Creating Smart, Relevant Shopper Experiences that Build Loyalty with Damian Kernahan | EP40
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In this episode:
Wendy Liebmann talks with Damian Kernahan, founder & CEO of Proto Partners, an Australian-based customer experience consultancy, to understand how technology, the Covid pandemic and increasingly complex shopping behaviors are driving the urgency to build shopper-centric organizations.
- The challenges to building a shopper-centric organization in today’s increasingly complicated omni-channel world
- Why it is critical to put the shopper at the center of every decision and understand the broader context of shoppers’ lives
- How to break down barriers in siloed corporations to focus on end-to-end shopper experiences
- How to get “the brilliant basics right” to create a singular shopper experience
- How companies often misunderstand what shoppers want, what problems they are trying to solve, and instead “throw an app at it”
- Why shopper personas often don’t work in building successful CX
- Three steps to building the right experience for shoppers, and why digging into “the question behind the question” is critical
Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.
Hello, my name is Wendy Liebmann. I'm the CEO and chief shopper of WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. This is where I have a fast and furious, sometimes controversial chat with smart, bold, often iconoclastic thinkers about the future of retail. Today we're going to talk about how do you create smart, relevant and not necessarily fancy shopper experiences that build loyalty. And what does that actually mean in this day and age as we emerge from COVID, and as technology has changed the way consumers, shoppers, retailers, companies at large, interact and engage with brands and services. I have the perfect guest for this is Damian Kernahan. He is the founder and CEO of Proto Partners an Australian based customer experience consultancy which he founded in 2008 to help clients gain a deeper understanding of their customers journeys in order to drive growth. He has lots of experience two decades in shopper experience, strategy and design. So he is the perfect one to have this chat with. Hello, Damian. And thank you for getting up so early. He's in Australia, everyone.
Hi, Wendy. Good to good to be here.
That's great. I hope you've got your coffee.
Oh, it's all good. Yeah, like it's surprising how many early morning chats I had with people in America. So good to be talking with you today.
That's terrific. Thank you. I really find a lot of companies that don't understand what customer centricity or shopper centricity is, and how to approach it. And the thing that I found engaging about the discussions with you, you don't make it necessarily fancy, but you really dig deep into that process. So one question, do you think companies get it? Or they just talk about it? And if they do, and don't? What is it that brings them to the table?
Yeah, good question. So I coined the phrase many years ago, brand is the promise you make, customer experience is the promise you keep. And we've lived by that premise since we started. It's, it's easy as I've been a brand marketer, so I know what it's like, it's easy to go and make lots of promises to roll out what the strategy is. And this is all the communication, and you see it in advertising all the time, we will deliver this, it will be this good. This is what the experience, isn't it to some extent, it's easy to make that promise, it's so much harder to actually keep it. And there's product managers, and there's heads of marketing, heads of HR, there's heads of operation, but quite often, there's not head of the shopper experience or the shopper journey. And therefore, organizations are in silos, different people in different parts of the organization have their KPIs, and they follow through and try to execute that. But quite often, the customer doesn't see it like that. They just see one organization, they shouldn't be having one experience with the organization, but they can end up having six or seven experiences, because that's the legal department who will put that information out. That's the risk and governance department. And we'll put that there. And that's the sales department have imposed that sort of experience. And so it's difficult for organizations to get their head around this. And I think it's this organizations are far more complex than they used to be, can I think you have to go back like 25 years ago. Now, how many ways can you deal with a bank? Or give you the answer? One -- you walked in, okay, so it was relatively simple. But if you were to draw an ecosystem now for a bank, or actually virtually any organization, whether that'd be manufacturing or service based, the amount of channels or ways that you can interact or engage with that organization are multiple, and therefore, it's not just that there's just an organization, lots of single spokes going out to individual channels, per se. Each of those channels are ways are actually interconnected, as well. So it ends up becoming a spiderweb. Because each of those have to be connected, there's seven or eight different ways or 10, different ways, those 10 different ways have to be connected to the other nine. And so it's really complex to actually think about delivering that. It's not easy, as you mentioned. Quite often we engage with organizations, and we talk to organizations that made that attempt, and they approach it, we're gonna call it an old fashioned way. But it's been successful for them, they've actually launched products or, you know, launched a campaign or whatever, and it sort of worked. And so the modern day version of that is, well, everyone's going digital. Everyone wants an app, let's launch an app, or let's launch a new platform, and that will be the solution. And we've seen this pull over time and time again, because it looks good on the surface. You can show your senior management, it looks good, the user experience is gorgeous. And then you put it out there and customers or shoppers don't engage with it, because the real nice, it's not on the top 10 of what is most important to them, what they wanted to do as a shopper. Maybe was I wanted to be able to log in easily, or I wanted you to send me a confirmation or bought something that was coming. Or if it was delayed, I wanted some simple communication to let me know that's the case, or it's those types of relatively simple things that people are looking for. They're not looking for delight so much, you need to cover off those, what we call the brilliant basics first, that's what's most important. But it's, it's not easy. It's not easy.
