The Peak Mountaineering Packaging Department
We recently added another Apple laptop to Peak Mountaineering's growing arsenal of Apple products. We bought this one from an Apple Store and you'll know, if you have ever done the same, about the little unboxing ritual they like to do. A smiling assistant (all the staff in Apple stores seem permanently happy!) brings a pristine white box of simple and yet elegant design which they place in front of you on one of their gleaming work tops. With a well practiced slice of some little tool the outer polythene sleeve is slit open slightly and the rest is down to you. You peel off the sleeve and are left with a beautifully crafted box that has a base and lid section that fit together like a glove. One slides smoothly off the other and you are left staring at the sleek aluminium case of your new dream machine. No matter how many Apple products you buy, this little packaging ritual always feels special - and that's the idea.
What I didn't realise, until I recently read 'Inside Apple' by Adam Lashinsky, is that in the huge Cupertino Apple headquarters there is a large department whose sole purpose is focussed on designing the coolest packaging they can. Staff test how smoothly the lid will slide off the base, consider every material, agonise over colour, assess the effectiveness of the logo position and work out every detail of how to make that 'big reveal' as special as possible. A large department and yet there's only a handful of products in the Apple line up. A large department because Apple know how important that unboxing is. Getting the packaging right is key to the consumers relationship with their new Apple baby.
I read business books like this to draw parallels with Peak Mountaineering and Lashinsky's was one of the books I read during my recent visit to Ladakh. We don't make electronic equipment and we aren't the second wealthiest company on the planet, but surely there are still things we can take from these big company examples that translate into our own practice. Maybe 'packaging' is one? Of course you won't receive your Peak Mountaineering course in a pristine white box and yet we certainly still offer a package which extends right from that initial enquiry through to the post course feedback request. I returned from India with a plan to analyse our own course package to see if we can improve our unboxing process.=
First, we sat around a big piece of paper and charted the customer journey. Once that was set we looked at what aspects of that journey we handle well and where our quality of package could be improved. We realised quite quickly that we aren't yet offering an Apple standard package and some changes were needed. It was a fascinating exercise, and here's a snapshot of our results.....
Most customers come to us via our website. After that it's referrals from other clients, people picking up one of our flyers or links through social media and other advertising. We like our website and our clients feedback is that they do too. However, it's still a package that could be improved and we are working on it. The website is currently being upgraded to a new operating package which will integrate mobile friendly features as well as offering some other improvements like direct links to social media. It will be a big improvement.
We have always shied away from producing a brochure but we do have some great flyers and posters. They are widely distributed in local shops and information centres but are there ways we can spread them further afield?
Communicating with us
Most people (76%) make contact by email with the remainder either phoning or occasionally by people direct messaging us on social media. We have a target of replying to every enquiry within 12 hours (both midweek and at weekends) but, with the best will in the world, we don't have enough staff to ensure this always happens. In truth, we are a small family business and don't want to be tied to a desk every time there's a sunny day. But, we are in a competitive marketplace and response times are certainly something we need to address. We are exploring options. One is a call forwarding system for our office phone line and the second thing we need to explore is ways to always get emails bounced to us wherever we are.
Once we do make contact with clients we try to offer a personal approach. You'll never receive a computer generated response - each reply is hand typed and it's going to stay that way. If people have taken the time to get in touch by typing an email then they should receive the same in return. It may be time consuming but we think it's the right way to treat people.
The Booking Process
If people move from an enquiry to a booking we want that process to be as smooth as possible. We have never, and will never, offer online booking because, in our opinion, it takes that personal element out of the process. But, we are aware the system could be streamlined and an easy to complete online booking form will be part of our website upgrade. Taking money from clients may also be an area we can simplify. It's on the list.
We update these from time to time as new questions get asked or information changes. Still, we think the information clients receive works well, offers everything they need to know and is appreciated by customers.
Of course, all the other parts of the package have led up to this. It's why clients contacted us in the first place. We want top quality delivery by professional and enthusiastic instructors. All our instructors (except Paul and Cal) work on a freelance basis so how do we ensure quality of provision. We are happy that our staff do a great job but, like Apple, can that packaging box be any better than it currently is? For next season we have some ideas in the pipeline including logoed staff clothing for our regular freelance team. It is very reassuring for clients to arrive at a course and have a smartly turned out instructor waiting to greet them. We are also looking at contracting a core team for set periods so we get consistency of delivery and can they offer some ongoing professional development training.
We always ask clients for feedback and it is always valued and always acted upon. One thing we don't do well is getting back in touch with clients who've left positive feedback (we immediately speak to any clients who's feedback has verged on negative) to thank them for giving up precious time to give us that feedback. That's something we will introduce with immediate effect.
How, once a client has come to us, do we keep them in the Peak Mountaineering fold? We have a very high client return rate (87% last year) but that doesn't mean we should be complacent and it also doesn't mean we can't improve. We do send out occasional news letters but these need to be more regular. Similarly, should we be sending out offers, discount bulletins, Christmas cards or occasional gifts to clients? Maybe - and this is a discussion we need to have.
So, just as the Apple packaging department is always looking for ways to improve the client experience, the Peak Mountaineering packaging department needs to do the same. We may not offer a sleek white box but we should still be offering a sleek client package. If anyone has ideas for improvement we'd love to hear from you.
Posted by Paul
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