This section considers what it is that is needed to successfully deliver customer satisfaction recognizing that many market places and customer groups have their own special challenges. This means again that there is no one solution to all of these and so more evaluation and managerial choice is necessary and this needs to be done regularly.
What makes customers buy? This might be the most important question in business. If we can fully understand the answer to this question then we have a chance to decide if we want to supply it and if we can make a business benefit from doing so. Really understanding the customer need is the core information around which we can try to build a supply system to deliver satisfaction to the customer, which in turn provides for our own survival and prosperity.
Of course sometimes customers do not know what they want or cannot express it in terms that we can understand. If they are clear on their requirement then this need can pull a response from the supply side and the probability is that some degree of satisfaction will result on both sides. However sometimes only a supplier can really understand what is possible from a technology and they are then forced to gamble that if this is presented in the market the customers will recognize its value and pay the appropriate price for it.
This is inherently a high risk strategy for the supplier as it is often easy to get so far ahead of the customer that they do not recognize the value and do not buy.
This uncertainty in the buying decision leads to the use of the phrase a ‘value proposition’ to describe what a supplier brings to the attention of the customer. In other words, the supplier presents a package of goods and/or services as their understanding of what the customer might value and this value proposition is the limit of what suppliers can do. Only when the potential buyer recognizes the value in the proposition and the acceptable price to be paid and acts to buy can we think of customer satisfaction and a successful business transaction.
In a public sector or charitable situation there may not be the direct payment of cash to facilitate the delivery of an acceptable service but nevertheless there is still a requirement that the customer (perhaps better described in this context as the client) recognizes that the supplier is delivering something that the client values so that they will interact positively and accept the satisfaction of a successful delivery.
Value in Use or in Transfer
We also need to examine in more detail the concept of value and how it is created. Value can come from two distinct processes in which the role of ownership of assets comes into play.
Value in transfer describes goods which are owned by the supplier and exchanged for something that the customer has which the supplier wants. In simple terms a supplier exchanges assets (goods) they own for assets (cash) from the customer.
Note that money does not need to be exchanged as other assets can be used in a bartering process. This is the fundamental first trading position when a farmer generates some surplus and barters his extra sheep for another farmer’s corn for example. In historical terms money appears rather later to make exchanges simpler (no need to carry sheep around looking for a trade!) This exchange process changes the ownership of the goods and the cash as well as responsibilities for the future use of these assets.
However the customer might not necessarily want the goods themselves, rather they might want the value that the goods will allow them to generate. One can buy an electric lawnmower to cut the garden grass. The value that is ultimately being obtained is ‘cut grass or neat garden’. Instead of buying the tool to enable the customer to do the work using the tool, the customer can contract with a service provider (a gardener) to provide the service of cutting the grass. So the value or benefit is obtained by the customer but is achieved without any transfer of ownership of the good, the lawnmower. This is described as value in use. It also describes the situation where the supplier and the customer are in effect co-producers of the value obtained.
Service deliveries have this coincident contact between supplier and customer at the core of the transaction whereas the value in transfer allows the good to be produced at a different time (and stored if necessary) before the customer buys it and before they are ready to use it.
Transfer allows distance between customer and supplier (which sometimes creates its own problems) whereas service requires close contact and simultaneous provision and use of the service provided.
Whether value in transfer or value in use is the best solution for the customer depends on a complex calculation of the total cost of ownership of the assets over an extended timescale against the need to negotiate and contract for the service when it is required. Ownership of the asset allows the customer to decide when they will cut the grass whereas contracting to use the asset (through the gardener’s service) might be subject to other considerations, for example coordinating with the scheduling of the gardener’s other clients’ expectations of service.
Value in use seems to be extending in recent years as the problems of having too many expensive but perhaps infrequently used assets are put in the balance with a contract for access and use without the need for ownership. For example, the rise in different versions of City Car Clubs where one contracts to use any car that is available rather than have one always available through ownership. Ownership usually costs a lot more per hour of usage because of the need to pay annual fixed costs of financing and depreciation charges, insurance, tax and parking perhaps regardless of actual usage.
The most notable industrial example is the Rolls-Royce aero engine company which trademarked the concept as ‘Power by the Hour’ (since also offered by other suppliers ) where the airline no longer buys the engines for their airliners but instead contracts with Rolls-Royce that whenever the airline wants to use one of their aircraft then there will be an engine, fully maintained and certified ready to fly on the wing and ready to go. All of the ownership and maintenance costs are met by Rolls-Royce in exchange for the service contract as described.
