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Busi­nesses can no longer af­ford not to an­a­lyse cus­tomer be­hav­iour. Chris Pescott, CEO of cus­tomer in­tel­li­gence agency Per­cep­tive, ex­plains how to do it prop­erly.

I t’s fair to say Chris Pescott is am­bi­tious. He ‘eats, sleeps and breathes’ con­sumer be­hav­iour and mar­ket in­tel­li­gence.

At Massey Univer­sity he achieved a masters in sta­tis­tics and stake­holder re­search and in Jan­uary 2005 launched Per­cep­tive from a desk at the univer­sity’s Al­bany e-Cen­tre busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor.

The first 12 months was spent mar­ry­ing prac­tice with the­ory and iden­ti­fy­ing where the real mar­ket op­por­tu­nity lay. Talk­ing to busi­ness own­ers re­vealed the lack of in­for­ma­tion on cus­tomer needs and a yawn­ing gap in avail­able cus­tomer/ mar­ket re­search. There was also a poor un­der­stand­ing of how busi­nesses can im­prove con­nec­tions and re­la­tion­ships with cus­tomers to serve them bet­ter.

“We quickly re­alised that if we could de­liver that in­sight and in­tel­li­gence to help busi­nesses de­liver bet­ter cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences then we would be an en­abler for growth,” he re­calls. “That’s def­i­nitely what Per­cep­tive’s all about to­day.”

Chris’s e-Cen­tre days ended in 2008 and he has out­grown his of­fice three times since then. To­day, still on the North Shore, the busi­ness has 50 staff. As Chris ex­plains, Per­cep­tive elim­i­nated the words ‘static’ and ‘bor­ing’ from New Zealand’s mar­ket re­search sec­tor. “We brought a more en­gag­ing and vis­ual ap­proach; we de­vel­oped and lever­aged new tech­nolo­gies which pro­duced re­search faster and more cost ef­fec­tively.

“We in­tro­duced graphic de­sign­ers to do a bet­ter job of pre­sent­ing our re­search; we told bet­ter sto­ries and con­sulted with clients on how to ex­e­cute find­ings.

“We quickly re­alised our point of dif­fer­ence is to help clients get re­sults from re­search – not just de­liver the re­search. We also re­alised that re­search re­ports are only a prom­ise of value. To get the value from them you must phys­i­cally go and do some­thing.”

Un­less Per­cep­tive helped clients ex­tract value from re­ports, drive change and new prod­ucts, change pric­ing and the way they ser­vice cus­tomers, they were only do­ing half the job, he says.

“It’s like giv­ing some­one the Fer­rari but not hand­ing over the keys. There has to be a con­sul­ta­tive ap­proach.

“To­day, Per­cep­tive is all about help­ing busi­nesses get smarter in order to un­lock prof­itable growth. We utilise in­tel­li­gence to make busi­nesses bet­ter.” Times have cer­tainly changed in this dig­i­tal age. “To­day’s busi­ness own­ers are sur­prised to learn how ed­u­cated and so­phis­ti­cated their cus­tomers are and how ac­ces­si­ble in­for­ma­tion is. They can find out so much about your busi­ness, your brand, your ser­vices – and not just from you, but from your com­peti­tors and your cus­tomers them­selves.”

They can know enough to de­cide whether they want to do busi­ness with you be­fore they even make con­tact, Chris says.

Third party en­dorse­ment and word of mouth [rec­om­men­da­tions] have be­come easy through so­cial me­dia. “It’s al­most like those walls around your busi­ness are made of glass.

“Cus­tomers can see right through flawed mar­ket­ing, and whether you re­ally do what you say you do – be­fore they pick up the phone, be­fore they hit your web­site, be­fore they do any­thing.”


It’s fair to say Per­cep­tive gen­er­ates a moun­tain of in­for­ma­tion for its clients, all the while stay­ing anony­mous. Chris in­forms me they gen­er­ate around half a mil­lion sur­veys per month, all to im­prove busi­ness out­comes and cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences.

An ex­am­ple might be a fol­low up sur­vey to an in­sur­ance claim. It’s im­por­tant to cap­ture feed­back early, be­cause a bad ex­pe­ri­ence is quickly re­layed to other peo­ple.

