On 27th June we celebrate the UN’s Micro, Small and Medium sized Enterprises (MSME) Day. According to data provided by the International Council for Small Business (ICSB), MSMEs make up over 90% of all firms and account, on average, for 70% of total employment and 50% of GDP. They are the heart of our economies and our communities, providing employment and much needed services.
Yet those small businesses, especially those run by women and young entrepreneurs are being hardest hit by the economic fall-out of the pandemic. We asked Peter Eckert, co-founder of design thinking and experience agency projekt202, to create a how to guide for micro-business operators to improve their customer experience and grow their business from home during the current lockdown in Malaysia.
Peter Eckert: My name is Peter Eckert. I’m the Chief Experience Officer and founder of a company called Projekt202. I grew up in Germany and I hold two degrees, one in engineering and one in design. About 20 years, I migrated to the United States and started the company. We started very small with about four people in Austin, Texas, and we have grown to about 600 people across, mostly the Americas.
We consider ourselves [to be] an experience company. What that means is we help companies to create better experiences for their customers, people, employees wherever there is an experience touchpoint, and we have different types of techniques to approach the problems that we run.
Projekt202 is known for its work with Fortune 500 companies and tech giants like Tesla. Today, we’re talking about MSMEs. How can the approaches you take with multi-national corporations be adapted or used by small and micro enterprises and organization in the not-for-profit sector?
Peter Eckert: Our website talks a lot about those larger companies, because they usually have very complex customer experience challenges. But we have worked with up to a thousand different companies of all sizes, many [have been] startups. The methodology is a people focused methodology, so you can truly apply this down to any company size in any industry.
Think City also takes a data-driven, people-first approach to its interventions. Can you explain the importance of this approach from Projekt202’s point of view?
Peter Eckert: I don’t know how familiar the audience is familiar with the term design thinking. It’s a mindset that allows you to look at the problem space differently. And we tend to live in a technocratic world where we try to solve most problems with technology. But if you focus on people first, you can identify the core needs that these people have.
And then you can much make much better decisions around what you would provide for that person with that core need. So, you can make better decisions around where you want to spend your efforts and energy to innovate or where you want to invest in technology. Everything can be a lot more focused when you start with the people first.
You mentioned working with over 1,000 companies of all kinds of sizes, in all kinds of industries. What kind of approach or services would typically offer to smaller companies?
Peter Eckert: We love SMEs because they power pretty much every society on the planet. Without them, it would be very difficult for all of us. We look at their specific problem spaces or statements. And then we offer smaller, bite-size adjustments. They frequently can’t do larger holistic strategic plays. They have very tactical day-to-day problems. We have little assessment packages. We have little design adjustment packages. And we have a strategy definition packages.
Usually those are no more than two to three weeks’ worth of work, but it usually can point you into a better direction for the SME. It really starts with identifying what is the core challenge that [they are] facing and obviously every industry and every space is different there… depending on where their business is, who’s working for the business and who are the core customers.
As you said, SMEs and micro-enterprises span the entire range of industries and services. What kinds of projects or companies do you get excited to work with?
Peter Eckert: The emergence of the pandemic has highlighted how important it is for people to be able to have access; to be able to consume everything from home, with their fingertips. So, any kind of business or service that supports the idea that perhaps our employment models are shifting: telco, internet, connectivity, food services, all of those are at the forefront of this change that is taking place. Kerbside pickup, delivery.
It’s easy to quickly lose focus also on the ones that need the most, which is typically government or nonprofit organizations. Those are dear to our hearts because we love what they stand for. And they’re usually behind when it comes to getting support. They have outdated technologies, usually they have outdated experiences. So, those are the two main areas that I tend to like us to focus on, but we are not shy of any kind of business problem.
projekt202’s Tips For Micro-Business Owners
We asked Peter to help us to create a compact how-to guide for micro-business operators to improve their decision making and customer experience during the lockdown, using a small food business as our model.
One-Size Doesn’t Fit All
Peter Eckert: Big technology providers essentially tell these SMEs that, by using this technology, they basically take care of their main challenges and the main experiences that their customers have. That’s unfortunately not true because many of these solutions are trying to give companies, a one shoe fits all model. Every single food supply service is different from the other one, but here we are trying to solve their problem with the same type of technology.
These big providers are really hard to compare. There are no like good marketplaces where you can go and just look at how one B2B service compares to the next B2B service. So if you sign up for internet for your business and for payment services, It’s really hard to compare this to the next internet provider and their payment services.
And so that’s tough. You just need to do some research there in regards to how you best market. We think that if you know the core needs of your customers, then you have kind of insight also about how you need to talk to them. If you know how to talk to them, you kind of know where you need to talk to them.
Know Your Customer and Build Personas
Peter Eckert: If the buyer is a stay at home mom: how do stay-at-home moms behave? How do they make better decisions? How do they live their lives? The stresses that they have, and so on. You can start talking to them that way. Marketing to those groups needs to be at a place where they go, so it’s a case by case situation. You can tie it back to the core need.
