Posts Tagged ‘voice of the customer’

Customer experience, via Ciboodle

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

[Disclaimer: Sword Ciboodle is a client of mine, and I'm posting this in response to a request from my liaison and friend Mitch Lieberman. While that's the motivation, the opinions in this post are my own, and I have editorial control.]

Customer experience is a term that covers a lot of ground. Some get into the meta-experience of being a customer in a world where businesses compete loudly and intrusively for attention. Others use it to describe the look and feel of a brand when customers interact with it—what it means and how it feels to be a customer of that company.

I’m on board with those, but I am an especial fan of a third idea (imagine that!) related more to the second than to the first. Customer experience in this case is what a customer must go through to be your customer. Practically speaking, what happens when they have a question or comment? How often do you expect them to want to hear from you, or to reach out to you? What do your customers say about you to each other? Most importantly, what do they want from the relationship?

The good people at Sword Ciboodle have turned out a white paper on the topic of Total Customer Experience. You can see the paper on their site at the previous link, or here on Customerthink. Not surprisingly, Ciboodle gets it right.

The paper leads with an important figure: 86 percent of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, up from 59 percent four years ago. That’s taken from the Harris Interactive Customer Experience Impact Report, an important study that I and many of my colleagues refer to each year it comes out. Customers are getting more frustrated with companies’ attempts to get and hold their attention, and are less forgiving than ever.

Why, you may ask? The old standard from Cool Hand Luke: failure to communicate.Another telling figure, this one from the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, is that 88 percent of CEOs said “Getting closer to customers” is their top priority for their business over the next five years. As the following chart from that study shows, this is probably a Bad Idea.

Customers and businesses are different animals. As much as we talk about community, co-creation of value, and relationships, the fact remains that there is a power imbalance. Customers hold all the power; they do not want you to get closer to them unless it is to give them what they want. And the bad-experience figure quoted above shows that customers are readier than ever to drop you like a wet hairball if you cross them.

The Ciboodle paper goes on to discuss how to allow for the disparity in customer and executive priorities—how to get closer by giving customers what they want, how they want it. I won’t spoil it for you—it’s twelve pages of good work, and I want you to read the whole thing, not just my opinion of it—but there are some key points to consider.

Be sure you know where your customers are and what they value;

Be sure that your infrastructure is in place and your fundamentals are sound; and

Be cautious of the shiny new objects which can distract you from youre core customer service focus.

The bit about shiny new objects is especially important. Of course the other two points are as well, because if you don’t know your customers and have the means to serve them, you’re in more trouble than a white paper can solve. But we have all fallen in love with the possibilities of social CRM, and what we can do with the technology that enables it. Those tools are a means to an end, not an end in themselves; if they don’t first answer the core need of serving customers, they have no place in your company. Integrating new tools with your existing CRM approach must be done in a way that doesn’t annoy your customers, or they won’t be your customers anymore.

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SAS and Sword Ciboodle Partner Up

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

You may have already heard the announcement from June 3 about Sword Ciboodle using SAS Realtime Decision Manager (RDM) analytics in its new contact center application, Ciboodle One. If not, you have now. I’d have told you about it sooner, but I didn’t get the official briefing until today—I couldn’t share what I knew until then.

The curious can see Ted Hartley, chief channel officer for Sword Ciboodle, talk about the combined SAS RDM/Ciboodle One value proposition here.

According to Ted (he’s a friend, so I can use his first name), Ciboodle was approached by SAS about six months ago seeking a business application to support with its RDM technology. Around the same time, the Ciboodle boffins were thinking of how to create a more compelling experience in the contact center. Faster than you can say “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter,” the two companies were coding up a system to use existing data to increase the comfort level of customers at the point of contact. Ted says it’s a continuation of the focus on voice of the customer, but now getting into the mind of the customer.

The result is likely to be a new high water mark in customer intelligence and frontline service. SAS is the first name in analytics, and Ciboodle has one of the sweetest CSR agent desktops I’ve seen. With SAS handling high-level intelligence and pushing the results to the Ciboodle desktop, agents can have a better sense than ever before of who they’re talking to. This means better routing, less repetition, and smarter cross-sell/upsell. Most importantly, the agent sees the customer’s history, recent activities, and attitudes so there is a basis for communication—it feels like a relationship, not just a transaction.