And it's interesting you say that because we always say and I can hear my troops saying here she goes, again, is the shopper in the room? Is everything we do through the lens of the shopper of the person who's going to get dinner tonight, a person who sometimes wants to be in the physical stores, sometimes will order online and have it delivered. Sometimes it's using an app. I mean, I will say one of the most perfect examples in the work we do that emerged is we did some work for one of the large retailers here. And it was the first days of buy online pick up in store (BOPIS). And what they could not believe was that people ordered online, they drove up, they got their order, they parked the car and then went into the store. And they were like, what, why did they bother ordering online? Why? Because there was so many things that they got off their list, and then all of a sudden, they actually had time to now either go in and now spend time where they wanted to in categories they wanted to and browse. Or actually they forgot something. And now it's like, Oh, I forgot that now to go into the store. But this whole conversation around what that experience looks like got lost, because they were so determined this was only about saving time. And this didn't make sense.
And that's a really important point that needs to get on. And so what we find in organization after organization, when we go into an organization and with our corporate hat on, a lot of people stop being human, they stop thinking like a shopper, or a customer. And they put on their sort of corporate hat and they go well, of course, we'll send them a link, and then they'll click on that. And then they'll open it. And then they'll ask us to be sent it to and wait on why they come in to drive and why they go they shouldn't be doing that. That's not the journey. We want them to go on. Guess what? It doesn't matter what journey you want them to go on. We need to understand what's the journey that they want to go on? You asked me a question a few minutes ago about a shopper-centric organization, you have to start with the shopper. If you're going to be truly shopper-centric, you have to say, what is the most important for them? How do they want to do it? You have to start there. And then everything comes from that. And it's not to say that it's a trade off. And I think this is what a lot of organizations do. I think there's this trade-off between well, if I focus on the shopper, you know, I'm going to lose margin or I have to trade off business results, exactly the opposite. The focus on that business results will come there's study after study which shows customer-centric organization outperform those that aren't.
We had somebody on a few months ago, where we talked about not return on investment, but return on engagement. And it was really this: how do I think about the whole shopper and their life, their lifestyle? And how do I not minimize or singularize (I don't think that's a word), a trip and occasion, a moment a category, but rather understand the broader context of what we call Shopping Life®, how people live their lives, and how that influences how they're going to spend their money on goods and services.
The most important word you mentioned there was context, which is super important when it comes to experience understanding the broader context of this human's life is key. And one of the biggest learnings that we've had across the last 14 or 15 years, and it's it's going to sound strange in a way, but people are emotional, and they're irrational. And so it's this understanding that as humans, we are imbued with so many emotions. And we actually we undertake what appears like a rational acts when you've got your corporate hat on, but when you go out, I know you do the organization, you go out and you actually talk to shoppers, and you go, so tell me Mr. or Mrs. Shopper, why did you do that? Not the thing, what I thought you're going to do, and then they tell you, and then it's like, of course, of course you would act that way that makes such perfect sense. That's the gift or the value of actually, going beyond this surface level. We've been fans of NPS and research but it's to take that as a starting point to know where to look and understand and then start digging a little further to go okay, well, what's the root cause of that? Why didn't there's some good quantitative data here, but why did you make that decision? Soon, and therefore, the gift that comes from the organization, then it gives you a range of different ways to solve that for the customer, and for your business.
Yeah, tell us all how you approach this magical journey and the untangling of this now that we both agreed that you need the shopper in the room, in the center?
