Innovating with a Customer-Centric Focus

leo-bartch-cohort-7By Leo Bartsch, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

In a time when new crazy ideas seem to explode each week, thinking about the customer seems to be taking a back seat behind the shiny lights of disruptive innovation. Is customer-centric design worth looking into in a business? Or is it outmoded by big data and better algorithms?

At the most recent BOSS Emerging Leaders event, Innovating with a Customer-Centric Focus, these questions and more were answered. Hosted by Professor Guy Ford, Director of the MBA Progam, the speakers were Chris Severn of The Customer Experience Company, Erietta Sapounakis of Telstra, and Monique Rappell of the Australian Broadcasting Company. I spend a lot of time analysing my customer’s experiences, so I was really excited coming into the event to see how specialists from big corporates with the resources of Telstra and the ABC, as well as an expert with a more holistic view think about their customers.

So what is customer-centric innovation?
Chris believes the heart and soul of successful innovation is the customer, and that the heart and soul of the customer hasn’t changed for thousands of years. The experience is what truly matters to the customer. For Monique, another essential ingredient is empathy, finding a way to bridge the gap and truly understand the customer’s journey in their shoes.  Erietta tied both concepts together with empowerment, giving your people the right tools, processes and autonomy to give the customer the experience they are looking for.

What are the benefits of designing this way?
The speakers had many examples of huge improvements after switching to a more customer centric approach – not only in customer satisfaction, but in revenue!

Chris shared a story at a bank, where the service team was trained in how their products could help customers, and suddenly sales skyrocketed through the service centre! Changing a culture where sales had become a dirty word was difficult, but once the bridge was crossed, revenues increased.

Small business owners were clients of Monique’s bank, and had problems understanding the products on offer because the bank had made them too granular. Customers had a massive range of products to choose from, but didn’t have the time or knowledge to know which products were relevant for them. The bank tried to consolidate their offering, but struggled to improve things for their customers. In the end, the solution came from their own team, where a banker had built his own system to support his customers. They took the solution, found ways to scale it up, and saw a 400% increase in profits in 6 months.

What barriers are there to change?
Many companies are risk averse, and the bigger they are, the harder it is to effect change. There can be a cultural disregard for customer centric thinking, even in our language about the customer. For instance, the insurance industry often refers to the customer as “risks in force” – a term which doesn’t promote empathy for the customer.

Monique was involved in fixing a banking verification system, which came about because the CFO of the bank couldn’t get past the verification process in order to solve his account becoming suspended. Only once the customer’s struggle was highlighted at the highest level, was there enough drive to push for a solution. They looked at their process, and rebuilt it with empathy for what the customer was trying to do, and then worked from there towards an effective solution.

How do we make the change?
Use applied empathy to understand the customer’s journey. Get close to customers and reflect on their problem. Make the customer heard, even if it’s in a room with the CEO. Take decision makers on an experience safari.

Changing a risk averse culture
In Monique’s experience, large transformations don’t work in a risk averse environment. Breaking it up into smaller chunks of small wins allows you to consistently and frequently demonstrate success, which is important because risk averse decision makers need evidence in order to proceed with change. To succeed, decision makers also have to be able to accept that solutions can come from customers.

Erietta stressed the absolute necessity that there is a base of evidence. If the audience is resistant to the evidence you give them, find a different medium. For example, if they don’t easily assimilate customer feedback, use a review of a competitor’s related product or service.

Chris’s advice was to avoid attempting fail fast methods in a risk averse environment. Rather aim to learn quickly, by doing things like paper prototyping to rapidly iterate through ideas.

Is data the answer?
All three speakers felt strongly that while data could provide some insights or hint at problems, it can’t impart true understanding. The need for true empathy with customers means understanding them on a personal level, and not just numbers on a screen.

