About your Brain

An amazing ted talk on the brain scans of 85000 brain scans from people of 93 countries captured my interest for the whole day.

Image result for brain

It seems that we have paid too much attention to the functioning of the heart ignoring the very source of life which powers the heart. The brain is the most complex of the organs and has more connections between its neuron then there are stars in the universe.

So should i start on this amazing discovery of my brain capacities. Sounds like an idea. After all the Doctor who gave that amazing lecture. Here is the link for it.

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Digital Retailer’s Litmus Test

Ecommerce is the first Imperative among a myriad of others (IOT, social, analytics etc) in running your business DIGITALLY.

If you are a retailer and not yet online let me tell you that it takes time and patience to build it before you see the business impact on your top line, it is very important that you keep checking if you are not heading for a disastrous or broken outcome.

How do you know that you have chosen the right team to take you on the next-gen commerce journey which they promised? How do you understand the so called checkpoints? What do these checkpoints indicate about the health of your project implementation and what is the likelihood of it delivering an outcome that you aimed for?

A self evaluation framework on these lines is a good starting point. Whether you are just starting off or midway through the process of building your e-commerce platform or have gone live but looking for a litmus test to ‘RESET’. It’s never late to evaluate and re-evaluate. Introducing an evaluation framework which can help businesses to self rate their e-commerce platform initiatives and verify their alignment to their Omni Channel Commerce strategy.

This framework is based on a self evaluation questionnaire with scores which can be weighted against its business priorities. What you get is a multidimensional score chart across multiple parameters. Each tells you where you stand.

There are two broad categories of self evaluation to keep in mind.

  1. Global Standards & Best Practices
    1. Customer Centricity of your Platform
    2. Branding , Visuals and content Marketing approach
    3. Heuristic Evaluation
    4. Omnichannel Capabilities
    5. Alignment to Business Operations (merchandising, publishing process, creatives)
  2. Project Planning & Delivery
    1. Project Scope Control and Optimisation
    2. Project Test Plan and Coverage
    3. Project Planning and Execution
    4. Project Risk Planning and Performance Assessment

 

Global Standards & Best Practices

It is clear that no ecommerce platforms are alike and what applies to your competitors should ever be considered AS IS. It is also very important that the scope of your ecommerce platform features is keeping in mind the customer base that you are trying to impress and the geography you sell to. This sounds common sense but a lot of companies do ‘copy paste’ the website of their closest rivals (or business threats). Add to that situation the ‘productised’ solutions who promise faster time to market often standardise far too much and compromise customer experiences. Result – a ‘me too e-commerce store’ which neither creates a great customer experience nor delivers on the promise of sales which it aimed to provide to begin with.

Chart1It is important to remember that –  the functionality could be same as any ecommerce store the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE SHOULD BE UNIQUE TO YOUR BRAND.

“Does the designed system consider optimal navigation paths to place an order”? Does the website communicate to the customer it does offline? Does it convey to the customer – I am here (anytime), I am awesome easy and I will be here to listen to you?

Heuristic evaluation should consider questions like “Does the system keep the error avoidance approach instead of error message approach?

“Is the user proactively informed about everything about the most important things in an ecommerce store aka product, price and orders”?

“Is the system focusing on the balance between visual appeal, right content and ease of order conversions?” Even one aspect being compromised leads to poor customer experience.

Do you have clearly defined key metrics to chase e.g. average order value, unique visitors, conversion rates etc ?

Does your product data from the Product Masters consider the ‘digital catalog essentials’? Digital catalog essentials include three primary requirements (a) customer friendly product title and product information(including pictures) (b) extensible product data structure which can evolve with time and covers aspect of inventory, price and promotions too. (c) Alignment of this product data structure to match the overall experience of the stores. Are the publishing workflows understood by your business teams?

“Are you focusing enough on the complete experience (physical and digital channel) or just focusing too much on order capture? Did you consider ways to help customer get updates about his order and products with the same rigour with which you incited him to place his order?”

Are you making your click and collect or BOPIS customers wait for their orders in stores? Did you forget to train your staff for these orders and the related process of delivery and service in your stores? Did you explain this process well enough to customers and do they know what to expect? What if customer wanted to cancel one of those items ordered online when they come to collect in store? What if they want to convert it to a gift?

Did you plan to ensure that the web platform does not miss out on the minimum security standards like PCI, Privacy Standards (PII), COPPA, OWASP top ten security vulnerabilities etc ? What’s more critical to your country and it also depends on what you sell.