Yeah, well, let's just break it down into three relatively simple phases. And the first one is, is understanding. And so it's about understanding on a relatively deep level, the journey that your shoppers go on, but it's not just starting at whether a purchase, it's going back to the triggers a context in their life, the emotions and undertaking a number of sets of research. I mean, we invariably do 5, 6, 7 different types of research, from interviews, to surveys, to workshops, to diaries, to complaint data, or listening to audio calls. When you were surrounding the problem with more than just sort of putting eight people in a couple of focus groups and saying what's going on for you, because it's not going to help you get to the depth you need. And so understanding that allows you to then break out the information and map the shopper journey, understand people listening to the podcast, we've heard about walking in the customers shoes, walking shoes, but taking that insight that you got from all that research that you've done, and mapping, not the process you think they go on, or you hope they go on, map the journey that they actually go on, and what is and isn't working for them. And when you do that over an extended period, and we're talking about more than one PowerPoint page, and we're talking multiple pages here, then you have clarity. So the first outcome of this is you have much greater clarity on what's important to them, and why and where along the shopper journey, those moments of truth that you really need to nail. Once you've done that, you have all the challenges, you have all the problems that they have. And the way to ideal quite often people we see organizations, one of the things that doesn't go well for them is they'll, with good intentions, they'll get in and they'll do a workshop I go, let's design an ideal journey. And they'll bring a bunch of people, internal people, and they'll map the journey. But all that ends up being is what people in the organization wish or hope the journey would sort of look like it's stylized, it misses the context. So what you do is with all the challenges and issues that customers share with you. So if then they're unhappy with the speed or they're unhappy with the clarity of the communication, you flip it to go, well, ideally, it would be the opposite of that, it'd be really simple. And I'd really know what to do. So you flip it. And then what you do is then you start to create the ideal journey based off the issues they've got. Customers won't tell you how to design ideal, all they can do is signal to you what isn't working for them. It's our job to take any information and flip it and redesign it into what ideal is. And so that's the becomes the next phase. How do you actually map that journey? But also understand at the same time what are the customer needs states, or what are the customer needs? For them, quite often people work in personas, I'm sure you've seen those and everybody's been exposed to besides is listening, it's quite useful. But there can also be a bit of a challenge. Because if you've got five personas, do you have the resources or the energy to actually design five different journeys. We use need states and quite often, for example, if a need state was control, what we find is a 70 year old quite often wants exactly the same amount of control as a 27 year old. And so this notion of designing different journeys for different personas, I get an acquisition. I understand what that be like that for end to end experience can be a little different. So you design ideal for them. And so then you have confidence in terms of what you need to do. And then the next phase is to actually, if you want to build a customer-centric organization, you have to share those learnings across the organization. It's no point the marketing department, the shopper department, the customer experience department holding on to this like little gems of gold, they need to help the wider organization connect on an emotional level and an empathic level what's going on. We know we see it time and time again, lots of smart people, lots of organizations, they just quite need to put a face or a human face on the research kind of brings it to life on the other three phases, understand, understand what the problems are design the ideal, but then help communicate that across the organization. So there are hundreds of little bright decisions being made on a daily basis. It's not some big bang, no silver bullet type of thing. But you imbue the organization with empathy. And on a day-to-day basis 10s, 20 hundreds of people start making better decisions on a daily basis. And that's what creates a great outcome.
So I'm madly nodding here because as you and I know, we're preaching to the converted to each other in this. It is amazing when you can get organizations to take off their professional hat and become the shoppers that they are I mean, we always tell people you need your objectivity. But when it comes to I think whether it's shopper-centricity, that actually if we remind ourselves that we are, in fact, shoppers, that we would not tolerate some of this nonsense as individuals, then all of a sudden, when you talked about design targets, and you talk about segments of shoppers, that commonality that really make a big difference, the aggravation points, the solutions people are looking for, really, it's a real door opener. I find I just did a presentation last week, and I decided that people can't think about how much change that we've all gone through in the last months just through COVID. But in the last, let's say, five years, I began this by asking people, what number of you have done X in the last 12 months stand up? What number of you have done Y in the last, stand up, and you get whether it's people who've done the order online, picked up in store, park the car and gone into the store stand up, you know. Who's gone to the Aldi, as opposed to the whatever, stand up. So in the end, everybody's standing up, and you look at them, and they all look at themselves, and they go, Oh, my God, we didn't realize how much our lives and our shoppers lives have changed. And all of a sudden, they're immersed in the experience, that sense of imbuing the organization and realizing that the experience you create has so many different potential owners that can contribute to the success of something is really powerful. Can you give me an an example of work you've done where the light bulb went on?
