2013

10th September 2014: New updated post will feature this great video from Gary Vernachuk.

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Don’t hide behind the digital façade: building stronger business relationships in a digital world

Are you too busy in your role to develop your business relationships effectively? The technological revolution was meant to make things easier for us at work, freeing up extra time each day. Instead, we’re bombarded with e-mail and social media updates and struggle to keep up. Often, the choice is finishing a “work” task and maintaining a network contact: the “work” usually wins as that’s seen as the most important.

As we’re short of time, we’ll send a quick e-mail, or retweet something, and think that’s enough. After all, we’ve got a corporate Facebook page which we update weekly; that should do, shouldn’t it?

Well, no: building stronger relationships is a vital part of building a successful business. As with so many things in life, you’ll get out of relationships what you put into them. We can all hide behind the digital façade and expect our e-mails and updates to keep us in the forefront of people’s minds, but that’s not enough. If you call a customer, a supplier or even a friendly competitor with a request for help or information, but it’s been a long time since you spoke with them in a meaningful way, don’t be surprised if they’re less than positive. Be prepared to give, share and support before you ask for help; relationships must be mutually beneficial.

You may feel you’re too busy at work to spend time on developing relationships, but this should be part of your “work” day. Use emails/social networks to support your relationships, not as your core strategy: when you come across an interesting articles or news item, don’t just send it to your whole network, have a think about who it will really appeal to and send it on to them with a personalised note. If you haven’t seen or spoken to them for a while, suggest a catch up.

Don’t just sit in the office, get outside. Arrange catch ups over coffee or lunch, or suggest a meeting before a networking event that you know you both should attend. If you need a reason to get out of the office, lunch helps you become a better negotiator according to the Harvard Business Review. Now’s that’s what I call an excuse!

LinkedIn is useful for many things, but building deep relationships is not one of them. Don’t be a collector of contacts; be a connector. Ask yourself, who from your contacts list don’t know each other but should? Get these people together over a coffee, or invite them to your office for a catch up.

This week will see many people giving up something for Lent; why not start something for Lent instead? Identify ten of your contacts that you need to build better relationships with; block out one hour per day over the next two weeks; devote one hour to each contact.

Work out the best way to have a meaningful conversation with each contact: a coffee may be more appropriate for some, others a pint after work. For those where geography is an issue, schedule a call for a catch up. Offer something to each contact: an offer of help, some news about your industry or a mutual contact.

If this works for you, repeat it over the coming weeks. Imagine the difference that could make over the full six weeks of Lent? You really would deserve that Easter egg!

This post was first published on Network Marketing‘s blog in February 2013

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The Economic Cycle and the Bradley Wiggins Effect

During the summer, it was almost impossible to get away from the stars of British cycling, from Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France, then winning Olympic gold together with Hoy, Pendleton, Trott, Kenny et al. Since then, we’ve seen an increase in the number of cyclists commuting to work, alongside an increase in requests to improve the cycling infrastructure in our towns and cities. But does encouraging people to cycle to work make economic sense, both for cities and companies? With tight budgets all round, could the money be put to better use elsewhere?

Not surprisingly, CTC, the cyclists’ organisation, makes a strong case for the economic benefits of cycling. They claim that cyclists take 15% per cent fewer days off work through illness than non-cyclists; a fitter healthier workforce translates into a more productive workforce. Journey times for cyclists are more consistent than other modes of transport so cyclists are less likely to be delayed coming into the office.

The London School of Economics back up the CTC’s claims by stating that the health benefits of cycling save the UK economy £128m per year in less absenteeism; that each cyclist generates a ‘gross cycling product’ of £230 per annum; and that the overall contribution of cyclists in economic and social benefits is £2.9bn per year.

Cycling is good for cities and towns also. Research from the States shows that encouraging cycling has a positive knock-on effect to the local economy, with cyclists spending 47% more in local shops than car users. Every $1m spent on cycling infrastructure produces 11.4 jobs. A number of UK cities have followed the US lead and have invested heavily in cycle facilities. Manchester has just opened its first ‘bike-park’ with secure storage facilities for 200 bikes and lockers and showers for cyclists, with a built-in bike shop for repairs. Their aim is to make cycling ‘the norm’ for people living in the city region. It is to be hoped that the enthusiasm for bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire will encourage councils on this side of the Pennines to encourage more people to cycle by providing better facilities.

Cycling makes us fitter, more productive and is better for the local economy. So what can you do as an employer to encourage your workforce to cycle? Sign up for the Cycle to Work scheme, which reduces the cost of bikes, and look at installing showers or providing membership to a local gym. Replacing car parking spaces with cycle parking facilities will not only encourage cycling but will save the firm money. GlaxoSmithKline made a decision to spend £400 per year per cyclist in their headquarters in Brentford instead of £2000 per parking space; they have seen an increase in the number of staff cycling to work from 50 to 450 (out of 3,600).

Encouraging cycling is also a great way to get staff involved in corporate social responsibility: not only will your employees be reducing their own carbon emissions, you can also encourage them to use bikes on work journeys. More and more people are seeing a CSR strategy as a hygiene factor when deciding whether to join a company; having a clear plan to encourage cycling will enable you to attract the best employees.

So, cycling to work is a clear win-win-win situation: it’s good for your business by producing a more productive workforce; it’s good for the local economy as cyclists spend more: and it’s also good for those of us who may indulge too much in the mince pies over the Christmas period! Will the “Wiggo effect” get more staff asking for it and more employers offering it?


This post was first published on Network Marketing‘s blog in December 2012

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