The SAS-powered Ciboodle One is rolled out in North America presently, but according to Ted the SAS salespeople in other regions are already calling to ask for the partnership to be extended further abroad.

There’s been a lot of maneuvering going on in the CRM space (as I noted at the tail end of this post), especially where business intelligence meets customer service and social CRM. There’s more to the story in development as you read this, so my lips are sealed until things become official. All I can say is this: The contact center is the natural home for social CRM, and a social engagement model that uses serious analytics is bound to make a difference if somebody can develop one. Stay tuned.

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Brand Warfare Goes Social

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised—if anything, the surprise is in how long we waited—that organizations are using social media to put pressure on other organizations. Recently, environmental activism group Greenpeace used a YouTube video to drive customer outrage against snack food producer Nestlé for its use of palm oil sourced from dwindling orangutan habitats.

The result was a ton of news coverage (from CNN, CNET, Forbes, BusinessWeek, The Guardian, and many others—thanks, Google), a practical shutdown of Nestlé’s Facebook page due to angry traffic, and what Greenpeace wanted: severance of the Nestlé relationship with Sinar Mas, the oil supplier accused of illegal deforestation.

Now, I loves me some KitKats. I am aware of the horrible toll they inflict on my health and I eat them anyway, though not so often that you have to worry about my imminent demise. I will continue to eat them in the future. But I’m glad that Greenpeace brought the palm oil problem to my attention, so I can watch for it in other foods. And you can be sure I’ll take a hiatus from my KitKat consumption. I would rather do without a yummy snack than condemn a piece of our world to death.

Side note: Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group was on the most recent Brian Lehrer Live to comment on this situation. (The social media aspect, not my fat butt and KitKat addiction.) I can’t find the video, so I’d appreciate it if somebody would link it in the comments.

Is this a good thing? Should the power that has finally come into the hands of the customer be co-opted by large and powerful groups to further their own ends? My opinion is a guarded yes. Greenpeace is the example at hand, and it is not trying to make a profit—it’s trying to increase awareness of the harm we do to the ecology in the name of profit. While the group has had its excesses (the term ecoterrorism has been applied to some of Greenpeace’s activities), it generally acts to expose a situation it finds worrisome, and lets public opinion do the rest.

As with everything else, there’s the potential for abuse. If there’s something we can learn from social media, it’s that stories spread fast and far, much more so than the truth behind the story can catch up. A brand can be destroyed by one person’s efforts—typically a customer with an axe to grind over shoddy merchandise or poor service. Imagine the damage that can be done by a large, well-funded, coordinated group with a much larger axe to grind. If the cause is just and no lies are told, then I’m okay with it. But what if it had been Hershey’s spreading the Nestlé story? Would we be as sanguine about chocolate maker A inflaming consumer outrage against chocolate maker B, gaining market share by levying accusations against its competitor in the guise of social justice? What if the allegations were untrue?

I don’t really care what happens to individual corporations. I care about customers losing their voice as they’re drowned out by louder ones. All I ask is that you evaluate a story before you spread it. That’s just part of the social contract, and it applies to social media just as much as it does to traditional talk.

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SAS Is Analyzin’ My Cheese

Monday, April 12th, 2010

As you might have seen from my recent tweetfest, I’m in Seattle at the SAS Global Forum. The reason, other than my need for frequent-flyer miles, is to learn about the analytics company’s new Social Media Analytics product.

The Disclosure:

“SAS invited me to their SAS Global Forum user event as their guest to attend the launch of SAS Social Media Analytics. They paid my airfare, hotel and conference registration fees and gave me access to the product for evaluation.” [Their words, but I accept and endorse them.] In other words, this.

The Assessment:

I have said previously that a company that develops a truly effective social media analytics package that includes sentiment and modeling in depth, and can tie it into CRM, has essentially created a license to print money in today’s social CRM-focused world. I haven’t seen enough of SAS Social Media Analytics (SMA) to say if it achieves this, but the demos put me in a favorable frame of mind. Analytics (has? have?) come to my social media world, and this is a Good Thing.

SMA is more than a dashboard or reporting engine. It gives the user live interactive access to conversations about the brand. The view is not static, but can be tracked over time, against multiple sentiment components. The data models are subject to updates and new instructions, so what you capture can be sliced and re-sliced as needed. This human angle—user input refining the model—is a big deal to me. It prevents SMA from being a black box.