Have the Business Operations beefed up to support the upcoming ecommerce platform? Have the teams been identified, trained and engaged at a deeper level to enrich product data, support customer service requests both for online and physical stores – (overlapping scenarios). By the way it makes a lot of sense to bring up cross functional teams  as champions of the new environment.

Depending on the size of your product catalog, what is the readiness of your teams in achieving the following for your ecommerce platform?

(a) product feed file preparation for product, price and inventory information
(b) product data enrichment process on PIM
(c) product photography and banners
(d) test data readiness for those testing cycles
(e) test data verification and agreements for the vendor teams to test them and time

Project Planning, Testing & Delivery

Scope

In any new technology (platform) adoption, defining a right fitting project scope (aka minimum viable product) and executing it till it delivers through a 1st launch– lays the foundation of an application which is built to last for your current and future customers. If you fail here, you are starting off on a shaky vessel. A shaky vessel never go the distance – it’s just a matter of time. Very soon you will be out scouting for an alternative service provider or an alternative technology platform. Anyways the rate of technology change rivals the timeframes applicable for phased developments today.

But before the application is built, was there a consensus among all the business stakeholders and IT teams about the scope of the project. Was there a collaboratively created business requirement document / user stories? Did the user stories evolve into a visually stunning and content rich and useful web pages or mobile app experience? Did you identify who and how would you create that engaging content? Did you mobilize those resources? Did the creative process align to the technical? Did these teams understand what is critical for your business?
You would have changed a lot of business requirements from the point you started to the time teams were brought together to verify the said application. Were these changes tracked carefully to ensure no business requirements are missed?

Chart2Did your vendor also cover non-functional software requirements. Examples like ‘expected concurrent users, page views per second, other performance benchmarks, global configuration settings, internationalisation, data migration, archiving rules’ etc? Did you participate in completing the loop?

Did project WBS cover important milestones, demos, common dependencies between its tracks? Did the plan get updated due to unmet dependencies? Did the plan get updated to cover up for the scope creep which cropped up ;-)? Did you add a new third party relationship during the project execution (e.g. a new ratings and review platform? Did you realign project plan and the deliverables to cover this new component of the application? Did you plan for setting up this business and technical relationship?

Architecture & Testing

Were the key architectural decisions discussed and taken through consensus? Did you ensure that a functional as well as a technical roadmap was placed on the table for atleast a 3 year horizon? Did they converge well? Were the resources required for those upcoming projects were made available and put in place today?

Test Planning and Strategy

The test strategy highlights important feeder checkpoints in the development lifecycle where a certain part of the application is verified. (e.g. dummy credit cards and white labeled cards need to be available to testers to verify your loyalty account payment transactions). Availability of data for these feeder checkpoints is critical for verifying application delivery on time. Availability of related third party system for it’s sandbox servers should be committed and made available early during the ‘construction/creation’ phase of the application.

There is nothing like a working piece of application. So even if you are following a standard RUP or Agile based delivery, a working piece of the application is always an important part of the plan. It creates fantastic engagement opportunities and also reference point for the business stakeholders. For RUP processes, demos should be proactively planned and given its importance for any solution delivery. Agile method assumes this.

Peak load performances should be based on

  • deployment frequency
  • number of assets involved
  • size of assets applicable at each performance test time.

The system test plan should be upto-date and should be revised periodically to accommodate all the change requests initiated during the course of the project

Automated workflows to publish the content are great but they should consider all the failure scenarios (as in the real world) (e.g. auto deployment of minor catalog updates could have a failure scenario where manual deployment should be considered and that should be tested)

The testing strategy must cover all the aspects of the project. Most commonly missed activities in testing approach are

  • Browser Compatibility Testing
  • Multi Lingual Testing
  • Multi Site Specific (difference) testing
  • Planning for A/B testing for specific business initiatives.

 

Too often IT/Business managers have a lot of these in their mind and challenges are plenty in ensuring that all of these fall in line at the same time. The orchestration of all of these activities is life and blood of an IT business manager. A trusted program advisor, a domain expert and a hands on project manager can ensure that the surprises during the execution of the application delivery can be minimised and bring the business outcome you aimed for. Using the fundamentals of this framework is relevant to any typical e-commerce implementation in an RUP based delivery cycle. However there are different models of application building/delivery/execution which creates its own set of unique challenges and checkpoints and needless to say it requires its own set of checkpoints.

