Archive for the ‘Customer Relationships’ Category

AI and Machine Learning

July 24, 2017

I have been posting quite a bit on LinkedIn and Twitter about artificial intelligence and machine learning, including bots, personal digital assistants and smart home. I have speculated on what the smart phone of the future might look like, especially with advancements in wearables and implants.

I would love to hear the thoughts of readers of this blog or if you would like to share articles you feel strongly about in these topics. I hope you will share your thoughts with me.

Time spent with Richard R. Shapiro

December 29, 2016

A couple weeks back, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and having lunch with Richard R. Shapiro. We were introduced by a mutual trusted friend, and I knew initially that Richard was a customer experience guru, but very little else. We had communicated and uncovered a common New Jersey connection, and of course, I had checked out his web site (http://tcfcr.com/about-richard-r-shapiro/ ) and LinkedIn profile.

While what I had learned about Richard was truly impressive, it in no way prepared me for the wonderful experience of having lunch with him. At the end of our meeting, he the-endangered-customer-3dprovided me with a copy of his latest book, The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business. Since I had met and spent time with the author, I could hear his voice in my head as I read. But I assure you, that is not necessary to learn from this book.

Put simply, the book is well worth the read, even if you consider yourself to be a customer service maven. The “thought provoking questions” in Appendix 2 alone are worth making the effort.

As a starting point, I will list the 8 (important) steps that form the basis of his book:

  1. Make me feel welcome (hope)
  2. Give me your full attention (control)
  3. Answer more than my question (connect)
  4. Know your stuff (trust)
  5. Don’t tell me NO (frustration)
  6. Invite me to Return (feel wanted)
  7. Show me I matter (caring)
  8. Surprise me in good ways (feel special)

Most of these may seem obvious to people who have been involved in either B2C or B2B customer and client relationships, so instead of further elaboration, I will recommend reading for Richard’s perspective on these points, a perspective that is very clear and somewhat unique in this day and age when we seek to distill everything into a formula.

There are, however, a couple of the points he made throughout the book, I would like to elaborate on.

The most important point overall is that Richard speaks to all the customer annoyances, both large and small, that can undermine or break a relationship with your organization. In essence, this is really the focus of each of the eight points above. Often these annoyances go unnoticed.

Many organizations feel today that technology can be substituted for human contact, emotion and thought. There certainly is a place for machine technology (AI or machine learning, historical databases) to supplement and support the human-to-human experience, but at this point, the human factor cannot be completely replaced. Nor should it be. So, while marketing automation and CRM can be incredibly valuable tools, they also cannot yet be put on autopilot and allowed to run the show.

This is how we end up with communications with no personality…and communications that make no sense…and communications that fail to build relationships with our customers.

I have seen that even younger generations than myself enjoy human contact, although expectations and tone are very different. All generations still have respect for people who know “things” and can add the additional information into the mix that make the experience better and at the same time, make them feel important and like they have choices.

And it is not just customers that are important: The importance of employees to the mix of relationship building cannot be underestimated. Not only do highly adaptive employees keep the organizations vibrant, but they add to customers feeling connected and add to the continuity of the relationship. Key employees must not be viewed as a cost, but as a resource. These resources, like any other organizational resources, should be protected and cultivated, and allowed to grow and develop.

With this in mind, cultivating long term employees to aid with the customer journey is also a must for most organizations, especially employees that frequently interact with their customers.  Long term employees are typically better able and equipped to say “yes” or at least, not say “no”. As Richard points out: “Even when you cannot say yes, you must never say no. Tell customers what you can do, not what you can’t do.”

Employees at the end of the sales process (especially in retail) often determine whether the customer leaves feeling like they had a good, neutral or bad experience.  Your front-line team must be able to recognize the signs and empowered to act on this. I have personally seen this in practice first hand, and have seen how much impact to build or save a relationship that a cashier can have, especially one with a level of authority to rectify a situation or at least the mandate to display empathy.