Well, I'll go back to one was a while ago, a brand had been consumed into a much larger brand here. But it was Virgin Mobile, which we did some work for about 10 years ago, we went through the process that we talked about before. One of the things we did when we started was that we did our stakeholder interviews, and we interviewed the CTO, the chief technology officer, and he said, Listen, we have an 18-month lockdown on it, don't innovate anywhere in the technology space, because we can't do anything for 18 months. And you know, you go, that's okay. They say innovation loves constraints. So you go okay, that's fine, we have to find other ways, in the short term to improve the customer experience. Well, we've been working six months with Virgin. And we hadn't actually launched anything to market. We've been doing workshops and training and sharing insights. And after six months, NPS came out and it went up 15 points. And everyone's looking around and going, what how did, how did that just happen? Because we haven't actually launched all of our major programs. And what we realized is that everybody in the organization was talking about the customer for the first time in years, and they will be coming to the customer experience department saying, Hey, I'm about to launch this new product. Do you guys want to be involved? Or is there any input you'd like to have in that? Or the billing department would say, listen, we're about to change the bill, do you want us, is there any input that you'd like to give us before we do that. And so there were hundreds of 1000s of different improvements that they were just making, because they were now talking about the customer. And then we rolled out the initiatives and it went up even further, but it was incredible, the transformation, and that just for us demonstrated how you can make these improvement doesn't need the big silver bullet. And I think this is the difference between product lead, like the Apple like, okay, we're doing the iPad launch transformation versus services, or even even manufacturers now have a product. But there is a whole ecosystem that really got an offer, which is they've got a product surrounded by service experience, which becomes that offer. So they start thinking about offer as opposed to product, which includes the experience that opens it up for them. I think that was just an amazing demonstration of the power of getting the whole organization to be thinking about the customer on a day-to-day basis.
Yeah, I think that's why in that title, I said something about create smart, relevant, not necessarily fancy experiences, because you’re right, you just get everybody more focused on delivering that kind of experience across every aspect of what you do. And you don't need to throw an iPad at it right, which you and I are both horrified at, oh, let's throw an iPad at that or an app at that. So how is the pandemic had an impact on any of this? Or has it?
Great question. We're seeing a lot of changes that's human head on and go, what's it been like for us as an individual, and then maybe apply that to our shopping? And I think all of us, or the majority of us, have actually had a lot of time to reflect and think and reevaluate what's important to us. And as a result that's been translated through to the way that we perceive and engage with brands. What was not important previously is now important. What was important is now no longer important. And so things have changed for people in terms of how they perceive the world, and what it is they want from it. And as a result, what they want from the brands that they deal with has now changed. And so you may have a whole lot of research, which tells you that your way that your shoppers saw the world was one way in 2019. But I guarantee some things will remain the same, a lot of their world has changed and what they're looking for, and what's more important to them has changed for them. And so we're doing a lot of research and work with organizations are going, Okay, what's now most important for your customer. And what may have been, you know, number seven, or eight or nine may have come to the top through some not understanding the changes that have taken place for your customers is going to hurt in terms of as you move forward if you're trying to compete. So that's what we're doing a lot of work with organizations with now.