Final thoughts
What’s clear from this discussion is the immense benefit to the bottom line when successfully designing from the customer’s perspective. From established banks suddenly seeing 400% increases in profit in a division, to customer satisfaction swings of 60% in a call centre, to service teams suddenly turning from a cost centre to a profit centre. Chris shared this quote by Walt Disney which I think truly sums up a customer centric focus: “do what you do so well they people come back and bring their friends.”

If you reflect on your organisation’s interaction with your customers, do you think they’ll come back with their friends?

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The future of work – why inclusivity and emotional intelligence will become more not less important for leaders of tomorrow

150226_SydneyUni_SH03_11200By Natalie Cope, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and 2014 BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient

We stand today at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. The unprecedented advance in technology is disrupting our world as we know it and will continue to fundamentally shift and change the way we live, work, engage, relate and connect with one another.

Through rose coloured glasses, this revolution will not only change the face and nature of work by freeing people from the shackles of “jobs”, allowing the pursuit of more rewarding vocations – it also stands to improve the quality of life of populations around the world.

At the same time we are experiencing momentous socio-economic, geopolitical and demographic change that is resulting in more and more diverse, mobile and globalised societies. Look around you and for the first time in history you will find yourself working alongside four different generations. You, your boss, your direct report, your colleagues, your clients and your friends, were probably born in a different country (or born to parents who were), will ascribe to a different faith, will have varying ethnic backgrounds, and will potentially migrate in the future.

The advantages of harnessing diversity have been well documented. When the right enablers are in place, we know that diversity improves decision-making and problem-solving and can lead to enhanced commercial and financial performance in business, not to mention the potential and significant social and community gains.

While we stand to benefit from these technological and demographic shifts, challenges emerge for leaders in these times. The integration and increase of technology in our lives is leading to a reduction in fundamental important human capacities including compassion and the preparedness for cooperation. This is a concern noting it really is empathy and our emotional intelligence that enables us to appreciate different perspectives and to understand the people around us, including our teams, and thus how to help them reach optimal capacity and productivity.

To take advantage of our digital and global world and workforce, leaders of tomorrow will need to revert to human basics and focus on developing empathetic understanding and emotional intelligence and develop the art of being inclusive. In the current context, this will need to be developed alongside cultural competence and capability.

I do reject the notion that the impetus and need to focus on the development of empathy and emotional intelligence is a matter reserved for “leaders”. As individuals and global citizens, residing in a complex web of networks, we all have our own sphere of influence. We are therefore all leaders in our own right. Our greatness in this role will however depend on commitment to building these capabilities.

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Influence and Innovation: Insights for Disruption from Within

Belinda - Blog PhotoBy Belinda Coniglio, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

On 20 July 2016, I attended the AFR BOSS Emerging Leaders Masterclass held at the University of Sydney Business School CBD Campus.

What most attracted me to the event was the title – Disruption from Within. The corporate world is one where innovation can be slow to adopt and where “out of the box thinking” is only embraced as a last resort, long after conception of the idea (which is normally dismissed as ludicrous at the outset) and when the masses are finally on board.

A stellar panel, chaired by the University of Sydney’s Professor and Deputy CEO of the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership, Suresh Cuganesan and included presentations from Kevin McCann (former Chairman, Macquarie Group); Anita Oh (Principal, Boston Consulting Group) and Rob Sharp (Chief Executive Officer, Tiger Australia) who each shared how disruption within their company or industry changed the way that they did business.

For Macquarie this was how digitalising the banking experience allowed them to offer lower home loan interest rates and as a result, helped their business to acquire new customers. The CEO of Tiger spoke about how online retailing changed the nature of the airline industry (many probably do not recall the days before pre-paid meals, seats and entertainment online). And for BCG, it is how workplace design can be a transformative internal force.

Disruption has been the buzz word in business for the past few years.  From the panel discussion, there were clear synergies (applicable across each industry) that suggest it is really customer led design that drives disruption and innovation. The first is that disruption in not simply implementing innovation within your industry: it is looking to what has been done in other industries and applying it to solve company and customer pain points. Second, disruption requires thought (or ideas) leadership and the capacity to drive or influence industry change (also driving an increased demand for change management consultants).