SMA is a slightly misleading name, in my opinion. It’s media analytics, which includes social media. I’m not faulting them on the name, mind you; social media are harder to track because each piece evolves with use. One could argue, though, that all media today are social media, since everything that’s published seems to end up on the Web with comments and links.

SMA doesn’t come cheap. While SAS is describing SMA as an “on-demand” application, there is an initial investment in data gathering and modeling, and a fee of $5,000 to $15,000 per month. I’ve overheard SMA described as “an enterprise-class Radian6,” and that’s probably a fair estimate. Radian6 appears to be more focused on engagement (which is VERY important) while SAS is playing to its strength in analysis, but both companies have capabilities that mirror the other. The way I see it, if you can afford to spend SAS money and get value from that expenditure, you probably should migrate from Radian6. It’s not just a question of money, though; I’m sure there are some massive businesses that need exactly what Radian6 provides, no more and no less. SAS has a reputation for brute-force analytics power (emphasized with last night’s demo of a multiple-terabyte process run in two minutes), and that’s got to be worth the price tag for a lot of businesses as well.

The Questions:

There are some things that still need to be answered for me, hopefully with an in-depth demonstration. For one, I don’t know how quickly SMA responds to new rules and model parameters. Would I need to back away from the workspace to change keywords and sources, then start over? Or can I play fast and loose, tweaking the factors as I go?

For another, almost everything we’ve seen today is about internal analysis of what happening in the socialverse. There hasn’t been much emphasis on the engagement portion, or on closing the loop and reiterating the feedback process. It looks like the customer is still “out there,” rather than at the core of the business process. To be fair, this is an analytics product, so I shouldn’t expect something else. Still, some more examples of how SMA can have an effect over time on the customer sentiment it monitors would not go amiss. My interest is social CRM, not merely social media—the customer and the opinion-maker need to be right up front. Capturing the voice of the customer is good, but listening to it and then capturing the ear of the customer with your response is better.

Overall, though, my first impression is that SASSMA is a promising product that arrives at the right time. I’ll be keeping my eye on this and providing you with updates as needed.

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Does Anybody Still Think Social’s a Fad?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

The other day, I retweeted a short Social Media Today entry by Maggie McGary about some of the major effects social media are having on our lives. In it, she cited an accurate prediction and a side-by-side strategy comparison of Massachusetts’ senatorial election result; a report on how social networking is helping to save lives in Haiti; and news articles about how major brands are altering or outright abandoning the infamous 30-second spot during the Super Bowl broadcast in favor of social marketing. Now I’m going to add some opinion (about the first two things, at least; I love Super Bowl commercials and will miss them if they fade away).

The effect of social media on politics is nothing we haven’t heard before. Bloggers were important in swaying opinions during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, and Brent Leary and David Bullock’s excellent Barack 2.0 reveals how our current President made effective use of the immediacy and intimacy of social media to win a hotly contested race. The idea that the incumbent party could lose its Senate seat—despite a long history of success combined with sympathy for a fallen statesman—smacks not only of overconfidence but of ignorance.

Social technology has made it easier than ever before to spread word when disaster strikes, and to coordinate immediate relief efforts. Where it once might have taken weeks to arrange donations of money and essentials, motivated people and groups got it done in a matter of days—sometimes hours. Time saved equals lives saved when something as devastating as the Haiti quake hits.

In both cases, the technology is an important indicator and enabler rather than a deciding factor of its own. In both cases, technology is waving a great big flag that says, “This is where the people are!” Paying attention to that flag can have tremendous positive effects, whether in terms of electorate swayed, lives saved, or just business generated. Ignoring it means being ignored in turn. Social media is changing the world, my friends. It may evolve, but it’s not dying out any time soon.

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Only Bad Customer Service Is a Cost Sink

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

When budgets are tight, businesses tend to focus on cutting costs and reducing expenses. This usually leads to reticence on the part of executives to spend for new or upgraded business technology. Sadly, this is a case of being penny wise but pound foolish, if the figures reported in a recent study are to be believed. Billions of dollars are slipping through the fingers of companies who deliver poor customer service, and a lack of good CRM is one of the causes.

