question mark

Asking the right questions

I frequently find that people focus so much on finding the right answer, that they fail to stop and consider if they are asking the right question…….

I was recently contacted by a prospective client that had been pointed in my direction as he had been told that I am “a payments guy” and he had a question that he was looking for an answer to.

Now, before he could go any further, in the interests of full disclosure I told him that I am NOT “a payments guy” and that I am in fact “an innovations guy” who has worked in financial services – but then I’ve also worked in Media, Digital, Publishing, FMCG, Automotive, Manufacturing, Legal, Insurance, Oil&Gas, Real Estate, Engineering, Accounting & Finance, Footwear, Entertainment, Agriculture, Food & Beverage, Hospitality, Fashion – and the list goes on – but that he should go ahead with his question and I’d tell him if I thought I could help him out.

The context he provided was as follows:- the business he represented is in the Home Improvements space and they have both physical stores and a website. He took me through their target market segment, their typical buyer decision process and shared some of their current frustrations with me. They had recently had a discussion at management level and someone had suggested that they “investigate digital payments” both online and in store. Bearing in mind that they already accept card payments in both places, it was clear that their definition of “digital payments” is “not card and not cash” while I would consider that card payments are already a digital payment – but then perhaps I’m just being pedantic?

His specific question was :-

“what percentage uplift on sales could we expect by implementing any / all of ApplePay, AndroidPay, VisaPay, SamsungPay and Bitcoin / Crypto on our website?”

I was silent for a few seconds and then I just couldn’t help myself – I said:-

“you’re asking me the wrong question”.

DAMN my outspoken approach!!

So I continued – “look, quite frankly I have no idea if there are industry stats that could answer your specific question but I’d wager that even if there were, they would be completely irrelevant as they would not encompass the context in which your organisation operates. That doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t find ‘a payments guy’ or a high priced consultant that would give you an answer – I’d just call BS on whatever answer it was that they gave you ………”

This was clearly NOT what he expected as a response. He clearly thought I’d rattle off something like “yeah, well implementing VisaPay will result in 15% uplift and a reduction in basket abandonment” or such like utter b*ll*cks.

Sorry, I’m not “that guy”!

Let’s break down my thought trail here – this scenario will resonate with many of you that might have previously undertaken home improvements either via a professional or a DIY route. Let’s take a bathroom revamp as an example:-

  • Typically, the process starts with a search for some inspiration – you’ll look online and in physical stores and keep a list of possible options. If there are 2 of you involved (or more in the case of us revamping the bathroom that our 2 daughters shared at the time), this discovery phase might be a bit protracted and certainly difficult to curate with loads of Pinterest boards, email links and WhatsApp messages flying around
  • At some point, an executive decision is made to choose DIY vs Professional – in my case it was a no-brainer, the professionals were called in to quote
  • The professionals influenced our choices of materials, guiding us towards web sites and showrooms of places that they had existing relationships with where they could secure us a trade discount – one of which happened to be with said prospective client
  • Of course we checked to see that they were indeed passing on a portion of their trade discount by logging in online and adding the materials to the basket to see what our consumer price would be – the typical basket size for the client in question runs into multiple hundreds and often into multiple thousands of pounds sterling …….
  • Satisfied that the Pros were indeed passing on part of their discount, we then printed out the contents of our basket and handed this over as a “bill of materials” to the professional contractor, who then went of and procured the goods on our behalf

While the prospective client saw this as “basket abandonment”, it was in fact a simple “channel switch” – I had made the purchase decision but the transaction had been carried out by a 3rd party – which they currently have no way of tracking! The point most pertinent to the question the prospective client asked, was that there would have been ZERO uplift of sales if any alternative payment methodologies had been in place and in fact with basket sizes of hundreds or thousands of pounds, even if I had completed the purchase myself I still wouldn’t have used any method other than my tried and tested card payment method which they already offer.

So I told him that the question he should have asked me was:-

“how could we improve the buyer journey and decision making process in such a way that it results in increased sales, customer satisfaction and brand loyalty?”

now THAT is a question I have loads of ideas on and I went on to share a few high level concepts that would also mean that they would be able to link the purchase decision to the ultimate purchase, even if it wasn’t done by the same person. I suggested that his own staff in the organisation probably had loads of insights to share and a good starting point would be to spend a day of inspiration in a cross functional workshop in order to uncover really transformative ideas and build an action plan – of course I offered my services to facilitate this as it’s one of the things I regularly do ………..

My thinking is intuitive but grounded in a common approach used by innovators as part of their toolkit – in this case, it’s the “Jobs to be done” (JTBD) theory that was originally articulated by Professor Clayton Christensen and others at Harvard Business School. In essence, to solve a problem you first take a step back to uncover what the actual problem is – in other words, “what is your customer trying to do?” and how can you help them do it easier.

A recent example of this kind of thinking is evident in the latest disclosure by ASOS – the extremely popular online clothing shopping site used by millions of customers – including both of my daughters. From experience, I know a typical customer behaviour has been to order multiple outfits, try them on at home and then return the ones that don’t fit. While ASOS has for a long while made the returns process very easy, not only does it inconvenience customers but it ties up a large amount of their stock floating around in transit – to say nothing of the actual cost of postage (which I believe they price into the goods). Someone has clearly applied some fresh thinking – instead of solving the “how do we make returns easier / cut costs of the returns process” problem, they have stepped back and considered “how do we help the customer make the right purchase decision in the first place?”.

Their solution – show the same outfit on multiple different models of multiple different body shapes. Which now seems completely logical in hindsight and makes you wonder why more online stores don’t do exactly the same thing?? From the response on social media, it seems like it’s been hailed as a revelation by their customers – driving increased loyalty and no doubt, increased basket sizes – while probably reducing their return rate and costs at the same time.

Focussing on The Job To Be Done (the customers want to buy an outfit) instead of the problem that was manifesting (returns and costs are spiralling) led to an innovative approach that is a win for everyone.

And after all of this you might be wondering what the prospective client that approached me decided to do?

Well, he went off to find “a payments guy” to answer his original question!


If you’re not asking the right questions, you will never find the right answers …….