With disruption on the mind of all in the room, I took the opportunity to socialise our own innovative product, developed as part of the University of Sydney’s capstone project for U-Bank: after all, consumer insights are the catalyst.  (Stay tuned to the AFR for an update on the Capstone)

Are you a disruptor? Share your ideas below!

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The one thing you need to succeed for product innovation…

Hugh SimpsonHugh Simpson is a graduate of and innovation coach at the University of Sydney Business School MBA Program, management consultant and start-up advisor.

Nine out of ten start-ups fail and the number one reason is the lack of product/market fit. You can have a great team, great technical product, but if no one wants to buy it, you will fail.

During the recent University of Sydney MBA capstone subject, I was joined by three other Innovation Coaches (Willis Gray, Chris Murphy and James Moore) tasked with guiding 20 students trying to find a way to attract and retain customers to grow the amount of savings held with UBank.

The MBA’s 6 week capstone subject, led by Natacha Ng and Josh Ratilal, is designed to take students on the lean start-up journey from problem definition to product/market fit by leveraging their entire MBA experience.

Read more: ‘The MBA students who work with CEOs’, AFR 26 June 2016

On Tuesday last week, the student teams pitched their Minimum Learnable Products to Lee Hatton (CEO UBank) and her senior leadership team – with a real possibility that their creative and disruptive ideas could be picked up by the bank.

At this critical stage of the process, the students needed to demonstrate product/market fit to Ms Hatten, but how do we do that?

Test your problem/solution fit to make sure you have a problem worth solving

‘So I have this great idea for an app…’ is how the usual sentence starts before your friend/colleague starts rattling off all these ‘amazing’ app features.

My first question in return is usually, ‘what problem are you trying to solve?’

If you can answer that question, we are one step closer developing a product that is something people want.

UBank defined the strategic challenges they are facing, however the students initially struggled to come to grips with defining the real customer problems they needed to solve.

To understand the customer problem further, the students developed in-going hypotheses and hit the streets interviewing, doing surveys and testing ideas to uncover the real pain points in the customer journey.

In this discovery phase, where teams practiced their empathy and questioning skills, they needed to keep an open mind as real problem is rarely what it seems at first.

Once the problem statement was defined with supporting customer insights, the students started the ideation stage.

However you choose to step through this process, you need to continually check that the potential solution addresses directly the problem you’re trying to solve.

Every team had to pivot multiple times which is expected and should be celebrated as it means with every iteration the teams moved closer and closer to the problem/solution fit.

Test your product/market fit to make sure you have something people want

Once the teams had developed a solution that solved the customer problem, they developed MLPs that they continued to test with customers in the field.

When developing and testing the MLP – or later the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – it was important for the students to embrace a Build – Measure – Learn (and Repeat) approach whilst continuing to modify the product based on customer feedback.

At this stage it was important for students to not only focus on user experience, but also on developing business model aspects of the product/market fit.

Ash Muraya, author of ‘Running Lean’ highly recommends that you gather data to help you learn about the following growth or value factors:

  1. Acquisition – How do we find you? (growth)
  2. Activation – Do users have a great first experience? (value)
  3. Retention – Do users come back? (value)
  4. Revenue – How do you make money? (value)
  5. Referral – Do users tell others? (growth)

However you choose to gather your data to answer these questions, you need to systematically test your product and business model by validating qualitatively and verifying quantitatively.

Watching the teams pitch to Ms Hatten and her team, it was amazing to see how far the students had come and the pride in the products they had developed.

Well done all!

Follow me on Twitter @hughasimpson or @disruptwithin

All views are my own.

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Multiplying Factor Four: Good teachers and how to identify them

By Luke Morton, current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA Program.

Like Morton new

In my last post, What are the Characteristics of an Emerging Leader?, I made reference to three multiplying factors of personal growth, proposing that they are motivation (to take risks), reflection (on experience), and courage (of self-awareness).