“The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience and Engagement,” a joint study by Ovum and Greenfield Online (commissioned by Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories) surveyed nearly 9,000 consumers in 16 countries. It revealed that lost relationships—defined in the study as transactions taken to a competitor or abandoned entirely—cost businesses $338.5 billion per year. That works out to about $243 per loss, according to the study. So if somebody ever says, “So what’s one customer more or less,” now you can tell them. For complete reporting, see the article by Christopher Musico.

Certainly, poor business processes and a lack of understanding of how to best relate to customers take part of the blame, but everything cited in the study as needing improvement—being trapped in automated self-service, waiting too long for service, callers having to repeat themselves, and customer service representatives lacking the skills to answer inquiries—everything can be remedied by smart use of CRM technology. Here’s a list of the traditional solutions to these problems:

  • Trapped in automated self service? This one is easy, even anti-tech: Make sure there’s a way to escalate from the IVR to a live agent. Call deflection has value only if customers are getting the help they need. A timer or tracker that follows a customer’s call and lets a customer service rep break in with live service if the call goes too long or revisits the same menu too often would work if the company (foolishly, in my opinion) doesn’t want a “press zero to speak to an agent” option.
  • Waiting too long? There are more than a few on-demand contact centers out there, as well as software that allows companies to direct their call overflow to work-at-home agents who can help absorb the volume. Take your pick.
  • Callers having to repeat themselves? This makes me sad, because even simple integration between the CRM system, the IVR, and the agent’s desktop takes care of this, 100 percent. I can’t believe it’s still an issue.
  • Representatives lacking the required skills and permissions? A well-stocked and -maintained knowledgebase means that your customers don’t have to suffer for gaps in a particular agent’s expertise. E-learning tools help agents stay current on important information. Not penalizing an agent for handing the call off to somebody who does know how to help, rather than flailing uselessly at a problem, is also wise.

Those are the usual ways to deal with the issues brought up in Musico’s article. It also mentions social media as a potential problem solver. I don’t deny the closing statements of the piece, where Ovum analyst Daniel Hong says it will take some time to get businesses comfortable and proficient with social CRM, but the investment of time and money must be made. It’s been shown that fellow customers are often better at solving some problems than a CSR, so answers are provided for free without costing agent time. Answers generated by the community can be added to the company’s knowledgebase, and over time this feedback can help fix issues with the next product or service in development. That sense of shared experience also makes for loyal customer advocates, which is money in your pocket.

Basic integration has been too long in coming for too many businesses, so perhaps the study will show them the true cost of delay. I hope they remember the social CRM part of the integration as well—bringing businesses into closer and more productive contact with their customers.

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Keeping Busy with RightNow Technology

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I’ve just spent (and am still spending) a busy and informative demi-week at the RightNow Summit in lovely Colorado Springs, and I’m glad I came. Greg Gianforte and company are doing some very smart things.I’ve dinged RightNow in the past for sometimes lacking in effective media/analyst outreach, but that appears to no longer be the case, and the timing is excellent.

The reason for my enthusiasm is that RightNow’s message of customer experience is now a product and a strategy, CX. The social CRM and SaaS stars are finally in alignment, and the RightNow CX customer experience suite that Greg G. announced on Tuesday was born under those auspices. My tweets from that morning’s general session will give you some idea of what RightNow CX is all about, but I’ll summarize it here in a more coherent fashion. I’ve got to rely on text because I’m having trouble getting slides to work, but bullet lists are clear enough.

From the ground up, there are five main components of RightNow CX, each containing part of the package. RightNow CX Platform is the technology that supports the traditional CRM functions of RightNow Engage, which in turn supports the three customer experience components (Web Experience, Social Experience, and Contact Center Experience). Thus,

RightNow CX Platform

  • Knowledge management
  • Integration
  • Mission-critical SaaS (more about this later)

RightNow Engage

  • Marketing
  • Voice of the Customer
  • Sales
  • Analytics

RightNow Web Experience

  • Customer Portal (including Web self-service and mobile)
  • Chat and Co-Browse
  • Email Management
  • Web Experience Design

RightNow Social Experience

  • Support communities
  • Innovation communities
  • Cloud monitoring
  • Social experience design

RightNow Contact Center Experience

  • Phone and multichannel interaction management
  • Case management
  • Voice automation
  • Contact center experience design (including desktop workflow, agent scripting, and contextual workspaces)

Mission-critical SaaS includes something the company is calling Invisible Updates, with elimination of downtime as the goal. The concept appears similar to’s 5-minute upgrades, but RightNow is aiming for true seamlessness. It also prides itself on having always provided service level agreements with teeth—the company cuts checks for its customers when downtime exceeds what’s spelled out in the SLA. It’ll be fun to see how the two rivals stack up in this matter.