As i write this, I am wondering on ‘how would you apply these checkpoints in an Agile delivery model’? What would you say are very relevant for each sprints? When and how in the project lifecycle would you ensure coverage of aspects like PCI, PII etc? How would you ensure you would ensure compliance of these standards during each sprints?

OmniChannel Customer Experience

Globally when businesses talk about OMNICHANNEL COMMERCE few themes emerge very strong.
  • Start with the Customer Experience in mind
  • Build systems/digital infrastructure which are sustainable and ready for a dynamic  future. (REST APIs etc.)
  • Consolidate downstream systems (supply chain and services) to orchestrate a better customer experience(again customer!!!).

CustomerExp3
So what is this customer experience we keep talking about? How do you go about making a delighted customer from a happy one. Let’s take some examples of an improved OMNICHANNEL COMMERCE experience.  Let’s ask some questions to get some answers.

PRODUCTS AND PRICE

PDP2When a customer looks up for a product seen by him/her at your competitor’s physical store, will your e-store provide a detailed and rich product data to the customer? Will the product search show the product he/she is looking for(correcting his/her typos and still knowing what he/she wants? Perhaps land on product detail in a couple of clicks only? If yes, he/she is likely to switch from your competitor.

Will the product data consist of details he/she is looking for? (e.g. a demo video for a coffee maker, or a product zoom for a beautiful dress)

Will the product offer a better value for the money he/she is willing to spend? Will the product be available to him/her when he/she wants it? Perhaps on her way back home in the evening? Perhaps before the weekend social event?

Will the final product price inform about tax breakups and delivery options way before he/she proceeds to checkout?

If you want to look at an awesome review of a good customer experience of an online store – checkout this article by Christopher Ratcliff @ Econsultancy

BTW – Did you know that Thornton’s (cited in the article above) – an online chocolate retailer in UK  sold more chocolates online than their own physical stores during the same time due to a better customer experience.

STORE PICKUP

StorePickupIf the customer is looking for store pickup, can your system tell a customer – which of those SKUs can be picked up from which stores and also tell exact inventory for each? Can it also say upfront which items are generally on store pickup? Can it give a trending info about those items? Can it say, generally available in store A during Thanksgiving?

When a customer places a ‘store pickup’ order, is the business in a position to provide real time update to the customer when the ordered item is picked and reserved for a pickup in the specified store? Can you backfill the inventory immediately if the customer does not pickup in a stipulated time?

Does the email or sms alert provide a hyperlink to the customer to view the item status or update it or cancel it? Is it device optimized (aka phone, tablet, phablet, smartwatch, google play etc.) ? Better still is it a rich media message with personalized suggestions?

Does the email or sms contain a direct phone contact to a rep for any queries? Can the customer reach an agent faster who already has customer data preloaded before the customer shoots his/her question?

In a very rare occurrence(yes it should be rare), if the reserved item not available anymore or is identified being damaged, is the system in a position to provide alternative nearest store for a pickup proactively?

Better still, is the system capable to intelligently re-route/reshuffle shipments in real time -to make the promised item in the said store?

Does your store actively track and improvise store pickups process per day? Is your store staff mature and aware about online ordering process?

Does the store have a clearly laid out business process and system level tasks for the store reps to honour store pickup requests? Hope that the reps are not attending to store pickup requests while a REAL PHYSICAL CUSTOMER is waiting for his/her billing?

WISHLIST & GIFT REGISTRY

1425474422_PresentIf a customer is buying for a friend’s gift registry in a store, is the system capable enough to suggest the customer other related items of that gift registry created online? Does the rep know where are those items? Does he/she know how much is required(as specified online) vs how much is actually available in that store? Is the store rep empowered enough to do all of the above with a finesse, only a human can provide?

What about other gifting ideas for the buyer? What about suggestions relevant to the owner of the gift registry? Can you assign a store rep to talk about all of the above with knowledge and charm? Can he/she ensure it is not intrusive but only delighting?

Can the store rep, suggest the buyer if his/her item in the wishlist is on sale? Can he/she show the item physically in the store with buyer’s consent? Can he/she demo it?

If a customer is in a store and creating a gift registry(with a phone in hand), can the customer scan the barcode of the item via a mobile app and add that item to the gift registry? Can he/she look up for a related item and still add that item to the same registry? The related item may not be present in the store at that time.

RETURNS & EXCHANGES AND REFUNDS
ReturnsWhen a customer walks into the store to return an item which was bought online, does the store rep know about the order, the time and fulfillment method of that item? Does the store system have the capability to register this return, ship to applicable DC and perhaps offer a replacement item right at that moment? Can the replacement sale be linked to the original order?