Finally, remember the entire product or service life cycle or what we often call today, the customer journey. Many organizations are great at developing leads, many do an excellent job at point of sale (or bringing the sale to a point of close). Fewer organizations recognize the need for further building the relationship after the sale. This is often because they do not fully grasp the concept that repeat business is better ensured when the relationship is appropriately continued.

All too often when attempted, the effort is a perfunctory thank you email, more efforts to sell additional products or services, or nothing at all. And these contacts often do not provide time for the customer to properly evaluate their decision nor do they fit with the usage cycle.

True relationship builders recognize the value of building customer loyalty after the sale; in other words, closing the loop with our new friend, the customer. Invite the person to return before breaking contact during the sale and tell them how to do it, including how to contact you. Tell them in advance what to do if they have a problem or concern. Make sure to follow up after resolution if they do have a problem or concern.  An example from the book highlights a wedding shop that calls after the wedding to see how the event went, and if the bride received compliments and is still pleased with her choice.

This discussion only scratches the surface, as the book is short but also highly compact. There is a great deal packed into this short book, and Richard is an amazing storyteller.  I can only state that you should make the effort to pick up and digest this great book.

“Complexity kills convenience.”

June 12, 2016

“Complexity kills convenience.”

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Terry B. Jones speak Thursday evening (for more info on Terry, see http://www.tbjones.com/ ) at the NSU Art Museum Auditorium. Terry has started several successful ventures throughout his career. It was yet another fine speaker brought in by the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association (SFIMA – https://www.sfima.com/ ).

T Jones (2)

He made several telling points during his presentation. But the one that stuck with me was the one I used for the headline of this post: “Complexity kills convenience.” I have seen the validity of this statement rear up throughout my career, but today, with the open availability of information and alternative opportunities, it is even more true. People and organizations who can create the simpler experience – one that is more convenient for others to use – will win the day, every day.

From an organizational perspective this approach of making interactions simpler and easier needs to apply to our Customer relationships, our Vendor relationships and also our Employee relationships.

One of the benefits of having some gray hairs is being fortunate to have worked with numerous organizations over a number of years. In many instances, the people in some of these organizations have often expressed the thought that “it takes a great deal of effort to work with us.” While they were most often referring to their customers, it was also reality for vendors, partners and employees who were also expected to “work hard” to maintain their relationship with the organization. This is not an approach that works very often today, as the costs and obstacles of vested parties making a switch away from that organization have been drastically reduced.

Part of this is the shift is due organizations today are leaning toward a more service driven offering. In a product driven world, (most) consumers never liked complexity. But it was often part of the “package” because of a need to buy a product to cover all contingencies, and have a useful life that justified the purchase.

This was particularly true in the B2B world, where we often invested in the more complex, expensive model because we did not know what we would need in 5 years. We had to make an investment that could return a positive ROI. Services, on the other hand, have a shorter shelf life, and purchases can be justified (or terminated) on a more immediate basis.

We see this everyday with cloud computing, subscription software, consulting, marketing services… organizations can often switch rather readily if they feel they are not getting the service (think convenience) they want. And if the service provider seeks to make that switch difficult, their competitor is more than willing to ease the transition.

In closing, I find it sadly ironic that the efforts organizations make to increase customer engagement often make life and the relationship more complex for their customers, not simpler… and simpler is what customers really want. Everyone is busy and in most cases, they want ease of use, not what passes as support from the organization.

Many times this support forces customers to think too much, engage too much and waste more of their time than they are willing to provide. When this happens, we increase the possibility of defection, not reduce it. To steal a phrase from Gerry McGovern (http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/ )…sometimes the customer just ran out of coffee…

Empty Coffee Cup

Empty cup from My Favorite Kind of Crazy –

 

 

Fridge Commerce

May 13, 2016

This post is really more of a test than anything else, as last week I wrote on this topic on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/heralding-age-f-commerce-mark-tietbohl?trk=mp-author-card ). This week I also did a video on the topic on YouTube. I wanted to find out how easy or difficult it is to embed a video:

 

As it turns out, it is fairly easy…

If She Knew What She Wants…

April 30, 2016

This line from the Bangles song in the mid 1980’s sums up the plight of the marketer today. The current marketer’s mantra is to provide the customer with what they want, instead of what we as marketers want, and then the sun will shine and all will be well. The customer will feel loved, we will have engendered loyalty, etc., etc…

However, like the song states, we as consumers (of either gender, as men often do not know what they want either)  don’t always know what we want. If we did, this consumer-centric focus would certainly be easier for marketing organizations, and more organizations would be executing successfully. However, what people articulate that they want is typically not what they really do want.