A lot of the new customer experience functionality, especially the knowledge base and Social Experience parts, are the fruit of RightNow’s acquisition of HiveLive in September of this year, followed by what must be the fastest assimilation of technology since Star Trek introduced the Borg. A six-week turnaround from acquisition to deployment was unheard of before this, as far as I know.

RightNow takes the position that customer experience is everything, and is making “ridding the world of bad experiences” its goal. The path to achieving this leads through the contact center, and recognizes the power of the customer to make or break a business no matter how good the products might be. Numbers from the 2009 Customer Experience Impact Report (commissioned by RightNow from Harris Interactive) back this up:

  • 86% of consumers will never go back to a company after a bad customer experience
  • 60% will always or often pay more for a better customer experience (up from 58% in 2008)
  • 82% who had a bad customer experience told others about it (up from 67% in 2006)
  • 53% will recommend a company to someone else because they provide outstanding service

To illustrate the potential impact of one bad experience, we were treated to one more showing of the “United Breaks Guitars” video—but with a twist, because Dave Carroll (the creator) took the stage partway through to finish out the song and give us a first-hand account of his experiences. As he finished up, he revealed what I’d call PR gold for him and RightNow: Carroll’s only option for getting to the conference was to fly United, and the airline lost his luggage. If you listen carefully, you can hear United’s market capitalization dropping even further than the $180 million attributed to the initial incident.

If RightNow CX Platform is as good as it looks, and the company is true to its word, 2010 could very well be RightNow’s year. Every single one of Greg G’s customer visits in the past three to four months (he’s done more than 300 customer visits in the past 18 months) has had social CRM as a focus—driven by the customers, pulling RightNow into the conversation. That’s encouraging to me, since I’d hate to have established a practice in a field nobody cares about. :-)

You’ll also be glad to know that I am now officially Huge On Twitter, at least as far as the PR team from Horn Group and RightNow Technology is concerned. I hope to continue living up to the accolade.

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Not the Best Buy

Monday, September 21st, 2009

It’s time for me to take out some of my rage and indignation on a retailer. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. To be fair, I must say that the company in question—Best Buy, in case you couldn’t figure it out from the title of this post—provided the product as requested, at the expected price, with a minimum of delay once the problems I’m about to describe were cleared. The problems encountered will probably not prevent me from buying from Best Buy again. That said, the customer experience left a lot to be desired, and here’s why.

I found myself in the market for a new notebook PC—the first one I’ve personally owned, as I’m a desktop aficionado and always received laptops from employers. My ability to travel to industry events and client sites (and do anything useful once there) would be seriously curtailed by not having portable computing power. Not wanting to spend a fortune, but neither wanting an incomplete machine (netbooks aren’t my thing), I researched the best balance of power and price. I found this, the Asus K50IJ-RX05. The only place to acquire one at the $499 price point was Best Buy.

Problem 1: finding the product. I consulted to see if either of the two “local” stores (local meaning 20-30 minutes on a bus) had my machine in stock. Neither one did, of course, so I called the first and asked whether it would be restocked soon or if I could order one. Five minutes later (after being placed on hold twice) I was told that I couldn’t, with no explanation why. A call to the second had the same result, but with some added info: The one I wanted had been discontinued—or so they said; it’s still listed on the Asus site—and the service person didn’t know what model had replaced it. She suggested I try asking around at the stores in the Bronx because they might have one or two in stock. No offer to check for me; no offer to ship the unit to her store.

Of the two Bronx locations, one was nearly twice the travel time, so I naturally chose the nearer one. I called the store. No answer. I’m not talking about no answer after pressing 3 to speak to a sales rep; no pick up at all, like they didn’t have an IVR installed. That’s inexcusable. In a moment of desperation, I tried to contact the horribly-named Twelpforce, Best Buy’s assistance line on Twitter. By the time I heard back from a twelper, or whatever they call themselves, I’d already figured out how to order online for in-store pickup—significant because the first few attempts failed, since the function doesn’t work properly unless you start from the right place on the site—and decided to bite the bullet and go to the Bronx store.

