Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

“They change our vision of the world…”

August 3, 2016

A great TED Talk from earlier this year by mathematician,Cédric Villani…  a man who is so far beyond what I can comprehend, yet very clearly done:

 

Enjoy!

The Olympic Bullies

July 30, 2016

Princeton_athens_1896

I felt a strong need to share this blog post from Seth Godin here on my blog. (Not 100% sure that I can, but since I am not a business per se, it is probably OK.) I assure you it is quite short, but still rather insightful: Jumping the Olympic Shark

This post highlights how brands that have lost their way will often become bullies, and seek to close down discussion that the brand is not been paid for. He reminds us that Brand is not a word, but rather a set of expectations. You can’t build a brand by suing those who choose to talk about your brand. Something we would all be well served to remember…

(Trackback url: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b31569e2017615b9bef4970c )

“There is a season, and a time to every purpose, under heaven”: How we learn today…

July 20, 2016

So go the lyrics from the Byrd’s classic song “Turn, Turn, Turn”. The group was referring to the fact that there is a time and a place for everything. In my mind, this phrase also applies to the options we all have today to learn what we want to or what we need to.

The opportunity to learn today for those who want to is amazing…in addition to the traditional learning venues, there are so many quality options of online material and classes to digest, with many different delivery methodologies and structures. You can learn virtually anything you want to today, from Quantum Mechanics to web coding to how to fix a shower head.

The Byrds

The Byrds

I am a firm believer in the formalized education process, but I also recognize that there are times when the right levels of skills or knowledge mean more than the experience or even the credentialing. There are situations where timing of the need may be a significant factor in the decision. In a professional setting, the modern “corporation-of-one” economy supports this need, as in many fields, the knowledge base changes rather quickly and the need may well be urgent. As indicated in the Byrd’s lyric above, there may be times (seasons) of our life where some choices make more sense than others.

(more…)

Start-up Nation and Michael Porter on Clusters

June 23, 2016

 

drone - innovation

 

It was recently recommended to me that I read Start-up Nation (by Dan Senor and Saul Singer), the book on innovation and how it is executed in the State of Israel. Having been involved with start-ups here in the United States at several points in my career here in the US, it was amazing to me that this book had never broached my consciousness. While I can be oblivious at times, in fairness, I was working marathon weeks in an “intrepreneurial” start up at the time. But still…

There are several reasons why Israel has developed this capacity, but one of the factors brought back some thinking that captured my imagination over a decade ago…the idea of economic clusters. I recognized the value of this concept while in the Direct Mail business and growing up in an area that was an economic cluster for the pharmaceutical industry, I think this was a natural inclination.

This became one of the standards on which I judged potential partnerships or mergers when previously working in the consulting field. And it certainly impacted my thinking on interacting with the internal infrastructure when building and nurturing programs/

This was an idea that was formalized by Michael Porter, whose Competitive Advantage and Competitive Strategy books had formed a great deal of my early career thinking. In his work on clusters, he highlights three points that have impact:

1. Productivity
2. Driving Direction and the Pace of Innovation
3. Stimulate the formation of new businesses

These are all important, but I think the biggest takeaway at the time for me was the first point, productivity. All players in a cluster drive each other to be more productive, a factor that leads to greater innovation and higher business formation. The fact that they are geographically grouped also adds to the productivity. Clusters tend to create an overall environment where the whole ecosystem is greater the sum of the parts.

Clusters are typically intensely competitive, yet this also allows paradoxically for greater cooperation and closer ties to partners within the cluster. This is a reality that is often discounted in the virtual world we live in, however, it is still more comfortable to know that a partner closely tied to your business is an hour away by car as opposed to halfway around the world.

Of course, clusters can have downsides too. Instead of expanding and spawning new businesses, they can attempt to consolidate leading to an actual restriction of trade and innovation. They can fall prey to industry groupthink. This often happens in instances where the cluster turns oligopolistic rather than retaining its innovative roots.

I strongly suggest reading both Start-Up Nation and Michael Porter is you are on the strategy side of innovation.

Photo courtesy of: Pankaj Biswas

“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

 

Indecision may or may not be my problem…

April 17, 2016

That quote from Jimmy Buffett sums up my writing efforts the past couple of weeks. I have been working on several topics to post, but for whatever reason, have not been able to get them to gel. So I thought that thinking through it here, on electronic paper, with you, might help.

stress

Photo courtesy of  workplacepsychology.net

 

They are all difficult topics, and all have been written on already (in some cases extensively). So one of the hang ups for me has been attempting to make the post unique…to not be just another “me too” post. There is an incredible irony here because as you can see on the list of topics I would like to write about below, Paralysis by Analysis is the very first one on the list.

Paralysis by Analysis or Why Action is Necessary Today in Order to Conduct Viable Research – We just don’t know enough about the way the consumer thinks, and more specifically behaves in the digital space, especially when it comes to mobile. Not only is mobile is changing rapidly, it is changing the consumer mindset as well. This has become a market where past history does not mean a great deal, so (thoughtful and intentional) action is required.

Alienation – Everyone is writing about alienation in one form or another…alienation due to social media attachment, alienation due to technology, alienation due to lack of empathy. I feel a strong need to write on this topic, but mine will be more about alienation in time and space, or maybe just geography.

Content Marketing– No, I do not want to write about the wonders of content marketing or the 7 things that make it work or the 5 things you must avoid. I’m more of the mind to write here about why people who claim to be writing content for their audience are often deluding themselves.  In many ways, I feel that the content emperor has no clothes. The appropriate situational content has great value. However, it is also arrogant to presume we can write content our audience wants when we make little effort to find out what content they want, or if they even want content beyond a simple answer. I suspect that post will annoy a few people…

Why Growth Hacking is Not Marketing (or is it?) – There are definitely two sides to this discussion, both with very strong points of view. To my thinking process, it depends on whether you are talking mind set or tool set. Growth hacking is also certainly contextual, and not a great deal different than the old concept of guerilla marketing or from online marketing on steroids.

So there you have a few of the topics that have been swirling around in my brain, but have not yet fleshed out enough to put into coherent words on paper. Or at least coherent thoughts that are strikingly different than the content that is already out there….