 

If She Knew What She Wants

I have been taking an online course from the University of Queensland on the topic of “The Science of Everyday Thinking”. This course makes it crystal clear that people have very little idea as to what they want and as to how their thinking processes really work. There is also a great deal of resistance to changing behavior once a pattern is established. It takes very compelling evidence to make a mental shift, and even this is often discounted depending on how it is presented.

So surveys are often misleading, social signals are often misleading, even comments on organization web sites can be misleading. In an earlier blog post, I posted the old statement from Henry Ford where he once stated “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” If Steve Job (“focus groups are worthless…”)  had only listened to what people said they wanted and looked only at past market performance, we would never have seen the iPhone (or the iPod for that matter).

That said, it can also be very dangerous to go into a market with preconceived ideas that are based solely on your organization’s needs and not ones that are founded on some kind of need in the marketplace. This is a conundrum when solved makes the difference between really good marketing companies and truly inspired ones.

So how do we do this? While there is no magic bullet, Derek Halpern of SocialTriggers suggests that the best place to start is to ask people what they have been struggling with. If you ask for thoughts in this context, people typically do know what their challenges are in a given area, and what pain points could be improved upon. This is especially true when the struggles tie into emotional rather than rational thought. Most people are more able and/or willing to report accurately from the emotional perspective than the rational if the right environment is provided.

The key here even with this method of asking is still based on brand trust and authority, which we will discuss further at later point. (There are some really good sources out there for brand authority, both on and off line. There are the obvious choices -Seth Godin for one- but I might also suggest Denise Lee Yohn, Harley Manning, Marty Neumeier, and if online is specifically your interest I would suggest reading Mark Traphagen, Neil Patel and the Moz Blog and the Kissmetrics blog specifically on articles related to building authority and trust.)

Once you have the feedback, focus on talking through and solving the problem, not building the solution…at least at until the problem is fully understood. Understanding the full nature of the problem…or your customer’s struggle…will lead to ideas on how to best solve for eliminating the struggle and making your solution the easy choice.

And for those of you who do not know the song, here it is 🙂

The Bangles VEVO Video – IF She Knew What She Wants

 

Does community always matter?

April 6, 2016

…and additionally, is “community” always the same or does community look differently depending on time, circumstance and context?

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A Cosplay gathering (Image courtesy Pixabay user nile | CC0 Public Domain)

Brain Solis has been quoted as saying: “Community is much more than belonging to something; it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.” The sentiment expressed here seems to be that belonging for the sake of belonging may drive longevity, but it definitely does not drive engagement. At least not in long run. Engaging together as a group in an activity is what makes belonging matter…at least from a community building perspective.

But is that actually so? Do we need to be involved in the sense of “doing something together” to be a community? Does community always equal engagement? Are communal activities always needed to drive community?

It seems to me that sometimes, we just want to be a part of a community, and that there are different levels of commitment, but all may be communities. After all, there are valid arguments that belonging matters more than engagement in the sense of shared activity: it matters to us for visibility…or the size of the group may be what matters… or we may belong because the group inspires trust. In fact, there seem to be times when just belonging for the sake of belonging is what matters. And these “communities” are often vibrant. The real question though may well be: are they long lasting or just a moment in time?

I have listed some references below that speak to various aspects of this thought. I’d like to know yours.

Just belonging matters:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/201203/it-is-motivating-belong-group

http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/18/belonging-matters-researchers-halve-racial-gpa-gap-with-brief-exercise/

Visibility matters: http://gradworks.umi.com/36/63/3663476.html

Size matters: http://macdgroup.com/2013/10/15/why-size-matters/

Trust Matters: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00661/full

Proximity marketing…is there value?