Problem 2: verifying quality. Jump forward to my arrival at the in-store pickup counter, skipping over the time spent waiting for not one but two confirmation emails (both of which I was told were necessary), the 45 minutes or so on the subway, and the difficulty navigating a horribly designed suburban mall. The store was not busy, probably the emptiest I’ve ever seen a Best Buy, but there was still a waiting line at the service desk. Fair enough, just bad luck on my part.

The difficulty came in trying to figure out whether the computer—with Windows Vista installed—was qualified for the free upgrade to the new Windows 7 operating system when it becomes available in October. I wanted to be absolutely sure what I was getting myself into, because while I have learned from long experience to never use the first release of a new OS if I can avoid it, I have no desire to use Vista; dealing with it for a few weeks or a month is acceptable if I get the free upgrade, otherwise I’d dump the whole thing in favor of a Linux distro. The in-store display said yes, the salesperson said no. It took a further 10 minutes of delay before a Geek Squad guy walked over and opened the box, revealing the upgrade offer within like Charlie’s golden ticket.

Problem 3: taking the survey. So in the end, I got home with the computer, a carrying case, and a mouse. All over, right? Wrong. This morning I got the follow-up email asking me to take a brief online survey about my in-store pickup experience. Fine by me; I don’t mind answering surveys about products or services I’ve used, at least within reason.

The brief survey turned out to be 32 questions long, actually longer because a yes or no in the right place would insert one or more conditional questions to clarify the answer. The survey tech was provided by ForeSee Results, but I’m willing to bet they had nothing to do with designing the survey itself. First of all, I’ve spoken with ForeSee people before, and they’re the first to tell you that the value of a customer experience survey decreases with length.

They’ll also tell you that, to assess customer satisfaction, you should ask relevant questions. There were some, but plenty that weren’t. If the survey is specifically for in-store pickups, why bother rating my opinion of the shipping costs? How is “Please rate the degree to which the order received matched the order placed” a different question from “Please rate the accuracy of your order”? If you’ve already had me rate the degree to which the experience matched my expectation on a scale of 1 to 1o, is there a point in asking the same question in yes/no format later? By the time I reached the bottom of the survey page, I was starting to regret taking it. None of the questions addressed how I felt about the experience, or asked what I’d change. In short, there was nothing that captured the voice of the customer in a way that will affect anybody’s shopping experience.

Was I satisfied with my overall Best Buy experience? Well, I got the item I wanted at the price I expected, and found some accessories to go along with it, so in that sense I was satisfied. But it was clear that I was nothing but a source of revenue for the company; I was not treated like I mattered for anything but the numbers on my credit card. Poor-to-nonexistent integration between store locations, marginally helpful staff, and a useless survey left me flat. I’ll use Best Buy again, but mainly because it is the only real choice nearby for consumer electronics. I wasn’t a lover of Circuit City, but at least when it was still operating there was a choice, and the hint of competition made both stores try harder.

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Why Listening to Your Customers Matters

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Okay, there are far more reasons to pay close attention to customer opinions than what I’m about to present, but this one’s as good a reason as any. According to a joint study (PDF) by LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Interactive, there’s a pretty wide gap between what marketing professionals and customers think are effective advertisements. (See coverage by AdWeek here.)

The Harris poll explores two main questions: general effectiveness of advertising type, and ads addressing the economic crisis. It’s never explicitly stated, but the poll appears to be focused on TV advertising. Whether or not that’s true, the results can likely be extrapolated to other advertising media.

In terms of general effectiveness, the three biggest gaps are for ads that make the viewer stop and think, that provide new information, and that are integrated into the look and feel of the show they appear with.

  • More than half of marketers (53 percent) think ads that make the viewer stop and think are very effective, but just 30 percent of viewers feel that way. That’s a 23 percent margin, for those of you scoring at home.
  • Ads that provide new information are only slightly close to the mark: 51 percent of marketers versus 29 percent of viewers feel they’re very effective, a 22 percent gap.
  • Ads that are integrated into the feel of a program (The MythBusters build team and their Diesel Diaries commercials for Volkswagen are the best example I can think of) fare particularly poorly, in my opinion. While the gap is “only” 19 percent (26 percent of marketers vs. 7 percent of viewers), it’s a ratio of 3.7:1 which tells me money and effort is being wasted. Informative ads, according to Harris, have 37 percent of marketers and 30 percent of viewers saying they’re very effective, so for every $37 spent you could say that $30 is going to the right place. With integrated-feel ads, every $37 spent equates to $10 spent well. This is not the mathematics of success.