And I also think it's not assuming. There's a slide I use a lot in presentations with a shopper, I want my life back. And then you click and I have, but not that life. So that notion of the duality, of I want control. I want some normalcy in my life, but not quite the way it was before. And if you don't understand that, and there's sort of lack of certainty and a lack of surety, and now I'm not so sure,
yeah, I think what you said there earlier was really good set of false assumptions. A lot of organizations are working on a set of false assumptions that no longer hold true. And it's hurting them because they're putting a lot of energy, time, money, resources into trying to grow, improve, be better compete for market share, compete for share of wallet, that they're slightly missing. It's not they're not totally missing. But they're not hitting the bullseye any longer, because they don't have that depth of understanding and insight as to how those actually changed. For those that are actually purchasing from
Sometimes I do think a lot about have we and you talked about empathy before. And in a world of big data, the luxury of having this massive amount of data that we can have now, and the ability for artificial intelligence (AI) to replicate some of that. I mean, it's extraordinary. But a colleague of ours often talked about small data, and that ability to be empathetic. And see that softer side is something that I found that people have pushed aside are we've got all this big data. All these fabulous analytics, we can create these wonderful profiles of people, segments of shoppers, and we can manipulate that, but we lost something. Now we do a lot of quant research, as you know, as well as qualitative work. But that feels like it's even more important than ever or wasn't always important empathetic research.
Yeah, I think it's an end of it all. A lot of people in organizations think it's a, it's an all like, well, I've got big data, I've got the answer here. And we understand that because there's a let's go back to the surety, there's a surety in quantitative data, it's relatively black and white, it gives you that it is or it isn't quite what quant data is. But as we've been talking about further over, and on this podcast, we're human, and we're irrational, and we're emotional. And the quant data doesn't help you solve for that. So having that quant data will actually guide us to where the issues or challenges are where things aren't working brilliant and be able to get there so much quicker than you can before. is just awesome. You got Okay, so why why are they doing that? And that's where the small data comes in. That's when you could do 10 interviews, 10 customer or shopper interviews for half an hour. And you would get really if you had a challenge you wanted to solve? You'd get a really good sense as to why if you did it right, if we do what we call direct and storytelling, if you don't have a list of 20 questions, but you just guide them down and keep on asking why, why why they'll tell you and I'll share with you what is the seemingly irrational reasons that they're doing highly logical beans, that's when you can put that small data 10 people, not 10,000 people together. And the combination of that is incredibly powerful, made me smile.
As always, when we talk as this, we always used to do the qualitative first, and then we'd go and do the quant to say okay, well, those 10 people was that really relevant to the total population? It seems to me we do more quant and then dig because we always talking about “the why behind the buy” there are a lot of people out there who are brilliant, who have all this amazing data. And and we're always saying, but why did they do that? Why? You know, it's sort of what is the question? Right, that we're always asking. So I think that's really interesting and that ability to sort of continue to sort of go down that shopper rabbit hole, because that's where the insights so often comes right?
You're right. I mean, you asked what's the question, we often ask what's the question behind the question? Yeah, I think that's where you're getting to, but but actually, they're just that extra layer that we go through to go okay, well, I love the why behind the bar. That's great. But okay, that's the question you've come with. What's the deeper question or the higher order question what sits behind that? And when you unpack that, especially at the beginning of a project, that opens up the amount of opportunity for you, so I love that.
It reminds me of a study we titled a number of years ago called Build My Magic Box. And it was really driven by, in this day, of everybody starting to get very digitally engaged and shop online and use apps. And it was we kept asking what is the role of the store? What is the physical store have to be right. And that was a direct quote from a shopper because we went from the client back into the end, why? And this fellow said, I want you to build me a magic box. And it didn't necessarily mean bells and whistles. What he was saying was surprise me, engage me, somebody talke to me, you know, the things that I can't get when I'm digital, and in that digital experience, or solve a problem for me, so I don't go down all these rabbit holes. What is that magic box that somebody just articulated? so brilliantly? When we kept saying, Why, why?
Yeah, and I keep on coming back to things you say, I'm picking up on the rich, I think you're great. What's the problem? are we solving for you? And that's the thing that we approach. That's the way we look through the lens now. And it's like, what problems have our customers or shoppers got? Let's work out the most important, and we start working through them. And then when you do that, on a sequential basis, if you just keep on solving customer problems and shopper problems, that's how you improve the experience. Because at the end of the day, as Peter Drucker says, The only reason we exist is to serve customers. And if we do that really, really well, we'll grow our business faster than our competitors.
So Peter Drucker, Sam Walton, and Jeff Bezos all keep talking or kept talking about solving shopper issues. It's interesting, because when you think about that timeframe, from the 60s, when Walmart first began to where we are with Amazon today, all those success stories have really captured there, how do we understand who our customers, shoppers, are and what we can do for them rather than, Oh, we've got a nice, shiny new package here with a great new fragrance and a new value proposition. And sometimes it's the really simple things that you're talking about unpacking those, which makes it really powerful.