If you can’t address the core need that these people have then it’s a waste of effort and energy. If you want to approach this from a different angle and really be more nimble and actually get smarter about your decision-making, when it comes to investing into the experiences or the technologies you’re using, you should start with mapping your customer needs.
Who is your customer? Do you fully understand who that core customer is? Is it more than just one persona? [A] persona is basically a stereotypical representation of one segment of your customer base. Typically, you have three to five personas, but these different personas don’t make the same buying decisions. They act different, they behave different. First, understand which ones are the most important for you. When you understand that it becomes easier to map out what you should be focusing on and what you should be offering to them.
What we have learned over time in our work is that observing people [is important. Go out and see how they eat, how they buy, how they live their life, where they are, and observe their behavior. What happens when they make a buy decision? You can spend a couple of observational sessions with some of your customers. We do that all the time. We follow them, we ask them to do the things that they would be doing to learn really what matters to them.
It’s the observed reality that is actually truly driving the innovation for better products and better experiences.
Tell Your Customers You Exist
Peter Eckert: Your customer needs to discover that you exist, then you need to be able to process an order. The customer has to be able to either online or call you up and purchase. Then you have order fulfillment. You need to make sure that the order gets processed really quickly. That usually involves technology.
Then you need to figure out how to get the merchandise or the service or the food to the customer. Now you rely on a perhaps third party, where you have very little control of the experience to your core customer. All of this is you. [Customers] they see this as an experience you provide. If there’s a breakdown in that, it reflects back on you, even if it’s not your fault.
Don’t Let Jargon Trip You Up
Peter Eckert: Whenever your brand or your company is looked up or engaged with, or [customers] talk to [you] or purchase something from you, we call that an experience touchpoint: a human being connects with your brand, with your company, with your people.
Map out where they touch you as a business. On average, you probably have five to 10 different types of touchpoints. And then you can look at each of these touchpoints and see where the experience is maybe subpar or not, where you want it to be, and you can and focus on lifting those first.
The reason why it is fluid is because when you adjust one, this may have a dramatic impact on the next one. I’ll give you an example: let’s say you have a business that mostly sells through a retail environment and only 1% of your sales or 5% of your sales is online. And you make this barrier to entry easier and simpler to understand, and all of a sudden, your 5% online channel catapults to 60%.
The experience you improved here might have the dramatic effect on your order fulfillment. Now you need to all the sudden handle a much larger volume that comes through your own online channel. Now you need to adjust that experience touchpoint.
Start with the most obvious ones. When one of your customers has a need, look at the journey that they go through with you and [ask]: are you actually helping [to meet that need]? You can make very simple decisions in your day-to-day business. If you have a new idea for a new service or new feature, if it doesn’t address a core need, it most likely will not make an impact.
Peter Eckert: When you create uncertainty in the experience – I want to buy something and it’s not clear to me what I’m buying or…what I’m comparing it to – that causes stress and that prevents me from making the buying decision right there. Having more clarity, having simple mechanisms, having simple words [that] reduce the cognitive load of this human being trying to make a decision can really help.
If I have to wait for something very long, it stresses me out because I think I might not get it, or if I buy something where I don’t know if it actually has the functionality that I need. This is causing anxiety, and it prevents you from buying easier. So, there’s these breakdowns in these experiences that happen on a daily basis.
Uncertainty is one of the biggest preventers. So if you can remove uncertainty in your experiences, if you can provide touchpoints that actually feel delightful. Someone said something nice to you. Someone went the extra mile to replace the item that wasn’t good. All of those things reflect really positively on your experiences.
You can control it. You just need to understand where that breakdown is.
Peter Eckert: Don’t panic. First, look at the core need of your core customer. When you identify that core need it becomes much easier to match up which piece of technology you actually need. It’s a little bit of a process, but you know, if you’re worried about this, there’s actually very talented consultants you can just bring on for an hourly basis and help you make that decision. Don’t take [on] a technology consultant, just take someone that helps you understand people and data, and then, matching that up to technology becomes not as daunting anymore.
Always Put People First
Peter Eckert: Small businesses mostly have people problems. We’ve given free rein to technology to tell us that technology addresses your problem. While in reality, it’s actually a people problem. People can’t buy. People don’t understand your offering. People don’t think it’s a good experience.
We think there is a lot of room for growth, not just in Malaysia, but in [many] of the countries in this region.
Educating society. Being passionate for all of us to have these better experience touchpoints. So, I’m very excited to be here and work with groups and work with universities to build curriculum around how you really use these use these principles of design thinking, experience thinking, how you apply them in your day-to-day life, and how you apply them in your business set up.
We can, I think help society to get a lot better. I mean, we see it every day in the news, right? There is a new site that was launched and everyone is disgruntled because the experience is just not good. When you do too much technology first, the experience suffers. So, if we, if society, as a collective learn to focus more on these experience touchpoints, we all will be better off. And so that’s the exciting part. And like I said, like we see a lot of young hungry talent here that, that wants to do that kind of thing.
Listen to an extended audio version of this conversation here.