In this case what the airline is contracting for is the value of having an aircraft ready to fly whenever they want it with fixed costs of utilizing this value in use. The airline is avoiding the large capital costs of purchase and putting it in the balance with the fixed cost access or use contract with no obsolescence risk or risk of incorrect spares inventory holdings. The supplier now has an incentive to design parts which do not fail since these costs are incurred by the supplier and no longer fall to the purchaser.
Make/Do and/or Buy/Trade?
With a clear focus on the value proposition the next key decision is how many of the activities to source, produce and deliver the goods/service the business wants to do themselves. In the goods world this is the question of how much you want to make yourself and in the service world we change the question to how much do we want to do internally. If the activity is not to be performed inside the company then we must go to the market and buy or trade.
Doing everything yourself is the ultimate vertical integration solution but this is increasing difficult to achieve as business gets more and more technically challenging and customers become better informed and more demanding. These expectations increase the number of skill specialities needed and puts stress on to the need to simultaneously innovate in very many directions and technical areas. So the internal solution is often balanced by the need to obtain the skills and asset availability from other companies in the supply chain. This hybrid form therefore integrates the internal with the external assets to form the composite supply chain based value proposition.
In industries like electronics the external assets can constitute 70-80% of the total but it can go even higher in some web based goods trading businesses where the brand company acts more as facilitator between a customer and a distributed network of suppliers and sells without ever touching the goods being transferred. Some parts of Amazon’s business follow this path for example.
This approach now puts the supply chain in clear focus for without the successful design of the chain or in truth a more complex network of complementary companies, then customers will not be satisfied. Note however that when things go wrong customers only know with whom they have directly transacted and it is to them that they will complain.
The final supplier (let us call them the brand company) has complete responsibility for all that happens in their chain of supply towards their customer and, regardless of where a failure occurs and the chain link is broken, the customer still blames and expects restitution from that brand owner. The realization that it all comes back to the brand company to sort out any problems makes it clear that while an activity might be provided by an external supplier, the customer satisfaction creation and reputational risk is still with the brand company.
The make/do or buy/trade choice is critical in establishing where the organizational and legal boundaries of the business are in business terms but we also need to consider where the customers and the supply activities are to be located in geographical terms.
The differences between physical goods (which can be made or obtained in advance of an actual demand); a service which has to be performed when the customer is present at the same time as the supplier (even if not always in the same location, for example think of aspects of distance language learning or radio or internet doctors for remote communities); or are more virtual goods like information, music, eBooks in which all that is required is the electronic or wireless distribution link which for most people is provided by the internet. With good internet communications and efficient logistics systems for any physical movement needed then parts of the customer base and the supply chain can be distributed all over the world.
Any activity, which takes place outside the boundaries of the focal organization, is described as outsourced and if it crosses some national border or sea, as offshored. In essence the location does not change anything fundamental in the business-to-business relationship but of course other factors of time zone, language, currency as well as trade, political and legal practice along with aspects of capability and experience, can all vary.
As we have discussed, this is often required simply because one business cannot be skilled in every aspect of the value proposition and so they look for complementary skills from their partners in the supply chain. However these suppliers are acting as the agent of the buyer with all of the principal and agent issues.
There is also evidence that ambitious suppliers will support a customer with a view to learning as much as they can from the customer about a market or technology so that they can become competitors to them in the fullness of time. Sometimes companies outsource because they believe that the supplier can provide the good or service more cheaply than they can themselves but looking for low cost sourcing suppliers often means sourcing in countries which are less advanced in market and technical/managerial terms.
However all countries want to move up the value adding hierarchy so any low cost advantage will have a finite time limit. Thus companies have to be very careful how much of their intellectual property they outsource in case they create their own competitors. For this reason companies need to be careful not to outsource any activity which is at the strategic core of their future business competitiveness.
Low cost sourcing is not the only reason to build a physical presence in a new country. An emerging economy starts off being low cost (often in terms of labour cost) but this gap soon begins to close as the economy expands and the local people gain more discretionary income and ambitions. However as the local people become wealthier they also become consumers, often for the products which have been outsourced to them to provide but still have the global brand recognition.