I have another: good teachers.

 There are not many out there because people are suckers.* Some industries benefit tremendously from that fact. Advertising and education being two of them. But it is not the case that they are absent. One good teacher I know says that the ‘Holy Trinity of Teaching’ is as follows:

 1. Show me your students. Students get to work after salesmen have gone hoarse. So turn away from the glossy brochures and fantastic claims. Does the rubber meet the road? Did the students walk away better than before? Are they better than another teachers’ students? Was it just the talented ones who succeeded, or are they all improving together in accordance with an established method?

 2. Realistic. Theory falls down where reality faces the other way. It should be comprehensive, but without adding unnecessary details to bridge inconsistencies—the theoretical form of Deus Ex Machina. It should not just describe reality but also explain it (i.e. form the foundation for the aforementioned method). What’s more, the teacher should be able to handle challenges from the floor either because s/he is one step ahead, or has an adaptive model that accommodates new evidence.

 3. Walk the walk. People should – in all walks of life – have skin in the game. They should practice what they preach. Why? Ethically, it means you share the risks you encourage others to take. Pedagogically, it means you learn and teach real lessons, not hypothesised lessons. What credibility would a lecturer of entrepreneurship have with you, if they had never been an entrepreneur?

 Not coincidentally, these three items align with the multiplying factors I outlined in my earlier post. Because what better example of an emerging leader is there, than a teacher?

 A teacher who walks the walk proves that they have the motivation to take risks and thus are likely to have been exposed to a few good lessons along the way. A teacher who passes the ‘sniff test’ demonstrates that they have reflected honestly on their experience of the world. A teacher who (consistently and willingly) shows off their students demonstrates the courage of self-awareness, because they offer themselves up for harsh judgement that might demand personal change.

 Keep these criteria in mind when you, potential student, seek new teachers. Do you want to be told about things or do you want to be taught how to do things? Would you like to graduate ‘an expert’ or would you prefer to graduate a practician? There is nothing inherently wrong with either approach, but there is a difference. The former makes the oyster your world. The later can make the world your oyster.

 *More generously, it can be hard to judge an expert when you yourself are not an expert. But that doesn’t excusing you from walking around believing everyone!

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Working in my beautiful mess

By Georgia Knox, graduate of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and a Business Leader Postgraduate Scholarship recipient

Georgia Knox

If you want something done, ask a busy person.

We’ve all heard that phrase. Coined by one of America’s founding fathers, the notion has been in existence for longer than Australia was deemed to be a thing. But with the fast pace and complexity of contemporary life, being “busy” has become the standard. We are all busy. As such, the modern interpretation of the phrase could be “If you want something done, ask anyone” (but I can’t see that lasting the test of time).

So being busy is no longer a differentiator. It’s what you do about it.

My MBA colleagues are some of the most time-stretched people I know. Yet each of us are making our way through the whirlwind of classes, study, networking events, assignments, exams, group assignments and social occasions while still keeping-up with LAU (life as usual). So how do we do it?

The truth is, I don’t have a comprehensive answer. I can’t package up 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or a 4 Hour Work Week for you. However, I can share that doing an MBA has made me realise that my way of managing in this crazy world is just fine and that I should not be intimidated by the noise around me. Some may have itemized spreadsheets, others a preference for tasks from which they only derive financial benefit – but if those methods of organisation are not to true to who you are then they are never going to work.

Thank goodness for this. Because I work in a mess (you can make the inference about how reflective this is of who I am). It is an interesting, challenging and exciting one… but gosh it is a big mess. And I am ok with that. You may work in a mess too. There is an onslaught of emails, calls, texts, meetings, travel, documents, readings, social events, hangovers and then when something new comes along you say “of course I would love to be involved” and figure out how you will make it all work later.

It is my eternal desire to clean up this mess that keep me going at pace, but completion of tasks and achievement of goals inevitably leads to it spreading further without containment.

