After an unwelcome break, we are back with a fantastic interview with Nigel T Packer, founder of PelaTis online.
What this man doesn't know about Customer Experience is not worth knowing. Taking his wealth of experience and applying it in the digital age, Nigel helps businesses see things through the eyes of their customers.
Covering everything from the importance of your customers, the value of the Retrospectoscope, and the therapeutic benefits of knotted rope.
Can you give us a brief history of Pelatis?
It actually all started back in 1999 with a different company, but Pelatis itself was set up in 2014 as an iteration of that business. Both Pelatis and the original business have always been focused around the customer, because a customer sees a business in a very different way to the business owner.
This company better reflects what we do. It’s about sales and marketing, but it’s about understanding your customers rather than just blindly pushing out a message all the time. The new company is doing more or less the same as before beneath the surface, but we have brought it in to the digital age. The message remains the same: it’s not about internet marketing or social media marketing, because every man and his dog thinks they can do that. It’s about focusing on the customer whatever your channel.
"It’s about focusing on the customer whatever your channel."
What were your reasons for starting the businesses?
First and foremost, I don’t like being employed because I hate the internal politics. The business should be there to get on with running the business and everybody should be rowing in the same direction. I often comment on that when I go in to companies. Teams are so important. You need to get your team right, and a big part of that is team dynamics.
Added to that, I’ve always been a people person. I’ve always loved sharing knowledge and meeting people.
When I wrote my first book “Internet Marketing: How to get a website that works for your business” the emphasis was helping small businesses who didn’t understand the technology. I help people to use it as a tool. You don’t have to know how a ball-point pen works to be able to use it.
During that period, I noticed that all of the great and the good of marketing were throwing away all of the marketing manuals because the internet was going to revolutionise everything. I realised this was a huge mistake. Don’t throw them away, just read them and apply them to the internet. But nobody was doing it.
So, I realised that everyone was muddling through. No matter what industry you are in, everyone is muddling through. I realised that the small companies didn’t have the resources or expertise to make it work. They will often go for the cheapest option and have a generic website built but it doesn’t work, because customers are all different. No one ever thinks about who is going to be reading it.
The business owner is looking out - enthusiastic and passionate - but the messages they give out often contradict the visuals and perceptions of the customer. What the customer is buying is often completely different to what the company is selling.
"No matter what industry you are in, everyone is muddling through."
"What the customer is buying is often completely different to what the company is selling."
Can you give us an example of this difference in customer perceptions?
A good example is the translation industry. I gave a talk at an industry event and I asked them what they thought they sold. “Translation” they said. I asked them what they thought people bought. “Translation” they said. Wrong. They buy communication, because they need to communicate with their customers in other countries. It was a revelation.
A funeral director sells coffins and a sombre event, but people buy closure and the chance to grieve. It has nothing to do with the mechanics of it.
When people buy a cup of coffee in a coffee shop – are they buying it for a warm beverage or are they buying it so they can also sit down and have a rest and sit in the window and be seen drinking it? You can have good coffee at home if you want. A coffee shop sells coffee but more often than not, the customer buys a lifestyle choice.
"One bad experience in any area will tarnish your whole reputation."
How does this translate in to mistakes that businesses make?
A common mistake is impenetrable walls of text on a website. It’s 50% harder to read on screen, and people just scan very quickly – so you have to break up the paragraphs with space and pictures and clear headings. If they don’t instinctively feel that they are in the right place, then they will just brush past.
People think of a website like a shop – you come in through the door and look around. This is wrong. With a website, you can come in from any direction – so the old techniques of controlling the customer journey need to change. The service needs to be good at every point to make sure you aren’t caught out regardless of where someone enters your website. One bad experience in any area will tarnish your whole reputation.
Overhyping your product on your website is another mistake. There are many stages in the customer journey. Towards the end - after the euphoria of unboxing a purchase - can come the sense that it isn’t quite as expected. And that’s when the complaints happen. It’s important to be realistic up front for the benefit of the whole customer experience.