When a customer initiates a return of the item, can your system capture customer friendly version of “reason data” and also let merchandisers have intelligent insights on why certain products of certain suppliers are returned more than usual? Do you know why is it that customers from a certain region often have a relatively active return history?

When the customer looks at his order history, can he view the store location where he/she could return/exchange the item or have returned in the past? Could he have rated that experience immediately on his/her mobile device? Can he/she remember that store as a preferred store for all future purchases, returns and exchanges? Can all of this be done right at that moment by the customer? (immediacy and relevancy)

When a customer at the last moment decides to pickup the order from store B instead of store A,  can the system offer this flexibility to the customer to cancel 1 pickup and reorder the same for another store pickup?

If the customer bought a product on promotion, can you make it transparent to the customer as to what would be the refund amount when the customer returns a discounted item?

NEXT GEN EXPERIENCES
UserProfileCan the retailer app (OR APPLE SIRI), provide a time and  distance dependent reminder to the customer for a store pickup(e.g. you are 1 mile away from the store which has your ordered item waiting for you. Yes the store is open until 8:00 pm, Lisa is at the CS desk”)

Can the NFC enabled loyalty card(in the customer’s pocket) help a retailer to identify the customer’s interests, purchase history, patterns, returns, exchanges etc without being intrusive? The loyalty card is not used to identify the customer but only personalize the offers, update about returns/exchanges when the store rep interacts with those users?

Can the augmented reality glasses (perhaps Google Glass V2.0) help store reps know customer before making a relevant offer? Imagine a “HIGH SPENDER” text floating on top of customer’s head when he/she is around the store? Imagine “LOOKING FOR SIZE M” floating over my head when a store rep looks at me in the store via Google Glass (or equivalent) ? You guessed it right – the loyalty card talks to store systems which feed into the store rep’s Google glass, and voila you have a smarter store rep via augmented reality device.

You would notice that in all of the instances sighted above (including the futuristic ones) – the overarching rule will and shall remain delivering value to your customers. Didn’t we know this already? Didn’t we know, technology is just an enabler? The use cases of customer experiences are plenty and limited by anybody’s imagination. The key to knowing them ALSO lies with your customers. I am sure you would agree.

What is OmniChannel? Really?

So what does it mean for a retailer to be really OMNI CHANNEL. Being a consultant by profession and wired the way I am, I will take a shot at it from the following 3 dimensions and would also put across some of the do’s and don’ts.

  1. What are the common use cases ?
  2. What does it mean operationally for a retailer (We know that OmniChannel is really an operational concept driven by the customer expectations and user stories)
  3. What does it mean strategically for a retailer?

Caution
There is enough talk about what is truly OmniChannel. Here are my disclaimers
a) There are too many definitions of the term itself and I wouldn’t be surprised if you notice a different definition somewhere or this post sounds a lot like another blog/article. I guess It does not matter for now.
b) When I say “channel” I do not mean – website, mobile, app etc. I mean the sales channel. (Brick & Mortar Store Vs Online Store Vs Partner Stores Vs Micro Store Format Vs Affiliate sites etc.). We all know that we are dealing with ever evolving systems interaction points.

======================COMMON USE CASES========================

Buy From Any Store – For Online Order
Check availability at SKU level.
All Variants available at all channels.
Find any store for ‘buy from any store’ or select regular (or any DC) for fulfilment.

Pick Up from Any Store for Online Order
Check availability at SKU level.
All variants available at all channels.
Find any store for store pickup.
Reviews about the stores itself – for online order.

Build a Single view of the following Online Only Features
Gift Registries – where customer was a buyer as well as recipient.
Customer Wish lists
Customer Likes and Social Media Conversations
Customer’s Ratings and Reviews
Customer’s Order History including Returns and Refunds
Personalisation to build loyalty.
Product Recommendations should learn from all the channels. Does not matter whether a customer bought this product online or in the stores. If it is a favorite pair of your customer. It is a favourite pair. Period.

Returns Processing
Initiate return in store (any nearby store).
Initiate return through return shipping label (easy self service-automation a must).
Initiate refunds from stores for items bought online. (i.e store walk-ins).
Initiate refunds online for items bought in store.
View my returns (per SKU) online.
View my refunds and amounts (prorated/actual per SKU) online.
Self help modules for customers which brings customers back.