So a decision to locate some level of business activity in a foreign country might have something to do with sourcing opportunities but usually the bigger opportunity is to be regarded as a local supplier to the new emerging domestic market. Thus we can see that some of the supply chain decisions have at least as much to do with future marketing as they have with sourcing.
A factor which often influences these kinds of decisions is the support provided by the local government to make it attractive for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) businesses to build a local presence. Often this will involve special dispensations to reduce corporate taxes, importing and exporting expenses, while providing support to investment costs and so on.
The smarter countries try and gain more longer term advantages however than just the employment opportunities the FDI companies bring. Thus they will often demand that some aspects of the technology or management systems used by the incoming company are transferred to local people in some way. One way this is done is the process of Offset. Here a government placing a large order (often related to defense equipment) will demand that some of the money transferred to pay for the aircraft for example is spent with their own local supply businesses.
For the company selling the equipment this is dangerous in potentially allowing the transfer of intellectual property to businesses who are likely to develop into direct competitors. Without accepting this requirement they cannot close the sale and the market opportunity will go to a competitor who does accept the imposed conditions. The trick might then be to still try and limit what intellectual property is transferred.
The alternative strategy is to recognize that a large overseas market will produce its own local suppliers over time and recognize this fact and try to align with the new local company as it grows and share the development process with them in a mutually beneficial way. In effect, the trade off is to retain some business in the long term or be totally excluded through still behaving as if the current product champion will remain in that position for ever.
Another area where government directives need to be accepted is in procurement processes where in Europe for example the Procurement Directives make it possible to specify, alongside the main contract requirements, the addition of social benefits which all bidders must agree to deliver. These can be infrastructure developments or local training or approval of a given number of apprenticeships for example.
In some way this is the same logic as offset where the power of the buyer can force the supplier to return some local benefit in addition to the core contract. This is not against the principle of free and fare opportunities for all bidders so in the EU it does not matter where the company comes from, all are supposed to be treated equally and decisions made impartially and openly as well as being open to challenge on the grounds of a disputed sourcing process. We will return to this later.
Other parts of the world have their own expectations. In the USA their approach towards creating equal opportunities means that there are proportions of government procurement that are reserved for various minority groups in their society. Most of the early FDI investments into China had to be set up as joint ventures with local Chinese companies and of course many of them were actually owned or largely controlled by the government so that some people question the levelness of the Chinese playing field.
As already discussed, corporation taxes can be waived or reduced to attract FDI but even in normal operations large businesses with many operations in different parts of the world can use different tax regimes to their advantage. They can create an artificial flow of income through their different subsidiaries so that profits are only declared where the tax regime is most favourable, regardless of where in the world the actual sale took place.
While still within the letter of the law this is clearly not within the intended spirit of the law and recently attempts have started to try and rationalize the ways in which different legal jurisdictions operate so that this loophole can no longer be exploited. It comes back to our early discussion of ethics. Are you prepared to act in the spirit and not just in the letter of the law?
Business people always argue that unless everyone is playing to the same rules then the market is not a fair one. So they can argue that behaving with principles, when others are not, puts them at a competitive disadvantage and their business future in jeopardy.
Technology Leader or Follower
Another big dichotomy is the attitude to technology. In some ways this will be a subset of the value proposition in that particular customers might look to the company to be a leader in innovation and new product or service introduction. In such a market newness offers the advantages of being first and perhaps building a lead in the market which cannot subsequently be overtaken.
This can be true for the customers as much as the suppliers. Customers can act as early adopters simply because they like the nature of newness as a value on its own without needing the new item or service to provide any further business benefit. One only needs to look at the queues that form outside of the Apple store in advance of the launch of the latest cool gadget to see the early adopter in action.
However, newness carries risks. The technology might not be as good as the marketing hype suggested or is not reliable enough to deliver over its expected lifetime. Alternatively, the technology might be so advanced that the customers do not yet recognize its utility to them and so decline to purchase.
In some ways a safer option is not to try to be first to market but to observe those who are and then try and copy the concept and bring a similar product/service to market very quickly. As the customers begin to realize that yes they do value what is offered, they now have a choice of who to get it from and other aspects of the value proposition can be added in to the newness feature.
The fundamental choice here is the decision to offer one standard and unvarying product or service to all customers or to allow for some individual variations or customization to take place and if the latter, is this to be limited in some way or not.
