It gives me absolutely no pleasure to write a blog about an organisation that is in significant financial difficulty. It is at times like this that our thoughts should be with the employees that may not have employment for much longer, and the suppliers, some of whom run small companies, that will potentially be out of pocket. However, it is important to learn from unfortunate events, and I feel that many organisations can learn from what is happening/happened to yet another icon of the high street – HMV.

I have listened to many debates today, both online and on the radio, as to why HMV finds itself in administration. Some experts blame new competition from the likes of Amazon and Apple. Some blame the management of HMV who knew five years ago that their business model may not be suitable in the new digital world. Some blame the increasing rental costs of the properties that the business currently occupies. Yet it was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live this morning that inspired me to write this blog. Rachel Burden (one of the presenters of the breakfast programme) suggested that it was potentially the ‘shopping experience’ that did not work anymore – Rachel, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head.

HMV’s problem is that they have lost sight of why they actually exist. They seem to be unclear as to what their proposition is. There does not seem to be a sense of what they do that drives ‘real value’ for their customers. I believe that any organisation should be able to very easily answer one key question:

Why do our customers transact with us?

It is a simple question. It is a question that defines an organisation’s reason for being. If you find it difficult to answer the question, you may have a problem. HMV is in the position it is in for a whole myriad of reasons. But fundamentally, it’s most significant issue is that not enough consumers want to transact with it. You and I are now able to purchase everything HMV can offer from multiple sources. We can download products online. We can order product to be delivered to home. We can buy products whilst doing our weekly grocery shopping. These methods are often more convenient and better value for money than doing the same with HMV. So why would anyone shop with HMV today?

I have heard some people (celebrities mainly) say that they feel guilty about purchasing their music elsewhere. No-one should feel guilty – no-one except HMV’s management team that is. Consumers should never feel guilty for doing what is right for them. The reason why we have all started to purchase music and film elsewhere is down to ‘elsewhere’ being better suited to our needs. Amazon, Apple et al, all understood this. There was a better way, and they provided it. These organisations should not be lambasted for giving us what we ultimately wanted. HMV on the other hand, and as I have already alluded, knew years ago that they had a problem. Whether they stuck their heads in the sand, reacted too late, or were just plain ignorant is only for them to admit.

The ‘end to end’ customer journey is what defines an organisation. The world renowned customer experience expert, Bruce Temkin, says that all customer experiences have three components – three components that explain how capable the experience is:

  1. ACCESSIBLE – how easy is it for people to do what they want to do?
  2. FUNCTIONAL – does it do what people want it to do?
  3. EMOTIONAL – how does it make people feel?

How right Bruce is. In the case of HMV, how would they answer these three questions today? If they had asked themselves these questions five years ago, they may have had a fighting chance. All organisations need to understand if their proposition actually meets the requirements of their customers. Failure to do this, and continually sense check, can be fatal.

HMV’s heart is still beating for now – just. The future looks very bleak though. If only they had been open and honest about their business. If only they had been bold enough to question whether or not the consumer still wanted the customer journey they could provide. If only they had asked customers themselves. If your business does not know why customers shop with it – make sure that you ask the question – and quick. We can all learn from the HMV’s of this world. Give customers what they want and they will keep coming back – it is not complicated.

Just one footnote here – it can be extremely frustrating when a business gets into financial difficulty – whilst HMV is still trading, spare a thought for the innocent employees who are still keeping the shops open. Do not get cross with them – this is not their fault.

As always, your comments are very welcome.