March 19, 2016

I have been much more active lately posting and sharing on LinkedIn than on this site. I do hate duplicating content, and have not had the opportunity to do both as well as I would like.

I am going to try and work on that. Maybe I could start with a discussion thread on tracking your phone (by beacon or WiFi), as the whole issue of tracking within the store is an interesting one.

sol-proxmobile

I believe (my opinion only) that in the past couple years, consumers have become more accepting of in-store proximity marketing, if for no other reason other than it has become so much better. Understanding the likely reason to be in the store (based on past interaction with that retail brand), and ability to pinpoint specific areas of the store has definitely improved. Retailers are learning what is too much (or too little messaging) and how to gauge time in store, time in a specific area, and progress through the store in sending these messages at more appropriate times.

Yet, this is a practice that is certainly still in transition, and mistakes are still made. How this process is executed may cause consumers to get their backs up. Receiving an offer after just making that purchase is annoying. Many are opposed to the practice of having competitor’s geo-fencing another store and providing competing coupons, while others find this fascinating. Getting bombarded upon entering the store is usually not desirable.

Also, consumers may not recognize that they may have opted to receive messages from the store location itself, but may also simultaneously be receiving ads and messages from other apps that they have on their phones and other sources they have previously opted to have messages from. To say the least, at times the whole process can get messy.

Here are a few data points that all the more underline why proximity marketing may the best way ahead (note: the originator of this material certainly has a vested interest in beacon technology, but interesting still the same):

  • The average clickthrough rate (CTR) for a Facebook ad is 0.119%, according to a recent Wordstream report
  • The average clickthrough rate (CTR) for an email is 1% to 3%, according to a recent report by Mailchimp
  • The average clickthrough rate (CTR) for beacon based push notifications can be as high as 80%, according to the data published by push notification technologist Kahuna (Beaconstac, 2016).

(more on this discussion can be found here: Sheehy, A. (2013, August 19). The Mobile Advertising Value Chain.  http://www.nakono.com/tekcarta/analysis-insight/mobile-advertising/mobile-advertising-value-chain/  )

I do think that one of the big drawbacks to this type of push marketing is that not all consumers have their phones out at all times (I know…it varies by generation, but it still can be a pain to have your phone out in a department store sometimes).  That is why I am encouraged by some of the other ways that proximity marketing can be accomplished such as displaying digital instore signage of items that might be of interest if you have your phone on or through Near Field Communications (NFC) marketing, where you hold your phone close to the sensor to receive more information. Personally, I also like the fact that proximity marketing for that brand ends when you leave the store or certainly shortly thereafter.

What about you…proximity marketing, yea or nay?

Forget what you know…find a way to listen to the customer…

September 16, 2015

“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.” ~ Doug Larson

I am constantly reading about the shortage of digital pros or hybrid technologists in the market. And I agree that there is certainly evidence to support that the rate of change in our information needs and abilities has outstripped the ability to completely fulfill the demand.

That said, this is still amazing state to me given how many people participate professionally in the digital space, and the sheer numbers present even within specialized area such as technical SEO, content creation, paid search, various technical platform specialties, analytics, and so on…

My thought is there is actually a gap; and it is a role that is not being filled in many organizations …specifically the ability to manipulate the data or technology AND also understand the result from the perspective of a human being.

You have the technical side: Practitioners in this area know every technical aspect of their work like the back of their hand. This is true whether they be data gurus or system wunderkinds. Today, a certain level of technical knowledge may well be a prerequisite to being in marketing in today’s world, but it is certainly not the complete answer.

With all of the amazing advances that technology and inexpensive computing power has brought, there are still areas where we need to improve. Technological myopia can lead to poor usage of the technology or resulting data and analysis. Understanding how systems work and what the numbers represent is not the same as knowing if those numbers (metrics) represent value, if we are measuring the right aspects of our audience’s behavior or that they are appropriate for our business model.

When we look to the wrong measures and drift to what is conventional, our path can lead to a lack of vision as to what all of this data could be used to achieve. In the end, the result we achieve is often not actionable, and certainly not optimal, because it fails within our business context. This result does not lead to positive change.