What all of this boils down to is that you cannot abdicate responsibility for your digital marketing to a third party. They know less about your business and even less about your customers. You have to have that responsibility, which at the very least means giving them a detailed design brief to deliver exactly what you want and need. You won’t get something that represents your business unless you give the input.
"You won’t get something that represents your business unless you give the input."
You certainly have a wealth of experience – have there been any challenges in getting to this point?
Well obviously, the last 18 months or so have been particularly challenging, as they have for everyone. A lot of my own promo has traditionally come from speaking events – where people come up to me afterwards and ask if I can help their business. That has stopped due to Covid and that caused problems for me. On the positive side, however, it did give me the chance to write my second book. The working title is “Digital Customer Experience Optimisation” and I’m excited for it to be out very soon.
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on - which was a wake-up call - was getting involved with government-funded bodies. The money is good, but if a client is not paying directly for the service, then there is no value in it for them. Some didn’t value the advice they received and therefore didn’t act on it – it was a complete waste of time for all concerned.
"If a client is not paying directly for the service, then there is no value in it for them."
Can you share some tips with us that you have picked up along the way?
When it comes to B2B you have to use social media in a completely different way. The problem is that a lot of the large companies have just jumped on the bandwagon and they haven’t thought it through. You need to constantly ask yourself “is this relevant to what our business is doing?” – otherwise it just becomes an empty box-ticking exercise.
It’s important to think about it carefully and allow all sides to participate in the discussion. I believe all groups should have a “10th person” who questions the validity of the other 9. This is the best way to guarantee a well thought-through position before you communicate anything.
I also think it is incredibly important to define your niche – particularly with the internet. If you try to be all things to all people then you are sending out generalised signals that people don’t pick up on. You don’t stand out.
Finally, always think about your audience. Over a long period of time, poor marketing – continuously insulting your audience – will destroy the company, because that audience keeps your business going. You need to realise how important your core customers are to the longevity of your business. If you lose their trust, they’re gone – and it’s so hard to get them back.
"All groups should have a “10th person” who questions the validity of the other 9."
"You need to realise how important your core customers are to the longevity of your business."
And how about frustrations? What would make the world a better place?
This contradicts what I do somewhat, as a marketer, but people buying less would make the world a better place. It is the only way we are going to make a difference to the environmental challenges we face. Have you ever wondered why you see so many self-storage facilities popping up at the side of the road? It’s because people have got too much stuff – their houses are full. People can only be happy when they buy stuff.
I’d also love to see people saying nice things about each other rather than complaining. I love working with Americans because they are so forthcoming with their praise and support.
"I’d love to see people saying nice things about each other rather than complaining."
What emerging trends are you seeing that will shape the future?
I think we will see much more honesty in marketing, because people are fed up with the spin and the false narratives. Honesty will make a big comeback. You could argue that there is no such thing as moral marketing, because it’s all propaganda at the end of the day. If you have to meet your business targets then you have to spin things to meet your customer’s perceptions. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve it by fundamentally telling the truth and being honest.
I am also seeing a big group of young people who are rejecting technology. There are many reasons to reject it. Privacy concerns, the false narratives I mentioned, and the noise of everyone pushing their messages outwards and talking about how they are the best. This shift back to a more honest approach is the natural reaction to this big switch off.
"I think we will see much more honesty in marketing, because people are fed up with the spin and the false narratives."
How do you go about making business decisions?
I make decisions by researching, but I research widely. I have always enjoyed learning and been fascinated by silly little facts. I read very little fiction by comparison – I love learning from non-fiction.
My advice is always to read what other people say about a subject, but also to study the science behind it and keep in mind that the science is never settled. It might seem like it, but someone will come along at some point in the future and potentially debunk it.
I usually then make my decisions by talking with someone. A lot of people don’t talk to anyone about their projects. They decide what they’re going to do and they pull a plan together all in isolation. I think this is a mistake.
"Read what other people say about a subject, but...keep in mind that the science is never settled."
And do you ever go back and review those decisions after the fact?