With so­cial me­dia ev­ery­one’s lis­ten­ing, says Chris. He knows of one par­tic­u­lar ‘bad ex­pe­ri­ence’ tweet that was retweeted 17 thou­sand times. Sur­veys have been known to cap­ture em­ployee fraud, as well as abuse, ha­rass­ment, false prom­ises, ridicu­lous de­lays and a lack of cour­tesy.

“If you don’t know it’s go­ing on, then you can’t do any­thing about it.”

Im­prov­ing cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences is now vi­tal, Chris adds, be­cause loy­alty is be­com­ing harder to achieve. “Even sat­is­fied cus­tomers can leave you, be­cause there’s just so much choice.

“You’ve got to ‘wow’ them, lis­ten to them, be more rel­e­vant and ex­ceed their ex­pec­ta­tions.”

It’s vi­tal that busi­nesses learn what their cus­tomers are in­ter­ested in. “Generic mar­ket­ing is work­ing less nowa­days. It’s a case of speak­ing to the right per­son at the right time with the right mes­sage,” says Chris.

With con­sumers ex­posed to around 5000 ad mes­sages per day – rel­e­vance is the ul­ti­mate fil­ter.


If the generic, ‘wall­pa­per” mar­ket­ing ap­proach is dead – what is the an­swer?

Chris says it’s now about pro­vid­ing in­ter­est­ing in­for­ma­tion in re­turn for some form of en­gage­ment. In other words…get the cus­tomer to talk to you about them­selves.

When you have that in­for­ma­tion then you have some­thing in com­mon to build a re­la­tion­ship on. And all that can be done dig­i­tally – an ex­am­ple might be a build­ing form that pro­vides an on­line ‘de­sign tips’ mag­a­zine. When peo­ple down­load the mag­a­zine, their de­tails are au­to­mat­i­cally cap­tured, and with sub­se­quent mag­a­zines, a pro­file is slowly built up.

“It’s like re­search­ing cus­tomers while mar­ket­ing to them; you nur­ture peo­ple un­til they’re ready to buy. That’s ex­tremely ef­fec­tive, not just in im­prov­ing sales con­ver­sion, but also prof­itabil­ity.”

As for the e-com­merce mar­ket­place, Chris be­lieves it can be summed up in one word: Ama­zon.

“It will play a mas­sive role in New Zealand, based on its plethora of data and knowl­edge on cus­tomers,” he says. “It’s very in­tim­i­dat­ing. Fifty-five per­cent of prod­uct searches now in the US hap­pen on Ama­zon and it has over­taken Google in prod­uct searches. It’s an ab­so­lute threat to re­tail.”

His ad­vice is to work with the Ama­zon e-com­merce model – not against it. “If you’re a ‘bricks and mor­tar’ store, work on a ‘wow ex­pe­ri­ence’ to bring peo­ple into your shop. It’s not just about the goods, pro­vide some­thing ex­tra that cus­tomers won’t for­get, an ex­pe­ri­ence they will talk about.

“Un­der­stand what cus­tomers like and pro­vide that to them in spades, in an in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence-based en­vi­ron­ment.”


Look­ing ahead, Chris says Per­cep­tive will con­tinue to help clients em­bed tech­nol­ogy into their busi­ness and be­come more cus­tomer­centric, as well as help mar­keters stay ahead of the game.

Per­cep­tive was ac­quired by Cle­menger Group in 2017, with Chris re­tained as CEO.

The 36-year-old Ernst & Young En­tre­pre­neur of the Year fi­nal­ist has achieved his dream of build­ing a sub­stan­tial pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm and ex­it­ing in his thir­ties for an eight-fig­ure sum. Cle­menger is part of BBDO which, in turn, is part of global mar­ket­ing and cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions hold­ing com­pany Om­ni­com Group, listed on the NYSE.

Tran­si­tion­ing to the larger or­gan­i­sa­tion has been a breeze for Chris – he ad­mits to “lov­ing” his new role and the au­ton­omy that comes with it. He’s also ex­cited about hav­ing time to men­tor and in­spire other young busi­ness en­trepreneurs.

His goal for Per­cep­tive is to de­liver more value to the Cle­menger Group – “to blend in­sights and in­tel­li­gence with great cre­ativ­ity”.

“They were in ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, we were in re­search and strat­egy; to­day the two dis­ci­plines must work closer to­gether to give clients the best out­come.”

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