This is not to say the technology is not important, because it is…critically so.

The technology today is driving huge changes in the way we communicate and how our organizations are built and interact with the world. However, too much focus on this area can lead to whiffs in other still important aspects of marketing, building a brand and running a business.

Then there is the qualitative side of the marketing community that has limited recognition of the pervasive nature of the technology, the accelerated pace of change we now live with, and its impact on our organizations and customers. While this group will embrace the new communication methodologies, they often will try and use these tools directionally to execute outdated models of customer relationship interaction. On this side of the coin, we have not yet learned that pushing corporate/brand/product messaging to disinterested audiences is not viable. This also will not lead to the intended or optimal result.

Like most other things in life, balance in implementation is key. While technology often renders “what we know” useless or invalid (sometimes within the same year), there are also certain fundamentals of life that remain consistent. People and organizations still have needs, many of which remain very basic. How they communicate to the world around these needs is what has changed, and continues to change, radically.

The difficulty lies in combining empathy for both the quantitative and qualitative sides of the puzzle. This is a combination that neither of these sides usually have individually, necessitating yet another skill set. The emergence of marketing operations and a well-conceived project manager model comes into play here.

All organizations need that balanced view that has best interests of customer and the organization/brand in mind. Especially important is that balance between what constitutes a good use of technology, and yet is still being customer friendly (in all senses of that discussion…usability, creepiness factor, etc…but this topic is a discussion for another time.)

The customer must be recognized above all, as ultimately they have the final vote. Whether we are seeking to interact one-on-one on an individual level or create a heightened connection though finely tuned personas, the approach must be customer-centric, not on our own perspectives of how things work.

How would I know; why should I care?

December 17, 2014

Some of you may reading this be aware that this is a phrase from an old Zombies song. (Here I define old as it is a song that predates me:). I have always liked this song, and specifically this particular phrase. Little did I know when I first heard the song that this phrase would become essentially the essence of modern marketing. If I was asked today to provide one sentence that defines customer interactions and perspective, this phrase could well be the one.


How would I know…
In a dizzy array of communications sources that people need to deal with, how do they determine where they get their information, and who they should listen to? On the other side, marketers are faced with a myriad of communication channel options, but with very little real prospect for breaking through without a distinct advantage. This advantage must come from the consumer perspective.

Consumers are looking for credibility, trust, authority, and for them, this is mostly likely to come from a referral or what is perceived as an unbiased third party observation. These communications must often stem from other potential members of the consuming public in early stages of the brand relationship. The brand owner today is often not considered a credible source at the beginning of the journey, even when they are the first party the potential customer has heard from. This is one of the reasons that reviews and external third party communications that reference your site/offer help a brand site to rank higher in SEO today.

In order to achieve this, you must leverage people already in your court. Recognize that this is more than social media likes and +1s…we are looking for people who will actually talk about you (positively) either proactively (or at least responsively) on your site, in blogs and on other social media. While there are still some brand evangelists that will stump for you unprompted, gaining discussion time from the rest requires critical relationship building with your customer base.

Assuming we do get our message through, there is still the “Why should I care?” question. Despite our lip service to “the customer being king” and “relationship building”, the majority of marketing emphasis today still often relies on touting and conveying information that is important to the communicating organization, not the person being communicated to. It really needs to be reverse of this.

More than ever, it is crucial to determine what matters to the consumer segments you hope to sell to. Does what you offer match what they want or need, or will someday want or need. If yes, find a way to engage. If not, find a way to adapt (if you want that segment) or move on. Transparency of information makes it unlikely you will convince many mismatches to buy you offering, especially on substantial purchases.

Once you find the target segments you want, build a rapport with them and develop a relationship, you still need to stay in touch to keep the relationship alive. Without ongoing, valuable interaction, it is too easy for what you have built to die on the vine. Inertia is not your friend in a fast paced world , so staying in touch and nurturing the relationship is a must do.

Otherwise don’t bother trying to find her, she’s not there…