Specialization allows for rigorous training and delivery performance to be developed over time and as long as the customers approve the value proposition then a successful business can result. However in the developed world more and more customers seem to want some degree of choice and variety if not totally bespoke products or services.
Note that services always tend to have some degree of customization inherent in them. For example, the hairdresser has a variety of capability and products to offer their clients but they do not really know what the client wants until they begin to interact and in effect co-design the service requirement.
In this environment the need is for both parties to fully agree on what the client wants and how they will evaluate what the hairdresser then delivers. This is the case of an individual client interaction but some standard services can be provided to multiple clients at the same time. For example, local refuse and recycling collections are designed by the operational system (acting on their understanding of the customer requirement and a society led need to keep the environment fit for others to enjoy).
In this case the clients are not directly involved although hopefully there have been some discussions between representatives of the supplier organization and representatives of the possibly different client groups (for example householders and local businesses).
For physical goods the situations are different since the good can be designed without much customer involvement or with a high level of interaction and customization. In some cases ranges of products are needed to suit a wider demographic (all clothes and footwear for example).
Sometimes ranges are designed as a progression so that a customer can trade up to bigger or better products in the range over time. In this way the supplier captures the one-off sale but also builds a customer for life who comes back for the repeat business from other parts of the range. People who like Swatch timepieces often have more than one and might build a collection of the different types.
Customer involvement in the design specification also divides this market category since the supplier can offer the range almost as a range of standards whereas true customization needs the customer to be involved from the very beginning and is much more like a service process.
So goods can range from make to stock (standardized) to completely bespoke (customized) made to customer order. In the make to stock situation the supplier is forced to forecast what a customer might want to buy in the future and therefore runs the risk that this will not be realized in practice. If this happens, the investment in stock has to be recovered to some extent in a distressed sale, often at the end of a customers buying season. Fashion goods are often in this situation.
In the make to order situation there is a stronger likelihood that the customer will pay and (s)he may well have had to pay at the very beginning of the process in order for the supplier to order the raw materials needed to start production. There are of course intermediate points in this spectrum of options where some parts of the product are standard while component parts are customized.
Standardization is generally an efficient and potentially low cost approach whereas customization requires the management of much more variety and different skills and is likely to be more expensive as a result. So here again knowing precisely what a given set of customers actually values and will pay for is crucial in making an informed set of decisions about how to design the supply system to deliver what is expected.
Slightly different from the range of the actual goods are the complementary goods which customers tend to buy when they buy the main good. An example might be the smart phone or tablet where once the customer has chosen from the supplier’s range of product they might also want to buy a case or container or maybe even a keyboard or set of headphones.
Often the equipment supplier does not produce these but the customer requirement is to have the product and the accessory so in a sense the phone/tablet producer is only providing part of the expected value proposition for this customer group. If we are interested in providing customer satisfaction to this kind of customer we should consider designing a supply chain that also coordinates the flow of these complementary products to be available for our customer as they are making their buying decision.
It might also be possible for the equipment supplier to make a margin from the accessory business where they make nothing at present. If these are impulse buys (in an airport retail mall perhaps) then if the complementary good is not available at the same time the buying of the equipment itself might be delayed until both items can be viewed together. Thus the sale is lost but not because the equipment product is lacking in some way but the understanding of the customer need was not fully realized and a suitable supply system not designed to deliver the satisfaction possible.
Even in the service business the need to manage the parallel flow of complementary goods is crucial. For example our hairdresser needs products to perform the service (shampoo and hair colouring perhaps) but they will often also sell hair treatments after the hair styling service is complete. Perhaps the availability of such products is not so critical as in our phone case example but certainly the lost sales opportunity is real.
When Henry Ford made model T cars in ‘any color as long as it is black’ the operations task was simply to make enough cars quickly enough (at the right quality and price of course). Once a variety of products are on offer the challenges increase very quickly. The issue is not just whether the customer expects variety and we accept it in principle. The supplier still has to decide what range of variety is economically and operationally sensible and possible.
Timescale affects this as well since if the customer is prepared to wait (in the make to order market place perhaps) then the supplier has time to plan and react. In a make to stock market then the forecasting of potential demand becomes a big challenge along with the same issues around planning and delivering.
