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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Craft Topics – Chairmans Wife

Interrogating the Chairman’s wife

This article is all about research. In this case the client. And it came about by accident as all the best things do. Last month I was running a 2 day business planning workshop. The client organisation had been experiencing massive growth which was putting all systems under strain. I had expected to put together an exercise on the second day Understand your end customers. But at the end of day 1 there was a revolt – because people wanted to do the same thing .. but with internal customers. So after a frantic overnight redraft of syndicates we did the exercise but with internal clients as the subject. And it was fascinating.

I had let them have the works – an adapt from a questionnaire I had originally developed when I was developing Microsoft UK’s audiences looking at them holistically. Only this time the subjects were the warehouse manager, the PR manager, the wholesale manager: you get the picture.

What? Clients as a research subject? Well of course part of our role is to know our clients extremely well. But why dignify it with the word research? Because clients are constantly bringing their own world view and prejudices to bear. But these prejudices are rarely if ever made explicit.

  • The client’s own relationship with the product and the category. We’re talking jewellery here. Now I had already run a competitive brand mapping exercise. The competitive set were other other luxury jewellery brands. Only it emerged that not only did people inherit a lot of the jewellery they owned – they also bought it from a wide variety of places including street markets. So the buying context was a lot wider than we might have imagined. Clearly consumer research could have brought this out but this was a lot more immediate and raised the issue – what are we really competing against. The other dimension was that the individuals concerned needed to recognise that their competitive set was different from the official legitimised competitive set.

I still remember asking the wine buyer from M&S whether he prefered buying wine or drinking it. He replied “well drinking it obviously – I buy because its my job”. “Not buying it from a vineyard” I replied “from a shop!” “Oh I hadn’t thought of that” said he.”Mind you that’s serious when you think about it. After all I am responsible for the labelling of all the wine in the store!” Precisely. A professional winebuyer with no intrinsic interest in merchandising who was responsible for it!

  • The attitudes, learning style and temperament of the individual – appeared to correlate closely with the type of job they were doing (doh!). Obvious point but people who work in warehouses have a temperament to go with it- ordered, calm, conservative. And people who work in sales are people driven and personable – so when they need something – they can often dramatise – much to the irritation of the warehouse person who resents the demand for an immediate response and considers that the panic is probably self inflicted. The characteristics were consistent enough that it provided a whole palate of personality types which made it possible to provide a list of dos and don’ts when dealing with another department if you need to ask a favour.
  • The implicit knowledge of the customer within the organisation. Fact – a lot of marketing departments are too busy doing marcoms to have much contact with customers. By the same token there are a people within the client organisation who have lots of customer contact but there is no mechanism to capture this knowledge and store it. Years ago Cow & Gate had a customer enquiry manager who took every customer enquiry personally and provided the answers. She briefed journalists. When she finished work for the day she went home and wrote booklets of advice for new mums. The woman was a goldmine. She knew more about what real mums were worrying about than any survey could have done. And as soon as she left the company then a mine of knowledge was going to walk out with her. Top tips: When you do storechecks for a retail client go and talk to the security guard – they spend all day watching customers – that’s what they’re paid to do. Top tip bribe, beg, bluff your way into the client’s call centre and talk to the centre manager – they are usually hugely knowledgeable – and can give you a much quicker response than a piece of research can.

So what am I suggesting? That researching client takes over from researching consumers? Not at all. Simply that there is a lot of consumer insight buried clientside and most of the best stuff isn’t sitting in filing cabinets waiting to be found. If you want a copy of the questionnaire I conventionally use to do customer analysis then email me and ask. I’ll send you a copy john.griffiths(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)





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