Every morning I write myself a ‘to do’ list. It even has little tick boxes next to each task so that I can get a real kick out of the flick of the pen. Yet, every afternoon I look at my list and think about how useless it was and how few items have been ticked. UFDs (unanticipated flying distractions) took place such as new tasks, impromptu discussions, technological breakdowns or the good old simple tiredness that prevented me from having a nicely hand-marked page.

But I still feel as satisfied as if that page was full of ticks. Because I reprioritised according to the needs of the day – and did not keep myself restricted to a specific plan. Plans rarely hold stable in our personal lives, so how can we expect more from them in our professional ones? And, since doing the MBA I trust myself with the decisions that I make every day to manage this accordingly. This realisation is an emancipating one.

So I am not just okay with my big, beautiful mess. I am proud.

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Transforming the future of green energy

Nancy PSVBy Nancy Nguyen, Marine & Logistics Category Manager at Woodside Energy, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

“I’d rather be poor and educated than be rich and ill informed”, are values inspired by my mother who risked her own life to flee war-torn Vietnam to ensure my siblings and I had the chance to a future with limitless opportunities in Australia.

My mother grew up in a small town called Dalat, in the southern highlands of Vietnam. The high altitudes meant it was often cold and wet, requiring locals to use rudimentary energy sources such as wood or coal to cook, bathe and stay warm. I remember as a child my mother reminding me every day before she went to work to remember to prepare the rice in the rice cooker for our dinner. Some days, I would complain because I was lazy, but she would remind me to be grateful to have the convenience of a machine to cook the rice. My mother was only six years old when she made her first pot of rice on a coal stove. She would sit for hours every day fanning the coal fire to ensure the rice cooked properly. Today, many still rely on these as sole energy sources due to limited access to other clean fuel sources. Approximately 41% of world’s energy supply is still heavily reliant on coal, with the demand expected to continue to increase with population growth (International Energy Agency, 2016).

Luckily, growing up in Australia has gifted my family a high standard of living, education and amenities, which would not have been readily available if my mother remained in rural Vietnam. I am grateful for these privileges, which have driven me to seek ways to contribute to a nation that has afforded me so much opportunity.

I was awarded  the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship with  and began my MBA at the University of Sydney Business School in 2014.  From the very beginning, it has been a dynamic, challenging and all immersive experience. The MBA has pushed me to understand myself and my blind spots in order to become a more effective leader of change. It has been highly rewarding to apply what I have learnt to become the best leader, more equipped to energise and leverage the diversity of my team to build an innovative culture.

My team has become a more flexible and responsive unit, which works together to adapt to change and adopt early innovation. Together, we have successfully positioned Woodside to bring the first LNG powered marine support vessel to Australia. The innovative LNG technology is a significantly cleaner energy source than traditional diesel fuel.  LNG emits 2.5 times less greenhouse emissions compared to the coal lifecycle, and is far easier to extract, transport and store (Gas, 2016). Australia is on track to become the world’s largest producer of LNG, so it makes perfect sense to build dual-fuel capabilities for our marine fleets here.

The MBA has also helped my team shape the business’ appreciation of shared values, where business and social opportunities work hand in hand. Improving access to LNG will enable Australia to meet tighter emissions regulatory requirements agreed by 186 countries post COP21 at the UN climate change forum in 2016.

In April 2016, Woodside signed a five-year charter contract with Norwegian company Siem Offshore Australia Pty Ltd — an agreement that will deliver Australia its first LNG-powered marine support vessel in 2017.

Woodside’s new vessel will be greener — reducing vessel greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions and the reliance on imported diesel — while providing safe, reliable support to Woodside’s assets in Western Australia’s Exmouth and Pilbara regions. Woodside will continue to seek to expand the application of LNG-fueling in transportation in WA.

The UN women NC Australia MBA Scholarship and my MBA experience at the University of Sydney Business School has truly been rewarding and I’m proud to be applying my leadership skills to transform the future with clean energy for our many generations to come, this is my Future Anything!

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