There is product/ service variety but there can also be volume variety and both the extremes of very small order sizes and very large order sizes pose problems. The challenge is how to create a balanced flow of work and in some cases how to know how many staff to employ or the number of pieces of equipment which will be needed and how resource intensive it will be to change any of these from one activity to another. Usually these are discrete resources which cannot be infinitely subdivided, if at all, so changes tend to be in steps whereas the demand variations can be effectively continuous.
Of itself this statement demonstrates one of the key uses of inventory (where that is possible) since it can effectively allow the rates of change in the demand and supply sides to operate independently with the inventory levels in between flexing upwards and downwards as the rates change.
A different set of challenges comes at the distribution stage where the customer might have different locational requirements for different orders or indeed different expectations of the service levels expected. For example, if we are providing a maintenance or fault response capability for a customer of IT equipment then the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are likely to be different. For mission critical equipment in a bank’s trading floor for example they need the very fastest response time but for other businesses a next day response might be sufficient.
So the supplier business model can operate with the same set of products but also operates with variables of response times and prices to serve. The supplier of these services might also need higher levels of skilled personnel to reliably deliver the very fastest problem solving capability.
The complexities of managing variety are affected from the product definition and design end and from the ordering behavior of the customers.
The basic architecture of a product affects the point at which decisions have to be made in terms of requisite variety to produce against forecast customer requirements in make to stock situations. The oil industry for example uses the same raw materials at the input stage (oil) to produce a vast number of oil related and other polymer materials which feed into many other industries and products.
However choices have to be made at the beginning of the process about potential market demand many months ahead. Long time scale forecasting is inherently difficult and uncertain so this industry has to factor this risk into their planning and pricing models.
In other product industries it is possible to engineer apparent variety at the customer end by designing somewhat standard modules which can then be assembled in different combinations so that the customer’s perception is that they are specifying and receiving their precise choice of automobile for example but it still allows the car assembler to operate relatively efficiently until near the end of the assembly stage. This is effectively what the Toyota Just in Time product design and operational system made possible.
From the customer end, the issue is when they are prepared to inform the supplier that they have a demand to be filled. This is referred to as the Order Penetration Point. For the customer who is buying on impulse the supplier can only react and then only if they have stock or the customer is prepared to wait in a ‘make to order’ situation.
For other customers who are happy to share some information with chosen and trusted suppliers then there can be variations on the visibility of the demand actually occurring. The Toyota example is really about customers who provide a clear requirement of their required choices in time (10 days) for the company to assemble the car uniquely for that customer.
In some cases the customers do not physically order replenishment stocks since there is an intimate connection from the customer’s planning system into its supplier’s equivalent one. The supplier is then able to monitor the customer’s stock levels and manage their own processes to replenish the stock in time.
This close interaction can also be built on the basis of the customer’s own production plan or even demand information from his or her own customer. In these latter cases the supplier is in effect looking further into their demand future and can therefore plan more considerately.
Of course in the ‘make to order’ situation the customer is contractually committed in some way to buying the product so the supplier is running less risk than in a ‘make to stock’ situation.
All of the issues in this section can affect an organization that is in a stable market situation but what happens when the whole current environment is potentially changing? This is the challenge we address in the next discussion.
In any open market situation the power of the marketplace is to make it possible for an organization to succeed by performing the same or very similar set of actions better than a competitor organization so that the customers are more satisfied with one than another. Thus a continual challenge is to know how your competitors are performing and ideally what they also have planned for the future. Without going to the level of industrial espionage there is still much that can be learned through legitimate channels from press releases, user forums, annual reports, cost comparisons, financial analysts’ reports, technical reviews and advertorials and the purchase, strip down and reverse engineering of a competitor’s product.
More difficult than evaluating their basic technology will be measuring their softer managerial systems’ performance on issues like quality, delivery, service support and overall customer satisfaction. Sometimes industry sources perform comparison exercises, which can help identify performance gaps, or some market research with user groups might be possible where information might be gleaned from customers who can compare your own offer against the performance of their preferred suppliers.
Benchmarking exercises can sometimes suggest improvements but it is often difficult to have direct competitors involved in the same benchmarking study. In any event true benchmarking is often about finding new ways of working from outside the given industry rather than internal industry comparisons.
Competitor analysis is an ongoing process and we must also remember that customers tend to remember failure more often and for longer than they do success, so the data needs to be evaluated carefully.