I do occasionally – and it’s usually in a discussion with my wife. Quite often we’ll see something new come out that we thought of 15 years ago and we wonder whether we should have been bolder, but the honest answer is that the time wasn’t right. The technology didn’t exist and the audience wasn’t ready for it.
I talk a lot about the Retrospectoscope. You can say anything in hindsight, but life is a whole series of T-junctions and side roads and it depends on what you were doing and what was happening at that moment in time. There’s not a right and wrong decision as such, only one that was right at the time.
I lived a very real example of this. My dad built his own home, and he set up a dark room so he could work on his photography and fund some of the build that way. One of his friends came to him one day and said he had a great opportunity to have the exclusive UK rights to a Japanese camera company. Japanese goods didn’t have the best reputation at the time and my father thought he didn’t want to get involved. Anyway, it turns out that the company was Canon. When he told me this story I said: “What? We could have been millionaires!”. He said: “Yes, but at the time I had just built a house, we were furnishing it, I had a job, we had a daughter and we had twins on the way”. It just wasn’t the right time. He had no regrets.
"You can say anything in hindsight, but...it depends on...what was happening at that moment in time.”
As someone who has written two books, how do you deal with writer’s block? Where do you do your best thinking?
The whole digital customer experience topic is a series of steps – just like walking. So, I literally try to visualise it as I am walking on the beach – it’s a journey of discovery. I find all sorts washed up on there. Rope is a big thing. I find huge lengths of rope and I just drag them back home and spend time untangling them. It is so therapeutic – it’s like undoing the knot of a problem. You think about the problem while you’re doing it – it’s fantastic. When I’ve finished and I coil it and hang it up, I’ve sorted out a problem. I keep the ropes hanging up outside my office as a reminder. I think I could sell tangled ropes as de-stressing tools.
"I find huge lengths of rope and I untangle them. It is so therapeutic – it’s like undoing the knot of a problem."
Do you think it’s important for a business to have a plan?
Plans are necessary – you do have to plan every aspect. It’s a mistake that a lot of people make – fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. It’s not so much the people who rush in first, because they’ve probably got a plan and they’ve got the financial clout to be able to follow through with it. It’s the people who go in to things second stage. They rush in and throw money at it because it seems like a great thing to do, but they’re not considering the fact that this is a five-year trend. In five years’ time it will be gone. So, business modelling is the important part of it, and the modelling should always include the exit strategy. When you start any business, you should have an exit strategy.
When a business reaches a certain point, you cease to be an operative. You start working on the business then rather than in it. You have to think these things through and plan for them from the beginning and make sure everything you do is aligned to the exit plan that you have set out.
A lot of people don’t like the transition out of working in the business, so be aware of that up front. If that is not for you then keep the business small. You don’t have to grow it if you don’t want to. Have a definite strategy.
Another mistake people make is to assume that everyone wants to buy their product. Initially, you need to focus on the subset of people that genuinely do want to buy it, and build out from there. This is a vital part of the plan. Then move on to the people who didn’t even know it existed – help them to discover you and your product. This is how you grow you customer base, but you have to be realistic and make the right decisions.
You need to think about the customer journey and plan it all out up front because then you can put these messages in the journey so that they come across them at every touch point. This won’t happen by accident – you need to plan for it.
"When you start any business, you should have an exit strategy."
"You don’t have to grow it if you don’t want to. Have a definite strategy."
Where do you get your inspiration?
Life. Everything inspires me. A conversation, new people, watching the lights in someone’s eyes brighten when you give them a piece of information that they had never considered before. Seeing people develop and grow. We used to have interns back in the day, and it was wonderful to see their development. Most of them are earning more than I am now – they are real high flyers. But when they came to me, it was all new to them. I gave them presentations to do, and feedback, and they got better and better and grew in confidence. It was great to see.
Seeing businesses grow is exactly the same for me. Watching people implement small changes and get big results really quickly. It’s so rewarding.
"Watching people implement small changes and get big results really quickly. It’s so rewarding."
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