Service Capabilities
Register a product online. Allow him to do what he/she might have done at the store.
Offer some self help tutorials and guides which are engaging for the customer
Offer a host of value added services. Encouraging enough to be bought.

==================OPERATIONALLY – WHAT IS IT?====================

Cost Effective:
Ship from anywhere nearby but, be cost effective – customer does not care where the item came from – if it reaches fine and on time. Needless to say this but remember a bad customer service is also when you charge a lot for shipping.

One View Everywhere
Store systems should be capable to manage online profiles.
Better still store systems & online profiles are the same as CRM profile of your customer. Ditto for warehouse systems, DCs and also fulfillment partners.

Customer Life-cycle
Marketing has a view of the life-cycle of the customer. Not just curates content, media and engages customers.Marketing rewards loyal customers based on the same CRM profile. It does not matter where the customer was acquired. Channel does not matter. Perhaps this could help justify the marketing dollars spent.

Although the deals and the offers customers use are from the same bundle of offerings. Personalisation strategy should be designed to provide – channel relevant offers/deals/incentives (e.g. do not ever offer Buy X Get Y on discount if the Y is not available in that store OR offer a free discount for every 5 recommendations)

Cross Train
Also consider this – store staff should be trained for – cross channel sales, product know-how and competitive price matching.

=================STRATEGICALLY – WHAT IS IT?======================

Single View
To have a sustainable approach to building and maintaining single view of the customer and consistent end user experience. Have a continuous review around that approach.

Strive to Have It All
Aim to fulfill all the use cases from the end customer (who shops around various channels) (eventually – oh yes there will be more use cases!).

Channel Agnostic Approach
Ensure
 everything is channel agnostic yet meaningful and relevant to the customer and it evolves along with these ever changing use cases.

Supply Chain Efficiency is a Must.
Agreed it is not an easy rejig. Must rely on the experts. Higher transparency across suppliers is one of the essential pointers to achieve that. Checkout http://www.GTNEXUS.com

Cater to Social Shoppers
OmniChannel should support the use cases of a social shopper. E.g. I liked a product online on Facebook and your store rep says – do you want to buy that today – you liked it yesterday? Are you still thinking?). This is a fundamental shift and it pushes businesses to rethink traditional strategies of selling.

OmniChannel as a concept should cater to odd customer requests and have an easy mechanism of managing it through a minimum cost (take this for an example: My sister bought this for me from your SF store but I live in newyork and i need to change the color at NY store. I can’t send it back to SF coz i have to fly to London tomorrow for the wedding. This is a wedding dress.). Keeping such customers in mind is at the crux of redesigning your supply chain and build a strategy to continuously improve that.

There is more….what do you think? Do leave your comments and opinions.

The Digital Consumer

Life of a digital consumer gets even more complicated and there are enough opportunities for organisations to tap into. It would be interesting to observe whether number of circles in this presentation will shrink or will further expand to reveal new ones.

Business Imperatives – Online Apparel Retailer

Online retail is about flexibility and value. A product/solution/tool which provides flexibility to the merchandiser and best value to the end consumer would be the perfect way. When you decide to build an online store it would be precious to consider the following business imperatives.

  1. Excellent Merchandising Tool
  2. Easy to Maintain (interdependent) Systems
  3. Intuitive and Functional Storefront UI

Excellent Merchandising Tool

Flexible Product Hierarchies
If you are the one who is from a business environment of maintaining globally relevant Product Hierarchies – you would wonder why “Pants” would fall under “Super PANTS” category as well as ” APPAREL > PANTS > …”. Obviously product attributes never dictate what should be the arrangement of product catalog. Product catalog is a constantly changing definition based on trends and is always customer influenced. Merchandisers require that flexibility to customize the way products are searched and displayed.

Promotions & Flexibility
Promotions are a lifeline of brands especially those which cater to value conscious customer segments. It is what keeps customers coming BACK. It is what makes it A STEAL. Ability to quickly and flexibly create customized promotions and deals matters in order to grab that attention in the virtual world which is strewn with coupons and offers everywhere.
For EXAMPLE
I may want to offer free shipping to my loyal customers only if they use a specific tender and have selected ground shipping to XYZ.
OR
I may want to disable all my coupons for the time period I am offering this “EVERYDAY NOON DEALS”
OR
I want to be able to offer free shipping to my Loyalty customers but only if they are my PLATINUM card holders. Else a shipping minimum is a must.