Customers can also be swayed by perceived cost differentials without being able to weigh up satisfactorily the other factors on which a company might have built its value proposition. These can include: distribution reliability and perhaps speed; reliability; maintainability and serviceability. Each of these might work out in the medium to longer term to be factors which reduce the total cost of ownership for a product in which the initial unit purchase cost might be a small part of the whole picture.
The above situations refer to an essentially status quo competition but there are other possible scenarios.
Substitute products and new technology
In many market places one of the biggest threats is from the development of new technologies which change the competitive offer and value proposition so dramatically that customers will feel obliged to switch their purchases to the new supplier without much further consideration.
New technologies often provide the same functionality to customers but in some improved way. Thus when we consider computers, tablets, smart phones, and now smart watches we may at one level think we are looking at different product market places but at another level it can be seen as a technological evolution where the hardware is getting progressively smaller and lighter while the software is becoming more and more comprehensive. This creates a major difficulty for the product producers since in some ways new product introductions are not creating new customers but instead are providing a greater concentration of capability in fewer items purchased.
Of course sometimes new technology has the capability to completely replace a previous value proposition. For example, listening to music on the move has been transformed from dependence on magnetic tape or laserdiscs in electromechanical machines to ones where the equipment is electronic and the communication of the music to the listening machine is via the Internet. Interestingly it was the bundling of hardware devices or products (iPod and then iPhone) and the software delivery system as a service (iTunes) by Apple, which made this technological advance possible and an attractive solution to users red. Immersion Weeks in locations such as R
Substitute products can also be introduced to marketplaces for more social or political reasons. Consumers can come to realise or be persuaded to recognize that some products are in some senses damaging to society or to the future health and well being of new generations of the population. Changing perceptions of the attractiveness of using animal fur for clothing or furniture can create a demand for alternative materials.
Similarly, concerns about pesticide use in farming and increasing interest in more natural or organic farming methods can change production and buying behaviours. Of course this is for consumers who have choices and can afford to exercise these choices. For all too many in the world there are very few if any choices in these areas.
For existing producers in these marketplaces there is an ongoing challenge to try and watch their competitors and at the same time try to scan the competitive horizon to see if any of these potential changes are coming close enough to be of imminent concern. However, horizon scanning and technological forecasting requires us to know where to look and history has often shown that major changes and threats come from directions where few people are currently looking.
A good example of this problem comes from the introduction of the digital watch. The Swiss watch industry has been world-famous for very many years for their ability to produce very fine mechanical watch movements but they were completely unprepared for the first digital watches. The innovative idea for these came from the electronics industry in the recognition that electronics equipment needs to have a timing process by which a sequence of steps is initiated and controlled.
In effect, inside every piece of electronics is a clock mechanism but one driven by electronic switches and software control systems. Apply that thinking in a small and wearable package and you can produce a reliable and much cheaper watch. Of course, once the technology had been demonstrated and any patent issue resolved in some fashion then the Swiss watch industry was able to redesign their production and product systems to compete in both mechanical and electronic marketplaces.
It was however, a very major threat to their industry. Even with the benefit of insight it is hard to see how the problem could have been avoided without spending a lot of effort, perhaps much of it wasted, looking for things that might be possible. The issue is that it is difficult to guess how many of these possible future paths an organization or an industry can afford to invest in when the prospects for success are so difficult to evaluate.
The digital watch example can be considered a ‘Black Swan’ event in the terms used by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe events which have a massive impact but were unforeseeable by any known or currently used approaches. These are the ones whose impact is the most dramatic and life or industry changing but by definition would not be found by scanning or forecasting.
The only option for the supply system worried about such things is to build a system capable of recognizing the importance of the event quickly and robust enough to modify itself and respond appropriately in a short timescale and without complete market failure while working its way through the change.
In this section we have considered the very many challenges, options, threats and opportunities that are presented in different kinds of market situations. Very few organizations, if any, will be trying to build their business processes across all of these agenda areas but the challenge for their managers and stakeholders is to remain vigilant as the world changes about them and recognize the choices they have to make in response to these changes, ideally before their competitors make their own moves.
It is not always possible to keep activities so secret that they cannot be copied but it should be a sensible ambition to move quicker than your competitors in areas where your customer satisfaction capability is under threat.