I must say I am shocked—shocked—to discover that marketers don’t have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the people they’re trying to attract.

No, actually I’m not shocked at all.

Let’s be fair to marketers, though. They (as a profession) have had to adjust in recent years to a demand from the C-level for measurability and accountability. (Excellent article from 2007 here; fresher commentary here.) It’s not an easy thing to have to make wholesale changes to the way you ply your craft, but the marketing department has done so. Now they’re being asked to adjust again, using not only new techniques but new media as well.

“Tough,” you say. “Change is part of growth, so why should anybody get to make excuses?” (I hope somebody said that, otherwise I look like a jerk.) When you’re learning new things while still expected to deliver something useful, you tend to fall back on old habits, good or otherwise. For too long, marketing’s job was to create markets for products—conjuring demand for new products, rather than answering existing demand. This led members of the profession to sometimes value their own opinions over those of the public. This happens when ANY group of insiders/experts becomes too insulated, but marketers have been singled out in recent years as the prime example.

The disconnect between marketers and the marketed-to is just one more reason why social media needs to be integrated into any smart CRM practice. Rather than spending advertising and marketing money on extended campaigns only to find out months later that they’re a failure, the CMO and her team can find out within hours or days whether their efforts have gone awry. Sure, you don’t pull a campaign because of negative initial reactions alone—sometimes a spot needs to grow on people—but in the long run companies will save precious budget and deliver what customers want to see far more effectively.

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Social media or high society?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Thanks to Metafilter (by way of my girlfriend), I found out about a case involving the apparent power of social media. I would have missed it entirely because of the other recent social media event surrounding Michael Jackson’s death. It involves another celebrity, Adam Savage of MythBusters.

Briefly, the situation as reported in the Vancouver Sun is this: Savage got hit with $11,000 in connectivity charges from AT&T for what amounted to a few hours of use over a period of five days. The company shut off his phone as a result. Savage turned an assistant loose on the provider to try and straighten out the charges, but it appears that the real work was accomplished with a few tweets. (No disrespect intended to the assistant, of course.)

Your first reaction to this story might be, “Aha, the power of social media in action!” (It was my second, right after, “Those guys have the best job ever, and I love that show.”) But if you look deeper—not just in the MeFi comments but read Adam’s own words—you’ll see another thing at work: the power of celebrity.

“A lot of people on Twitter are saying, ‘Well it’s great that it worked for you, because you’ve got 50,000 followers, but what about the rest of us?’ ” Savage said. “And I totally agree with them.”

The fact is that the power of massed customer voices is mostly a sea-change thing for the moment. One tweet, one blog, or one Facebook group typically has little power of its own; as they accumulate, they exert pressure on businesses that want to maintain good public opinion. It’s like emailing your senator or congressperson to ask them to put their weight behind a certain bill—no matter how awesome and right I think I am, my note is almost useless by itself. It’s going to take a lot of constituents to shift a legislator’s opinion, or get one to make it a pet project instead of just something to vote on.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Adam Savage is capable of a much louder squeak than most of us. Kudos to him for acknowledging this. The typical customer would have spent days or weeks sorting this mess out, or might just eat the charge if it was small enough. You’d better believe that if AT&T hit me with $11-grand in charges I’d become an instant sensation on Cursebird (NSFW).

The change we’re all hoping for is that businesses don’t just use social media as an alarm system directing them to fires which must be put out. If somebody goes to the trouble of starting a social networking group founded on the premise that your company is run by thieves and/or morons, or makes a public-message complaint that is echoed by others, it doesn’t just mean some customers are unhappy—it means you’re doing something wrong. Fix the damage first, put out the fire, but if your next step isn’t taking a hard look at the policies that caused the fire, you’re missing the point of listening and are a fire hazard.

Also, congratulations to MythBusters cohost Kari Byron (no, she doesn’t know me) on successfully completing her pregnancy internship. Good luck in your new role as Doctor of Momology.

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