Entice – Engage – Shop
Arranging and changing ‘STORE HIGHLIGHTS’ & SHELVES In the store – is a routine activity in the physical world but in the virtual world it has to be faster and more flexible. Merchandisers among other things need the ability to quickly setup THE landing page around new product launch or modify existing ones. The product/solution should support ways not only to render interesting content but also ways to ENGAGE, ENTICE the customers and provide INCENTIVES to shop. If I see a pre-order which is sold out – it might get me(the shopper) to think – “This got to be good!”. Sold Out cases is not always a bad case..is it? The key is to decide when the product is made available. You take too long – you earn a bad reputation – You make it available too early you fail to generate that extra interest which was hoped for. The most important aspect to keep the customer engaged is not always social media but inventory availability. A smart shopper often waits for the deals and assumes a good inventory status – making her – grab the opportunity.If she steals – SHE WINS and YOU WIN too.

Easy to Maintain Systems

Managing Business Data better
Single and manageable version of truth about business data like inventory, products, sale orders, returns and refunds.

  1. Inventory Data Like : – OnHand, Pre-Order, Back-Order
  2. Products Data Like:- Variants, Styles, Archived Styles, Duplicate Styles, Product images etc.
  3. Sale Orders & Returns Data Like:- Open Orders, partially fulfilled orders, fulfilled orders, Returned orders and Settlements.

Using Consumer Facing Data Better
To evolve as a strong consumer-centric retailer. It is important to leverage the data you gather about your customers usage behavior. Never ever you can let this useful bit cut loose. After all that is one of the greatest advantage of selling online. Customer Engagement Data (Ratings & Reviews), Customer Service Feedback data are also critical as they represent direct communication which is greatly enabled through online commerce. It makes sense to deploy vendors which help mine this useful information. Trust me they are your best allies.

Define Roles Better
Ownership of storefront data (primarily site content) and managing product/system configurations could be the overlooked aspect of maintaining storefronts. For example managing Marketing Assets is better done by a separate team than the technology guys who maintain and configure the solution. Marketing Assets (banners, Images, styles, alternate images, lay down images, 360 degree view images, ramp videos etc.) require a different skill set to manage as against maintaining an import of store feed data or that of a search synonyms repository. Your reps are better off helping customers find their orders and order statuses if they understand the fulfillment process.

Intuitive Shopping Experience

Last but not the least it is important to develop a storefront page design which is highly intuitive, creative and yet functional. This helps the team focus on taking and FULFILLING ORDERS instead of helping customers place those orders. A bad design – erodes the brand loyalty sooner than you can expect. The ease of doing business is what UI does in the online world. Some of the most relevant UI imperatives are

Say It So Rule!
Clearly layout the discounts, whether it is a promotion message in view, the promotion on a specific variant or the promotion on entire order or shipment – it ought to be told with clarity and consistency across the purchase process.

  • If the customer gets 20% off only if they use a certain tender – say it so upfront on category pages or banners.
  • If the customer gets an effective discount of 50% on each SKU in a bundle – say it so on the banner and on the shopping bag.
  • If you have an “NOON DISCOUNT CARNIVAL” – lay out those discount details at each stage of the shopping flow. Remember the customer might come back in the evening to buy the product added to the bag during the NOON.
  • If you have an updated discount offer on the saved item in the shopping bag – say it so.

Clearly Explain Shipping Rules
If you ship international – you might have restrictions related to specific destinations because of ‘Nexus’ which exists. Also items which you do NOT ship 1-BusinessDay could be told way before the customer heads to checkout.Shipping rules may get complex at times – the rule of thumb is to inform your creative as much to your implementation partners who build the systems for you. This helps creative agencies to consider for informative texts, error messages, overall dialog with the consumer during the purchase process.

Make product recommendations relevant and sensible.
Product recommendations make sense only when a customer is just evaluating but not when he does ‘Checkout’. Making it relevant when he is not checking out requires a clear personalization rules approach. To build your personalization approach the existing consumer data becomes really useful.

Make Product Search Highly Intuitive
No one knows your products better but if you know the way customers know your products – that is the key to relevant search results. Relevant customer search results should increase the chances of a purchase by 70%. After all you cannot throw out “RIP” as a part of search result set when a customer searches for “PINSTRIPES”. A strong product/solution knowledge again aids in setting up the right configuration here.