Yeah, it's not as sexy on the outside. But if you're looking for results, if you're looking for outcomes, during that hard work behind the scenes, pays off.
So as we wrap this up, as you think about the next two or three years on your business, and you think about the things you've learned, how should we be framing up this work around journeys, and solving problems for our shoppers?
Well, startups, everyone's aware of startups now and looks at startups. And if you think about why the startup that you're aware of successful, they've done two things really, really well, what they've done a startup with a problem, sort of understood a category problem that has been underserved by the mainstream competitors, and exploited it, and then how they exploited it, what they all do exceptionally if we think about the journey that we have with any of these new startups that we're all more familiar with, they understand the end to end journey in great detail. And they make it super easy for us to engage research, buy us on board, expand our services with them, they think about all the blockages, all the issues or reasons why we wouldn't buy or wouldn't engage or wouldn't do more with them. And they sold them. And maybe we just look at this, most of us will look at this. And it's just a great experience, but they've actually thought about it. So I think organizations can take that lesson and like, let's start with the problem, what is the problem, the biggest problem that customers want to solve. And let us think about the end-to-end experiences, especially for manufacturers, we're finding a lot of manufacturers coming to us going, we have this product, but we now beginning to understand this wider end to end experience. So you might buy the product in the middle, but as a whole experience before and there's a whole experience you can engineer afterwards. And there's a whole set of value exchanges beyond just the product purchase that you can engineer, but you're providing value to your customers or your shoppers along the way. So you might buy a product and that takes two minutes. But you can extend the experience of the journey of that over weeks or months. And therefore you're creating value over weeks or months and the perceived value of your what was product, which is now offer because you've combined experience with cross service with product is a really compelling way for organizations, especially in the manufacturing business category to actually undertake. And there's an enormous opportunity because so few have actually started to embrace them.
That's really good guidance, particularly when you look at big CPG companies that are very focused on even if they have a big shopper organization or insights, organization, or even customer experience journey work. They tend to think about their category and their share on the shelf and what sort of innovation can they think about in terms of formula or packaging or whatever that deliver for years, and they again don't think about the shoppers and shopping life and where that fits and what issues it solves beyond I've got a cough, I've got a cold, I've got a sniffle, my lipstick’s not red enough, all of those things. So I think that's a great context and a great framework as we move forward into the future. I can't thank you enough, Damian. And this has been great, so inspirational. Sometimes it doesn't have to be fancy. But it does require as you talked about all those five or six or seven different ways that you come to solutions, but you begin with what is the question of what is the problem, right, and if we can get to that, it's magic. Thanks. Cheers. What Damian said is simply inspirational with the emphasis on simply. He defined the fact that brand is the promise you make, a customer experience is the promise you keep. So let's replace customer with shopper shopper experience is the promise you keep. That the only way you can build a successful profitable relationship with shoppers is by understanding in deep and meaningful ways the journey they go on, the context in their life, the triggers that impact how they make decisions. It's by mapping their journey and understanding where along the journey the shopper is. It's not about creating some idealized solution that says, oh, let's have an app. Rather, it is understanding the problems they have, the issues they have, and then providing better solutions around them, not bright, dazzling, shining things. He talked about getting the brilliant basics right. And he was preaching to the converted because, of course, as many of you know, this is the lens that we have, is the shopper in the center of it all. The other thing that he talked about, which I think is very telling is that you know organizations today are much more complicated than they were years ago, was so many people so many areas of companies that touch the shopper, it could be research and development. It could be the legal department, it could be the RGM department thinking about pricing and profitability. The shopper doesn't care. What the shopper wants is a resolution to an issue to a problem, one touchpoint and the only way to achieve that is if you create a shopper-centric organization, with a singular vision of how to help and support that shopper on their journey. That's where profitability and engagement come from. So he didn't have to convince me of anything. If you follow the shopper, you will see the future, and that's certainly something you've heard me say time and time again, if you put the shopper at the center of the organization, you will not only build and address relevant experiences, but you will drive profitability for yourself in the future. And that, in fact, is the future of retail. Thanks for joining me. See you next time.