 

Sales Management Process

Sales Force Automation continues to be an impactful solution for CPG companies as it directly hits the bottom-line. With the increasing mobility devices there is a lot of room for innovation and meeting ‘not visualized requirements’ of the mobile sales force.Some of the interesting ones have been seen in Salesforce.com’s Sales cloud application. The one which talks about social chatter is definitely inspired from the ‘Virtually Social’ generation of our times. Is there more to the social design? Can you bring in something which is not just cool but really a ‘value-add’ to the sales force and the organizations? Is social chatter a value-add? What do you think about other features that the mobile work-force expects from their devices?

Here is a sneak peak at the process of Sales Management and some features listed at the end.

Don’t forget to use the ‘More’ button at bottom right to see it in full-screen view(you might have to wait for it to fully load). Let me know what you think by commenting here :-).

Work Ethos

Some time ago I had read one interesting article from an employee from a smaller Digital Agency in New York who was pleasantly surprised about the amount of research and preparation one of the prospective clients had done before he approached them for a business enquiry.
..…”But unlike most of the calls I’ve vetted lately, this guy really did his homework. He not only knew all there was to know about my company — even citing details about the client work we’ve handled in his industry – but he’d also read my AdAge blog, knew my personal interests and was genuinely interested in our agency’s fit. I felt like the pretty girl at the dance and was excited to have a meaningful conversation with someone who respected my time as much as he did his own” says the founder and president of a Digital Agency called ‘Squeaky Wheel Media’.
Here is the link to the blog

I think all who work in the services business face such different clients at various degrees of readiness and at various stages of their interactions. It does not matter if the client was interacting with a banking services business or an IT services company or even getting basic services like car-wash, what is essential and to note for me is to note and appreciate the work ethos an individual has(in this case the client). Work ethos is something which is very individualistic and often a softer element of evaluating individual performance. I think it should be a critical one and as critical as ‘Integrity’ in an individual. Great work ethos is a hallmark of an individual’s personality and it can contribute significantly to the way an individual progresses in his/her career.

Incidentally I read the article when I was having a similar experience with one of my clients and I appreciated more of what I saw. The amount of effort she put into her work while maintaining a good balance of time was truly inspiring. There are many aspects of our work life which are influenced from our professional training, our education, our schooling but the ones which are from our professional experiences if noted and well received will always have significant influence.

Of course a way to define what we BE is by observing WELL what we SEE and what we DO.

Power of One

What do people do when they use the INTERNET?

· Check Emails

· Chat

· Search for a keyword

· Understand something on Wiki

· Check their Bank Accounts and Transact

· Check for Tweets and Update a Tweet

· Write a Blog

· RSS feeds

· Google Reader

· Ah!! Facebook (how did I forget that)  – Orkut for Indians and Brazilians

You always have new things added to this list don’t you? There is always something which revolutionizes the way we use the Internet. For years people thought Email was the best way to keep in touch over the internet right? With an ever expanding ‘Technology Universe’, there is always something which is possible now which was not possible earlier. Now it is the job of people like me and others in the technology business to see what we can build next to make businesses run better or make people’s lives easier through technology.

What would make the life of internet user EASY|SIMPLE|USEFUL|BEAUTIFUL?

What is that ONE application (yes only 1 software I mean) which would make users life EASY|SIMPLE|USEFUL|BEAUTIFUL

I know you might say that Google has been doing that on the Cloud and is trying to bring fragmented and fast evolving solutions and platforms together. (Introduced Buzz V/S Twitter within email, Google Docs  with email, Reader Vs RSS feeds within emails, Picasa  for Sharing Pictures and so on)

Questioning the Google itself and for the sake of Wishful thinking – I WAS WONDERING

· What if we have a single solution which is always there to do all of the internet things and BRINGS YOUR world TOGETHER?

· What if this solution is SOOPER easy to use, What if this solution is available on any computing device (PC, IPAD, IPOD, PHONE, or whatever comes up next)?

· What if this solution has only 1 version of the truth (need not be in the cloud but possible – need not just synch data but possible)?

· What if this solution works with existing and ever evolving services on the Internet?

· What if this solution Is meant to be ever-expanding in its features and fully customizable?

· What if this solution brings a singular experience to  the internet  users across the world?

· To simplify things I can even say the next big AVATAR of the Browser?

So what are these things which we do on the internet and how do I elaborate which I (we) wish for.

THE WHAT

Everything starts here. Here is a possible ‘Abstraction’ of what we do over the Internet (still may not be exhaustive)

Pic2

       Communication

        · Text Mails

        · Video mails

        · Messages(SMS)

        · MMS

        · Feeds   (all kinds)

        · Tweets

        · Updates(All Social Platforms)

        · Voice Mails

        · Faxes

                                                         · Whiteboard Summaries of Meetings

                                                         · Group Communication Threads

                                                                  · Forum Updates

Encyclopedia

· Wikipedia

· Research Papers

· Books

· Libraries

· Magazines

· Newspapers

· Video Platforms

Search

· Internet

· Reviews

· How To Guides

· Blogs

· Images

· Maps

· News – News Archives

· Forums

· Encyclopedia (all of the above)

Banking

· Shopping – Personal/Professional

· Products

· Services

· Content

· Utilities

Help My Memory – Personal data Management

· Managing tidbits (experiential tidbits – wine you loved, service u liked, hospital nearby, restaurant  u liked, place u discovered, map  of shop u liked, )

· Bookmarks (Bookmarks of things you marked anywhere – phone, office, kiosks, hospitals, airports)

· Tasks (Master List of all tasks)

· Calendars

· Photo  Storehouse

· Movies Store House

· Music Store House

· Data Store House (every other form of data)

 

THE HOW

1. Detail out the features

2. Prepare some Visualization

p3 Features are by no means a complete story. Being in the role of the one who defines Software Specifications, I know this list is never complete. However I hope to simplify and present a good picture in my next post.

Now, Just to leave you a thought. What if we try to achieve all of the above on a multi-touch-highly sophisticated – console which is available whenever and wherever you are.  Also the console should have the capability to talk to multiple devices (security systems, refrigerators, ovens, music systems, electrical system and of course the Internet). In that case shouldn’t the solution do a lot more? Shouldn’t it be the only thing which we require on that device, Why have a separate application which talks to electrical devices and another application which allows you to pay electricity bills? Why should you bother about remembering when to buy ‘Breads’ when your refrigerator can detect that you are left with only two slices and can order it on your behalf to your e-retailer? Why remember which is the wine you loved the most in red wine category? (Imagine you click favorites and the console displays everything which is your favorite – wine – music – movies – restaurants – etc. Do you see how the lines are blurred between Applications? Isn’t it wonderful how the universe(of applications) expands first and comes together all over again?

Value Proposition & Simplicity

Understanding Value proposition is a key thing for any Business. Unless you experience(feel just like the customer) as to what is a strong value proposition you are offering, there is no way you can actually create one. A very interesting story of a simple independent venture makes me wonder – Is it possible that every business venture(aka service offering, product offering, …) can offer a solid value proposition to all(at least majority) of its customers. And I am not talking about a plain vanilla satisfaction but a very compelling one which brings the customer back and again even if there is no need for him to buy it(services, products…).

I’m talking about Veekes and Thomas Restaurant which has five principal offerings

a) Price

b) Choice

c) Convenience

d) Simplicity

e) Authenticity

To begin with they are really cheap for a plate. For about 100 bucks($2) a plate(for the most exclusive non-veg stuff) and a lot many lower than that, you are spoilt for choice in continental food. Best of all it has very simple things to offer which includes a simple menu and simple cooking without strong marinades and spices, no fuss order online concept(without payment – they collect on delivery). They do not have a place to sit so you enjoy your food at home(there is no choice here). Delivered in boxes which are bio-degradable and recyclable. The packaging is simple with use of traditional disposable plates and fork. Inspite of all this the food tastes awesome and authentic and you do not feel you had a low-scale dining experience. That is because you always place an order to a person who is excited about the food they serve. They are enthusiastic, aware and want to recommend items. You feel you had a fine dining experience at home.

All in all it’s the whole customer experience which matters and which defines the value proposition in a business like this.

Bottom-line: With a good quality product/offering if you are excited , positive about the offering you have and accentuate it with uncomplicated offerings you are bound to make an exciting value proposition to your costumers.

What do you need to have this

· Understand to whom you are offering what you are offering. What matters more?

· Focus on listening well to your customers – continuously and vehemently.

· Attention to details makes the experience complete.

· Stay excited about your work and hire equally excited people to make that positive impression.

Of course internally you have to

· Understand your constraints right and play well (work out a clear financial model)

· Focus vehemently on quality as a default objective. You don’t have to have correction systems.

I can’t help but to compare this to my previous post about compelling innovation. If you connect the dots, a compelling innovation has to have a strong value proposition but not necessarily vice versa (any thoughts on this?). Also maybe a compelling innovation makes no sense for me..and hence no value proposition. (what would go-gurt mean to a lactose intolerant person?)

Is it an observation for you that very innovative things are often simple?

Is it also necessary that a value proposition is often based on simplicity? How complex can it get?